8 Go to Carcassonne- Canal du Midi Cruise

09/06/2015

The suggestion for a trip on the Canal-du-Midi was made in November last year and in total eight boats were requested.
 
Our thanks to Andrew Collins for his efforts in obtaining details of France Afloat.
 
On a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon on 23rd May we all arrived at Capestang for the commencement of a one-way cruise to Bram.  The boats that would be our floating homes for the next week were duly allocated, club burgees and Cumberland pennants hoisted and instruction in handling was given.  Some members of the group had also requested bicycles for a little gentle exercise along the way.
 
In the early evening all the crews assembled on the quayside for welcome drinks, hosted by Andrew, and it was the opportunity to meet each other.  We were entertained by a lady singing and playing an accordion whilst sat on an old four wheeled cycle.

 

 
 
A brief speech was given and each person received a splendid engraved glass as well as being advised that each boat had to supply a limerick to be read out at the farewell dinner on Thursday.  Not sure which caused the most trepidation – writing a limerick or going through several locks.
 
There followed a short walk to a local restaurant, La Galinière  where a most convivial evening was enjoyed by all and proved to be an excellent choice by Andrew.
 
Sunday morning greeted us with warm and sunny weather, just what we needed, and the eight boats set sail from Capestang on the first leg of the adventure.
 
A number of boats stopped at Le Somail for the first night and some crews sampled the local restaurants. The local shop was on a barge where pre ordered bread and croissants could be purchased along with other essentials.
 
Monday commenced sunny and windy and the small fleet departed Le Somail early in order to make it to Chateau de Paraza for the 11.00am wine tasting.  A young lady told us the history of the Chateau and how it came into her family. The Chateau was once one of the homes of Pierre Paul Riquet, the creator of the Canal du Midi.  The chateau and vineyards have been with the current family for only nine years, prior to that it was in the same family for centuries.
 
The wine tasting followed which was interesting and informative purchases made.
 
On returning to their boat the crew of “Alice” observed a spot of line dancing by the ladies on board “Beaver”, at the time the observers thought perhaps a little too much local hospitality had been partaken. It was later explained that they were actually rocking the boat in order to assist an engineer in his efforts to flush the water tanks.  
 

 
For most of the boats the next destination was Homps where some stayed overnight whilst others moored further down the canal due to being too late to get through the lock before it closed for the night.
 
Homps is an ancient commercial port where local wines (Minervios & Corbieres) were in times gone by loaded for transport by canal to Bordeaux.
 
It was soon realised that as well as closing at 7PM, the locks also closed for the keeper’s lunch between 12.30pm and 1.30pm and many boat crews took the opportunity to have their own lunch sitting in the sun.   
 
Tuesday provided more locks to test the skill of the helmsman and the manoeuvrability of the boats which were often challenged by the strong breezes.  This provided light entertainment for the onlookers until it was their turn to negotiate the entry and exit which was then found to be no laughing matter.
 
The locks were generally manned by good natured and helpful lock keepers who took pride in their surroundings and homes.  At l’Aiguille the lock keeper (Joel Barthe) is well known for his  series of figures scultpted in wood and scrap metal which wind the sluice gates. Even the chair he sits in is a sculptured palm of a hand, it even had fingernails painted red.
 

 
Some boats moored at Marsiellette along side the cemetery for a peaceful night.  There was a steep bank from the canal side up to the road and it is understood that a crew member, whilst scrambling up the slope, was passed by his bicycle as it slid past him having been placed at the top moments earlier.
 
Marsiellette proved to be closed although Andrew did manage to find a boulangerie open in the morning.
 
Another sunny but breezy morning started Wednesday and it soon developed into a hot day.  About half of the boats stopped at Trebes and shopping expeditions undertaken to re-stock essential supplies.  Andrew hosted a drinks party on board “Tilly” before the various groups found local restaurants along the quay for their evening meal.
 

 
 
A farewell dinner had been arranged for Thursday evening in Carcassonne and so all boats made their way there with the usual stops en route.
 
Carcassonne is a large town with the walled citadel on a hill overlooking it and many people took the opportunity to visit the splendid old city.
 
This extraordinary fortified town dates back to the Roman Empire 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Used as a garrison in later years and was restored somewhat imaginatively in the 19th century by the famous architect Viollet-le-Duc.
 
La Rotonde was again a great choice of restaurant by Andrew and the farewell dinner proved to be as enjoyable as the opening night.
 
Each designated crew member read their limericks and a prize was awarded for the best which was won by the crew of Charlotte and is as follows:
 
The limerick competition
Requires too much erudition
Or quite possibly the booze
Has befuddled the muse
And destroyed our collective ambition….
 
Andrew Collins graciously accepted the award for the most sociable boat/host of the week.  Walking sticks were awarded to the two ladies who unfortunately sustained leg injuries in the course of the cruise.
 
When not dealing with the locks it was a lovely relaxing cruise along the calm and serene canal bordered by trees with occasional views of the surrounding countryside.
 

 

 
Progress along the canal was accompanied by the low rumble of the engines of our boats, usually the maximum speed of 4 kms an hour, and the harmonious bird song all around.  It was a delight to see little birds diving into the water ahead of us and flying back into the overhanging trees.
 
Numerous ducks and ducklings were encountered as well as a black swan which nearly became a figurehead on Alice.
 
Everyone encountered on the tow path and passing cyclists were always very friendly and helpful as were all the locals we met on the trip.
 
Strolling to the local boulangerie in the early morning sun to purchase fresh bread and croissants for breakfast is a simple and satisfying pleasure.
 
Whilst some boats experienced some technical problems, Clive, the France Afloat engineer kept appearing to give assistance.
 
New friendships were made amongst the various crews with assistance readily given and gratefully accepted when required.
 
On the whole it was a very interesting, entertaining and enjoyable experience with many laughs as well as the occasional mishap.
 
There were more injuries in the fleet than one would expect on a sailing cruise. The pharmacists were extremely useful and helpful! Indeed, such were the number of injuries sustained and experienced someone was heard to say that if the event took place again it should be sponsored by BUPA!
 
Eventually all the fleet made their way to and arrived safely at Bram by Friday evening in preparation for the handover on Saturday morning. The small café/restaurant served excellent food mainly comprising fresh fish and many of the crews had one final meal there.
 
A special mention must be given to Andrew Collins for his excellent organisation, research and information provided, including the comprehensive itinerary.
 
RTYC CANAL DU MIDI CRUISE
23rd - 30th May 2015
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
 
ESCARGOT BLEU        
David Collins
Marjorie Collins
Trevor Nesbit
Joan Nesbit
EMILIE                        
Geoffrey Taunton-Collins
Lourdes Taunton-Collins
Charles Lambrick
Fiona Lambrick
BEAVER                      
Andrew Stafford-Deitsch
Lucinda Stafford-Deitsch
Michael Stoop
Julia Stoop
Tristan Millington-Drake
Victoria Mossop
Fiona Smith
TILLY                          
Andrew Collins
Alexander Kitchin
Hugh Kitchin
Susan Kitchin
Rufus Gilday
Reet Gilday
ALICE                          
David Hiscock
Christine Hiscock
Daniel Hiscock
Pamela Everett
MONTGAISSE             
Paul Kerr
Janet Starkey
LYDIA                          
Keith Gwynne Jones
Sue French
Rupert Salmon
Helen Salmon
CHARLOTTE                
Charles Hudleston
Amanda Hudleston
James Hudleston
Perronelle Hudleston
William Knowles