21 June 2017

Dropped Boats and Adopted Ducks - Life on the Canal

Someone asked: So what do you DO all day on a boat? 
My answer - open the wine - and I'll tell you some of the stories so far. 


What I figure is - everyone on a boat is just winging it. 
It's all improvised. Nothing is really standardized. 
A lot of the liveaboard boats were built a hundred years ago as Dutch transport barges. 
Others were trawlers, or tugs. 
Each boat is different, and each problem has to be solved creatively. 
Things go wrong. 
Mistakes have to be fixed, repairs made, ducks rescued. 

Ron and Fiona's boat "The SWAN". Built in 1910.

Advice is asked - is this painter reliable? Is this port good in winter? 
How did you attach your solar panels? 
Can you use your mooring contract as your address? 
And all answers in France take a lot of time - and documentation.

Totally different style, this boat used to be a rental boat. Now a liveaboard.

Here is a recent episode:

AVALON's bowthruster breaks as it comes through the Poilhes bridge. 
To replace it, the boat has to be pulled completely OUT of the water. 
A HUGE crane is needed. AVALON weighs close to 30 tons.


And: permission forms - in triplicate - are required from the local mayor's office. 

The "Mairie" in Poilhes.
The crane driver and the mechanic speak French. The boat owners speak German. 
There is a lot of arm waving and I can see that it isn't going well. 
Much to Stan's dismay, I offer to translate.  


The heavy cables are placed. 
The woman in the striped shirt, Petra, is one of the owners.
The guy in the navy shirt is the mechanic.
She and her husband Roland run a B&B on their boat. 
They need to pick up new passengers the next day.  


Cables adjusted. The boat is hoisted. 



- and - unbelievably - one of the cables SNAPS - and the boat is DROPPED - back into the water! 
No one is hurt, but everyone is pretty shook up. 
And: That created some HUGE waves in the normally quiet canal.
(Our boat is moored just beyond that bridge.)


Naturally, the local working guys gather to discuss the whole procedure. 


On second try, (really about the fifth try. Second day - new cables, LOTS more weights) it works. 
Yay! Up goes the boat. 


The bow is carefully placed on a makeshift bit of wood and pipe. 
The offending part is replaced and repaired. It only takes about an hour or two.
It was windy - I was worried the boat would swing, but - that's really not my department. 




Our bowthruster isn't working either, so Stan comes down to have a look.
Early the next morning, I see AVALON cruise by, with Petra waving a good-bye and thank you. 
Who would have thought we'd be spending the weekend like that?


I promised adopted ducks, too, didn't I? 
Well, the ducks' territory is the canal towpath.
They quack up and down it all day long.


Lots of ducklings in spring, but - many don't make it to summer. 


Our friends Ron and Fiona, on The Swan, rescued and adopted an orphan duckling. He likes flies. 
(I now have 2 old yogurt jars labelled "Fresh Flies" and "Not-so-Fresh Flies", thanks to Fiona.)

If you pull out a flyswatter, the duckling will chase it vigorously back and forth. 
If you put the fly swatter away, he jumps onto your feet. 


And: where else would we be invited to a "Waterloo" party?
-Complete with bagpipes, BBQ, hanging panties and a pink bowtie?


So - episodes on the canal. 
Every day is a little different.


04 June 2017

Boat Life - Things I Hadn't Really Thought Much About Before Living on a Boat


We're living on the boat now, at the side of the Canal du Midi in France. 
We haven't gone anywhere yet, just enjoying being here in this village and getting used to boat life. It's different.


There are two things the boat needs on a regular basis: 
Power and water - even if we aren't cruising anywhere. 
Power to run the water pump, lights, toilets, shower pump, and the fridge. 

Maggie May in her canal mooring.
All are 12v. The fridge takes the most power.  
We found that running the generator for an hour in the morning will recharge the batteries enough to run the fridge - and everything else - for the rest of the day.


There are power outlets on the boat, but they don't work - unless the generator is running. 
Or - if you're plugged in. You CAN plug in a boat, kind of like a camping van or an RV. 
-IF you can find a mooring with power - which is rare.


Usually, the only thing I NEED to plug in is my phone. 
Sometimes I just plug it in when we're in the car. 

There's a power and water box on the right, just below the stone steps.
Eventually, we'll get a few solar panels. 
That should help keep the house batteries charged.  
Most of the live aboard boats have solar panels.

An English couple live permanently on this boat - with solar panels - just down the canal from us.
It's made me very aware of all the energy - electricity - we use in our houses without ever thinking about it. -An endless supply of unlimited power all day long! From the point of view of living on a boat, that's pretty special. When we start cruising, the engine will recharge the batteries, too.


For water, we have a LONG hose. 
There's a metered box not too far away, and for 2 euro, we can get about 300 liters of water. 
Our tanks hold about 1100 liters, (about 300 gallons), which lasts us about 10 days - 2 weeks, if we use it sparingly. That's with 2 of us aboard. Some boats have water makers, where they filter canal water for use on the boat - for everything but drinking water.


Of course, the metered water box stopped working a few days before our first visitor, Stan's sister, Charlene - and we wound up taking showers at the public port facilities.

The Port Office. Showers thru the door on the far right.
The village we're in is VERY small - it doesn't even have its own bakery. 
And in France, that's saying something. 
But there's a bread van that comes by each morning. 
There's a shop where she'll keep a baguette for you if you ask her the day before. 

This shop - is actually ON a boat. In a nearby town. "Pain" is bread.
During the days, there are ducks and doves, cars and kids going to the school across the canal from us. Fishermen. Tractors heading to the vineyards. At night, it's so unbelievably quiet!
No cars, no one out. Last night I heard an owl - loud and clear. 

A commercial barge - about to pass us.

Boats come and go on the canal, passing us. Some of them are HUGE, commercial barges - or luxury hotel barges, with a full crew and lots of flowers. It's impressive to see them squeeze through the narrow bridges, many of which were built in the 1600's.

That's Maggie May on the left - dwarfed by the large hotel barge.
The galley - kitchen - on our boat is very comfortable. 
But there are so many fine local restaurants - and of course, a glass of local wine...

This restaurant is just steps from our boat.


17 April 2017

Return to France via London - and Maggie May Gets Painted!

On the way back from Grenada to France, our flight stopped in London.
So we spent an extra day or two.
 - I wanted to see the David Hockney exhibition, and we booked tickets to "Motown". 
It feels so - busy and urban - after Grenada!
LOVE his colors! Of course I would.
Both are excellent - and I love being in London. 
But - even with a strong dollar and a weak pound, it's pricey.


Back in France, it feels so good to see Maggie May again! 
I'm surprised how - familiar it feels, and how comfortable.


And: Spring is happening! 
Flowers fill the spaces between the vineyard rows, birds chirp and the air smells of fruit blossoms. 
The leaves are just coming out. 


I forgot how invigorating spring could be! 
It feels energetic and fresh. 


As the summer season is approaching, we get a new mooring spot - 
behind the bridge and out of the way of the summer rental boats.
 I like it. 
But - we buy some extra fenders "bumpers". Just in case.
A lot of the rental boat drivers are beginners - as we well know.

Mikey, Iris and Erik judge the tunnel as Kilian drives our rental boat. 3 years ago.

Now, we're heading off to the US to get our long-stay visas for France. 
And maybe do taxes and get the New Mexico house ready for the summer house sitters. 

While we're gone, Jose is going to finish painting the upper portions of the boat.
 (He painted the hull while we were in the shipyard, up "on the hard".)

Before...
 It looks pretty good - but close up, the paint needs work. 
(Here's an in-progress pic of the paint job - )

...during the paint job...
Inside, however - looks surprisingly spiffy. 


But the best part of all is just - being able to BE on the boat. 
On the canal. With a small glass of wine.



16 April 2017

Grenada - Windward Side

Cabier Beach, Grenada. Our apartment is on the left.
Here in the Caribbean - far south - things are pretty slow. 
We spent a month (!) renting a house on the "busy" part of the island.


Not very busy, really.
Then - we moved east - to the windward side.


No cities. Few towns.
Bumpy dusty muddy roads. 
Goats. Chickens. Pigs. Enthusiastic roosters.

(I drew a LOT of little things in my journals-)
Jungles of plantain, papaya, coconut, mango, breadfruit trees.
Everything grows here. And the flowers -!
Beaches without a soul around. (ok, maybe a few iguanas.)


We found a place to stay at Cabier Beach - and we stayed a month.
It's pretty remote - and just right.
Pretty soon, it felt like home.

Weighing scales used at the local "green" market.
The parrots, the turtles, the monkeys, the zoo keeper (!), and the people who live and work here - 
they begin to know us and we know them.
 It's a mix of French, German and English - and some sort of local Creole.
And Bruno - he's French and runs a restaurant right here. Ah.


It's relaxed. We make driftwood sculptures on the beach. 
Chase crabs to see if we can pet them. (It embarrasses them, I'm sure-) 
Take beach walks.


Enjoy torrential downpours and spectacular moonsets.
Even take part in a "hash run" - a weekly event with a lot of  people, music, noise, color.
Good local beer and BBQ chicken. 
(they happen all over the world, apparently - try it! It's fun.)

It's the sort of place that - when a visitor comes to eat at the restaurant, we all wind up talking, and sharing stories, and we leave with promises of meeting again, somewhere else in the world, somewhere in the future.

Our local store.

We draw. Play music. Feed the macaw. Walk. 
Discuss local politics and neighbors with people who live there.

The fellow who rents us our car turns out to be the local doctor. 
When Stan has a sinus infection, the doctor / car rental guy makes a house call. 
Then goes to the pharmacy to pick up the prescriptions! All for $30. 
(Since they don't pay him much, he has a small car rental business on the side.)


Grenada isn't glitzy. It's real friendly.
It's a regular place, not a "destination".
Most tourists only visit one small corner of the island.

Turns out - it's a great place to spend the winter.