05 June 2019

What's it Like - Living on a Canal Boat in the South of France?


If you're not used to the concept, it's kind of hard to picture it.

There's Maggie May, in her regular mooring spot.

How do you get power? 
Do you have neighbors? 
Where ARE you? 
What kind of boat do you have? 
Do you sail all the time? 

And - WHY are you there?

Why a boat?
Boats are great in some ways. Less so in others. 

A boat is easy to lock up and leave. 
A turnkey operation. Empty the fridge and go.

Since we still plan to continue to travel a lot - this is a major factor.
No house sitters, no pool service, no tweaking the garden drip system before leaving.
No cat.


It's simple
No utilities or property taxes. 
Mooring fees are low, insurance isn't hard to find. 
And - if you don't like your neighbors, you just loosen the ropes and - go.

You have 360° views. 
From the galley and salon, we can see in all directions. 
It's living outside as much as inside.

It's still a bit romantic.
The water reflections on the wood ceilings at dawn. 
Fish jumping in the evening. 
The sound of the ropes straining in the wind.

It's sociable. 
Friends on boats. 
Friends in the village.



It's comfortable. 
Everything has its place, and is within reach. 
Having a boat prevents you from collecting too much stuff. 

It's off the grid.
I always liked the idea of being off the grid.
I even had an (almost!) self-sufficient farmhouse in the West of Ireland when I was 20.
Using solar energy is very satisfying - and surprisingly efficient.

(More about power and water - and solar panels on the boat.)


There are almost 30,000 km of rivers and canals in Europe. 
France alone has over 8000 km. They're beautiful.


Our canal, the Canal du Midi, was built in the 1600's.
It's a handmade canal that connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean.  

Some odd details about the Canal du Midi here.

See that tiny blue line at the bottom? By the number 4? That's where we are. 
In theory, we could be cruising for years and never explore everything. 

But - canal boating is slow. Very slow. 
Going through the hundreds of locks takes patience. 
Being on the move is like this.

We move sometimes. Not often.
Usually we enjoy where we're moored.

So - what are the boats like? Sailboats?

Some are sailboats. But most are not.
The bridges are very small. Very low. So they have to take down the mast.

This is one of the smallest bridges, in Capestang. This boat got stuck.

A lot of canal boats are restored barges - built over 100 years ago.




Some are fancy "Hotel Barges" that take paying guests. 


Plus, there are loads of "drive-yourself" boats you can rent.
Locaboat, Le Boat, Canalous, Nichols, Minervois Cruisers.

All sizes. All prices.  



We rented this boat with the kids in 2014, before Maggie May.  And - later cruised the lovely Lot River. That story is here.

However, all over the thousands of km of canals, there are small communities of private boats.

Some are weekenders.


Some visit their boat for a few weeks in summer.



Some live all year round.


And some boats - become homes for ducks. 


I like that the boats are all different. Each boat has a different story.

The port at Capestang, the next town over. Where we get our mail.

This is our boat, Maggie May.
Built of strong Durham steel, she weighs about 25 tons.


3 cabins. And 3 bathrooms, which is very unusual.
2 helms, inside and out.

The inside helm. 2 cabins and 2 baths behind Stan. At 6'4", he can still stand up inside.
She's about 15m (50') long, and over 4m (13') wide.
She's very comfortable.

The galley - on both sides of the boat. Main bedroom and bath behind.
But the best space is the aft deck, where we spend a LOT of time.



Friends Ron and Fiona, who live on The Swan. Cruising the canals at 80.
The flat bottom on Maggie May is great for canals. 
On the other hand, it's not a good boat for the sea.  


Our mooring is in Poilhés, a small village about 2 hours north of Barcelona.
Between Montpellier and Toulouse.

The "lavoir", originally used for laundry.

People living on boats in Poilhés come from France. 
Argentina. New Zealand. Scotland. England. Germany. Belgium. 

Sunday morning at the market in Capestang with Luc and Anton. Sailed in on Luc's boat, Marolis. 

Why the south of France?



People in Europe assume it's because the weather is better.
But New Mexico has great weather.
Four seasons, dry, clear, good skiing.
And sunshine almost every day.


So why leave a comfy house, pool, garden - to live on - even a large and comfy - boat?
People assume we're "retiring" here.
But that doesn't really explain it.


When I was younger, my motto was:
"All life is an experiment. The more you make, the better."

I wound up living and working in about a dozen countries.

Teaching helicopter maintenance in Iran.
Bush pilot in West Africa.
Airport Manager for Pan Am in Zurich. Geneva.
Ambassador's Secretary at the Japanese Embassy in Liberia.
Owning and running an international import-export company in New Mexico.
And more.

Some of those stories are in the book, "Meanwhile Back in Los Ranchos".



I like the idea of a base somewhere, and then exploring from there.
Learning about the region. The people. The language, the food.
Being part of the scene.

Similar to what's now called "long term slow travel".

Being "on the road" with just the backpack - is a wonderful feeling.
Having all you need in a compact little bag.
You don't really need anything more.

It makes you feel anything is possible.
Oddly, having fewer choices - can make life feel easier.

This - Maggie May and the south of France - is a good base.
It's beautiful.
Between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean.
Great food. Excellent wine.

A small, simple, compact home.


It may not be the last base.
But it's easy to close up and - go.

These days, simpler is almost always better.
Fewer things = more freedom.

So - rather than being a "retirement destination", it's more of a "step along the way".
It's not necessarily a final chapter.

We could still wind up anywhere.



It's a continuation of an adventure that began decades ago.
Exploring the world.

Being amazed by the beauty. Puzzled by the mysteries. Touched by the culture.

Living each day - kind of making it up as we go along.


As they say here - "La vie est belle."

Life is wonderful.






09 May 2019

New Mexico - to "Maggie May" - via Train & Ship


We just crossed over the Missouri River. 
On a train. 

We have a small sleeper compartment. Private bathroom. 
Stan's playing guitar. 

Stan's happy - there's a self-serve coffee stand at the end of our coach. 

All meals are included on the 28 hour train trip from Albuquerque to Chicago. 
Salmon, fillet steak, NY cheesecake. 
A small bottle of merlot. 

The attendant brings hot water for tea to our compartment between meals. 
And makes up the beds. Nice.


New Mexico is beautiful from here.  Mountains and mesas.


(Did you know - the Santa Fe Railway never went to Santa Fe. 
The terrain was too tough. So it stopped in nearby Lamy.)


Across Kansas. Missouri. A small corner of Iowa, and into Illinois.
Fields and farms and quiet towns. 


Over the Mississippi River.
Lots of water up here. Still snow in some places! 
Looks like it was a wet and wild winter. 



Finally - the train pulls into Chicago.


Chicago is an enjoyable city. 
Clean, cool architecture, friendly folks, and a killer location right on the lake. 

Museums, clubs, shows, parks. One of the better world-class cities. A bit unsung.
And - the Art Institute, which is always a treat.

Then, a new destination. 
Up along Lake Michigan to Wisconsin to visit Jim and Jane (and Jessica).


Also by train. 
The weather didn't cooperate. Freezing! 
So we had to discuss Everything Under the Sun - indoors.
Which - we did. Solving world problems left and right. 

(Jane, by the way, is a heck of a cook-!)

In the last 5 months, we sold our house in NM.

Sold the cars. 16 bicycles. Furniture. Antiques. Gave away books, clothes, linens, kitchenware. 
Dozens of guitars. Rugs. Art materials, art. Tons of tools. -Untold treasures.

And 1 cat. (who is probably happier now)

The goal was to get rid of everything. 
Aiming toward a "toothbrush and a credit card" life.
Lightening the load a bit. 


After that job, this long slow trip was welcome.

From Chicago, the Lake Shore Limited - another overnight train. 
Sleeper compartment to New York. 
Along the edges of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie.

Past Buffalo, where my Dad was born in 1910. 

The Queen Mary II is our next step - for the transatlantic portion of our trip back to France. 


Always wanted to take the Queen Mary.
It's not a cruise ship, it's an ocean liner. Transport, rather than entertainment. 

Between New York and Southhampton, UK. 


And: It IS beautiful. Luxurious. Spacious. Elegant. 


Our stateroom has loads of space. Even a fridge. An electric kettle. 
A private balcony, a king bed, and a comfortable sitting area. 
With a complimentary bottle of champagne.

Turn down service. With chocolates. 


Evenings are quite formal - most men in tuxedos, most women in sparkly dresses. 
Lots of ballroom dancing and live music in the evenings. Shows. Speakers.


(You can hang out in your stateroom, and go to the buffet or the pub if you want to stay casual.)


The ship's library is the largest afloat - it's impressive. 
Stan is still happy - he's got his guitar and a view.


(I thought this might be some sort of modern art sculpture. 
Turns out it's a spare propeller blade. Yikes.)


I love just watching the water glide by. No responsibilities. 
Being amazed that there is NOTHING around us - in any direction. Just water. 
(Ok, maybe an iceberg or two up by Labrador-)

And we have so little idea of what is UNDER the water out here. 


After 7 nights' crossing, London-! 
We find last minute tickets to a West End show, and go out for dinner after.

TGV (the Train of Great Speed) from London to Paris. 
The Eurostar. Upstairs. Quiet.
Under the English Channel. Fast. 

Change stations in Paris. 
Passing over the Seine.
Through the fields and villages of France - way down to the south.


To Béziers overnight.

(Didn't want to arrive on the boat too late in the day. 
After winter, we first have to fill the water tanks.)


Then - finally, after a trip that took us 3 weeks:

It's time to open the champagne.


On the aft deck of Maggie May.