22 July 2017

Our Barge is Finally All Painted!

No idea it would take THIS long to finish painting the boat.

All in all, it took 8 MONTHS!

Noah wasn't even BORN when we began painting the boat!

Painting the hull went quickly back in December.
We were up in the shipyard, remember?

In Grau d'Agde, on the Mediterranean.

José Jimenez (he swears he's French, not Spanish-) "attacking" the hull with his "pistolet".

First: Sanding.
Then - a metal primer, since the boat is steel.
Then - 2-3 coats of paint.

But then - winter set in.
It was too cold - too wet - too humid.

In spring - the trees rained tiny seeds.
Showered millions of tiny black insects.
No good for painting.

Then rain. And wind.
Then - too hot.

Steps - before painting.
Steps - after painting.

But FINALLY - this week, in JULY - it's painted. 
Glad we weren't in a real hurry.

Here's what things looked like - before and after. 

Now - all we need is to put the name back on. And the new French registration number.

Looks like new. Shiny.
Darkened the off-white to a rich cream color.
And darkened the blue.

But stayed with traditional colors.

We've been "detailing" it all week. 
Polishing the chrome. 

Removing paint traces from windows. 
Cleaning the sides.
It's fun when it looks so good.

Working from the aft deck. Who needs yoga?

Found a new spot for bicycles.

Raised the mast for the first time (it's hydraulic-!) and added the flags. 

We have the Languedoc flag - the red one. 
It coordinates nicely with the New Mexico flag - the yellow one.

Yes, that's an air conditioner unit on the roof.  Really. -Need to find someone to recharge it.

It's a big boat - it took a LOT of paint.

The previous paint job was done without a primer coat.
The paint just peeled off in large strips.

And now - Stan has a new passion for keeping ducks away from the boat.

They've made themselves quite at home on some of the other boats.
Even laying large duck eggs on the deck.

And - they're a bit messy - to put it mildly.
So understandably - Stan doesn't want them around this nice clean boat.

Ducks in front of the cabin door. Waiting for opportunities. Hoping that Stan doesn't notice them. 

And - the ducks know it.

14 July 2017

Killer French Canal Fish

Usually - BIRDS eat FISH. 
Not the other way around. 

Here, the catfish swallow pigeons - and doves - whole.

The building on the right - used to be the communal laundry. 

I mentioned this in the previous blog post. 
Here's the rest of the story:

It usually happens at the "lavoir", the medieval laundry area on the banks of the canal. 
In the evenings.

Lavoir - scene of impending doom - on the left.

One moment, the birds are peacefully taking a drink at the side of the canal.
Maybe even dipping their bird-feet into the water.

The next moment - a streak of silver, one large SPLASH - !
And - no more pigeon.

Not a feather, not a crooked birdie foot.

Nothing but a ripple of water.

No wonder the ducks are up on the towpath these days.

This fish is BIG.
He's really good at catching birds.

Even the ducks are worried.

The pigeons don't stand a chance.

"Muddy Waters" is the boat beside us. What are the chances? And they're great people!

So we began to look into it. 

Iris - visiting from Berlin with Mikey and Noah - found a video - and an explanation.

Mikey and Iris, waving their baguette from the bridge. Stan on the towpath, rolling up the "utilities". 

Turns out - these are large catfish, and - this is new behavior for them.
At times, the catfish comes entirely out of the water. 

Some catfish are successful 80% of the time! 

- One study at the University of Toulouse counted 52 attacks in 72 hours.
These fish are BUSY.

Across from us on the boat, it happens most every evening.
It's a bit disconcerting.
Sometimes we have to rescue the injured bird.

(Sometimes it's simply - R.I.P. pigeon.)

The barge Hatuey comes through. Oblivious to pigeon peril.

Meanwhile, happy Bastille Day!

See? We're still learning something new - every day.

01 July 2017

Death on the Canal, Pagan Crossroads and Medieval Laundries - Mysteries Around a Canal Boat

Living here, on the Canal du Midi, there is time to solve mysteries. I like that.
There are plenty of things we don't understand. Mysteries.

For example - this building, just across the canal from us.

Maggie May is the second boat - the dark blue one. That's ours.

What in the world is it? A nautical bus stop?

Turns out - when the canal was built, in the 1600's, (!) they provided laundry areas, or "lavoirs" along the way, as a service to the villages. The villagers were cranky about the canal taking up so much valuable agricultural space. Plus, they had to help dig the canal, whether they wanted to or not. Thus, the lavoirs as an appeasement.

Now, they are used occasionally by local fishermen.

Here's what they might have looked like - back in the day:

Now - every evening, the doves come down to drink unsuspectingly from the lavoir.
 However, there are large catfish lurking underwater, waiting for prey.

Suddenly, a fish GRABS the bird as it drinks - and it's gone!
Not a feather left!
The first time I saw it, I thought I must have imagined it.
Then - we both saw it.
- No wonder not many ducklings make it to full duckhood.

Then - there are cormorants. They dive smoothly to the bottom - and catch the fish.
They bring it back to the surface, swing it in the air and swallow it - in one gulp.

-Poetic justice in the world of eat-and-be-eaten.

A poor photo of the cormorant eating a LARGE fish.

(I might add - I have NEVER seen anyone else catch a fish here.
In spite of the number of fishermen, complete with all the latest equipment:
 - boots, gear, chairs and multiple poles. Nary a fish.)

Another mystery:
We  found these round metal disks - on bridges, churches, towers.
Were they a sort of inventory system?

No decent map of France existed until surprisingly recently.
The hinterlands of France (which includes Languedoc, where we are) didn't care much for Paris.

 - If they even knew it existed.

We're in Languedoc-Roussillon. WAY south - on the Mediterranean.

Back in the day, strangers running around with odd instruments, peering through strange eyepieces. This was bad news. Plague, pestilence, two-headed cows - anything was possible.

The safest thing to do was - obviously - kill the mapmaker.

It took decades to complete the map.

Turns out - these round disks are survey markers - and are still there.

Mystery solved. Cool.

The next mystery we found in the engine room of the boat.

Under the floorboards, between the huge engine and the huge generator, there were 2 spiffy looking jerrycans - and a heavy duty dolly. What for?

After we owned the boat for several months, we asked: 
Where are the nearest fuel pumps on the canal?
The answer: There aren't any.

Really? All these boats - and no fuel pumps?
Pretty much - no.

So where do you get fuel?
-At the supermarket gas station.

-With the dolly. And the jerrycans.

The other option is to call a fuel truck.
You share 1000 liters with another boat. Or two.

-No wonder you have to get along with your neighbors.

However - the tanks on the boat hold 900 liters (about 240 gallons) of diesel.
I got to thinking - 900 liters of diesel - that's almost $1000 to fill your tank.

-No wonder they do it a bit at a time!

The steps up from our boat to the road. No dolly here.

Then: We got bicycles.

Tour de France, here we come - well, maybe not.
(There are a LOT of bicyclists here, and they take it seriously. Up and down mountains.)

We're just exploring the countryside.
Trails along the canals are flat.

(Although we DID go up one pretty good sized mountain, and I cycled to the top. 
Well, actually, I took a long break or two part way up. Then cycled up the rest of the second half. 
A passing Tour de France type saw me and gave me a surprised thumbs-up. I didn't really deserve it-!)

The winding canals - and the vineyards - provide good trails.

En route, we find odd markers - tree trunks, carved into the shape of crosses.
Stone monuments at corners of fields, with an old iron cross on top.

Even dolmens with crosses.

So what's the story?

Apparently, when Christianity came to France, it wasn't very popular.
Most people were strongly pagan.

The Church used the existing sacred sites - trees, stones, menhirs - where the spirits already lived. And simply - added the crosses.

That way, the locals wouldn't destroy the monuments.
Over time, the ancient sites became conveniently "Christianized".

Maybe everyone was happier that way.

And then -- the bikes go back onto the boat.
 - In just the right place - over the propane locker .
And - that's another story - until next time.

And the next mystery.