Cale de Radoub - ©VNF

Cales de Radoub in Toulouse,
an iconic site on the Canal du Midi

The Cales de Radoub ('radoub' meaning 'repair' in French naval language) were built in 1830 in Toulouse and are an iconic site on the Canal du Midi, symbolising the modernisation of shipyards as these were the very first dry docks!

This site is protected by the Historic Monument classification, and is still used today for the maintenance of boats and barges.

The Cales de Radoub,
a modern shipyard

How were boats built without dry docks?

Before 1830, any shipbuilding or maintenance work on boats in Toulouse was carried out on the left banks, upstream from Saint-Sauveur bridge (now known as Montaudran bridge).

These designated areas for boat maintenance featured several enclosed spaces in open land on the banks of the canal. Manoeuvres were not easy… The hulls built there had to be launched into the water using a sloping wooden structure to protect the banks.

In the early 1830s, the Canal du Midi management decided to extend Port Saint-Etienne, and this was when Port Saint-Sauveur was created. Shipbuilding on the banks was getting in the way of the port activities.

Jean-Polycarpe Maguès' plans for modernising the site

The Cales de Radoub were the result of plans to modernise the shipyards.

The Cales de Radoub were built between 1834 and 1839 on a plot of land purchased by the Compagnie du Canal du Midi, in charge of managing the canal at the time.

It was Jean-Polycarpe Maguès, General Manager of the Canal du Midi, who had a stroke of genius, and came up with the idea to build dry docks, so that boats could be easily moved to the repair zones.

The architecture of the site

The Cales de Radoub were originally designed to accommodate two shipbuilding companies. The perfectly symmetrical work sites were set up on either side of the door to the lodgings for two company owners, workshops and wood storehouses. Only one company ended up using the the dry docks.

The Cales de Radoub are set around a vast waiting basin - also known as a station. This huge central basin measuring 160 m is connected to the Canal du Midi via a passage with a rolling bridge over it which provides access to the towpath. This is the bridge used by pedestrians and cyclists today!

Four dry docks are laid out in a symmetrical manner around a central basin. When the site was built, there were enough financial resources available to build two more dry docks, but the canal management did not believe it was necessary to enlarge the shipyard.

The only covered dry dock on the Canal du Midi

In 1843, Urbain Magues, Jean-Polycarpe's son, provided shelter for one of the dry docks here so that boats could be worked on without having to worry about the weather. It is the only covered dry dock on the Canal du Midi!

Have you noticed the wooden beams in the roof of the building? It resembles an upside-down boat hull, and very quickly went on to be recognised as the symbol of the Cales de Radoub.

In 1850, an almost 80-m-long garage was added to the site. Originally, water from the canal would flow into this building and so the barques de poste could be moored here. It was then used to store boats in the winter, and was built in a very similar way to the covered dry dock.

Inland waterway transport in times of crisis

The development of the railroad

Inland waterway navigation had its heyday. But unfortunately, in 1856, the modernisation of means of transport and the opening of the railroad between Bordeaux and Sète marked the beginning of a decline in inland waterway transport.

In 1858, faced with the increasing competition, the Compagnie du Canal du Midi suspended its barques de poste service and sold the boats. Some of the facilities were then reconverted to accommodate other uses.

From wooden boats to iron ones

In the first half of the 20th century, shipbuilders began to replace wooden constructions with iron ones. The first hulls were made using riveted steel. Then, as welding techniques progressed, the rivets disappeared and hulls became smooth. Wooden boats and iron barges were seen side-by-side on the Canal du Midi for a long time. Today, the Marie-Thérèse barge which was built at the Cales de Radoub in Toulouse in 1855 is one of the oldest remaining wooden boats. It is protected as a Historic Monument and is moored at the port in Ventenac-Minervois.

Bateau rouge dans la cale de Radoub - ©Georges Dedieu

Bateau rouge dans la cale de Radoub - ©Georges Dedieu

A new use for the Cales de Radoub facilities

The Cales de Radoub were included in the plans to reconvert the Canal du Midi infrastructure. From 1918, the Service des Canaux du Midi built many metal lock gates there, to replace the gates that could no longer be used on the network. At the same time, the channel into the boat garage was filled in so that workshops could be set up there. Marine carpenters were replaced by metal workers.

In 1958, one of the dry docks was replaced by a portacabin.

A work site that is still in use

The VNF work sites

The Cales de Radoub are still in use today, and managed by Voies Navigables de France.

Many boats are still repaired at this site stoday. The Cales de Radoub also house the specialist maintenance services for engineering structures along the canal route, managed by Voies Navigables de France Sud-Ouest (south west branch).

The public establishment in charge of managing the Canal du Midi and its branches carries out all the maintenance and service (matelwork, mechanical workshop, buoyant apparatus, etc.) here, to ensure that the waterway remains in good working order.

Necessary maintenance of boats

The Canal du Midi may no longer be used for trade, but it is now one of the top destinations for river tourism in France. Therefore, boat owners are free to use the Cales de Radoub to carry out any maintenance work on their hulls.

The Cales de Radoub site is managed directly by Voies Navigables de France, and so it is open all year round for the maintenance or restoration of boats and barges.

An iconic site, protected by the Historic Monument classification

The activity these dry docks were initially designed for has never ceased. The Cales de Radoub are among the last of the Canal du Midi historic technical sites to still be in use today.

The distinctive architecture of these buildings means that they have been protected under the the Historic Monument classification since 1989.