We had been in two minds as to whether to continue with our blog this year but as Alex has now had a year off while Louise did the honours he has decided to put pen to paper again and see what transpires. (Bad luck readers!)
We decided, in view of the situation, that we would rather not stop off at some cheap hotel on the way back to RICCALL, moored at Buzet, for a two-day trip, but do it all in one.
We still had four carnet tickets left for DFDS crossings, and when Alex asked the booking office, they assured us that they were only filling the ferry half full and the 5.50 am crossing was nowhere near fully booked. Great - social-distancing should be OK.
We arrived at Dover and, as usual, were pulled over to have the car checked by security. “Did you load the car yourself?” Yes! “Are you carrying any guns, or knives or weapons of mass destruction?” “No, but we may be carrying Covid 19. Should that be classed a weapon of mass destruction?” “Open the bonnet please”. That’s a new one: it’s usually the tailgate they want to look into. “Did you fit this engine yourself?” “No, but it was there when I bought the car!”
Good thing they didn’t inspect the boot. We had two disillusioned boat people in there trying to escape the Brexit fiasco and get back to civilised Europe.
And so to the ferry. Yes, they were only filling if half full but they had also closed off over half of the available space on board! Only two loos open for the whole passenger list. But to be fair, distancing was not a problem as it really wasn't too crowded at all.
We normally set the sat-nav for Le Mans where we overnight then on to Buzet but this time it was straight to Buzet. We had done about 40 kms before we realised that she (Lintilla we call her) was taking us via Paris, rather than Rouen. Bloody hell! Too late to go the other way now. Paris was OK as it turned out and the route chosen brought us back to our normal one well south of Le Mans so that was OK specially as we could fill up at a cheap Super U en route which we had used many tines.
We hit Bordeaux at rush hour so a bit of a hold up there but on the peage from there to Buzet we hit rain, then torrential rain, then torrential rain with golf-ball sized hailstones. Some of the cars had stopped under bridges, double parked! on the hard shoulder! Half of the others like us were doing about 50 kph with all lights blazing and a further lot were pretending it was a lovely sunny day and whizzing past in the outer lane doing about 110 kph. We kept expecting our new windscreen to shatter at any minute.
When we eventually got to RICCALL 20 kms down the road the sun was shining with not a cloud in the sky. Two minutes later another deluge so we sat in the car waiting for a chance to dash on board.
The boat was like an oven but Terry and Sandra had switched the fridge/freezer on the previous day and Terry, bless him, had put our gin and tonic in the fridge so sustenance was at hand.
The new air-con unit, fitted on a visit in February, proved its worth and within half an hour, the bedroom, at least, was as cool as a cucumber.
Alex contorting to fit the condensate tube to the outside!
Now after three weeks of vigorous cleaning, doing various repairs, refurbishments or renewals to RICCALL Alex has decided it is time to start cruising again. We have also been to the shops for stocking up. My god! After weeks of lockdown with deliveries followed by weeks of Click and Collect, suddenly it’s masks on and into the fray: no other option here in France – home delivery has barely reached France yet. So we had to make the most of it – almost every day it was off to Action or Lidl or Leclerc for something that we had forgotten on previous trips.
But while we’ve been here in Buzet a couple of kids have been fishing close to the back of the boat (very unsettling – you sort of feel overlooked). Anyway, one morning the younger one had obviously caught something a bit bigger then usual. We watched impassively as his mate ran off to borrow a net and the little lad struggled with his catch. Finally, after about half an hour of fighting, what was something pretty massive, they managed between them to land the damned thing. A 1.47 metre catfish!!! The lads were dancing around high-five-ing and hugging each other and I guess they’ll probably never catch anything so big again in their lives. Even us – anti-fishermen – were impressed.
But we are off now and no sooner have we got going than there is a problem – the alternator isn't operating – all LEDs flashing on the Sterling controller so after 15 minutes we have to stop and moor on the roots at the side of the canal while Alex disappears into the engine room to try and find out what is wrong.
Aha! A loose wire during one of the earlier refurbishments – all fixed, have lunch (our default position when faced with problems) then onwards for a few more kilometres, but not before we were surprised by a full-sized (30m) commercial barge sidling past as we were moored up. The ropes just held but we never expected anything as big, as the most we’d seen for the last few weeks had been a very few hire boats. In fact it turned out that the commercial is no longer a working barge in the traditional sense - it is now a floating advertisement to encourage the use of canals for the purpose they were designed for – carrying bulk freight - and it runs on hydrogen, which, we believe, it makes on board!
Another surprise for us when 30m l'Astrolabe passed by - a hotel barge of sorts.
Moored at Mas d’Agenais, Alex has, at last, put the metal detector (£10 in a charity shop) to good use. He was sure there must be a hidden ring or bollard nearer the road bridge than the official moorings and having found a likely lump of stone, the metal detector, and much digging, proved it. A lovely big red ring for when we return this way.
Anyone for the chop!
We spent two nights just before the rail bridge after lock l’Avance. This is one of the few ROFFs on the Garonne Lateral and we also had to wait for a space to become available at Meilhan. At one point we saw an unusual train crossing the defunct bridge!!
A tractor? Yip!
So, four days later we finally got to Meilhan (an average of 11/2 hours cruising per day – but hey, what’s the hurry?).
It didn't take long for us to realise that the attitude to Covid down here in south west France is and has been decidedly relaxed. We had been very strict about following all guidelines at home, so we approached socialising very cautiously indeed, and didn’t go anywhere near the crowd of people who appeared at Meilhan for a music evening. We just stayed aboard and enjoyed the music from our back deck.
Moored at Meilhan
A very tight fit needing guidance!
After a week in Meilhan, having entertained Mike and Gill of CAROLYN for lunch and Nigel and Trish of SIRIUS, Dave and Claire of ARIANA for drinks (always following strict distancing guidelines on our spacious back deck!) and had supper with Steve and Judith of PORTHOS on their spacious deck, we decided it really was time for a change of scene.
So we headed off towards Castets, the last stop before the tidal river down to Bordeaux, on a very hot Monday and were glad to stop upstream of Ecluse 48 Auriole in the shade of the trees. The only downside to an otherwise perfect mooring was the plethora of biting insects. It was just 6 kms from Meilhan, but we saw from our waterways guide that we had marked one of the bridges ahead as a ROFF way back in 2010 when we had done the route with Louise’s sons Richard and Robert. So we decided to stay the night. In the morning we lowered the roof and set off only to find the weed so bad on the next bief past Fontet mooring that we were reduced to about 2 kms/hr. We contemplated turning round at the Fontet basin but then spied the weed cutter. As we passed it we asked if it was clear from there to Castets and they confirmed that they had done the whole section. So we struggled on hoping that the cutter would have finished that bief by the time we came back!
We measured the height of the ROFF as we went through and it seemed absolutely fine so we know not why we did an emergency stop with the boys to lower the roof last time we were there.
Last time we were at Castets the port was being re-furbished and we were not charged a mooring fee as a result. There was only one other plaisance there – SALTIRE with Keith and Louise on board, with whom we are still very friendly. This time the place was packed - no space for a boat like us but as we turned round to retrace our steps a fellow on a Dutch-registered barge suggested we could moor alongside for a night. After some confusion this turned out to be the Capitaine, who was very French (not Dutch) and therefore spoke no English. We were charged €24 for the night with no leccy or water which we thought ridiculously expensive.
However, we did notice Stuart on VAGABOND who invited himself for a drink with us that evening(!). Great entertainment and he did bring his own tipple!
We had thought we might do the tidal stretch of the Garonne from Castets to Bordeaux this year but the Covid situation is such that Bordeaux is virtually shut down and the tides were not auspicious by the time we had got to Castets so that might be a trip for next spring. Bordeaux is one of the French cities which has had mandatory mask wearing imposed everywhere, indoors and out. It just wouldn’t be the same to try to enjoy a beautiful city in those conditions.
We decided to make an early start for the return journey and do the whole trip back to Meilhan in the day. We left the roof up and passed through the suspect bridge with inches to spare but when we got to the weedy section, the weed cutter had disappeared and had NOT done a very good job. We were reduced to about 1 kph at one point and kept having to reverse the prop to clear it of weeds. But we made it in the end and got back to our mooring at Meilhan for a bit more distanced socialising with Steve and Judith for supper one night and Richard and Sue, friends in the area for lunch on another day.
In a break in the weather we investigated the site of the 2016 breach of the canal, the tunnel connecting the riverside to the town and the old Garonne river mooring and cobbled cart track . . .
. . . and then while we were sitting on deck - what should come by but this . . .
The weather has now decided that it really IS autumn and has turned cool and VERY wet, so we intend to return to Buzet over the next week or so for RICCALL's winter mooring.