We continued to enjoy our stay in Aigues Mortes and had a lovely evening in Banaras with Hans and Angie, followed by a final visit to Tac Tac , after I’d deposited a dozen of Shakil’s wonderful naan breads in the freezer.
On Wednesday (8th May) we popped round to say goodbye to Dave and Fiona and after a flurry of activity Thursday morning we cruised out of Aigues Mortes harbour and off for the next leg of our adventure.
Unfortunately this means traversing the Canal du Rhone a Sete, which is by far the ugliest and least inviting canal we have been on yet. And it shouldn’t be. It is less than a km from the beautiful sandy beaches of the Med and we imagined taking a few days to get to Frontignan, the last town before entering the Etang de Thau. However, they are in the middle of major works along most sections of the canal and anywhere where the banks were good enough to moor against was a mud pit, not at all suitable when you have 2 dogs to walk 3-4 times a day. But the mobile bridge at Villneuve-les-Maguelone was kind of unique.
Anywhere that was ok to stop was either reserved for passenger boats or full of liveaboards and bumper boats. So we made the full journey from Aigues Mortes to Frontignan in one afternoon, stopping only when we reached the lifting road bridge that opens at 08:30 and 16:00 each day.
We were the only boat in the port that night, which is hardly surprising when you consider that the railway line passes over the canal withing meters of the first mooring point and is frequented by many trains, including long freight trains, throughout the night. In fairness, we were so tired it didn’t affect either of our nights sleep and we awoke Friday morning feeling refreshed. As the bridge lifted at 08:30 we were hovering waiting to go through and made the last run towards the Etang.
We were both surprised by how lovely the Etang is. I suppose we are both seafarers at heart and this is as close to being on the sea as we will get this trip (apart from the channel crossings, of course!). We dutifully followed the bouy system, as instructed by the books, and really enjoyed the 2 hour crossing to Marseillan, just a stones throw from the entrance to the Canal Du Midi.
We were fortunate enough to get a berth near the end of the starboard harbour wall, which gave us a fabulous view of the Etang for the evening. A quick outing to see all that Marseillan has to offer included a visit to the home of Noilly-Prat. Neither of us are Vermouth drinkers so we didn’t add to their profits for the day but it was one of those “must do” things and we ticked the box.
Much more to our taste was the local La Madelaine Cave and we stocked up on a box each of Red and Rose wine.
On Saturday we left the salty Etang and entered the Canal du Midi – a real milestone on our journey. The first Midi lock is not too far up the canal and we were nervous of this new type of lock that we had never experienced before – oval. I mean, who decides that oval is a good shape for a lock! Even the many explanations that this was the shape of boats in those days doesn’t work for me – the lock entrance is the usual size, then it bulbs out to oval before being squeezed back down to normal lock gate size again. Mental!
As it turned out, it was much easier to manage and fender against than we’d imagined and some of my fears about the Midi dissipated. Only some of them. Already there were many more bumper boats than we’d experienced on other canals but so far none had caused us a problem. The next odd-shaped lock is the one at Agde, L’ecluse ronde d’Agde. Yes, round and with 3 lock gates.
2 gates allow the usual transfer along the Midi and the 3rd allows boats to pass into the Herault, which can be navigated down to Cap d’Agde and into the Med. No thanks. Been there, done that, bought the T-Shirt!
As we left the round lock the bowthuster decided to stop working again but Frank hadn’t lined up so well, relying on our 3rd crew member, and we bounced gleefully from one side to the other as we exited the gates. Immediately on the left bank was an empty passenger boat quay so we stopped and Bill from Lazybones, a lovely 20m Widebeam canal boat, offered to take a line. Thank you! We asked if he thought we’d be ok to stop here and he said the last boat was moved on after 3 weeks! Ok, so one night should be fine then.
Once again I stripped down the bowthruster control switch and wiggled the wiring and once again it worked.
The following morning we moved off the berth and headed to who knows where and just a few kms down the cut we came to Vias and a halte that had very substantial bollards to tie to but was in all other ways a wild mooring. Perfect!
No sooner had we put the first line on, a car came along with someone wagging their finger in a “you can’t stop there” kind of way. Pretending I didn’t see them I carried on tying up the boat and the next thing Jane, Bill’s wife, came out of the car saying “I’m only joking, Bill’s creeping along the canal, do you think there’s room for us?”. Sure! We helped Bill bring Lazybones alongside as he also has a defunct bowthruster and it was nice to meet them properly.
In the afternoon we walked down to Vias-Plage, a proper seaside resort, and the boys had their first run on a Med beach and dip in it’s blue waters of the year – the first ever for Brody in fact.
We had ice-creams and returned to the boat feeling that this part of the adventure was already living up to expectations and when we saw Bill and Jane again we invited them for drinks.
We had a lovely evening and a good laugh – they are Londoners with our sense of humour – perfect! Jane fell head over heals in love with Brody. Not surprising really, he is a happy, friendly little dog and he LOVES cuddles, which he got plenty of from Jane and I gave her the name and address of the breeder we got him from.
This morning, after Bill popped in with some maps and books of the area, we said our farewells and pushed Thirza off the bank. I had a quick check and was pleased to see that we still had two dogs on board.