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The name describes my demeanour and voice! I love narrowboating and that is why this blog is mainly about the boat and our interaction with it. I have been keeping a log for Sonflower ever since we bought her and moved onto her as our main residence. Some incidents in our boating life have been hilarious, some scary and some down right dangerous. I cannot tell what will come in the future but you can now share them! The crew are an 'ordinary' couple. The Best Mate and I.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Learning the ropes (in France) Pt 1: Tie both ends.

The Fonneseranne Staircase is a monster. Seven ovaline stone chambers linked by gated steps up the side of a hill near to Beziers on the Canal du Midi. While we were burning down London in 1666, a little known frenchman was connecting the Atlantic to the Meditterranean by an amazing canal.

We had come from the hire base at Le Somail via the 54 km pound and this staircase of locks was our first experience of french locks. We arrived in the late afternoon, discovered that the locks are a one way system: down in the morning and up in the afternoon with a break for lunch. We moored up and walked down the locks. We were amazed by their size in comparison to the narrow locks we were used to around the Birmingham Canal Navigation or even compared to the barge lock at Teddington, the largest lock we had ever encountered. What was scary was the fall of each lock: about the depth of Somerton Deep at each lock.

In the morning we were gestured into the locks by Messieurs Eclusers along with another craft and we decended. The water fell. the gates opened and one after another we glided down in a smooth operation. The lock keepers did all the work and we went down on the water. Easy peezey.

After visiting Agde and the Mediterranean we returned to queue at the foot of the stairs. This time the lock keepers beckoned all the plastic cruisers into the lock past us. I thought we had been forgotten and then our tres joli bateau anglais (a nerrowboat) was brought in at the rear. The lockkeepers shouted and cajoled a dutch teenage beauty who was draped across the front of her cruiser to get inside. She reluctantly complied and then saw why. The water entered the lock and we started to bob up with such force that she would have been swept off the bow of the boat. We too realised that we were placed at the back of the lock because the inrush from the gate paddles would have swamped our fore well deck with disasterous results.

When about half full the gates opened and we bobbed forward into the next lock chamber against the flow. It was as near to white water rafting as I have been in a narrowboat.

But that wasn't the worst of it. In each lock I had to throw up to the lockside a line fore and aft. This was about a twelve foot throw. We were short of crew as we were travelling with Piglet, my four year old son, who could hold but not throw, and Poohbear, my special needs ten year old who can't throw or catch. My Best Mate was on lockside to catch at the bow end and a dutch lass helped out by catching the rope that I threw from the stern. That was except in the third lock of seven when, to my horror, she missed my throw and I saw the rope's end disappear into the water followed by all the rest of the line as the other end flipped off the 'T' post!

I reported to the lock keeper that there was about 15 meters of rope in his lock. He did not go to look for it imediately. We had four more locks to ascend.

We got out at the top and were glad of the reprieve and the long pound back to the hire base where we replenished our stock of mooring line. The next one was polypropelene. It floats! [to be continued

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