Saturday, October 22, 2016

Seven years of sunsets.
Tuesday 18th October

Having finally left Lagarde by about ten minutes past lunchtime, by the time the sun was going down we found ourselves back at the “scene of the crime”.  On board “Tiara” with Ron and Robin themselves in an advanced state of packed for winter, the second glass of fizzy water slowly dissipating the whirlwind of the past few days and the last few hours of motorway, reflections on a season gone began to emerge.  

By strange coincidence it was precisely seven years and two days ago, while sitting on Graham and Iris’s boat at this very spot, against the quay at St-Jean-de-Losne, while watching the sun going down over this very same bridge, we responded to an advertisement for a boat.  We were aware that this could very well bring with it a world of angst and financial pain.  It was a boat after all, there was no escaping it.

Fortuitously the broker was a bloke called Jacques, the sort of fellow who calls a spade a bêche, and who was not (and still isn’t) going to let these people from the other side of the world fall into the hands of someone less than scrupulous.  How could we have anticipated the very special experiences that single purchase (and its myriad repairs), would bring, the enormity of the network of people and the depths of friendship that would result?

How do we explain that to those who ask why we keep coming back?  Well we like the sunsets.

Friday, October 21, 2016

One or two bright spots.
Monday 17th October

Packing up day is not one we look forward to.  The air is inevitably thick with grumpy thoughts that people living in small spaces get when tripping over one another, racing against time and each other while somewhat reluctantly packing away the happiness of summer.   The grumpiness is not improved when one of them has procrastinated for a week, waiting for the rain to begin before attempting to cover the boat.

It reaches a sort of crescendo late in the day, when with fewer than twenty-four hours before accomodation is required elsewhere, the booking website suddenly requires something called “verification” and at the same time refuses to believe that the telephone number that has been in constant use for four years actually exists.  Eventually after calling it a very rude word, the computer (which was not actually at fault) seemed to get the message that the next step was to hurl it out into the briny depths, which is to say a very long way, since we are at least five hundred kilometres from the sea, and things started to settle.

Things settled more on the drive back from Lunéville in the hire car.  How could they not, through what in the space of a single week had turned to autumn?   By the time our last, long farewell meal with Jacques and Maggie was complete, even the ignominy of having the hire car folk cheerily upgrade us  to a Hyundai, had faded to a mellow memory.

Monday, October 17, 2016

One week on.
Sunday 16th October

A week ago, it was far too chilly and unpleasant to have coffee under Maggie’s wisteria.   Today, we could have been forgiven for thinking we’d already been away for winter and had returned in early summer.   What a glorious time we had, sitting all afternoon in the sun, doing what we do best so far from the problems of the world that we didn’t even need to try to solve them, the company injecting an extra shot of light into an already impossibly bright blue sky.

We weren’t all that far from the problem of the boat though.  Yes we could have wasted this strangely perfect day, cleaning and covering, and been entirely packed before tomorrow’s rain arrives, but where’s the lunch in that?  We did to be fair on ourselves get a bit one after breakfast, and a little more just before darkness descended, and the boat is almost packed, which is to say that it is completely chaotic and upside-down within and in that sort of state where we keep having to remind ourselves that it always works out in the end.

I wonder if the happiness of today will be enough to carry us through the grumpiness that will no doubt descend while tying off the boat covers in the rain tomorrow?   Yes, I’m sure it will. 

A lucky escape.
Saturday 15th October

Today would have been a great day to at least start covering the boat and had the forecast been up to its usual standard it might have been quite a pleasant activity to boot, but when the first of our eyes began to open it was as clear as the sky was unclear, that not much would happen outdoors for the morning at least.   The fog left visibility at almost zero, the breeze that should have blown it away was biting, and it was quite clear as the fog began to thin it was turning into an icy rain.

Tomorrow’s forecast is for perfect weather, and we’ve still got a couple of days up our sleeves we thought, so using the best of logic, a retreat to that warm little cubby hole in the back of the boat, and starting on a new book seemed entirely sensible.

At about lunch time, the weather began to clear exactly as the forecast said it would and the washing equipment was in the process of being dragged out when Jacques turned up, and offered that there were three boats that had to be delivered to Xures and only two pilots, asking if perhaps one of us could think of a solution to his dilemma.   And that is how it came to be that while the other began her relentless effort within, washing packing and sorting, the other, in company with Bill and Jacques, the three of them filled with the joy of the prospect of simply being on the water for a time, cruised happily off into the Autumn for the afternoon.

A patch of blue in a white ocean.
Friday 14th October

Currently the team at NavigFrance are about thirty boats ahead of us in the getting ready for winter stakes. They’d probably be further ahead too if another ten of them weren’t out on hire.    

We thought perhaps by hiding among the hire boats someone would mistake us for one of their’s and we’d get accidentally cleaned and detailed before they realised their mistake.   Since it’s Friday afternoon and they’ve gone home for the weekend and we’re still waiting almost pitifully in the queue, we’ll probably have to face up to the notion that we were possibly being a bit optimistic.

We have days to go yet before we need to panic, and look at the weather!  There’s a book to read and a bed to read it on and a heater to keep us happy, so there’s no need to press any buttons marked “urgent” just yet.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Thursday 13th October

No it’s not winter, technically it’s autumn, just as technically what we call “the deux chevaux” is actually a Dyane, but the temperature is struggling to stay above zero each morning which makes it near enough to winter for us, and we don’t care if it’s not a 2CV, if Joan and Peter want a lift to the station in it, well why would we not oblige? 

For a brief time this morning we were alone, just us, living in the port surrounded by forty empty hire boats in the act of taking a well earned rest after a long season, and a few private boats waiting for their wintering.   It was not to be that way for long though. 

We arrived back from our sojourn to Lunéville just as Jørn turned up for his planned week of work on Miss Ellie.  We really should think about starting to pack things away too.  

We really should.

Mr Perkins’ date with destiny.
Wednesday 12th October

One of the easiest ways to get out of the boring packing up of things, the folding of curtains and the washing of interior surfaces, is to keep one’s hands perpetually covered in grease and other muck.  One of the best ways to do that is to fiddle in the bowels of the engine bay.

It’s hard to believe that our Mr P, ungrateful sod that he is, has over the course of the last three years managed to burp and splutter and sneeze his pristine new paint into a bigger mess than ever it was.  Despite our best endeavours to keep him under control he has done exactly that.   After today though, while parts of him may be black, if he treats those shiny new bits with the respect which surely is due to both them and us after all this perseverance, we may finally have solved at least one of his little problems.

Surely he’s run out of places to leak from now.   At first test it looks rather promising, but I’m afraid we’ll have to wait another six months until the next exciting instalment to discover whether we have been truly victorious or whether we will have something to write about long into the future! 

The bit where the work begins.
Tuesday 11th October

We’ve got a week we think to do it all, and we’d agreed that there was no point in stressing ourselves by actually starting yet.  Let’s just relax for a while and let the packing just sort of happen around us.  

Then the sun came out and the wind began to blow at a sort of clothes flappy, dry them quickly velocity.


That’s how many loads of washing we can get done on a tankful of water.  Thanks for your interest.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

For they among us who have slept in raincoats.
Monday 10th October

For some years, well seven to be exact almost to the day, we’ve kept our fingers crossed whenever we’ve had guests aboard, that precipitation would not occur whilst ever they were sleeping.   

When we first bought the boat, it leaked so much that the best way of staying dry if it was raining was to put a raincoat on, take an umbrella, and go outside.   That was OK except if you happened to draw the short straw and score the forward cabin, in which case nothing less than a wetsuit and snorkel would do.    After putting significant effort into alleviating the problems, for there were many, all leaks had been eliminated, except perhaps subconsciously by way of providing a little zen imperfection, the ones over the forward berths.

We’ve tried, oh how we’ve tried.  We’ve met mixed degrees of success along the way too, which is at the end of the day just a way of saying that we’ve failed. We’ve even tried some stuff called “Captain Tolley’s Creeping Crack Cure”, which sounds for all the world like a medicine one would give to a plumber, and for all the good it did us it may as well have been.  We are nothing though if not indefagitable so with naught but hope, a few hours of no rain promised, and Bill, we thought it might be time for one perhaps final assault.    For those who have been dampened in times gone by we apologise, but please take note that from time to time, we really do try.

This is why people here have heaters.
Sunday 9th October

It snowed in the hills last night.   Thankfully we are a very long way from the hills, but never the less it took an hour before our little electric heater, in a valiant effort combined with the ancient diesel powered one on the boat, managed to nudge the thermometer into double figures.   Even when it reached fifteen we didn’t feel all that warm, gaining the distinct impression that the thermometer was fudging things out of sympathy for the heaters.

Perhaps therefore, we were even more grateful than we normally are to be in a position to accept Maggie’s kind invitation for lunch.  Even if the food and company had not been it’s sensational usual self (which it most certainly was), we would have been happy just to have sat on their heated floors all afternoon.

At one point someone made a suggestion that we could take our coffee on the terrace under the wisteria, an idea which seemed to be a good thought at the time, but a thought which thankfully was abandoned in short order in favour of just a bit more sitting on the floor.

There’s this little place we know…
Saturday 8th October

Last year, or perhaps it was year before, we were wandering around Lunéville with Joan and Peter at about this time of year, when at exactly lunch o’clock we happened upon a little brasserie that was obviously warm inside and without a moment’s hesitation threw ourselves at its mercy.

That turned out to be an afternoon of fond memories for us all, so when it became clear that the 2CV would be available today, we borrowed it and under the guise of having a few errands to run, dressed against the elements and set out jammed like four well rugged sardines in a little blue can.  

We could have been cleaning of course, and sorting out stuff and repairing or making stuff, but we have so much time before we leave that it’s too early even to procrastinate.  Joan and Peter have just a few days left though, and were more than happy for our assistance with their own procrastination effort long into afternoon.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Happy to be home
Friday 7th October

It’s easy to be happy all tucked up snug in one’s home port, surrounded by old mates in the last throes of wintering their boats, heater aboard just managing to keep the thermometer headed in the right direction.   Just.

It’s even easier when they are outside in it, scrubbing the last of summer off their boats, while we remain within, not yet overcome by the urgent need to pack things away.  That will happen soon enough.

We even thought about hiring the little car to find somewhere warm for lunch with Joan and Peter, but by the time we’d finished that thought, someone else no doubt thinking similarly had taken the car, so we stayed indoors tucked up with a book, for once not particularly wishing we’d stayed out there for even one more night.

A day of bleak
Thursday 6th October

Our usual way is to move for a few hours, rest for a few more, then rest for a few more still.  Today however there was to be no rest.

We were cold, and although while waiting for the lock to refill at Rechicourt the morning drizzle had gone away and we’d finally managed to get the boat interior temperature well into double figures, the view ahead promised nothing but more of the same discomfort.   There was no prospect of finding antything like the little patch of sun we had found last night to raise our hopes for the afternoon.

If we kept going, we could be home in Lagarde with electricity and heat before the middle of the afternoon.

Then we could have the rest of the day off, and possibly tomorrow as well if we played our cards right, and that’s exactly what we did.

Thar she blows!
Wednesday 5th October
Lutzelbourg to Hesse

We would have been wise not to have gone out today, but the forecast said it was going to be blowing just as hard for the next few days or even a week, which logically meant that we’d be wise not to go out for a week.   The only problem with doing that would be that the big lock at Rechicourt, our nemesis in days of old, is closing for a month in just a few days’ time and if that happened we would never get home.

We waited for a lull in the procession of hire boats, knowing that a lull in the wind wasn’t likely, and drawing on the considerable depths of our experience, and only looking back once to farewell the ruins of the chateau one more time, managed to negotiate the four locks to the lift at Arzviller without incident.  Even if there had been incident, there were no witnesses or damage which acquaints to the same thing.    At Arzviller, there are witnesses, many of them, who pay several Euros for the privilege of being so and sadly none of them would have had the experience to understand that what appeared to be an embarrassing mishap on our part was actually an amazing feat of seamanship in winds sufficiently strong to move the boat sideways at near cruising speed.

Not to labour the point, we survived unscathed and once more drawing on the depth of our experience, stayed in what was the only patch of sun, thawing our toes while we could.  Given the forecast we knew there would be no thawing happening through the night!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Winter she calls it!
Monday 4th October

She among us who professes her love of cold weather long and loud to all will listen, remained tucked up snug on our first single-digit morning for the year while the other donned ugg boots and waded out into the dark and fog and cold to slip a coin into the electricity box.

Heat didn’t instantly magically fill even the small volume of the boat, but we were in double figures soon enough and by lunch time at least we had ventured out to the bakery and had taken off our scarves and top layer.

We thought long and hard about going for a longer walk, deciding in the end that we would need a bit more time to acclimatise.  Instead we took a quick photo out of the window of the boat, intent on remaining snugly indoors at least until the end that first coin’s worth of electricity.  This would have been a great plan had it not been some sort of magic coin we used, and as three hours turned into four and then eight, we began to wonder if there would ever be a need to leave the boat again.     

Eventually in the mid afternoon we gave up waiting and did head off for a time, eyes watering in the evil breeze.   It was quite pleasant out (we said through gritted teeth), but given that we don’t really have to make the most of the outdoors before winter sets in, being back inside was even more so.