The Canal du Midi route was built by tough French women way back in the Middle Ages, in order to open up a more efficient delivery route for the Pays d’Occitane region and surroundings, and hence trade in the area flourished. Now why women in particular built the canal is anybody’s guess, but mine is that the men were so busy warring with their neighbours, defending their hamlets from the marauding invaders from wherever, evicting the last of the Roman Empire and / or felt that their women shouldn’t be barefoot and pregnant dans la cuisine, but excavating many miles of trenches and building a system of locks, so that the horse drawn barges could be raised up and down as the canal followed the topography of the land, and the river course.
23 Not in the kitchen! She may be pregnant, but she’s out building the Canal du Midi!
Today, highways and road networks have made that trade route obsolete but in true French tradition, not the Canals! Mentioned elsewhere in my scrawlings, the French seem not to destroy their History, but hang on to it for dear life, creating tourist destinations that world travellers trip over themselves to visit! Paris is a prime example, and yes there are modern buildings in the commercial district of Paris, but who amongst you, lucky enough to have visited the City of Love, has seen anything other than Old Paris, The Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Arc du Triomphe, Versailles etc?
Back to les canals et les ecluse and Le Group who had flashed through the City of Love, taken Le Bullet Train to Carcassonne, a taxi to Trébes, hired a specially kitted out cabin cruiser and were busy spending seven idyllic days cruising ancient canals savouring adventure, history, local wines and cuisine.
24 Up close and personal as the boats squeeze into the locks on Le Canal du Midi!
Did I mention the word idyllic? Well in between the locks, cruising along, glass in hand, munching on baguettes, brie cheese, jambon etc is definitely idyllic! Then along come another three monster cabin cruisers arriving at a lock at the same time and all four of you have to squeeze into a space designed to take one big barge, and it becomes very interesting! A series of knockings, bumpings, shovings, dodgings, reversings, the odd shout or two and passing on of tethering ropes ensues. Then an anxious calm descends on the ecluse as the crews and Captains sink or ascend with their boats, as the water flows in or out of the cleverly designed lock gates. After the intense activity, it’s back to the glass and French cuisine! Arrive Fontfile Ecluse!
25 Fontfile Ecluse – this boat is waiting at the bottom heading upstream! Note the powerful stream of water! Ascending is less daunting than descending, but make sure your tethering ropes do not jam!
The Fontfile Ecluse (lock) is a series of three locks which can be quite daunting for the uninitiated and, as we started our descent, I had put my leg out in order to fend our monster boat away from the side of the ecluse, I heard a ‘kaplop’! I had, up until then, at each ecluse, ensured my cell phone was not in it’s well worn pouch on my utility belt, but safely in the cabin. Alas, I had failed my system! My smart phone, photo shoot, banking app, to do notes, journal etc, was gone but there was no time for self recrimination, disappointment, anger nor foul language because, as I watched the Samsung spiral into the murky depths of the Fontfile Ecluse, a call went out: “Harry, Harry loosen your rope!” Harry had been too focused on the boat behind us’ tethering rope, or a tasty crew member on said boat, that was using our bollard and forgotten to loosen his rope! He couldn’t free it up!
Our Cabin Cruiser tilted and started creaking as the stern was lifted clear of the water! There was every chance that the cleat was ripped out of the boat, or worse! As my rope was clear, Johnny Bravo in the form of yours’ truly, ran to rear, whipping my Leatherman out at the same time, and using the sharpest blade, cut the rope! With a ‘kapow’ the rope took off, much like a catapult, thankfully not taking off any fingers or into anyone’s eyes, and our cabin cruiser plonked into the rapidly descending waters, much to the relief of all!
26 If it isn’t obvious, the crew loosened the tethering ropes too soon, and this boat drifted too far astern, got stuck on that ledge, and upended.
There was no time for celebrations though, as the next ecluse was part of the same series of locks, and there were three other boats descending through at the same time! Each ecluse dropped about three metres, some were five metres and more!
27 Another, much calmer view of Fontfile excluse.
I was unable to snap an action shot, being part of the action, and the smart phone I might have used was gurgling in the silt, at the bottom of the murky depths of the Fontfile Triple Ecluse
Johnny had had enough foresight in the panic situation to cut the rope in a place where repair would be facilitated and I had to repair that rope in double quick time so that we had a tethering rope for the next lock which was a few metres and seconds away!
28 Leatherman Super Tool a must to carry on your utility belt, on or off the Canals!
Harry doesn’t touch a drop of alcohol but we poured him a dop later on!
29 Desperados was to become a favourite on Le Group’s boat! An excellent dop!
Needless to say more adventure was to follow!
Starship – Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now:
St Vincent School For The Deaf helping the hard of hearing to listen:
Down Durban way The Fulton School for The Deaf:
Abraham Kriel Childcare group, caring while we work:
The Avril Elizabeth Home for the Mentally Handicapped was opened in 1970, and for the amazing work they do for the less fortunate they deserve great accolades: