Log #35d Entering the Canals

June 13, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 35 France, The Logs

Carcassonne, Canal du Midi, France

June 13, 2005

Hi Folks,

This will be my last log for a couple of weeks as I leave tomorrow for Canada. I had hoped to have my logs up to date before leaving, but I got them up to Aigues-Mortes after lowering the mast and entering the canal system. We have encountered no great problems since entering, but every lock is a challenge, especially with the 8 foot mast overhang at the bow.

All the best,



Log #35d Entering the Canals

Carcassonne, Canal du Midi, France

June 12, 2005

At Port Camargue, the largest marina in the French Med, we were well received at the Captainerie and for the moderate sum of 23 Euros had a mooring alongside with power and water for the night. However when we asked when we could have the mast pulled, the earliest time was three days later! We asked the co-operative receptionist if Grau du Roi could do it any faster, and she called ahead for us and set an appointment there for 0800 next day. “Thank you very much!”

That meant we had to assemble our cradles that evening alongside in Port Camargue, before heading over the 1.5 miles to Chantier Spano in Grau du Roi in the canal next morning. Time at the commercial cranes is money, and everything had to be organized in advance, before we arrived. We not only had to have the cradles made and erected, but also had to have the fore and aft stays slackened as well as two of the three shrouds port and starboard, plus the electrical connections to the mast detached, so that when we were at the crane everything could be undone rapidly, the mast hauled out, laid on the two goal post cradles and we would be away, ready for the next boat to approach the mast crane. Making up the two goal post cradles was a heavy complicated operation. At least we were alongside as opposed to a bows to Med mooring, allowing us more easy access to the pontoon. We had shore power for our electrical drill and were able to drill the holes for our bolts and screws, and assemble and erect our pre-cut pieces of lumber into two goal post configurations.

Our previous cradles consisted of a goal post aft, a tee bar middle, and an x structure forward. This time, Judy wanted two goal post cradles, forward and aft, to give more room forward, and a tee bar midships. She measured the heights necessary and we cut the posts accordingly, the forward cradle being higher for foredeck work, but being sure to be below the minimum air draft for the bridges. The tee bar midships we would construct after the mast was down.

The Chantier Spano to port just inside the first bridge of Grau du Roi is a laid back operation (but one we would recommend for other cruisers taking down or putting up their masts). We arrived at 0805 alongside the crane ready to have our mast hauled. Twenty minutes later a man came down to instruct us to go bows to. OK! We shifted. He spoke no English. A cruiser next to us spoke some English and helped us out. As we were accustomed to hauling our mast each fall in Toronto, we were prepared for the process. However we had to lower the mast onto the two goal posts immediately. We could not put it on saw horses and then wrap the roller furling and stays and then hoist again onto the cradles; it had to be done in one manoeuvre. OK! We did it!

The crane operator (and owner I suspect) indicated we had fore and aft stability for our cradle, but we did not have side to side stability. He gave us four pieces of plywood and some nails to make diagonal supports for the tops of the goal posts, making them so secure that we felt we did not need any midships tee post. We lashed everything down, and fastened a cushion wrapped with duct tape on the base of our mast forward, to pad the protruding end. We had an 8 foot (2.5 metre) overhang at the bow, and a two metre overhang at the stern, about the length of Spite. We paid the operator 70 Euros for the mast haul, and asked if we could stay longer to secure everything. No problem, and we didn’t see him again, as it was a Saturday, and he didn’t work that afternoon

In order to lower the wind generator to the minimum air draft, we had to rotate Veleda so her stern was to the jetty. The adjacent boats again helped us, and we were able to get the upper end of the mast hanging over the dock so we could work on it, and have easier access to lower or remove the wind generator. We reattached the VHF antenna so it was vertical, as previously it was at a cockeyed angle since becoming detached as we were leaving Ostia. We identified the problem with our masthead anchor light, and hopefully fixed it, replacing the bayonet bulb. The next problem was lowering the wind generator so it would be below the minimum air draft for the bridges. We took off the head and blades, but when attempting to lower the tower, it totally separated from the base. I was happy as I wanted to remove the whole system; I don’t think it generates enough power for our needs, especially with refrigeration (a constant source of conflict between Judy and me).

We were all set – or were we? I noted that with the forward goal post higher than the aft one, the mast was inclined upwards, and as a result was higher than the measurements Judy had taken for the goal post. This worried me, but shortening the cradle would require lifting the forward part of the mast, and suspending it while we cut several inches off the bottom posts, and re-attached them to the toe rail. With misgivings, we left it. We also left the sail on the boom and lashed the boom down midships on deck.

Since Sprite was off the Dinghy–tow anyways, we motored in it across to the main part of Grau du Roi and wandered the touristy part of town, buying nothing more than an ice cream cone. At the boat yard we were the only boat that used the crane that day, and so we stayed there all day and that evening, before setting off into the canal next morning for Aigues-Mortes.

The halte at Aigues-Mortes 3 miles up the canal was part of the town marina, for which there was a 20 Euro fee. I still had concerns every time we went under a bridge. The boom lying on the midline restricted visibility forward, so we took the sail off the boom and lashed the boom up on the forward goal post beside the mast. We put the mainsail and the spinnaker bags into Sprite to give more room on the foredeck, then left Aigues-Mortes to head up to St. Gilles, 15 miles up the canal, for a quiet and free mooring alongside a wooden landing stage about a mile outside of the town. Next morning, we dinghied up to the town to get a few groceries after visiting the ancient Abbey-Church. The town and abbey are named after St. Giles, a 7th century hermit known for several miracles attributed to him in the area. The church dates back to the 12th century, mostly destroyed in religious wars of the 15h century and rebuilt in the 16th. The histories and large churches of these small towns in Provence are impressive. Every little village has a history going back 600 to 1000 years or more, and a large church that served as a fortification against marauders, or fortified town walls, or a fortified chateau to protect the citizens. Now they are sleepy rural villages, the churches having a hard time maintaining their structures, and the walls and chateaux in varying states of habitation or abandonment.

Back to Aigues-Mortes next day, we went through the immense-walled old town. From the ramparts we had a panoramic view of the walls, towers and bastions which stretch about three kilometres, still encircling the entire old town, permitting views over the large salt pans and up and down the three branches of the canal. We walked the entire wall. Later that afternoon we were joined by Tony and Annie Cook, friends of ours from Toronto. It is Tony who is site manager for www.searoom.com, the internet site where all my logs are available as well as many other sailing articles and nautical resources. The CD that Judy and I produced for the Toronto Boat Show on Cruising the Black Sea, the Russian Navy Black Sea Fleet Review and 90 Plus Tips for Liveaboard Cruisers is also available from that web site.

We were ready to head up the canal next day.