So, here we are in Salleles-d’Aude. No, we haven’t been here the whole time we’ve been on a little adventure to Narbonne and down the Orinoco.
We stayed 2 nights in Salleles, until Sunday 7th July. We then decided to head down to Narbonne and onwards, down the Embranchement de La Nouvelle, to Port Nouvelle on the Med. Narbonne is an interesting city to cruise through because, whilst not a big place, it has an ancient bridge over the canal that has been expanded and built on over the years, so it is a mini tunnel you go through as you pass under one of the oldest streets in the city.
As we emerged back into the sunlight we could see there were ample empty spaces for visiting boats, but the high walls either side seemed to provide the perfect opportunity for the local youths to hurl objects down at the boats. We moved on through to the next area, but it was clear that these were permanent moorings to cater for liveaboards and those wishing for their boat to be based in Narbonne. There were no spaces at all here.
It’s a tight channel as you pass through the city and there was definitely nowhere for us to turn Thirza and head back to the visitors quay, and so we decided to continue on and through the final lock to stay the night before heading down to Port Nouvelle the following day.
We found a lovely spot, near to Gruissan, only spoiled by the occasional train passing on the tracks located on the other bank. Apart from that it was a great wild-camp – perfect for the boys to run around and do their own thing, and nice and peaceful for us.
The following morning we were woken just before 7am by crashing and banging around on the opposite bank. It transpired that a local farmer had come down to the canal to suck water out to fill 2 huge storage tanks, for the purpose, no doubt, to irrigate his crops. Within minutes he had his pump set and turned on his generator. It was deafening! With now no chance of sleeping any longer we got up, walked the dogs, had a bite to eat and moved on.
We managed to get about 2.5kms down the canal fairly easily, but then we started to slow down and kick up mud. We contemplated turning around, but frankly there was nowhere to do this, so we continued on thinking “it can’t get any worse”. The VNF guarantee water depths, allegedly, and this canal was supposed to have a minimum 1.5m. We only draw 900mm so we should have been fine.
Almost imperceptibly we continued to slow and soon we were doing less than 2.5kms per hour. Our usual speed at the same revs is 6kms. The canal itself was becoming more and more choked with weed and we could well imagine that as well as the obvious fact we were pushing mud, we had weed around the propeller as well. The quick and usually effective way to clear weed from the prop is to put your engine hard astern but a couple of attempts at this failed to improve matters, so we were more and more convinced that our speed was to do with a lack of depth.
We had to turn around. The chance of us becoming stuck in the mud was increasing with each meter we travelled but 2 attempts to do so failed, with our turn stopping as the stern moved into the even shallower water at the canal edge.
Another potential spot loomed and I got the boat hook out so I could test the depth. There was more water here and we decided to give it another go. As you know, Thirza is 15m and we had certainly no more than 2.5 meters to spare as we made the slow 180 degree pirouette in the canal, with Frank throttling ahead and astern in equal measure every few seconds.
Eventually she came around. The relief was huge! And we were now buoyed by the fact that we had got down there, and so we could get back, yes? Er, yes but we slowed to less than 1.5kms for the first 500m then almost as imperceptibly as we’d slowed coming down we picked up speed and by the time we got back to the lock we were doing 5.5kms.
So, back through the lock and back to Narbonne we went. We had decided we would stop on the visitors quay, if only to get water, but once there we had a little look over the wall and were very pleasantly surprised by the café and restaurant lined esplanades either side of the canal leading into the heart of the city.
We decided to stay a couple of nights and ate out in the main square that lunchtime. It was absolutely lovely, only spoiled when the resident cat decided to come out and stare at Brody. He went mental! Thankfully the restaurant owner came out and shooed the cat away “le chat partir!” he said and things settled down again.
The following day (Tuesday 9th July) we awoke to a thunder storm and rain, but it only lasted about an hour then the sun reappeared. We went to the covered market and had a fabulous hour wandering around the different stalls loaded with bread, fruit and veg, game bird of every description, enormous cuts of beef, cured meats, cheeses, seafood, olives, herbs, spices…..the list is endless. When I spotted a piece of filet that had obviously been aged for a long time judging by its dark colour I said to Frank we should get some because it would be wonderful. Just in time I read the label that was stuck upside down in the meat “Filet Cheval”. It was horse meat! Er, no thanks. Check out the Gallery for plenty : of market pictures!
That evening we enjoyed a glass of wine in the square and walked on a preserved section of the Via Domitia, the ancient Roman Road linking Italy and Spain.
We also visited Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur, a magnificent Gothic style cathedral in the heart of the city, dating from the middle ages. The inquisition established a base here during the Albigensian crusade against the Cathars, the good men and good women of the Midi.
On Wednesday we set off at around 10am and headed back up the Canal de la Robine and stopped just after the small navigable section of the River Aude before a clever double lock that houses a dry dock big enough for any boat that is able to use this canal. As we arrived we saw that Mike and Ann on their ex-working barge named “A40” and we wandered over to see how they were getting on with their bitumen re-coat of the hull.
Frank found his way down to the river and took the boys for a swim while I caught up on some work. It turned out to be a brilliant stop for them – no traffic or anything to be concerned about and a large bank for them to roll on, sniff, explore and play.
Later that evening Mike and Ann came for a couple of drinks and it was lovely to get to know them a little better.
This morning, Thursday 11th July, we got the scooter off and Frank went into Salleles to get a few bits from the supermarket and some bread and cakes from the boulangerie. When he got back he reported that a perfect spot on the quay in Salleles was empty and we decided to make the 500m dash along the canal to secure the place before anyone else got there.
On this canal you have to operate the locks yourself by pushing a button with an arrow indicating the direction you are travelling. The lock sets itself in your favour and the gates open so you can enter. Once settled you have to push the green “go” button for the gates to close and the sluices to operate as appropriate. This is all well and good but the ladders they provide to get up and down the lock are not placed well for Thirza’s size and shape (coupled with the fact these are oval shaped locks still) and so we decided that I would take the scooter ahead and get the locks set so Frank could bring Thirza in and throw me the ropes. The first lock was fine but the second one is 7 meters deep with sliders to tie your ropes to – easy when there is two of you but a different challenge with just one! As it turned out the captain did a first class job and as I watched from above Thirza gently rose from the depths of the lock until I was able to step across onto the coach roof and re-join the ship.
Thankfully the place was still empty and will a little bit of push and shove, and some strategically tied spring lines we were in. We hoisted the bimini and sat in the breeze until the sun moved round enough for the trees to provide the most lovely cooling shade for the whole boat…….bliss!