Boating is beautiful
A short winter's voyage
"I wouldn't even dream of getting a boat nowadays, " a friend of ours announced recently. The weather's never right. Either it's not windy enough(she was once a sailor) or it's too windy. And then maybe it's too cold or too wet." I remained silent, for buying a boat a few years ago in France has given us such enormous pleasure, but later I reflected on her words. And now she has been proved right. Three years ago we sold our lovely old canal going boat, for something that would be more suitable for sea trips. At that point the weather forecast took on greater significance. Now we wished for calmish seas and lower winds. Although we enjoy a fairly mild, dry climate in this part of southern France, very strong winds are also common. And so, many potential fun days were lost, even in the height of summer, as the mistral or the tramontane winds blew. But then, last year we had to face up to something new. As I grow older I find intense heat very hard to bear. Factor in climate change, combined with a cramped small cabin, and boating can become a nightmare in summer too. Consequently we had to wait until early autumn to make a longer trip. As temperatures fell, we duly packed and set off for our boat, only to find that the engine would no longer start. It had been idle too long, and the diesel had become contaminated . By the time that had all been sorted, winter had arrived.
Life can be very difficult for boat owners if they don't possess a permanent mooring, and that was once the case for us. In spite of the numerous busy ports, and many thousands of boats in this part of France , a permanent mooring is very hard to acquire. But when we bought a sea going boat it came with a guaranteed mooring in the busy port of Cap d' Agde, and at first that was good. But now we have managed to acquire a quieter, cheaper canal side mooring, near the étang , from where we will have ready access to both canal and sea. There will be no additional facilities, and so we are planning to install solar panels on the roof. However, to take up that mooring would involve moving our boat in the middle of winter , at a time when the sea often looks fierce and uninviting. First stop would be Chantier Allemand, at the mouth of the River Hérault, for a yearly carénage, and anti-fouling. We surveyed the long range forecast. Gale force winds and strong rafales(gusts) were forecast for the foreseeable future . What could we possibly do?
Then, miraculously, a window of opportunity appeared. Yesterday(Tuesday 9th January) was set fair. Although temperatures would remain low, the sun would shine , and wind speeds would be low. Moreover the maritime forecast predicted a mer belle(calm seas) with no significant waves. We decided to take the plunge(so to speak.) . As we set off from home the temperature was -4C, but we had dressed extra warmly , the skies were clear and the sun shone. I packed a picnic and a change of clothes, very much praying that neither one of us would fall in the water. We topped up with fuel at the capitainerie, and set off for sea. Unlike a normal summer's day, we were the only boat around, save for a small fishing boat returning to port, and a yacht far out at sea .
We passed the piers and turned south, south west , saying goodbye to the small isle of Brescou just beyond the port. The sea was calm, the sky blue , and there was not another boat in sight. To the south ran a low mountain range, but the dominant snow covered Mont Canigou in the Pyrenees was hidden in the haze. This short boat hop was as idyllic as any trip on a summer's day. The piers that guard the mouth of the River Hérault soon appeared in the distance: red to port, green to starboard. Why had I worried? Within a further thirty minutes we were safely crossing the bar and heading up river.
Goodbye to Cap d'Agde
Hello to Grau d'Agde and the River Hérault.
How lovely to be on the river again. Further on, past the town of Agde with its black basalt cathedral, lies the round lock from where the Canal du Midi runs in both directions, while the navigable stretch of the R. Hérault stretches from there as far as Bessan. Here herons nest in the banks, and skim the water ahead of one's boat, and kingfishers dart from one side to the other. Today we were to stay closer to the wide mouth of this fine river, but already I could sense the presence of more wild life. (The wild life at Cap d'Agde is more likely to be of the human variety!) Gulls escorted us into port, but we were soon abandoned in favour of a small fishing boat, bringing in its catch, while cormorants dived for fish and flew low over the water alongside us, and a pied wagtail bobbed about the jetty. Altogether, Grau d'Agde is a pleasanter place to be, where life continues at a gentler pace. We made our way towards Chantier Allemand , which lay just ahead.
I have already written about Chantier Allemand, this family run business that is as different from the massive port side 'zone technique' at Cap d'Agde , as a rowing boat from a battleship. Here you are greeted with a smile of recognition, and willingness to help. Henri, the only brother alongside his three busy sisters, works all day long, driving his enormous boat lifts to raise boats from the water. He then transports them across a busy road to where they will be chocked up, ready for storage and painting. He doesn't waste a second, for he will soon return, to lower another boat onto the water. Our boat was cradled in straps and lifted out. It will remain on the river side while the seaweed and shells are cleaned off the hull with a high pressure hose. Henri will then transport it to an adjacent area, where we can return to paint it with anti fouling ready for the coming season. Let us hope that this boating year one will be a fuller one for us.
Before we left, we went into the shop to make final arrangements. What a wonderful cornucopia this ships' chandlery is. Here you can find all that you may possibly need to repair or kit out your boat: Waterproof coats and fluorescent life jackets jostle for space amongst rows and rows of hooks, rings and other fittings ; plastic water tanks and marine toilets, are racked alongside boat crockery, fire extinguishers, and fancy cushions; tins of paint and anti fouling, both large and small are stacked on shelves, while every thickness of cord, cable and rope that you might ever need is available on huge rolls. Brass instruments arranged alongside plastic hooks, hemp alongside stainless steel, and wool alongside rubber. This is far more exciting than any toy shop. I guarantee you will be reluctant to leave. But leave we must, for we had a bus to catch , and then a drive home after such a welcome break to our winter routine.