We first heard about Nerac a few years ago from a friend in the Turkey Head Sailing club in Victoria. Ron had taken a canal boat down the Garonne to the Baïse river and discovered this gem. In the tradition of all good sailors, he shared his experience and information with others doing a similar journey. Ron was particularly impressed with the harbour master Maurice, who welcomed boaters to this historic town.
Weir at a lock on the Baïse
Geographically Nerac is located in the Acquitaine region of France – the south West corner. The river Baïse connects it to the Garonne Canal at Buzet Sur Baïse. A couple locks took us down to the river, which has been canalized through a series of locks as we went upstream. The river was quite low after a very dry June and July (with soaring temperatures if you remember) but there is enough water to reach Nerac. Other rivers like the Lot were closed because there was insufficient water. Lilian (my mother) and Joan (her friend) were on board so we made our way to the first port of call – Vianne, a delightful walled village/town. We had a great lunch and explored the ramparts just up from the tiny port. There was a weir just across from the port and huge willow trees with branches trailing in the water – an exquisite scene.
Joan at Vianne
Lilian at lunch
After Vianne we moved down the gladed river with it’s self-serve locks, passed Lavardac and the mill at Lagrange-Monreos. We were in very rural France. The lands above there river were under cultivation and very productive (as is the case in most of France). We entered Nerac through a lock and sharp right turn, turning to the left would have taken us over another weir. It was a picturesque entrance under the old bridge (twelfth century) to the river port where we moored. We stopped first outside a restaurant and decided it would be too noisy so moored a little further down beside what we thought was an old warehouse.
Reparking in Nerac
Turns out we were mistaken; the ‘warehouse’ was an exposition space – i.e. it was a community centre that hosted concerts, plus bar and sometimes food. Maurice (the harbour master) was also the curator of the building and hosted the events. The night we arrived we had a Dixieland Jazz band that played until 11:30. I must say it was great to have a ringside seat, and we all sat on the boat tapped out feet and drank our own wine.
Entertainment in Nerac
There were a few events hosted by the ‘Exposition centre’ most of them included beer wine and food. In addition there was a town festival with local bands and singers. Nerac was one of those historic places that provoked a look at history and the stories of Henry IV of France. Henry was born 1553 and was assassinated in 1610. He became king of Narvarre in 1572 and had a reputation as a good kind king, and was crowned King of France in 1589. He married in 1552 and had his marriage annulled (as was common practice at that time as an alternative to divorce in 1599). He married again in 1600 to Marie de Medici – part of the wealthy and powerful Medici family. He was known as a reformer, a savy politician and a womanizer.
Henry IV-‘ le vert galant’ started with mistresses when he was a young man. Before becoming king he lived in a palace in Nerac where he made the gardeners daughter – Fleurette pregnant. The poor 16 year old girl was desolate and drown herself in the river Baïse for love. A statute to the beautiful Fleurette has been erected beside the river and her story lingers on in local history and language. The French verb ‘ flirter ‘ means to flirt in English and is derived from the story of Fleurette.
Prince Henry had an impact on Nerac, which is a delightful 14th century town with palaces and statutes to the man who became Henry IV of France. We spent a few days there waiting for our next guests. While we were waiting we met a couple building a bar at the exposition space next to the river. They saw our Canadian flag and stopped by for a chat. Their daughter was living in Canada – British Columbia in fact. We enquired further and found out their daughter Sara lived in Port Renfrew!
Port Renfrew on the beach with friends
Port Renfrew, for those who are not familiar with BC geography, is a mostly indigenous village on the far Pacific coast of Vancouver Island, about 2 hours on a winding highway out of Victoria. This was one of those – it is a small world surprises Nerac to Port Renfrew. Martin and I went away with friends for the weekend in April 2018 to Port Renfrew and contacted Sara, who turned out to be a delightful surfer girl who loved the wildness of the Pacific coast and was making her life there.
Last year (2017) we did a boat swap with a couple of women sailors who own a deluxe very white 44ft Defever cruiser. It has two engines, and three floors and was moored in Sidney BC. Monique and Wynne had read the blog and we were introduced through a mutual friend. They were very excited at the idea of cruising the canals of France and the mythical Midi.
Monique is a Quebecquer so French was her first language. She was a skilled seawoman who had worked as an RCMP officer on the BC coast. However she had never been to Europe before. Her wife Wynne was a retired lawyer who had taken to the sea, and she had visited Europe before. Monique was quite surprised on her first morning – she said she didn’t know where she was. I reminded her she was in Nerac – she said no, it was not the place that was a mystery, it was the century!
Their first night on board was an evening full of BBQ duck and red wine (we are always in wine country in France but this was Bordeaulaise) and the next day we took Monique and Wynne up the river and back down again to show them how to use the locks. It was a good exercise as the locks on the river were narrow and sometimes they were located on a sharp corner. They were a quick study and soon got the hang of the locks and the boat so we felt quite comfortable leaving them on the boat and we had a few weeks on their boat to look forward to.
Our last evening in Nerac we went out for dinner at the restaurant ‘Le vert Galant’ (think Henry IV) on the riverbank that we avoided when we first arrived. It turned out to be a very interesting menu. The Maitre’d and owner was wheelchair bound, spoke excellent English, took us to the table and explained the house specialty – tartine (which is like a French pizza) with ice cream. It was very special ice cream – Camembert ice cream, basil/tomato gelato, mustard ice cream, mushroom ice cream. She explained that they had the idea of savory ice cream and had gone to Italy to ask Italian ice cream makers to create such confections to go with tartine. Now they were importing 5000 liters of ice cream per year for this very popular restaurant.
The next day was the day we were leaving Martin and I , so we were having our usual cup of tea in bed when there was a crunch on the boat – we jumped up and ran outside. We were aground – sitting on some rocks on the side of the river. We looked across the river to see 6 other boats also aground. I gave our guests a rude awaking and alert with the words ‘this is your wake up call – we are aground’. Monique and Wynne also jumped up and Martin directed us to sit on the bow railing while he gunned the boat to get us off the rocks. We were successful – although I was concerned over the boat, Wynne and Monique were more concerned that Martin was leaving in case something like that happened again.
It turned out that the farmers upstream had drained the river by taking the water for irrigation and failed to notify the international river authority (Spain/France) at the source of the river in the high Pyrenees. Maurice (the harbour master) was down on the dock and gave us the news, he also told our new crew that it would take two days before the river would be full again. We had to leave Nerac so we jumped into Scarlet on our way to the Toulouse to pick up a rental car and drop Scarlet at Castelnaudary (our winter moorage) then onto Lyon where we dropped the rental car and caught our flight back to Canada on August 2nd 2017.
In the meantime Maurice organized a pot-luck dinner for the stranded boaters. Monique and Wynne couldn’t believe their luck – two days in France and they had already been invited to a party.
SKOOKUM EXPERIENCE (July-Sept 2017)
We so enjoyed our 6 week trip on Skookum. Having the familiarization with Martin & Barbara prior to leaving the dock helped us settle in and become comfortable with her systems. We went through 100+ locks from Nerac to Narbonne and Skookum provided us with all we needed to make the trip. Her single diesel was economical and performed flawlessly. The bow thruster helped manoeuver through the locks and tight marina spaces. We spent the majority of our time including most meals seated on the aft deck under the protection of a canopy. Rain or shine we were comfortable inside and out. Wonderful experience and one we will never forget. Thank you again.
Monique & Wynn
Our trip back to Canada was uneventful but we were on our way to big events. First was the Total Solar Eclipse – the epicenter for which was in central Oregon on August 21st. Martin went down with son Michael and grandson Oliver. A Golder boys trip with a spectacular event as the reward for waiting in lots of traffic (many eclipse chasers on the same track). I saw it in Victoria where it was less spectacular (there was no diamond ring) but we still had those eerie moments when everything goes silent and cold.
Boys tour and the eclipse
We planned our early return to Canada to attend our granddaughter’s wedding. Ayja married David Alvarez on August 26 at a beautiful garden wedding. After which there was a dance in the evening at a local restaurant downtown. Lots of wine and cocktails flowing as they are both in liquor business. Martin and I hosted a family brunch the next day – the family was now greatly expanded as we catered for 34 people. We had a NAFTA wedding as David’s father from Mexico, and Ajya’s mother, Melanie is married to a Texan so we had North American wedding party, hosted in Canada. Now the couple are now living happily ever after in Victoria.
Ayja and David
In September 2017 we set off on our boat trip in the deluxe Christina Rose (our reward for the boat swap) up to Courtney, Lund and Pender Harbour picking up friends and visiting on our way around the Salish Sea. It was a wonderful trip back to the wilderness and reminded us of the beauty and awesome nature that is British Columbia.
Christina Rose in the water
We had some UK visitors in late September and took them for a ride on this lovely yacht – just around the corner to Finlayson inlet – they, too, were impressed with Beautiful BC from the water.
Wynne and Monique returned in September and other friends took Skookum for 6 weeks in late September and October. Therein lies another tale, this time it is a story of our car Scarlet.