Welcome back to Auxerre and the new year

Hello and Bienvenue! Now I am back in France after a good months visit to Sweden. Found the boat well and dry. Everything working fine when I came back onboard. Made me very happy, especially because a cold spell followed me home from Sweden. It has been below freezing temeperatures for about two weeks. The Webasto buzzed quietly most of the time and kept the boat warm. It slurped down about two liters of diesel (gazole in French) every day. Now, as I write, the temps have gone up way above freezing and not much diesel is burned. Nice! I spent my days hiking and biking the area around town. Good exercise and a way to stay fit. On the trails I am mostly alone, as the locals think it way too chilly to go outside. Compared to Swedish weather, this is warm!
And then I have had some bad days. The other day I ran out of gasol for cooking. I had already planned for that, and went to buy a new gas bottle at the local store. So far, so good. But the bottle, one of those blue Campingaz 907 containers, needs a security open/close valve. That I did not think of and I have for two days walked to every store in town that sells Campingaz. Nowhere do they have this valve. The nearest store that has one is about 20 km away, at a camper truck store. So I made the decision to order it online and have it send to me here. It still has not arrived. So I am cooking on the Swedish ethanol heater (stormk√∂k) that I have always had onboard as a backup. Bit of a hassle, but it works. Let’s hope the valve will arrive by the postal service. That you never know!
Other than that I have met the neighbouring boat folks, English speaking for the most. A couple and a single older man from the USA, a couple from the UK, two Australians with a vicious dog, and two different French boaters. I happen to be the youngest one of the lot. We go out to restaurants or to a concert here and there. Next concert is on Friday. That means I have other things to do than wander about, read books and listen to music in the boat. Now I am just waiting for Spring to arrive.

Challenges of winter living aboard a Monsun

Winter is coming, even to central France. Living aboard is going well, although it’s a challenge to battle the temperature differences inside and outside the boat. Biggest concern is the condensation of water vapour on all the cold surfaces inside. To make living quarters liveable I have invested in an electric heater (oil filled radiator, 1500W) and a 300W-consuming dehumidifier. The combination of heater/dehumidifier keeps the boat dry and warm. In the nights temperatures outside drop and every morning the diesel heater kicks in and warms up the boat to 20 degrees Celcius. Nice to have a good heater! To help insulate the boat even more I have covered the cockpit tent with a layer of see-through plastic sheeting (70 microns) and the windows are covered with the same type of plastic on the outside, to create double glass windows. It greatly reduces condensation on the inside of the glass. The forward hatch is also covered with the plastic sheet. The deck is protected by a blue tarp tied to the stanchions on either side of the boat. It is still nice to have the cockpit as a place to take on and off shoes and outer clothing, but temperatures make it less fun to spend time out there. Moved more inside the boat, meaning that living space is reduced to a minimum. That’s life on a Monsun in a river harbour of central France.

So what went wrong in Paris?

The original plan was to advance up the Seine, all the way through the center of Paris, and on to the Yonne tributary to the Seine. In the vicinity of the city the Seine has a number of deep meandering loops. I was doing alright, motoring my way upstream towards the city. Seeing more and more garbage floating in the river, I knew Paris was approaching. Trouble was that I couldn’t find places along the river to moor for the night. And night time traffic is not allowed. As I had finally found a marina along the way, close to the city centre, I tried to find a spot to park. The only guest moorings were for boats shorter than 6m and with a depth of maximally 1m. The only open spots available were, according to a very unpleasant harbourmaster, rented out and I was NOT allowed to use these. But he did suggest I go back about 3 km on the river and take the canal route through Paris. For boats my size and depth he said that was the only way to find a mooring, as there were two marinas on the canals there. So I left, and went back down the river to the lock that was supposed to let me into the St Martin canal, on my way to Paris. After waiting a long time in front of the lock, seeing people walk around on the locking premises, I called the control center in Paris. Yes, I needed to give them a load of totally unnecessary information, and then they locked me through.

Now I was in the northern part of the canal system through Paris, Canal St Denis, in an area that felt very unsafe. I was very tired and told the canal controller that I stay and spend the night here. He tried to convince me not to do so, but I was tired and stayed. It was horrible, but I survived and continued the next day to reach the mooring at Bassin de Villette, in the middle of town. I got there during a heavy thunderstorm, but two boat neighbours came out and helped me tie up. Next problem, I needed a key to get in and out of the marina. And the key could only be retrieved at the Arsenal marina, a 35 min bike ride from here. Suck! I stayed in and the next day I got the key with my bike, after booking a mooring via the Internet. Bike ride to and from Arsenal was dangerous and a definite health threat due to the chaotic Paris traffic. I got the key and paid my fees, which were very expensive! Okay, back at Villette I enjoyed living in Paris for five days. I met with my friend Emily and she took me sightseeing and helped me buy a little 1/2 size classical guitar. Visited about 7 music stores, which was fun. During my stay at Villette, there was a national swimming competition in the canal next to my boat. I fear for the health of the swimmers, since water quality is very, very bad here. My boat neighbours were all French liveaboards who had absolutely no sailing experience. They lived here because it is a cheap way of living in the heart of the city. And that is a whole lot more expensive than living in a tent under the bridges, which is what thousands of more or less homeless people do here.
So, after some fun days att La Vilette and Paris, time to travel on. From here I was to take the Canal de St Martin down to the Arsenal marina and back trough a lock into the Seine, upstream of Paris. My friend Emily came along to help me through the 7 locks and we enjoyed the day. Before coming into the Arsenal marina, where I was to leave the keys, we went through a three km long tunnel under the city centre. It was an amazing experience, spiced up by some musicians playing brass instruments in the tunnel entrance. The lights and sounds were fantastic. And in the late afternoon I was out on the Seine again, left Emily on the river bank and was on my way east. But all in all, Paris was an expensive illusion of poverty and criminality. Glad to leave, so I was.

Got as far south as Auxerre, Bourgogne

Hello again! Time for an update on my progress so far. Isabell is tied to the quay at Aquarelle-France marina in Auxerre, France. After going through the center of Paris on the Seine river, and having to go back to take Paris by canals, I sailed up the Seine to the Yonne river at Montenau. From there I followed (actually I had the company of a friend, Emmy) we followed the river Yonne into the Canal de Bourgogne at Migennes. And when we were up in the canal, which had a terrible amount of water plants in it, we had to go back out. Canal closed in front of us at Montbard, Bourgogne… We had help of the manager at the LeBoat boat renting firm at Migenne (town is a terrible place) to find a winter mooring at the dock in Auxerre. So, after some touristing in the area, which is beautiful, we docked at Auxerre. That’s where I am now. It is raining a lot, but in between the bad weather we explore the area. Bike rides or long walks are so much fun! Auxerre is a middle size friendly town with all the possible shops nearby. It is also very old and well preserved. So being here for the winter months is not all that bad. However, living in the boat in this awfully wet weather is a bit of a challenge, due to the dampness. I have invested in a oil filled radiator heater and an electric dehumidifier to keep living quarters warm and relatively dry. So far it is still very damp. Going to spend all of December in Sweden, so then the boat will be drier after that. But life is still good. Paris was a disappointment, in spite of visiting a lot of nice places with Emmy, who lives there. So many people, traffic, bad air quality and everything very expensive. Going through Paris underground (Canal de St Martin tunnel – 3.2 km long) was very cool. Cheers for now from Auxerre! Here until early April 2024.

Done Canal des Ardennes

Yes! Isabell is still afloat. And I am making slow progress here in France. I have now travelled all of the Meuse and Canal des Ardennes and am now on the Canal lateral d’Aisne. This will take me to the river Oise which flows into the Seine just downstream of Paris. It is a great experience and hard work to do the canals in France. Many locks to go up or down in. The other day I did 27 locks in one day, going down (which is easier than going up). But that was tough! Some of the locks don’t work, so the automatic start does not help. In that case I have called to the VNF water authority and they sent out somebody to help me. Help has been quick to arrive. It keeps being scary to do the locks. Since you never know if it’s going to work or NOT. Until you are through and out of them… I am doing good and Isabell is clearing most of the waterways. Just having problems tying up to quays and jetties, because very shallow in the periferies. But it is basically going alright. Paris soon!

Bonjour, I am in France

It has again been a while since I got in here and update this blog. It is bothersome. But… I am making good progress on my way south. I am now in the little town of Fumay, in the Ardennes of France. It is beautiful here. To get here I went up the river Meuse past the cities of Liege and Dinant and the border town of Givet.
At Givet I paid the fees for the french waterways, a sort of tax, and got my vignet to stick on the windshield. After Givet the weather changed from very sunny, hot and humid to just warm and very humid (thunderstorms and massive rainstorms). So yesterday I changed the sun screen cover over the cockpit into a rain shelter screen. Today I have used to bike around a bit in between showers and dry all my clothes and gear that have gotten drenched. On the way I have passed through the Ham tunnel. Very special. A shortcut through the mountain at Ham sur Meuse, tunnel without illumination, length 565 m and no towpath, so the only way out is by boat… It was fun!

Also I am in the proud possession of a remote control. With this little yellow box I can open and close the locks. The locks have gotten fairly small, after all the big locks on the lower Meuse. Now I come to the lock, press a button and the light goes from red to red/green. Lock opens on my side and the light goes green. I enter, tie up to the wall and then push a blue bar upward, the lock closes and water fills in. I go up with an enormous speed. That has cost me a line, which got stuck onto the staircase under water. I couldn’t retrieve it since, so just cut it loose and gave it to the lock. When the lock is full, the upper doors open and then I leave. Most of it is hard work, but as long as it works I am moving south. I have to go ways around since the primary canals that are shortest way down south are closed due to water shortage. Wonder how that could happen this summer with plenty of rain??? Anyways, I am going by Paris and the upper Seine. From Pont Au Bar a bit south of here on the Meuse I will go into the Canal des Ardennes toward Paris. It’s supposed to be beautiful, but lots of locks to work through. I am definitely going to be well trained when I get through that. I am mostly posting pictures on Facebook, because for this blog site it is too much of a hassle. Sorry for that.

Done all of the Dutch Meuse river

Been a while again, I have been very busy navigating the river and working the locks. By now I have arrived in the city of Maastricht, where the river leaves the Netherlands and goes into Belgium. I am sitting at the free of charge dock in the middle of the city. Will stay a few days to do some shopping and organize things.

The locks are just getting bigger and bigger, it seems. But mainly the lifting heights increase. First five big locks on the river lifted between 3 and 4 meter. Now I have gone in the third lock that has lifted between 6 and 8 meter. They are the kind with floating bollards, so you tie up and the bollard follows the water level rising or falling. For me, it is only going up.

Have met some nice people, and seen some fantastic places. Time flies when you are having fun.

Following the Meuse upstream

At this time I am at a marina in the town of Kerkdriel, in the province of Gelderland. I have celebrated having covered 1000 nm since I left Stockholm in June, by taking a bicycle tour to the historic town of Zaltbommel. The Meuse sure is a special river. Back in the Roman Empire it formed part of the northern border. Then in the bourgondian era it was the border between the French parts and the Lowlands (Dutch) parts of the area. And even later, today it still is the border between two provinces of the Netherlands, Gelderland to the north and Noord-Brabant to the south of the water. So I am actually sailing in two different regions all at once. Along its shores are a number of famous castles, fortifications and stronghold cities (now small, fortified towns). Beautiful sceneries and very quiet.
To get this far I have had to bounce around on the rivers Old Rhine, Gouwe near the city of Gouda, Hollandse IJssel, Merwede and the canalised Nord and Dorthse Kil. On these waters there was a lot of commercial traffic, I mean a lot of big ships. Now the river Meuse is small and it has 7 weirs with locks, so it does not have a strong current. Beautiful for having to motor upstream. And finally I am getting a break from all the torrential rain that has fallen. The weather is clearing up and from a bottom low of 9 degrees Celsius the other day it is up in the high 20’s again. Nice! I needed that. As I was coming up the Meuse, there are a number of air force bases, and I got to see attack helicopters training to fly right over the tree tops, sometimes it looked like they would actually fly into the tree tops. And they were practising hovering and landing right next to me. I waved to the pilots! In short, I am having so much fun and have been so busy with whatever is happening, that I haven’t had so much time to post stuff here. Isabell is performing nicely with the mast tied down, very stable and well balanced. I have gone through many bridges without them opening, which I have still to get used to. Scary in the beginning. And I have made it through two locks without any troubles for the mast sticking out. From here it is only a few miles to the next huge lock, at the power plant weir of Lith (owned by Vattenfall). From now on I need long lines and do some climbing up the lock walls, since I am going up in the landscape and each lock lifts about 3 to four meter. It all feels a bit new, but fun to learn how things work.

Conversion to river boat finished

Time for an update. After several days of hard work Isabell is turned into a river boat. The mast stepped down on the deck, Isabell can go under bridges higher than 2,5 meter (or 25 dm as they use on the Dutch water charts), which is about 90% of the bridges where I am now. Later on it will be good for 100% of the bridges.
It was firstly very hard to find a place to lower the mast. Every crane operator here in NL seemed to have taken a holiday. But with the help of my uncle, himself a vivid boater, I found a shipyard with a bunch of wonderful persons/characters. And the help of both my twin sisters was enormous. Took a few days, but it is done and I am on my way south again. Weather still sucks, but hey, this is Holland. One of the reasons I left here fourty years ago is the rainy weather. Meantime, it has been fun visiting with ol’ friends and family. I even ran into boyhood friends that I had not seen for fifty years. Such a wonderful experience!

Now the mast sits on supports on the deck. I disconnected all cables and had to remove a bunch of items from the deck to have space for the mast supports. It feels funny, empty up in the sky. But had to be done. Let’s hope I remember how all the parts fit together, so that once the mast goes up again I manage to put the boat back together. And I have raised the Swedish flag because my dutch flags are too big and get stuck on the supports. Boat is registered in Sweden anyhow, so that is allowed here. Love hearing all the positive comments from passer by people on the towpaths. What a lovely Swedish boat here in the rain…

Mast stepping project in Leiden

It has been a week and I am still in the city harbour of Leiden. While here I have taken down the sails and a lot of the deck equipment used for ocean sailing. I have had help shopping for building materials from which to make the deck supports for the mast to rest on. I have tried to find a mast crane that I can use to lower the mast. There is a bit of a struggle, because all the possible mast operators are on holidays right now. And they won’t let me operate the cranes myself… At least two weeks left of vacation time in this part of the country. Meanwhile I have been a little bit under the weather, but getting better. And I am enjoying seeing friends, family and familiar places and events around here. Being a tourist, so to speak. Now I am going to make the mast supports and try and find a marina or yacht club where I may operate the mast crane. If not, I just have more time to enjoy Holland. I will keep you posted!