Final days aboard

Saturday, 30 June

While in Trebes, Alan and I both visited hairdressers. I came out with my color refreshed and the shortest cut in the world, but at least it will last until we get home. I had noticed that the majority of middle-aged boat women have quite short hair. I’ve learned that the lifestyle certainly isn’t conducive to elaborate grooming regimens. The young coiffeuse couldn’t speak any English, but we managed, with help of sign language, to chat about the sort of things you do with hairdressers. In fact it was the most intensive language practice I’ve experienced since being here.

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Our last few days on the Canal passed peacefully. Considering they’d travelled from Helsinki, it felt almost miraculous when Colleen and Paul arrived in a taxi to the quay at Trebes at midday on Monday. We went down through the triple lock and moored up outside the village in order to make an early start next day. (The locks are staffed from 9 am until 7 pm in summer, with an hour off for lunch, so timing one’s arrival becomes an issue.) We were planning an overnight at Homps, to top up the water supply and to enjoy one last dinner at En Bonne Compagnie.

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My work as deck hand was much easier with the extra help. We even began to feel slightly superior when seeing some of the hire boats bouncing off lock walls or other boats and having trouble with their lines. But I have really come to admire those seasoned couples who calmly and expertly manage all the manoeuvres themselves. Boating can cause tension between couples – an observation based on personal experience and noticing the amount of yelling that goes on in the locks!

Our major challenge was the heat – around 40 degrees for a couple of days – especially when having to queue for locks where there are often no shade trees. Worst of all was hearing a horn blast from a hotel boat, and realizing that our wait would be even longer because they always have priority. We comforted ourselves with the thought that the pampered guests were probably quite bored with nothing to do but sit around in air conditioning and have drinks and restaurant style meals served by the onboard chef.

It was always entertaining to watch the skill with which the skipper of these huge barges steered them into the locks with just centimeters to spare all round and flicked the lines on and off the bollards.

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With all these waiting periods, we were often overtaken, repeatedly, by walkers and cyclists. One quite elderly couple (that is, similar in age to us!) hiked walked steadily with large packs on their backs and hiking poles all through those scorching days.

The following night, all locks behind us, was spent outside Le Somail under the plane trees. Next morning, Colleen and I strolled in to the very cute barge epicerie moored on the canal right in the village. It’s a tidy, well-stocked store (clearly with foreign tourists in mind) where we bought provisions for the day including some excellent bread. It’s not always possible to find fresh bread along the canals and the quality varies.

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We’d been advised to keep a stock of tinned and dry food in case it was a long way between shops. Mostly this was not needed, so our last supper was an attempt to finish off the remaining provisions – an odd mix of cold soup, a tin of surprisingly tasty lentils with carrots, salad, cheese and tapenade. This was fine as we’d stopped at Capestang and eaten a very good lunch.

At Capestang we again passed under the lowest bridge on the canal system, and ogled some more beautiful boats. One was an immaculate Linsson cruiser for sale, so Alan chatted to the owners and we all debated our ideas about the criteria for a live-aboard boat. Such things as: deck space with removable cover, no more than 15 metres, proper shower and toilet, functional kitchen with fridge/freezer, main bed with space each side, guest accommodation, bow thruster, and so on …

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Later we took a break after the Malpas Tunnel in order to walk up to a lookout to see the surrounding fertile alley and drained remains of a huge lake.

Then it was a short run back to the port at Colombiers. It was so good to have had Colleen and Paul’s company, but now we were all thinking about onward journeys. After an overnight in Narbonne, Colleen was heading to London to do an art course, while Paul was wending his way home to the cold and rainy north coast. We had a final excellent dinner at Meli Melo and then it was over. Alan and I were left to gear up for the next phase. Funnily enough, it’s the locks I miss most, or perhaps it’s the adrenalin surge that accompanied them, followed by the sense of achievement each time we got through unscathed.

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Sunday 1 July

Well, that’s it. Today we heard that my mother has had a series of strokes and we’ve decided to return home early. Spain, Portugal and Morocco will have to wait until another time.

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