But we did make it. Ecluse number 56 de Fonseranes (K206.5), has six locks, one after the other. Fortunately, we were first in line, but two other boats where squished in with us, testing everyone’s skills and patience.
At the first lock, the lock-keeper swaggered over and managed to stop chatting on his mobile for a second. I naturally assumed he had come to take my line (as per every other lock-keeper). He took the line, slipped it over a bollard and then rapidly shot fast-French at me, ignoring my pleas to slow down. His disgust at handling our lines was evident.
He chatted on his phone more, watched the other boats come in and then said, in near perfect English, ‘you do your own lines.’
‘Of course,’ I said, ‘No problem.’
To which he replied with the most magnificent Gaelic shrug, that I would assume is usually reserved for vermin.
The hire boat was ordered to leave the first lock, first. While the crew gathered the lines the lock-keeper tutted, rolled his eyes and stood with hands on hips. Who knows what was going on in his tiny mind – but the phone rang and it was all smiles and back to chatting with buddies.
As we puttered in I wondered how I was going to get the lines on the bollards with the boat-hook, the lock walls were too high.
‘About a third-of-the-way-in are steps,’ I said to Noel, ‘You’ll have to get me near them.’ Noel nodded in his usual relaxed manor.
I’d climbed up many locks before in our sailboat. I know it is ‘not the done thing’, but we had no choice back then or here. Back then I was on a low boat, with no lock-keeper I had to get the lines on a bollard, so up I went. Here, with muscles some thirteen years older, I had to think carefully about what I was doing.
You could walk the boat through (and others did, keeping hold of the lines) but they had plenty of crew, shorter boats, lighter lines. But, they still couldn’t ‘walk the boat through’ when we all got to the bridge. Besides Noel was doing inch-by-inch manoeuvring (handled brilliantly), and I wanted to help him too.
What followed was a scary launch of my body out to the slippery, slime-ridden steps, a steady climb with a fore and aft line on each shoulder and crowd-pleasing success. Noel manoeuvred the boat’s bow and stern right up close to the wall, however the curved lock-wall still meant I had large leap. I received ‘whoops’, claps and admiration. Meanwhile, the lock-keeper straightened his sunnies and chatted on the phone.
What resulted was me feeling alive, working the ropes, being independent, and being strong. I was thinking on my feet. On this trip, we’ve been hauling anchors, furling heavy ropes several times a day, climbing on deck, jumping ashore and shopping via bicycles. My muscles are becoming defined, my jeans are looser, I feel alive and yes, I am loving the whole thing!
The other amusing result I’ve noticed is that our precious paint is no longer precious. After six locks in what can only be described as ‘water-fall’ conditions, just inches (sometimes much less) between boats and walls, and all of a sudden you don’t give a flying fig about your paintwork – just surviving unscathed!
In my opinion, as lock-keepers, there’s too much responsibility for surly youths, which results in an attitude. That said, apparently since their hazard pay has been taken away, the lock-keepers on the Midi will not take your lines. I am not sure what the hazard is of taking lines. Actually it created a hazard as we took a moment or two than usual to secure the boat, and the lock-keeper let the water in before we were ready! Not fun!
I noticed, also, that not one of the boats’ crew looked at, waved, said Merci or even acknowledged the lock-keepers.