The Journey -
The day before we left Castelnaudary we had a 'Riquet' day out, Riquet being the inspiration of the Canal du Midi. If you want the whole story, get hold of a copy of 'From Sea to Sea' by L.T.C. (Tom) Rolt - he who also wrote 'Narrow Boat).
Riquet, amongst many other folk, realised that an inland waterway, connecting the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, would attract a great deal of trade. In his job as a collector of salt tax, he travelled the area a great deal, and came to realise that the heart of any such waterway had to be at Narouze, more poetically known as 'The Stones of Narouze'. Narouze was the watershed between east and west. Unfortunately, it lacked any water.
Riquet knew that there was plenty of water to the North East of Narouze, in the Black Mountains. His first task was two-fold: to build a dam at St Ferreol (still the largest dam of its type ever built) and to build a channel to carry water from the dam to Narouze - he made this channel navigable by building locks along it, but these are no longer in use.
At Narouze, he built a massive, hexagonal basin. Some say that it was to store water for the canal, others that it was a settling basin. Some few years after the canal was completed, the basin 'silted up'. It was then filled-in except for a narrow perimeter channel which is still extant. Why did they not dredge the basin?
Lots of purple prose has been written by folks who have stood at the place where the waters from St Ferreol enter the summit pound of the Canal du Midi, and have mused on the randomness of a floating leaf swirling in the breeze and drifting off towards either the Med or the Atlantic.
A rather dramatic stone needle was raised on the (rather marly) Stones of Narouze to commemorate Riquet, but entry to the walled area is now forbidden.
We then motored over to St Ferreol and walked across the magnificent dam. Below the dam, Riquet organised a water fountain in a wooded glade that is well worth the scramble down to see. A tunnel leads under the dam to, apparently, some rather good looking bronze taps that control the flow from the dam - allegedly, because the tunnel entrance is now barred off.
Then over to Cammazes where there is a tunnel through which a feeder to the St Ferreol dam runs. The tunnel is not too long, but it is still a bit dark in the middle. There is a not particularly wide walkway on either side of the water in the tunnel, so a walk through is perfectly feasible. The brave emerge unscathed. The more cautious emerge with a hip, arm, shoulder and possibly, head swathed in cobwebs that they have picked up from the tunnel walls.
Thence to the Barrage de Garbelle, built in the 1950s. Entry onto the dam is, according to the many notices, 'Strictly Prohibited', but there are no barriers to stop pedestrians, who all ignore the signs and warnings.
Thence we drove over to Lampy-Neuf where another, short dam pens back quite a long lake. The dam is bounded by picnic areas, and it is a very pleasant little stop-over.
The next day we left Castelnaudary, following a bit of bother. We are peaceable folk, and not easily riled, but
On the waterfront at Castelnaudary there is a water tap and a four-socket electric tree. Most boaters leave the tap area free, though there are no notices instructing them so to do. On our last night, this area was unused, our boats were breasted up next to it - Rosy on the outside. I was preparing for the day's voyage, whilst Mike decided to fill with water, and, rather than use a long hose, started to bow-haul the two boats the 15 or 16 metres down to the water-point. As he arrived and was mooring up, Mr Hire Boater and his boat arrived, and started whingeing about how he wanted to fill with water and that we were in the way. Mike (civilly and calmly) explained that we, too, were there to fill with water and that we would be finished in 15 or 20 muinutes. But Mr Hire Boater wanted to fill NOW.
Enter stage left Mr Dutch Boater from further down the quay, who was in support of Mr Hire Boater, and who explained to us that mooring in front of the tap was not permitted.
ONE -That the situation had got nothing to do with him.
TWO - That although there were no 'No Mooring' notices around we were well aware of the etiquette concerning water points and mooring, but that
THREE - we had not moored there overnight, but had arrived there three minutes previously in order to fill with water, which mission would be accomplished very much more quickly if he removed himself back to his boat (OWTTE (Or Words To That Effect)).
Meanwhile, June had got the hose connected and was filling Temujin, whilst Mr Hire Boater was struggling with the complexities of moving a boat his boat 15 or 16 metres through the water, and then sideways for four metres in order to moor it where we had been five minutes before.
June, having filled Temujin, handed the hose to me, and I started filling Rosy, whilst Mr Hire Boater struggled with the physical dynamics of mooring a boat, followed by the unrolling of an unruly hose and then the taxing problem of trying to remember the whereabouts of the hose-to-tap connector.
Meanwhile, having filled with water, we started engines, and left the quay-side pretty much at the same instant that the first gush of water entered the tank of Mr Hire Boater's hired boat. That first gush may well have killed him and his family, as no one had told him to let water flow through the hose for a minute or two (to get rid of all the germs and general lurgies breeding in the hose) before putting any in the tank.
What a good start to the day!!!
The lock keepers controlling the eight locks leading up to the summit level were all remarkably (for the Midi) friendly, talkative and helpful. One was a sultry and lusty looking blonde lady (?) who conducted operations from her bedroom window, via a hand-held radio command post. She was swathed in a blanket, and appeared to have little on underneath it. There was a man lurking in the shadows of the room. I had my suspicions (!!) especially as she looked particularly cheerful, contented, carefree and, like her lock, flushed.
We thought of mooring in the village of La Segala, on the summit level. However, it is a hire boat base, and would be busy over the weekend, so we went on through a little bridge and then moored. It was a comfortable mooring, except that, being on the summit level, all lockings caused the water level to drop and the boats to tilt a bit. No problem normally, but on a Saturday afternoon, the tilts play havoc with satellite TV reception of the rugby matches. Our slumbers were much helped by the bridge, which masked the noisy din emanating from revellers at the quay-side caff. Opposite our mooring was a well maintained laverie, though we didn't see anybody using it.
We spent a happy weekend on the mooring, setting off bright and early on the Monday morning. The locks open at 0900 hrs. Personally, I prefer an 0700 or 0800 start, in order to get to a mooring between 1100 hrs (for a short day) before other boaters stop for lunch, or 1400 hrs (for a 'long day') when the lunch-time moorers have left. However, the crew of Temujin stay up until the wee small hours, so getting them moving before 0900 is pretty much impossible.
We crossed the summit level and arrived at the first downhill lock - indeed, our first downhill lock since getting off the Etang de Thau.
If anyone is thinking of hiring a boat on the Midi, I would strongly suggest ensuring that they make the maximum use of downhill locks. They are very, VERY much easier.
After a very gentle day we stopped above the lock at Gardouch on a quay. It was a rowing boat day - some 30 to 50 (we think) 'racing' boats were being portaged round the lock. Each boat had a cox and four rowers, each rower wielding two oars (is that rowing or sculling - I'm never quite sure). I don't think they were racing, merely out for a communal event. Quite how a hire boat crew would deal with an approaching string of 40 rowing (or sculling) boats was an interesting point to ponder.
The next day Ah! Yes! The next day!!!
It all started off OK. Down a few locks including the one at Negra where there used to be a 'staging' point in the days when there was a passenger service along the canal. The old hotel and stables are now used by a hire-boat company on turn-round days. The chapel is closed, as its roof has tumbled in. We filled with water there, before moving on.
Shortly afterwards, I noticed that the red charging light was glowing on the engine control panel. We moored, and Mike 'ran his meter' over things, and announced that the alternator was knackered. Pas de problem!! There is a spare. Two hours later we got going again. Two hours!!!!! Nothing on the spare alternator fitted in with the old one, so we were bodging all the fitments and attachments. Anyway, we eventually got going again, and all was well, until, after about 30 minutes, the red charging light came back on. At that point we found a good spot and moored up for the day.
After lunch Mike took the old alternator apart, and checked everything in it, including dismantling things in order to check the diodes. Everything he checked was OK. What he couldn't check was the regulator, so we replaced it with the one from the spare alternator, put the old alternator back in place and fired up the engine. All was well!! Problem solved - it was a defunct regulator. Except that after five minutes the warning light came on again!!!
We then spent a frustrating few hours checking regulators (Mike had a spare one, so we had three to play with), and testing out the interaction between the alternators and the Sterling Charge Controller (which boosts the alternator output).
Nothing that we did solved the problem. When we ran the engine, things would be OK for a while, then the warning light would come on, and battery charging would stop.
By the time we had finished it was getting late, so we gave up until the morning.
Now, Rosy is well equipped to withstand a siege, and has paraffin lamps galore, so I had a comfortable evening even though I was wary about using any electricity.
The following morning we were back with the problem. Mike had a spare regulator, so we fitted that to the old alternator, but the problems remained.
Our (well, Mike's actually) final thought was that perhaps there was an 'off engine' problem - the blocking diode for example. A while ago I we replaced the old 1-2-BOTH-OFF rotary battery selector with a blocking diode. Perhaps the diode was knackered. Armed with the magic meter I started taking readings based on Mikes instructions, and one struck Mike as being wrong. I then used a length of very stout electric cable to connect two terminals. I held the cable firmly onto one terminal, and touched the second terminal with the cable. There was a loud bang, which left a small hole burned into the second terminal, and the cable welded onto the first terminal - though a quick twist broke it free. By heck!!!
The next move was to get into the back of the instrument panel, and there was the problem. Most of the insulation on the ammeter had melted away, so that shorts were being made, and each short overloaded the charging system causing it to shut down. An hour later, with the ammeter re-insulated, all the systems worked perfectly.
AND THEN SOME SHOPPING
Food shopping is never a great adventure for me. It is something that needs to be done, but the hustle, bustle and impersonal atmosphere in the average supermarket (which is where we do most of our shopping) is not to my liking. The one we went to was worse than usual in that it was very much bigger than usual, and therefore it was much more difficult to find what one needed. This particular supermarket had a high point - the wet fish counter. There was a bit of a queue at it, and it was staffed by three people. Knowing the form, the first thing I did was to grab a numbered ticket, to establish my plaice (Ho! Ho!) in the queue. They had some good looking farmed (their fins were rounded at the corners), gutted trout, and some salmon steaks, as well as crustaceans and plenty of fresh (bright eyed) white fish and, tucked away at the back, some white flesh from squid/octopus. I'd already decided on this before I realised that it was less than 4 Euro a kilo.
The counter was being serviced by a middle-aged man (who was ignoring the queue, and spent his time renovating the wall of crushed ice that surrounded the counter), an older man (who was efficient but impersonal) and a woman in her early 20s. She was bright and vivacious, had a winning smile and served folk efficiently and quickly. She finished serving a customer and called out my number. My lucky day!!!
She went off to collect my squid, and whilst weighing them, asked if I was English. Always a difficult question for me. My father was English of Welsh extraction, and my mother was Scottish. I was brought up in England, but all my affinities seem to lie in Scotland. Hence, these days, I tend to follow the old Scots law, that allowed goods and chattels to pass down the male line (as in England and many other countries), but traced ones ancestry back through the female line, on the sound proposition that the identity of one's mother is an article of fact, whilst the identity of one's father is an article of faith. So I said that I was Scottish. She then ignored all the other customers, and explained that she was a foreigner as well - Norwegian. I looked a bit incredulous (did I mention that she was black?), so she explained that she originated in the Cameroons. That wobbled me a bit, as I cannot for the life of me recall where they are. Anyway, she had a house that she wanted to sell - whether in the Cameroons, Norway or France I never discovered. I said that I couldn't be doing with houses, and that I lived on a boat, which she found to be extremely interesting and exciting.
I mention all this, because in all my life I have never before been served by a fish mongeress who offered me first refusal on a house in the Cameroons. Indeed, is this a world first?