Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Fun on the Baise, May 12-16

 Friday afternoon we were secured in the small marina and hireboat base in the city of Agen.

The capital city of the Lot-et-Garonne Department, for years Agen marked the boundary between lands owned by the French and English kings. Governance of the city changed hands eleven time over time, being ruled by the Count of Toulouse and Richard the Lionheart in addition to the English and French kings.

With Kevin planning to leave the boat for a couple of days at the end of the month to attend some of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris, we will be back to spend more time there. In the meantime we had a very nice dinner in town and set off for a trip up the Baise River, which intersects The Garonne Lateral in the small town of Buzet-sur-Baise.

Five hours and 7 locks later we were tied up outside Au Bord de l’Eau, a small restaurant run by an English couple that also features some moorings. Cathy Jo and I visited in 2020 to check out wintering possibilities but it’s just a little remote with minimal transportation options.

Kevin and I had nother nice dinner and Sunday morning we dropped down the double lock into the Baise River.

The first part of the navigation is a section that doubled back along the Garonne Canal and passes under the pont canal where the river passes under the canal. In a case of perfect timing, a hireboat was crossing the pont canal just as we were going under.

Navigation on the Baise began in the 13th century but flooding in the spring and fall made navigation difficult. Over the years, locks were introduced and navigation conditions improved. In the middle of the 19th century, as many as 90 barges at a time were loading or unloading in Lavardac, the busiest of the ports and 130,000 tons of freight moved up and down the river. However, a huge flood in 1952 destroyed many of the locks and river traffic began to decline and the waterway was almost completely abandoned until a complete restoration of the locks and waterway between 1988 and 1997. 

It’s a beautiful small river with several very picturesque medieval villages. It’s also still prone to some flooding, as we were to find out.

It also features very narrow locks, with only about 4 inches to spare with Oldtimer’s 3.95 meter width. Some very careful barge handling would be required if paint damage was to be kept to a minimum.

The current seemed a little strong (we were heading upstream, at least) as we headed for our first stop in the village of Nérac.

We were tied up about 3 pm underneath the city walls and climbed up a set of stairs to see some sort of costume parade happening.

The participants in their very elaborate costumes were introduced to the stage and then later posed for pictures.

Kind of lonely when the river's in flood.

Monday morning we proceeded to our next mooring below the very small village of Montcrabeau. I noticed that the current seemed to be increasing and there were times when I had to give Oldtimer some extra throttle to keep up a reasonable speed.

Tuesday morning it was off to Condom, a medium sized village that is in the center of the armanac producing region, a perfect place to stop. The last stretch of river into town required quite a bit of power to overcome the current and I was seriously worried about the trip back down as with that much current behind the barge it would be very difficult to control, especially when entering the very narrow locks. 

After mooring in Condom we went to speak with the Capitaine and he was very surprised to see us. “Where did you come from?” Remi asked. “Montcrabeau,” we said. “Didn’t they come to tell you the river is closed?” Nope.

Later, I took a look at Vigicrues, (crue is the French word for flood) a very helpful website that gives river levels for all the various rivers in France.

This was the chart for the river at Nérac. We entered the river on the 14th. That big peak? That’s they day we went from Montcrabeau to Condom. The river was about two feet higher than normal.

So we would be spending a few days in Condom. Luckily there was everything we needed there; a secure mooring, supermarket, nearby wine store with a very helpful owner who spoke good English, the armanac museum (and tasting room!) and a very helpful capitaine who kept us updated on the situation.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Off Again, May 7-12

 Kevin Murray, my next guest, is retired from the Australian Air Force. In the air as a navigator, he graduated to more administrative positions, serving in several capacities around the world including military attache. He and friends are considering buying a barge after a narrowboat experience in England and he posted on the Dutch Barge Association forum asking if he could catch a ride for educational purposes and to decide if this was something he really wanted to do. I responded to his post and here we are, two old guys cooped up on a small boat for about 6 weeks. What could possibly go wrong?

Luckily, all has gone very well.

Kevin arrived Monday afternoon a few hours after Tim and Christine’s departure. We used Tuesday to get him moved in and do some instruction on how canal cruising works and set off to the west Wednesday morning. Well, we tried to depart. 

The engine starting batteries are the same one’s that came with the boat when Cathy Jo and I bought it in 2015 and there’s no telling how long they were on the boat before that. They had been acting up a little on the trip to Montauban but Wednesday morning they refused to turn the engine over. I used jumper cable from the house batteries to get Mr. DAF humming and we set off through the first lock to the grocery store pontoon. There is an auto parts store (pieces auto in French) just around the corner from the supermarket. New batteries purchased and galley shelves stocked, off we went after lunch; first stop Moissac.

We stopped in Moissac several times last year but I wanted introduce Kevin to the cathedral and cloister so we stopped a little after 2 pm. and made a visit.

This tableau is in the church.

You can read my description and see pictures of the cloister from last year at

Thursday morning we set off for the 26 K to Valence d’Agen. We visited this town last year by bicycle from Pommevic but there is a small marina in Valence so we were tied up by 1:15 pm.

While preparing this entry I was going to refer back to a posting about our visit to another one of “the most beautiful villages in France”, Auvillar. We cycled there from Pommevic last year, Cathy Jo’s last real cycle ride, but looking back I realized I only made passing reference to it. Thursday afternoon Kevin and I rode there from Valence.

After crossing the canal and the river plain, a bridge crosses the Garonne and the road climbs a steep hill to the village. We locked the bikes up at the bottom of the hill and climbed up.

One of the village streets with typical brick and half-timbered construction.

The very unique round market

One side of the church has seen “remodeling”

The porch near the tourist office gave a great panoramic view of the Garonne valley, including the Golfech atomic power plant.

Touring complete, Friday morning we set out for our next destination, the small city of Agen.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

La Pente d’Eau, Montech

 Built in 1974 when water transport was still very active, two diesel electric engines attached by a beam went up or down a slope about 13 meters high pushing a pool of water to carry a boat. To let the boats enter or exit, a huge hydraulically controlled, watertight gate was lifted. The idea was to eliminate the five locks on the main canal and save about an hour for commercial operators. The whole operation didn’t last long, however, as a series of breakdowns put it out of service in 2009 and it is now a tourist attraction with an “interesting” paint job.

The Wiki Page

The two locomotives with a peniche between on the slope

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Montauban and Back, May 5-7

 We arrived in the Montauban Marina shortly after lunchtime. Luckily, since the marina is a good hike from town, there is a collection of restaurants and snack bars right at the port so we could grab something to eat. A quick conversation with Lennie and Di resulted in a Thursday night dinner invitation for more of Di’s delicious curry so we were set for our visit to town.
Montauban was founded in the 12th century where the Tarn and Tescou Rivers meet and was originally surrounded by defensive walls. They restricted the growth of the city, however, and new neighborhoods and churches were soon built outside. During the Religious Wars of the 1560’s, the churches were burned and dismantled with the materials used to build new city walls. The city returned to the Catholic Church in the late 1600’s and a new cathedral was built.



The Pont Vieux, built over the Tarn in the early 14th century
with the steeple of Saint Jacques in the background

The interior of the church of Saint Jacques, built and rebuilt many times between the 13th and 18th centuries

Place Nationale, the heart of town

Not wanting to spend five days in town before Tim and Christine were scheduled to leave (we wanted to be near a train station), and being pretty far from town, we decided to return to Castelsarrasin, spending two short days underway. We didn’t leave until about 11 Saturday morning for the 9 locks up the Canal de Montech and then five more locks up alongside the Pente d’eau to reach a bankside mooring in the small village of Escatalens about 3 pm. Then it was just 3 locks and 2 hours to Castelsarrasin. Monday morning my first guests would be on the train to Nimes and my next guest, Kevin Murray would be arriving in the afternoon for an extended stay.


 On the way to Escatalens, a “Green Tunnel”



Tuesday, May 9, 2023

First Guests, April 30-May 5

My first guests, long time friends Tim and Christine from Oak View, Ca. arrived Sunday, April 30, escaping the May Day madness in Paris. They would be staying for a week, leaving Monday, May 8. Since Monday was a holiday and the canal locks were closed, we wouldn’t be departing until Tuesday. That gave us a day to wander the streets of Castelsarrasin.

The obligatory first stop was one of the churches in town, Saint-Saveur. Construction originally began in 961 when the town first appeared on maps, later as Castro Sarraceno. It was completely rebuilt between 1245 and 1270 but has undergone several renovations in the 16th, and 19th centuries, with the front steps and porch added in 1901.

The ceilings were tastefully decorated.

A majestic organ

We also got a good laugh from the name of this street. We’re not sure what happens there but it must stay there….

Tuesday morning at the crack of 9 we headed down through one lock to the conveniently place pontoon right outside the big grocery store. It’s always a great thing when you can roll the shopping cart right down to the boat. Shopping complete we turned around and headed back up the canal for our first destination, Montauban.

We had to travel through 9 locks going up, the last 5 in quick succession alongside the Pente d’eau ( more on that later) before turning off onto the side canal that travels down to the River Tarn and the city of Montauban. Not wanting to wear ourselves out on the first days underway, we stopped about 3:30 at a small mooring in the hamlet of Lacourt St. Pierre. A small grocery/bar/tabac, a church and a nice shady park were all that was there but we decided we weren’t in a big hurry so we decided to spend Wednesday there and more on to Montauban on Thursday.

The Lacourt church. those bells rang every half hour from 7 am to 7 pm.

Thursday morning we were planning to get underway about 10 as the locks don’t open until 9:30 when Tim mentioned that a big boat was coming down the canal. It turned out to be good friends Lenny and Di on Elysium. We first met them in Briare in 2021 and then we tag teamed our way down to the Garonne last year with many raucous evenings. They were also on their way to Montauban. We would meet them there.