The Journey -
Our move, after fixing the apparent alternator problem, was but a short one, to the Écluse Vic at Castenets. We meant to linger there for only a couple of nights, but the weather came along and we were there for several days.
First of all - "Hi!!" to everyone at the Soar Boating Club and its environs, from the couple on the barge 'Balestra'. They moored opposite us, so we called across the cut to each other. 'Rumpus' got a mention, as did Beryl McDowall on 'Wasp' who moors nearby.
I got a mail drop, and that provided me with some jobs to do. Well, actually, there was (and is) a great list of jobs to be done, but there are two important ones.
The first is to make a radiator. Rosy has a central heating system in her front half. A diesel stove circulates hot water through a small radiator and a home made towel rail. The system has been in for nearly seven years, and it is the small radiator that causes problems. It is only 50 cm long, but I am on the second one, and that is going the same way as its predecessor, namely, it has acquired a leak - not from any joins, but a small hole has rusted through its body. Why should this be? There is some anti-freeze flowing through the system, but still this rust pin-prick has appeared. At present the hole is so small that the rust blocks it, but I don't think this state of affairs will last for long.
So. The decision was to make up another radiator/towel rail out of 22mm copper pipe - a job I felt confident about doing, but had been delayed by rain and yet more rain!! I've got a gas cartridge for the flame thrower that I use when soldering big items, some flux and solder and all the pipe-work necessary pip-work, bends and supports, so all I needed was a bright interval during the incessant rain and drizzle.
Job Number Two is a bit more difficult. Rosy has four windows. Two are fine, the other two leak. The plan is to remove a window, clean everything up, refurbish and paint the metal to which the window is attached, and then re-fix the window with more support than the present ones have. I have acquired some stainless steel set-screws that will not only replace the pop rivets that currently hold the window in place, but will also fill in the gaps between the pop rivets, so that each window frame will have about twice as many fixings than at present. On the assumption that that goes OK, I'll repeat the operation on the remaining three windows. Grinding the rust off the cabin sides will be tricky, if I am to avoid the dust entering the boat; and drilling and tapping all the holes is going to be both mundane and DBU (Dull, Boring and Uninteresting). Other than that .
Meanwhile, despite the rain, the hedgerows are full of fruit - a few weeks in advance of the UK, I think. Sloes ('petit prune' in French) are doing particularly well, though I don't need any this year. My bottle of sloe gin made two years ago is only down by about a third. The blackberries are very abundant, as are elderberries. I always feel as if any self respecting home vintner should have at least two elderberry trees in the garden to provide sufficient blossom in the spring for elderflower champagne and berries in the autumn for elderberry wine.
We ended up staying nearly a week on the Écluse Vic mooring, what with the weather and all. When we finally moved we had a 25 km journey - our longest for at least one and a half months. The cruise took us through Toulouse, passing beside the magnificent railway station - a real statement of "Hold on!! I'm here and I'm very important - pay attention". I also got a passing glimpse of Riquet's statue, which is placed over a canal bridge (that is almost long enough to be called a tunnel). I plan to get photos of both the station and the statue on the return journey.
The large basin at the end of the canal has a marble(?) frieze by the exit bridge. It could be a good mooring point were it not for the busy roads on three of its four sides, and, beside some of the quays, a severe lack of depth.
So instead of stopping we turned up the Canal Lateral à la Garonne, and moored above Écluse 3 Fenouillet. The next day we moved up to a couple of hundred metres below the ecluse at St Jory, and stayed there for the next two days.
I finally got some work done - taking out the old radiator, and fabricating a new one. It is untested as yet, as I need to get some replacement anti-freeze (for the circulating liquid) and an odd sized 'O'-ring to replace a perished on the Kabola stove.
The canal has a considerable flow on it - one or two kph at least. Water is fed into the canal, and each lock has a by-wash that is passed through a turbine to make electricity. I'm not sure whether the electricity merely powers the lock, or if a surplus is fed into the grid.
Above each lock the suction of the outflow needs to be considered, otherwise, whilst entering the lock, there could well be a coming together of the boat and lock-wall. On the way out, downstream, the flow into the canal also needs to be watched.
The locks are electrically driven from a simple control panel. Unfortunately, when going up-stream, one needs to get a crew on the lock side to press the 'Go' button. At several locks there is no convenient landing place below the lock, so the crew has to scale the wet and slimy ladder set into the lock wall. Anyone who, like me, saw the early Health and Safety at Work film 'The Ladder' (starring, I think, Bernard Bresslaw, amongst others) avoids all ladders like the plague. Unfortunately, although I can persuade Fanny the Woof to climb a ladder, she is pretty useless at pressing buttons, so it tends to be me that scales the heights when necessary. Of course, at the moment, we are cruising downhill, so, for us, the ladders are not required. There is a school of thought claiming that the 'Go' button can be pressed by wielding a boat-hook from the roof of the boat - we shall see.
We spent a few days at St Jory, and another few by the Écluse Lavache. Our lack of forward progress is mainly to do with the invasion upon our boating idyll of some wet weather. There seems little point in getting wet when we can wait a bit, and stay dry.
I caught up with some admin, like filling the central heating system (the new radiator didn't leak) and getting Fanny the Woof an anti-tick injection, and visiting a vet about her scratching, which she had been doing for a week to the extent that she was cutting into her flesh. There are no visible animal life-forms crawling about her, so the treatment is some pills and shampoos.
We made a bit of progress, and this is now being written at Castelsarrasin. On the way, we checked out the moorings at Montech, which are OK but not ideal. We omitted to travel up the newly opened arm to Montauban, intending to do it on our return journey.
The lady at the desk in the Capitainerie-cum-Tourist Office is the most un-welcoming person I have yet met in France. In reply to my question about the possibility of mooring there for the winter, I got a curt and aggressive "Non!!" I was told by other boaters that she is well known for her curt rudeness, so I went back later when other, more pleasant characters were on duty. I then learned that various pounds on the canal are to be drained during the winter for repairs, so that winter moorings are getting a bit tricky and that Castelsarrasin in particular is fully booked.
We can stay in Castelsarrasin for a few days (two or three Euros a day including water and electricity) and the plan is to use Mike's car to investigate other moorings...
This we did. By chance, we struck two nuggets of gold early on.
The first was when we looked at Moissec, where the moorings are run by Brits Ian and Caz. They told us to check in with VNF to get the winter stoppages list. This we did, though it took a while to extract it from them. There are several stoppages. Some pounds will be drained. Some will be maintained, and the rest are expected to leak away about one metre of depth. We then headed off to look at some sites.
We stopped to check out one possible site. A narrow boat was moored on it, so we knocked on the roof, and met Kath. Her husband Mike was off gallivanting, so she gave us the low down on some possible other sites. There were quite a few, so we went back to our boats to do some more detailed planning. Later that day, Kath and Mike appeared by our boats, and we spent an excellent hour or two with them, getting details of all possible sites. Their boat is called Kinsarvik, and they will be well know to the on-line waterways community, especially those who frequent uk.rec.waterways and its clones. They ran Minervois Cruises over at La Somail on the Canal du Midi - the outfit that rents out wide-beam, cruiser-style 'narrow' boats. They were extremely helpful.
The following day, we drove some 270 km, checking out all the sites. Some were already fully booked. Some were under the fringing plane trees which Kath and Mike warned us would be significantly colder than an open mooring exposed to the sun. Plus, of course, the trees could mask the Sky TV signal.
As usual, we experienced some difficulties. One site was fine, but the person there said that the water would be turned off during the winter. This happened to us last winter, but we were provided with a key to turn the water on, and shown how to drain the system down once we had filled with water (which we did about once a week). Unfortunately, the person on duty knew nothing about the mechanics of running a boatyard, so didn't know if we could turn the water on and off.
At two sites, the owner/authority was unavailable. The authority at one site was the Mayor. He left as we arrived (he nearly drove into us!). Nobody knew his telephone number, nor did they know when he would be back, nor did they know anything about the moorings, nor could they advise us on the possibility of our mooring there for the winter, nor could they say whether any other boats had (or had not) moored there during the winter in past years.
Still, at least we saw a bit of the countryside. No vineyards at all. Lots of sad sunflower fields. The sunflowers have bowed heads, and, in dying are turning brown, but they still stand bravely erect, awaiting their doom with considerable fortitude. Tobacco fields were also evident, but greatly outnumbered by the fruit trees - many of the orchards being covered with sheets of fleece.
We finally arrived at Valence d'Argen, where the little port has some finger moorings that are not full. We checked with the regulating authority - the local Tourist Office. They are on a first come first served basis, so we scampered back to our boats at Castelsarrasin, set off the next morning, and are now moored there. Mike is currently away checking out one further site up near Montec, but I guess we will probably be here for the winter.
In truth, we would rather cruise for a few more weeks, but to be stuck without a winter mooring would create a few too many complications - it wouldn't be a disaster, just a bit too tricksy.
Since we have some information about possible moorings, I'll list them here. The usual provisos. These are from the notes I made, and, not being a son of God, I am far from infallible. Take everything as a rough guide, and with a large pinch of salt, and check it all out.
There are two more moorings further on that we did not visit. Meihan-sur-Garonne is said to be a very pretty village. Fontet is a large marina , possibly exposed to the wind
EVEN LATER ..
Yes. We will be at Valence d'Agen during the winter, or rather, as from now until the early spring.