Thursday, 20 September 2018

Castelnaudary to Castelsarassin (Or….The Day A Lock Was Stolen Right from Under Our Noses!)

Chatting with a local while we lock down off the summit.

We weren’t too quick off the blocks the next morning, 14th September and after pushing off, pulled in alongside Steve two minutes later to have a coffee with him before we left.
Coming through the scenic basin at Castelnaudary.

We won't be sad to see the back of these feisty uphill locks!
It was then a short journey up to the summit of the canal at Nauronze where we pulled in to a cute mooring after just 13.5 km and 8 locks – the last of our ‘up’ locks for the season.  Our water tank was getting low making us sit higher out of the water as usual so Mike took the opportunity to touch up the blacking at the waterline while I busied myself inside with another maintenance issue….
Not my best look, but needs must......
I’d spotted dust around the tv unit a few days before and on closer inspection was horrified to realise we had woodworm!!  I managed to find a couple of adult corpses in the dust and had identified it as the common furniture beetle and had purchased a suitable treatment.  It was fairly time-consuming as it involved jabbing a needle, attached to the nozzle of the spray can by a tube, into each hole and tunnel and giving a squirt.  Sometimes when I squirted it into one hole, it squirted back out two or three holes in other places so you work out where they’d tunnelled.  Checking the rest of the boat later we spotted more of it on one of the kitchen cupboards so that was treated as well.  We’ll give it another spray before we close Quaintrelle up for the winter and hopefully that will be the end of it.

Being only a week or two from mooring up for the winter we are now in the phase of painting, polishing, waxing, varnishing and trying to get everything ship shape before we leave Quaintrelle at Buzet.

The next morning we started our way downwards still enjoying hot temperatures despite it being the middle of September and also enjoying the beauty of the canal.  
Lovely summit mooring that we'd spotted when we'd visited by car the day before.

Downhill through the trees....
Our smarties were severely stamped on however as we reached our second lock of the day just after lunchtime had started…..  A hire boat had come up just after 12 noon, so the lock closed for lunch after then in our favour.  On this section the locks are automatic and unmanned, so you have to get someone off the boat ahead of the lock, who go to the lock and press the button at the side for going up or down and the lock then begins to set.  Once in the lock, you press the green button to start the process of going down or up depending on your direction and the lock does the rest.  We waited above the lock and noted half an hour later a boat had arrived at the bottom to come up – we didn’t think anything of this as the lock was full and ready for us to go down once it opened after lunch.  At 1pm the lock lights came back on and Mike went to press the button to open the gates only to find the lock beginning to empty!  A French man from the boat below was stood at the button, with us in full view waiting to come down, and had pressed the button to empty the lock!  Mike pointed out to him that the lock was ready for us and we had been waiting before them, but the man just smirked, shrugged and turned his back on Mike and went back to his boat to wait for the lock to empty so they could come in.

Mike was furious, as was I, and incredulous – we couldn’t believe someone would do this so deliberately.  Mike looked up a suitable description on google translate to go back and let them know what he thought of them whilst I hovered waiting for our turn.  While I waited and after Mike had delivered his message to more back-turning I noticed that the man was now talking to another man on the lock-side – a passer-by from what I could see.  They seemed to be deep in conversation and I wondered if it was another boat arrived below asking how the locks worked or something, as the man on the boat was pointing at the borne (post with the control buttons).  All became clear soon as they left the lock, the woman of the boat leaning over the side towards me, smirking greatly.  I told her in French that the lock was ready for us and we were waiting and that was not nice to steal a lock.  Her smirk broadened into a huge smile as she shrugged her shoulders. “YOU are not nice.” I said.  She didn’t like that so much…… the smile collapsed and she opened her mouth to release a barrage of viciferous French – none of which I understood – and then started screaming ‘BREXIIIIIT!! BREXEEEEEEEEET!’ at me.  If she’s that upset about Brexit, she should write to Theresa May…….  Anyway, I bid her adieu with a one-fingered salut and turned my attention to the lock – which was closing its gates and starting to empty again.  The man they had been chatting to had pressed the button to reset the lock for someone coming the other way and then disappeared away over the bridge and down the road – not a boater!!

We could not believe it.  First steal the lock, then reset it again against someone waiting.  So childish and they were definitely old enough to know better.  We think they must have been a local couple, who think they own the canal, and the man was their friend from the house next to the canal, so when he came out to chat with them as they passed they told him to empty the lock again to make us wait again.

Anyway, we called the lock keeper, tried to explain what happened and then Mike just pressed the RED BUTTON – which is only meant to be pressed in an emergency and meant someone would come out to attend.  When he arrived, I tried to explain what had happened but he seemed more keen to know who had pressed the RED BUTTON.  I got the distinct feeling that this was more of an issue than the rude boaters, so I said the passer-by who had talked with the people on the boat had pressed it…………  He then asked if it was a cyclist and I said no, described the man and the way he went and he kind of lost interest at that point – probably he’s best mates with the guy that lives in the house next to the lock that committed the crime…….. He did however make some sympathetic noises and said because the bornes are exposed, they do get a lot of problems with punters pressing the buttons, but it didn’t make me feel any better about the rude French couple.  At least it was our first encounter with such behaviour, I’m sure it won’t be our last…..
Waiting for the oval lock to fill.

So we got on our way, with a slightly bitter taste in our mouths but order was restored as we pulled on to the little quay at the small town of Gardouche for the night.  While Mike continued to treat spots of rust by sanding them back before a coat of anti-rust, owatrol oil, primer and undercoat, I got started on sanding back the wooden lids on our back lockers.  I’d sanded back with four levels of paper, so nice and smooth, cleaned them and got a first coat of varnish when a Frenchman from one of the permanently moored boats further along pitched up in his slippers for a chat.  We must have chatted for nearly an hour, he was an interesting man, one of the last commercial mariniers on the Midi until all commercial traffic stopped with the opening of the autoroute in 1980.  He then worked piloting charter boats between bases along the midi, but at 75 has been retired for some years now but enjoys watching the bumper boats crashing about in the lock at Gardouche.

His parting was an earnest, “Vous etes magniphique.”  Well, I’ve been called a lot of things, but never magnificent, so I’ll take it thank you very much.

With my faith in the French suitably restored we got showered and changed and walked a short distance to Le Vieux Pressoir for a lovely dinner, served by a charming young woman and her mother, and had a nice exchange with the Swiss couple sitting next to us.

The next morning we were heading for Montisgard where we hoped that the water tap shown in the book and mooring guide would still be there and in water – we were getting very low now, probably another day’s worth left at best.  I know the paintwork has to get done on the boat, but I was getting slightly pissed off as I headed to the front of the boat to do the line at the locks with the, “Watch the dark gray bits, they’re wet.”  I like my full concentration to be on doing the lock, not having to watch where I’m putting my feet, but I managed a couple of days of this without gray footprints appearing through the boat!

At Montisgard the tap was working so we quickly got the tank filling and then took the decision to t-cut the roof.  We had been warned by a few folks that the sap from the trees down here will land on your boat, and mixed with insect blood (or something like that), it is red and appears like small rust spots or measles!  
Quaintrelle's measles :(

It doesn’t wash off.  We had avoided it until Castelnaudary when I saw it start to appear and by the time we got to Montisgard, it looked horrendous.  We’re very proud of our clean roof so we were devastated by the state of it, so decided to get it off.  Washing didn’t work, nail polish remover didn’t work, we couldn’t use an abrasive cream cleaner or anything as that would damage the gloss paint.  What did work was a scratch removing polish for cars which we’d bought and used on a couple of scratches in the UK – excellent.  The only thing was, it was bloody hard work and the roof is a big area. 
Come on man - give it some ooooooommmph!
Mike got about halfway down his side and I was a bit behind, by the time we finished for the day.  We were aching, my fingers kept locking and we’d have arms like Popeye by the end of it but we slept well that night.

Next morning another quick top-up of water before we left but we couldn’t find the hose connector that screws onto the tap.  Mike had taken it off and put it in a ‘safe place’ on the grass near the boat, but it was gone, either lifted by someone walking by or more likely kicked further away by accident.  We were annoyed because it was our good chrome one – that we had found left on a tap in the UK!  Oh well, back to using our plastic one then……..

It was quite windy and a cool start to the day as we made our way towards Toulouse and it was noticeably quieter with us passing only one of two boats the whole way.  After the usual 1 hour stop for lunch while the locks closed for theirs, we reached the port at Toulouse where there was plenty of room and after mooring up we headed to the shops for some supplies and spent the rest of the evening working on the roof.  We must have worked on it for nearly 3 hours and although we were hating it, the roof was looking really good!
Trees dropping more red crap on our roof as we make our way to Toulouse.
The bad news was, we had run out of the scratch polish and the t-cut we had wasn’t as good and took twice as much elbow grease to shift the sap.  A visit to every supermarket within a kilometre radius left us empty handed and the only car places, Norauto (the equivalent of Halfords in the UK) were all out of town.  Mike became all melodramatic at this point saying we’d need to hire a car for the day and drive out to get some, but I told him not to be daft, and worked out we could get the metro right out to one.  So the following morning we headed of sharpish, caught the metro to the out of town retail park, picked up two bottles of stuff that felt like our scratch polish, ie. A little gritty, and got the metro back into town in time to have lunch at Au Pere Louis, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  We then wandered down to the river through the town, then back up along Canal de Brienne to the junction with the Lateral de La Garonne and Canal du Midi and then back to the port via the metro where roof cleaning started all over again…..  My arms must have been getting stronger with each session though as this one didn’t feel as bad!
The lock that joins the Canal de Brienne with the River Garonne - now only used by trip boats.

The junction of the three canals; Left is Canal du Midi, right is the Canal du Brienne and photo is taken from the bridge over the Lateral de la Garonne.
After filling with water, might as well, it was included in our mooring fees, we pushed off under an overcast sky and made our way through the Toulouse locks.  The canal goes right through the city and the locks are controlled at one of the locks by remote control and watching you via the cameras.  At the lock at the station one gate wasn’t fully open as we got the green light to go in and when they closed, they didn’t close properly.  Someone in the control box at the next lock tried a few times to open and shut them, but to no avail, so we waited and eventually a very tiny, petite, female lock-keeper arrived to fix them – they reckoned it was an electrical problem.  However, still no joy, so they were now thinking a hydraulic problem and someone else was on their way.  But after fiddling about at a different box on the lock landing, suddenly the gates shut properly, Tiny Eclusier gave us a thumbs up and we were back on our way.
Waiting at the lock outside Matabieu station in Toulouse.
Bearnaise Ecluse was the last in Toulouse and where the control office is, but the eclusier came out to ask where we were going and finding out we were heading to the Garonne for the first time gave us some advice on operating the locks and to watch out for currents as you enter and leave the locks.

As we went along the looooooooonng cutting away from Toulouse the sun came out to join us and with twisty poles to start the locks operating for us and no lunch hour to close the locks we made swift progress to a mooring at St Jory where we stopped to visit another Norauto for another polish to do once we’ve finished t-cutting!  We then continued on finally mooring at a very hot Grisolles for the night to continue our painting and varnishing.  It had been a long journey of 33km and 11 locks but hadn’t felt that long at all.  It was nice to be back out in the countryside again!
Lovely easy locks on the Lateral de la Garonne.....

Pretty bridges......

Not another moving boat in sight all day..... ahhhhh bliss......
Thursday 20th and after a quick phone call to Bill and Jane on Lazybones, we decided to push on today so we could reach Moissac on Friday rather than Saturday so we could spend some time catching up with them.  We were also due to bump into Richard and Fiona on Ilona at Moissac on Saturday, so it would give us time with both sets of friends if we had the two nights there.  This meant by-passing some nice-looking rural moorings today and our destination was Castelsarassin.  Just past the port at Montec there is a flight or locks alongside a chute, similar to an inclined plane, which was built in 1974 and then very swiftly went out of use.  Designed for boats 20metres and over, it was built to encourage the commercial traffic to use the canal by reducing the time from a couple of hours up the locks to 20 minutes on the chute.  However, the autoroute opening in 1980 saw the end of the commercial canal traffic so the chute’s lifespan was limited.  No one we spoke to knows if it is ever used at all now – it looked rather rusty……..

We got down the first lock no problem, but as we exited, realised the next lock had two red lights – broken!  We pulled in on the waiting pontoon and Mike went to see what was going on, met up with another English boater who was waiting to come up, had called VNF and was told they knew there was a problem and someone was on their way.  Shortly after an eclusier arrived and tried various things but couldn’t get it going.  At one point she seemed to and the gates started opening to let the boat below come in, but one gate stuck and after that she couldn’t get it to open or close.  Another eclusier arrived, but couldn’t help and after about half an hour we realised the water level in our pound was going down quite drastically.  We loosened our lines and went for a look, the first lock-keeper was still there speaking quite agitatedly on her phone.  We could see the sluice on the top gate were open and the water rushing straight through the open bottom gates – everything was stuck.  Once of the phone she explained it was quite a serious problem, someone else was on their way, but they might have to move us back up to the port if they couldn’t stabilise the water levels.  I asked for how long and she explained further that it might be a couple of days if they had to drain the two pounds to fix the gates then bring the levels back up.  That wasn’t what we wanted to hear, so we went back to the boat to think about options if this did happen.  Meanwhile, another boat, a cruiser, had come down the lock behind us (the one we’d just come down) before they closed the flight, and was waiting at the pontoon below the lock.

More VNF reinforcements arrived and all of a sudden I realised the water levels were back up again and we were back where we started against the pontoon rather than halfway down it!  The first eclusier came up and said it was all sorted, they’d do one more test of the gates and then we could go, and would we mind sharing with the boat behind.  I said of course, so she tootled off to tell them and as we got a green light shuffled into the lock to wait.  The approaching boat honked its horn at us and we turned round to see Richard and Fiona on Ilona pulling into the lock alongside us!!! 

At Montec the flight of locks is to the left and the chute to the right.

Ilona catches us up.
We travelled the rest of the afternoon together catching up with each other’s news in the locks we shared until they pulled in for the night and we continued on for another hour to Castelsarassin.  As we pulled into the port, Steve, who we’d said goodbye to at Castelnaudary, appeared on the quay to help, having driven up to stay with his friends on Jenna II for a few days.  We weren’t there long though as when Mike went to pay, the capitaine wanted us to moor on a pontoon, so it was a short reunion and we went and got settled into our space for the evening.

After a quick supermarket top up, I got another coat of varnish on the back pontoons while Mike cooked an autumnal chicken tartiflette for tea.  I was looking forward to getting a couple of nights at Moissac the next day as we seemed to have been cracking on, but it’s a strange feeling as we’re so excited to getting back to the house and settled in, so we’re not feeling the same sadness as our boating season draws to a close.  So much to do and so little time to do it in!!

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