This little boating adventure exposed us to a totally different side of France than we have ever experienced before and also to the wrath of Mother Nature.
In 2015 we booked to go on a 2 weeks self “drive” tour of the Canal de Garonne, the River Lot and the River Baise with a company called Locaboat. The boat we hired was a 1020 Penichette Flying Bridge which is a cracking machine with an outside driving position so you can take everything in while you meander along the waterways in the sunshine (hopefully!). All the boats hired with Locaboat can be done so “sans permit” which basically means without a licence.
Our route took in 3 different waterways and we picked up the boat from the main port of Agen which is the capital of the Lot & Garonne department in South-West France.
Over the first few days of our adventure we travelled East along the Garonne Canal towards Montech and were a little disappointed with the sheer volume of heavy industry next to the canal in Agen. Its absolutely to be expected as that’s what canals were originally designed to support – industry! Nevertheless I fear we have been a little spoilt after weeks spent on the Canal Du Midi touring through the beautiful little villages.
Our opinion soon changed once we reached Castelsarrasin and Montech as heavy industry made way for rolling countryside and pretty towns. The best however was yet to come but not after a small call from Mother Nature!
As we passed through the final lock in Montech heading towards the banks of a forest to moor up for the night on August 31st 2015 a lady called out to us…”un Orage” she said…we had no clue what she was talking about…she persisted in telling us that the rain is coming…”il pleut…il pleut”
Fast forward 4 hours are we are pootling back along the canal towpath with some eclairs for after dinner in our bike basket and this wall of darkness enveloped up.
Within seconds we were soaked to the skin from the rain. The wind and debris circling all around us. I jokingly shouted to Dan – “if you hear trees cracking RUN”. Right then trees started to fall all around us and the path became impassible by bikes (by this point we had given up trying to ride them anyway as the wind was so severe).
We abandoned the bikes, and also sadly our eclairs! and ran for the boat. It was only perhaps 50 meters from us but it was an assault course to get there! Navigating the fallen trees.
Just as we arrived our lovely boat broke free of its moorings (via pins in the verge) and started to drift into the middle of the river.
The storm continued to batter us and the boat offered little salvation as the wind dragged it from the bank and we started to literally pirouette down the river.
With all the boats night time navigation lights on and the thrusters hard to the bank we eventually ran into a fallen tree which ended up being our safety net and kept us from floating further downstream uncontrolled towards the lock gates. With nothing left to do we threw ropes around the tree to secure ourselves and wait out the storm.
I can’t lie, I was worried. It was like some sort of surreal out of body experience but one that came sharply into reality when Dan told me to put a life jacket on. It was suddenly very serious. We even had a “go-bag” prepared in case we needed to abandon the boat.
As the storm gradually reduced its hold over us and we could breathe we set about surveying the damage and finding the things we had abandoned on the bank – boarding plank, mooring pins, bikes, eclairs, etc…
In total we drifted uncontrolled about 100 meters (not so far I know!). Most worryingly when we returned to the site our boat was moored there was a huge tree lying where we had once been!
Thankfully no major damage to the boat and we were still floating!
The next morning we found complete and utter destruction in Montech. A lady had been killed by a falling tree. The rivers were closed and deemed un-navigable due to debris and the lock was damaged and unusable. There were quite literally 100’s of trees down! The winds were recorded at 138km per hour and 55ml of rain fall (of which 45ml was in the space of an hour).
We were safe but we were stuck!
For 48 hours we watched on as the clean up crews tacked the chaos unable to help from our stranded boat. We called the parents as soon as networks were reconnected as the power was out to some 50,000 homes locally – incidentally they were totally oblivious! We assumed a natural incident of this magnitude would make the press! Nope! Only local press not international! You can see some of those stories here:
Locaboat were great throughout! They gave us a choice….stay with our boat for the remaining 9 days and not be able to move it…OR let them pick us up and bring us back to Agen to transfer to a different boat to continue with our cruise in the opposite direction. Not really a choice!
So now begins phase 2 of our adventure! We collected a 1120R from Agen and travelled towards the River Baise
This part of our adventure was far more relaxed and frankly stunning in its simplicity. We spent a week with wide open eyes as the kingfishers followed us down stream, dancing and playing with our boat and calling out to each other a warning of our arrival.
It wasn’t just Kingfishers either! A sheer plethora of wildlife accompanied our adventure.
The river Baise is super narrow and at times feels a little like you are in the jungle!
You can find out about the rather cool thing that we found at the end of the River here.
All in all a really fab break in a great part of France! Highly recommended for anyone that loves wildlife and taking things slow.
To secure the best deal possible for your boating holiday have a look here for our handy hints on how to bag the best deal by clicking here