Neither of us slept that night and by the morning we both reached the conclusion that since we didn’t have an agreement, it would be best to go on the Boat Show and at least have a chance of selling. My husband sent an e-mail to all the directors and the sales agent indicating our wishes. To which we never got a response.
What we didn’t know – is the buyer had already paid the full amount for our boat over to H2O. They had not insisted on these repairs, nor expected us to pay for all of them. They were completely bewildered that we were no longer interested in selling to them and came to speak to us in person the next morning.
Once my husband and the buyers got chatting we realised what we were hearing from H2O and what the buyers were saying – was not the same thing. Since both my husband and the buyers were keen to finalise the sale, they agreed between them, what repairs were necessary and who was responsible.
A figure of around €500 seemed about right. All H2O had to do, was get quotes and details as to how they would effect these repairs. At the next meeting to close the deal, the H2O quote for all the repairs was between €4000 – €5000.
A simple solution to the gas outlet would have been little 8cm x 8cm metal plate cover. Yet H2O were suggesting cutting into the steel and welding it closed costing around €800. They also wanted to withhold the entire value of their quotes for the repairs – from payment to us.
H2O actually admitted using the highest possible amount. And – the most expensive manner in which to quote for the repairs. And that’s not all – H2O wanted to withold even more money from the sale of the boat – for repairs they had done. My better half had been asking them for a latest statement countless times to no avail. And now the prospect of him not paying was yet another excuse to withhold even more money.
He has never once not paid a bill. He does always check them. He has found duplications on his bill from H2O. They were removed when he queried them – but it has happened.
My husband accused H2O of trying to maximise the sale for profit at every point. Whereupon the person from H2O handling the sale said we were welcome to find someone else to do the repairs.
So let’s unpack this. There is another boatyard/agent called Blanchard in St-Jean-de-Losne who are perpetually full and don’t even reply to e-mails or calls. They look after their customer base and do not take on any outsider work.
The guy we were dealing with knew full well that our boat was up on stilts in an H2O boatyard. The likelihood of any other non-H2O engineer working on our boat was unlikely. H2O have a monopoly on boat sales and repairs at a very busy waterways juncture in a tiny little town. There was no-one else we could turn to.
Our options were – going back into the water – and somewhere else. At great expense. It was the end of the boating season. Most boatyards were already full. And many waterways had closed due to low water levels. Let’s be honest – we had our backs right up against a wall. And the person we were dealing with at H2O knew it. Not a nice feeling.
Both my better half and the seller knew what they wanted and had to push for it. My husband said he would accept €1000 off the price and no more. A whole new agreement had to be drawn up. And the conclusion of the sale dragged on yet another day. The following morning the deal was signed and the new owners came to have another look at the boat. I admit I got tearfull all over again.
Selling a boat is as difficult as selling a home. It’s traumatic. We were climbing up a ladder to get to the boat which was up on the hard. We had no toilet. Our Happy Place was a mass of boxes to take, things to be tossed and cleaning stuff. If only we had been treated better it might have been less stressful.
Stepping back from this experience I made a decision to put what happened to us out in the public domain. H2O have a brilliant webpage with glowing reviews. When we were looking for a place to winter coming down from the Netherlands in 2015, it seemed a no-brainer.
Alarm bells started ringing for us when we spoke to other people on the waterways. There are people who have good things to say about them. But an overwhleming number of people did not view H2O in a good light. Someone had been writing derogatory comments in the locks near Piepape when we first made our way to Burgundy. H2O = voleurs. We didn’t even know what that meant.
We have since put this experience behind us. And choose to remember the happy days on our beloved boat. The new owners sent us pics of Shangri la with new awanings and she is loved.
It’s always the same. Hurry up and wait. An engineer came and went. And came and went again. All the floorboards were up. We couldn’t do much, so sat around waiting for the job to be done. New hose. New clips. New this. New that. Three hours of cleaning. Four hours of repairs. All seemed good.
We headed back to the outer pontoons to tie up. My other half – of course – went down below to check – and there was STILL oil leaking. We went back through the lock to the marina and tied up away from the ‘For Sale’ boats.
My husband went straight up to the office and managed to find a senior member of staff who came back to look at the boat. I wont lie, I had a go and said that we had paid for the same repair multiple times. This had deeply impacted our last year on the boat as we had to be available for repairs. But also, we couldn’t use the boat until the repairs had been done successfully.
Basically we had gone nowhere and mostly hung around waiting. Was a bit annoyed when he suggested the solution all along was to fit a new engine. Like its OK to keep saying the problem is minor, charging for work, not deliver on the work, and then turn the whole thing on us because our expectations were too high!
We had a bad evening. Both of us were utterly devastated. I accused my better half of willing a leak to happen. He was hurt. I was super duper angry that after countless new pipes and countless hours of supposed fixing – and a deep clean in preparation for the survey – we still had a problem.
And oil in the hull. Again. How many times can you fail at fixing something before it’s actually a farce? Our efforts to deliver a perfect boat had failed through no fault of our own. We drowned our sorrows in multiple glasses of Burgundy wine and passed out.
Next morning the potential buyers arrived 9.00am sharp. I got tearful seeing them. My better half had arranged with the lock-keeper for the lock to be ready. Which was a waste of time. A hotel barge came and promptly pushed in front of us. The potential buyers tried to explain they had booked and paid a crane for lift-out and we really needed to go through the lock. They were unmoved.
We arrived for lift-out an hour late. Then we waited yet another hour before the crane was ready to raise the boat out the water. Meanwhile we were chatting to the new owners and they seemed in love with Shangri La. This was not their first water craft – it was their fifth! But it reminded them of their very first boat. Clearly they had plans to do all sorts of upgrades and fixes. It was so reassuring that Shangri La would be looked after.
Finally the crane was ready for us. It was a mobile crane so it had to be set just the right distance to manouevre the weight of the boat. Straps were placed around the hull and they had to get them positioned correctly so the boat didn’t dip forward, backward, left or right. We watched her coming out of the water with the potential new owners, all of us snapping away on our phones. During the lift, the boat did tilt forward slightly. Once she was up on stilts, my other half scaled the ladder to check nothing had fallen. The surveyor was only coming after lunch so new buyers and us parted ways until he came.
Once he arrived, there was little point in me hanging around so I went and sat in the Club House and used Wi-Fi. While sitting there, I heard an almighty bang. You just know when something doesn’t sound right. I saw people running past the Club House, so I grabbed my bag and went to see what the fuss was. Turned out somone was working on a petrol boat and either he was smoking or working with something that sparked next to his tank which caused his boat to explode. There were bits of boat and fenders and debris everywhere. There was also smoke coming out of the boat which was growing into a cloud, getting bigger and darker. Bright orange flames appeared and in no time, there was a raging fire and a tower of thick black smoke.
Not sure what took the fire department so long to come as they are literally about 100 metres across the road from the marina. The police were there in about 10 minutes and staff from H2O started checking who was on their boats and getting them to leave. It didn’t take long for a couple of boats adjacent to set on fire. Finally the pompiers arrived – my guess – 25 minutes later. It was like something you see in the news or in the movies. The bloke who started it was in a bad way. It eventually subsided and the drama was over. I went back to chatting to locals.
And then I saw my better half and the buyers walking back to the marina looking pleased with themselves. The surveyor had done his thing and his verbal feedback indicated there weren’t many problems. A very minor dent – about 1 cm diametre – to fill. Two x stop cocks for sink outlets. And he suggested the un-used gas vent pipe could either be stopped or covered with a plate. That was it!
He said the hull was in good condition and the boat was in good shape given her age. All good. The sellers left saying they would go to the agent and set up a time to sign the final papers the following day. And that the agent would confirm the time with my husband. We were so happy. Life was good.
The agent duly phoned and his actual words were – “The buyers had changed their minds. There were some issues to be dealt with. And the buyers would only be signing the following week.” So actually it wasn’t good after all.
We couldn’t believe the new buyers who appeared such nice people and keen to buy – at a good price – had done a complete turnabout. My better half immediately went over to discuss this with H2O. The list of things to be repaired included the leak which H2O had repeatedly told us wasn’t a big issue.
None of the other repairs were actually necessary or even serious. Certainly no previous survey had ever required them. They had not caused us or the previous owners any problems in the last 20 years. But this put a halt on the purchase which now couldn’t go ahead until they had been adressed. We were gutted and drowned our sorrows once more in Burgundy wine.
The journey continues . . . . . . in this last post.
H2O was gearing up for their bi-annual boat “Open Day” which happens in April and September. Since our boat had been sold – subject to a survey of course – we would have to tie further out so potential buyers could view boats on the market. We took a walk along the jetty and – either boats sell for a LOT less in France – or boat prices had dropped significantly since my other half bought Shangri La.
Back in 2012, barges commanded high prices. Yet here – there were huge barges – going for €80K. I can’t speak for the condition of them, but that’s around half of what they were going for when we first looked to buy in 2012.
There were a lot of boats for sale in the marina. And pics of boats on their ‘For Sale’ board. Some of those boats were possibly in a shed. Or maybe still traveling?
We were selling for what exactly we paid 6 years ago. Zero capital appreciation.
The unresolved boat leak still had to be dealt with. No-one seemed to think it was anything major. There are loads of pipes in a boat hull – water, fuel, cooling, oil and discharge pipes. It’s quite common for the bilges of boats to be filled with grey slushy muck.
But it was upsetting that this leak had been fixed, and recurred, and fixed again, and recurred again, and fixed and recurred – can’t remember how many times by H2O. My husband had been charged for the time and parts. And we were no better off.
It was decided to take the boat out and observe the leak in action. We made another appointment for the next day. My husband took the boat out on a run to warm the engine, the oil, plus the water system – properly. To get all the mechanisms going. He placed a bit of load on the engine and then come back to let the engineers join us for a short trip. Hopefully, this time they would figure out what was actually going on.
Between them they decided it was yet another loose pipe. This time it would be repaired at the workshop. And Shangri La would also get a deep clean of the inner hull. By now a bunch of pipes and connections had been replaced or repaired. This was hopefully it. The end of the issue.
We had to move Shangri La from the marina over to the boatyard for her repair. We’d enjoyed sunshine and great boating weather for almost all of our 2018 trip, so it was a bit of a shock when we woke up to driving rain. The lock entering the Bourgogne Canal to get to the boatyard can be quite a vicious one depending on where you tie up and who’s managing it. Exiting the lock, we headed to the boatyward and tied up at the slipway. And waited.
At the slipway I recognised so many cars and faces of staff we had encountered over the years at H2O. Some characters are quite distinct. There’s a chap who gets about on a motorised stand-up scooter with a cigarette hanging from his lips. There’s an engineer who has spray painted snow capped mountain peaks on her van. The ever smiley cleaning ladies. The chap with his quirky hat. Landmarks in St-Jean-de-Losne were now familiar and we knew our way around the local supermarket. It almost felt like home.
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.