Canal de Garonne
My scream came as a black blur of canine bolted out the Herault’s wheelhouse. Our dog Gigi had decided as we untied the Herault and prepared to depart that she did not want to spend another day stuck inside the boat. She charged from the wheelhouse at full speed and lurched for the metal dock. She didn’t make it. With an awkward slip on the boat’s slick wet deck our chien noir plunged head first into the murky water.
At the dock there’s no easy way for a swimming dog to get out of the water; Becky had to fish a soaked canine from the drink by the collar. Back on board and toweled down Gigi was soon back to normal. She stayed warm even when wet on this cold and cloudy day. A fur coat has advantages.
In retrospect the biggest surprise was that one of us had not fallen into the water earlier. The small slippery-smooth plastic decks of the Herault gave us all frequent opportunities for unplanned swims. Still if Agen’s Locaboat crew had been watching they would now be certain that our earlier “We’re sinking” episode was not a fluke. The evidence was overwhelming; the American’s they had rented a boat to were dubious risks at best.
Once the canine theatrics were over we continued out of Agen. Not far from lake-like canal port, the Agen Aqueduct begins. For a third of a mile, barges travel in a suspended stone trough more than 30 feet above the Garonne River and its flood plan. With 23 freestone arches, the Pont-canal d’Agen was, at the time of its construction, the longest navigable aqueduct in France. Today boats exiting Agen cross high above both the flowing water of the Garonne and traffic speeding along on the riverside roadway. It is hard to get used to seeing a semi-truck passing beneath our boat.
Like most pont-canals, locks follow the Agen Aqueduct. Here a chain of four locks drops about 40 feet before the canal continues unabated in a 9 mile-long pound. We stopped in the midst of this extended pound to visit Sérignac-sur-Garonne and its twisty towered church. Judy of the Morons obtained the key to the church tower from the mayor’s office. The key allowed access to the dusty inside of the spire; it let us see how workers crafted wood to build a tower with twist. We were careful not to linger having been warned that the church tower’s bells rang on the quarter hour. Indeed this was truly a sound reason to not loiter inside the belfry.
Back on the boats we passed one more lock and a long pound before we reached another pont-canal. This bridge aqueduct, the Pont-canal sur la Baïse, crosses over the Baïse River. Here there is a curious four-way intersection of navigable waterways. At this point boaters can continue along the Canal de Garonne in either direction or they can drop down to the right through a double lock, the Descente en Baïse, to the Baïse River. At the bottom of the lock barges turning left connect via the Baïse to the Garonne River. Traveling a short distance down the Garonne leads to the confluence with the Lot. The Lot River is navigable for miles upstream of the two rivers’ union. If instead at the base of Buzet’s double lock a barge turns right into the current a long stretch Baïse awaits. No matter the direction a boat takes a pleasant adventure waits.
We spent the night and much of the next day in Buzet-sur-Baïse. At this point we were two days of canal travel away from our ultimate goal of Castets-en-Dorthe, the Atlantic end of the Canal des Deux Mers. But we would not head to Castets-en-Dorthe immediately. The gratification of completing our full journey across France would be delayed for a several days. Instead we’d head through the Descente en Baïse double to the Baïse River.
In October of 2011 the river levels in the southwest of France were low. Reports told us that four barges were stuck nearby on the Garonne’s troublesome sand bars. Thus turning left at the base of the Descente en Baïse was not an option for us. So with a right turn, we’d head upstream under the pont-canal and the Canal de Garonne. Ahead of us was 35 miles of the wandering Baïse and some of the prettiest country and villages we saw on our entire voyage.
Travel time*: 7 hours
Cruising time**: 4.2 hours
Distance traveled: 28 kilometers
Lock chambers transited: 7
Weather: Cool and cloudy
At the end of the day, our trip across France was 62% complete based on cruising time and 61% complete based on distance covered. We had passed through 168 of the 246 locks (68%) 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).