Day Two Aboard Tamaris, Sunday, September 18, 2005
From Villeneuve-les-Beziers to Colombiers – 25 km/11 locks
Entire crew was up early in the morning to the wafting aroma of Shoe’s wonderful coffee. After a breakfast of banana, baguette, and coffee, we continued our journey in a north west direction when the lock at Villeneuve- les-Beziers (PK214) opened at 9 AM. We were
among the first four boats through the lock. The next lock, just 1 ½ km beyond could only accommodate 2 boats. Our “lock mate” was a boat captained by a woman from Wales and crewed by women from Australia and New Zealand. They ended up being “lock mates” for most of the day.
At Bezier (PK 208.5), the lock became a log jam and we were instantly thrust into canal time. The lock was small, could only accommodate 3 small boats or 1 larger boat and a small boat. Since boats were coming east from the Fonserannes Staircase, it was a slow alternating process to get boats up (headed west) and another batch down (headed east). Further complicating the scenario was a German film crew, filming a documentary about canal cruising. They wanted to take things very slow and catch as much as possible on film. We tied up to a cement quay to wait our turn – as patiently as possible.
This particular lock was a deep lock, meaning rather than throw your lines to a person up
top, we slipped them through pipes running vertically from the top to the bottom of the lock on the stone walls. Shoe and Pat decided they did not like this configuration very much – especially since we had both the bow and stern lines on one pipe to maintain the position of the boat. The rush of water as the locks allowed water to enter made it very difficult to control the position of the boat. Just a short distance later at PK208 we had the lock to ourselves. We had to wait on the side of the canal while the boats ahead cleared the lock. Much less stressful!
Then we crossed the Pont-Canal de Beziers – where the canal crosses over the Orb River. Wonderful photo opportunity! Another kilometer, and we entered the Fonserannes Staircase, SEVEN LOCKS in series that raised our boat 13.6 meters or about 47 feet!
A Barge on the Pont-Canal crossing the Orb River – What a sight!We entered the locks just in time– they closed at 12:15 PM for eastbound boats and did not open eastbound again until after 4 PM. In the multiple lock scenario, rather than pulling lines back into the boat, the crewmember ashore, keeps the bow line and walks the line to the next lock, securing it, and then retrieving and securing the stern line as usual. Naturally, there would be a wrinkle – one lock had a bridge over the lock, so the crew had to go all the way back to throwing both the bow and stern lines the 8+ feet up to the side of the quay. We exited the staircase at 1 PM and entered the “long pond,” so called 54 kilometer stretch with no locks. Along this stretch are some of the canal’s most graceful and lowest bridges through farmland, vineyards and plane trees that gracefully shade the canal.
We wait in the basin just below the Fonserranes Staircase, a set of seven locks.We stopped at Colombiers at PK 200.5, tied up to our stakes driven into the side of the bank of the canal. We walked into town and surveyed the harbor. Since it was Sunday, most everything was closed. Since we had not provisioned lunch or dinner items, we searched for a restaurant for lunch and found Pom’-Cannelle, a cute harborside café with a menu for 12.50 euros including salad, a plat (either poulet with tagliatelle or tagliatelle with tomato sauce and ground beef) plus dessert (crepe, cheese, or ice cream). We decided to eat big, since it was doubtful we’d find a store open. After all, we could have a dinner of baguette, cheese, and fruit! We left Colombiers about 4 PM. Just I kilometer out of Colombiers, we encountered the Malpas Tunnel at PK 199. The tunnel is wide enough for only one boat and you don’t have clear visibility into or through the tunnel to see if anyone else is approaching from the other direction. Even though we sounded our horn and heard no response, as we got closer to the end (exit) of the tunnel, a tour boat tried to enter! A tense moment followed while both captains sorted it out. The tunnel was dug by hand in the 17th century in just 10 days! After a series of blind s-curves, we passed through the village of Poilhes (PK 194). We arrived in Capestang about 5:30 PM, secured a tie-up place on the quay, adjacent to a water faucet for filling up our tank, a daily or every other day requirement. We walked through town, found an open market, purchased a few necessities including a plastic jug of local red wine. After a visit to the tourist bureau, we returned to Tamaris for showers and wine. A bird’s-eye view of the Fonserranes Staircase; the locks raise boats over 47 feet through the seven locks in series.