Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Coronablogus!

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.



The big fish is landed at last


How much does this one weigh?


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!



Termente

Another surprise for us when 30m l'Astrolabe passed by - a hotel barge of sorts.


Another whopper!



And another!

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.



Sunday, 15 December 2019

Westward Ho!

Well, we intimated in the last blog that our trip to our winter mooring might be a tad rushed! And so it turned out. We normally just hate hurried boating, but in this case, even Alex agreed that we would make a beeline for Buzet.

To this end, our traverse of the Midi and Garonne was at lightning speed – 8-hour days with barely half an hour for lunch – and this is France – home of the extended lunch 'hour'!

So to give all our avid readers an idea of our progress this blog will be largely photos with the occasional comment for good measure.


Crossing the Etang de Thau from Frontingnan to the Midi . . .

. . . where this is the state of the canal that greets you!!!


However, a little further west and the sea beckons - this is Vias on the last day of the French summer holidays.  


Then it was the Malpas Tunnel with its curious eroded entry and exit section.
Capestang proved no problem this time and with the confidence of having sailed through twice before, we continued on to an overnight mooring west of the town.  The skies darkened, the storm clouds collected, the wind howled, the thunder and lightning started and we were so fascinated by watching the storm that we completely forgot that ALL of our portholes and roof windows had been opened during the day and were still open!  Downstairs the boat was drenched - water everywhere, sofas soaked, dining table awash.  Fortunately the bedroom had been spared (the wind was blowing from the other side) but the clean up took some time.

The weather resumed its  loveliness for several days, which was just as well because roof off days were ahead!

And here is the wheelhouse ready for a roof-off which we couldn't avoid despite the appalling weekend weather which suddenly descended.



We had to wait for what seemed like hours for the lock to be available and then this is what emerged!  We had, and still have, no idea what kind of craft it was, but it was clearly in the early stages of a process of refurbishment, doing 2 km/h and driven from behind by a small craft which had to be disconnected for entry to each lock and then re-connected on exit!  How laborious a trip, and in that weather!!!





Ah, that's better: the Midi as we know and love it!

But not like this - after the removal of the diseased trees.  So very sad.

At one of our stopping places, we were astonished to see, at dusk and closure of the canal,  the arrival of a lumberjack crew!  

The crew arrives at dusk to remove another diseased tree . . .

. . . and they worked till 10pm with their chain saws, then all was quiet.

But - by morning when we got up - even the remaining trunk had been quietly removed!  How did that happen?

Midi-style curved lock - Riccall in roof-off mode.
At the parting of the waters - the summit - there is a large parkland area devoted to an explanation of the engineering works of M Riquet, 'builder' of the Midi Canal.  Here the waters enter the canal from the reservoir high in the hills and the following bust is an artist's interpretation of the features of M Riquet, set beneath a Statue of Liberty-style headdress.  Very impressive!



The rest of the days to Toulouse passed with the usual routine - roof off in the morning, lunch stop somewhere and a late finish - roof on for overnight and the next thing tomorrow. We kept up the pace and were astonished to find that we were almost the only boat around.  The lockkeepers seemed to know we were coming (the power of the mobile phone) and had locks open and ready for us and on one day on the approach to the summit, we covered 20.5 kms and 20 locks!  Yes really! We were tired but very smug!!!


But then, after Toulouse, where we stayed two nights,
we were onto the Garonne - with a typical canal scene ahead.
So we were now on the homeward straight and covered the next 100+ kms and 44 locks in just a week.  Safely moored up in Buzet alongside LES VIEUX PAPILLONS (our old friends from 9 years ago) we ate Kevin's fish and chips at Au Bord de L'eau and prepared for the homeward trek.

Not much detailed information in this blog, but the following stats will give an overview of this year's progress!!


Stats for 2019

1752.2 kms      375 locks     5 tunnels     6 moveable bridges



Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Towards and On The Mighty Rhone



Well, my crossed fingers regarding air con clearly worked!  Alex has bought a domestic air con unit which will be fitted during the winter: pity, as the heat is merciless at present.

We stopped briefly at Gergy, which now doesn't have any limitations as to length of boat allowed to moor, but rather stupidly, we decided to forgo the restaurant for lunch and eat on board.  We met up with DAISY and Ian and Nicky kindly helped us to moor to difficult cleats.

Our mooring that night at Chalon wasn't the prettiest, being on a high commercial quay, but was quiet - something we wished for a little further down the Saone.  


Louise says "She never could take a good photo"!!


We love those abandoned quays – they offer a good solid mooring, even if the bollards can be a little far apart sometimes, being more suited to the old Fr├ęcinet size barges -  bollards at 40m+.  Chalon itself is a few kilometres downstream and as we had 'done' the town 9 years ago, we stayed aboard overnight.

We ate lunch on the outside of the former lock at Gigny because the lovely little restaurant with terrace was closed for a private function!    The capitaine came round to 'advise' us essentially to be off as mooring on the outside wall was unsafe, despite the fact that there was no sign to say so and we were outside the marked channel.  We decided not to argue but just to go.

So on to Tournus.  On arrival, this being a Sunday afternoon, we found no room at the inn. Every single space was taken, and not wanting to beg to breast up (no-one was offering) we opted for the old riverboat quay.  We knew there was a chance a hotel boat might want to moor there, so to be on the safe side, Alex radioed the two cruise ships we knew were around and checked that they didn't need the quay.  So – all well.  Yes, until 4.15am when we were woken by blazing searchlights shining into our bedroom.  We knew what that meant, AVALON POETRY 2 (135m x 12m) was wanting the quay, so we quickly got dressed, spoke to the captain, and untied ourselves.  The captain agreed for us to moor alongside till 8am when they wanted to be off themselves, so at 7am we were up and moving.  Regular readers will appreciate that as our normal set-off time is 10am this was some change!

Moored up against POETRY 2 - 4.30am

Moored up against POETRY 2 - 4.30am - see tables set for breakfast!

Moored up against POETRY 2 - 4.30am

Dawn breaks and it's time to cast off

And there she is in all her glory!
Passengers completely unaware of the night's happenings


And so to Macon.  We had few memories of Macon, but reminded ourselves with a cycle tour around town, and the obligatory ride for stocks to the outskirts, near to the Port de Plaisance. We needed a laugh, so called into the port to ask for prices, should we ever want/need to stay.  With 400+ boats, it is the biggest inland port in France and Cyrille, the Capitaine, was very proud of that fact.  However, at €165 per week, mooring there will have to remain untried!!  Incidentally, an annual mooring would have been well over €3,800!!  We did however, manage a more than adequate lunch away from the tourist trail.

Macon itself offered a good space on the 84m quay – once the Sapeurs Pompiers had finished trying out their water hoses!  And we got in easily enough with a bit of offered help from two barges – GRETIGE HENRIETTE and HELIOX.  BUT – Macon mooring is sadly not as good as it looks!  We had two nights of loud talk and yelling from youths who placed themselves not 5 metres from the boat and proceeded to do so till 1am the first night and 5am the second night.  In despair, we have written to the Mairie outlining the problem and offering some suggestions. But on the plus side, we had seen an army of even younger people, complete with gloves and bin bags, picking up litter for a good 2 kms stretch of the river bank and quayside.  Their haul, when they finished close to our mooring, was quite something – including large jars full of cigarette stubs, numerous bags of assorted bottles, cans and litter, and some quite large items – plastic chairs and pallets!!!  And we did congratulate the town in our letter for that project.
 
Macon - wonderful house of carved wood

Macon - Romantic garden

Macon - Romantic Garden - just lovely


Macon - Romantic Garden - just lovely

Macon - another hotel cruise boat turns


ZOFIA came onto the pontoon late in the afternoon and we enjoyed aperos with Rudi and Nadia before they went off for a special evening meal.  They had apparently seen RICCALL twice before, but ashamed to admit, neither Alex nor Louise could really recall the occasions!   After our second impossible night of disturbed sleep, we gave Macon the cold shoulder and set off for a little, calm not-quite-wild mooring we have used before.  There is a wall with (we know!) one ring on it and plenty of fencing to tie to.  


Once moored up, Alex got the metal detector out and discovered that there was indeed the remains of a ring at 40m distance from the first one!  So the detector really does work!  We had a pleasant enough evening and night, though got to watch two hotel cruise ships travelling downstream and two travelling upstream.  We have been amazed by the number of cruise ships plying this Saone route and the Rhone will probably be just as bad!

We had moored at Belleville -

Belleville pontoon - empty when we arrived and empty when we left!

travelling both up and downstream before: the last time, we were the third barge on the pontoon with another small boat, so we were naturally nervous that it would be full this time as well.  EMPTY!!   We couldn't believe our luck.  Further downstream we were amazed to find a number of Haltes Fluvial installed by 'Grand Lyon'.  

Grand Lyon mooring - just look at those flood levels

Although each pontoon was only 15m long, they were installed between two huge ducs d'Albe which had bollards for our ropes.

Lyon itself was another matter.  Although the town quay was available for us, we decided to get fuel in the afternoon, as the next day, Sunday, the fuel barge would be closed, and on our return up-river changed our mooring to the right bank, under trees and shade.  This may have been a bad idea as, since our last visit, the trip boat, dining and event boat and hire power boat scene has completely transformed Lyon as a mooring destination, for the worse.  We won't be mooring in Lyon again and we are currently hoping for a quiet overnight mooring sometime soon!!

Hooked up to the wall - another ring to tie too at the stern

Possibly the worst boat on the whole river

Lyon likes to make it's mark!

Views on the Rhone
All kitted up for the big locks - gilet de sauvetage obligatoire!

Robert suggested a drug deal gone wrong!!

First sight of the terrace vineyards in this area - Cotes du Rhone

Former bridge support

Onward to an ex-sand quay – our favourite type of mooring – deep water, high quay, good bollards.  This particular one is directly opposite the little Ampuis mooring.  The Breil guide gives info about the Ampuis mooring, saying that during holidays etc, when a jousting match is planned, no mooring would be possible.  And so it was, on the last Sunday of the summer holidays.  So while we got our 'wild mooring' we were well within earshot of the tannoy announcing and commenting on the action.  It was just great!  Each time the two teams faced up to each other, the band began to play rumbustious tunes designed to get everyone going!  And it went on, and on, and on until we left the back deck and went below and they were still at it, not the jousting now, but the general bonhomie no doubt fuelled by a glass of good old Cotes du Rhone.

Another day, another sand quay, this time near St Vallier.  And by now we were really getting into a region with a different style of domestic architecture – more Mediterranean in colour and feel.  The Rhone here was a good 60m wide and the depth under the boat at times 13m: without doubt The Mighty Rhone.

Another stop downstream of Beauchastel Lock.  Louise could remember going into the town in 2012 and finding it deeply decrepit!  But in our Rhone guide 'Beauchastel with its picturesque streets is very popular with artists and photographers'.  Well clearly something was missed on our last visit so we decided to give the town another try, and on a little half-hidden sign were the words 'vieille ville'.  So we followed the sign and found to our great delight the much beloved picturesque streets climbing upwards towards the ruin of a 13th century tower.  








Don't you just love the Stannah stairlift?!!




We've seen quite a few of these mostly ruined towers along the last fifty or so kilometres of the Rhone: presumably they were watchtowers as all have been much too small to live in!
 
How dreadfully blingy is that?!!!

 General Rhone scenes follow





Tarascon - no moorings here

We'd had no problem in mooring up at locks for lunch or overnight so far on the Rhone.  It had always been after 3.30pm and the lock keepers have been universally happy for us to stop. Mind you, we are virtually the ONLY plaisance on the river at present, so there's unlikely to be any battle for space on the 25m pontoons above and below each lock. In any case the lock keepers know precisely where all the boats are as there is a computer system in place on the Rhone for just that purpose.

On approach to Logis-Neuf Ecluse, we were just congratulating ourselves on the seamless journey in and out of locks so far: we'd never had any delay and in most of them we had had the lock to ourselves.  On this occasion however, although the green and red light didn't change immediately, we did very soon get a green and were in!  However, after about half of the expected descent, the floating bollards stopped and the lock was at an eerie standstill.  Questioning lock keepers in French is not our strong point (and in any case they had more important things on their mind than us) so we just went about our business and waited.  Eventually, after about half an hour, the lock began to lower again, but VERY slowly, almost as if the lock keepers were manning the windlasses personally!!!  We wanted to moor up for lunch and asked to do so: the reply was long and complicated, possibly explaining what had been wrong but we did understand that YES, it was OK to moor up for lunch.  And so it was for overnight at the next lock – a long complicated reply but Yes it was OK.

Moorings from this point south are going to be very few and far between.  We are not welcome in many of the few ports which do exist – being too long, too heavy, too deep: most ports restrict space to boats under 15m.  So it's lock moorings or nothing!  One exception to this is Port 2, Ardoise.  Regular readers may remember that it was here that Alex discovered he had an inflamed appendix and was unceremoniously carted off to Bagnol hospital.  The port captain Ariane, was very helpful during that difficult period, and we think she's still at Port 2.  So that's where we're headed, but before that, we moored up downstream of Bollene Lock (the deepest in Europe at 23m) for lunch and while there the forecast wind wound itself up to 45kph (gusts of 80kph) so in the interests of safety we decided to stay put, well moored on the plaisance pontoon. 

Bollene Ecluse

Normally these pontoons are for waiting for lockage, sometimes for overnight mooring with permission from the lock-keeper but in winds such as this, it would be unsafe to be told to vacate – so there we stayed.  The high wind turned into the feared MISTRAL and caused us some consternation, but after a restless night as RICCALL was bumped into the pontoon, and a very early awakening, the captain decided that we'd 'make a dash for it' and get as far down the Rhone as possible: we wouldn't make it to the Petit Rhone in one hit (90kms) but to Vallabregues Ecluse might be possible at just 75kms!!  followers of this blog will know that this is WAY outside our comfort zone, but then so is white cap waves and winds of 35kmp+ with gusts of 58kph+. 

Alex had earlier described the locks further upstream and before the Mistral, as sounding like an orchestra tuning up as we entered:  the bassoon first, then the oboe, the flute then the piccolo as the floating pontoons were gently nudged by the water, but this time, when we entered they now sounded like bongo drums as they were bashed around inside their outer casings!

The weather continued to be fine – no rain forecast for the foreseeable weeks, but strong winds for at least a week, so we made our plan to get onto the Petit Rhone and into safe waters as soon as possible.

We achieved this after four days on board – no hope of getting ashore because of the incredibly high winds and no reason to want to go ashore anyway, as there is nowhere to go!!!  Two of our flags were destroyed in the Mistral and we lost our doormat! which blew overboard at some point!!  In addition, from Louise's point of view, there was an element of anxiety too.

So then onto the Petit Rhone, with calmer winds and an altogether different feel to our voyage.  The last few days (week) have been a challenge which had to be overcome, but overcome it we have, and now we shall move on with an eye to the weather, yes, but not the concern

Our ensign shows evidence of a very hard few days!!!