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January 24, 2012

Canal des Deux Mers: Montauban to Castelsarrasin

Filed under: Canal boating, Canal des Deux Mers, Europe, France, Infrared, Photography, Travel — Tags: , — anotherheader @ 8:00 pm

Cruising between the locks near Montech. The water slope is on the left. (color IR)

Canal de Montech and Canal de Garonne

Our day in Montauban started with a scolding.  The port’s Le Boat agent gruffly informed Becky that the Herault was moored in a “reserved” spot.  When we tied up the prior day the agent was out for the long French lunch.  All around the pier we searched dutifully for “no mooring” signs; we found none.  So it was news to us that Le Boat, a barge rental company, had dibs on the docks in the port.  In any event, as the saying goes, it is better to ask forgiveness than permission.  In this case our option was to wait hours in a hot boat to ask for authorization to moor where we couldn’t.

The reprimand reminded us that we prefer to be admonished in French, or English with a heavy French accent as it was in this case, rather than in German.  Being chastised in German sounds serious; the German language is the iron fist.  In German, when you are being scolded, there must be serious consequences coming soon.  On the other hand, the French language is the velvet glove.  It is hard to take anything said in French or with a heavy French accent too seriously.

The rebuke encouraged a rapid departure from Montauban.  Locking down on the Canal de Montech nine locks needed to be cycled before we could return to the Canal de Garonne.  We took advantage of the canal’s remote control lock activation system by dropping Becky with the remote commander, Gigi, and a bike, on shore so they could ride ahead and trigger the locks in advance of the Herault’s arrival.  At each lock, once our boat’s rope was set and the exit cycle button was pushed, Becky would mount up and pedal ahead to trigger the next lock.  The system worked well; the lock gates all opened just as the Herault arrived.  We returned to Montech near noon.  Our fast exit from Montauban left time for a pleasant lunch on the porch of the canal-side Michelin-listed restaurant in the old lockkeeper’s house, La Maison de l’Éclusier.  (Regrettably we’ve learned that this establishment is now closed.)

After lunch we continued our westward journey on the Canal de Garonne.  Just past the intersection with the Canal de Montech is the Montech Water Slope.  The Herault is too short to qualify to be moved by this locomotive driven wedge of water.  Indeed, I suspect that the water slope is rarely used these days.  We saw few moving barges that were long enough, 30 to 40 meters, to be eligible to bypass the parallel locks on the mechanical contraption.

In the Herault we descended from Montech on the linked set of five locks near the Water Slope.  After finishing the lock chain we continued down the canal through three more locks.   This brought us to the popular barging port in Castelsarrasin.  Castelsarrasin’s park-like grass banked port is pleasant on warm days.  We tied up, checked the port office and saw that it was closed for the day, and headed into the village searching once again for fresh vegetables.

A modern bridge crosses the Canal de Garonne near Montech. (Color IR converted to B&W.)

As usual we passed by six open pharmacies before we finally found a small convenience store.  Why are there so many pharmacies in France?  And why is it so hard to find fresh vegetables?  In the town’s Petite Casino “supermarché”, we rescued a collection of limp root vegetables two days after they should have been discarded.  These would have to do for the night’s meal.

The next day we’d move on along the Canal de Garonne.  Were we enticed to leave Castelsarrasin’s well-tended port to continue our search of fresh legumes?  Or did we leave because we wanted to get on with our journey?  At times it seems that our hunt for fresh food pulled us forward faster than the intrigue of the unseen sights ahead.  Maybe our cruise across France on Canal des Deux Mers was truly just a hunt for the next decent market.


Day 20

Start:  Montauban

Finish: Castelsarrasin

Travel time*:  7.2 hours

Cruising time**: 5.4 hours

Distance traveled:  24 kilometers

Lock chambers transited:  17 (this ties our personal record for the trip)

Weather:  Clear, warm

At the end of the day, our trip across France was 54% complete based on cruising time and 51% complete based on distance covered.  We had passed through 147 of the 246 locks (60%) 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).

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