Having bid farewell to Sylvianne, we cast off mid morning and made our way slowly through the city. Under some of the bridges en route there were several ‘clochards’ (down and outs) camped out. Some of them looked very much at home with sofas and dining tables in their particular spot.
We passed the train station, where a youth jumped on board and had his photo taken by a friend. We didn’t make a fuss as we knew we would soon be down at the bottom of the lock and vulnerable to attack from above! Part of this section was one way, which was just as well, as Peter had to manoeuvre the barge through some tight gaps where the passenger and restaurant barges were moored.
We reached the Port de l’Embouchure where we had to make a tricky, sharp right turn into the Canal Lateral a la Garonne under a narrow bridge. As we did so a passenger boat entered the port and turned around, heading up the small Canal de Brienne, with her punters clicking away on their cameras.
A sharp turn as the passenger barge heads off behind.
This first part of the canal is fairly linear with straight-sided locks and we adopted our old method, using just the bow rope with the engine in gear. They are also automatic- something we hadn’t encountered since the Saone quite some time ago. The sun was out and the afternoon ‘promenade’ was in full swing as we deftly managed the locks with a cheery wave to onlookers. This was getting easy.
Sadly it wasn’t to last. As we approached the lock at St Jory, I said that I was keen to stop as I was getting tired. Instead of mooring on the pontoon above the lock, we decided to have a look on the other side. As we entered, with me giving my usual distance ‘readings’, we heard a terrible grating noise from the left side of the hull. Peter exclaimed “What happened to my 6 inches?” I couldn’t laugh at the time, I was mortified. How could I have got it so wrong?
As it turned out there was nowhere to moor below the lock, so Peter decided to reverse out and use the lock pontoon after all. As we did so, I noticed that the left lock gate was not flush with the lock side and in fact protruded 6”. So that was where it had gone!
Our reversing manoeuvre was going fine until we were two thirds out of the lock when we were suddenly sucked over to the left by a rather stupidly positioned and powerful overflow. No amount of bowthruster, wheel turning or reversing had any affect. Fortunately for us, many of the ‘promenaders’ were still around. Several of them helped us to fend off or push the barge and one lady gamely used a pole to try to turn the rudder which had gone back on itself. Finally, after about twenty minutes we were free.
Meanwhile the man living in the lock cottage had called the VNF and as we were mooring to the pontoon he was explaining, with the usual flailing arm gestures, to an incredulous VNF man what had happened.
Another lesson learned- don’t get too smug when things are going well.
The next day was foul so we decided to stay put and while Peter had a go at topping up the hydraulic fluid for the steering I went on the train to collect the car from Montgiscard. This involved catching a local train to Toulouse, waiting two hours for another local train and then a four mile walk to the car.
As tomorrow’s cruise would be a long one and we had arranged to meet Chris and Erf at Montech, we decided to have an early night.
Peter retired first while I wrote my journal. A little later when I stood up, the world didn’t seem quite right. I went into the galley…..the fridge door was open. We weren’t level. I was a little concerned and eventually managed to wake Peter who soon realised the gravity of the situation. Upon further inspection it was clear that the level in the pound had dropped by about 12”. Phone calls to the emergency number at the lock only reached a recorded message.
The next couple of hours were spent trying to get the barge level by pushing with a large pole and with more use of bowthruster and engine. Eventually we succeeded and I had to use a long plank to get back on board. So much for an early night! Only in the light of the new day did I realise just how precarious the ‘walking of the 6”plank’ to get back aboard had been!
It is said that things go wrong in threes; so it was no surprise when we tried to leave our third lock of the day that one of the gates wouldn’t open. While we waited for the lock keeper to arrive, another barge stopped behind us on the pontoon. Apparently they had also been affected by the drop in levels several locks up from us. In fact we later discovered that in some pounds, overnight mooring is prohibited for just that reason.
The lock keeper was unable to open the gate and sent for the engineer. Amazingly, when he arrived he just pressed the button as we had and it opened….spooky.
The rest of the day went smoothly and we met Chris, Erf and Toby (resplendent in his new lifejacket) at Montech. Here Peter intrigued onlookers by turning the barge around twice in two very narrow spaces. With boats moored in close proximity there were some anxious looks from their owners.
After moving the cars the following day, we left our pontoon mooring and headed to the flight of five locks, still operated by a lock keeper who zips along between them in a car or on a moped. Inevitably, it was lunchtime so we had to wait for a while. During the afternoon we passed three dredgers at work and some men servicing the hanging poles with which boaters can open the locks. It was good to see that the VNF was looking after the canal.
We had walked up and seen that there was no room at Castelsarrasin, so we moored on a lock pontoon just prior. The next day was lovely and sunny so we set off towards Moissac. The port was still very full and the navigation channel quite restricted in width. Several duck houses midstream meant we had to go carefully. Some of them were occupied and had eggs in too.
In increasingly breezy conditions we encountered three other large barges, one of which was ‘Rosa’ made famous by Rick Stein’s ‘French Odyssey’ series a few years ago. The wind across the aqueduct on the approach to Moissac was a bit of a nuisance, but we made it over and moored just below the lock on the quay.
The aqueduct before Moissac.
After a late lunch on deck, our friends departed and I went off to explore the town. Moissac is very pretty. The port is busy and run by a pleasant English couple. We were moored on the commercial part which is free but doesn’t have electricity.
The town boasts one of the first Roman churches ever built, with the most amazing interior, which is actually a huge painted fresco although it looks like wallpaper. At dusk, we walked down to the River Tarn which flows almost adjacent to the canal for some distance. Moorings are also available here during the summer months when there is less risk of flooding.
Fancy wall painting.
On returning to the barge we heard from our friends Han and Gerrie (who had moored next to us last winter). They were less than a day’s cruise away at Valence d’Agen, and we agreed to meet up the following day.