Tuesday 12th June 2018
Briennon to Artaix
The plan was to to stop at Artaix, a mere 14 kilometres and zero locks. Seeemed a fabulous day. What could go wrong? My better half had noticed after the previous day, that there was quite a bit of oil and water in the hull. He’d sucked up about 1 litre and put it down to the boat standing for months and hoped it wasn’t anything serious. By the time we got to Artaix and opened up the floorboards, there was even more dark liquid in the hull. Not going to lie, it wasn’t the best news. Here we start our holiday – and the engine is already spewing out muck. Boats are like family, one minute you’re bursting with pride and the next you cannot believe your own flesh and blood can behave as they do.
Where do we get help when we can’t speak French? What are the words for gasket and hull and bilge pump? Did I mention we’re in the outbacks of France? How would we even find someone who could help us? Do we give up? At least Artaix was a lovely place. One has to look on the bright side.
My husband started making phone calls to find out where would be the best place to get help. He tried the Tourism Offices. The Hire Boat companies. A few local Port de Plaisance. Even people we met in Roanne. One would think there would be someone who could help us. But no. The mechanic at the hire boat company only dealt with their boats. He suggested a mechanic who was on leave. The next place didn’t understand us. People we met didn’t have anything good to say about their experiences of mechanics. And so it went on. Then we ran out of options. Quite depressing actually.
Our next big issue was we needed was food. The couple we met had told us there was a supermarket in Artaix. We walked into Artaix to find it. No such luck. Artaix is hardly a big place. We asked someone who said the supermarket closed years ago. That took care of that. My other half and I would be in a lovely place with food rations and a misbehaving boat. At least we had wine and beer. Although Artaix is a small space there were 2 dead beat boats that hadn’t moved in the last century, 4 motor homes and a lone motor cyclist who slept in a tent.
I decided to go for a jog to Chambilly. My husband had a hunch the gasket was the problem and was determined to fix it. Best for me to be out the way. Chambilly is nice enough. But a small town – is a small town. Not a lot going on. Back at the boat I arrived just in time to hold the torch while my other half fitted the newly made cork gasket and smeared on gasket sealer. He then set about putting the engine back together. Won’t lie, I wasn’t convinced this was a job for him to tackle, but since we didn’t have options what could we do?
Monday 11th June 2018
Roanne to Briennon
We untied the ropes around 10.00am and made a start toward Digoin. The ropes had been tied and coiled for almost a year and were in a dreadful state. My other half had already washed them but they were still covered in green fungus, spider webs and insect cocoon type things. All our gear had to come down as the bridges on this canal are very, very low. I’d forgotten most of what I needed to know to get the boat going again. But it was lovely to start bumbling along the canal at a snails pace listening to the birds and looking out for wildlife. We scraped through low bridge after low bridge. Fortunately the weather wasn’t too hot, so it was bearable on deck. The forecast had been for lots of rain but apart from a few sprinkles it was a lovely morning.
We opted to stop just outside Briennon at a wild spot. The French (unlike the Germans and Dutch) allow boaters to stop at random spots. We passed one of the couples we had met in Roanne. My other half put pegs in the ground and we tied up for the night. Next thing the couple popped past to say Hello. They had a cup of tea with us and chatted more, then arranged to meet for us a drink at the bar in the marina. They mentioned that the supermarket had shut down completely which was a bit of a blow. My other half and I were reading and doing crosswords when the afternoon rains came. Love the sound of rain on the boat deck when we’re inside. So soothing.
Around 19.00pm both of us went past the boating couple and said we would meet them at the port bar. We got there to find it – closed. They close at 17.00pm. The couple joined us and luckily we found a bar nearby where we had a couple of drinks. Nice spot. And not too expensive. Around €20 for two rounds for 4 of us. They don’t eat out much and nor do we, but there was a fancy French restaurant next door for those who like eating out.
Sunday 10th June 2018
We had a lazy start to our Sunday and why-ever not? The point of dropping off the radar and disappearing into the outbacks of France is to relax. We have enough high energy ventures looming so we wanted to enjoy time out. Churchbells from all corners of Roanne were ringing out by 10.00am calling the faithful to do their thing. My other half had been wanting to do a paint job on the deck. Painting is never simple. There’s scraping and sanding and buffing that must all happen first. The weather vacilated between too hot or too wet. Since we were leaving the following day, this had to be done.
We had a double social day. A couple from another boat had promised to show us the best mooring spots on our map and they popped past. Roanne is their regular winter mooring spot. They’ve had their boat almost two decades. Unfortunately the French Waterways map books are not a great tool for finding great spots to stop. They pointed out a bunch of mooring spots with bollards that weren’t even marked on the maps. Our maps are new! They also told us which moorings are best avoided. Some places have been invaded by homeless people who occupy unattended boats. Also thieves come at night to steal fuel and other valuables off boats.
That evening we went across the marina to have drinks with another couple who have also been boating for eons. They also regularly tie up for the winter in Roanne. I guess the low price is a big attraction. This couple have a massive great Dutch barge. I absolutely love stories of characters on the waterways and the history of places we’ve been to. Wish they would all have blogs as these people have so much to say. They had also read the Gerald Morgan-Grenville books and that’s not all, they had actually skippered the Virginia Anne for a bit near Tournus. Apparently an American actor now owns the boat. Between the two couples we heard about various characters who had lived and worked on the waterways, about places they had been to, things that had gone spectacularly wrong and so much more. Makes my blog positively boring.
I’d heard they get squalls in Roanne but never experienced one. While we were chatting the weather took a dramatic turn and the next thing the wind came up to an almighty speed. The couple quickly took down flags and anything that could blow away and closed all their windows and doors. The heavens opened and the rain came pounding down. It even hailed. We could barely hear them speaking. And not 20 minutes later – it was all over. As if nothing ever happened.
Saturday 9th June 2018
A pair of Belgian blokes came past our boat 8.50am to move us away from the quay so we could double bank on the outside of them. They were heading back to Belgium for 2 months. The mooring arrangements get decided by Herve who manages the port and obviously knows the long-term comings and goings. We were leaving Monday so all good with that. We hardly tied up when a bunch of boats started hooting and tooting. Eendracht, a long-time resident at Roanne, and a massive Dutch barge, was leaving. The New Zealand owners had sold to an American couple and they were all saying Good Bye. Quite touching that.
We had a lovely evening with the fellow South Africans the night before. I can understand why expats seek each other out. Although my French vocabulary isn’t terrible, the French speak so fast that my brain can’t engage quickly enough to translate what they have said back into English. It’s just so much easier speaking English. And even better to someone who understands our slang and humour.
There are a lot of boats in Roanne as it’s quite a bit cheaper than other marinas. It can accomodate very big boats, so a few permanent residents occupy space. Their boats even have their own post boxes! And a right mix of people as I discovered at the Thursday social evening. A good few Brits, a fair number of New Zealanders, an Australian couple as well as a couple from America and one from Canada. And a Chinese woman. Then French and Belgians made up the rest of the group. Only thing is there are not a lot of services in Roanne. It’s also at the end of Canal de Roanne a Digoin and has no passing boat traffic.
Roanne is quite a big place so getting there by bus or train isn’t too much of a challenge. Also has plenty shops which is really handy. It’s not industrial or bleak – like some places along the waterways. The marina itself is a draw card for locals who come to canoe and play boules or sit on deck chairs next to the water’s edge. There’s a fountain where children can cool off. The tow path attracts cyclists, runners and walkers as it’s pretty. Next to the marina is the river Loire which is beautiful. So overall, it’s a nice place to stay for a few days and a popular choice for long-term mooring.
The South Africans invited us to a reciprocal dinner as we were leaving shortly. Excellent meal and all 100% vegan, including a hazelnut creme with peaches and dark chocolate. Always so nice that people make an effort to accomodate us and they are always surprised by how easy it is to make a plant-based meal. It stays light until late so although we left to go back to our boat around 21.30pm, people were still strolling next to the boats. Even jogging at 22.00pm!
Friday 8th June 2018 Port Roanne We had invited the South African girl and her family for tapas on our boat. Since my better half and I are vegan chefs we always feel a bit of self-imposed pressure to make sure we serve something a bit nicer than nice. We also tend to make a lot of our food from scratch as it really does taste better and cleaner. Both of us enjoy cooking so it’s not a hardship. My husband made a carrot “smoked salmon” the day before which he partially air dried as we don’t have a dehydrator on board. I wanted to make a vegan mozzarella cheese and a vegan cream cheese. (check out our food on Green & Vegan)
We’re exceptionally lucky to have a nice kitchen (galley) on Shangri La, except for one thing – it doesn’t have an oven. That’s not been a problem as we do pot roasts and have a ceramic pan that as good as bakes. I make chickpea frittatas in it by covering the pan with a plate and leaving it to cook for about half an hour. We also have a mini BBQ which we use to bake and grill veggies on the back deck. The kitchen has an array of herbs and spices, heavy chopping boards, good quality knives, etc.
Shangri La is a lovely boat. She’s 12.60 metres long, which means she can fit into most marinas, but she’s big enough that we have room to move about inside. She’s 3.60 metres wide which again, gives extra room, but allows us to fit side by side in a lock with another boat. Her depth is 1.15, metres so we’re able to travel on most canals in France, only one or two exceptions, and there are other ways to get to those places. Her maximum height is 5.50 metres but if we drop all her gear she goes down to 2.75 metres. So again, she fits under most bridges. Being on the tall side is great as we have much better and wider views than a low boat.
One thing we particularly like is she has separate toilet (heads) and shower. The toilet is accessible via the lounge (saloon) meaning guests don’t have to come into our room at night to use the loo. She has nice big water and fuel tanks – both 750 litres. We’ve never run out of water no matter how much we use. And can top up with fuel when we find bargain prices so we always have an ample supply.
Shangri La was built in 1992 and we’re only her third owners. Here’s what we know about her. The original owner was a Belgian ship captain and he had her custom built by Gys Van Der Valk in the Netherlands. The Van Der Valk brothers used to work together but Wim Van Der Valk went on his own to build a different type of boat. Our boat is a Dutch steel motor cruiser. Inside there are lovely brass nautical touches. A clock that chimes the bells at four-hour periods which is unique to boats. We’ve gotten used to it and can tell the time by hearing the clock. There’s a hanging brass lamp in the kitchen (galley). The whole interior has walnut paneling and the attention to detail is evident when you look at the cupboards – the wood grains line up. Shangri La has heaps of storage space and cupboards.
The Belgian chap sold to a German couple who spent many happy years on Shangri La. She went all over France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. I wasn’t present when the boat was handed over, but my other half says it was emotional. They have followed our blogs and commented on our adventures. The German couple left lots of maps, good quality tools and kitchenware on the boat which we were happy to have. My husband bought Shangri La in 2012. Our reason for wanting to sell is we live in South Africa and frankly it’s too far to get the most out of having a boat. Plus, I have a South African passport and thus a limit on the amount of time I can spend in the EU. We can only hope Shangri La is as loved by her next owners as she has been by the previous owners and by us. I always feel happy in our boat. As if there was always a lot of love and joy associated with her.
Wednesday 6th June 2018 Roanne Fuelled by my fear of having too much I did a drastic detox of what was on the boat and even of some things I brought with me. My other half felt my panic and did the same. Although he had a fraction of what I had to discard. English books and magazines are hard to come by in France and we had a South African friend in the port who was happy to take them, even though they were well thumbed.
My husband was doing mini fix-it jobs like touching up paint or sanding and treating small rust spots. He tried to replace the impellor in the toilet but gave up, as it was well and truly wedged in a casing. He feared he might cause harm to it. Shangri La had held up pretty well the year we were away. She is a beautiful boat.
It’s a lovely time of year to be in the middle of France. The weather is warm but not hot. Can get a bit humid but not unbearably so. They have cool mornings warming up nicely by lunch time. The afternoons were punctuated with showers. I ventured out and did a bit of shopping at the local Auchan. Gosh the world is fast becoming a fabulous place for vegans like us. Of course, the food in France has always been exceptional. I can happily wander around and do nothing more than gaze at food.
Gorgeous juicy peaches, thick fat asparagus, myriad coloured tomatoes, crusty breads, apple sorbet, cassis sorbet, delicious mustards, Champagne vinegar, herbes de Provence, I could go on and on. The French, being French, make vegan food like Provencal galettes and Lyonnaise Lentil salad. My daily staple is their carottes rappee (grated carrot salad). It’s dead cheap and it is without doubt the best salad I have ever eaten! I love that the French love food so much.
We found a fabulous organic wine for €4.20 so bought the last three bottles of that. Didn’t take long and our wheeler was full, we walked back to our boat to have a nice hot shower and sit on the back deck watching the world go by.
Thursday 7th June 2018
I had allowed myself two laid back days in a row of late starts and not too much action. By now I had to get my wiggle on and actually do something. The first thing we had to do was a decent shop-up at the local health shop or bio shop as they call them in France. That’s where we find tofu, cashew nuts, nutritional yeast, tapioca flour and other vegan staples. It wasn’t hard to spend €140.00.
My other half had a last few paint jobs he wanted to do but you need good weather. This was another typical day of cool morning, warm midday and intermittent showers in the afternoon. Not the best weather for paint to dry. So he decided to join me shopping.
We went looking for a fresh produce store we had seen the previous year. It was a fair way away but still walking distance. No way could we find it. Gave up on that idea and headed to the town centre (centre ville). We really tried hard to find somewhere nice to eat. By nice, I mean a bit healthy with veggie options. There is a creperie place that was closed the previous year. We put that down to being in Roanne in the holiday season. But even in shoulder season a year later – it was closed. Have to hand it to them, they defo take life easy.
Back at the boat we unpacked and tried to get on top of comms. Internet at the Port de Plaisance in Roanne is a lot better than many places. The Internet drops and you struggle to get in a fair amount of the time but (with persistence) a person can actually get WiFi. Then we headed to the local meet-up group organised 18 years ago by an English couple at the local bar. Brilliant idea. We met people from Roanne as well as boaters from all over. Was so impressed by how well many expats speak French. I do think that it’s only right to try and speak a bit of French in France. I mean, it is France after all. No matter how many French lessons and CDs we’ve done, we’re no match for the ordinary French people who may well understand us, but parlay at break-neck speed. We have no idea what they are saying. Eish! We still have a long way to go.