This post covers our last week in Port Jacques-Yves Cousteau at Castelsarrasin and the first week of our real 2022 cruising season.
Canal trial for La Caunette
For safety reasons, related to a big firework display being held in the Castelsarrasin Port (to celebrate France’s Bastille Day on 14th July), we had to move from the port. Before leaving the port, Dave wanted to test the engine and make sure everything was working on La Caunette. We invited Charmaine and Willem (who I mentioned in my last post) to join us. Before leaving we noticed interesting jet vapour trails in the sky. We often see these – presumably as we are on a number of flight paths between France, Spain and beyond.
We made a short trip between two locks and Dave was very happy with how La Caunette performed. It was nice being out on the water and on the move.
However, I did have a slight ‘senior moment’. We went a few hundred metres up stream and then downstream. As we passed the port I was looking at the boats moored there and questioned out loud why La Caunette wasn’t there. Everyone stared at me with somewhat quizzical looks. It took a wee while for me to click that of course the reason I couldn’t see her in the port was that I was on her!
Driving instructor Dave
Charmaine and Willem managed to book into a helmsman/ICC course in Buzet-sur-Baïse. However, that is not until the end of the month so we decided to help them ‘learn the ropes’ on their own boat, Attitude. In the afternoon, of the day we had taken La Caunette out for a test run, we provided guidance to Charmaine and Willem as they drove a short distance along the canal, down a lock and then back up again. This time I could easily spot La Caunette.
The following day we gave Charmaine and Willem more practice by helping them take Attitude to Moissac and back. With Dave having shown them the basics of how to drive the boat and my added input with managing locks the previous day, we sat back and only intervened on an as needed basis. The drive through the seven locks to Moissac provided good practice for how to manage locks going downstream and different scenarios you can encounter. There were a few minor incidents and at one stage there was quite an audience, but overall Charmaine and Willem needed very little assistance.
We had already decided we’d have lunch in Moissac. With it being a Monday, most restaurants were closed but Le Kiosque de l’Uvarium was open. Le Kiosque de l’Uvarium is an octagonal pavilion with four large glass bay windows and four vaulted entrances. The pillars and ceiling are decorated with frescoes painted in the Art Deco style. It was built in 1932 to serve as a tasting kiosk as part of uvale (grape-based diet, practiced over several days) cures.
Its location at the junction of the Canal de Garonne and the Tarn river made it a perfect setting to relax and enjoy a very pleasant lunch.
We also managed to have a quick catch up with Scottish friends, Flora and Doug, who we met in 2018. They had just returned to Moissac to finalise the sale of their beautiful canal boat, Liberté. Liberté is a specially designed steel boat, built in New Zealand by Canal Boats (NZ) Ltd. She was shipped to France in 2000 and still looks and drives as if brand new.
We then headed back to the boat. This time we were going upstream and locking through is a bit more challenging. Once again we left Charmaine and Willem to manage the boat and locks, while providing guidance on an as needed basis.
It was a tiring but fun day. Charmaine and Willem did very well and said they felt a lot more confident. In fact, the following day they set off towards Toulouse, which they reached in an impressive four days (24 locks and just under 70 kilometres). Well done to them given the heat and their relative inexperience – we do wonder what value they will now get from their €2000 (plus travel and accommodation) ICC helmsman course and we are interested hearing feedback about anything we showed them incorrectly!
Moving out of Port Jacques-Yves Cousteau
On the eve of Bastille Day, we moored La Caunette a bit further down the canal, opposite the boatyard. Dave managed to find a mooring with some shade, but it was still very hot.
That evening we were entertained by three children having a great time jumping into the canal off their boat, and playing on a paddle board. While it was no doubt a lot of fun and a good way to cool off, there is no way I would swim in the canal (as all waste water, including from the toilet, goes straight into the canal untreated).
Our mooring was right next to the cemetery, which made an interesting view from our boat, especially at sunset.
Hundreds and hundreds of people filed past on the canal tow path, and the port area was packed with people keen to join in the festivities. We were able to watch the fireworks from the flybridge of the boat. They were spectacular, especially with the reflections in the canal. Dave walked back to the port to see the finale and also watch the band and people of all ages dancing and celebrating, into the early hours of the next morning.
We have continued to enjoy our day-to-day life in France, and the comings and going around us.
One day I set out earlier than usual to get a baguette and was surprised to have to queue. It did however, explain why there are usually no viennoiseries (pastries such as croissants, chaussons aux pommes, pains aux raisins etc) left by the time I typically sauntered in late morning.
We’ve played games on the boat (with Dave really only being interested if he is winning) and Laura and Doug introduced us to a dice game called Bones which is fun to play (although it took me a wee while to cotton on – must have been the heat)! For those of you not familiar with it, Bones is a modern dice game in which players take turns rolling six dice in an attempt to score points. The first player to score 10,000 points is declared the winner.
We continue to be intrigued by some of the things we see. Dave was very taken by a trailer the French gentleman on the boat moored next to us had for transporting large items on his bike. He also spotted an interesting door knocker when out on one of his evening walks.
One evening Laura and Don invited us over to the boat yard for drinks under the shade of an umbrella they set up by their boat (our sister boat Largo which Don is repainting the hull of). Their little blind 14-year old Yorkshire Terrier, Annie, had been sick but she has recovered and enjoyed getting extra attention from us.
Don provided some delicious finger food – the wine flowed and Don ended up cooking us a yummy pizza for dinner. More wine was consumed (five bottles in all) and they taught us how to play Bones (as mentioned above). I did not witness it, but I understand Dave fell off his bike when we got back to the boat. We really enjoy Laura and Don’s company and it was fun evening.
Not really socialising, and probably stretching it a bit to claim it as ‘eating out’, but on one of our bike rides to the nearby supermarket we stopped in at McDonalds for lunch. I must admit it was actually quite nice. The burger was tasty (more like a homemade one) the ‘restaurant’ was very clean and the staff were very friendly and waited on tables. The drinking cups and chip holders were made of plastic – all a notch above a New Zealand Golden Arches experience.
When we were moored opposite the boatyard, an elderly French gentleman came along and started talking to us in French. He couldn’t speak any English but I could understood most of what he was telling us – mainly how there used to be a large railway yard where the boat yard is now and that his father used to work in the large factory next to it processing billet aluminium into sheets and extrusions, that were then transported by rail to other parts of France. The factory is still in use today making aluminium cooking and table ware. We noticed they spray water on the factory roof, presumably to try and lower the temperature inside.
We have also met up with fellow boaters at Friday night drinks at Moissac and have enjoyed numerous catch ups with Flora and Doug on their air conditioned boat (bliss in this heat).
One evening Laura and Doug picked us up and we had dinner at the To Panda, the Asian restaurant I mentioned in an earlier blog. Annie also joined us.
Once again there was a magnificent range of food offered on their buffet. There was an added attraction this time though – a self-driven drinks cart that delivered drinks to the table.
We also enjoyed a delicious farewell lunch with Flora and Doug at Le Florentin, Le Bistrot Gourmand. We sat outside, in front of the magnificent abbey and enjoyed a very relaxed and pleasant time together. We enjoyed French cuisine at its best. It’s a bit sad to see Flora and Doug go but we plan to meet up with them again in Scotland, in the not too distant future.
We walked back to the port through the narrow winding streets that lead waway from the abbey.
The ‘C’ word
Touch wood we have continued to avoid catching Covid-19. It seems we have had another lucky escape though because Charlie and Lynne, who we interacted with a lot before they left for Montauban, both came down with it the day they left. That is now almost two weeks ago so it’s unlikely they have passed it on. Unfortunately Lynne is still very ill and spent a night in hospital, so we hope she picks up soon.
Bike ride to Montech
Before we left Castelsarrasin we wanted to catch up with friends moored at Escatalans, about eight kilometres upstream. We set off on our bikes while it was still cool and made good progress. It was strange seeing the port empty of boats.
After a couple of locks we passed Charmaine and Willem on their way to Toulouse, so we stopped at the next lock to take the ropes for them. They seemed to be in very good spirits and we were very impressed with how easily they were managing Attitude and the locking process.
Our friends Malcolm and Debra were moored a few kilometres away on their huge barge Janna II (the barge in the photo above facing Attitude). It was nice catching up with them. Malcolm was the first person we spoke to when we began our French Odyssey – he was out walking his dogs along the canal tow path by Digoin. We have kept in touch and Malcolm helped Dave out with a few projects when we were both moored in Castelsarrasin in 2019. Malcolm also suggested ways of sourcing the engine part (a solenoid) if Sébastien continues to delay and also kindly offered to see if he could fix the solenoid for Dave (as he is a mechanical engineer).
We cycled on another few kilometres to Montech (as Dave wanted to reacquaint himself with the port there). On the way we stopped at the Pente d’eau de Montech (Montech water slope). This ‘boat lift’ was a world first and is a remarkable technical achievement – invented by French Engineer Jean Aubert, commissioned in 1974 and closed to navigation in 2009. It removed the need for barges and other commercial vehicles to pass through five successive locks and saved nearly 45 minutes for the boats that used it. Weighing nearly 1700 tons, it pushed nearly 1500 m3 of water over 125 meters, and enabled the transportation of 250 tons of goods.
The site has undergone a major transformation since we saw it towards the end of 2018 (when everything looked in a sad state of disrepair). The machinery and two locomotives have been refurbished and painted in bold colours. An almost 40-metre long Freycinet barge is in position and this now houses a museum that includes a virtual experience of going up the water slope in a barge.
The surrounding area has been developed into a nice ‘picnic’ area with benches, slides for children to play on, toilets, etc. We enjoyed our lunch there.
We cycled on to the port at Montech. We said bonjour to a previous (French) neighbour at Port Jacques-Yves Cousteau, before heading back to La Caunette. The ride back was easy and uneventful, albeit it was starting to get a bit hot. On the way we stopped at a nice shaded area next to a disused lock. Dave boiled up the billy (first time this year in France) and Dave had a nap.
I was treated to a few glimpses of fields of sunflowers, now coming out into full bloom.
We seem to be meeting a lot more Kiwi and New Zealand residents this year. The latest couple we met, Lynda and Gerard, (who later dobbed in Dave to me about his drunken tumble off his bike mentioned above) were already moored up on their boat Toto when we arrived back from our day out with Charmaine and Willem to Moissac. We sat and chatted to them over drinks on La Caunette late into that night and continued to enjoy their company over the next few days with regular catch ups and chats. They have now moved on quite a way ahead of us, on their cruise to Bordeaux.
Coincidentally Lynda lived at Manapouri at the same time as Dave did and one of Dave’s sisters was in the same class. It sure is a small world.
Coping with the heat
I am sure you will have read in the news that we have experienced another heat wave. About 200 kilometres to the south-west (Portugal, Spain, Bay of Biscay) there have been devastating fires and I understand over a 1100 people have died from heat stroke. Interestingly, we received a ‘safe travel alert’ from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the fires.
Although it seems hotter than the heat wave last month, Météo-France has only put out an orange alert. I have found the heat draining and on the days when it reached 40°+C I typically went out first thing to the boulangerie or supermarket and then spent most of the day hunkered down in the boat trying to keep cool with a combination of fans, our air conditioning unit and shade cloths over the windows and hatches.
I think the heat got to me on our return trip from Moissac with Charmaine and Willem. Not long after starting our trip back, I started to feel unwell and not long after that my lunch of mussels and chips ended up back in the canal via Attitude’s toilet. I lay down afterwards and once I had cooled down I felt fine and had no further problems- maybe my body was telling me it was too hot to digest my quite substantial lunch.
Having in the past always poo-poohed the idea of an ice-maker, we bought one last week – and it has been great. It makes ice cubes quickly and efficiently and has certainly helped us to keep our (non-alcoholic) fluid intake up.
I’m not sure if it is a good or bad thing but Dave said he went off chocolate and red wine in the heat – now I need to compete with him for my chilled rosé wine
First leg of cruising
Having moved out of the Castelsarrasin port for the Bastille Day fireworks, and as Dave was happy with La Caunette, we decided to start our cruise westward (rather than retuning to the Jacques-Yves Cousteau port), using the ingenuous system Dave had set up for stopping the engine.
Having cycled a number of times beside the canal that runs downstream to Moissac, and been on Attitude a couple of days earlier, La Caunette has now had her turn.
We wanted to get away as soon as the locks opened (9am) as another hot day was forecast. The first obstacle we encountered was a very large neglected barge moored further downstream that seemed to have come loose at her bow. However, there was plenty of room to get around her.
After a short distance we came to the first of seven locks we needed to go through. As with most of the locks on this Canal, I had to turn a pole suspended (just before the bridge) to set the locking procedure in motion. These poles are always painted black which makes them hard to see – surely it would be easy enough to paint them yellow!
The lights immediately changed to indicate the lock gates were starting to prepare for our entry. Dave managed to hold the boat steady the few minutes it took before we got the green light to proceed into the lock.
We’ve worked out a system for going down locks which means I don’t need to step off (as I find that almost impossible with my knees the way they are now) – once in the lock, Dave brings La Caunette to a standstill and gets off onto the lock side with the stern rope which he secures, and then walks to the bow, where I pass him the front rope, which he passes back to me to hold after placing over the bollard. He then pushes the button in the control box to start the locking procedure, stepped back on the boat to untie ‘his’ rope. Soon the lock starts to empty and we go down smoothly, pulling the ropes back onto the boat, then motoring out of the lock. Our first lock had gone very well.
Approaching the next lock, I once again had to turn the pole to activate the lock mechanism. The lock was already full so the gates opened and Dave drove in. All went well with the locking procedure. This was the first of three locks that form a ‘chain’ (i.e. they are quite close together and you aren’t allowed to stop in between them). They operate automatically as they are triggered by sensors as a boat approaches, enters and exits a lock (so I didn’t have to twist a pole). By the time we got to the next lock, the light had turned green already, so Dave can drive straight in. Once again we locked through smoothly.
The doors on the next lock were also opening by the time we approached it so we went on into it. The lock was in a pretty setting with an interesting light feature.
We cruised along the canal past fishermen, apple orchards, small vineyards, and an attractive stretch of the canal before coming to the Pont-canal de Cacor (Cacor canal bridge). The Cacor canal bridge was built in 1845. At 356 metres long, it is the third largest canal bridge in France. The bridge is made up of 15 Toulouse and Quercy white stone arches. It sits high above the wide Tarn River, adjacent to a railway bridge, two kilometres from Moissac.
Once we had passed over the bridge, I turned the pole for the next lock but it remained red. This meant it was emptying for a boat to come up. Dave therefore steered La Caunette over to the side and held her still so I could step off and take the ropes to hold her until the lock was empty for us. Despite Dave’s concerns about strong currents and the wind La Caunette barely moved.
Once the boat, Esperance, had left the lock and had passed us, I walked up to it and Dave drove La Caunette in. I was surprised to see Tex and Anthea there – they had come up from Moissac on one of their daily walks. Once Dave had La Caunette steadied in the lock he passed me the ropes etc, I pressed the control button and got back on board. This lock was also in an attractive setting.
This lock is part of another chain of three and as we exited it we could see the next lock was ready (i.e. the light was green and the gates were opening). By the time we got to the lock Tex and Anthea had also arrived and they took our ropes and pressed the control button. This meant Dave didn’t need to get off the boat.
We went through this and the next lock, the last one for the day, without any problems, then on into the Port de Plaisance de Moissac (Moissac port.)
The Capitainerie at Moissac had recently been fired (gossip is circulating about why) and while a replacement has supposedly been appointed the Capitainerie’s office was locked up. Dave phoned the number on the window and was advised it was okay to moor where we planned. We have not seen the Capitainerie during our stay and so have paid nothing for our mooring.
Moissac, city of grapes, art, history and culture
I wrote about Moissac, in some detail in my posts when we were there in April and May 2019. This included information on its history from the Gallo-Roman period (1st century BC to 5th century AD), its magnificent Romanesque Abbey of Saint-Pierre, the Chasselas de Moissac (white table grapes), Moissac’s reputation as a ville uvale (town where people came to be cured with grape-based diets), the area built after devastating floods in Art Deco style, the hiding and fostering of Jewish children during WWII, and the town being on the Via Podiensis of the Santiago de Compestela pilgrimage.
If you are interested, hopefully clicking on the following links will take you to these posts 4. Moissac (Part I) and 5. Moissac (Part II) and 7. Moissac (Part III). I also cover a little bit more in 33. On the Tarn at Moissac
Before it gets too hot Dave seems to find little chores to do on the boat or in the engine bay and while we’ve enjoyed wandering around the town, going to the market, and chatting with other boaters, etc. for most of our time in Moissac it’s been too hot to do anything. Dave went on a walk to scout out possible swimming places but there isn’t really anywhere suitable. So after trotting out to get our daily baguette we’ve hunkered down in the boat with shade cloths over the windows, the fans and our very basic air conditioning unit going, and gulping down cold drinks in our efforts to stay cool.
Another ville fleuris
Moissac is another city that is the holder of a three flowers Villes-et-Villages Fleuris award, in recognition of the time and effort the city puts into creating a town that respects the environment and biodiversity, is attractive and has a view to sustainable development.
Everywhere you look there are attractive flower beds, hanging flower displays, wooden planters with flowers tumbling down towards the canal or river, trees, small tree shaded square, and cultivated gardens. There is a dedicated municipal Parks and Garden team and most of the plants are grown locally.
Another very notable feature that you see walking around the town is that it is obviously a very popular place for artists. There are small boutiques everywhere selling art and crafts produced by local artists. This includes a glass blowing studio where you can see the craftsmen at work. I also saw a shop that makes and repairs guitars.
Currently there is an exhibition on at the L’église St-Jacques (Saint-Jacques church) organised by Moissac Métiers d’Art et de Création (also known as ‘Art invites itself to Moissac’). The association holds an annual exhibition each summer. The exhibition this year features the work of a dozen artists from the region, including some from Moissac. The church is a perfect setting and some of the paintings and sculptures reminds me of my father’s work.
There is also an exhibition of eight metal horses that are located in different parts of the town. The sculptor is Emmanuel Kieffer. A former farrier, he is described as being passionate about horses and his forged metal works that certainly display grace, movement and form.
The elusive missing part
Last weekend, Tex took Dave to pick up a parcel that had arrived for me at the Castelsarrasin Capitainerie. They then went over to the boat yard so Tex could check progress on his boat and check progress on Largo repainting. Tex is a fluent French speaker so he asked Sébastien about the part Dave is waiting for. Sébastien advised it was due to arrive “next week”. But Dave’s sense of ‘yeah right’ proved to be wrong this time – just as he and Tex were leaving, the part arrived by courier and was given to Dave to take back to the boat.
Christian (the boat yard’s mechanic) has now fitted it and fingers crossed everything is sorted with the engine.
While Christian was on board, Dave asked him to help him check the Morse control station changeover (by pulling a lever up and turning it 90°, control can be changed from the flybridge/outside position to the saloon/inside position). It was much easier to communicate how the system works to Christian using hand signals (he knows no English) than trying to explain to me (but that’s not really a surprise given my ignorance/lack of interest in mechanical things). Anyway Dave pulled the lever and it broke in two, and nothing in the system moved (expletive from Dave!). With the help of more tools and lubricants, Dave had it moving so that Christian could check out the cable slides were operating as they should. After more twisting, pulling, turning and lubrication of the cable, Christian had the system working smoothly. After nearly five years, we can now operate the boat from inside.
In fact all the systems for stopping the engine work – the push button at both Morse control stations (i.e. inside and outside), the key stop and Dave’s inventive bicycle handle bar lever system.
Ever since we met Flora and Doug in mid-2018 and have been on their boat, especially in the last few days, Flora has offered us tea made in a metal teapot and served in fine china cups – it is delicious. I mentioned I would be on the lookout for a metal teapot at the next vide grenier (literally ‘empty attic’ – similar to a ‘car boot’ sale) and Flora very kindly offered hers to us. The teapot used to belong to either Flora or Doug’s grandparents so we feel very honoured to have it. But she has another one back home in Scotland, doubted the new French owners of Liberté would use it and she didn’t want it to be thrown away. We drink a lot of tea and I am absolutely rapt with the teapot (and the accompanying knitted tea cosy). Flora had already passed on a surplus supply of Yorkshire tea bags. I also had coffee with Helen (we stayed in her gîte when we first arrived) and she gave me an old tin to store our tea bags in. All we need now are some fine china cups!
The tea pot is from a range of mid-20th century table ware called Picquot Ware, once marketed in high end stores and considered a luxury item in its day. It is made of a magnesium-aluminium alloy (Magnaillium) especially developed for Picquot ware. It is cast in one piece to ensure there are no leaks, has a specially designed non-drip spout, is machined, has milled lid hinges to ensure a perfect fit and is polished (not plated). The solid construction is very efficient at retaining heat. The range was in production from 1947 until 1980 and only underwent subtle minor updates during its 33 years of production. For example, although many competitors were switching to plastic handles, Picquot ware has always retained its distinctive sycamore wooden handle and hornbeam lid lifters. It was felt that no plastic could imitate the grain of real wood. Each has been stamped but this early one is hand signed.
I also read on the internet that the Picquot ware range was made in the same Northhampton metal works (Burrage and Boyd) that had made parts for aircraft during the war, possibly including Spitfires. They would have been made by the same skilled craftsmen who had played such a vital role in Britain’s war effort, and in the same moulds that had made those aircraft parts. Who knows, there would have been aircraft parts that would have no longer been required in the Summer of 1945, so some of them may even have been melted down to make those first tea sets.
Today, we moved on a further 13.5 kilometres and three locks and are moored up at Pommevic. All went well. I will write about that and our days ahead in my next post. In the meantime, I hope you are all keeping safe and well, where ever you may be as Covid continues to rage and ‘challenging’ weather is affecting us all.