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.  
It's also called "The Canal Between Two Oceans".

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 French village about 2 hours north of Barcelona.
Between Montpellier and Toulouse.

The "lavoir", originally used for laundry. From the aft deck.

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.






7 comments:

  1. How much a month a boat with two large rooms in south France.

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    Replies
    1. Depends on the size of the boat! And the condition.

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  2. This is great. You child posted a link to your webpage on reddit and I checked you out. I'm a 29 year old female living as an expat with my husband. You inspire me <3

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! Saw your comment when I was feeling cranky and hot, and it made my day!

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  3. so nice! i also found this site in that reddit post.. I'm 25 yrs old and I'm inspired by your life!

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    Replies
    1. It's cool that my son posted it!

      Sometimes making changes in a lifestyle isn't easy or comfortable, (and sometimes people think you're kinda crazy) but it's worthwhile taking the chance. And - it always seems to work out somehow!

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  4. Well defined, I was nodding and with you on every explanation. Of course the Swan Pickies helped. Ha ! We all await the next chapter with held breath. Courage and cheers. Ron.

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