by Lorena Landon

The Canal du Midi is one of most famous canals in the world. Construction began in 1663 to link the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean via the river Garonne from Toulouse, which empties into the Atlantic. The Canal du Midi descends from a summit east of Toulouse to the coastal plain of the Mediterranean through the hills of the Languedoc region between the Pyrenees and the Black Mountains. Since we were traveling northwest, we were ascending the many locks along this waterway.

So Many Locks

There are 91 locks along the Canal du Midi, covering 240 km (over 149 miles). Rather than straight walls, like the locks in Seattle, the Midi locks are oval in shape, providing strength for the stone block construction. There are several locations where the locks are grouped, creating a ladder of locks in sets of 2, 3, 4, and even 6 connected chambers. Lock keepers attend most of the locks, which are now automated to open and shut the chamber doors (the locks are generally closed from noon to 1 pm for the lock-keeper’s lunch). When ascending the locks, two crew members disembark along the shore prior to the boat entering the locks, and walk up to the locks to receive lines from the boat.

Crew Members

Two crew members on the boat toss up the bow and stern lines to the awaiting crew members at the locks, who wrap the line(s) around a bollard. As the water rises to fill the locks, the lines are drawn in to take  up the slack, holding the boat fast against the lock walls to prevent bumping into other boats and the walls. Once the boat has risen and is level with the top of the lock, the two crew members handling the lines step aboard the boat to continue their journey to the next locks.

If your boat is short on crew members, one person at the top of the locks can toss the bow and stern lines back down to crew members on the boat, who can wrap the lines around the boat cleats and take up slack from the boat position rather than from above.

When descending the locks, the lines should be long enough to let out enough line as the water and boat go down, making sure that the line can run freely around the bollard. Descending is considered to be easier, since the boat enters the lock at the quay level allowing crew to simply reach out and loop the line around a bollard.