Saturday, November 06, 2010
Maneuvering the locks on the Canal De Midi
Part of our trip to Europe consisted of a 1 week trip down Canal Midi in a small boat in Southern France. We took the train to Castelnaudary, France and met up with Haakansons, where we boarded a 40 to 50 foot boat and motored (VERY slowly) 157 KM to the Mediterranean ocean. Part of the adventure with the canal trip was navigating through the nearly 60 locks. The canal Midi was built in the 1670s and used to be one of the main supply routes for food and goods in the Midi region of France. It connected the Mediterranean Ocean with the Garonne river and boat could travel through France all the way to the Atlantic Ocean without going through the Straits of Gibralter (an important point during the frequent wars between France and Britain when the British controlled the Straits). By the 20th century it was pretty much obsolete for commercial purposes due to the small size of the locks and the advent of railways in the 1850's. However, in the last 30 years there has been a renaissance of sorts with tourism and the canal has been completely fixed up and repaired.
Patrick did the trip in 1981 when the canal had just recently been fixed up and tourism was just beginning. He saw a few of the last commercial barges to use the canal. He also had to hand crank the locks open. Today the locks are all operated electronically.
I wasn't sure what to expect from the Canal trip--what would the locks be like? Would our kids fall overboard? Would Stuey go running off the side? I'm typically not a worry-wort mom, but in the days preceeding the boat trip, my heart would skip a few beats when I thought about Stuey on the boat--and the possibility of him falling in the water. From the pictures of the boat that I saw prior to the trip, I saw that it wasn't a boat that was necessarily made for 3 year olds. I knew, however, there would be rules for lifejackets for the kids and lots of sets of adult eyes on the kids. (For this reason, we had our old babysitter, Hannah, come along for the trip to help with the kids. She babysat for the kids for two years in Kodiak and is now living in Germany. She was thrilled at the prospect of coming along to help with the kids and we were so thrilled to have her along!)
There were a few scary moments with Stuey in the beginning on the boat--where I thought my heart was going to leap through my throat...Stuey testing his 3 year old limits on the boat. Sven did a lot of re-assuring and helping with Stuey.
The locks work like this: You approach the lock in the boat. The guy who runs the lock comes out, and opens the gate up so you can drive the boat in. They close the gate. Then, you boat sinks like the plug was pulled in a bathtub. The water is being released to the part of the canal below. Once you are at the water level of the lower section, they open the door and you motor through. Several of the locks, had 4 or 5 different gates to them, and it would take over 1/2 hour to travel through them.
Sven drove the boat almost the entire journey and was truly a lock Master. You could tell he had lots of boat expereince, as there is an art to maneuvering the boat in/out of the locks without hurting the boat--knocking it against the walls, for instance. On our trip, we saw several skippers who had a hard time manuevering their boats, and it gave us a real appreciation for Skipper Sven's boat saavy-ness. At times there was 1 or 2 other boats in the lock with us, which made navigating in the canal more challenging--making sure the boats didn't bump into one another.
Going in and out of locks took 3 adults--Sven driving the boat, one adult to tie the back line and one adult to tie the front line. The lines were released when the boat moves forward. Balika and Patrick were the primary line people. I did it a few times, but to be honest-it freaked me out. Something about the boat sinking, and the fear that I would do something wrong and the boat would be hurt. I kept joking with Sven after doing a lock, I'd ask-" well, that was pretty bad. Am I fired yet?" He never fired me.
The boat really served as a floating hotel-with 4 small bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small (but efficient) kitchen and living area. The kids would spend their day playing below or on top, or on bike ride along the canal. We could bike and run faster than the boat could go. The max speed for the boat was 6 KM per hour. This pained Sven.
Below is a time lapse Youtube video of the whole process.