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Finally…A Cruise on the Canal du Midi

October 21, 2014

San FerreolThe Saint Ferreol was built to model the classic work boats that used to cruise the Canal. There were about a dozen passengers, so I had no trouble snagging a seat on the front deck. It feels like summer, and before we had gone too far the blistering sun had me reconsidering my seat. As we pulled away from the dock, the only sounds were the soft hum of the engine and the gentle rush of water.

This was a good chance to practice my French listening skills. The captain spoke clearly and slowly enough for me to catch his drift, then repeated himself in heavily-accented English — kind of like verbal subtitles.

The two-hour cruise began in Homps, a port about 12 kilometers west of Capestang. It’s 100 kilometers from the Mediterranean to Homps, and another 145 to Toulose, where the Canal joins the river Garonne and flows into the Atlantic. It would take three weeks at the 4-knot speed limit to sail the entire route!

When the Canal was constructed in 1661, 45,000 plane trees were planted to keep the banks from eroding. In recent years, a fungus that thrives in the Canal has been attacking these trees — only the plane trees, no other species. So that explains why so many are being taken down, 10,000 so far.  The fungus is so contagious that they have to burn the brush in situ rather than haul the trunks and branches away. It’s very sad, because the trees are so graceful as they arch over the water, providing a cool canopy against the southern sun.

Plane trees          Sad Platanes

Happily, about ten years ago they began planting oaks and poplars, which are not affected by the fungus, and these fast-growing varieties are quickly filling in the bare spots.

When you stop to think about it, this canal is really an engineering marvel, especially considering when it was constructed.  There are 65 locks along its length, originally operated by hand by the keeper who lived alongside, but now they’re all electronic.  Most can fit up to four boats at a time. We went through one lock on our outbound trip, which raised the boat four meters, then did the reverse on the return.

.        L'Enclos Jouarre

At one point the Canal actually crossed a bridge over a river that flowed below. Strange sensation. When we got to the turning point, it took about four minutes and all of the canal to turn that baby around.

The breeze on the return trip was heavenly, and by the end, as the sun was sinking lower, my heart rate was down around 15 bpm.

Plane trees 2

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.  Robert Louis Stevenson


From → Solo travel

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