October 2005 Valence to Carcassonne

Port de Plaisance Valence - River Rhone... Family visit

We are now half way of our journey on the River Rhone, Rocky cliffs, wonderful gorges and oh the colours, just magic at sunrise & sunset. My sister Kathy & husband John's flight to Lyon was cancelled as they sat on plane ready for take off... Most flights cancelled due to an electrical problem fuelling the planes in Heathrow's T4 such a shame all that hassle they had. They managed to get on the same flight the following day, we took the opportunity to bike into town take on supplies for the galley, enjoy some time off the boat while waiting for our visitors to arrive. We enjoyed sitting in the center of Valence listening to piped smooth jazz and watching the dancing waters of the fountain's then we lunched and shopped, the weather was very warm, though clouds were building we had a good long cycle ride back to the boat.

Sat enjoying music in center of Valence... some good wedding photo shoots over looking the Rhone.

We celebrated Kathy & John's safe arrival to Valence bringing with them supplies of Yorkshire tea bags, fresh bacon from their local butcher, books, and some home goodies for us and 6 British three pin electrical plugs to change our French electrical appliances we have been replacing... We had a wonderful time together over the next four days in spite of the change in the weather here, a very windy spot in this marina in Valence or a light mistral wind, we where in the best place.

We had a problem the first morning of family visit with a blocked toilet, we did not give out correct instructions to our visitors... problems of boating always happen when you least need them. John managed to spend some time taking out the toilet then working on it outside he sorted the problem, then re-installed the toilet again, thank goodness he's a plumber... Kathy & I sat cross legged. We enjoyed trips out in the car to Valence, and surrounding area, wonderful long evenings eating, chatting, drinking good vino and sampling different French foods and drinks. We had a drive into Montelimar enjoyed lunch out and buying the local world famous nougat.

Rhone River Sapphire blue passing Hermitage vineyards commanding views.

We did manage to have a day out on the boat in spite of the weather taking a four hour trip back up the Rhone (testing going against the current) also for K & J to experience a lock.

We lunched on the Moet then went for a walk around the village of Tournon a nice grand creme coffee enjoyed before setting back to Valence. Lock keeper not sure what to think back & forth!

Kathy & John 8.15 am Port de Plaisance de l'Eperviere, Valence, John modeling New French Top...

We shared many stories of our adventures since having the boat, also their adventures on the waters around Cardiff where their new sailing boat is moored, great stories of their sailing holiday in Croatia to gain their sailing certificates...

Kathy & I enjoyed talking about our childhood and enjoyed spending time together over the four days, both John's enjoyed talking about life in government and what it's like owning a boat and how life changes, the visit was too soon over and they where setting off back home. We spent 6 nights here in Valence, time for us to move on having enjoyed a wonderful visit and filled up warmly with family time. They arrived safe back in the UK no problems.

Weather changed back to blue skies warm sunny days again the further south we went.

Scenery and colours were wonderful as we floated blissfully along the Rhone, positively placid at this time no wind. You can just see the Moet moored on the inside of this ship as we waited for the lock... problem with lock (one half hours wait), we watched the sunset as we approached Avignon, we decided we had enough day light to continue on... we arrived to a very dark Avignon also now going against the strong current on this arm, the mooring was impossible to reach due to rocks almost got grounded... we continued on a little and decided we cannot go any further and pulled alongside a moored hotel boat, very dark by now all our lights were on, we hoped no one would notice us as we are so small in comparison to this hotel boat, we had enjoyed a wonderful 11 hour cruising day, we sleeked off at 8am next morning... we are struck by so little traffic moving on the river, some days we see no boats at all, not what we expected.

Moet & Laguepe wait for the repair of Avignon lock in awe of each other

We spent two long days cruising from Viviers PK166 to the Canal du Rhone a Sete, the locks were few and far between, and as gentle as a bath tub John managed 40 winks to keep him going when in the lock (biggest 23 meters drop)... 12 locks in all in 300 km and every lock different, 10 locks we were all alone the vastness and sometimes soundless all but for the creaking of the floating bollards. A large peniches passed us, and the captain was completely naked as he waved to John, I was in the galley (maid) making tea... so missed out on photo shoot... next day it happened again, this time it was a fisherman... again I was making a pot of tea! We enjoyed seeing the snow capped mountains of the Alps in the distance and where glad to be in the warmth of the sunshine heading for the Med.

Beaucaire Castle & Camargue wild white horses at sunset - many horses roaming side of the Canal.

As we moved onto the Petit de Rhone no sign of civilization, the birds are different and the smell of burning wood & Pine are around... not another living person interrupted this tranquil journey, except for the awesome wild life.

We are now traveling on the Canal du Rhone a Sete 98 km, I never stopped click click click... thank goodness for digital photography. I was on top of the boat to see both shores and capture the wild life that surrounded us. We had such fun and sun all the way too... we were calling in at sea ports, enjoying nice meals, mooring up at the tightest of spots, John became magic backing the boat in and out, no longer afraid of all the spectators watching. Not always mooring when you want it, would not like to be here in the summer months too busy. We spent the night in a port and enjoyed breakfast in Carnon (sea boat city) a very modern sea boating town, a 2 hour cruise then stopped for a bike ride, enjoyed a picnic lunch out on the bikes in a 14th century village in awesome surroundings, wild life galore in this part of the Camargue... followed by one hour cruise then spotted a lot of cars arriving & parking side of canal so we pulled over to investigate us being noisy.

Cruising the Canal du Rhone a Sete, flamingoes on one side seaside on the other...

How the walls are coping with all this water, much work is needed in some places, lots of work done, lots of beach to rest on.

We followed everyone taking our afternoon tea with us and found a nudist beach, yards away from the canal, went for a paddle and walk along the beach for a few hours (we kept our clothes on) we enjoying the hot sunny weather... came back to our home (Moet) and we cooked ourselves a Thanks giving dinner (is in Canada today) full roast, what an end to a perfect day... worth traveling the Rhone for this day alone. We are joined by many hire boats on this canal and other smaller sea going boats, some commercial & hotel boats, lots of people and visitors are still around, moorings are not what we expected at times it's very hard to find a space for Moet also the sloping sides with many rocks protecting the sides, a lot of boats have already moored up for the winter now in only spaces available. Also you have speeding ++ fishing boats going by creating big waves and it takes some time for the canal to settle again. We spent two nights in Frontignan waiting for right weather for crossing the lake.

Some of Moet Chandon's good free moorings no water or electric though here...

Etang de Thau this vast salt-water lagoon extends from Canal du Midi to Canal du Rhone a Sete

Our first & second attempt was not completely successful... this lake we had to cross to reach canal du Midi it's vast 8,000.00 hectors of very salty water 20 km long is intensively farmed for oysters and mussel's so you have to be careful not to stray.

We visited our first port on the lake a small harbour in Bouzigues only mooring was for small fishing boats and yachts we decided the wind was getting up so headed back to the comfort of the canal. Having visited Sete early in the year by car, seeing the congested moorings we decided we would not go into Sete on this occasion.

We waited for better weather for our second attempt to across this lagoon, we safely arrived back in harbour of Frontignan, no suitable mooring space between lake & here for our boat, not a good day today, try again when waters calm!!! We did weather good and half way across the lake we had problems... weather changed, winds started to whip up and lash the boat at 10am, it was so frightening to say the least, we where being lashed from side to side, every thing in the boat was being thrown around... we went a ground on some sand banks trying to get into safer waters, we where very frightened in deed. Channel 16 we need help now... no channel markers for the channel across to help you on this lake, just oyster beds as guides millions of them.

Pan, Pan (emergency) call for help on VHF radio, grounded in gale force 6 winds. Rescue team.

John gave them our exact position in French from our GPRS system (thank god Michael for this gift). The Depenses Pour Intervention En Mer (help when in danger at sea) where at our side within 40 minutes, two boats and six men.

Our fear was they will take us off the boat and leave Moet to the elements "we watch too many films")... a Pilot in a black wet suit no shoes came on board with us and stayed with us till we were safe, he spoke some English thank goodness

though John has done very well on the VHF and understanding what came back to us... the pilot said our choice... carry on and go for midi they would stay with us (could be 2 hours away in this weather) or harbour at Meze, we wanted off this lake as fast as possible... so Meze we said... good choice was reply.

The fear going into those waves and having the Moet thrown about all over again as we were pulled off the sand bank with our pilot guiding John through some very tricky waves. I stayed inside catching all our belongings, John took instructions from the pilot at the side of him and kept the boat up right John was so very frightened, we had a boat each side of us. I sustained a bruised shoulder when being tossed about inside and many tears when we arrived to safety, we where safe and so very grateful for all the help, the boat was in one piece and not a glass got broken... why we don't know how... even TV fell but no damage... not looking forward to trying a third time.

Fri at 7 am (still dark) they say it will be safe for us to go back out... The whole rescue operation cost us 300 euros, we where just saying Merci when another call came in and they where off to rescue someone else, it was a busy day for the lads, we got the brandy out. Two very windy nights in Meze a very pretty fishing port waiting for calmer waters, our hearts beating very fast... just the thought of going out again into the vastness (for our boat) of the lake.

Canal du Midi arrived 8.45 am 14th October we made it across... we are here at last safe...

We have not turned into stone like this couple just jelly at times... moving from Etang de Thau lake on to canal du Midi was wonderful, felt safe though I feel very insecure at times... such a shame, Lake is normally a duck pond we were told... not for our crossing we shouted.

We shall enjoy this last leg of our journey to Carcassonne gathering our energy back... We enjoyed stopping in ports and at the side of the canal. This canal was dug towards the end of the 17th century and has a very interesting history indeed, much Roman history in this area to enjoy, we are looking forward to exploring it all.

An experience doing the round locks, yes round no problems for us just need a few more movable ropes, position of bollards are different in every lock, they fill very quickly indeed, all electric locks worked for you.

Round lock at Agde originally a prosperous Greek trading port

gate also to the Herault river in lock.

We have enjoyed some good moorings so far, many hire boats are traveling this part of the canal, we have met some nice people giving us helpful advice and have learnt much already about the Canal du Midi it connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean is 240km in length it is recognized as an engineering masterpiece with a sophisticated water system, engineers come from all over the world to understand it's design, boaters and visitors come to admire it we are at this moment, even in the none stop rain.

I have read a little about the man who designed the canal his name Paul Riquet (1609-1681). He was born in Beziers our next stop over. Over 4,500.00 plane tree's planted on this canal 100 years ago to help stop the water evaporating in summer, the thick roots are amazing holding in the canal banks... for 10 days it has rained and the tree's have become our umbrella's, We stopped in some memorable places on the canal Beziers, Capestang, La Somail, Homps, Trebes... It was so nice having visited all these villages by car in Feb now we are here with Moet at last, home in South of France.

Arrival in Carcassonne October 21 to a very warm welcome in our own private garden in the port

The weather changed and we arrived in Carcassonne to 25 degrees and wonderful blue skies, very pleased with our mooring though noisy (but that's part of being in a town). A knock on the boat (within one hour of our arrival) Eric introducing himself... it was nice to hear 22 boats are live aboard's all English speaking, we were soon being introduced to everyone and taken shopping by car thanks to Angela & Eric the following morning, we were shown around all best shops... VHF 9.30 with news of the day, French classes on Fridays, book swap on Thursday, night out on Wednesdays, we all meet for drinks enjoyed a wonderful evening meeting everyone, wonderful markets 3 x a week, English shop with all we will ever need... much to fill the calendar if we wish, chill or sight seeing... as usual if it's not here what ever we need or want we will make it happen as we often do... any thing is possible... where did you say the Mayor's office was!!!

Port de Plaisance Carcassonne & round lock note the bollards either end... ok for 30 meter boats.

The port we are in was over booked more boats than room, (long story) we have a wonderful private garden in the port for meetings BBQ's much talk about the festive season and swapping of idea's I think we are going to settle into this town very well indeed, all we need within minutes, including train station, shops, markets, restaurants, hotels galore here, cheap Ryan air flights Liverpool to Carcassonne (+ Stan stead) from the local airport only 10 minutes away, what more can we want.

We have a wonderful acting Capitainerie Stephanie who has been a great help... plus it's tee shirt weather. We had a meal out to celebrate our safe arrival... it has been an adventurous 6 months cruise. We have just learnt friends are bringing their boats to join us in the spring Renata & David, Ursula & Mike and possibly Mike & Kay with their new boat hopefully... Winter and spring we are looking forward to and perhaps a summer here too cruising the south not sure if we or the boat could stand the heat... but we might give it a go... not sure if it's the competition of places to eat & all the shops but it appears cheaper here in the south!!! End of October and it's sunny and warm...