The Journey -
We've been making steady, but unhurried progress. Last year's moorings, which were all new to me, now have a bit of history attached to them. So that it was from Villepinte that we did a bit of 'Cathar' touring, and had a very drunken BBQ with some Irish folk. They had ordered a 'green organic' chicken from a local farmer, who promised to bring it (properly slaughtered and drawn) to the party. Farmer + wife duly arrived, the chicken etc. etc. was eaten, wine was drunk, and the bloody stupid game of a tower of wood blocks, where the players have to remove a block, but the player that collapses the tower has to pay a forfeit - in our case, drinking a tumbler-full or two of French red plonk. This time, the farmer appeared and handed me a leaflet about his organic produce, but then got all matey when I reminded him of our previous meeting.
He has a problem, because although folk like to visit his organic farm, some folk (mostly Brits) hesitate to buy meat from him, as not much of it is ready to buy. His deal is that you choose the animal you want, and he does the dreaded deed and all the butchery, and hands you a pack - such as you might buy in a butchers shop. The problem is two-fold. Firstly, some folk don't like to choose (and hence pass the death sentence) on a particular animal. Secondly, most meat improves with hanging, whereas his modus operandi often means that one is eating freshly killed meat.
Anyway, on, on. Through Carcassone, gearing up for a big July 14 firework display in the new, old castle. I say 'new, old castle' as many folk run away with the impression that it is a genuine old castle. Not so. It used to be an old castle, but it gradually deteriorated, until its ruins were 'discovered'. It was not restored. A new, fine looking - and old looking - castle was built, and has been a major tourist attraction ever since. Many features of the castle are reasonably authentic, but it is a pastiche of 'fortifications through the ages'. Incidentally, beware of the bridge at the tail of the town lock. There are no warning signs on it, but it is below 3.50m.
I stopped for a shopping break in Trèbes - rather a homely town, but the bigger shops are a bit out of town, so the bike came in handy. I got to Homps early on July 14, where I saw the Leeds and Liverpool short boat 'Nidd' - last seen on the Canal de Centre, with some folk who were trying to persuade a local mayor to let them park it (semi?)permanently. This obviously either didn't work out, or another life beckoned. The current, Irish, owner bought it a few years ago in St Jean de Losne. He lives on it with his family, and when I met up with him, he was renovating another very good looking barge.
As it was a national holiday, the Capitainerie was closed, so no money changed hands (though free 24-hour mooring is permitted anyway). Whilst the French celebrated, I washed my smalls, and hung them out to dry in the summer breeze. I thought they looked rather jolly amongst all the tricoleurs. I also supplied a 14mm socket and wrench to a wench who needed to tighten her bicycle pedals, and a BIG circular, blue 3-pin plug to someone who needed to plug into the electric system for an hour. This was only the third time I have used this plug, the other twice being on the two occasions I moored in Kortrick/Courtrai. One or two of the electric outlets in Homps have the smaller, 'normal' socket, but most have the larger ones.
From Homps it was a four or five-hour cruise to La Somail, where I planned to wait for a mail drop. Foolishly, as it turned out, as La Somail lacks a Post Office, and the bubbly lady in the Tourist Office didn't want me to use the Tourist Office address for my post, even though that meant that she lost a tourist - me!!
Thwarted, I cruised up to Ageliers, where there IS a post office, and I now have to hover around these parts for five or six days until the post arrives. This will give me time to do some little jobs. For example
Rosy's swan neck (the curvy tiller) is painted in bands of colour. In two places where different coloured bands meet, the join is masked by a Turk's Head, made out of white string, further whitened with some blanco. These have deteriorated over the past five or six years and need replacing.
To check on how to make a Turk's Head I turned to THE expert for a spot of memory refreshment. The Ashley Book of Knots was first published in the USA in 1948, and three years later in the UK. It is regularly reprinted. It's a biggish book, of 600+ pages with 7000+ drawings illustrating 3800+ knots. Not only are sailors' knots covered, but also butchers, cowboys, knitters, cobblers, surgeons, poachers, knitters, fishermen, linesmen etc. etc. and even tassels etc. for priestly people. Needless to say there is a whole chapter about Turk's Heads. The book is very cosy to use, as Ashley has an effective, folksy writing voice.
The new Turk's Heads look OK. I have up-rated them from three to four strand.
I have a passing interest in the origins of odd words, and 'gaffer' has just loomed up. A gaffer generally means a boss, and my small Oxford dictionary suggests it might derive from 'grandfather'. However
I was looking through a book about the old forts in Oman. It mentioned that not so long ago, before its renaissance, when Oman was divided into several tribal areas, it was prudent to take along a guide or protector who was acceptable to the tribe(s) through whose lands one was planning to pass. Such a person was termed a 'ghafir'. 'Ghafir', 'gaffer'. Influential people? I wonder. Is this another word to be added to the lexicon of words of Arabic origins in the English language?
(And I'm aware that 'a gaffer' can be applied to a gaff rigged sailing vessel and/or one who sails such vessels, and that a 'gaff' is used by some (itinerants?) as referring to a place to sleep and/or live).
Rather than wait at Ageliers, I moved back to La Somail, and attacked the bloody Sky dish. Ever since the dry dock, I've been having problems with Sky, that I thought were related to the LNB. The signal meter was giving inconsistent results, and wavered around even when the boat was steady. I stripped the weather protection away, and, sure enough, found that the co-ax copper core was fractured. Easy enough to replace, except that cutting a length off would make it too short for connection elsewhere - but luckily I had a spare length. Hence, after fifteen minutes, everything was tickety-boo.
I wanted to listen to the Radio 4 - P.M. followed by the 6 o'clock news, followed by a re-run of an old 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue' followed by the Archers. Pure heaven. Except it whistled and crackled all the way through. In frustration, I did nothing about it for three or four days, and went newsless.
Yesterday, I set aside two hours to attack the problem. Le Somail provides a good Sky signal if one moors on the north bank and east of the bridge. This I did.
I set everything up, found the satellite, and got good sound and picture on all my favourite channels EXCEPT the radio channels, including bloody Radio 4, which all continue to crackle and whistle. Why should this be so? I say my prayers reasonably regularly, and try hard to avoid the sins of the flesh - so why should I be denied Radio 4?
If anyone is watching out for the nb Amethyst, she was here, but has just left, heading eastwards. She hails from Appley Bridge - wherever that is - and is painted in two shades of blue - dark and light, Oxford and Cambridge. I would strongly recommend anyone who intends spending long periods of time, in a hot and sunny climate, on a boat, especially a steel boat, to have it painted mainly white. It is remarkable how white painted boats are so VERY much cooler (to the touch and inside) than white painted boats.
Anyway, Amethyst is very curvy, with hardly any sharp corners or edges on her. She is basically a 'cruiser' style, but the stern has a two or three feet high solid guard around it, with a small exit/entrance gap on either side. These guards need to be carefully thought out, as the stern end also needs easily some accessible mooring points.
Another design point is that the side decks flow all the way round the vessel. However, on either side, they dip down by three or four inches as it runs along the length of the cabin sides. My guess is that it does this, in order to lower the side windows a bit, so that those people sitting down inside the boat can see out of them - in theory. I say that, because Rosy is a tug-style boat, with low side decks, but sitting on a chair inside her, I still cannot see out. On top of which, those few inches remove a lot of possible storage space inside the hull, and space is what a narrow boat generally lacks. If only you had them, those extra few inches could make a lot of difference (as the occasional lady friend has been known to tell me!!)
I eventually left Le Somail, quite early one morning. I almost immediately had a problem with an early-rising hire-boater, who wanted to pass me just as we were approaching a sharp, blind corner. I inhibited him, and continued to do so as we crossed the narrow aqueduct and continued to do as we slowly cruised by some moored (and inhabited) craft. This deeply annoyed him and he squeezed by anyway, only to be confronted by a fork in the canal. Not knowing which way to do he stopped - plastic boats can do this near instantaneously (unlike us heavy, steel jobbers) so he got a an earful of full blast horn, and missed getting Rosy's bows up his jacksie by a smidgen of a millimetre.
A half-mile further on I found a Brit boat in discussion with a van load of VNF guys. The boat was disabled, and the crew wanted to get it to the next village (where my mail was, hopefully, waiting for me). The VNF said they would have to bow haul. Enter Rosy et moi!! I towed them for a couple of kilometres, whilst the VNF went ahead and organised a clear space for us to moor - which we did. I went to get my mail, whilst the crew of the dead boat got things organised, as they had to return to the UK for a few weeks.
When I got back to the boat with my mail, they took me up to the nearby bar ('Le Chat qui Pêche' - The Cat who Fishes). We were joined by the crew of another nearby boat, a retired couple who gave us detailed accounts of all the breaths drawn by their several grand-children, and the daily 'marvellous' doings of their several sons and daughters, and the relatives of their spouses etc. etc. I don't know why more people don't realise that conversations are best conducted on topics of mutual interest to the parties concerned - which is why boaters tend to talk about boats (and sex), rugby players tend to talk about sex (and rugby) and milk-bottle-top collectors tend to lead a lonely existence.
Anyway, I fairly rapidly made my excuses and cruised off, to moor on a lonely spot, miles from nowhere, but with a stunning view over the surrounding countryside, as far as the distant blue mountains of the Pyrenees.
The next morning, I cruised on the Capestang and moored. I stocked up with cash from a cash point and bought some supplies from a supermarket. Thence to the Tourist Office to explain why I would not be mooring in their town overnight. I explained about our (well, Mike's actually) ropes - and several other mooring ropes on other boats - being cut at 2am one morning a year ago, and how the police we phoned were wholly disinterested, even though the youths involved could still be heard singing (caterwauling?) in the streets of the town, and how other folks had their mooring lines cut a couple of weeks ago. She asked me to write a statement in their comments book - which I did - and I left her with my name and address. We'll see what happens.
I then made such good progress that I reached the outskirts of Béziers in good time, sufficient to whiz down the staircase of five Fonserannes locks and down the next, deep, lock and thence into the basin at Béziers. Mooring there is free. There is no electricity and, effectively, no water as the several water-points all have female threaded connectors, which none of the boaters have!!!! There used to be free electricity as well, but too many (allegedly Dutch) boaters made a bee line for Béziers and then stayed there all summer, leaving nowhere for proper 'cruising' boats to moor.
I moored near Paul on 'Liberty', and indeed, he cooked our evening meal.
Next day I headed into town to see the Cathedral de St Nazare, including climbing 180+ steps up a spiral staircase in the tower, to get a better view of the town. I accidentally came across a covered market, and bought some beautiful fruit.
Back on the boats, I took Paul out for a very nice lunch, halfway through which he had a phone call from the visitors that he had been waiting for - for several days, I may add. They were at their UK airport, and the passport of one of their daughters was out of date, so they wouldn't be coming. Luckily, Paul was going to do the big food shop for them in the afternoon, so there was no wasted food. However, he had been relying on them to act as crew going up the oval locks to the summit of the Midi. What to do? I felt a bit of a heel not offering to help him, but I need to get to Agde to check out the availability of - and access to - the crane.
The next day, I went back up into the town to get to an internet café (another reason why I want to get back to UK is to get a decent, affordable internet connection on Rosy. And then, after lunch, I left Béziers, and a still not wholly decided Paul.
It was a wonderfully warm and sunny day, but the plane trees edging the waterway kept un pleasantly cool. The last few locks on the Midi had surprisingly pleasant and helpful lock keepers, so that the gentle trip down the last few locks was quite delightful. We moored in the shade of some convenient trees, just after a big hire base cum campsite cum equestrian centre.
I'm a few kilometres short of Agde, but this is, in reality, the end of my cruising days in France. It is a Friday, so I'll stay here until Monday a.m., and then head a little closer to Agde, from where I can more easily cycle into town to see a man about a crane.
On the other side of the canal I have a view across some rich pasture land, with several white 'Camargue' horses and their foals browsing on it. The sun is shining. Fanny the Woof is happy, and so am I. Very happy.
I should also explain that the reason why these witterings are called 'Witterings' is that they started prior to the smart-arse person who invented the word 'Blog' (being a contraction of 'Web log') having his (or her) brain wave.
Also, this seems like a good time to thank everyone who reads these witterings for so doing. I hasten to add that I intend to continue these random thoughts about a man - moi - his dog - Fanny the Woof - and his boat - Rosy. My guess is that not much will happen for a week or four, then back to UK, organising a drop-in somewhere, getting a temporary British Waterways licence, getting 'Rosy' through a Boat Safety Scheme inspection and then heigh-ho and here's hoping for a clear road ahead to ?
Oh! And his little helper.