Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Monday, October 30, 2023

That’s About It, Folks. October 24-Nov. 14

 I’ve returned to France to do some maintenance and winterize the boat as I didn’t have time for that in July. Plus it gave me an excuse to come back and enjoy more of those delicious baguettes. I’ll be here for three weeks.

I’m not going to make a map this year as it was just backing and forthing on the Canal de Garonne with side trips to Montauban and up the Baise.

But there are numbers-

694 kilometers

240 locks

142 hours underway 

41 travel days

I also think I’m going to put the blog to bed. The boat is for sale and I’m afraid my heart just isn’t in it. I don’t think I’ll be doing again what I did this year. While I did have a good time, it’s just not the kind of cruising I want to do. Barging is a wonderful life and I would dearly love to continue but I’m afraid it’s just not in the cards.

I want to thank you all for following along and your kind and generous comments.

If you know anybody who wants a very nice, comfortable Dutch barge on the French canals…..


Return to Castelsarrasin, July 11-16

 My sister, Melissa (Missy) had been in Paris for several days and was taking the TGV from Paris to Bordeaux. I took the train from Agen and we met up in the train station. Since we only had a couple of hours, there really wouldn’t be time for much sightseeing so we mostly just wandered around the streets near the train station.

The ornate Bordeaux train station and city tram

We did take a stroll through the Basilique St. Michel whose construction started in 1350 and took about 200 years to complete. The church steeple is dwarfed by the nearby Fléche St. Michel, at 375 feet the tallest tower in southern France. Too bad about the scaffolding.

By late afternoon we were back on board, preparing to get underway.

Wednesday we were heading back to Valence d’Agen and after about 5 hours and 3 locks we were tied up in time to take a little stroll through town. It was a rather harrowing trip as there was still alot of debris in the canal, much of it just under water and invisible, so there was a pretty constant banging as branches struck the hull. No damage was done but it sounded like someone striking a drum when we hit something! Valence was very familiar to me now, but it was a beautiful day and the flowers were putting on quite a show. 

Thursday morning it was off to Moissac. I had contacted Anthony, the capitaine, a few days before to make sure there would be a spot for us as it was now high season, the weekend and, with the canal reopened, boats were starting to move around. We were tied up just after lunch so there was plenty of time to revisit the cathedral and cloister, the third time I’d been there this year.

My sister climbs out of the crypt in the church.

We were in no particular hurry as we didn’t need to be in Castelsarrasin until Sunday so we spent Friday just hanging around town, visiting the market and taking in the sights.

Saturday we set off around 11 am. Since it was just 6 k to Castelsarrasin, we motored past and stopped for the night at San Porquier, just 7 k further up the canal. I hadn’t stopped here before but we found a very attractive small village just a short distance away. Since we were tied up by about 3 pm there was plenty of time for a visit.

The church and city hall

A very attractive house that had obviously had some recent maintenance.

Since it was still early in the summer the sunflowers were in full bloom.

It was just a short trip and only two locks back to Castelsarrasin so Sunday morning we set off at the ungodly hour of 11 am and were tied up in Oldtimer’s resting place for the winter about 1 pm.

The flowers in Castelsarrasin were looking pretty nice, too.

Missy was off back to California Monday morning and I really didn’t have any time to mess around as I would be leaving the boat on Wednesday for my flight home Thursday. There was just time to get the laundry done and get things cleaned up before I headed to the train station for the return to Toulouse where Air France would whisk me home.

The plan was to return at the end of October to do a little maintenance and complete the winterization.

Back to Agen, June 29-July 10

Usually the moorings at Sérinac sur Garonne are chock full but with all the canal closures due to the weather, there was plenty of room for us to spend the night.

We were tied up around 3:30 and went for a stroll around the village.

The village church has a very unusual twisted steeple. 

Originally built in the 1060’s,by the mid 16th century the church boasted the twisted tower. Due to a lack of maintenance and a lightning strike in the early 1900’s, the original tower was removed and replaced by a simple four sided tower in 1922. In 1984, a local association was formed to raise money for rebuilding the steeple in its original shape. The new tower was built of laminated wood so it weighed less that half what it would if it was constructed in the original manner. In 1988 the new 16 ton tower was lowered into place. A very large crane was involved.

After a brief stop at the Hotel le Prince Noir for some liquid refreshment, it was off to the local tourist office. We were chatting with the very helpful tourist office lady, telling her our plans (on to Castelsarrasin) when she informed up that the recent storm had downed so many trees across the canal that it would be closed past Agen for at least a week. Plans made in jello, again! 

Friday morning it was off again, just 3 hours and 4 locks to Agen where Jenny and Adrian would be leaving me on Monday. I would then have a week on my own before my sister arrived July 11.

So I had another week to enjoy the wonders of Agen.

One of the first events I attended was an organ concert in the church where I learned what “pulling out all the stops” means. Since the organist was in a loft up above our heads, there was a large video screen in the front of the church so we could watch the performer. It’s a little hard to see in the picture I took of the screen, but all those “stops” are pulled all the way out for the grand finale when the roof is raised. 

I also took a hike up the hill across from town and could look down on the marina where I’d spent quite a bit of time.

I also took a couple of bike rides around town and got a good look at the pont canal that crosses the Garonne both from the river bank and from the canal itself.

After a few days I needed a change of scenery. I had discovered a small park about 2 k’s away from town, no locks in the way and shaded by nice trees with several convenient bollards. Friday morning I threw the lines off and headed up the canal just in time to enjoy another weather event. Heatwaves, thunderstorms, floods, droughts… it was time for an evening hailstorm. Nothing quite like grape-sized hail in a steel box. Luckily the solar panels were ok.

By Tuesday morning I was back in the marina. In the late morning I would take the train to Bordeaux to spend the day with my sister there and then Wednesday, the canal now open, we would head off for Valence and Castelsarrasin.

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.