Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Escape from Nérac, June 24-29

 So the great cleanup began. 

Both walkways alongside the river through Nérac were now completely covered in mud. I managed to make a path for Carl and Janna to make it to the stairway up to the road so they get their taxi without getting muddy up to their ankles and they departed for Agen by taxi just after noon on Friday. Over the weekend the municipal workers showed up across the river with a big pump and fire hose to begin washing down the walkway.

Monday afternoon my next guests, Jenny and Adrian, arrived. 

The river was closed because of all the debris in the water so we would be enjoying the sights of Nérac for a few days.

I first met Jenny way back in 2009 when she was cruising aboard her English river cruiser Misty Morning. She and her husband Tom had been cruising English waterways and decided they wanted to give the French canals a try. Unfortunately, Tom died suddenly but Jenny carried on with her plans, doing what I am doing this year, arranging for friends to join her for crew. Some years later she met Adrian and they began boating together. After a couple of years they sold Misty Morning and bought Piedaleau, a much larger canal barge. (A link to Jenny’s blog is on the right). Last year they sold the barge but, as true Francophiles, they didn’t want to give up cruising altogether so have been visiting friends around France this year. They will spend a week on Oldtimer, maybe cruising.

I slid across the river while there was a break in the hosing down so they wouldn’t have to carry their luggage down the stairs and then scooted back across the river before we go hosed off too.

That evening we decided to check out an unusual waterside restaurant, La Vert Galant. They advertised 80 different varieties of ice cream. What we didn’t know was that many of the flavors are savory and a scoop is served with every dish. My aperitif was a slightly sparkling dry white wine with foie gras ice cream and my main course came with an ice cream made with roasted bell pepper and the basque spice piment d’espelette. Both were very good!

Tuesday was they day the city was going to start cleaning our side of the river so we again slid across. It turned out Tuesday was also the day the newly washed parking lot was going to be transformed into a producers market with many of the local restaurants, wineries, etc. setting up booths for the evening. There would even be entertainment by the local municipal band. No cooking that night. We enjoyed the bounty of Nérac.

The trip boat captain had told up he thought the river would be open on Wednesday so lat that morning we wandered down to the lock and pushed the button to se if we could activate the lock and leave. The lights indicated the lock was working but nothing happened. I called the service phone number and the person who answered said they were clearing downed trees but would check out the lock “later.” We assumed that meant after lunch so we headed off for lunch and a beer, within sight of the lock. I had just finished my beer when I noticed that the lock was full and the doors were open. Off we went!

Looking back toward Nérac. The lock is 

behind that wall on the right.

You can just see Oldtimer on the left.

We’re across the river to avoid the firehose 

and be closer to dinner.

The sun sets while we wait to see 

if we will be able to proceed in the morning.

We had to work our way around a couple of downed trees and there was a lot of damage to the banks but when we reached the fourth lock about 4:30,  the work boat was tied up in the lock and we couldn’t go any further. We troped to the waiting pontoon, assuming that the crew would be out in the morning and we could proceed. Instead, the captain showed up about an hour later and asked what we were doing there. The river was still closed, he said. We claimed ignorance (not far from the truth) and asked if we would be able to proceed Thursday morning. He said he would have to ask his boss and would see us in the morning.

When the work crew turned up about 8:30 am, the captain told us that his boss said we could proceed but that officially the river was still closed and we would have to do that at our own risk. We happily agreed and set off about 10 am. By 12:30 we were off the river and back onto the Lateral canal headed for our next stop, Serignac-sur-Garonne.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Much More Excitement, June 18-23

 Carl and Janna safely aboard and after a visit to Agnes wonderful Sunday produce market we were off to our first stop, a return for me to Buzet-sur-Baise. We arrived a little before 3 pm and found the usual bankside spot in the shade unoccupied so put our the stakes and made reservations to visit the restaurant for dinner.

The happy couple glad to be in France

I had planned for just a short day on Monday, about 2 hours, a return to the bastide town of Vianne that I had earlier visited with Kevin so there was plenty of time to visit the Buzet wine coop.

The Buzet region produced good wines as far back as the Middle Ages and they were exported around the world, even to the US. However, the phylloxera epidemic at the beginning of the 20th century did serious damage to the regions reputation and quality declined. A cooperative was formed in 1955 and an AOC label was finally obtained in 1973. About 90% of the regions growers joined the effort, an unusually high number. Lately, the coop has taken on increased environmental responsibilities, using cover crops in the rows instead of constant plowing to cut down on erosion and avoiding chemical treatments to encourage native pollinators and local species. They have a very interesting and informative website in English.

It doesn’t look like much from the outside but

there’s much deliciousness inside.

Visit and purchases complete, about 1 pm we set off for Vianne and were tied up around 3 pm. Time enough for a little stroll around the village and a libation (or two) at the town bar.

Tuesday morning it was off to Nérac. The plan was to spend just one day there, then head back to Agen so Carl and Janna could catch the train to Bordeaux and my next guests, Jenny and Adrian, could join me there. Oh, how I wish!

Tuesday evening we had a big thunderstorm, the rain bucketing down. When we got up Wednesday morning, the river was running too fast to head downstream so we were going to have to wait until Thursday to leave. We’d have to hustle to make it to Agen for Carl and Janna’s train but the river had definitely calmed down by dinner time.

About 10 pm the clouds thickened we experienced the most intense lightning storm I’ve ever seen. The bolts were up in the clouds but it was an hour of constant flashes and thunder. Then the rain started to fall. Again.

I went to bed around 11:30 but about 2 am I was woken by creaking lines and got up to discover that the river had risen about 5 feet and we were marooned and floating over the top of the quay.

This was the mooring “before”

This was taken about 6:30 am

Note the bench compared to the earlier pic

This is a chart of the river levels.

From 1/2 meter over 0 to nearly 2 in about three hours.

The earlier little hump is Wednesday.

I called the gendarmes to let them know we were there but there was really nothing they could do. I put out the anchor just in case our lines let go so we wouldn’t go over the barrage and then we waited. Luckily the water went down just about as fast as it rose and by about 10 am we were once again down below the level of the quai, no longer of danger of being stranded aground. I really don’t know why we didn’t end up on the quai; some trick of the current, I guess, but we were safe and there was no damage to Oldtimer other than some paint damage from the anchor wire.

There was definitely damage to the river though. Trees and branches were down along it’s entire length so the authorities closed it to navigation and we would just have to wait. There was no word on when it would reopen.

The beautiful path through the park was now an impassable slog.

Some of the damage in the river just upstream from town.

I cleared some of the mud off the quai so we could make it to the stairs off the riverside without going up to our ankles in muck and Carl and Janna made a run to the tourist office to see if they could get some transportation to Agen on Friday to catch their train. The easiest way was by taxi so they made arrangements to leave just after lunch on Friday and I got in touch with Jenny and Adrian to let them know where I was. They were doing some touring around France by car so they could arrive as scheduled on Monday.

I was going to get a really good look at Nérac.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Some Excitement, June 8-18

Secure in Montauban by 1 pm on Thursday we wandered into town just for something to do. I had already been here with Tim and Christine and really the only thing I missed was the Ingres Museum featuring the works of Emile-Antoine Bourdelle and his acolytes. About the museumMore on the collection.

One of the rooms was dedicated to satire and copies of the works. I got a kick out of this one, based on one of his more famous paintings, La Grande Odalisque which is displayed below the poster.

The caption of the poster reads, “Do women have to be naked to enter the metropolitan museum? 

Less than 3% of the artists exhibited are women but 83% of the nudes are female.”


On Thursday we had passed Kevin and Eleanor on Milou, a couple from Ireland that Cathy Jo and I met last year on our way down from Briare. They were moored up in Lacourt Saint Pierre, the small village right at the beginning of the Montech embranchement where I earlier stayed with Tim and Christine. They rode their bikes down and joined us for lunch at the marina and we made arrangements to stop to see them again on our way out Saturday.

I was also introduced to the wonders of rugby. Being an Aussie, Kevin is a big rugby fan and Friday night was the semi-final of the French championships featuring the team (or side, if you will) from Toulouse against a side from Paris. We went looking for a rugby bar to watch the match but were unable to find one so Kevin found a broadcast that we could watch on his laptop. Toulouse slaughtered the Parisians. I think maybe I need to find out a little more about this sport.

Saturday we headed off, arriving in Lacourt just after lunch. Kevin, Kevin, Eleanor and I all retired to the local bar for the afternoon and had a great time. 

Sunday we got a late start as I wanted to show Kevin the water slope at Montech but, being Sunday, the exhibit was closed so we just cycled around it looking at the exterior displays.

Just about 2 hours after our departure we were tied up at the halte in Escatalens where we enjoyed a great evening thunderstorm, a preview of things to come. Monday just after noon we arrived in Moissac, Tuesday about the same in Valence d’Agen and Wednesday again about 1 pm in Agen.

Thursday Kevin would be off for more adventures; up to Antwerp to look at a barge, then to Paris for the Air Show then to London to complete work toward his captains license then back to France for another boat ride. The man does get around!

I had a couple days to get the boat ready for my next crew, Carl and Janna, friends from Ventura, but before their arrival I had a little excitement. A cruiser pulled into the slip next to me and got tied up Friday afternoon. I wasn’t sure what was going on but one of the passengers came over asking for a pump. I don’t have one but he lifted up the floorboards to show me the bilges full of water; about halfway up the engine! “Call the pompiers”, was my advise and the fire brigade showed up a short time later.

They got to use all their toys; submersible pumps and hoses and the divers even got into the act to make sure there wasn’t a hole in the bottom of the boat.

I suspect the problem was water leaking in around the propeller shaft but I kept my nose out of it.

Saturday afternoon Carl and Janna arrived by train from Bordeaux. We had a very nice dinner out and Sunday morning, after a visit to Agen’s wonderful outdoor produce market, off we went to revisit the Baise River.

Monday, June 26, 2023

To Toulouse and Back, June 1 - 8

 We arrived back at the Agen Marina Saturday afternoon and Kevin set out for Paris by train on Sunday. Sunday was also a day of music in Agen. Several stages were set up throughout the center of the city and various choral groups were performing all day. 

One of the many acoustic groups that were performing over the weekend.

I took the opportunity of Kevins absence to catch up on some of the chores that had been neglected since my arrival. The whole boat got washed, the deck was scrubbed and the interior got a good sprucing up. I also got a chance to take care of a bunch of laundry.

Unfortunately for Kevin, he wasn’t able to get any last minute tickets to the tennis tournament but he had a few days to wander around the city and visit some of the monuments and museums. He returned Wednesday afternoon and we made preparations to head off for Toulouse.

When Cathy Jo and I visited last year we considered our time in Toulouse as reconnaissance as our plan was to return to the city at least twice this year. Those plans were obviously dashed but I wanted to get back for at least a couple of days. Thursday morning Kevin and I set off at the usual time and made our first stop in Pommevic, reaching the villages moorings about 2 pm. I made a quick trip into town but as it was the lunch “hour” and everything (really, only a cafe/tabac) was closed. I did revisit the church though.

Friday we made the 21 k to Castelsarrasin for the night and Saturday we stopped at the side of the canal just east of the village of Dieupantale. There is good bank there for stakes and trees line the southern side of the canal so we were able to get some afternoon shade on a warm day.

Sunday we made the 36 k and 12 locks to Toulouse and by about 5 pm were tied up in the same moorings Cathy Jo and I used last year, a bankside spot just past the St. Sauveur marina.

As Kevin is an aviator, our first stop Monday morning was a trip on the metro to visit Aeroscopia, a big exhibit hall and museum dedicated to aviation and, as the Toulouse Blagnac Airport is the home of Airbus, there were plenty of aircraft to see.

Inside the exhibit hall were examples of the history of flying.

Outside was a display of the Airbus fleet.

The super jumbo A380

And of course, the Concorde

Tuesday I spent wandering the city visiting several of the magnificent churches and monuments.

Lunchtime in the Place du Capitole

One of my favorites is the Basilica of Saint Sernin, built in honor of the first bishop of Toulouse and a martyr saint. Killed in 250, a modest basilica was built in the 5th century but it soon became popular with pilgrims and the current building was constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries. Major restoration work has continued since the 18th century.

After the visit to the Basilica I made my way past several other monumental buildings to the Pont Neuf and the Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la Daurade.

The basilica was completely rebuilt at the end of the 18th century on the site of one of the oldest churches in the city, probably a chapel for the Visigoth kings.

It features a just restored “Black Madonna”

And a very interesting depiction of Purgatory.

Wednesday morning it was off, back through the last three locks of the Canal du Midi and onto the Canal de Garonne. We would spend Wednesday night back near the village of Dieupentale where we spent the previous Saturday night and then head back down the Canal du Montech to revisit Montauban.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Garonne Lateral, May 23 - 27

In the last post I put up a not very good picture of a typical small church bell tower of the region and promised a better one. This a picture of the church in Lacourt San Pierre at the beginning of the Canal du Montech, a better example.

Monday morning it was just 10 k and three locks to get back onto the Garonne Lateral canal from the Baise River, a task completed by 11 am. I had arranged to meet friends from Briare, Pete and Sarah, for lunch at the restaurant at the moorings. They sold Marianna at the end of last season and were on a car trip to France collecting stuff they had left behind and reconnecting with friends, including Lennie and Di on Elysium, who had bought a house on the Lot River, not too far from the Garonne. We had a great time catching up.

From L to R Lennie, Sara, Di and Pete at Lennie and Di's new house.. 

There may be wine involved.

(Pic borrowed from Pete)

Tuesday morning we set off to the west in the direction of Bordeaux although we didn’t intend to get there. The canal ends quite a way short of the city and that necessitates a trip on a tidal section of the Garonne River. I didn’t want to do that and there wasn’t time anyway. The plan was to return to Agen by around the 27th so Kevin could take the train up to Paris and maybe catch a few of the opening matches of the Paris Open tennis tournament.

Our first stop was the halte nautic the village of Villeton. A women from Maine we met earlier in the summer in Castelsarrasin, Anita, was a new canal boat owner and she had run into a little trouble in Agen. As she was on her own (her crew had to leave) she needed someone to help her back into the Agen marina. Kevin volunteered and there was a train station in the nearby town of Tonneins. He could catch the train back to Agen, assist Anita and then catch the train returning to Tonneins later in the afternoon. Meanwhile, I could catch up on a little painting.

Anita on Arabelle leaving Agen

Our tasks complete, Wednesday after lunch we pushed on to the small marina at Pont de Sables where we would turn around to head back to Agen. 

6 k from the moorings there is the good sized town of Marmande. I took a quick bike ride into town on Thursday, visited the tourist office which is located in an old restored house with a nice fountain.

Of course, I also visited the gothic style Notre-Dame church with it’s magnificent organ.

There is a beautiful tile mural long the city wall facing the Garonne River.

Friday morning it was back up the canal about 25 k to the village of Damazan and its small marina.

A walk through town revealed more of the typical half-timber construction typical of the old buildings of the area.

Saturday it was 33 k and about 6 hours back to Agen. 

Kevin would be leaving Sunday morning by train to Paris, returning on Wednesday. I had plenty of boat chores to attend to so I wouldn’t be bored!