Monday, June 11, 2007


Thursday we drove south to Agen. We arrived at one o'clock, picked up supplies, signed papers, paid fees for parking, bike rentals, a manual with maps, fuel, and rented this boat for three days and three nights.

Here's the Berry, our own little penichette, with beds for five people, kitchen, toilet/shower and sundeck.

I received a twenty minute crash course on navigating the canals and rivers and operating the boat, including how to execute the all important pivot turn in turn spaces for those occasions when you're sideways in a tight spot. The most important thing they stressed to us over and over again was, don't rush and don't panic. By four o'clock we were cruising.
There was some bad news. Our original intent had been to take the canal de Garonne to Buzet and from there take the river Baise to Nerac. Rains in the Pyrennes had caused flooding and forced the river locks to close. Nerac was probably out therefore unless they opened the river by the time we got there.
We had not been aware of this possibility and so were disappointed. In addition we were told that Nerac was too far anyway since we were only going to be out for three days. This was the sort of disclosure that I find maddening. The brochure that we paid 25 euros for contains a chart with sailing times. It listed as Nerac as 10 hours from Agen - very doable but the woman at the boat rental simply shrugged at that and said that the times didn't include time for passing through the locks. (later I looked in the manual and in fact it did claim to include those times...sigh)
We decided to go that direction anyway, partly responding to a reflex we've developed whenever someone tells we can't or shouldn't do something and partly because we felt lucky.
As vacation outings go taking a penichette affords an interesting mix of restful inactivity and short burst of focused activity. Getting up and down the canals and rivers is a pretty straightforward affair except for operating the locks.

On our three day trip we passed through locks a total of thirty times. There are about three different types of locks and also it matters whether you're going up or downstream. It is an elaborate, ingenious and orderly system, and for the most part idiot proof. Piloting the boat requires that you understand the light signals as you make your approach, then you have to manuever to a spot where you can unload a crew member who can open the gates,

then you drive inside the lock, the crew ties off the boat and then the gates close and up (or down) you go. It's a cool contraption and a major improvement on the original locks built in the 17 century which were built of wood and which required boatmen to stack and unstack beams in order to close and open the gates. In those days they were moving grain, flour, and wine but today only pleasure boats move through these waterways.

We were only twenty minutes into our cruise when we entered our first pair of locks. These were especially interesting because they were situated in an aqueduct that passed over the river Garonne and the highway.

To be in a boat floating over such things is a bit surreal.
No more surreal however than the simple fact that we were on a penichette in southwestern France period.
much more later on...


Anonymous erin said...

Wow- what fun! I'm glad to see that you guys are having so many different kinds of adventures. Love and hugs to all!

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Missy said...

You guys are so freakin' cool. Love you.

11:43 PM  

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