Canal du Midi
The western terminus of the Canal du Midi is in Toulouse, a day’s cruise from our night’s mooring spot in Gardouch. Though by intent we would not make it to the exact end of the waterway this day or the next we easily could have. Even at our sometimes-deliberate pace it took us 15 days to travel the Canal du Midi from the Étang de Thau along the Mediterranean Sea to downtown Toulouse. If we had skipped the side trip to Narbonne and cruised on our day off in Trebes it would have taken us just 12 days. It’s funny how traveling the Canal du Midi’s 150 miles in 12 cruising days had mutated from feeling painfully slow to surprisingly fast. Still the reality of our pace is incontrovertible; our progress was Iron Age slow. We could have walked across France this fast.
Perhaps our perception of speed was influenced by the changes of scenery. Gone now is the Mediterranean coast, the vineyards of the Minervois, and Bram’s garden feel. As we started descending from the Canal du Midi’s summit at the Océan écluse the urban density of Toulouse slowly crept in. Bram’s rural English garden feel was gradually replaced by emerging suburbia. Though there were few boats on the water, the repurposed towpath saw an increasing density of cyclists making a day of it from Toulouse.
The single locks on the descent to Toulouse from the Océan écluse are all automated. Automated here means that that the lock cycle activation is triggered by a box on the side of the chamber. The system works easily enough. It does have its quirks though. Quite to our surprise we learned that the automated locks take lunch breaks just like the manned écluses. Apparently the automated lock union negotiates work rules with the same enthusiasm as the rest of France’s transportation workers!
On the way to Toulouse we stopped briefly at Locaboat’s small lock-side base in Negra. During a splash-and-go stop the technician topped our tank with 87 liters of diesel (we burn about 3 liters per hour of cruising), filled our water tanks, and rapidly repaired a host of small problems on the boat. With the automated lockkeepers lunch and the pit stop we approached central Toulouse at rush hour.
Nearing Toulouse’s old town the canal’s character changes. Motorists in the midst of their commutes race along the roads paralleling the banks. An unending row of large Freycinet gauge barges lines the shore. No longer do these barges transport cargo or passengers. Now the boats serve as spacious residential housing. The old towpath is itself popular. Strollers and cyclists compete for time on the paved strip. For the residents of Toulouse, the Canal du Midi is now more important as a band of open space than as a navigable waterway.
In Toulouse the Canal du Midi has been modified to accommodate modern urban growth. Most noticeable on the cruise to Port Saint-Sauveur is the Herbettes Aqueduct. Finished in 1983, this metal-troughed canal bridge crosses over a busy four-lane freeway. We didn’t expect to look down from the Herault’s deck to see semi trucks passing underneath us! Can there be any better demonstration that the Canal du Midi is an anachronism?
Not far from the Herbettes Aqueduct is Toulouse’s canal port, Port Saint-Sauveur. Port Saint-Sauveur would be our base in Toulouse for the next couple of days. On arrival the Capitainerie redirected us to a suitable spot on the metal dock complete with water and electricity. Toulouse’s Capitainerie spoke only French to us. For reasons we don’t entirely understand–perhaps it was her diction and the context–we could pretty much understand everything she was saying. It almost made it feel like we understood French. But we know better.
La ville rose or the pink city as Toulouse is known was a pleasant surprise. The city is remarkably livable with its hubs of small squares surrounded by red brick faced buildings. It is a good place for a walking tour; it is a good place to dine outdoors. Indeed, Toulouse is a place that is worth visiting intentionally. Two days is too short a stay. We can always plan to come back.
Find more about the Canal du Midi here.
Travel time*: 5.7 hours
Cruising time**: 4.7 hours
Distance traveled: 32 kilometers
Lock chambers transited: 9
Weather: Clear, warm
At the end of the day, our trip across France was 43% complete based on cruising time and 40% complete based on distance covered. We had passed through 108 of the 246 locks (44%) 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).