08 June 2018

Big Rivers and Manual Locks

Rollin' Down the River ... wait, that's not the Canal du Midi! 

We're on a river in the middle of France.
(There are a LOT of rivers in France - and this one - is actually called - the LOT.)
Rivers are different from canal cruising. They have a current. 
They can be big. Wide. Unruly. 
Okay, so rivers aren't always terribly wild and woolly. 
The Lot River is beautiful, but doesn't have much boat traffic. 
So all the locks are manual. 
There just aren't enough boats to warrant full time lock keepers.


So we do the locks ourselves.


It's a ridiculously picturesque region, dripping with medieval villages, châteaux, caves and castles.
And - as they say - a river runs through it. (A couple of big rivers, actually.)


(Underneath all these cliffs are masses of caves - some with prehistoric drawings from 30,000 years ago. Some with rivers. But that's another story.)

So here's our system while cruising the Lot:
Stan gets to do the locks. 
I drop him off, and he cranks the machinery. 


Close one side of the lock. Then open the sluices. 
It takes about a hundred turns of each crank.
When the water equalizes, open the gates.
One gate at a time.


I drive the boat in slowly. 
Toss the lines up to Stan.
I hold the boat while the water rushes in. Or out.

Inside the lock, with the waterfall / dam beyond.
He finishes the maneuver, and opens the exit gates.
Not always easy - and chunks of logs sometimes get wedged into the gates.

But it works. No electricity, no engines, no batteries.
Just the weight of the water.


Then, he climbs back down onto the boat with help of ladders built into the lock walls.
And - off we go. 

On the Lot River, you can fit 2 boats max in a lock at a time. 
Normally, there aren't any other boats. It's pretty quiet.


Driving the boat isn't hard. 
There's plenty of space, and plenty of time to get it right .
If you don't get it the first time, just - try again.


Nobody's waiting. 
Just miles of scenic beauty. 
And a few herons.

The Lot River is lined with cool villages, châteaux, caves and castles.
However, unlike the Canal du Midi, the strong river current is a factor in mooring. 
Upriver is easier, against the current. 
Bring it in close and slow, so Stan can jump off just right. 
Then secure it quickly - before it drifts downriver.


Pay attention to the signs and buoys.

This small arrow is the only sign that says, "Enter lock here". 
If you miss it, that's a big waterfall to go over. Yikes.


One night, a fellow went overboard in the dark. (splash!) 
He tried to moor not far from us on what he thought was a pontoon. 
It was just trees.  (It was nearly 10 pm!)

(I think there might have been some wine involved.) 
Someone pulled him out of the water, and they cruised off - at night.
Who knows what happened to them after that?


This wasn't our boat we were on. 
We'd rented it for the week. 
Actually, the first boat we rented - (isn't it a cute little thing?) - had engine problems.


And a toilet that didn't work. 
We had to swap boats after the first night.


Why rent a boat when we live on one?  
Well, you can't get from the Canal du Midi to the Lot River. 
There are waterfalls and dams in between. 


But what an incredible region!
Each town a medieval gem. History everywhere. 


And just so ridiculously beautiful.

The villages we passed were very rural. 
They were amazed when I told them we were American.
 "You came HERE? From America? How did you find the Lot?" they asked. 


A couple of fishermen baked us a camembert cheese in the wild one night.
With a fresh baguette. Offered us a wiggling catfish as well.
Talked to a few teens, bored on a Sunday afternoon, dreaming of the big city, Toulouse.

It's another world here.


This is a small corner of a beautiful country.
Okay by me if it isn't too exciting. I like that.


Life - is amazingly good.


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