Log 35f Canal du Midi to Beziers

July 10, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 35 France, The Logs

Toulouse, France

July 10, 2005

Hi Folks,

Here is my next log already, as we have to wait an extra two days to get our permit from the VNF which will allow us to get to Bordeaux within two weeks, as their office was closed Saturday and Sunday. We like Toulouse, having spent five days here, touring several museums, a space centre, markets, churches, enjoying lovely meals both on board and  at local restaurants (thanks David), and attending a musical of nautical folk songs (in French, of course) at a downtown university pub. The local marina is convenient with water, power, showers, laundromat and book exchange. The manager is a pleasant and informative lady. The cost is nominal at about 6.00 Euros a day, extra for power, showers or laundry.

I may walk over town tonight to send this as I don’t know when we will have access to an internet café before Bordeaux. If you don’t get this by July 11 (Happy Birthday, Ray – my brother) it is because they were closed (Sunday) and it may not go out for over a week.

All is well with us and we are making plans for Bordeaux, putting up our mast, bottom painting, replacing our old prop with a larger new one, and putting a zinc anode on the shaft. The marina we may be using is tidal and the bottom work may be done at scrubbing posts at low tide. We will have to refresh our knowledge about tides and currents as we will be encountering them just before Bordeaux.

All the best,

Aubrey


Log 35f Canal du Midi to Beziers

Toulouse, France

July 10, 2005

From Agde on we went up the Canal du Midi. Trying to land a crew before the locks is fraught with problems of grounding. In going upstream in the locks we need a person at the top to put our lines on the middle and after bollards, as we want Veleda to be as far back as possible, away from the heavy surge at the upper end of the locks. The eclusiers do not help with the lines (not part of their job description). We can’t even get our bow to the shore for Tony to jump off without risking going aground. In a few cases of groundings we were able to back off. In other cases we had to wiggle the boat with the crew jumping from one side of the bow to the other to release the suction of the grounded keel. In other cases I had to launch Sprite and while it was still attached to the DinghyTow put the outboard in full ahead while Judy put Veleda in full astern to haul us off. In one lock we did not have a crew ashore to help with the lines, and the eclusier was offended at us asking him to slip our lines onto the bollards. For a while we went up with a charter boat of people from South Africa, and since they had a shallow draft “bumper boat”, we would raft off them in deeper water to drop a crew (usually Tony) to go across their boat to shore.

We refer to the many charter houseboats as “bumper boats” as often the skippers do not know how to control the boats properly and they bump into the lock walls and other boats quite frequently. They all have thick rubber rubbing strakes along their sides and dozens of fenders. I have seen one boat with at least 16 fenders on each side! By contrast we have only four fenders on each side. The two midships fenders have a fenderboard outside of them. Then we have one cylindrical fender on each aft quarter and bulbous fenders on our port and starboard bows.

We leave all the fenders down between locks, and try when possible to go port-side to. I do this as Veleda has a right hand turning propeller when going ahead. So in coming alongside, when I put the engine in reverse to stop the boat, my stern will swing to port, towards the lock wall rather than away from it. Similarly when leaving the wall, my stern will tend to move to starboard when the engine is in forward gear (right hand turning prop) pulling Veleda clear of the wall, and the force of the thrust past the rudder will move my bow away as well. It sounds good in theory and works well in calm water with no wind. In a lock with bumper boats going in or out ahead or behind, churning up the water, plus the wind effect, especially at the top of a lock; to say nothing of the complications if a line thrown to the shore crew misses and falls in the water, or a bumper boat veers over against us, or a fender or hat falls overboard, or any other myriad of problems which can arise in a lock: all contribute to the “fun” and tension of going alongside or clearing a wall 30 to 40 times a day when going through canals. It is not actually that bad; some locks are easier, though others are real problems.

Our second night in Canal du Midi found us in Beziers, after having done 11 nautical miles and four locks over a five hour period. However, that includes a one hour stop at a lock, as they all close from 1230 to 1330 for a lunch break. We only grounded twice that day. Next morning we had an enjoyable walk over town, through a lovely park, to the cathedral, and an enjoyable museum of local and ethnic displays. There was a good nautical shop near the landing with an array of information and nautical articles.

The history behind the cathedral and the Church of the Magdalene was depressing, as they served as semi-fortresses to protect the locals. Early in the 12th and 13th centuries a Christian sect called Cathars, also known as Albigensians, had settled in the region. They were an ascetic sect wishing to be separate from society, as they considered it evil (they were dualists who considered Good the work of God, and the visible world of mankind and time that of Evil), but they did not create problems for the locals. They did not depend upon the local lords for anything, did not require the lords to tithe to their congregations, and they accepted the principle of money-lending and commercial exchange and the value of work. They were a quiet and productive people. They were spread throughout the Languedoc region from Toulouse to Beziers and Carcassonne. However the Catholic Church declared them heretics and launched crusades against them in 1208 and 1209. Simon de Montfort was a lord willing to do the church’s work, and of course benefit from the lands seized. Pope Innocent III called for a crusade against the Cathars in 1208, and unleashed with Papal blessings this “nobleman” who gained more territory for the French king. When Beziers was attacked in July of 1209, the inhabitants refused to give up the Cathars to the crusaders. I quote from a pamphlet called “Cathar Country” which described, “The crusaders set fire to and massacred nearly all the population, (of Beziers) almost 20,000 people, even the 7,000 who had taken refuge in the Church of the Magdalene.”… “Faced with the hesitation of some crusaders to commit such horrific acts, Arnaud-Amaury, abbot of Citeaux and spiritual leader of the crusade is reported to have cried; “Kill them all! God will recognize his own!” Such barbarities happened in many cities and towns of Languedoc, a number of which we will be visiting on our way along the Canal du Midi.

Beziers is also noted as the birthplace and home of Pierre Paul Riquet, the engineer who designed and oversaw the construction of the Canal du Midi, completed in 1681 in the reign of Louis XIV. It was originally called the Royal Canal and was a showplace of this reign. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is 240 kilometres long, running from Toulouse to Etang de Thau, with 61 oval locks 40.5m by 6.0m, numerous bridges, viaducts, and aqueducts. Beziers is the site of the easternmost major aqueduct, which allows the canal to cross the River Orb. It is quite an engineering accomplishment, especially as it is 224 years old.