Thursday, June 26, 2014

Conclusion: Moving her to St Jean de Losne for sale

We made it to Pont de Vaux after negotiating a month off from my treatment in order to have one last cruise in our beloved centenarian barge up to the brokerage H2O at St Jean de Losne where the prospects of selling her are considered better than at our base in Pont de Vaux.

Weeks ahead of our flying over I made lists of things that needed to be done in order to recommission her. I had reviewed and refined the order of these lists in anticipation of our visit and by the time we landed on 15 May in Geneva I could not wait to get back on board and start working. I had anticipated that if all went well we might need three or four days to get her ready for cruising. How much I underestimated this was only to become frustratingly clear as time passed.

Our very kind British and French neighbours, Howie and Liz (starboard side) and Ludo and Cecile (portside), had washed Linquenda before we arrived back so she was really looking remarkably clean for the 18 months we had not been able to visit. Also upon boarding we found no leaks and none of the musty smell that often accompanies a boat that has been closed up for an extended time. I was relieved to find the bilges (first thing to check on my list) bone dry. The fresh water system was next to be checked and the tanks refilled. No leaks appeared and the pressure pump immediately took up its function of supplying fresh water to the galley and bathroom.

The 220V electrical system had been running on shore power to supply heating in the winter so no problem there. 

The diesel boiler for domestic hot water and central heating provided some early frustration as in my haste and based on my expectation that the heating diesel had run out the previous winter, I proceeded to overfill the tank, spilling about 10 litres of smelly diesel into the fore peak bilge before realising my error. This required first a tedious pumping out of as much diesel as I could with a small hand pump, washing down the whole area with soapy water and then pumping out the latter with the same tedious hand pump process. A whole morning wasted and a stern reminder that on a barge the three rules are go slow, go slower and go slowest. I should have checked the sight glass more carefully. Happily the system fired up immediately when switched on and has not skipped a beat since.  

My first efforts at commissioning the macerator toilet proved absolutely fruitless with no reaction at all and forcing us to put the Porta-Potty in play. At wits end after a few days I decided to removed the toilet and inspect it on deck. However, before I did this I found that I had inexplicably and foolishly never switched on the power for the toilet! However, having then switched it on it still would not cooperate but as I unscrewed the last of the four fixing screws and stood up, inadvertently releasing the operating button I had been leaning on, it miraculously started to function. However, the fact that it was erratic and at times in the following days would stubbornly not operate we kept the Porta-Potty handy. After studying the installation and maintenance guides I decided to order two rather expensive parts for the toilet from the local workshop at the marina, throwing our departure date out until these arrived. Fortunately the workshop was not able to locate the parts because as time progressed and some TLC the functioning of the toilet continued to improve and after a week was normal again. I also rerouted the water supply to the toilet from an exceedingly noisy deck wash pump drawing in canal water to simply supplying it from the freshwater system. A dramatic improvement in the ability to use the toilet when others are asleep. 

At about the same time the shower sump, a little plastic box containing a bilge bump that evacuates the shower water, started to misfire and at times would not work, leaving me to remove the shower water with the wet/dry vacuum cleaner, not the most efficient way of doing things. I eventually decided after measuring the very limited space under the floorboards where this sump is located to order a new complete sump from the UK and have it delivered by overnight courier. Having ordered a new sump and receiving confirmation of its dispatch, the old sump pump of course decided to end its strike and worked beautifully, only to fail again a day after the new sump was received. Cantankerous things old boats.

On Friday, Eric from Mecalive, a small enterprise in Pont de Vaux who renovate old British cars and who had agreed to undertake the removal, disassembly and reparation of our Mercedes diesel motor came over to show us what they had done to the motor and to start her up. She started without any problem and sounded smooth as silk. I started her again later that weekend to let her run up to normal operating temperature under idle and different power and stress levels and all went well with that test as well.

I had the objective of replacing the 4mm solar panel cables that had been overheating with thicker 6mm cables obtained from our original supplier in the Netherlands some time ago. Before replacing the old cables I checked the security of where they attach to the solar panel regulator and in doing so it puffed and went up in smoke. No effort to revive the regulator worked so I had to order a new one from the Netherlands from our original supplier, after the local workshop was unable to help. 

During this period we had a tantalisingly short visit from David and Joy Willers who were returning unexpectedly from their Provencal summer home back to London as they had had a break-in and burglary. (David had been the first to suggest that we look into barging instead of sailing in the Mediterranean as we had initially planned as a retirement project). They had planned to visit us on the barge later on their original date of return, but this had now been superseded by the break-in. We had a short but animated afternoon catching up and swapping experiences. It was wonderful to see them and we were sad to see them leave. 

We also had a visit, by car, from our Irish friends Michael and Rosemary Wray who had overwintered their broad-beamed narrow boat "Mabel-Rose" at Roanne. We had a pleasant if unspectacular lunch at a local restaurant and traded news of the respective families and plans for the summer. I paid for this lunch which set in motion a series of owed meals during the course of our visit to France, but more of this later.

Having decided to order various parts and wait for them to be delivered in Pont de Vaux we realised that our hopes for quick departure were now seriously in jeopardy and the expected four days now stretched to ten. On the following Saturday, we were all set to go and the all systems up and running again after substantial new plumbing and structural adjustments required to fit the new shower sump and a whole day gone in the nigh impossible task of re-cabling the solar panels without having to remove the ceilings or cladding. Nevertheless, we were now ready to depart as soon as the weather allowed and planned for Sunday morning.

The shower also decided to rebel against Rudi and would stop providing hot water when she showered. This in tandem with the hotwater tap in the bathroom reducing to a narrow stream. After much consideration, backwashing the freshwater system  from the bathroom with a light vinegar solution solved what turned out to be lime scale deposits blocking the pipes.
On Saturday night, after drinks with our neighbours John and Margaret I decided to attend the "fete de voisin (neighbours)“, a party given by the marina management for the inhabitants of the port on Saturday night and found myself the only non-French person among a large number of attendees, most of whom I had only rarely, if at all, seen before. It was a jolly affair and fun to see how the French approach a "braai". Our good neighbours Ludo and Cecile were kind enough to look after me and introduce me to various of the "voisin" and the evening was a pleasant success. 

Rudi and John Wilson, drinks aboard "Carrick"

Cecile and Ludo

Cecile, Ludo, Attie and Margaret Wilson
I arrived back to our boat from the party after dark to an unusually strong smell of diesel on our pontoon, only to discover the next morning the presence of many Gendarmerie , pompiers and sapeurs (police and emergency services) and that a neighbouring boat had sank at its moorings and was spilling diesel into our part of the marina,. An environmental barrier was put up around the boat to soak up as much of the spillage and, what I only discovered after the weather improved sufficiently for us to consider our departure on Sunday, the entrance to our part of the marina had been blocked off with another environmental barrier and no-one could leave until the insurance company decided what to do about the sinking boat and the mess it had caused. While this was very frustrating we made good use of the time to do some sanding of wood and clearing the boat of a number of items that had served us well, but might not suit the new owners. Ludo and Cecile suggested that we join them and another French couple for lunch at a restaurant on the rather gloomy Monday and a very pleasant social afternoon ensued.

blotting paper to suck up the diesel

Eco-barrier to stop further diesel spreading

We sat awaiting news of a lifting of the barrier so that we could depart for four days, no-one willing or able to make a decision. The best we could deduce was that "the insurance" had to decide on what to do next regarding the salvage of the sunken boat and the cost of fixing any environmental damage caused. While the "Capitaine" of the port had sympathy with our situation he could not really do anything without "the authorities" taking a decision. I was really getting concerned that if this continued we might not have enough time to even cruise up to St Jean de Losne. However, on Wednesday afternoon, while I was sanding down the wooden doors and hatch, John Wilson, who also was ready to depart on their summer cruise came across and said that the barrier was being lifted as he spoke, and when I went across to find out whether the lifting was permanent I found that it was a temporary concession for those boats wishing to depart. Strange that the port captain did not warn any of us beforehand about this possibility and we had to find out by the ever-present word-of-mouth rumour mill that seems to exist in all closed communities.  The next day was a public holiday and there was no indication when the barrier might be lifted again. We had to leave immediately if we wished to depart.

Our warm-hearted French neighbour Ludo said he would assist in our departure and accompany us to the lock. We quickly cleared the deck of all loose items, donned our life jackets and started up. Our departure was at a really careful and slow pace but even so I had to back up to make the last sharp turn into the canal out of the port. In the meantime Ludo had contacted his wife Cecile who was out cycling and she agreed to meet us at the lock. When we arrived at the lock she promptly put her bicycle on board and said they would accompany us to Tournus, the town we intended to moor at that evening and about 20 kilometres away. It was a great confidence builder to have two experienced skippers with us to assist with the lock, the cruise up the Saone, of which I was not sure of the flow rate and the final mooring at Tournus after our two-and-a-half-year break from cruising. They enjoyed the trip up to Tournus and each took a turn at the helm, both being very impressed with the precision and directness of the tiller versus the wheel they have on their similarly sized boat. The fact that we were so urgently pushed into departing meant that the ever-present tension before a departure was minimised and we had to focus on the task at hand.

We gave the motor a good running test on the way to Tournus and she performed smoothly and beautifully, making a speed of 7 km/hour at 2600 rpm, much better than before, as the flow of the river must have been at least 2 km/hr (a later test on a stretch of still water produced 10 km/hr at 3000rpm). Our best speed in still water before the work undertaken on the motor was just over 8 km/hr so we were really pleased with her new performance and her quiet running. A small oil leak was easily corrected before our departure the next morning and we silently blessed Eric and Mecalive for the good work they had done on the motor.

Once we arrived in Tournus, we found John and Margaret already there as their cruiser is considerably faster than our barge, as well as our Irish friends Michael and Rosemary Wray who had cruised down the Saone from their winter mooring with the general objective of seeing how they could help us, given the delays we were experiencing.  After a "safe arrival" drink with Ludo and Cecile they left at dusk by bicycle back to Pont de Vaux with the promise of returning my bicycle, that Ludo had commandeered, the next morning. We then proceeded to have some catch-up liquid refreshments with the Wrays followed by a late dinner at the only restaurant still open at ten-thirty.

Ludo and Cecile biking back to Pont de Vaux
Tournus by night


The Wilson's departing Tournus on "Carrick"

Charming Tournus

Ascension and Tournus

Mabel-Rose and Linquenda at Tournus

Captains conversing about next stretch

Linquenda looking the part

Our initial plans for a casual and relaxed cruise up to St Jean de Losne had been seriously affected by the two-week delay in departing from Pont de Vaux and a peaceful few days on the beautiful Seille river had to be cancelled. Also, our experience with delays in commissioning Linquenda made me think we should get to H2O well before our final departure to ensure that the decommissioning and all paperwork related to the sale could be completed. We thus set the 11th of June as our target for arriving at St Jean de Losne with a short diversion from the Saone river up the Canal du Centre where we would meet our friends Jon and Niki from Geneva with their daughter Katherine and her husband Steve who had flown over from London for the weekend.

Also, a few months before we left for France I received a charming email from someone called Wies de Jong. She indicated that she had been searching the Internet for a barge called Linquenda, previously owned by her father, and that she was sure that "our" Linquenda was the one which her father had been compelled to sell when she was born. After a few further emails and photos we agreed that this was indeed the case. She was keen to surprise her father with a visit to the barge and asked when we would be available. We agreed that we could meet on the long weekend somewhere close to Chalon-sur-Saone. Although the visit was supposed to be a surprise, her father had come across an exchange of emails she had had with her mother on the matter and he was now rearing to go. They would drive down from the Netherlands for the weekend and meet us somewhere within reach of Chalon-sur-Saone.
Michael and Rosemary indicated that they were intending to cruise up to St Jean de Losne to be there for the H2O open day on 14, 15 June and we agreed to travel together. We departed late the next morning on a short and pleasant cruise up to the old Gigny lock where I had heard that there was mooring and a good restaurant and here Michael returned the favour of paying for the meal that evening and reminding me the ball was again in my court. The next morning we took off early on the rather long stretch up to Chalon-sur-Saone with some trepidation as in our previous experience Chalon was not very accommodating for boats of our size and we would have to green-bank moor near the entry to the marina, a task not easily accomplished without help on the bank and particularly in other than complete calm conditions. 

Gigny lock

Our cruise to Chalon-sur-Saone went smoothly, but when we arrived there early Friday afternoon the weather had turned cold , blustery and wet. Although I tried valiantly to slowly approach the appointed bank a nasty following breeze that made that mooring seriously imprudent if not simply impossible. Michael and I consulted and we decided to proceed to our next planned mooring at Fragnes on the Canal du Centre, only about 10 kms further. This was undertaken with no problem and after turning off the Saone and through the first lock we found ourselves on the most peaceful and beautiful stretch of canal imaginable. We found a good mooring at Fragnes and awaited the visit of our Dutch guests, the de Jongs, at five 'o clock, whom we had informed by telephone of our destination.


Cosmopolitan France

Entrance to Canal du Centre showing relics of days gone by

First lock to Canal du Centre

tranquil Canal du Centre

The visit by the de Jongs was a happy occasion, we drank bubbly to celebrate Linquenda's centenary and Henk went down memory lane, recognising various things he had made when he was still a young medical doctor living aboard. He had for example, created a mast for Linquenda from a tree that he had bought and made up, by hand,  the enormous wooden leeboards in a friend's basement in Amsterdam. He and his son went on a complete an intensely focused tour, including the engine room, where he pointed out the changes he had made and recognised aspects of the boat he had forgotten. They are a charming, warm and close-knit family of five with dad Henk, mom Yole  and son Bos and two daughters Wies and Julie and we thoroughly enjoyed their visit. We also found Henk’s album of old photos and stories of how they had lived and worked on board fascinating. I was able to scan a number of interesting pictures from his album and gave him a CD I had prepared of numerous photos of our restoration project.

Attie, Julie, Wies, Bos, Yole and Henk de Jong

Linquenda's previous life!
The weekend we spent cruising up the Canal du Centre with our Geneva friends on board after they arrived on Saturday afternoon. We had intended to cruise up to Chagny for the night, but due to our late start and leisurely pace we arrived at the last of 13 locks 2 minutes past closing time and were fortunately compelled to reverse out of the lock and green-bank in the most tranquil of locations imaginable with farmland around us and no-one in sight. We made fast to stakes borrowed from Michael and hammered by Steve into the bank and made a braai on the towpath under a magnificent sunset. 

Pretty lock-keepers house

one of 13 locks negotiated to Chagny

Katherine and Steve enjoying a light moment, of which there were plenty



Backed up from the last lock and green-banked

Braai:, canal style

Braaimaster and Coco

As we have found before while barging chance will often present one with the most wonderful of vistas and opportunities. Had we arrived two minutes earlier at the lock we would have passed through and most likely moored in Chagny marina, which we found the next morning to be a most dull and ordinary place when we motored on to find a place to "faire un demi tour" turn our long barge.

We cruised back down to Fragnes on Sunday where I had invited them all for a pot of mussels. We had a few drinks while I cooked up a storm only to find on the last tasting before serving up that there was something amiss with my dish, something not of my making but with a dodgy taste necessitating my abandoning the dish and retreating to the dockside restaurant. Fortunately they were still open and could accommodate all eight of us and we had a perfectly adequate and satisfying meal accompanied by local wine. 

Approach to Chagny

Coco Low

Able crewperson

Bikers for the handicapped

heat exhaustion 1

Heat exhaustion 2

floating bollards are a boon

VNF manages the canal system in France

Restaurant meal after the mussel pot bombed out on me

Treatment for sunburn around eyes

The Lows spent the Monday morning with us and departed to Geneva in the afternoon in order to drop off Katherine and Steve at the airport for a flight back home to London. We felt very loved by the fact that these two young people went to all the expense and trouble just to visit us and see us again! We spent a quiet evening in Fragnes and departed the next morning for our next port of call, Gergy, where there was a good mooring. We walked into town and after buying some provisions had a coffee at the local bar, enjoying the passing parade of French life. The town was not far from Chalon by car and we suspect that many of the townspeople work in Chalon and live in this small serene countryside village. 

Cafe au lait

We pressed on to Verdun sur le Doubs the next day where I had thankfully phoned ahead for one of the limited moorings for long boats such as ours. We were told that another barge had also booked a mooring and that they would have to moor up next to us. For this we were allowed a discount on the mooring fee. They had wi-fi, but where the long boats moor this was not available so I went up to the Capitainerie where I found the Capitaine and his wife both intensely into a bird identification guide and as amateur birdwatchers ourselves we started an interesting discussion in French over the birds that abound in that area. A pigeon in French is a tourtelle and I can see where the Afrikaans "tortelduif" comes from.

Marker buoy

Verdun sur le Doubs

New ropesman

trusty old bucket

Moored up neatly

Mabel-Rose also moored safely

On the rivers and canals many strange and wonderful things can be seen. Many relate to angling which is a very big and organised sport in France.

While cruising to Seurre Rudi was reflecting that although we had met one South African couple in Zaandam who owned a boat and heard of another who had moored at a place we had moored, we had not encountered any South Africans on all of our travels. With these thoughts not yet cold two rental boats came past us and seeing our flag identified themselves as South Africans on holiday. While at St Jean de Losne we also crossed paths with two groups of South Africans who were cruising on rental boats for a holiday. Also the agent dealing with the sale of our boat indicated that he had this year sold two boats to South Africans. We are pleased that more of our compatriots are sharing this wonderful lifestyle, even if only for a holiday.

The next day saw us moored up in Seurre, a place where legend indicated that the Capitaine had to be approached with deference and gratitude lest a mooring be refused. However, we met with the most charming and helpful young man who was now the Capitaine. Michael moored up next to us to leave space for other boats arriving later and we settled down to the regular "safe arrival" and follow-up beverages on their boat as Rosemary had invited us over for a lamb tagine dinner. While relaxing on their after deck a canoe slowly arrived with the canoeist concentrating on our South African flag. He had a Zimbabwe flag on his canoe and we invited him to join us for drinks and dinner. When he enquired about the closest camp site Rudi invited him to spend the night in our guest cabin, which clearly was a pleasant break from the cold washes in the river every morning that was his regular routine. He was a 50-year old hydrologist living in London and canoeing down from Calais to Carcasonne, some 1500 km away and due to meet up with his wife to attend a wedding at his destination on 12 July. I admire the fact that he collects for charity as he paddles down France. This was not his sport when he conceived of the idea and thus something quite new. He had had some very enlightening but all pleasant encounters on his way. This has been our own experience. Boat people are universally friendly and helpful.  

Chris Topping, canoeist and hydrologist

Off we went the next day to arrive even earlier than planned at St Jean de Losne, before another long weekend. We were not expected so soon by H2O in their crowded marina and were put onto a temporary mooring. Fortunately, upon arriving in a stiff breeze, we saw that our friends from Zaandam, Paul and Lisa Cruse were moored in their barge just opposite where we were to moor and Paul, seeing us arriving, came bounding across to assist us. Another successful and sadly the last manoeuvre I was to undertake under power with Linquenda. Michael and Rosemary had moored on the town side dock some way away from the H2O marina but we soon met up with them again and introduced them to Lisa and Paul. Our temporary mooring was up against three other barges of different sizes, thus making movement to and from the shore quite a challenge and nigh impossible for both Rosemary and Lisa, who had respectively had hip and knee operations in the last year, to reach our boat. Thus the socialising continued in restaurants and on the other boats. I felt I owed Michael and Rosemary a proper pot of mussels after the failure in Fragnes and we one evening prepared a successful meal on their boat with Paul and Lisa as guests. We do have the failing of sometimes taking over the kitchen of friends we visit.

Approaching St Jean de Losne

Rabbit on Island in markina

Paul assisting with fresh water on our temporary mooring

Mussel potjie on Mabel-Rose with dear friends

Lisa and Paul Cruse enjoying the evening with us

Michael and Rosemary whose kitchen we invaded

Being pulled by rope by one man to our new mooring

Smart marina ablution blok

stone art on board

newly painted control station

newly painted afterdeck

When they spent the weekend with us on the Canal du Centre Niki and Jon offered to come and fetch us by car when we had completed all our business at St Jean de Losne and on Wednesday Jon arrived to a barge that was still quite topsy-turvy and we had not yet completed the packing of all our personal goods. After a pleasant farewell dinner that evening at a restaurant with Jon, Michael, Rosemary, Paul and Lisa we finished the packing and decommissioning of Linquenda on Thursday morning and set off to Geneva following not the highway, but a picturesque route over the Jura mountains, bringing back fond memories of my son and I angling for trout in the area when I was stationed as a diplomat in Geneva. We spent a lovely relaxed two days with Jon and Niki before taking the flight from Geneva on Saturday evening back to South Africa via Paris. 

Final farewells before departure with Jon to Geneva

Sadness behind the smiles

Second boat on the left

On Tuesday I met with the H2O agent, Nicolas Huet, and after completing the paperwork and an on board visit he suggested that our barge was clearly solid and comfortable and that we should not have difficulty in finding a new owner. The market price he has suggested is also close to our expectations. He then arranged for us to be moved to a new more accessible mooring on their sales pontoon and we were pulled slowly by one man on a rope into the new position, across from where we were moored temporarily. After providing all the required documents and information that they need on Linquenda we decommissioned her and made ready to depart for a few days in Geneva at the invitation of our friends the Lows. 

Blessings come in bucketsful like the many friends we have made and also in particular our long-standing friends Jon and Niki Low, who encouraged us and supported us with gusto in the project idea and our endeavours and who have enjoyed Linquenda on board as much as we have. They were excited with us about our plans, visited us in Zaandam when we started the project, took us on a trip through Burgundy to find a winter mooring in France and have always offered us a few days of respite in their welcoming home when we passed through Geneva. Their hospitality is unequalled and their uncomplaining taxi service to and from the airport and often also Linquenda has been superb and well appreciated. Must add....great food and lots of laughs! We loved having their very clever Jack Russell Coco on board, what fun! Thanks again for your support and participation.

Well, now that we are reaching the conclusion what can we say about this project that has not already been said? I think the one overriding memory that the adventure will leave with us is the incredible lengths to which existing friends and boat people we met will go to be helpful and hospitable. All the people mentioned in our blog, bar two exceptions, were gracious, hospitable and loving to the extent that I can confidently conclude that as a class of people, boat people have these characteristics at their core. We are immensely thankful to all of our boating and other friends for the support and interest in the project!!!

We are tearfully sad to sell Linquenda and immensely sorry that we were not able to enjoy a full summer cruising the Nivernais Canal, for which Linquenda with her low air draft is ideal. However, these are the cards we have been dealt and these are the cards we will play without regrets. We are privileged in our retirement to have successfully and together done something out of the ordinary for a South African couple, to have met all the wonderful people who have enriched our lives in so many ways along the way and to have learnt so much and had so many new experiences. We are thankful to have had both the opportunity and the means to do this together! The concept of buying a boat or barge in the Netherlands and cruising the European canals is one we can recommend unconditionally. Renovating a project boat adds a huge dollop of spice to the exercise but we believe it is well achievable and satisfying if one has some practical sense. Judging from other sales and H2O expectations we are fairly confident in recouping the financial investment we made in the Linquenda project, the sweat capital was our own holiday pleasure. She really has had a major facelight and it shows. 

During our visit to France we gained a new grand-daughter, Kennedy on the 21st of May, who is the first daughter in the immediate family, also our first grandson Spencer had his second birthday and our second grandson Adie turned 11 months old just after we arrived back in S.A. We continue to be blessed.

Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris

Jay! Grandpa and Grandma are back!