Sunday, May 15, 2011

Caves and Tunnels

[Kyle]We only had one lock to go through today about a mile from Argens-Minervois. After that, the canal has its longest stretch (54km) with none. Without the impediment of the locks we were able to cover much more distance, which in turn let us relax a bit about the need to always keep moving.

Our first stop after the lock was Ventenac-en-Minervois, where there is a huge waterside wine cellar (Cave in French) dedicated to the local Minervois wines. Here, it is possible to buy wine by the litre from a tap attached to the tanks, like pumping gas at a service station for €1.20/liter. Our barrel was buried at the back of the locker with the hedge trimmers and stump grinders, so we settled for a couple of boxes of different types. We also bought a bottle of a nice rosé that the little card by the bottle said, “Is best served at 10 degrees Celsius with local pork or poultry on summer picnics” So…not with M&Ms, then?

The wine cellar at Ventenac-en-Minervois, with a small sample of what was available to purchase there

We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant, where Maryanne was finally able to get Moules Frites (Mussels with Fries), which she has been wanting forever. The wind had really picked up by then to the point where it became necessary to weigh down everything on the table to keep it from flying away. At least it was clear and sunny again.

We arrived back at Footprint to find her with her with the screacher track pinned beneath the bow of a giant Le Boat, which was, in turn under the end of our mast. We had deliberately moved to the front of the empty quay with the thought that it should reduce the chances of us getting hit by 50% over being in the middle. The quay was still empty with space for about four boats behind, but these idiots had wedged themselves in ahead of us so close that the boats were rubbing against each other. Since there were no more bollards forward, he had tied to the forward bollard and a road sign. When I walked forward to see if he’d damaged the track (he hadn’t), he said, “Aw, they just kissed a little, that’s all.” in a distinctly American accent. Ugh. Seeing the way most of these guys drive, I highly doubt their landing was the least bit gentle.

We left and continued along the canal. The canal is able to able to avoid the use of too many locks in this section by following the contour lines of the increasingly hilly terrain. It also provides for some spectacular views of the countryside. The long section with no locks also meant that we were seeing a lot more charter boats as well as a few giant hotel barges that seem too big for the locks. The barges weren’t a problem except for their sheer size, but the increasing number of rental boats, combined with the narrow, winding canal sections made for some pretty exciting moments. When passing opposite direction traffic, we would get over as far as we dared to the bank to allow room for the other traffic. Often, we would end up stopping, lying against the bank, entangled in tree branches. When the other boat passed, we would turn and see that they had stayed right in the middle of the canal.

The only major tunnel on the Canal du Midi, luckily you can see the exit as you enter, so we were hopeful a Le Boat would not enter once we were in it!

Maryanne guessed that the Le Boat briefing about oncoming traffic went something like, “Just stay in the middle. They’ll get out of your way.” Which is undoubtedly true for the same reason that drivers give way to big trucks even though they have right of way. Le Boat guys don’t care one bit about the state of their rented gel-coat. Every time I passed one of them, I’d swear I wasn’t giving way next time, as we were the downstream vessel with right of way (which I’m sure they didn’t know). Let them go into the bank and wait. Every time, I’d see them spot us, turn the wrong way (as in towards us. It’s a wheel for Christ’s sake, like a car) and then start this zigzagging dance of over correcting with too much power. The only sensible thing to do was give up and dive into the bushes ourselves. There was one 2km section that was narrow enough to be designated as one way, with the upstream traffic required to reverse into a refuge in order to let the downstream traffic pass. That is, of course, the plan. The reality was much more bush diving.

Homes of all kinds

Arriving at Béziers for the night, we found every available space with bollards taken. After much searching, we found a reasonable enough spot on the bank we could stay, tying to roots on the bank. We were glad we’d had the previous night’s experience in Argens-Minervois. We made the most of the remaining light and had a brief walk along the canal before retiring for the night. Just before I checked the times for the Foncérannes flight of seven locks that were next. It turned out they started an hour earlier than usual at 8:00, running each direction for an hour and a half. I’m glad we checked.

Beziers town on the hill, and the moving part of the water slope, an alternative to the multiple locks no longer used

1 comment:

Mommy Dearest said...

Seems your Geriatric Ways have given way to the ever-present practical side with your constant bush diving! Good Job!