(33) La Croisade and Argeliers – January/February 2012

I soon settled back into barge life and filled my time with reading, walking and finally starting my counted cross stitch of the River Thames.

I had bought this in a fit of madness over ten years before at Sandown Needlepoint Exhibition, already seeing it framed and hung in my mind’s eye. Although I had previously made various tapestry and needlepoint pictures, I had always avoided counted cross stitch, being put off by the blank canvas (unlike the ‘painting by numbers type’ I was used to). Having purchased a frame (to keep it straight) and having lots of spare time, I now had no excuse. After several frustrating hours, I finally completed my first section and am now actually enjoying doing it while I listen to the radio- there being no TV signal here.

One afternoon towards the end of January, Johan (who we met last summer while in the dry dock,) popped by with a Dutch surveyor to discuss the TRIWV certificate which has been a requirement for barges over 20m since the end of 2009. Hitherto we had been content to adopt the ostrich mentality, thinking we actually had a few more years to get it done. Johan pointed out that this ‘honeymoon period’ only applied to Dutch registered barges because there were so many to register and so few surveyors – hence the backlog. The ploy of flying a Dutch flag (which many barge owners have apparently adopted,) would be unlikely to work long term and in any case only delay the inevitable!

With plenty to think about, not least being the cost of the certificate – survey, parts, man hours and so on, we realised that we would be staying in the area a bit longer than originally planned.

One sunny morning not long after this Peter decided it was time for a change of scenery and within an hour we were on our way. Having already filled with water from the Auberge at La Croisade at a small cost and restocked the wine cellar at the local cave we cruised west, intending to stop wherever we fancied between there and Le Somail.

We reached Argeliers (only 8km away) and came across Johan on his barge ‘Rust Roest’ with the hotel Barge ‘Athos’ alongside. He invited us to use the space in front (belonging to ‘Athos’ ) and this seemed a good opportunity to commence our work.

After a day or two Julian (owner of ‘Athos’) kindly offered us electrics which gave a welcome boost to our batteries, having been off shore power since Laura and Jon’s last night in Narbonne on 9th August!! We were now well placed to get the necessary advice for the Certificate and decided to go for the rather more demanding Rhine standard which will enable us to travel throughout Europe.

Argeliers is a pretty, unremarkable town famous only for the fact that Marcelin Albert lived here. He was a leading light in the viticulture riots of 1907. There are a few shops, lots of old buildings, newer ‘lego’ houses on the outskirts and lots of dogs that leave their inevitable deposits everywhere!

The canal freezes over at Argeliers.

Stationary, but the wind blown ice makes a frozen bow wave on one of the fenders.

Johan replaced ‘Athos’s’ engine and gearbox before she went on an ice breaking trip to the dry dock at Gailhousty with Peter aboard for the ride /crew. Johan also fitted in the remainder of our survey, highlighting the numerous different alterations and additions we need for the Rhine Certificate.

On one cold and drizzly day we visited Olanzac a few km west which boasted a weekly market. Amazingly it was open and reasonably large, considering the weather. We bought a few vegetables and then drove back via Homps. The port had just been refilled after repairs to the ‘bief’ (lock pound) and we chatted to some Brits who lived and worked on a couple of barges there. They noticed Peter’s Alderney Golf Club Fleece and had sailed to the island several times in the past. They had been in Alderney as we had during the Eclipse, about ten years before………….small world.

Back at Argeliers, Peter started to get his head around some of the jobs required and strained his back lifting concrete ballast out of the hull under the saloon. I spent a couple of glorious hours cleaning out the bilges while we had the floor up. This was in preparation for the electric wires required for various sensors in the bilges. We ran a series of string pulleys through (very ‘The Great Escape’) and later about 70 m of said wire.

Cable laying.

The chap at Tridome (big French B & Q) was bemused when I mistakenly asked for 1000 m of wire and was only slightly less so when I reduced it to 100m! In fact we should have become shareholders in the various Bricomarche, Bricoman, Bricodepot, Tridom companies that we frequent. Unfortunately, one visit is never enough as they rarely have enough/any of what you want. We have now visited all of them in this region ….………………several times………………in one day. The car parks are always about half full and we have realised that it is just the same hapless souls who, like us, are driving from one to the next in search of elusive DIY bits!!

I added walking Bolder- (Johan’s dog) to my daily pastimes and we kept each other company every afternoon as the temperatures in Western Europe plummeted, ours to at least minus 7C. Only the bitterly cold strong wind prevented an immediate complete canal freeze, but once that dropped we were soon frozen in.

The cold snap lasted for about ten days and during that time we had a welcome visit from Louise and Alex (‘Riccall’). It was great to see them again and catch up on news. We finally had our long awaited ‘Pink Floyd Session’ and were joined for that by Johan’s partner Margreet who had just returned after skippering ice breaking tugs in Holland for a couple of months.

Alex was disappointed that he had left his ice skates in Buzet where he had been enjoying ‘wild’ skating, but his confidence on the ice and suggestion that we take advantage of it to sort out our anchors and chains, was well received.

Working on the chains while the anchors rest on the ice.

After returning from a trip to a very cold and empty Narbonne, Peter and Alex cut off the weak links on the anchor chains while the anchors were laid carefully on the ice. They then enjoyed a few minutes ‘ice skiing’ on the canal using two of our planks and a couple of small branches from the woodpile belonging to the barge in front. Madame  was quick to point out that they were for her ‘chauffage’.

Not quite the winter skiing we had in mind

The following morning Peter cut the name of the barge into each anchor before the ice melted. He then spent several hours drilling drainage holes into the chain box and fixing new bolts to the ends of the chains.

Another requirement- identification on the anchors.

Once the ice had thawed, we awoke to see an abandoned barge three behind us had sunk. The VNF and Madame Sierra were soon on hand to organise pumping out the water and the barge was refloated. She found time to ask Peter if he was on a boat, which one and how long had he been there? He gave a vague answer which seemed to suffice and we haven’t seen her since.

The result of frozen pipes. Quickly refloated but a mess inside.

A particularly uncomfortable and demanding job for the certificate was the replacement of the fuel pipes in the engine room. This was done to enable the fitting of fuel cut-off levers out on deck and a ‘low fuel’ gauge. The unwelcome confirmation that Imperial 3/8” pipe and fittings will not convert to Metric 10 ml was the cause of many more unsuccessful Brico trips and the engine room air turning blue on more than one occasion!

Another job was to make a box for the Butagas bottles on deck at the bow. Having seen the cost of metal sheeting, we were pleased to find an old stainless steel plate-warming trolley in the yard of a second hand catering equipment warehouse near Villeneuve-les-Beziers. Peter remembered seeing the place on our travels. His un-English haggling succeeded in knocking the guy down from 50 Euros to 35 and he has now cut it down to size and fitted it in front of the anchor winch.

Rather posh stainless gas locker

He has also used the galvanised steel plate from the inside of the plate warmer to cover the moving parts on the engine……………yes another requirement!   …(and the stainless plate holders just happened to be the right size to make a bilge pump oil separator for the engine room, 35e well spent !)

Well it fits- just a little more tweaking and we’re there.

In an attempt to economise on food bills I turned my hand to making soup, cheap and cheerful meals and baking. I also managed to aggravate a long-standing tooth problem after biting on a nut in some cereal – the only tooth problem I had not sorted out at Christmas as it happens. After several increasingly unsuccessful doses of painkillers, I was just about to ask Peter to knock the offending tooth out (Tom Hanks style in ‘Castaway’) when I remembered a small container of Arnica pills I had recently found. ‘Eureka!’ They worked within twenty minutes and needless to say are now on my shopping list in case it happens again before I return to England.

We had been just over a month at Argeliers and our water was starting to splutter out of the taps- a sure sign that the tank level was getting low. Having checked that the supply at Le Somail was turned on a few weeks beforehand, we enjoyed a short cruise in lovely sunshine on the morning of my birthday.

On reaching the tap we were disappointed to discover that it was now turned off, probably owing to the recent freeze. While I phoned the VNF and left a message on the answer phone, Peter, ever resourceful, explored the immediate vicinity and found a green box containing a tap (part of the town’s automatic garden watering system). Within minutes our hose was out and we began filling up. Just as well really as no help was forthcoming from the VNF.

A young lad feeding the coypu (like giant rat/beavers) while we fill with water in Le Somail.

Peter fished and watched a family of coypu in the duck house during the three hours it took to fill the tanks, while I walked over the picturesque bridge to the famous library on the opposite bank. It looks very small from the outside but is a veritable ‘Tardis’ when you venture through the door. Thousands of books line the walls from floor to ceiling in a long narrow room. This widens at the far end into a large room with a balcony above and a small wood-burning stove which does little to warm the cavernous space. In the middle are several display cases containing first editions and maps. A couple of book loving librarians are on hand to dust and look after the books and field phone calls from collectors.

With our water tank full, we cruised through the next bridge to a wider spot where we hoped to turn the barge around. We had once tried to moor here and the wind had been problematical so we had given up. Such wind is, we now know, a feature of the area and today was no exception. It took a couple of attempts but we were soon heading back towards Argeliers.

We stopped just below Le Somail in what looked like a suitable spot for a TV signal, hoping to be able to watch the Six Nations Rugby the next day. Sadly, after several abortive attempts we gave up on the satellite and polished off the rest of the 2litre bottle of Buzet Rose wine which Louise and Alex had given us. We returned to Argeliers the following day to continue with the alterations on the barge…………………..

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