Then we set off up the Petit Saone toward Gray. This was new territory. Quite where to tie up was a quandry as for some reason the French have decided to reinforce the quays by dropping concrete blocks only half way up. Standing on the quay, or even from the water, you can’t see the concrete block. It appears possible to tie up – but a mere metre below the surface is a big fat block of concrete guaranteed to damage the hull of a boat. Had they put the concrete blocks all the way up – it wouldn’t have been a problem.
Gray looked lovely, but of course, we had to pass through it as we weren’t about to risk damage to our boat. So we tied up at a camping site on the outskirts of the town. It cost a mere €5 per night and had water, electricity. Facilities in the camping zone were nicer than those next to the water. Unfortunately no Wi-Fi. It was a short walk back into town and we went right past a LIDL, so had a great spot to buy provisions. We had a drink at a local brasserie next to the Saone, watched the fish in the water. So mesmerising. Then ambled back to our boat. Being tied up on the outer perimeter of the town was peaceful. We slept well.
Sundays not a lot happens in France – and even less in a small town so we took the day off and had a lie in, did very little and promptly had an afternoon snooze. We were awoken by a bunch of wandering mistrels who came to have a picnic. They bellowed out lyrics, bashing away at their guitars with gusto. After a full afternoon of it, I confess I was wishing them away.
Monday we set off for the Tourism Office. Our map was a bit old and it had moved so we couldn’t find it. But we did with help from locals. Such a lovely lady working there. She couldn’t do enough to help us and gave us the one thing we had been wanting for years – a VNF waterways map of France – in English! Our original one was tattered and torn from years of use. We wanted to take one home and frame it so we would have memories of where we had travelled. They no longer print them hence our difficulty finding another copy.
Next to us people were coming and going. Mostly hire boats but some boat owners too. A party of New Zealand couples, an elderly Swiss couple. Gray is a lot smaller than we were expecting. Once we’d done the historical walk, seen the river, and got to know our way around, it seemed pointless hanging around for the sake of it. We still had this oil leak that had to be sorted and so we decided to rather return to St-Jean-de-Losne via Pontailler-sur-Saone earlier.
We’ve seen our fair share of odd things on the waterways over the years, but on the trip to Pontailler-sur-Saone, I saw some of the worst ever. First lock, three boats went into a lock. A couple on a hire boat at the rear were right next to the gadget to activate the lock. They made no effort to tie up. Or activate the lock. You can’t miss the mechanism. And you cannot get the locks to work any other way.
We all waited and nothing happened. There was a man in the drivers seat gazing around expectantly. And a woman on the fordeck cuddling her dog. We motioned for them to pull the lever. And pointed to it. She looked around in total amazement. She looked at the mechanism but did nothing. Again and again, we called to her to please activate the lock. She then tried to feebly tie one rope to the steps on the side of the lock. And promptly gave up on that. We had no way of getting off our boat. Thankfully, a bloke from the boat in front managed to jump from the roof of his boat to the quay and did the job.
Next lock, we were behind a group of youngsters. There were three boats angling to go into the lock together. As you do when there’s enough space for three boats. The younsters tied up – and immediately pulled the lever – before we were even properly in the lock. We hadn’t tied up yet! I was so cross that I shouted at them. Not sure they understood English, but I tried to explain they could cause an accident if water came in before we were secure. And further to that, they now forced the boat at the rear to have to wait for the lock to fill – and empty again – before it could pass through. For no good reason. The extremely hot summer and insufficient rain, had casued some of the waterways to close down and instead of maximising use of a lock, here this group were wasting water.
At the last lock of the day two ‘Le Boat’ hire boats went into the lock together and were not happy to share with us. There was more than enough space for two more boats. Again, I called out to the driver asking if he could move over and make space for us and the boat waiting outside the lock. He flat out refused to move and told us their party had been instructed by ‘Le Boat’ not to allow more than two boats in a lock at any given time. We squeezed in anyway but the other boat had to wait outside the lock unfortunately. I can understand ‘Le Boat’ would want maximum manoeuvreability to minismise damage to their boats. Particularly since they have novice drivers. Bit I do think that it’s a selfish policy to inflict on other waterway users.
Back at St-Jean-de-Losne we found a spot right near the marina. Handy for Wi-Fi, showers, toilets, the local supermarket, etc. My other half had made yet another appointment with someone to look at his concerns the following day. And the pre-sale inspection was to take place. We needed to find boxes and start packing too.
Since we only had two days – and some of the repairs were still not complete – we opted to take a day trip to Auxonne, and back. The previous hell hot weather had caused a few of the canals to close in France. The Saone was still navigable. Weather in September was just perfect. Nowhere near as hot as before. Definitely not cold, despite leaves on the trees beginning to turn yellow. Kids had gone back to school – so it was quieter. It was however, very windy. When we got back to St-Jean-de-Losne my other half battled to park our boat. Or “bring it alongside” as he likes to call it in boating parlance. The weed in the H2O marina was jamming the bow thruster which didn’t help. Luckily a friendly chap we’ve encountered before helped us with our ropes.
Our friends left us to go back to their new home in Holland. The engineers came back. Floorboards were up again. They came. They went. They came again. Engines on. Engines off. They fiddled – and fiddled more. Had no idea what they were doing. Just hoped they were fixing and not causing more problems. It has happened that repairs have created problems for us. Of course the boatyard will deny it, but it absolutley has happened to us. Something that worked perfectly before has been opened or moved and then it doesn’t work anymore or develops problems. But what can a person do but pay? The alternative is to be stuck in a small town with a boat that won’t move.
The “For Sale” board at the back of our boat suddenly changed to “Vendu” (Sold) without us even noticing. Was this it? Like really, over? A million thoughts pop up. We had to pack. What do we leave? Was everything fixed on the boat? My other half has fixed so many things over the years, but boats are boats. Shangri La is not new. More stress.
Three days later we hoped all was well and left for our very last journey on Shangri La together. We almost felt too scared to travel far for fear we incur an accident or something new went wrong. My other half was determined to hand the boat over in the best condition possible. He was checking the workings as we travelled. Sadly, it wasn’t looking good. There was still oil dripping into the hull. It became a dark cloud hanging over our heads that dominated our last days on our beautiful boat. How serious was it? Why could H2O not fix it? Should we even be driving the boat?
We passed through two locks and spent our first night in Pontailler-sur-Saone. Shangri La had been through Pontailler-sur-Saone when we made our epic journey from the Netherlands to France in 2015. It’s a quaint little place. Nothing had changed. Nothing ever does in small towns. And that’s the charm. We chatted to the same staff at the marina and decided to stay two nights. My other half and I wandered about the town and took a walk to the local beach to have a drink. It’s not quite a beach but rather tranquil somewhat sandy section on the banks of the river. A beer and a glass of wine cost €5.50. Not exactly expensive. Locals were playing petanq. Or boules as we know it. Much amicable rivalry and teasing went on. Back at the boat we ate and had an early night.
Friday 31st August 2018 – 24th September 2018
St-Jean-de-Losne to Gray and back
I had planned to do a day-by-day account of our boating for our last time on Shangri La. But I just couldn’t. We knew we had to sell her and at this point it was looking like she might just have been sold. A person doesn’t want to get their hopes up. Anything can go wrong. But this would be the end of a dream life meandering down tranquil waterways, exploring tiny towns, visiting bigger cities, emersing ourselves in amongst French people and learning to speak and eat and live, just like they do. I was happy and sad in equal measure. But I felt lost. We were losing our “Happy Place’. Who was buying her? Would they love her like we did? All we hoped for was to enjoy our last few weeks on Shangri La and to deliver her to her new owners in the best condition possible.
Our first day back on board we woke up late and prioritised catching up with commuications. Our boat was parked right at the front of the “For Sale” section so we had Wi-Fi on board. Yay! Wi-Fi is excellent at H2O marina in St-Jean-de-Losne. Except it was a little less “Yay” when I realised how much catching up I needed to do. Firstly we needed to revive our life back in Cape Town. Menus, recipes, tests runs, photographs, social media for the one business. And then we had to deal with bills, tax and a massive backlog of e-mails that weren’t urgent, but could no longer be ignored. Laundry, food shopping, cleaning, preparing for some friends who were joining us in a day and trying to get our rudimentary French going again. I wanted to go straight back to bed. It was hard to decide which was the most important issue to tackle.
And then of course we had boat repairs to deal with. These are an inescapable fact of life on a boat. And one aspect of boating we would definitley not miss. My better half is near obsessive in replacing and tightening and cleaning and checking. But cold winters and then hot engines as well as vibrations from motion and idling will inevitably cause connections to be compromised. Ignore them and they turn into even bigger boat repairs. Getting on top of this was his top priority.
Most of the things my other half had earmarked for fixing had – for the most part – been dealt with. But when it comes to boats, if you’re not around, you go to the bottom of the pile. Other boats have problems too and if their problems are greater than yours or they complain louder or more. You’re issues get forgotten. The last few things had simply not been done in the 6 weeks we’d been away. We had an oil leak coming from some connection relating to something in the engine. Not a big one. But a persistent one. The engineer arrived late morning and before long the floor boards were up and he was delving into the bowels of the boat. It is disruptive and I felt beyond unmotivated to do anything at all. It’s not easy to move around with no floor boards so I gave myself permission to take time out and caught up with news, blogs, Mail Chimp newsletters and e-mails. By close of day and beginning of the weekend, sadly the problem had not been fully resolved.
The next day our lovely friends arrived laden with vegan food from the Netherlands. So kind. They had recently emigrated from South Africa to Holland. Sigh! They’re also vegan so they know exactly what vegans miss. We only had two nights with them but it was wonderful to have them with us. France has been kind to us. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a myth that French people are unfriendly. But there is definitely a connection between people who have the same heritage that runs deep. I see it when we bump into fellow South Africans on the waterways. Complete strangers embrace like long lost friends.
Thursday 30th August 2018 London to St-Jean-de-Losne We know this trip so well by now,. It’s tight. There are only so many trains from Paris to Dijon and even less from Dijon to St-Jean-de-Losne. We cannot afford to hang about. So where had we been? We planned to visit an organic farm in the southernmost end of Cornwall. An experience I would highly recommend, but my goodness it is hard work. Especially for two old farts. We dug potatoes on our knees with our hands (in gloves), picked the most amazing tomatoes in sauna hot poly-tunnels and planted row upon row about half a kilometre long of Purple Sprouted Broccoli and Cavanero Kale. You don’t do that standing up. Or lying down. Just saying. We learned so much about the provenance of food. Will never throw food away ever again!
And then we did a two week Vegan Diploma at Demuth’s in Bath, Somerset, England. They pack a year’s cooking diploma into two weeks. We loved every second of it. The teachers gave freely of their knowledge. Both of us learned so much. I could do that course again. And again. It was intense – but such a gift.
We bungled things a bit and ended up with another trip back south to Torquay, Devon. Won’t reveal who is to blame for this but I will say it wasn’t me. But all good actually. The Airbnb host was away for a Bank Holiday Weekend so we had the place to ourselves. We did the odd venture out but for the most part – did very little. Which was so good. We needed time out.
Meanwhile, all sorts of communications regarding our beloved boat had been going on. There was a potential buyer who had apparently initially offered 17% below the asking price. My other half agreed on a 5.5% reduction off the asking price. Signing paperwork had been a bit tricky as we didn’t have access to a printer or Wi-Fi most of the time. But he had sent a signed copy of the sales agreement back to H2O. Now we were back in St-Jean-de-Losne. Reality was sinking in. Our first night all we wanted to do was sleep. A lot.
Saturday 14th July 2018
Sjoe, so many choices in a small town – on a Saturday – and a Public Holiday – in rural France! Firstly many places were actually open for the first time ever. The local supermarket was offering a €10 discount off every €60 spent on Bastille Day. Secondly it was Bastille Day and a procession down the streets and fireworks was planned. And thirdly it was the day before the Soccer World Cup 2018 finals – France vs Croatia. Everyone and their dog was feeling festive. Red, white and blue flags abounded. I even saw a car spray painted red, white and blue! That’s commitment.
My job for the day was to give the boat a big fat clean. Again. After all the drama on our way to St-Jean-de-Losne the boat needed yet another Spring Clean. My better half got stuck into outside jobs like putting new rope in the davits, polishing steel bits and washing down awnings. Seems so pointless cleaning outside as there are always spiders making sticky webs all over. Have never understood why a spider will choose to live on a boat when they can live on terra firma. They love nooks and crannies and hide in the tightest of knots and smallest of spaces. I suspect it’s them that bit us at night as every day we woke up with itchy red spots on our bodies. Everyone on the waterways has those exact same spots. I’ve tried making a raw garlic sauce with a whole head of garlic and placing it liberally over our food. No human could miss our garlic smell but these spiders are undeterred. As much as I try to live a vegan ahimsa (no harm) lifestyle, I don’t allow spider webs on our boat.
After a hot sweaty day of cleaning and tidying, we showered and headed to the centre ville (town centre). Not very big after all. I heard a frantic family of ducks squawking in the river and saw someone’s dog swimming after them having a wonderful time. Luckily they could fly away so the dog’s attempts were thwarted. It was another hot, hot, hot day. Not a breath of wind. Just being still in shade is enough to cause a person to sweat. We had an ice cold beer and then went to watch one of the bands playing in a back street. A mixture of punk and thrash. Next we heard fireworks across the river. We watched the display from afar. I love fireworks but am aware they cause immense distress to animals. Can’t wait for noiseless ones to be invented. We both crashed at the boat and despite the heat – slept well.
Sunday 15th July 2018 St-Jean-de-Losne The day France won 2018 Soccer World Cup Our last day in St-Jean-de-Losne for a bit. We had plans to explore the south of France, learn more about organic farming in Cornwall and attend a hands-on vegan cooking school in Bath before returning to our boat for a last month on the waterways. Fingers crossed we might have had some interest from a potential buyer. I always clean the drains with a mix of bicarbonate of soda, vinegar and hot water before we leave so any possible residue doesn’t harden and set hard constricting the outlets. It’s highly effective and eco friendly.
I made us a last supper of leftovers. Bean burgers with herbs and spices. Yet more garlic sauce but with 1 + 1/2 heads of garlic and a cucumber salad. My other half desperately needed a repsite from whatever was munching him. He was covered in big raised red bumps. How much more garlic would do the trick? The we went off to town to watch the game. I suspected France would win as all the predictions were for a French victory. We arrived at Brasserie de Port 20 minutes into the game and the score was one 1 – 1.
I freely admit to being a novice expert at soccer. And rubbish at supporting teams. I vascilate between wanting a team to win and feeling pity for the losers. When my team of choice is way down I bargain with the universe. I should not watch sport.
A few minues after we arrived and settled into our drinks France scored a goal bringing the score to 2 – 1. The game was remarkably free of dramatics and penalties. Croatia had excellent ball control for most of the game but France took more chances and scored yet another goal. as we neared the end of the game I wished Croatia one last goal, not to win, but they were so brave and played so hard. They were the underdog. But I also wanted France to win. As the game ended the crowd erupted into whoops and cheers. It was bedlam. People were running around the bar cheering and hugging each other. Then the festivities split out onto the street. People were hanging out of hooting cars, waving flags and generally beside themselves with happiness. It went on for hours afterwards.
Back at the boat we packed away valuables or what is precious to us and geared up for an early start to get to Dijon and then Avignon.
Friday 13th July 2018 St-Jean-de-Losne How to sell a boat in France? Yip, first pick an agent, which we had now done. The next step is completing the mandate to sell. It’s a heck of a lot of work. Not because it’s long winded. But because it requires critical information that isn’t stashed in our heads. They also want as much as possible about the history of the boat. We only know what the previous sellers had told us. But they also want to know what improvements had been made to the boat.
And this is where it sinks in what all this fun we’ve had on our boat has actually cost. The list of improvements over the years was long, yet the value of the boat hadn’t gone up one iota. Big ticket items like a new exhaust system, re-upholstering plus new matresses, curtains and carpets, new overhead and side awnings, new wiring and piping, replaced mosquito filters for the windows, new Whisper generator, fixed most of the leaking windows, let along smaller things like replacing starter motors, fenders and VHF radios. That is by no means all of the repairs or replacements. A look through the invoices revealed that over 7 years around around €42K had been spent on Shangri La. You can’t not fix a boat or ignore maintenance. Failing to do upgrades and repairs will cause a boat to deteriorate and ultimately have no value. But none of those improvements contributes to re-sale value. What’s the famous definition of a boat? “A hole in the water into which you throw money.”
Once the document was signed and all invoices, VAT certificates, registration papers, blah, blah had been handed over, we grabbed 4 huge loads of laundry, humped it to the laverie (laundromat) and got our laundry going. What’s a person to do on the banks of the River Saone with a few hours to kill on a hell hot day in France? Have a glass of rose and a plate of frites at the cafe next door of course. Bit cheeky to charge €16 for a glass of wine. (Note to self not to ask for wine, but order off the wine list next time.) My other half commented that the best part of boating is probably 60% finding new and fabulous places and 40% being on the waterways.
We saw notices all over about the summer festival of St-Jean-de-Losne as we walked back to the boat. So after supper and a shower, we decided to go back to our favourite place Brasserie de Port where a pichet of wine – and a beer – was €8. We did remember to ask for vin ordinaire (house wine) and it was good. I’m partial to unfiltered heavy red wines and this was exactly that. Our other favourite place was closed due to a fire! Gasp. We peered through the window and the ceiling was on the floor. It was sooty black.
After our drink we went back to sit on back deck of the boat when we heard sirens and drums. Our first thought was there might be some drama but no, it was a practise round for the Bastille Day festivities coming up. There was a marching band with the usual brass and drums section as well as metal xylophones which gave a sweet tinkle sound. A friendly Australian chap was telling us the pompiers have a morning routine in the street where they do their exercises showing off their fitness levels. Nice one. We both didn’t even remember it was Friday 13th until late evening.