Carcassonne 43:13.05N, 02:20.99E

Saro's Gyda
Derrick Thorrington
Mon 9 May 2011 14:48
 It feels a little bizarre to be sitting on our sailing boat 100m above sea level and approximately 50M inland!
We eventually came through the various swinging and lifting bridges in Sete on Easter Sun evening as they were all closed in the morning for a swimming competition. Having spent the night at anchor on the peaceful Etang de Thau we set off properly on  Monday morning, crossing the 9 km Etang to the entrance of the Canal du Midi.
Entering the canal
Initially we passed between tamarisk and yellow flag iris lined dykes protecting the canal from the surrounding low land and etangs but soon the characteristic plane trees began to make their appearance. These were extensively planted along the original canal to limit evaporation, hold the banks together and to protect the bargees from the sun. They are most welcome in the hot weather as well as being very beautiful.
During the first two days we met quite a few locks and a huge staircase of 6 chambers. It was all rather nerve-wracking as we found that we couldn't reliably get our lines ashore and around the bollards as the lock walls are so high. We managed to avert any disasters with the boat and the masts, which overhang a bit both bow and stern, by utilising the watching holiday makers. Initially the locks were also very crowded with 4 -5 boats being lifted at the same time, (Easter Holidays), and most being hire craft, piloted by novices who maybe hadn't handled a boat before. The locks here are oval shaped so with the huge rush of water into the lock it is very chaotic. In the last two days we have seen far fewer hire craft, have developed a much more reliable lock technique and found ourselves alone or with only one other boat for company - phew!
We have visited several towns such as Agde and Beziers, as well as very sleepy small villages from which we have purchased our daily bread and the occasional croissants (well you just have to don't you?). Beziers boasted a splendid aqueduct over the R Orb, the large flight of locks and a lofty height upon which the cathedral and old town sit.
View from Beziers cathedral
As well as locks there are, of course, bridges.We had carefully measured everything to make sure that we could pass under the bridge at Capestrang. We had read that, if a boat can pass under here, it will pass under everything on the mainland Europe canal system. After the beginning of day 3 we felt that we could relax under the bridges because we made Capestrang with a bit of room to spare!
Will we make it?
We tied up at Carcassonne to explore the old city as there was a public holiday so all the locks were closed. As it happened there was also a strike of lock keepers on the Monday so luckily we were struck at a very interesting place.
The old Citie of Carcassonne is set on a hill overlooking the river and is magnificent as you can see from the picture.
    We were pleased to be able to get going again when the locks reopened. We made good progress, stopping of at Castelnaudray for the compulsary Cassoulet. Shortly after this we reached the top lock, "Le Mediterranean" and cruised along the 8km plateau before mooring for the night just before the first downward lock, "L'Ocean". Here was a very pretty area where the feeder canal from the Montagnes Noir, 20M away comes in to supply the Midi. A huge feat of engineering in the 1600s.It is now downhill all the way which is alot easier than going up - no turbulence!
     As we neared the last three locks on the Midi, we were told that they had just been automated. I think that we were the guinea pigs. The first was fine as the keeper showed us what to do. Press the "down" button and once in the lock and ready, press the green button, relax then cruise out of the open gate at the bottom. Lock no 2 behaved until it came to open the gates and they didn't open. We managed to phone the lock control centre and were duly rescued. Lock no 3 was entered at 1810 and at 1850 we were still there, slowly going down the 5 meter drop then stopping halfway. After 6 phone calls and messages in our best Franglais, and just before lock closing time at 1900, we were rescued. We had visions of staying the night in the bottom of a 5m chamber! 
Dressed overall for the "Wedding"
    We had intended to stop for one night in Toulouse but in the end stayed for two. Katie flew in for two days and one night!  The reason that we did not move on was that, despite the proximity of the Canal Lateral de Garonne and the number of stations along our intended route, no trains and no buses supplied the villages on a Saturday! On enquiring about the cost of a taxi to take Katie back to the airport and it was 80 Euros!
    We are now on the Canal lateral de Garonne which takes over from the Midi at Toulouse. Initially it was very straight with few villages but it has become prettier and prettier and is definitely rivaling the Midi now that we have reached the pretty and historic town, Moissac.
After a busy day of 16 locks!
Our subscription for mailasail runs out tomorrow and is very expensive to renew for only a few weeks so there will be no more blogs.
If you are interested in keeping a check on us, I will do a blog via e mail, so let me know if you would like to be included,  {DOT} aliduncan60 {CHANGE TO AT} hotmail {DOT} com