25 – 27 Sep Canal de la Robine, Jonction et Midi

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September 25th 2011
Published: December 3rd 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Canal de la Robine, Canal de Jonction et Canal du Midi 25 – 27 Sep

25 Sep Sun

The remains of Sunday were focused on getting to know the boat and to start our canal journey.

The Canal de la Robine is 31km long and we started on the edge of Narbonne at the PK9 mark.

We are looking forward to a leisurely cruise with speed limits of 8 km/h. Could be interesting since nothing on the boat actually tells you what speed you are travelling. The banks of the old canal were designed for horse drawn barges and are fragile so we will take care.

Another factor in our travel will be times in locks – apparently the average is 13 minutes. All the locks in the Robine and Jonction are mechanised and self operated. Let’s see how we go!

Just before the next lock (ecluse), the first low arched bridge was encountered. It was at Raonel (PK4). It was pretty scary as we all had to duck so as not to hit our heads. Pam and Dave captured it on videos along with sound effects of “Oh my goodness. That was scary”. Some passers by were impressed that we had got the boat through and rewarded us with a punnet of their fresh grown cherry tomatoes. But there was more to come.

We sailed on through Moussoulens PK0 and traversed the river lÁude briefly where it is one with the canal. We stopped here to wander around the old bridges and the river. It was quite interesting to see where the rising water had left debris in the tree tops.

We then turned right into the Canal de Jonction just before Gailhousty PK5. There we were confronted by the Pont de Gailhousty which is the lowest in the Canal de Jonction and is only 3.3m at the top and 2.4m at the edges while our headroom was 2m! With a bridge width of 6.3m and our boat width of 4.65m that didn’t leave much room for mistakes. The boat now has nice dents in its railings and some deep scratches on the sides - some that were there before we started and some new ones from us.

We stayed overnight at Gailhousty. We arrived quite late, about 7:10pm (boating hours are from 9:00am to 7:30pm) We moored amongst many other boats near the lock, which was the first of the nine locks to go through on the Canal de Jonction before getting to Canal du Midi.

The weather in the south of France is perfect for outdoor evenings, so we made good use of the two long tables on the deck of Le Boat. Lighting was a bit of a challenge, so Dave H hooked up a contraption using a headlamp that he had brought along, on the end of a pole meant for the outdoor umbrella. This combined with candles in an abundance of empty wine bottles proved to be excellent throughout the trip.

The candle lit dinner suited our repast of lovely fat chickens bought from Narbonne. They were enormous and juicy from the rotisserie at the market stall. By the way, one of the curious things at the market is that everything is sold by weight, so the cooked chicken was priced per kilogram not per chicken.

26 Sep Mon

Poor Kath had a bad start to the day. Her first cup of coffee had milk which appeared to be curdled, so she thought the milk was off. After discarding that and making another with a new bottle of milk, it too curdled. What is the problem? Has someone left the milk bottles out for too long in the heat? But no, we soon discovered that Rob had been doing his kettle cleaning routine and boiled lemon in the kettle but forgot to drain it out or to tell anyone that he had done so! So once the kettle water was replenished, the milk was just fine.

Dave also had a bad start to the day, as the slats fell out of his bed early in the morning, and there wasn’t even any funny business going on. He landed bottom first onto the cabin floor. This turned out to be a regular occurrence in all the beds on Le Boat.

After breakfast, we took off immediately and stopped briefly at Salleles-dÁude , part of the nine locks system. We wandered through the village, stopping at a pharmacy and a small supermarket. Rob found a 5 litre plastic barrel shaped like a casket and full of cheap rose. He figured it would be useful for buying bulk wine at the various caveaus that we would be visiting.

Salleles-dÁude was a sleepy little villa with only a couple of shops amongst small winding streets of houses. The houses are right on the edge of the streets with no gardens or land between the walls and where cars traverse. You can literally see in their front doors and windows as you wander along the streets. A little further out, the houses have larger back yards full of vegetables. We came across the sports centre which was all outdoor and made for little children as even the basketball boards were much lower than normal. There was an unusual spire on a church in the distance. We weren’t stopping for long so unfortunately we didn’t find the Roman potters’ factory which operated from 1st to 3rd centuries AD.

We motored on through the locks (five of them in 3 kms) to PK0 where the Canal de Jonction meets the Canal du Midi at PK168/169. We turned right towards Beziers.

In contrast, this stretch was lock free for some time. There were the odd bridges on bends which led to a different sort of challenge as you have no way of seeing oncoming boats until your noses both appear on either side of the bridge. Then there is a quick decision on who is going to back up using the rules of size and who is further advanced into the bridge approach. Given how big we were, we did very little backing up!

Argeliers got nothing more than a fleeting glance as we motored through 20 kms of bridges and winding canals soaking in the beautiful farming landscapes and this fantastic weather we were experiencing.

As we approached Capestang we were confronted with an old stone bridge with dramatically low headroom (3.6m in the centre and 2.6m at the sides). Is boating meant to be this stressful?

We moored at quite a busy spot amongst many other canal boats. It also happened to be next to a cleaning yard for harvesters. What a racket for what seemed like many hours as they drew water from the canal and pressure sprayed the vehicles to rid them of mud.

27 Sep Tues

Next morning, we boated on to PK198 just west of Colombiers and the Malpas Tunnel. Our purpose was to visit the Oppidum dénserume. Roving Rob took off on the bike and the rest of us walked a hilly 1.5 miles to get to the Oppidum. Pam’s squeaky shoe sounded particularly prominent as we climbed up the hill devoid of motorists. One thing is for sure, Pam won’t get lost.

As we climbed the steep sided hill we had fantastic views of the Etang de Montady, which is the dried Montagy lake with star shaped drainage channels – it looks like a giant dart board. It has an interesting irrigation system that runs through the rows in the “dart board”.

The Oppidum covers a huge area, and with its steep sided hills has ideal natural protection for a fortified village. It has ruins which were occupied by the Iberians in 600BC, in fact, one brochure comments that it was occupied from 800BC through to the beginning of the Christian era. It had three successive phases of occupation, from huts of cob or pise to powerful ramparts. We paid our museum fee of 7 euros and were greeted by a beautiful donkey. It was a hot day as we walked around the ruins for about an hour. We saw lots of snails attached to aniseed plants. Many of the urns had a curious symbol engraved on them and the same symbol was on the stone block which was symbolic of Roman times. There were lots of urns buried in the ground to store grain. We were able to walk around the walls of the Oppidum and in the museum, see many valuable vestiges of Greek, Celtic and Roman civilisations - urns, pottery, combs, and needles. Helen bought a really interesting postcard which had shutters displaying two views of the ruins and surrounds, and also a stamp collection for Pam.

After quenching our thirst with bottles of water, and walking back down the hill, we walked through the 160m long Malpas Tunnel watching several huge hotel barge boats on guided tours going through the one-way tunnel.

Our various hats, caps and sun visors were an essential part of our boating gear. Dave’s St Kilda cap was both a sun shade and an attraction as comments often came from passing boats which recognised the cap and would make comments about Aussie Rules. Just to make sure everyone knew from whence we came, we also had two Aussie flag caps. Kath’s broad brimmed sun hat was a very popular hat for whoever was skippering as it covered face and neck very well. The men were bare breasted soaking up the sun, and the women were plastering on SPF 50 sun screen to protect their skin, although Kath’s skin seemed very tolerant of the sun..

We retraced our journey back along the winding canal back to Capestang as we did not want to go all the way to Beziers. Time to moor up and have a break. Dave H and roving Rob cycled into town and the rest of us walked the short distance from the canal. Capestang had a really nice village square and some great photo opportunities. We meandered around the village and sat in the shady square for a while as it was very warm and because everything was closed until 4:30pm. The church was worth visiting with beautiful stained glass windows and about 8 alcoves (apses) with ornate carvings.

We wandered through more of Capestang in search of the ever elusive supermarket. We encountered a side street with a painted frieze made to look like more beautiful houses than there really were. The whole place was quite picturesque as there was also a fountain.

We found a great winery, Domaine Moulin Gimie, 49, rue Gambetta, owned by Christine and Francois Gimie. We wandered in and were greeted first by the family dog, then Christine. She offered us a tasting experience and what an experience it was. In France it is called degustation but of wine not food. There was another group of Canadians who had arrived just before us. They were shown to one room and entertained by Francois. We were taken to a second room and entertained by Christine who wanted to practice her English on us. We worked our way through tasting their entire range – whites, roses and rouges. They were all lovely and we purchased half a dozen for the boat. Rob asked if we could buy in bulk and Christine replied “would you like the bag in box?” Looking at our bewildered faces, she pointed to a cask. Christine was most entertaining, she with her broken English, and us with our broken French. We learnt that Francois and Christine have a son in Adelaide, working in the Barossa, and are planning to visit him next year.

Rob and Dave L cycled off for pastries as Dave Hall had a sore bum from the awful bike seats even though only a short cycle into town.

We girls found a supermarket and bought provisions including carrying beers for the boys – we lengthened those arms again.

Wonder what the laws are for skippering boats after an afternoon of wine tasting? We went on through the Pont de Malvies to Pont de Pigasse (PK178) where we moored at a very quiet spot outside of any villas. This was much nicer than previous moorings. Kath and Dave L decided to call this place “pigs arse”. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and another candle lit dinner on the top deck.

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