21 June 2017

Living on the Canal du Midi. Of Boat Cranes and Bowthrusters.

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.
That's really cool.

A lot of the liveaboard boats were built a hundred years ago as Dutch transport barges. 
Others were trawlers, or tugs.
Some were custom built last year, to the owner's exact specs.

Each boat is different.
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. He's French/Scottish, she comes from New Zealand.

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 for French couple Patrick and Evelyne.

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 lift 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. 

The propeller for the bowthruster.

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.


  1. All in a day's work, and entertainment! Enjoyed this.

    1. Thanks! Not everyone has a jar labelled "Not so Fresh Flies".