With the Herault precariously moored at the only dock below Vianne’s picturesque lock we needed to move her as soon as the locks opened in the morning. Locks on rivers typically require some sort of a dam or weir. This way the stream’s gradient is localized to a single point, a place that a lock can be built to transport barges past the blockage. Often a mill is constructed at the side of the weir to take advantage the potential energy of the restrained water. As a result a canalized river is anything but a free flowing natural waterway. Still, though la Baïse is far from its natural state today, it is a charmingly pleasant river to linger by.
The Baïse has an extended history of navigation. The Baïse’s channel was first systematically modified for goods transport from the rich Armagnac region to the Garonne River well before the nearby Canal de Garonne was completed in the 19th Century. In the beginning, in the 17th Century, wooden chamber locks were used. Later in the 19th Century the Baïse’s wooden locks were replaced by the current stone versions.
After cruising the Canal de Garonne and the Canal du Midi the locks on the Baïse seem deep. Needing to accommodate the variations of water levels the come as rains swell the stream the locks here are indeed deeper. The combination of deep stone locks, the water rushing over the nearby weirs, and the old mills is striking. Each lock and weir on the Baïse make a postcard worthy picture.
In France there are a myriad of methods to trigger a lock cycle. The Baïse locks use a different system than the Canal de Garonne. The prior day when we transited the Descente en Baïse double lock near Buzet-sur-Baïse the keeper had given us a plastic card. This card when inserted into a chamber side box mechanically triggers the locking cycle. Or at least it usually does. We found this particular system to be finicky; the card has to go in the slot just right or it doesn’t work. It might have been our least favorite of the six different methods to activate a lock that we saw on our journey across the south of France. Not that we are complaining about the variety of the lock actuating methods. It keeps things interesting. But why do the French need six different ways to do the same exact thing? After all, “standardization” is a French word.
Climbing six locks and cruising 11 kilometers we reached Nérac. Nérac is a contrast to the well-planned bastide town of Vianne. In Nérac, particularly in the gorge near the Baïse, the street plan feels distinctly medieval and haphazard. Entering the town through the lock and the dramatic stone arched old bridge is one of the most memorable sights of our entire journey across France. We liked Nérac enough to stay a couple of nights on the way out and then return for another night on the way back.
Nérac’s streets are interesting to explore on foot. Aside from the meandering alleyways and the required large churches the village also has the Henri IV’s chateau. Outside of the tourist season we weren’t able to go into the chateau but we did see something else unusual. In Nérac the modern recycling program uses a horse drawn cart for collection the bottles and cans and other recoverable items. And we thought that traveling through France by canal boat was anachronistic!
Travel time*: 4.9 hours
Cruising time**: 3.3 hours
Distance traveled: 11 kilometers
Lock chambers transited: 6
Weather: Cool and cloudy, fall has come
At the end of the day, our trip across France was 66% complete based on cruising time and 63% complete based on distance covered. We had passed through 176 of the 246 locks (72%) of the locks that we would cross.
* The time between the start of the day and the end of the day.
**As measured by the hour meter on our boat. When the motor is running we were either moving or standing by to move (like in a lock).