Well here we are back in France for the scintillating 2021 season!
We finally managed to get to the barge, still at Buzet-sur-Baïse, on July 7th. There had been several power outages which should not have been a problem but we also had had a problem with out PV panel controller which had tried to overcharge the batteries (causing the Victron to shut down) and also a poor connection in the system had overheated and caught fire!
God! But it could have been a lot worse. The PV panels had disconnected themselves at the overheating connection and burned a small amount of curtain.
The fridge-freezer had melted everything in it then restarted (we could tell by the frozen pool of mixed meat juice and ice cream in the bottom!) but apart from that we got off very lightly.
The PV controller was still in guarantee but getting the replacement to us took 10 days due to the new Brexit export/import paraphernalia.
In the meantime as we were waiting for the part to arrive, Alex was sitting on the back deck minding his own business when he heard a loud crack. On looking up he was just in time to see the weeping willow at the rear of the barge on which we were moored – Lily Ann – split in two at its fork some 20 feet above the ground. One half fell onto the back of Lily Ann, while the other half fell the other way onto Dominic’s BMW and very nearly onto our own car. It missed our car by about two inches but wrecked the BMW’s rear window and boot lid.
Lily Ann’s bimini was completely flattened and the whole rear deck invisible under a canopy of leaves and branches. By some miracle Andy himself wasn’t sitting on his back deck under the bimini as per normal but down below so he was unharmed.
When Sara and Kevin finally got to the scene Sara did a great job of getting some local tree surgeons to clear Andy’s barge and our car from branches but as it was a Friday night, the rest would have to wait until Monday. By that time, when the VNF workers arrived to completely clear the debris the tree had settled further over the weekend making poor Dominic’s BMW a write-off – the roof light was broken, the front windscreen smashed and the roof itself was badly dented.
As soon as this excitement had died down and we had finally received said PV controller we installed it and set off on what we had planned would be a trip north to at least St Jean de Losne, near Dijon.
However after three days and nights of hard work and intolerable heat we were both knackered and started to have a re-think. After the third night where our mooring (the only one available) was opposite a busy road and railway, together with a particularly determined mosquito we had had hardly a wink’s sleep.
Subsequently when we learned that there was a shortage of water in the Canal du Midi and too much in the Rhone, we decided to take things easy again and leave the whole going north business until next year when not only would we be starting at a better time in the year, but 1) we would have a 6 month visa instead of a paltry 90 days in 180 and would have plenty of time to meander as we normally do and 2) we would be doing the Canal du Midi in low season, not in the heat of August.
So, we spent the next four days recovering from our dash so far, at the super new moorings at Escatalens where although the depth was not so good the water, electricity and mooring were free, with some shade in the afternoons and the surrounding area free from unendurable noise. So peaceful!!
Good free mooring at Escatalens - even if we did have to leap for shore
We moved on to Montauban – a lovely 8-lock descent from our night’s mooring at Lacourt St Pièrre. Bruce (Australia) and Rodney (British French resident) currently moving barge MATILDA from Montauban to Moissac stopped by for a chat and so we knew that the quay in Montauban was currently empty and that the Tarn mooring was thoroughly recommended. When we reached Montauban we asked if we could descend the double locks onto the river Tarn for a night. ‘Pas de problem’.
So from the double locks we went on up the Tarn as far as the first pontoon where we moored at the end away from the fishermen which promised shade in an hour or so.
Unfortunately, as the shade came, so did les jeunes, complete with loud taped rap and a penchant for loud talk and splashing in the river. In the end, we decided enough was enough and we moved upriver to the next and final mooring.
As we approached the mooring, the river got more and more shallow and Alex, with memories of the Marne grounding some years ago, slowed RICCALL to a crawl. But eventually the depth increased and we got to the pontoon and there was plenty of room to moor up with the other boat there already.
Peace at last - no youngsters, no railway, no roads. Only later did we discover frogs, croak, croak, on and off all night! Ah well, you can’t have everything (and after all, we are in the land of frogs!).
So, back to Montauban and a mooring once again on the quay with water and electricity for €14 a night for a couple of nights. Alex has an abiding love of all things relating to industrial heritage: locks, factories, water mills, pumping stations etc. - the more derelict the better, so it was no surprise that he decided on our last morning in Montauban to set off to investigate the two derelict locks on the Tarn within a short distance.
The first one was close and easy enough to access, but the second required a bike ride up hill and down dale! When it seemed clear that there was a lot more up hill and down kms to do, Louise decided enough was enough and a peek at the old town was more up her street.
Alex did manage to find his second lock, after much searching, but it was completely inaccessible, meanwhile Louise had her little look at the city centre. Our previous visit was 10 years ago and not a jot remained in the memory! The lovely city square was, unfortunately, being dug up and resurfaced, and although there were ‘high end’ shops a-plenty in the ancient streets, there were many shuttered frontages, ‘de-stockage’ (sales) signs everywhere and a general look of economic gloom – no surprise of course during COVID.
When we went to pay for our moorings the capitaine, Sebastien, handed Alex the ‘Rules of the Road’ for boaters on the Tarn which he should have given us before our descent. They were only available in French so Alex volunteered Louise to do a translation. We spent the rest of the day struggling to grapple with the nuances of French and make it into sensible English. Job done, we discovered that our printer had run out of ink! But email is a wonderful thing!
Back up the 8 locks and we spent the night at a lock mooring close to the little lock house once lived in by the owner/operators of the hotel barge ST LOUIS, Alisdair and Barbara. We’d known them from our previous time on the Garonne, 11 years ago. We wondered if they would still be in business but no, they had sold their business and moved back to Scotland. The new owners now operate the barge and live in the lovely little lock house.
We returned to Escatalens taking in a tour of the Pente d’Eau of Montech which at last has been thoroughly renovated. BUT it is now a ‘theme park’, the mechanism painted in multiple primary colours and open to the public for free tours. It was a very interesting display, if a bit ‘Disney’!
At Escatalens we met Malcolm and Debbie of JANNA II and spent some time with them. They live aboard and are slowly turning their huge 30m barge into a home, but as we know, it’s a long slog. They have come to know someone from the Mairie and have managed to arrange to spend the winter there – a lovely spot. Good for them!
Finally we got back to Buzet where we had rearranged to moor for another winter, the only problem being lack of space as we had become a very late booking. Eventually, it was agreed that the far downstream corner, amongst the banana trees would be the ‘best’ i.e. only spot. So, after a night moored on Mike and Bev’s barge SPES, we set out to reverse into said location – not easy with no bow thruster but with skill, determination and a great deal of luck we made it into a very tight spot without hitting another boat. Amazing!! (Louise says – don’t be modest, excellent boat handling by Alex.)
So then it was a case of cutting a gap through the middle of the banana plants so we could get off the barge and also manufacturing and installing a decent mooring pin to the rear of the barge (a length of scrap 3” steel tube cut to length with a cap welded to the top and the whole thing hammered 3 ft into the ground seemed appropriate).
Alex thought the same at the front would also be a good idea rather than relying on, the rather low stump of the weeping willow left by the VNF, and that has now been installed.
Having established RICCALL in this rather difficult mooring we decided to spend the remaining few weeks we have left here (of our 90 days!) visiting friends in the area by car.
The first trip was east to Aigues-Mortes via lunch with friends Terry and Carole at their favourite restaurant and a night with them at their house at Cazouls-lès-Béziers. We then spent two lovely nights with Jim and Jehan on LES VIEUX PAPILLONS then headed back towards Buzet. It was a very long trip from A-M to Buzet and the traffic had been so bad on the péage on the way over that we decided to book at night in a hotel at Castelnaudary on the return and use the N roads, visiting several of the major ports on the Canal du Midi on the way.
At one port we met a British couple who after a happy chat from the shore invited us aboard for a coffee. In the course of the subsequent conversation, to our consternation they divulged the fact that they were anti-vaxers (and Trump supporters)! We left as soon as politely possible. We didn't think anybody outside America had any truck with Trump but supposedly there has to be one or two. And as for anti vax.....Well !!
A few minutes later we met another British couple outside their beautiful house on the quay in the same port, who were equally horrified by our encounter and restored our confidence in the vast majority of the population who understand that maximum vaccination is the only way forward to return to some sort of normality.
Once back at Buzet of course work never stops. Alex’s latest idea is to finally get the fore-deck re-painted. Louise thinks he feels it is now let down by all the work she has done in re-painting all the hand rails! (And besides all that, we have at last repainted the whole wheelhouse roof. PV panels off as well while we were at Escatalens)