Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Sunday, July 31, 2022

On the Midi, July 12-18

 First, a word about our “plans”. (I know, I know…)

We intend to be in the south for maybe three years. This year we are going to make our way slowly to our winter moorings in the town of Castelsarrasin on the Canal Lateral a la Garonne about 275 k from the beginning of the Midi. The canal will be hot and crowded with hireboats but we can check out possible future mooring sites along the way. Next year we will travel from Castelsarrasin back to the Midi and then back to Castelsarrasin (and probably Castets en Dorthe, about 150 k further on where the canal joins the tidal Garonne River), hopefully in better weather and less crowded conditions, and visit some of the places we’re missing this year. That will also give us a chance to visit Narbonne, the Baise and Lot Rivers and some of the places not on the main line of the canal. Year three we hope to use Oldtimer as a base, using a car to visit places we can’t reach by boat like the Pyrenees and northern Spain and inland areas of France, Bordeaux, etc. After that it will be back north. All, of course, subject to change.

It was going to be very hot for an extended period. It’s been really warm since June, really, but the next week was going to be in the upper 90’s and lower 100’s. We were going to need some shade. Luckily just between the village of Portiranges and it’s associated Portiranges Plage, we found “the spot” Tuesday just after noon and tied up.

We had a little sun in the morning and about three hours in the late afternoon but the worst parts of the day were covered. The only problem was power. We no longer have a generator and the solar panels don’t keep up with our usage in total shade so we were going to have to come up with a solution. Luckily, when I installed the new panels I left plenty of extra wire and the evening sun was right on the front of the boat. Thus, our new solar panel configuration. We were in the mooring for about 5 days and managed just fine.

We were just a 10 minute bike ride from the very nice beach so we joined the many other beach goers trying to keep cool. There was also a woman with a stand selling vegetables from her back garden just a little way down the bike path and and chicken wagon on the way into town. What more could you want?

This picture doesn’t show the full magnitude of the crowds. It was early in the day.

Wednesday night we cycled into town to enjoy the fireworks display for Fete National but the rest of the time it was bike rides in the cool morning and swim in the afternoons. Friday it was particularly hot with an afternoon temp of about 105 F. Sitting under the umbrella at the beach did no good; the breeze was like a blast furnace. Luckily the rest of the days weren’t that bad although temps were in the mid 90’s.

Sunday the weather had moderated a bit so we were off to our next stop, Beziers, 13k and four locks up the canal. We spent 4 days in this town on our car trip south last September. Since we arrived on Sunday most shops were closed so we had an opportunity to take care of some chores but there was no shade on the boat in the marina so we spent much time sitting in our chairs under the trees ashore. We also met the barge Millie and its owners John and Gill. We all spent alot of time trying to remember where we’d seen each others boats before but never came up with an answer.

While paying for the mooring in the Capitanerie I saw posters for a son et lumiere at the Cathedral Saint-Nazare and light and water display in town. After dinner we made the hike (the marina is a good distance from town and of course town is on top of the hill) and enjoyed the dancing water and lights.

In a switch, the son et lumiere takes place inside the cathedral so we joined a long line to get in for the 10:30 pm start.

No pictures of the performance as it just wouldn’t give the full effect and it wasn’t quite as spectacular as others we’ve seen like Amien Nancy or Orleans but we hadn’t seen one in several years so we enjoyed it.

The Saint-Nazere altar when not illuminated

Monday morning it was off to one of the “highlights” of the Canal, the Fonserranes lock flight. 6 locks (no, not seven despite it being called le Sept Écluses) all connected in one construction. We were in with Mille and an obviously brand new small cruiser. The registration number plate was just paper taped to the side of the boat and the captains boat handling skills were questionable, shall we say. 

Going up!

The flight is a well documented tourist attraction (huge parking lot and you have to pay to get in) and there are hoards of tourists standing on the banks. Don’t want to make any big mistakes! Considering, it all went pretty well.

From last year. The first lock going up.

It took us an hour to negotiate the flight. After the six locks the next lock is about 50 k away. We tried one bankside mooring just 15 min after the flight but after getting tied up realized that there was really no access ashore and we were right next to some smelly drainage canal so we moved on. About 12:30 we found some moorings just before the Malpas tunnel. Parts of it were marked as reserved for passenger boats but we were able to tuck in on the end; Millie on the other end. A little later the cruise director of the hotel barge Roi Soleil   appeared but he assured us there was enough room for the barge. Indeed there was so we settled in for the night.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Camargue, Part 2, July 8-12

Our next stop was Frontignan, just about 14 k from the landings at Maguelone. The pedestrian bridge was available to open beginning at 8:30 so about 8:45 Friday morning we got underway. 

The moorings at Frontignan are split by a lift bridge that only opens three times a day; 8:30, 1:00 pm and 7 pm. We arrived about 10:30 am but we wanted to be on the other side of the bridge so as not to be trapped. Also, the moorings on the east side are limited to 24 hours and on the west 72. We wanted to stay a couple of days. At 1 pm we slipped through the mass a hireboats jostling to get through the bridge and got tied up, luckily in one of the better shaded spots, almost entirely by accident.

Our first task was a visit to the local cave cooperative. The local wine is a muscat blanc de petit grains. Many have tasted the sweet variety but locals also produce a dry style that is one of our favorites. It’s also very inexpensive. Unfortunately, they were out of the boxed version so we had to head back to the boat for the bicycles as 12 bottles would be too heavy to carry on foot.

Saturday morning was market day in town and it was a pretty good one; lots of various food stalls and the usual sundries. We got a chance to purchase a local food speciality, tielle sétoise, octopus and a light spiced tomato sauce in a bread dough crust. Delicious!

There was the obligatory visit to the Eglise St Jean-Baptiste, with its 11th century tower, 17th century nave and a gothic choir from the 18th. The side altars were unique.

The facade and bell are from the 19th century.

On our walk around town we also saw a plant we see often in California treated in a very unusual way. They have pruned oleanders into street trees.

Sunday was a long bike ride through the salt marshes and then over to the Port of Frontignan (lots of boats) and the Frontignan Plage (lots of holiday homes and apartments) and a couple of dips in the Med because it was still very warm.

Where they “make” the salt looking back towards town.

Monday morning we set off for our next big obstacle, the Étang de Thau. 5 k of canal would lead us to a large lagoon we would have to cross to our next stop, Marseillan.

We would enter the Ètang from the lower right and end up in Marseillan at the upper left.

The Étang is a large, shallow lagoon separated from the Med by a low, narrow strip of land. If the wind is blowing from the south, the chop can build up fast and it can be treacherous for a flat bottomed barge like Oldtimer. Also, the channel is not very well marked; the buoys are pretty far apart and hard to see. Luckily we have a good pair of binoculars and what wind there was was mostly behind us so we were able to cross with no problems. By 11:30 we were tied up in the Marseillan port, took out a second mortgage on the house to pay the mooring fee (honestly, we could have gotten a room for about the same amount but it was my birthday) and headed over to the restaurant where we had a great lunch last September when we visited. We had another great lunch; oysters, prawns and whelks with salad for a starter and an entré of grilled loup de mer along with a couple of glasses of the local wine, picpoul de pinet.

Afterwards we had a little stroll around town, then it was back to the boat where Cathy Jo prepared one of my favorite meals, duck breast with berry sauce and duck fat fried potatoes.

We managed to get underway about 9:30 Tuesday morning for our last 1.5k of the Canal Rhône à Sète then it was onto the Canal du Midi.

We had one of the famous oval locks to navigate then the Bassin Ronde at Agde, a lock with three entrances that allows boat to either continue on the canal or head to the sea.

By 1 pm we had found a bankside spot in the trees near the town of Portirange. Shade almost all day long and just a 10 minute bike ride to a very nice Med beach. It was going to be very hot for the next few days so we were going to stay put.

Monday, July 18, 2022

The Camargue Part 1, July 3-8

 The Camargue is the vast flood plain created by the Rhône River. A region of shallow lakes, marshes and swamps, it is crossed by the Canal Rhône a Sète which strangely enough, travels from the Rhône River at Beaucaire to the city of Sète, a maritime port on the Mediterranean Sea. It follows courses that have been used since Roman times. The lock from the head of the canal at Beaucaire into the Rhone has been put out of service so we traveled the section from Saint Gilles, where the canal connects with the Petit Rhône, to Sète, about 70 k. 

The canal crosses the shallow lakes and marshes in a channel dug out of them. There are salt marshes, the famous white horses and black bulls, pink flamingos, no shade, the wind can be fierce and all of the people around look baked. It is just a short distance inland from the Med, however, so we referred to our 10 days on it as our beach vacation.

Our first stop was 24k away from the St. Glles landings but no locks so we made the 3 hour trip on Sunday morning. The town of Aigues-Mort (Dead Water) was built as a fortress port by Louis IX in the 13th century to serve as a departure point for the Seventh Crusade. Its walls are still intact and you can just imagine hoards of crusaders clanking their way out the gates on their way to liberate the Holy Land from the “Infidels”.

The movie was taken from the side facing the sea which is about 5 k away. 

Inside the walls, however, it’s all about the tourists. Bars, restaurants and various types of gift shops abound. Not a knight to be seen.

It is also headquarters to one of the bigger salt suppliers in the region. The picture is from quite a distance away but that is a mountain of fleur de sel.

We had been told by others that there was free mooring in the basin right under the city’s main gate but, it being July, all of the free space was taken up by trip boats so it was into the marina for us. It’s just a short bike ride to the open Med at la Grau du Roi so we made the ride on Monday. Another big marina town but no walls, just many bars and restaurants.

Tuesday morning we headed off another 28 k to our next stop, Villeneuve les Maguelone. 

The beach is the site of a Roman port on a small spit of land now separated from the larger town by the canal. A small cathedral was built on a hill overlooking the port in the 5th century, “liberated” from its Arab occupiers in 737 by Charles Martel and rebuilt in the mid 9th century. It became a bishopric of some importance, even sheltering popes in the 15th century. Abandoned by the church in the 16th century, it was purchased and restored by the Fabrège family. The interior is very calm and peaceful.

The moorings are three landings in the canal just before the opening pedestrian-only bridge that leads to one of the few “wild” beaches along this coast. The beach is kind of pebbly but not as crowded as we would find further along.

The bridge is normally closed but when a boat approaches, 

the operator uses outboard motors swing it open and closed.

On the other side of the bridge is a paved bike path to the beach that also features a tourist train. There are also moorings along the canal but since the bridge is left open at night, access is limited. We made the trip to the beach by bike twice as it’s not far. 

We even bought a beach umbrella!

Don at the bar after an afternoon at the beach,

grapevines and the Med behind.

On Wednesday we noticed workers setting up pavilions and a large number of trestle tables and chairs in the parking lot for the bridge, right behind the boat. Then we saw a banner for a fete held every Wednesday evening. Guess we’d be joining in.

Hosted by the city, for €6 we each got a wine glass and two pours. There were several wine producers and many tents serving local specialties. We complemented a white wine with a plate of some of the famous local product.

A local red wine went with a most excellent grilled octopus salad. There was also the obligatory mediocre local musical talent but luckily the whole thing was over by 11 pm so our sleep was not hindered.

We enjoyed the last couple hours of the fete

from our back deck. That big barge behind us 

is a chambre d’hôtes complete with pool.

Thursday evening we had a good sunset view of the entrance gate to the beach road and the cathedral on the hill before our Friday morning departure for our next stop, Frontignan.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Avignon and the End of the Rhone, June 30-July 2

In 1177, Brother Bénézet announced that, due to a vision from God, he was going to build a bridge across the Rhône River in Avignon. The monk died in 1184 but his colleagues continued the work and after 11 years completed the amazing structure. A stone bridge, 970 meters long with 23 arches connected Avignon with Villeneuve-lés- Avignon. Almost immediately troubles began as the bridge was continually under assault from floods and spring thaws on the mighty Rhône. It had to be rebuilt several times. Finally, after a particularly bad flood in 1669, authorities gave up. Today just 4 arches of the original bridge remain but it became the subject of a famous French nursery rhyme, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”, with much singing and dancing.

Other than the bridge, Avignon is known as the home of the Catholic Popes in the 14th century. Popes Benedict XII and Clement VI built the gothic Papal Palace over 20 years. We toured through 25 rooms of the building but unfortunately many of it’s furnishings and artwork are no longer there and a portion is under wraps being restored. It does feature an interesting presentation with Histopads that display some of the the rooms as they would have been. There’s a description here. It’s something new and they are still a little clunky but has great potential.


Avignon is a big live theater town. Many small theaters are scattered among the neighborhoods and there’s a giant festival later in July. Posters for the performances were all over town. So were the theater people and they were all happy to see one another after Covid shutdowns.

It’s also a very popular cruise ship stop. When we pulled into town Thursday about lunchtime there were 5 tied up in the port. At about 130 passengers a ship, that’s a bunch of tourists.

The Rhône splits in two about 10 k above Avignon so to reach the moorings requires heading downriver past town and then turning back up the other arm. The mooring for pleasure craft is on a long quay just past the piece of the famous bridge. It took us more than a half hour to make the 3k upriver against the current.

Since we arrived early on Thursday we were able to take in the Palace Thursday afternoon. Friday was left to wandering the streets of town, a delicious lunch at a small cafe and a visit to the Musée de Petit Palais.

Saturday morning we were off on the final kilometers of our Rhone journey.

Just before we left the Rhône we passed under the walls of the chateau of Louis II of Anjou. He built the castle in the 15th century on the site of an ancient Roman fortress.

After 280k and about two weeks on the big river, we turned off onto the Petite Rhône headed for our last big lock, the one outside of the town of Saint Gilles. A big lock in surface area but I think we only dropped about 6 inches. A half hour later, about 3:30 we were tied up on one of the three small landings at the junction of the Petit Rhône and the Canal Rhône a Sete. The days run was 63.8 k, the most kilometers we’ve done in a day on Oldtimer.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

More of the Rhone, June 23-30

 There is room for two boats on the pontoon outside La Roche de Glun, just 8 k and 1 hour south of Tournon. There was already a Dutch sailboat there so we pulled in behind them and tied up. We explained to them that we were not being antisocial but quarantining and they understood completely.

The river splits at La Roche, one section leading to a barrage and the other down the channel to the Valence lock. That leaves a large open area for the sailing club to make use of their small boats.

The pontoon is just left of center

I was feeling a little better and Cathy Jo was feeling no symptoms so Friday we put on our masks and took a little walk around town. It turns out one of the most famous women in France, Diane de Poitiers was born near here in 1500. She went on to become King Henry II’s royal mistress and most important advisor. She was also responsible for the construction and renovation of a couple of the magnificent Loire Valley chateaus we visited over the years. There is a tower named after her in La Roche.

On our walk around the area on Friday we had noticed a big fruit orchard with the fruit falling off the trees. Saturday morning Cathy Jo went on a bike ride and found the growers fruit stand. They were selling 2 kilo barquettes of apricots for €3. Since there was no way we could eat 4 1/2 pounds of apricots, Cathy Jo managed to talk them into selling her just half of the container. Nothing like just-off-the tree ripe apricots.

The view back upriver from our back deck.

By Sunday I was feeling much better and Cathy Jo was still experiencing no symptoms so we set off downriver for our next stop, another medieval village about 50k and 3 locks away, Cruas. The entrance was a challenge with the entrance buoy system not matching up with our charts. We had to make a cross-current approach into a very narrow entrance. Once we got tied up and our hearts stopped pounding, we headed into the village, masked, of course.

The old village is dominated by the Abbatiale Saint-Marie from the 11th and 12th centuries and the ruins of the Chateau des Moines.

Part of what’s left of the chateau

Monday morning it was just 20 k to our next stop, another medieval village, Viviers. Just before we left, I used one of our Covid self-tests.

We’re going to have a baby!

No, I’m just negative for Covid

The last inhabitant of the old part of Viviers moved out in the 1950’s. The city has since taken over the old quarter and is making slow progress at restoring it. We found the town very pleasant and stayed a couple of days.

The Saint Vincent Cathedral, originally constructed around 1100

 and destroyed and remade many times since then, looks out over town

Looking back over the old village from the church porch

While in port, our neighbors were Nigel and Jean from Wales with their Greenline boat, Jackavance, a hybrid. While they have two diesel engines, they can also move along on electric power. A very interesting system. It also turned out that they were neighbors with another Welsh couple we met back in the Odysseus days. Roger and Peggy on Pogue ma Hone were the source of much hilarity back in the day. It’s a very small boating world.

Wednesday we headed out to an isolated mooring, just a quay on the river near the town of Roquemaure. Tied up about 2:30 we immediately headed into town. We had been alerted to a Côtes du Rhône wine coop and wanted to see what it was about. 

26 growers provide their grapes to the coop and they sell it by the bottle, box and en vrac. Bring your own jug.

The boxes on the wall are 5 liters and sell for about €15-20. The bags are 3 liters. The rouge she is pumping is €1.70 a liter for the everyday wine, €2.70 for the good stuff. We bough one of the 5 liter boxes of red and one of rosé. 

As mentioned, the mooring is just a cement quay on the river with a couple of rings. We got bounced a bit by the cruise ships going by but the view made it worth it.

The view right out our window across the river.

Thursday morning it was off to Avignon and its famous bridge.

Monday, July 4, 2022

On the Rhone, June 16-23

Off we went galloping down the Rhone, making a good 10 k over the ground not even pushing it. Nice to have a 2-3 k current behind us.

Our first stop was a fuel barge about 20 k south of Lyon. We want to keep the tank topped off as who knows what’s going to happen with fuel supplies over the summer and it seems like the price will just keep climbing. After lightening our bank account for the $9+ a gallon fuel (stop whining, Americans!) it was off to Ampuis, 39 k and 2 big Rhone locks south of Lyon. No problems with the locks, though. They are big and deep but with floating bollards it’s just a matter of getting tied up with a single line and watch it; the bollard follows you down. We did share one lock with a cruise ship but since the locks are 190 meters long and the cruise ships are about 150 there’s plenty of room for our 16 meters behind them.

The cruise ship leaves. We’ll follow once they’re clear.

So, Ampuis. It’s just a small village with a pontoon enclosing a basin on the river. Our guide book said we could moor for free as long as there were no jousting tournaments. We had seen descriptions of river jousting when we were in the Morvan some years ago but never actually seen it happening. When we pulled into the pontoon, there were a bunch of people up on the steps facing the mooring but nobody paid us any mind. Later the crowd got bigger and the boats were prepared for practice. It turned out the local jousting club was giving some youngsters a chance to try it out.

The boats have the platform in the back and the jouster puts on a target/cushion around their neck and a thick pad on their thigh where they will rest the jousting pole. There are passengers in the boat to provide some momentum when the small outboard motors are cut prior to impact. Since the poles are so long and the kids were so small, the adults in the boat held the pole in place to it would hit the target and not injure anybody. When the adults are jousting, the pole is held up by the jouster.

I got a little excited at the end as I was filming.

We saw several passes with different kids and then a couple with adults in training. It was a great show. We also saw several other jousting arenas in villages down the river so it seems like it’s a real event here on the Rhone.

Ampuis is also the center of the Côtes du Róti appellation. Unfortunately, it’s a very small growing region and the bottles were out of our price range.

Saturday it was on to our next stop, les Roches de Condrieu, just 5 k downriver. The weather forecast called for really hot temperatures and ferocious winds out of the south for a couple of days so we wanted to be in a marina off the river. 

We arrived at 9:30 am so there was plenty of time to head to the grocery store across the river and then visit the swimming beach after lunch. It was really hot so it was really crowded, like hundreds of people. Being in the water you were hit with this almost physical wall of sound from all the swimmers shouting and having fun. It was almost like being beat up!

Sunday we pretty much stayed on the boat. We did wander over to the river to see the effect of the really strong winds and were glad we didn’t move on. The river was ugly. It was howling.

We decided to stay one more day and Monday we first went on a hike to a hill overlooking the town and the river.

The marina is in the center left of the picture

behind that hill with the trees.

After that we went on a bike ride downriver along the Via Rhona, a bike path that follows the river. After a not very good lunch at a ginguette (and the beer was warm), we returned to the boat to get ready to move on.

Tuesday it was about 50 k downriver to our next stop, Tournon.

One side of the river is Tournon, the other, Tain l’Hermitage, home of the Crozes-Hermitage appellation. The only mooring for barges is on the Tournon side so we moored up on the inside of one of the pontoons in the small harbor. The sign board indicated passenger vessels moored on the outside. Little did we know. I woke up about 2 am to discover we had a couple neighbors right on the other side of the pontoon. the picture is from later in the morning.

Shot from our deck. They snuck in without our hearing

Tournon was the first of several medieval villages we would stop at along the Rhone.

Perched on the side of the hill above the river, the main part originates from the early 800’s.

We took a walk on the hillside above town.

The view across the river to the Crozes-Hermitage

One of the two remaining wall towers on the Tower Walk.

When we arrived in Tournon I had been feeling a little poorly; like I was coming down with a cold. Wednesday morning Cathy Jo insisted I get out one of the self-test Covid kits we’d brought with us from Ventura. Sure enough, I tested positive. We think I probably was exposed at the grocery in La Roche as it was very crowded and the virus is rampant in France right now. Isolation time! Luckily Cathy Jo was showing no symptoms although, since we’d been in close quarters, we were sure she had it. I moved into the guest cabin, wore a mask, tried not to cough in her presence and ate my meals in the cabin. We enjoyed what must have been a fun Fete de Musique in Tournon from our back deck. Luckily just 8 k down the river was an isolated and free pontoon in La Roche de Glun. Thursday morning we headed out to do a little quarantining.