We had secured on Tuesday 15 April just short of Écluse Emborrel, the second lock down the western side of the summit of the Canal du Midi. At 1130 on Wednesday we slipped our lines and continued down the canal. The lock is automatic, but there was no indication of this as we approached.
Edi finally spotted a post by the side of the lock chamber with a set of remote control buttons and instructions in both French and English. The installation looks rather new, or at least is not worn-out and decrepit like much of the rest of the canal infrastructure. She pushed the down button and the lock began its automatic cycle, opening the upstream sluices to fill the chamber, then opening the upstream doors to allow Zonder Zorg to enter. Once we were secured in the chamber, Edi pushed the green button to continue the cycle, which closed the doors and then opened the downstream sluices to begin draining the lock chamber to the downstream level. With the lowering complete, the doors opened allowing us to continue down the canal. A sensor at the exit to the lock saw us pass and triggered the closing of the doors to await the next poke at the buttons.
A kilometre and a half further along we came to Écluse Encassan, a double lock. Likely because of its complexity, it was operated by a VNF éclusier. He pushed the appropriate buttons on his shoulder pack remote control, an ancient device that approached the size and appearance of a ghetto blaster radio without the speakers.
Just short of three kilometres further along, at 1226 we arrived at the automatic lock, Écluse Renneville. Its lights were out and it was closed. The lunch break for éclusiers on the Canal du Midi is 1230 to 1330 and it appears they close the locks five minutes early so as not to interfere with their time. It appears that the automatic locks follow the same routine, possibly to have a feed of electrons and hydraulic fluid. We secured to the stone wall just short of the entrance to the lock and relaxed.
When the automatic controls returned from lunch, we cycled through and continued the four kilometres to the next lock, Écluse Gardouch. There was a vacant spot on the quai, so we slipped into it and secured for the day. In response to my questions, l’éclusier at the double lock had told us of a grocery store and a bakery in Gardouche and a supermarket across the autoroute midway to Villefranche-de-Lauragais.
We decided to walk to the bakery in Gardouche to get some croissants for lunch and then later take our cart across to the supermarket for fresh supplies. It is three-quarters of a kilometre into the commercial centre of the village. We arrived at the bakery at 1500 to find a sign saying it was closed until 1600. We continued to the épicerie to find it simply closed with no explanatory sign. We turned around and walked the nearly three kilometres to the huge supermarket. It is open 0800 to 1930 and explains why so few services remain open in the towns and villages.
At the fish counter they were out of dos de cabaillaud, but the monger said he had some whole cod and could cut us some. We also bought some thick albacore tuna steaks. The meats and produce departments tempted us to buy much more than we had planned, and since we had brought only one bag and no cart, we had to buy another large bag at the checkout. It was nearly 1700 by the time we arrived back aboard with our booty and sat down in the cockpit to enjoy ham and brie croissants and cans of Heineken.
After a leisurely breakfast in the sun late on Thursday morning we slipped at 1120 and continued down the canal, through Écluse Gardouche and the double lock, Écluse Laval. We arrived at the automatic lock, Écluse Negra at 1223 to find it closed for its 1230 to 1330 lunch break. Maybe the locks close ten minutes before the start of the break.
We secured to bollards on the steel-faced wharf a hundred metres before the lock. There are electricity pylons and water bibs on the wharf with no sign of any fees. We plugged-in the shore power cable, hauled-out the hose and took on electricity and water as we waited for the automatic lock controls to return from lunch.
After the lock was re-energised we continued down, passing through it and then the double lock, Écluse Sanglier 3.7 kilometres further along. Looking at the chart in the Du Breil Guide Fluvial, I was curious to know why Écluse Sanglier with a total drop of 3.73 metres was a double lock, while Écluse Ayguesvives at 4.44 metres was a single. We found out 1.5 kilometres further along when we arrived at Écluse Ayguesvives.
It had originally been a double lock, but recently, the upstream lock gates were removed, the walls of the downstream chamber were heightened and higher downstream gates were installed. A drop of 4.44 metres is rather large, so we expected to see floating bollards in the chamber, or some other way to handle the lines.
At the downstream end is a pair of pipe bollards, one on each side of the chamber. The one on the right bank was missing its vertical pipe, and was therefore useless. There are no similar arrangements for the excessive height at the upstream end, where they are especially needed for up-bound barges. There is; however, on left bank of the chamber near the upstream end a pocked bollard midway up the wall. This appears to be another lock designed as an exercise by student engineers with absolutely no experience with canal boating nor any regard to the needs of boaters. I will assume that this desecration of the historic locks occurred before the Canal du Midi was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
To brighten-up the mood in the chamber, our planter of flowers on the gunwale received an automatic watering by one of the spouts that usually drain infiltrated water from the chamber walls on a descent.
During our planning for the day we had seen on the chart a supermarket symbol on the left bank a few hundred metres beyond Pont de Baziège, so we had decided to stop on the bank near the bridge. As we approached we heard repeated gunfire. At the bridge is the local gun club firing range; we continued along. Along this stretch of canal the cleared side with the path is the right bank. The left bank, where the supermarket is located, is dense bush. As we passed, we caught glimpses of an Intermarché, a Bricomarché, a Lidl and several other stores in a shopping complex about thirty metres through the bushes. We continued along looking for the landing. Where in the real world there would be easy access for passing boaters, here there was none. We wore around and headed back toward the bridge. The persistent gunfire caused us to turn around again, and finally at 1550 we came to the spud pole and a stern line around an old tree stump in the bushes on the left bank directly in front of the shopping centre.
The Easter weekend was beginning, and we didn’t want to be caught short of food. This was our first Easter in France for many years, and we weren’t sure which days shops would be open. Even without Easter, it is near unpredictable. We took the wheelie and bushwhacked to the road, crossed it and went shopping, returning with sufficient to see us through the long weekend.
Our bush mooring was very pleasant, and we remained there Friday so we could continue our shopping in some of the other stores. I walked to the car filling station at the entrance to the plaza and bought a second Butagaz Viseo tank of propane for the galley. While we still had about a quarter tank in the other one, this was the easiest source for a spare that we had seen. Friday afternoon we walked the kilometre and a half past the village of Montgiscard to Écluse Montgiscard. We saw no landing along the way. We crossed the bridge at the lock and walked back along the right bank past Zonder Zorg, looking at the near unbroken tangle of bush along the opposite bank. Residential back yards ignored their waterfront. We were amazed; in the Netherlands there would be gardens, patios and private boat docks all along.
At 1145 on Saturday morning we raised the spud pole, slipped our line and continued down the canal. Écluse Montgiscard is another former double lock, bastardised into a 3.82-metre-high single. The chamber was empty when we arrived, so we had to wait for it to fill. The automated locks drain and fill much more slowly than we have seen at the manned ones. This is likely because we appear competent and are let through by the éclusiers much more rapidly than they do for bumbling rental boaters; the automatic locks are likely set by default for the bumblers.
Downstream two and a half kilometres we passed under Pont de Donneville. It was built by Riquet of local Toulouse clay brick because there is a lack of stone quarries in the region. During the Battle for Toulouse in 1814, General Sault had blown-up this and many other bridges to protect his retreating troops. They were fully restored in 1821 and remain in fine condition today.
Another five kilometres brought us to the next lock, Écluse Vic, an original single. Seventeen hundred metres later we were at Écluse Castanet, another double lock bastardised into a single with a height of 4.98 metres. An up-bound boat had just activated the lock, which was full, so it had to drain and then refill. To hold us in place during the half hour, I dropped the spud pole and looped a bollard with the stern line.
After we had locked through, we continued along about a kilometre, where at 1440 we came to the spud pole and the stern line to a pin pounded in the bank in a quiet rural setting about two kilometres before the beginning of urban sprawl of Toulouse. After lunch we harvested gravel, clay and topsoil and bedded three new basil plants, plus one we had been eating away at, into a planter we had bought at our bush stop.
The weather forecast for several days had been for three days of rain beginning on Friday. It then delayed to beginning on Saturday, then again to beginning on Sunday. We awoke Sunday morning to heavy rain and the forecast showed it continuing into the evening. We decided to stay put and continue on Monday, when there was predicted to be a brief clearing before the next spate of rains.
We relaxed onboard all day to the sounds of rain on the cabin top and in the evening had a lovely Easter dinner of dos de cabaillaud seared with sautéed button mushrooms, pommes rissolées, steamed broccoli crowns and sliced tomatoes with shredded basil. This was accompanied splendidly by a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace Durenmeyer.
The rains stopped overnight and after a late breakfast on Monday, we raised the spud pole, hauled the pin and continued down canal. Within a kilometre we came to a near nonstop line of live-aboard barges along the left bank. Some were rather well converted and cared for, but most were clumsy conversions that were very short on care and maintenance.
The line of barges continued for over two kilometres and then as we entered Toulouse, the banks were again uncluttered. The plane trees here seem to have thus far avoided the canker stain and they all look healthy. During our three weeks from Carcassonne we have seen them go from their winter nakedness to now near fully leaved.
At 1250 we came to a T-head on a pontoon in Port St-Sauveur near the heart of Toulouse. We were only five kilometres and three locks from the end of the Canal du Midi and the beginning of Canal latéral à la Garonne. We decided to pause for a while to explore the city.