All is fine until we arrive within a stone's throw of Aigues-Mortes. This area of France has experienced the heaviest rain it has had in 70 years. Just outside Aigue-Mortes are giant sluice gates to control flooding in this low-lying farming area.
Those giant gates are closed with absolutely no prediction of when they might open. The issue is not so much the water level, it is the stability of the canal and riverbanks, which have been saturated and are now soft and vulnerable to severe erosion from boat wake. There are already several boats stopped here along the canal bank. We stop too.
Toward evening, a British boat arrives and asks to raft up since their bilge keel is too deep to allow tying up against the shore. Bill and Margo Gibson are perfect neighbors for a couple of days. Days are spent taking rides on the bike into town about three miles off and generally idling. The town is fascinating and it will be fun to spend some time there.
Monday, we are flat out of water, sucking air through the fresh water system. We still dont know how long it will be before the gates open; there doesnt seem to be any water available in the immediate area so that we could survive on out of jugs. We decide to turn around in search of the nearest water fill-up point.
Bill and Margo are cast off to raft up with a New Zealand trawler, and we are off. It is only about an hour and a half backtrack. We get filled up and turn around to return to Aigues-Mortes.
But its getting a bit late so we opt for a change of scenery and stop short along the canal against a completely uninhabited shore.
Uninhabited except for the Camargue ponies who live here. Born all black, they turn all white as they mature. Very pretty with broad faces, bright eyes, and stocky bodies. Very charming.
These are NOT wild ponies. The snap of a carrot has them stampeding over for a snack.
Tuesday, mid morning we are back at the sluice gates. The news is out that the gates will open at 1200.
Big excitement all around; lots of bikes being chucked back aboard, stakes being pulled up, engines firing up.
The gates open and we all storm through. Electricity, here we come.
Not so fast. The marina is jammed. The upset to navigation on the other side of the gates has navigation all upset on this side of the gates too. Boats that were to have left, have not, enough time has gone by so that winter berth holders are starting to arrive, and there is general mayhem in the harbor.
Rien place pour vous Quelle domage, mais please leave and take your reservation with you.
So, now we have nowhere to go but we must stay here because we are expecting some more essential stuff (a new bow thruster motor) in the mail addressed to this marina.
We drive around the corner and once again tie up along the canal as close in to town as we can get. Our rafting up British neighbors, Bill and Margo, point the way to a spot along a wall with giant NO PARKING signs.The answer to the obvious question is that the space is reserved for a hotel barge and when its not there (and it's not expected to arrive any time soon) there is no reason at all not to use the space.
He offered he little 1978 light green Peugeot, which, he said, " Ça marche, mais pas si vit..." ("She runs, but not very fast...") It had 50K+ on the odometer and sounded horrible. It did run but none too fast and gobbled fuel.
But it was very sporting of him to let us use a car at all and we were grateful for anything since there is no car rental in Aigues-Mortes at all. Avignon was great and will be fun to visit by boat. Other stops were not useful but it was amusing to see Bill and Margo Gibson tied up in St. Gilles on their way south.
Aigues-Mortes is a very interesting walled city with the wall still intact. The surrounding Carmargue country side is quite desolate and very beautiful.
Several days are dawdled away. The weather is a spotty mix of warm and cool, sun and sprinkles.The town has an open market four days a week that's lots of fun to wander through. And the countryside, with asparagus fields and horses, is a short walk away.
The next Monday the last of the awaited bits is delivered and we elect to get going rather than wait out the rest of the day.
Off we go into a rather brisk north wind but we're doing OK. Immediately after our first lock, we abruptly meet the Petit Rhone, an actual river rather than a canal. The Petit Rhone is, to us, a grownup stretch of water. The canals seem utterly benign compared to this. The shore is jagged rock with lots of heavy debris from trees caught up in anything that can snag passing flotsam.
There is no picturesque tow path. There are lots of bird life and utterly wild, dense riverbank growth. It is beautiful and a bit intimidating. However, we didn't know about intimidating until we reached the really grownup Rhone River.
The north wind is now very strong (up to 35 mph) and had enough of a reach where we entered the river to kick up a stiff chop. We find later that this is the "mistral". Water is being flung onto the windshield just as though we were back at sea in unpleasant conditions. We turn around and head south to Arles, just a few kilometers away and hope to find room at the city pontoon.
We don't. But we do find Bill and Margo Gibson, who stopped in Arles on their way south because of the heavy weather.