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Old 02-11-2019, 03:36 PM   #1
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Traditions and travel

Hello fellow TF'rs

CAN YOU BELIEVE IT,I'VE BEEN GROUNDED !

Aw shucks, 10 years cruising together and I've been grounded for a year by my lovely French wife !
I'm not a selfish person and for putting up with 5am reveille's to catch the early tides, hundreds of locks with no complaints I have to give way because a Happy wife means a Happy life.

We've not stopped travelling, far from it, we've an action packed set of plans from now until November.
Our thinking, and we hope you approve, is that we inhabit a corner of the world that not everyone's familiar with and we hope over this blog to introduce you to various places, to enlighten you as to the local traditions and things to visit in the regions we visit.
Not being land hogs, we're never far from the water, the basic thinking is that if you're visiting this region by boat (or hiring one) is to show you interesting things to do and see that are within easy striking distance from a local port for a cruisers crew to visit to ease the cabin fever..
We hope you approve and will join us.
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Old 02-11-2019, 06:31 PM   #2
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I for one have really enjoyed your posts. We have friends and family in Provence and want to tack a week or two of adventure like yours on the canals some day.
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Old 02-12-2019, 02:11 AM   #3
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Hi caltexflanc. Thank you for your kind comments we're glad you enjoyed visiting with us.
We like showing others what's available should they choose to visit other regions they are not familiar with, either on holiday, or as Richard did, to cruise across 'the big pond'.
Although TF is primarily US based there are many other members from around Europe and indeed the world.
Many people from OZ & NZ and a few from the US buy a boat here and cruise around Europe's wonderful canal system, by doing that they can exchange summers and enjoy good weather all year round.

As you know in the past we visited Poland, this was been made possible for us because the Irish low cost airline has some planes based in Marseille in the South of France which use Marseille as a base/hub. By using travel agencies that advertise on www.Groupon.fr we're able to take advantage of various deals which allow us visit more places without breaking the bank. Ironically one of the most popular travel agencies we use is Dutch (Utopia) that advertise package deals on the French groupon site.
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Old 02-13-2019, 02:41 AM   #4
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Being based in the South of France its only natural that we start with a few traditions you may experience if you visit the region at this time..
I explained in an earlier post that the French people make a creche in their house using a miniature stable, animals and the virgin Mary with baby Jesus.

Following on from that the next event in the French calendar is 'Candlemass' which falls 40 days after Christmas on the 2nd of February, this is the last day for families to pack away the creche until next year.
Originally this was a pagan festival where the people walked through their fields holding torches to signify the coming of light before they planted any seeds This was hijacked by the Catholic church in the 5th century to become the day when the baby Jesus was presented to the temple and of the purification of the Virgin Mary.

Going back to its pagan origins people used last years flour to make pancakes (crepes) and tradition has it that the first crepe made was tossed(flipped) in the right hand while holding a gold coin in the left. If the crepe landed correctly it signified a good harvest. When the crepe was cooked, the golden coin was wrapped inside and it was placed on top of the wardrobe to give prosperity and a good harvest in the coming year. At the next years festival the old pancake was taken down from the wardrobe and the golden coin given to the first poor person to pass your door.
With a nod to its pagan past of festival of light all the lights are lit in the house during the day of 'Candlemass'.
Its also said that if it rains on Candlemass there will be 40 days of rain and if its sunny there will be a good summer and bountiful harvest.
Today, crepes, (which are cooked very thin) are served with savoury filling as the main dish and crepes with a sweet filling served as dessert. Cider is usually served as the accompanying drink.

February, not only being the shortest month in the calendar is also the only month without a full moon and is the most misspelt word in the English language. It's also the only month mentioned in a Shakespeare play 'Much ado about nothing.'.

There's more to come on February BUT, if your still on a diet after Christmas skip the next post.
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Old 02-13-2019, 10:50 AM   #5
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In fabulous February the next event well worth a visit from a ships crew wanting to escape cabin fever is the 'Mimosa Festival' which is held on the 10th of February in the large village of Roquebrun.
Its worth hiring a car for the day to go and visit the village which is 1 and 1/2hrs drive from Port la Nouvelle.
The village has a South facing aspect and is snuggled in a valley protected from the North Westerlies.
Consequently its warm sunny disposition brings out the mimosa tree flowers that are a feature of this quaint village to herald the arrival of spring.
Each village in France adopts an animal effigy as its mascot for festivals and Roquebrun's is an elephant, complete with an extending trunk !
The festival's on all day and the parade kicks off at 14:30 with the firing of a cannon.
One of the quaint customs here is that apart from the usual parade of floats a group of men push a wheelbarrow full of last years flour, each of these men have a set of old fashioned hand bellows which they fill with flour.....
Every so often they stop and perform a pagan dance around the wheelbarrow, at the end of the dance these men then face the crowd and squirt the bellows full of flour into the crowd with much squealing and good natured laughter.
Its considered lucky if you get some flour on you, then again I suppose that depends on how much you get on you.
Be thankful, because up until recently eggs were also thrown into the crowd but the practice was stopped by the 'elf n safety' brigade.

Unfortunately I couldn't upload photo's due to internet gremlins but will do so in the next post.
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Old 02-13-2019, 10:04 PM   #6
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Photos for the previous post.

1, Being a large village there's obviously not sufficient parking for the thousands of visitors and cars line all the approach roads and small buses run a shuttle service into the village.

2,People heading for the fun.

3, You can see how protected the South facing village is.

4,This region is all about wine, the vines have recently been pruned, the tiny flowers will soon emerge and the bees will get busy pollinating them.

5,A Domaine is just the same as the internet version ie. 'The Home Of' . This vintner is offering wine tasting(degustation) and sales of course.

6,This ladies just got herself a bunch of Mimosa.

7, Its all about wine !

8,This pallet of new wine bottles actually originate from a Spanish factory.

9, Self explanatory.

10,The river passing through the village is also a playground in summer for canoeists, swimmers and families enjoying a picnic. Note the wild Mimosa trees in bloom.
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Old 02-13-2019, 10:31 PM   #7
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Lets see more of the Mimosa Festival.

1, Its everywhere.

2,This old medieval watch tower dominates the surrounding hills to warn of attack. Note the wild Mimosa growing on the hillside.

3, If you look carefully at this photo you can see the vestiges of terracing, the Romans occupied this region of France and they had plenty of labour to build these terraces which were used to grow crops to support the military.

4,Everyone knows the French love Garlic, products like these are still grown and sold locally.

5,Wine, Mimosa and early roses, just in time for Valentines day.

6,If you turn this picture you will see the wine bottle is shaped like a 12 bore shotgun.

7,8, Miel is honey, Propolis is a honeyed drink. A beehive is called a Ruche (roosh).

At the end of winter before the bees wake up from their hibernation the Ruche are transported to various locations for the duration of the summer, the bee-keepers regularly go and collect the honey.
Each location is selected for the local plants around which is reflected in the honey colour, thickness, taste and medical properties.
For example if you have an allergy in a region if you take honey from that region it helps your body's immune system to combat the allergy.
In winter eucalyptus honey is very popular for combatting colds and flu.

9, Hand pressed virgin olive oil, olive oil features heavily in Mediterranean cooking, diet as its very low in saturated fats and is a contributor to a healthier longer life ( I hope !). The reservatrol found in red wine also helps towards a reduction in cholesterol.

10, There's said to be a different type of cheese made for every day of the year in France. Some of the pungent smelly ones are for my taste disgusting but this ones a cracker and a regular favourite of mine.
Its called Cantal (from the region), a firm white creamy low fat cheese, when the cheese round is made its rolled in fine ground ashes from a wood fire and left to mature, the ash makes a dry outer hard coating which protects the cheeses.
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Old 02-13-2019, 11:09 PM   #8
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I did warn you about the diet, if your still on one, look away now.

1, Air dried sausage is a favourite here, served very thinly sliced with an aperitif, either a Ricard/Pernod (aniseed drink diluted with water) or wine. Usually with small plates of various olives to nibble at a family/social gatherings.

2, Another version of air dried ham, served very thinly sliced with a salad, or with chunks of freshly baked baguette and wine of course.
The French are not binge drinkers, you rarely see anyone drunk, at social gatherings its more about friendship, with meals they prefer a glass of a wine to compliment the plate you're being served

3, Hunting's very popular here, in the hunting season the Wild Boar are highly prized. Every part of the animal is used, the hair for paint brushes, the skin to make cellulose, meat, intestines are cleaned and used as sausage skins or to make tripe (a pressed jellied meat dish) and the bones of course for soups.
The only thing lost is the grunt.

4, I bet you never knew there were so many varieties of onion, each chosen for its texture, acidity/sweetness to compliment the dish.

5, This region's also famous for its lavender, these sachets are to hang in your wardrobe to keep mites away and your clothes fresh.
Oil is also extracted from the lavender and a couple of drops on your pillow are said to help you relax for a good deep sleep.
Its also used to make soap.

6, Happy crowded street of visitors.

7,8, I bet you never had a barbecued cake before !
Another speciality of this region.
This cake is made by pouring a thick pastry mix onto a barbecue skewer and kept building up as its cooked until its ready. Its a very heavy cake and served with a light rose wine.

9, How's the diet going now with all these sweet cakes in front of you ?

10, Barbe a Papa (Daddy's beard) is Candy Floss
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Old 02-13-2019, 11:52 PM   #9
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Now the parade.

1, Here come the villages mascot the Elephant. Those are dummies on it's back, it has an extending trunk and just before I took this photo it was able to reach up to the second floor window of the house behind it.

2, And you thought there'd be no boats in this post ?
Does the pope have a balcony !

3, What this band in the crowd lack in musical ability they make up for with enthusiasm.

4, Today is for families and children young and old.

5, Of course we have a Miss Roquebrun 2019.

6,7, More floats.

8, 9 and 10. Look out here come the flour men ! Take cover !
When the band stops playing (which could be anytime) they begin their ritual dance around the wheelbarrow full of flour !
When the band start to play again they let fly with the bellows full of flour into the crowd before moving off to follow the band again..
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Old 02-14-2019, 12:15 AM   #10
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A final look around Roquebrun before we leave with sore feet and happy memories.

1, These two ladies are giving out free wine in small paper cups to the crowd.

2, Families pic-nicking by the river.

3, I mentioned honey earlier, here are honeycombs and locally made nougat. Lots of trees around here grow the nuts used in the nougat.

4, More cheeses and air dried sausages of varied types and flavours.

5, Fridge magnets. I bet they'll play havoc with the car electronics

6, This stall sells locally made real sheepskin slippers and coats from the mountain sheep.

7, These are vanilla pods from Madagascar which was once a French colony.

8, Time to rest.

9, We heard the music so we stopped at this outside bar for a beer and listen to these 2 girls singing country and Western songs. In French !

We hope you enjoyed your visit with us to 'The Mimosa Festival' in Roquebrun here in the South of France.
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Old 02-14-2019, 08:48 AM   #11
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Thanks for sharing. Looks absolutely perfect.
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Old 02-15-2019, 12:23 AM   #12
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Your welcome.
During previous cruising trips I've found that many cruisers/sailors visit a port and rarely experience anything other than their immediate surroundings.
I adore boats and cruising and in another life might have been a commercial skipper.
I'm an inquisitive person and like to learn about the people, history, traditions, canal engineering and sights around the regions we visit.
We also we have to remember our long suffering admirals and try to make things as interesting as possible for them too so we can make wonderful memories together.

OK, she politely declined when I wanted to go to the tank museum and play soldiers but a quick thinking bit of BS on my part suggested a relaxing days shopping for a new pair of shoes

My thinking behind this thread is to try and encourage passing crews/visitors to experience things within easy striking distances of a marina so they too can enjoy their visits.
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Old 02-18-2019, 11:09 PM   #13
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Anyone who's been following earlier threads of mine will have noted that last years cruise was marred by alternator charging problems on our cruiser 'Snow Mouse', with a freezer full of food, and, perish the thought, warm beer or Rose' wine it was enough to cause some anxiety in what was one of the hottest summers for many years down here in the South of France.
In the previous thread 'Between Two Seas' I posted pictures and descriptions of how we resolved the alternator charging problems and identified and removed a lot of the PO's 'temporary fixes' 'bridging wires of all colours' 'redundant wiring' etc.
Of course with all this going on the batteries had a hard summer too trying to keep the systems on line.

Bear with me all will become clear.

When we bought our present boat 'Snow Mouse' we already had a Birchwood centre cockpit boat, Sanity' which we were living on in Narbonne and we wanted to keep, what is for us, the best berth in the port, so we kept 'Sanity' in order to hold on to our mooring slot.
To get our present boat suitable for cruising here, see 'Ireland to the Mediterranean Part 1' and 'Windmills and Wine', meant leaving our Birchwood cruiser 'Sanity' for long idle periods in the South of France.
We've been trying to sell it for the last year and kept it clean and tidy, we now have a very keen prospect which means all the mechanical and electrical systems need to be checked and, if necessary brought ship shape and Bristol fashion.
Lo and behold when we checked the condition batteries on 'Sanity' we discovered they were on their last legs and needed replaced, they were simply too long new, one dated back to 2010 !

Bear with me, life's still complicated.

During the winter the governing body of the canal had to repair the canal banks of the canal du Robine on which we're moored, this meant moving up onto the next level of the canal while the canal was drained for repairs.
Fortunately there is a lock in the town centre which meant moving up one level and from one side of town to the other.

Now we have both boats moored next to each other.
Still with me ?
As batteries on 'Snow Mouse' become ready for replacement we've been fitting the latest 'No maintenance type' to save our old bones the job of crawling in the bilges every week checking electrolyte levels.
We had only had two of the old lead acid type left.
As these were in good condition we decided to remove them and replace them with 2 more 'No maintenance leaving all 'Snow Mouse's' batteries maintenance free.
As our old boat 'Sanity' needed batteries we transferred the two good lead acid batteries from 'Snow Mouse' over to 'Sanity' and fitted a new starter battery.
We now had 4 x 220 amp scrap batteries which we disposed of in the local scrapyard which yielded 120 Euro's cash in scrap value.

Bear with me still because when the devil craps in comes in buckets full.

Plan A.
When the canal reopened we'd planned to take our old boat 'Sanity', down the canal du Robine to the Med, cruise along the cost to Grau D'Agde, get her lifted out for a bottom overhaul and return back to Narbonne ready for the prospective buyers arrival for inspection.

The canal repairs which should've been completed by the 23rd of December wasn't done (remember this is France, why make a job simple).
We rang the the other day and they said OK get ready and it'll be open on the 19th of February.
We received a phone call later, 'Sorry, the canal banks we reinforced have fallen in and it all has to be redone with longer piles so the canal won't be open for another month !'
No fecking wonder they lost 2 world wars..

Plan B,
The only slot the shipyard could give us (and they're doing us a favour) is lift us on Friday but we have to be ready to be back in the water by Monday without fail, we in turn have to be back for the prospective buyers visit and we want things right..
What should have been a pleasant 6 hour cruise along the coast has now turned into a 72 mile dash on the canal du Midi to the shipyard.

Oh and by the way, the cars up on blocks getting the gearbox serviced and we're going to Malta on the 8th of next month !
Who said life's boring living on a boat in the South of France when you've retired ?
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Old 02-24-2019, 09:00 PM   #14
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Very interesting,
Thanks!
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Old 03-02-2019, 11:42 AM   #15
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Following the saga of getting our 'other' boat to the shipyard I attach photo's and a couple of interesting photo's of the journey.

Photo's.
1,
If you click on this photo the black line shows our planned sea route which takes 6 hours.
The red line denotes our diverted route due to canal closure and takes 2 full days.

2,
This is the lowest lock on the canal du Robine with 2.50 Metres clearance over 2 metres, the twist in the tail with this lock is that the by-pass water flows directly across the bridge mouth causing many a skipper to be caught unawares, and there are scars on the stonework to prove it !

3,
The portion of drained canal that gave us the initial problems.

4,
Building this canal tunnel was difficult due the different densities in the strata of the rock.

5,
It's been said (tongue in check) that the French engineers used more gunpowder to blast through this tunnel than the French army ever used in some of its wars

6,
This is the sept ecluse (7 locks) which lower us down on the canal. This is quite a tourist attraction in the summer as inexperienced hire crews get their first taste of a staircase lock. The gasps of the crowd match the clash of fibreglass.
We only pass in off peak times' while the hire boat crews are still in bed.

7,
This shows the unique oval shape of the locks on the canal du Midi.

8,
This beast was used to push barges up a water slope.

9,
The water slope, sadly its been retired for it would be a sensation for the crews and a crowd puller tourist attraction in its own right.

10,
This shows the mask, or guillotine which is lowered to close the slope before the giant engine begins to push a wedge of water containing the boats, up the slope.
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Old 03-02-2019, 02:39 PM   #16
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The sept ecluse we spoke of in the previous post are located in the town of Bezier which you can see by clicking on the map in the previous post.
When the canal was built originally there were nine locks which took barges down to the river Herault, from there they passed through the town of Bezier before rejoining the canal du Midi lower down the river.
Due to either a drought in the summer or floods in the winter barges faced regular delays and so the lowest 2 locks were abandoned and short canal led to an aqueduct which was built to carry the canal over the river instead. As a by product a new port was built in Bezier to tap into the wealth generated by the barge traffic.

Photo's,
1, Self explanatory sign at the top of the sept ecluse.

2, Approach to the aqueduct which carries vessels over the river Herault in the town of Bezier.

3,Known locally as the Acropolis of Bezier.

4,This period house in Bezier port is cute with its glazed tile decorative roof.

5,This derelict building was once a thriving hotel in the heady days of fast passenger boats on the canal du Midi.
These passenger boats were known as Bateau Mouche (fly boats) and were flat bottomed punts pulled by galloping horses, at each lock the passengers got out with their luggage and walked up the next level and got on the next boat for the next stretch of canal. It took two days to travel from the Mediterranean at Sete to Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast.
Tourist boats in Paris are still called Bateau Mouche.

6, A hire boat getting a rest on terra firma.

7, 8. This series of sluices were built to overcome the problem of barges passing a river in flood.
What the engineers came up with was to build an island in the path of the river with two channels, one each side of the island.
When the river was in flood and a barge wished to pass they closed one set of sluice gates which diverted the river around the far side of the island. The barge then entered, tied up behind the island and the sluice gates were closed in front and opened behind diverting the water into the channel behind the barge which was then able to proceed along the canal. Ingenious eh !

9,These hire boats were built as hybrids with a VW engine or shore power for charging the batteries. Control was by bow and stern thrusters and a sail drive, all controlled by a joystick. In the hands of a novice hire boat skipper
Basically a disaster! VW stopped marinizing engines after these were built, there was insufficient anodes for the volume of electrical current and the sail drives being aluminium were rotting away !
The small stubby keels to aid handling were stuck on with the latest technology adhesive, they dropped off
The hybrid electrical circuits proved so troublesome that a roving engineer was permanently engaged repairing them
They cost 350,000 Euro's each and the hire boat company are still trying to sell them. There's an ongoing court case with the company who designed them who just happened to go bankrupt.
They caused the hire boat company into a position where they had to sell the company to an American investment broker. .


10, A floating houseboat on the canal du Midi.
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Old 03-02-2019, 10:39 PM   #17
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Continuing our journey to the shipyard we reach to town of Agde, originally this was built as a Greek trading port and the quays were built of the local basalt rock and are still in use today by small pleasure boats
(I should add here that countries along this Mediterranean coastline changed hands in the past fairly frequently depending on whose army was the strongest and which politicians had grand ideas).
For us as boaters it has a significance because it has the only round lock in operation in France, there may be others in different countries but I'm not aware of them.
Here once again the canal builders had a conundrum of crossing a river with fluctuating levels.
Barges make money when they deliver the goods and delays became unacceptable so what to do ?
The engineers came up with a solution of building a weir in the river to maintain minimum depth and installing a lock at either side of the river so that boats could step up, cross the river, and step down to rejoin the canal.
Another ticklish problem then was how to get boats onto the downstream river and thence to sea.
The solution !
Build a 3 way lock.

1, Layout of the lock.

2, A hire boat passing through the round lock, all 3 exit/entrances can be seen, note the verdant plane trees.

3,In this photo of the Ecluse Rond note the plane trees are now bare, no its not winter. The plane trees developed a form of cancer which spread all along the canal du Midi banks and some 40,000 plane trees have been cut down and burnt in special pits to kill the disease.
The ground is disinfected regularly over a 2 year period before being replanted with a disease resistant variety.
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Old 03-02-2019, 11:01 PM   #18
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A shipyard is a ship yard and you don't need me to describe it to you as you're all as familiar with them as I am but !
This one's a bit different in 2 respects.
It was the first to build fibreglass fishing boat hulls in France which can be bought as a hull, engine, and drive train 'flatpack' and you fit it out yourself with your own superstructure. They still sell them and the fibreglass work is very strong, they even chopped the back off a passenger boat and put another 5 metres on to it.
The other aspect which appeals to me is the handling of the boats.
Were all familiar with props and barrels etc but what about palletising them ?

Photo's.
1, This 39.5 metres passenger vessel had was originally 34 metres long and the shipyard cut the back section off and extended the hull before refitting the stern. The vessel can carry more passengers and the crew claim it eliminated the rooster tail from the big diesels and gave them an extra knot of speed.

2,Your all familiar with this of course.

3, Metal props like these are far more stable than chunks of wood. Note the Spanish windlass between the 2 front props.

4,This metal frame has adjustable arms and can be transported complete with boat around the yard like a pallet. There are different lengths to suit different boats.

5, This is the footplate driving position of the 3 wheeled machine.

6, At the other end of the machine there are 2 steps' at the rear which engage with rear of the metal frame, the rear wheels are on long arms which can be raised or lowered, which of course lifts the frame with a boat on it by hydraulic rams.
The beam you see between the arms of the machine can be slid manually forward or backwards to suit the frame length.
Very ingenious and very effective.

7, Our 'other' boat being brought out of its slot in the shipyard by the machine, which places it at the front of the yard where its set down and the straddle carrier lifts it ready to be lowered into the water.

8,9, Cormorants are often seen alone or in small groups but spring is here and the testosterones a rising. No lgbt in nature and a man needs a wife so they flock together for the mating ritual
Just the same as us young fellers going to a crowded dance to find a pretty girl.
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Old 03-03-2019, 12:08 AM   #19
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Thanks IR. This brought back some great memories.

Some years ago, we came up on the TGV from Barcelona, then transferred to the SCNF at Narbonne, and joined our charter boat at Castelnaudary. Didn't take the boat down to Narbonne, instead continued on to Beaucaire.

From my itinerary:

Cruising summary: 273 km, 65 locks, 50 hours cruising at 5.5 kts and 13 min/lock. 10 full days cruising = 5 hours/day with 3 extra days. Locks are open from 0900-1900 (latest arrival 1845). 61 of the 65 locks are in the first 143 km. Bridge at Frontignon (E of Sete) is open at 0830 or 1600 only. Locks at Fonserannes are open at 0830-0930 or 1330-1530 only.

So, here's a pic in our approach to Port Cassifieres where there is a charter boat base. What you can't see is the narrow channel perpendicular to the canal just before the moored boats. I was going slow in preparation to making a sharp turn into the narrow channel, but happened to look over the vegetation concealing the channel, and saw a couple of heads coming our way very fast. We backed down hard and waited.

This crew had just picked up their boat, and were full speed on their adventure before even reaching the canal. They couldn't make the corner (may not have tried very hard) and plowed into the far bank, finally getting clear after about 10 minutes.

So how do you avoid hire boats when they are doing this stuff!

Thanks again for all your many posts. Jay







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Old 03-03-2019, 02:47 PM   #20
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Hello Jay,
Glad you enjoy the posts, we try to pick out interesting things to share with everyone and we certainly know the route you travelled very well.
What we try to do is move through any choke points when the hire boats are on changeover days and always enter the locks after them.
As you have described many folk jump on a plane, fly at 500 mph, then take a TGV at 200 Kph, hop in a taxi at 100 kph and the first thing they do is open the throttle on the boat wide and say ''**** me'' is this the fastest this thing will go, and then promptly crash it into a bank, or other boat'.
Thankfully in you I now have an independent witness.
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