30 October 2013

Onward to Carcassonne

In the early afternoon of Thursday the 10th of October we had secured to bollards on the bank just downstream of the new bridge in Capestang. Beside us was the wifi antenna we had read about and there were also shore power and water outlets. A German man came from the boat moored 50 metres astern of us to take our lines, but we were secured by the time he arrived. We asked if he had the wifi code and he told us the system had never worked since since he arrived two years previously. Rather than paying €18 per day for moorage with no wifi, we moved back down the canal to the first available free spot.

There was no water or electricity there, but our battery was fully charged and we still had over 500 litres in our water tanks. Nor were there any bollards, so we secured to a pair of mooring pins we pounded into the bank. Moored ahead of us was Vrouwe Antje, a 1902 Dutch klipper with a youngish British couple, John and Jane and their 3-year-old daughter, Sophie. We spoke with them and learned they have been cruising and sailing their antique klipper through Europe since 2006.

The old town of Capestang lies on the slopes below the canal and from the banks beside us we had a fine view across the roofs to the massive bulk of thirteenth century Collegiate church of St Etienne.

The church, intended to be the largest in the region, was begun on the remains of an eleventh century church, but never completed. The nave and transept were built, but funding ran out before a choir, apse or ambulatory were started, thus the strange shape.

We spent a restful few days in Capestang. Among our daily walks was one down the hill for breakfast croissants or a multigrain baguette from the artisan baker in the square across from the church. There is a large Intermarché at the edge of town, less than half a kilometre from our mooring, so we had plenty of fresh provisions.

Sunday morning is market day in Capestang. The set-up is in the square by the church and a visit to the stalls provided us with some more fresh produce and some local cheese.

Shortly after 1100 on Sunday we recovered our mooring pins and motored the hundred metres or so to a set of bollards under the bridge and connected our hose to the water outlet there.

With our water tanks again full, we slipped just after noon and continued up the canal. The banks were lined with moored boats, a few itinerants, but mostly boats and barges buttoned-up for the winter.

We shortly arrived at le Pont de Capestang, the infamous wrecker of boat and barge superstructures. While not the lowest bridge on the Canal du Midi, its somewhat irregular arch has low shoulders that have rearranged many barge wheelhouses.

As we neared, we could see the obvious chipped masonry where centuries of barges have inadvertently enlarged the opening.

We found no need to lower our mast and we watched as it easily cleared the centre of the arch.

The chipping away of the edges of the masonry was even more advanced on the upstream side of the bridge.

We followed the canal as it wound a crooked route along the sidehill. Several times we were able to look back at Capestang across a stream gully or from the end of a rib.

The windings of the canal are such that the first nine kilometres of canal out of Capestang took us only 4.4 kilometres away from the town.

It was very pleasant motoring along all by ourselves under cloudless skies with the temperature in the mid-twenties. It was absolutely calm with our motion generating a gentle cooling breeze.

Edi sat in her lounge chair on the foredeck reading or knitting and from time to time giving me an advanced look for oncoming boats around a bend or through a bridge hole.

Because we are traveling upstream, we need to give way to down-bound traffic at narrow spots. At this bridge we just made it before a large down-bound barge, which was not visible until we were within a few metres of the hole.

We crossed several aqueducts across streams that flow down the slopes. These were a necessary part of the complex hydraulic works that were done over three centuries ago to build the canal.

At 1736 we approached the bank and dropped the spud pole just upstream of le Pont de Roubia. We had come 33.7 kilometres and we decided to stop for the day.

To secure our stern, we used a steel eye that had been bolted to the top of a Plane tree stump. Although mooring to trees is forbidden, it is very commonly done with no obvious policing. Here the village of Roubia seems to encourage it by adding mooring eyes to the stumps, so that those who once used the trees can still easily stop. It is now believed that the rapid spread of canker stain has been aided by mooring lines picking-up spores from infected trees and moving them along the canal to healthy trees.

Monday was again a clear, warm morning when at 1038 we raised the spud pole, slipped our line and continued along the canal. We continued to see derelict and sunken boats.

In less than two kilometres we arrived at the lock that marks the end of the 54.2 kilometre pound and were joined in the chamber by a British sailor in his 7-metre boat.

Over the next five kilometres we passed through double locks at both Pechlaurier and Ognon and then a single lock at Homps. 

At 1240 we secured to rings on the quai just upstream of the first bridge in Homps. We had come another 9.3 kilometres and had passed through 6 locks. The place looked pleasant, so we decided to call it a day.

A short distance along are the rental bases for Le Boat and Les Canalous. We were relieved to see most of their rental boats were moored in their ports, thus greatly reducing the number of them that would be out jeopardizing safe navigation.

At 1103 on Tuesday morning we slipped and continued up the canal. Two and a half kilometres along we arrived at the next lock, Écluse Jouarres, where there was a down-bound boat locking through, so we moored on the waiting quai.

From the top of the lock we continued along through placid water and under another graceful stone bridge.

Across an aqueduct, around a bend and across another aqueduct, we came to Épanchoire d'Argentdouble, which was built in 1693 to allow excess water to spill out of the canal. The towpath crosses the spillway on a series of stone arches.

At 1222 we arrived in La Redort to find a very tranquil spot, so after only 6.4 kilometres and one lock, we stopped for the day.

On the way to the Intermarché, is the mouth of a tunnel across the street from Château La Redorte. The château was built at the beginning of the 18th century and in the 1840s it was acquired by Count Mathieu de la Redorte, who restored it and enlarged its gardens and their enclosing walls. He had been Ambassador of France to the Court of Madrid and was later active in politics. He was on the wrong side during Louis-Napoléon's coup in 1851, and he was banished to his château and forbidden to set foot in his gardens. To deal with this, he had a tunnel built allowing him to leave the château without setting foot in its gardens.

We spent a relaxing two days in La Redorte, where in the Tourist Office we finally found a working wifi with a working connection to the internet. Then at 1113 on Thursday we slipped our lines and continued up the canal. We passed a work site where the stumps and roots of cut-down Plane trees were being grubbed out of the canal bank.

Three kilometres along we came to Écluse Puichéric, a double lock in which we could see three boats just beginning their descent. We pulled over to wait.

While waiting we walked up to the locks to watch the action. Edi stopped to talk with a
British couple in a narrow boat.

When the locks were clear, we locked up and headed along the three kilometres to the next lock, Écluse Aiguille, also a double one. It was closed for lunch, so we secured to the bank astern a bangy boat overflowing with a group of German men. There is a water tap symbol shown in the guides, and I had placed our bows next to it to make it easy to fill our tanks.

L'éclusier returned from lunch a comfortable time after the scheduled 1330 reopening and we headed into the lock to work our way up.

A kilometre and a half further along we came to Écluse St-Martin, another double one, where we waited for down-bound boats.

Between the time we had first seen the Germans and the time we entered the lock, we had seen them down four rounds of steins of beer and glasses of wine. Possibly they thought the swerving from their alcohol impairment would counter their swerving from inept steering.

We worked our way through Écluse St Martin and then the triple lock, Écluse Fonfile. The Germans told us while we were beside them in the final chamber that they would be stopping for the day before the next lock.

As we approached Écluse Marsiellette we saw a luxemotor with a large Plane tree laying across it. At first we thought: "Oops!", but as we passed we realized the barge was being used as a temporary platform for felled trees, which were then cleared away by equipment on the bank.

We locked through the single Écluse Marseillette and at 1641 we dropped the spud pole and secured a stern line to a post in the recently denuded bank just downstream of the bridge. Astern of us was a skûtsje of about 12 metres length. We had come another 13.7 kilometres and through 10 more locks.

On Friday morning We motored along the next bief past dead and dying Plane trees.

Then we came to a major logging operation.

An assortment of heavy equipment was on the bank cleaning-up from a very recent tree-cutting spree.

Pulling up the rear was a man with a huge vacuum cleaner sucking up the wood chips and blowing them into a truck. We wondered whether the dust drifting away from the operation contained the spores of the canker stain fungus.

A pair of white swans serenely surveyed their rapidly changing home.

We arrived at Écluse Trèbes, a the triple lock shortly after a boat had started down the series.

We knew we would have a long wait, so we wandered up to watch the operation of the lock.

It is valuable to watch the workings of the multiple chambers from a totally different and detached viewpoint. This added some additional dimensions to our understanding of the system.

We were finally allowed in and worked our way to the top to exit past an upscale restaurant installed in the former mill house.

Upstream of Trèbes we passed under another graceful old stone bridge.

Then shortly thereafter, we spotted a short concrete quay with stout bollards in a quiet rural setting. Even though we had come just 11 kilometres and had worked our way through only a triple lock, we quickly decided to stop for the day.

Up the hill from us were vineyards of the Minervois and across the canal and down the hill were planted grapes for Corbières. I checked the Minervois vines for overlooked clusters, but because they had been mechanically harvested, there was not a single remaining grape.

At 1013 on Saturday we slipped our lines and continued up canal. We moved along the two kilometres to the next lock at the canal speed limit of 8 k/hr, according to the GPS speedometer on my iPad, Very soon we had a boat closing quickly from astern. It must have been near hull speed and making double the speed limit. I mentioned the canal speed limit and bank damage to the skipper as he joined us in the next lock.

Over the next five kilometres we passed through two more single locks, then a double and another single. Then we came around a bend and caught our first glimpses of La Cité, the medieval fortified city on the horizon through the gaps between the trees.

We shortly passed the sign signifying that we had entered the City of Carcassonne.

At 1245 on 19th of October, four months to the day after we had left Harlingen, we arrived in le Port de Carcassonne and secured to the quai just below Pont de Marengo. We had arrived in Zonder Zorg's winter home.

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