Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, June 30, 2014

A well earned rest.
Euville to Commercy

Contrary to our usual form, when we arrive in a new place to find everything closed since yesterday, we managed to sneak up on Commercy at a time when its weekly market was in full swing.    We thought perhaps we should take advantage of the market, replenish our nowhere near in need of replenishing supplies, have lunch and spend the afternoon in exploration mode.  The moment we arrived we had concluded that our forty minutes on the move today had been more than enough.

After a cursory look around, we managed to return to the boat with the makings of a fine lunch: fresh baguette, a ham roast from the rotissery lady complete with a giant scoop of what she called “sauce” but unless our eyes deceived us actually comprised the extraordinarily tasty but not entirely fat-free drippings of the chicken roasting machine.  To accompany these we bought twice as many kilograms of cherries than we would have preferred, and a huge bag of Madelines, that particular small sponge cake traditionally baked with a mirabelle plum in the centre but in the absence of mirabelles in season, mirabelle conserve in the mix does just fine.   

Lunch was a feast fit for the good Duke Stansilas himself, the very person for whom some centuries ago, the pastry chefs in Commercy lay claim to having invented the Madeline, and hold it today as a symbol of the town's inventiveness. 

I’m not sure how lunches of that magnitude affected Stanislas, but we found ourselves well satisfied and considering our afternoon prospects.  After looking at the calendar and wondering just how many Public Holidays we had missed out on since the advent of our “retirement’.   “Too many”.  We decided that we should take the rest of the day off to make up.

Tomorrow, we will be back in the office.  We shall wander the streets, marvelling at the Art Nouveau facades of the buildings, and the scale of the chateau and the factory that still produces horse-shoes.  We shall poke down narrow winding alleys and scale embankments for a better view.  Or perhaps we’ll sit quietly and see what sort of lunch we can cobble together from today’s left overs.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Singing in the Rain.
Lay-St-Rémy to Euville

Last night, about sixteen seconds after declaring to the world that the absence of rain was beginning to become a problem, the thunder began.  At first it was a distant rumble, but as it came closer it seemed to be scaring the light out of the clouds, shaking a month’s worth of water from them as it rolled along.

It was still raining when we left this morning although the thunder had long since departed, and although the land and rivers were no doubt delighted with their respite, there was no noticeable impact on the waterways we travelled.   

We moved a few more kilometres today, through just a handful of locks traversing so few kilometres we could count them on our toes without the use of our fingers.  We walked further in the evening between the showers than we had moved by boat in the morning.

We are going downhill now, and we love the theatre as we negotiate each lock, descending into some sort of dank cavern, to await the opening of the great clanking gates and some new and wondrous vista.    

Not that the vistas are terribly long ones when one is travelling in the rain, but they are always wondrous at least to some degree.  

Each time we leave a lock we pinch ourselves to make sure we aren't dreaming and start a new voyage.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

For want of a drop of rain.
Toul to Lay-St-Rémy

To our amazement and no doubt to those following our travels, we actually moved on today.  I think if we had not, we might have stayed for the duration of the drought.

Droughts in this part of the world are not the sort of things that produce pictures of sheep’s carcasses and hysterical seven year olds seeing rain for the first time,  they are far more subtle than that.

There has been no rain for a month, and already some lawn areas are crunchy underfoot.   The waterways authority is already beginning to close some of the canal system to navigation because of shortages of water, boats are being grouped to minimise lock actions, and the levels of the canal on which we are presently travelling has been dropped by twenty centimetres.   I am unsure of what dropping the water levels does to substantially assist, although I suppose it does save about four thousand litres each time a lock is emptied.   It certainly curtails what little commercial traffic remains.

Between the times the locks are in use though, the water is left to flow over the lock gates uninterrupted, so we don’t feel the sort of guilt we would at home if we’d had a shower that went for a few seconds longer than our allotted four minutes.

We emptied twelve locks today, and each time after saving our little twenty centimetres worth, the system let the other three hundred and ninety-six thousand litres go its merry way towards the Moselle and then presumably to the ocean.      

We are almost ten kilometres and half of Europe away from where we were last night, well away from the bustle of the town port, quite near a small village but between a nature reserve and an organic farm.   

The silence is almost deafening.  I didn’t realise how quietly organic wheat grows.   I am sure that if it rains, the sound of water in the downpipes of the village will only be surpassed in volume by the cheers from users of the waterways.

Friday, June 27, 2014


It's been said before I know, but we rather like Toul.  Just one of the things we like about it are the grassed ramparts and bits of moat and marks where the moat has been that surround the town and prop up its fortifications.   The job of keeping all that perimeter grassland tidy is one that until recently has been taken very seriously indeed, and over the years we have watched as various sections of the city walls have been diligently repaired, no doubt at great cost to the city and to the EU.

There is a difference this year though.  Several sections of the surrounds have become a little unkempt.   They are not completely overgrown, but look more the way a good haircut looks first thing in the morning after the first week, a bit ruffled with bits sticking out here and there.   There is a sign explaining all this though.   It doesn’t mention budgets or the high cost of keeping all. this meadowland in trim, it (literally) says “Refuge for Biodiversity - Mowing Backwards = Nature Preservation”.    Surely there is no nicer way of saying “we are neglecting this site” than to declare it to be a process of “mowing backwards”.

We are not mowing backwards however.  Visits to  two supermarkets a post office and four trips to the service station today have my pedometer showing more than sixteen kilometres walked in the provisioning process, and we still have a couple of errands to run.   

Tomorrow, first thing, perhaps after coffee at ten or maybe eleven, we will remove our sparkling new sun cover from the windscreen, wave good bye to our friends from Holland and Britain and Germany and New Zealand and the United States and France, and tootle up the canal, marvelling at the wondrous melting pot of biodiversity that is the Port in Toul, and it’s all because nobody mows.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Clear as Day -

One of the mixed blessings of being of a certain age is that one’s bladder does not necessarily work to the same clock as one’s brain would wish it did.  This enables one to be up before the sparrows, contemplating life in the still of the pre-dawn light.  One must reluctantly admit that whatever the reasons for its observance, it is a beautiful time of day, a time that’s perfect for making clear decisions about which direction should take in the day ahead, before once again assuming a more sensible state of being in one’s berth for perhaps a few more hours peaceful repose.

Today’s decision was quite an easy one to make.   

With some mixed feelings admittedly, we decided not to wait for Le Tour to find us.   We decided not long after that to work just one more day, to get the sun cover for the front windscreen finished, then we will happily provision the ship and quietly march away up the hill.

So we sat indoors alternatively punching clips into fabric or listening to the little Singer stitching away, purring like a newly renovated Perkins, and got it done in time for another late night with our errant Dutch friends.

We retired with instructions to my bladder to be more civil about its waking time in the morning.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Le Tour! -

We thought about moving today but sensibly lay down for a while reading until that thought had passed.  Then, we had a coffee while we made a list of things we could do to fill in time until our evening rendezvous with Paul and Carla.   Since they are moored directly behind us, we have to draw some sort of distinction between our evening rendezvous which tends to involve copious quantities of food, and the constant chats that happen during the day which don’t. Similarly we draw a distinction between our new “cruising jobs” list, and our list marked “things to do urgently”, although both look vaguely similar and are rarely checked.

One of the nice things about Toul is that the only plants within the walls of the town are to be found in the two main traffic roundabouts, one of which serves as a town “square”.   Presumably because of the scarcity of planting, the council throws a lot of energy into creating elaborately themed gardens in these focal points, with a different scheme each year.   This year, just two weeks from now the Tour de France will charge past the town, exactly fifty metres from where our boat lies, and to celebrate that the gardens are definitely themed “bicycle”.  

A massive pile up of bikes sits at the town’s gate, while in the centre the fountain is surrounded by monster bikes of various kinds leaving no doubt as to what season it is.

We were ready to move on tomorrow we thought, but it’s only two weeks till the tour comes through.

The Tour de France:  should we go, or should we stay?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Big Day in the Office -
Toul to Toul

We’d arranged to leave at nine; office hours for the locks and respectable cruising types. That would give us a few minutes after waking to put the coffee on and complete the day’s ablutions without feeling too pressed.

Intending to head vaguely in a westerly direction we thought a quick stop at the upper harbour would be in order for a bit of victualling.  We could top up with fuel we thought as well.  It would be a bit of a stretch to call it by it’s proper nautical name “bunkering”, when the amount being bunkered is forty litres so we just call it “getting diesel”.   

That thought was to be our undoing, because lying in the harbour and apparently intent on ambushing us was the boat of our Dutch friends Paul and Carla.

Today our ship’s log reads: 
Start Time: 09:10
Distance Travelled: 1.53 kilometres
Average Speed: 2.6kph
Finish Time:09:46

We sat in the shade all day, enjoying the perfect summer weather and catching up on each other’s news.  We didn’t get finished either despite carrying on well into the night.  We like Toul, so we may as well stay here tomorrow night we think.

It is clear that we aren’t going to get as far as the Somme this year.


Monday, June 23, 2014

A day off-

We’re sitting in the port surrounded by barges and pretending grownups just like them, but they have engine rooms that I can walk around in, bow thrusters powered by bigger engines than our Mr P, and water tanks that hold more water than our entire boat weighs.    Betty B has to be moved forward tomorrow, and if we don’t particularly fancy trying to extract a hundred ton or so of steel from our sink waste, I suspect that’s a hint that it’s time for us to move as well.

We could have gone today actually.  Duncan finished his fixy-thing well before lunch time, although Mr P is behaving like a snotty kid dripping one little drip of diesel from one line today, and just to spite us nothing when the motor was running, a token splatter of oil, like an ill-timed sneeze is the best that he could do.  We are prepared to live with that for a bit.

Instead of moving, we simply sat around reading, snoozing and hammering the clips into yet another curtain. We figured we were robbed of a day off yesterday, having to spend all of it awake and on the water, so we did our best to make up for it today.

Tomorrow, we’ll begin our trek north.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pretending to be Big
Nancy to Toul

A big river under a perfect sky, perfect temperature, calm water, gentle breeze, even the commercial locks devoid of traffic, open and waiting for us each time we arrived is a recipe for another day with nothing to write home about!

It would have been difficult to have been unhappy as we pottered up the Moselle towards Mr Perkins’ rendezvous with Duncan.  I suppose if we had not been the only boat on the quay to have escaped the nasty graffiti tagger last night the edge may have been taken off our smiles, but we were unscathed, a little bemused perhaps as to why we were so insignificant that even a vandal did not think we were worthy of his “art”.

On the deserted river, our insignificance was driven home a few times as we travelled solo, like a tiny blue piece of flotsam through each of the commercial locks designed to hold a single ship of far greater dimension.   But insignificance does not mean unimportant. The very concept of someone letting ten or twelve million litres of water go to let us into a lock then filling it again just so that we can take our little boat six or eight metres higher up the river is  one that is a difficult one for those of us who have been raised on four minute showers to come to terms with, yet that is what happens, and on a day with little traffic the lock keepers seemed to be making an effort to ensure our wait was minimised.

If that graffiti guy could only see us in one of these, pretending to be one of the big boys in a lock with an exit not too far in front of the horizon, maybe he’d have rethink his view on our importance.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

- Nancy

One may enquire as to the relevance a photograph of a pile of fruit and vegetables that could have been taken in the produce pavilion at the Ekka in Brisbane to a day in one of our favourite towns in France.   

We realised today as we were topping up our supplies in the covered market (where the photo was taken) that we are so comfortable in Nancy after spending a good deal of time here for each of the past five years that actually have to work to see the things that tourists see.  The market is where we shop, not somewhere that we would normally take photographs as it was a few years ago.  We see nothing extraordinary in being able to choose from nine varieties of mushroom or five of radish nor in the absence of plastic wrapping.

We tend to go about our business as though we have lived here forever, no longer finding novelty the exquisitely carved art nouveau head over the teller machine, walking past the mosaic tiles to the front of the pharmacy without feeling the urge to pull out the camera.  We didn’t even walk past the Restaurant Excelsior as we normally do, simply to peer in at the diners.     We had intended to enjoy not being tourists today, to gently cruise off mid afternoon in direction Toul, probably travelling only a few kilometres till we found a shady spot, where we would lie around and sleep and just spend a lazy cruising afternoon.

But Toby and Jan arrived in port while we were having our lunch.  They seem to just bob up wherever we are: Paris, Choissey, Nancy.   It’s extraordinary that in more than seven thousand kilometres of waterway, we keep tripping over the same people over and over again, but we do, and when we do it inevitably means just as long a dinner as lunch was, and a year’s worth of conversation in a night followed by promises of finding each other again.

We have abandoned our plan.  What is the point?

We are cruising, and eating figs.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Chocks away!
Lagarde to Nancy

I would dearly love to say that we left Lagarde on time and that not one bolt rattled loose, not a drop of oil was spilt on our journey and things went so smoothly that we decided to just keep going all day without a break.  Where is the story, the grand adventure if you will, in that?

That is exactly what happened though; eight hours of faultless performance in a boat that actually went where we wanted it to go and when we wanted it to go there.  That is a novelty which will take a day or two to get used to, the nearest we came to a mishap was when I dropped a few crumbs from my sandwich while eating on the run.  Even the good Captain, usually a reluctant helmpersoness, preferring to take a more senior management role in the running of the ship, was heard to say while taking a turn at the wheel, that it was quite pleasant!

So with nothing to report, we arrived in Nancy in one day for the first time ever, and celebrated our arrival the way we traditionally do here, by  waiting in the main city square for the sun to depart, which it does around eleven pm, sitting through the world famous sound and light show, before wandering aimlessly, contentedly if you will, back to the boat to ponder the day that was, or on days like this with so little to ponder, to sleep.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

One Last Hooroo...
in Lagarde but not for much longer.

“Roadkill” is a video production which is published on YouTube once a month.  In that programme, the editor of Hot Rod Magazine and his assistant take some old car in sometimes vaguely working condition, and film their efforts in getting it more or less roadworthy before taking it on some sort of adventure.   It is an unscripted show, and invariably starts with a deadline and a long list of things which need to be done.  Just as invariably, as each deadline is missed, the list does not seem to diminish in length , fatigue sets in as working days become longer and longer, until eventually one or both of the “hosts” decide they must just get on with it.   More often than not, some tiny detail which was never crossed off the list is a cause for some unplanned adventure.

Our life of late could very well make an episode of that show, except that instead of "car" we have "boat" and today was the day we looked at our never diminishing list and cried “enough”.

After manufacturing new brackets and connectors and pulling and unbolting and rebolting and fixing everything we could think of to make it go and steer, (at least in a boat we don't have to worry about brakes), we drew a line at the top of our list with a note that says “every thing below this line can be done later”, and thought seriously about just taking off sometime in the late afternoon.   That would be about the same time that, in cleaning the boat to make our getaway, one of us, the one outside with the scrubbing brush not the one inside with the sewing machine, put his foot through an old poorly repaired soft spot in the deck that has been an itemon the list for five years now, and suddenly became something in need of urgent attention.

After a long day doubled over and inverted reaching full stretch to undo and redo bolts in the far flung corners of the engine bay, taking off into the cruising sunset seemed infinitely preferable to grinding out old fibreglass while crawling in the blige, but it was not to be.

Fortunately the delay gave us the opportunity to have one more farewell with Maggie and Jacques, and while we did have “clean up after ourselves” below the line on our list, one of us couldn’t help herself, so now there will be one less thing to do in the morning.

We will be on our way!  Whatever will we do with ourselves?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Behind every cloud.
still in Lagarde!

With just the smallest amount of luck, the last piece of the steering puzzle will arrive tomorrow.   Has it been as long for everyone else as it has for us?  A few hours later if our luck runs counter to the way it has of late, we’ll have found all the bits we need and will have just about run out of excuses for staying in the same place any longer.  Besides, the new hard drive is being sent to Duncan's at Toul, although if one believes in things not going well, perhaps the other bits needed for the computer repair already being available for collection in a coffee shop in Woodstock, USA is a sign.

The steering was, apart from it’s total vagueness and providing randomness of direction, in complete working order.  It has been this way for the last four and a bit years, and even though at times steering the boat has been a bit like pushing a ten metre long length of wet spaghetti, it has taken more than cajoling on our part to motivate the necessary resources to replace something that they don’t think needs replacing.   

Today I have a smug little smirk hidden on the non-working side of my face where no one can see it.  It is the smirk of one who is vindicated in his decision.  When we removed the steering head, we found a crack encircling the main gear axle.   The only thing between arrival at our destination and total failure of the steering would appear to have been sheer luck (so we do have some after all), and fortuitous avoidance of conditions that didn’t load the rudder in a particular way.

We do not need to contemplate what might have been, had we attempted to complete our intended route down the Rhine last year!   Last year’s breakdown of the Arzviller lift, which prevented us taking that route does not seem at all inconvenient to us in retrospect.

As an aside the French word for “steering” is “direction”, so when the nice Swiss fellow moored behind us asked what the problem was with the boat,  I was able to reply “I am without direction”.

Perhaps now is the time to apologise to all those teachers half a century ago, who said the same thing of me in all those report cards.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Not quite making progress.

Today started with such promise.   The sun came up, which is always a good sign, and a quick check of the internet showed that the parcel with our errant equipment was due to arrive sometime today.   

That was about the time things started to go awry. The computer, in its wisdom, began as they say in the classics, to pine for the fjords.  Disturbingly, given that I had installed a brand new hard drive a few weeks before heading for Europe, it had simply disappeared from sight!  Gone. It wasn’t pining, it wasn’t asleep, it was to put it simply:


As one who is fairly meticulous about back-ups, almost everything is properly stored in triplicate tucked away in safe spots, so all is not lost - just the photos of the journey thus far, which while sad, perhaps it’s simply a confirmation that in adventure terms at least, the last few weeks have been forgettable! 

When the nice folk send me a replacement drive from America later this week, I suspect it will be business as usual.  

But things didn't really improve after breakfast.  Just as I was scraping out a failed fibreglass repair to the shower floor, the all of the steering parts arrived, or at least all of the steering parts except just one little bit that was supposed to be fitted to the cable wasn’t.  Oh well I’m sure it will be here in a few more days!

Perhaps I was thinking quietly to myself that today wasn’t going particularly well, when the one tool to which I am both physically and emotionally attached, my terribly expensive replacement Leatherman gadget (replacement for the one that I dropped overboard a year or two ago), decided to dive from my unzipped pocket and failed to resurface.   Today was definitely not going according to plan!

With a little perseverance and a very big magnet, I eventually retrieved the Leatherman, another curtain was finished, and by the look of the dashboard we only need to do a bit more work and we’ll be in top shape once again, so all is not lost!

Perhaps the new delay is just one way of ensuring that we don’t move until the last of the orange curtains has been replaced.


Monday, June 16, 2014

A day at the shops.

We thought that since we were going to be hanging around for the best part of the rest of the week we’d hire a car and have half a day touring and top up our groceries while we were at it.  The only cars available locally are not quite current models kept at the port for the likes of we boat dwellers stranded a few tens of kilometres from any of the modern services.

The 2CV’s are at once a delight and an exercise abject terror to drive.  Far from their prime and while technically kept “safe” there can be no doubt that a minor accident could result in, as the label on my new pair of pliers reminded me last year: injury or death.   As we career through the country side at the speed of sound, and all speed is sound in these monsters, while being passed by tractors and children on tricycles we wonder if we should phone at least one of the progeny to remind them where we keep our wills.

Somehow though, we survived once again, and arrived back at the boat laden with duck and red wine and a thousand varieties of cheese.  

Actually we arrived back with some soap powder, a lettuce and a couple of chops for tea, but where's the story in that? 

Sunday, June 15, 2014


At some point in the afternoon, Jacques let it be known that he was born in a garden.  Not in a house in a garden, not in a grand botanic garden somewhere, but straight slap bang in the middle of his mother’s vege patch.   He is convinced through the insight that has given him, that Maggie’s beans are planted too close together and that they are in some sort of peril.

We are convinced that perhaps he has hung on to the story of being found under a cabbage a just a little too long.

Yes, it was a long and glorious lunch, the kind that defines a perfect Sunday among friends, with blue skies and bright sunshine and perfect temperature and flowers and butterflies for accompaniment.   It did seem to go on for quite some time though, and while we weren’t exactly watching the time after the fourth course of dessert, discretion became the better part of valour, and we beat a gentle retreat ,rolling down the tow path back to the boat.   

The butterflies were tucking in all day as well it must be said, and while they had inarguably been born in a garden, and had been feasting on pollen and nectar all day, they were conspicuously absent from the discussion on the correct spacing of beans at planting time.   I wonder if they too went home and went to bed without the need for further sustenance.

Who said we need to be moving to have a good time?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tickety Boo Again.

 “Did I say I would come today?” said the SMS we received just before lunch.  

“No, I replied, you said you MAY be here!” and added one of those smiley faces to indicate my happy ambivalence.    

“OK, I’ll see you in an hour or so,” and before we knew it, like some sort of un-caped superhero, Duncan had arrived with his fix-it bag.

At first, while looking from the same perspective that we were viewing the problem he was completely unable at all to find the cause of the injector pump leak and seemed as perplexed as we were about its source, but then he changed his viewpoint.

Travelling through Mongolia a few years ago, we attended a performance by some arts students.  One act comprised a young girl who could bend in ways that seemed to defy the natural order of things.  At one point she was balancing on one hand with both knees backwards behind her head, scratching her nose with a big toe.  My eyes were watering so badly at the thought of all those disconnected limbs that I never did figure out where her other arm had gone.

This was all very entertaining of course, but we were at a loss as to what practical purpose those skills could be utilised until today.  She was obviously in training to be a Perkins Marine Technician. 

Duncan managed to make himself smaller and more contorted that even she, crawling into spaces that a flattened gecko would be hard pressed to reach.  How he managed to hold his composure while  upside down with his head stuck between the exhaust manifold and the starter motor, at the same time trying to find a loose nut with a mirror and a torch while holding a screwdriver and a spanner is not something that I can comprehend.   When occasionally he called for a different spanner, as with the girl in Mongolia I had some difficulty finding the necessary appendage to place it in, and when I did invariably I had to reassure myself that it was still attached to its limb.

It was both fascinating to watch and disappointing really.   Fascinating, because he managed to sort the problem out without having to remove any engine component, and he actually managed to extract himself without incident.  Disappointing, because I freely admit to listening very intently to see if I could improve my vocabulary in French, but not one word was uttered.

Like some grand zen master he somehow concentrated the pain into bolt tightening effort and magically left our Mr Perkins ticking away once again like that terribly expensive (guaranteed to work under a film of diesel) Swiss Watch.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Time for reflection

We sat this morning under “our” tree just looking at “our” Joyeux, thinking about how it had grown on us, how fond we have become of that awful blue, and how cleverly we set it off with the darker fenders and the small splash of red, and we noticed not for the first time that the curtains are still truly awful in that orange colour.

Initially the boat itself was something of an abomination to all that was tasteful and elegant in our eyes.  It was, as most will recall, cheap.  For that reason alone we were able to overlook a few things that were not to our taste.  We would we thought, change them given time, and it was after all quite liveable.

I mentioned just a few days ago that even before we had signed the contract to purchase, Jacques had suggested less than obliquely that perhaps the (what we now know is “Ivory”) interior colour could go in rather a hurry, and I have to confess that on that very same evening I pulled out a borrowed copy of photoshop and began to see what we could do about the blue deck colour as well.

The purple upholstery and vaguely grey-blue floor vinyl, were to be replaced with something more in keeping with the patina of the faded oak laminate and the blotchy beige bulkheads after the first year, but worst of all for us were the orange curtains.   They could not stay.

They needed to be gone as a matter of urgency.  We bought the material to make new ones before we had actually lived aboard.  Our very first purchase after taking delivery was a sewing machine so we could make the new ones without delay, and as these things tend to go, a year or two later apart from those in the galley there was little progress to report.  

Now, almost five years later, as we sit under our tree waiting for parts suppliers and fuel injection people to deal with us urgently, we have decided we cannot live with them a moment longer, the new curtains are underway.   

I think, perhaps just a little bit of the way things should be done France is seeping into our beings.

We have come to understand that there is a difference between urgency and emergency.  Our steering cables my be posted on Monday if sufficient urgency can be impressed, and Duncan may even be here tomorrow, doubtless after lunch, but only if something else urgent doesn’t arise.

Good things come to those who wait.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Waiting Game
Gondrexange to Lagarde

The lake at Gondrexange where we spent the night, was built in the middle ages by a bunch of Monks who were apparently keen to establish a fishing industry in the area.  

That was all well and good, and after one summer “on the shovel” sorting out a few hundred square metres of garden, I sympathise with anyone digging out seven hundred hectares of lake and lining the edges with stone, particularly in the intemperate climate here, but they did it without a lot of planning for the future really.

If they’d thought about it, surely they would have twigged that in another thousand years, give or take, someone might want to build a canal through their lake and that in that event the levels would be just a bit out.  If they’d have dropped the level just a bit there would have been no need to build levee banks and berms right through the middle to stop the lake from flowing into the canal!

I only mention that because one of their engineer descendants must have been having a bad day when he (or she) decided to design the part of a Perkins fuel injection system that was probably intended to leak from time to time, in a place that can only be viewed while inverted and holding a mirror between the heat exchanger and injection pump, and it certainly can’t be tightened without removing pretty much everything but the galley sink first.

No doubt as the owners of the canal did when they were being dug with great banks needing to be formed through the middle of the lakes, we shall have to call a chap in to do the dirty work.  Perhaps it will take more than one.     

We did reach Lagarde without incident, and without being able to see the source of what is a substantial leak in the system but we did manage to catch most of the fuel at least.   Now we will resume the little projects we had put aside till next year, stay put for a bit, and wait for things to fix themselves.

At the same time, we had a call from another charming young lady from the phone company.  They having become exasperated with our exasperation we think, volunteered to set up our account for us if we didn’t mind.

They would, they said, phone us back in a few minutes by which time it would be done.

Come to think of it, we could probably dig a lake of our own before all this sorts itself out.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

First World Problems
Lutzelbourg to Gondrexange

I received an email yesterday telling me it was OK to set up my phone account now, so I tried and it wasn’t and when I phoned they said sorry and had no idea why but they’d fix it and gave me another five Euros credit.

With that, I phoned the supplier of our steering bits in the UK, to discover they hadn’t received some vital parts yet and it definitely won’t be this week that they arrive.

So we decided that while we like Lutzelbourg a lot, and we were quite close to Saverne, we had enough time up our sleeve to perhaps head towards Saarbrucken for a few days in Germany while we wait for the errant parts to arrive.  For a moment or two we thought about just heading off for the whole summer without them, but that was the exact moment that Mr Perkins decided to voice some sort of disapproval by continually adjusting his own speed.   

This was a little perturbing at first, as smart technology was not a concept that existed at the time of his manufacture, and it quickly became quite perturbing when I checked his cave.  There I found him, perhaps to spite me for cutting off his new found oil supply, wallowing in diesel.   I can’t be sure, but I suspect that some of his grumpiness at low revs may not have been due to all those new parts getting used to one another as I thought, and may have been everything to do with the injector lines being almost, but not quite tight.     Having tightened them a bit, with fingers crossed, and plucked two toilet rolls full of diesel from the catch tray, we are hoping the problem will go away but somehow we are not convinced that such a small weep could be the cause of such a large amount of fuel escaping.   

So now we have a new plan.

Tomorrow we might try to limp home lest we be stranded in the wilds of rural France, amid all those cows and cheese factories and cottages selling wine and honey.

It is natural to be a little disappointed when things like this happen and it’s even tempting to become a bit dispirited, but really, who will give sympathy to a couple who spend half their lives idling around France on a boat?

When our plans come tumbling down, no one stops to take photographs.    

It’s not like we are an old Chateau or something.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Legacy
Arzviller Plan Incline

We are often asked what we plan to do after such and such.  Almost as often when we truthfully reply that we have no plans, that planning never works anyway and we make things up as we go along, we are usually greeted with something akin to a bemused stare, we have even experienced genuine speechlessness in response.

Last year, had a plan to complete a circuit of almost a thousand kilometres, and when we were within a few hundred kilometres of fulfilling that plan, a major breakdown just a few hours from our home base closed the canal system loop for the rest of the year and we found ourselves returning the way we had come.    The scene of that breakdown was a lifting tub of water, the Boat Lift at Arzviller and this morning we had planned for it to take us down it’s forty five metre drop and continue on our way to another of our favourite places, the village of Lutzelbourg.

With that simple objective in mind and the sun starting to sear even at an early hour, just below us, a large clump of trees with some dense shade below them seemed to be calling.  Even better, after referring to the mighty (now retro) iPhone’s compass, we determined that that patch of shade would move, if we were careful about where we moored, over the boat by mid afternoon.

So we spent all day despite our plan, at the foot of the Arzviller lift, lying on the grass, reading, catching up on a week’s worth of blog posts, making a pen or two, waving to the tour boats as they passed and doing anything but making a new plan.

Our plan for the entire year was to leave early and to be in the western battlefields about now, to watch the centenary events marking the commencement of the first world war, and perhaps the anniversary of the D-Day landings.   Clearly we didn’t get there in time, but we may later.

Today though amidst all of the lazing around, a tourist from a few kilometres south of here and unaware of our agenda, saw the flag on our boat.  He was about our age and spoke a little English, telling us that he’d been to Australia with his daughter and it is a wonderful place and the people are wonderful too.

Then he became very serious, and explained that many millions of people had died in Europe in the Wars, and Australia had sent many men to liberate his country without any other agenda.   He stood, looked me in the eye, and said:” We will never, ever forget.”


It was my turn to stand speechless.


Monday, June 09, 2014

A Patch of Blue
Lagarde to Niderviller

That patch of blue in the picture is the sky, viewed from within the bowels of Mr Perkins’ and therefore our own Nemesis, the great lock at Rechicourt.  We knew from the outset today that if we could pass through its jaws and rise to the top, things would work out just fine.

But let’s look at our plan for the day in the simplest of terms:  “Get out of bed and leave for a few days cruising”.

This quickly became “Perhaps we should do a load of washing first” to which was added “ and we should have a look at that leak in the cooling system” and then “perhaps a slight adjustment to Mr P’s idle speed”, followed by “and maybe we should sort out our phone once and for all”.

The lovely young lady from the phone company kept me pleasantly occupied for well over an hour as she valiantly failed to solve the problem.  She was, it must be said truly impressed and more than a little intrigued after her general enquiries had led her to understand that we were “retired”, with the Information Technology skills exhibited by the writer.   She was even more impressed to know that I had somehow managed to keep a genuine some may say even retro iPhone 3Gs going and became quite gushy in her praise, even comparing me to her “Gran”, who apparently needs a good deal of help just to answer a telephone let alone put a sim card in one.

While it was indeed a pleasant morning's conversation, perhaps it would have been more pleasant had we parted ways with a fully functioning telephone instead of one with a few Euros complimentary credit “to get us by”.   

It could probably go without saying that it came to be lunchtime before we actually got away, which thankfully still allowed seven hours of uninterrupted navigation time, which we were to use to the full.   

I am not sure if it was fear as we approached Rechicourt got to him or if it was a genetic reaction of the kind that dogs exhibit when they roll themselves in fresh poo after a bath, but whatever it was, Mr P managed to pop a plug and spray himself and his carefully polished surrounds with engine oil after the first couple of hours.

After a little mopping up and a hose clamp securing the miscreant part, the background smell of warm oil, though faint, was vaguely reassuring as we all sat quietly in the very late evening watching our first proper cruising sunset.

The old team is back.


Sunday, June 08, 2014

Breaking the wheelbarrow habit.

Summer comes with a vengeance when it comes, and today it arrived with temperatures in the high thirties.

When temperatures are in the high thirties, the best way to find relief is to invoke the ancient cure for sea-sickness: find a shady tree and sit under it with a good book.    Since seasickness wasn’t involved, we substituted lunch for the book, allowed the eager Mr P to transport us a kilometre or so upstream until we found a shady tree, threw the roof back, and just sort of whiled away the afternoon with a little duck breast and goat cheese to assist, retiring in the cool of the evening to the home of the other two.

Mr Perkins was on his best behaviour, although he dribbled coolant ever so slightly and there was a distinct lack of odour associated with his admittedly brief performance.  His off-sider, the newly modified propeller performed equally stirlingly.

Summer is a funny thing here.  When the temperature hits thirty, we think we are going to melt and go scurrying off for cold drinks and deep shade and preferably an even deeper cellar to hide in until the weather becomes more respectably cool.   It truly makes us wonder how we survive summer in Australia digging ditches and wheeling barrows in temperatures much higher with five times the humidity to boot.

I do confess though whinging about the heat while lounging on the water in the shade of a tree while sipping ice cold Perrier is my alternative of choice.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Hanging up the tools

We were anxious to get away.  Just about anywhere would do really, just to see if all the mechanical bits were interconnected correctly, but the galley was still in bits and the “workshop” under the tree is a comfortable place to get things done after all.   

Besides, Maggie and Jacques were due back from their holiday tonight and it would be lovely we thought if they,  Jacques in particular since he's been the cornerstone of this whole things since the day he sold us the boat, could share the moment of Mr Perkins’ resurrection with us, and that would have to wait till tomorrow.

After an entire day working under the tree, except for the two or three hundred visits back to the boat to check that things fitted where they should, the job was done, the transformation complete.

I don’t think the other of us would have been happier if I’d built and air conditioner.

OK, maybe if I’d built an air conditioner she would, but in truth the transformation is quite satisfying and for now the work is finished.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Success at last!


Finally we found ourselves between Bill being too busy and his days off and after the best part of a day working out what to do with the left over ball bearings and nuts, not only was Mr Perkins back on life support, but we had a new second bilge pump in place as well, and remote greasers for the bits that need greasing remotely.  

We even gave him half an hour to make his presence felt, ticking over in his sparkling clean house, all seemed to be absolutely in readiness for a season of happy cruising.   

He was running like a Swiss watch as the saying goes, but then so he should.

We could have bought a Rolex for less than he's cost us.

Thursday, June 05, 2014


Under blue skies, we resumed our picnic table and the tree under which it sat and set about what the Hipsters would call “Ikea Hacking”, a term given to loosely describe taking bits of that particular manufacturer’s product meant for one thing, and turning them into something else.   

It seemed only fair, that given our bedroom sideboard at home is concocted from parts of Swedish kitchen, that our galley on the boat should be made from parts of the same company’s bedroom system.

Thus it was that a whole day passed while trying to find a practical way of fitting square metal baskets into spaces which were very much not.

It is surprising really, how quickly one can become if not fond of, at least accustomed to one’s environment.  For instance the colour of our dear Joyeux’s interior has been described by ourselves variously as “drab”, “ugh”, or perhaps “beige on a dark cream background”.   On the day we first saw the boat, Jacques, in his characteristically off-handed sales manner offered without prompting that if we didn’t like the interior then perhaps with some handyman work we could change the colour quite soon after.  After exactly what we never found out, and therefore "quite soon after" never arrived, so when the classic Ikea baskets arrived in any colour as long as it was white, that would never do.

We discovered that our horrid “dark cream” did not at all blend with bright white baskets, and further, it had a name.


That is how it came to be that we spent the afternoon watching (ivory) paint dry.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Cruising Dream

For reasons that seem difficult to understand, after our day of inactivity we slept as though we’d run a marathon, waking for the first time at a very civilised hour, ready to get stuck in to the remaining projects although well after the days activity in the port had begun.  

The slow drizzle gave a clue that perhaps working with precision on the picnic table would be best left for another day, and it was already clear that Bill was otherwise occupied for the day, and since tomorrow was his day off, perhaps we could rendezvous on Friday.  It seems we had a plan.

All was not lost though, there were a myriad of things to be done in the engine bay and bilges, so between showers and sometimes under them the day was spent up to the elbows in once would have been Mr Perkins grease.   Every wire and cooling line was analysed, rerouted, anti-chafed and clipped to within an inch of its life, until when day was done, our Mr P sat resplendent in a well organised, shining throne, impotent without his cables and ball bearing gizwiches which still lay in pieces on the floor of the helm station.

This is all a part of cruising that never features in the dream.

The dream is complex though, and different for all of us, and not all are realisitc.   A bloke who lives not far to the north of here dreamed once of building a thirty metre long model of a cruise liner with which he could ply the canals. 

As if that would ever happen.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Stressed and Cranky

We felt a bit hollow this morning, as one does when good friends depart after a wonderful stay.  We watched the Danish pair go and immediately became fed up with not being able to load any credit on the mobile phone no matter what avenue of assistance we tried.  

We consoled ourselves with the thought that perhaps someone would materialise to put the cables and springs and ball bearings on our floor back into the gizmos from which they came.

In retrospect this was of no consolation at all, because no one did actually materialise, and the ball bearings and springs therefore failed to move at all which simply added to our impatience.

We sat over a coffee trying to work out why we actually needed the boat operational so that we could sit on it and do nothing, and when we concluded that  we  actually didn’t, and if the boat wasn’t going we couldn’t find ourselves in a position where we would need the phone to call for assistance, so that problem disappeared as well.

Thus placated, normal transmission resumed and we happily whiled away the day in the best cruising manner.  While the workshop table stood somewhat forlorn, waiting for a better day perhaps, we were looking at the marks where the cupboards had been and wondering just how many times the galley has been remodelled.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Road Trip to Obernai
Largarde to Obernai by car

It seemed such a pity to waste a tidy, well organised boat by living on it, so when Jørn and Birgit suggested we join them in a little drive in the country, I’m afraid we must have looked a little like excited puppies, sitting in the car waiting for them to get their stuff together.

We are based on the edge of one of the largest forests in Europe, and between a couple of the world’s great wine regions although when I think about it, it would be quite difficult to find a place in France that wouldn’t claim to be between a couple of the world’s great wine regions, but one would have thought that it wouldn’t be difficult to find a route for a day’s tour.   

That is not really how it works for us though, as we had all know the area surrounding the waterways quite well, and we couldn’t make up our collective minds, so we just sort of followed our noses for a bit, up hill and down dale through forest and vineyard until about lunch o’clock, where almost not quite coincidentally we were within a shouted drinks order of Obernai.  We’ve been there before of course, it’s old and touristy and Alsace to the core and trades heavily on all of that, so a lunch of traditional vegetable stew seemed to offset the (summer) chill outside very nicely indeed.

It goes without saying that we all arrived home tired but happy.  So tired, that the other two, who speak Engish perhaps better than we despite it being their third or perhaps sixteen language, were having difficulty finding some words.   We, just as tired, were unable to find any words at all in Danish or for that matter in any of the several other languages on offer and in the absence of further conversation retired for the night..... morning.


Sunday, June 01, 2014

Ready for all comers!
Still in Lagarde!

We woke without hangovers but with four great concerns this morning.

  • We will have been on the boat a week this evening and our stuff is still not entirely sorted.
  • We  are concerned about that, which is a sure sign that we haven’t yet flicked the switch that takes us into cruising mode.
  • Our friends Jørn and Birgit are arriving from Denmark tonight and we don’t actually have their bed sorted yet.
  • Even if we did have their bed sorted, we don’t actually have the floors in place, let alone a working kitchen.

By the miracle that is lunchtime though, in no particular order all of our concerns had been addressed, and we found ourselves kicking back in cruising mode, snoozing the afternoon away and generally preparing ourselves for a long night of conversation.   

We felt exactly as we imagine the people in the village must feel when the last log is stacked on the firewood pile, ready for whatever winter may bring.

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