Saturday, December 12, 2009


Hello folks,

Greetings from our central French township of Saint Jean-de-Losne and in particular from our base at H2O Port de Plaisance. While this month has officially been listed as autumn, it has been a mixture of some nice sunny days and wet, windy, cloudy grey days to make us aware of what is soon due to arrive. November has also been a mixture of good and bad with a number of problems popping their heads up, so we have been in a repairing mode and awaiting outside trades people to fix the other matters.

Firstly, we had two sky lights start to drip after heavy rain so it was a case of removing the slat decking area to get at them, then dismantling each unit and finding the cause of the problem then attempting to fix them. Ok for one of them but as usual the most difficult needed an additional work-over to get over the problem but at least I did it, so fingers are crossed.

Secondly, the shower base started to leak again so it was a case of digging out all the grout sealant, drying it and then resealing, again I did it so fingers crossed again. Then the rear cabin toilet has failed to refill with fresh water after use so despite my “extensive” skills I have no idea of what is causing the problem so have to go find a service person and get them to come to our aid as we are due to have guests come to stay with us soon.

Thirdly, the car which we just purchased, started showing ignition light signals on the dash and after resetting the battery terminals etc which were loose, the problem continued. I took a French speaking neighbour to the local garage with me and they quickly determined that it was all to do with the adjustable suspension fluid level being down so a top-up was easy, however, it then showed the cylinder had a leak and needed new seals etc. This problem area was found to be compounded by the need for a service and new filters etc so another 145 Euros will be added to the value of the car. I sure know how to pick them.

You might say “Gee what else could go wrong” and I can add that on top of the above our magic TV sat dome has started to give problems and we loose the picture as soon as a storm appears and of course these are frequent at this time of the year, so again a service person is due here next Friday to take it all away to see what is wrong. The tradesmen have just left after travelling to us from Thonon-les-Bains in Switzerland as this is the closest Ray Marine service agent. It took them 3 hours to get to us but on arrival got straight onto the job and found that due to poor installation in the first place, corrosion had taken place and despite their best efforts to rectify the problem with local parts they had to give up in the end and take the whole unit away and we won’t get it back until 15th December so there will be a lot of reading and watching our video library until then. Thanks a lot Shepperton Marine, well done. You can rest assured your name will be mentioned in despatches from now on. Just as well this is covered by warranty but we are now convinced that the guy who installed the system didn’t know what he was doing and admitted the day that he said he had finished it that this was the first one he had installed so we were his guinea pig. Not bad when we were paying a labour fee of ₤69.00 plus vat per hour for him to learn on us.

Lastly but not least, we have had a terrible time with our email connection dropping out at the least suitable time so in some cases we have had to re-write emails up to 4 times. Apparently this is due to our location at the extreme limit of the coverage but as we have a two year contract we are stuck with the supplier so you will have probably heard some of my language describing how and where I would like to place the computer. Rhonda however, has worked through a lot of stuff and has done a magic job of getting better coverage so again it is fingers crossed.

We had also tried to buy an international phone calling card so as to be able to call friends in New Zealand and Australia but sellers here are few and far between so we are stuck with text messages as a call to New Zealand this morning cost €8 (NZ$17.50) for about 4 mins.

Finally and very sadly, we received news from Michelle and Tom to say that she had lost her baby which was planned to be born in June next year. A real period of grieving but life will go on and we trust that she will have better luck next time. Why these things happen, nobody knows but the main thing is that she is ok and Tom is being strong for her and while the mourning will go on for a while, they have so many good years ahead.
Apart from these problems all is going well really and we must not complain but get on with putting the things right that we can put right, and to dismiss those things we can’t.
While still on November happenings, we of course had to remember Armistice Day on the 11th so off we went to join a number of English, Australian and New Zealand boaters and residents, meeting at the local memorial statue in the village for an advertised 11.00am service only to learn that the French had changed the time to 12.00 noon so as to be in real time with the UK (being 1 hour behind us) so despite the fact that the temps had fallen to around 8 degrees with a stiff northerly breeze, we stood around freezing our little toes and other things off until at noon we heard in the distance a brass band coming down one of the side streets and soon to appear was this band which was a mixture of children and adults, most in uniform others in mufti marching to this special site which is both a place of remembrance for the end of the so-called Great War and for the 8th May 1945 for WW11 when peace fell over France with the defeat of the Germans. Saint Jean de Losne holds a special place in French hearts being a major line of defence in the 2nd World War.

The service was held in French language only by the Mairie (Mayor) with no reference to us or our group of English speaking folk then followed by a short address by the chief Gendarme of the area. All of this took around 15 mins only. We were then invited to the Town Hall for aperitifs which was a warming invite I can tell you. Again he addressed us in French for a moment or two then each person was handed a glass of Patiss which is a red wine and this sure helped restore some circulation to the body. The photos accompanying this will give a better idea of how the service was set up. I sure hope we have a better Anzac Day service if we can get ourselves organised.

Rhonda's Comments: Here are some of the other bargees waiting for the parade.

I can point out that in each town and village there is a Mairie and a Hotel de Ville (which is the Town Hall and Mayor’s Office) and he is the real power broker for his particular district area. He has overall control of all things from public services to sales of properties to permits for any activities and the Mairies are reported to be the real power brokers of the country and that President Sarkosy is just a figure head who responds to what the Mairies direct to him to do.

I am delighted to report that a letter I wrote to the “Boating New Zealand” monthly journal was not only published but also won the letter of the month with an inflatable Hutchwilco life jacket being the prize which we have been able to donate to some person or marine group of need as we have more than enough on board “Somewhere” so hope someone can make good use of it. We have had some lovely emails and letters from friends back home and abroad who have read the letter and to receive a few enquiries from potential barge buyers seeking our advice as to what to buy and when to come to visit France etc and to when they could come to stay with us. The next cruising season is looking to be a busy one and as we will head toward the south of France we sure are excited about this step along on our adventure trail.

A number of bargees and boaters have left Saint Jean-de-Losne to go home to wherever for the winter so there are fewer folk we know about the place but every day a new boat seems to arrive to shelter over and last night when we went to the Quiz night we met another three new couples who are staying over winter so it keeps on going on as they say. The canal locks have officially closed for the winter except our one out of the Bourgogine Canal into the Soane, so the odd boat or barge pops out for a day trip, but as it gets colder, fewer and fewer are moving about.

Rhonda's Comments: Note the bow and the stern but where is the middle!!!!

The dry dock is still busy, however, with refits and even the odd barge being cut down to scrap which is a bit sad but two new hotel boats are being built in time for the new season and the other day a brand new barge (Piper) of 19 metres was hauled into our yard on a transporter to be lifted off and launched in our port. Quite a haul from England to here but when talking to the owner he said that he didn’t want to bring it over the Channel himself as he didn’t want salt water on it so paid for the transporter and all the associated costs like €2,000.00 alone for the crane to lift it off the transporter and another €300.00 to use H20’s trailer to launch it at the ramp. Oh well everyone has choices for sure. Some photos show the barge and the launching.

Rhonda has joined the painting group which is fun for her and gives her a new group of friends to meet up with. While it would be wonderful if she could one day paint like her brother we are sure that is not possible but she sure is giving it a good shot. I have joined a group who are doing a refresher course in first aid and this too is a good way to spend a few hours each week. We also have to learn the emergency telephone numbers which are particular to the service you may require and the terms for the emergency which one is facing. As you can imagine it would not be easy to ring and then get someone who can’t speak English and if we can’t give the details in French. All good stuff I feel and very necessary too.

We are also members of the walking group which is doing us both good as you can imagine and this last week a few of us started a cycling group so this will add to my fitness level I hope and gives me the opportunity to visit new areas of the district. On top of these activities it is always interesting to join in on a Wednesday morning at the book swap and mariners meeting. I only list these activities to let you know we don’t sit at home (well onboard anyhow) watching the days slip by, in fact the days and weeks seem to flash by ever so quickly.

Rhonda's Comments: This is Ken with Pat and Joe. I wonder if they might be in training for the Tour de France!!!!

Next Friday we are having some friends who have their boat based in Dijon for the winter coming to stay with us for a break and in the evening we will all attend the first official Christmas function for the area with a parade and the arrival of Saint Nicholas (Father Christmas) followed by a small concert to kick the festival period off and the streets are then lit with the Christmas lights, so after that I will be able to report on how the locals celebrate the event and this special time.
Rhonda's Comments: With Graham and Iris in Nuits-St Georges, the capital of the Burgundy wine growing area but note what we are drinking, coffee from the Themos.

Meantime, I must give you the following excerpt to read which is supposedly the true story of Christmas, at least here in France and Holland.

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of mariners and December the 6th is the feast day of Saint Nicholas. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him to notice, thus he became the model for Santa Claus whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas. Although the church has had Saint Nicholas portrayed as a canon in the vestments of the bishop he once was, his status has had little to do with the way the Dutch think of him. Rather he is a benevolent old man whose feast day is observed in Holland by the exchanging of gifts and making good natured fun of each other.

Rhonda's Comments: The boating community were asked to be torch bearers and lead the parade but we look more like Klu Klux Klan members!!!!!

It so happens that the legend of Saint Nicholas is based on historical fact. He did actually exist and lived from 271 AD to December 6th 343 AD. His 4th century tomb is to be found in Myra near the city of Anatolia in present day Turkey and has been investigated by archaeologists. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers and children. Thanks to Vivienne Waterer for supplying this information.

From time to time I have the opportunity to skite about the great fishing New Zealand anglers enjoy around the coastline and readers of the New Zealand Fishing News which I am lucky enough to receive each month and then pass on, show many great catches for all to see. Well the other day we received a photo of a fish about 3m long caught in the local waterways. It is B**** huge to say the last. We often hear loud heavy splashes particularly in the early evening which sound like the noise a human would make diving or falling into the water but now we believe it is to be this type of fish which is quite common apparently. The boys at Fishing NZ tell me that they would make good eating but after knowing what goes into the canals here ----- I don’t think so. Imagine hooking one of these while on your Kayak when out for a quiet fish. Boy what a story to tell your mates.

A point of interest, or at least I hope it is, particularly to those smokers who are left for the Tobacco Companies and the government to rob at will, is the Tabacs of which there are several in Saint Jean-de-Losne alone. They are just like our newsagent shops in Australia and New Zealand and they sell Lotto etc, newspapers, magazines by the tonne, books and novelties plus a whole range of pocket, sheath and open blade knives including numchuckers and daggers etc. There appears to be no restrictions on selling these lethal weapons which is amazing to us. Many of these Tabacs also sell and serve alcohol by the glass or by the bottle to consume on the premises. These places open for business as early as 8.00 am so it is odd when you walk by and see men sitting having a beer, schnappes or wine at these sort of early hours, however, they many only have one while having a chat and sharing their news and then they will then go on to their normal daily activities.
Tobacco and cigarettes are expensive but cheaper than at home and this is seen I guess as a direct correlation when you look at any gathering of people as there will be a fair percentage who smoke. Sadly it is the young who want to do so in greater numbers and as an ex-smoker it is easy to be critical but when you see the women on the streets it is easy to pick the smokers as their skin is more wrinkled, dried out and of a yellow colour. Smoking has been banned in hotels and restaurants and shops so wherever you go you see the groups outside looking like lepers as they huddle from the cold to get that last gasper down their lungs. Oh to be so noble……Typical non-smoker remarks guys but it sure is a horrible habit I have to admit.

At the shopping centres it is like a mini tidal wave as they close at 12 noon for the 1½ to 2 hour lunch or dinner break and the staff rush out reaching for their cigarettes before heading home or wherever. You sure don’t want to be standing in the doorway at this time as you will get run over. It reminded me of when the workshop would close for the day at The Trailer Shop in Albany. Sorry Simon I couldn’t let that one go through to the keeper.

On a brighter note we have had the toilet fixed, the car serviced and fixed, the inside cabin light fixed and I have water blasted the boat and given her a spring clean for winter so we are making progress but have slipped behind with getting Harry a haircut etc. The pet coiffeur lass in the next town wants €42.00 to, wash, cut and trim his nails. I knew I should have taken up a trade when I was young.

Ok I am going to close off now and while you should have all received our Christmas Greetings by now we want you to know that we do think of you when we scroll down our address list and want to take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a fantastic festive season and a safe and happy new year. We are closing off now for 2009 and will rejoin you in 2010 so keep those emails and letters coming through please as we love to hear from you.

Ken, Rhonda and Harry xxxx

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Frank Sinatra sang about “those autumn winds” and referenced them to being cooler and that is what is happening now in central France. In fact at St Jean-de-Losne where we are moored up in the Canal Bourgogne which is part of the H2O marina empire, because of the size of “Somewhere”, we were unable to get a berth inside the main marina basin, so it was a case of taking the option of “The Old Lock” which houses a whole lot of big barges but is some 2kms from here or being moored in the canal port which is what we opted for. It is only a short walk across the lock from the main marina where we get our mail and general services to where there is a reasonably well appointed chandlery and the main office centre.

We have close access to three supermarkets, one very large hardware store and garden shop, a vetenarian, butcher and fuel service centre so on top of the standard shops in the town, we are pretty well serviced. The train runs at regular intervals to the city of Dijon which is 35kms away and buses also provide services to and from there. This township has about 8 restaurants (some close down for the winter) so choice is readily available plus there are the services of a post office, chemists, doctors dentists and so on.

The area where we are moored is really the workshop and refurbishment centre with lots of marine activity to watch but due to the huge numbers of craft in here at present boats are rafted up 3 deep in places. We are against the wall which is great for ease of getting the scooter off and on plus for Harry to make good use of the grassed verges and areas but we do have two other barges tied up outside of us so there is no chance of being buffeted by winds or wash. The one closest to us is not occupied and the outer one has two fellows who are also building a new barge for themselves in a nearby work bay but who will leave us for the winter in mid November so we will be quite alone on this stretch of bank for a while. While being hemmed in like this could be a feeling of being inhibited if we wanted to move on for a day or just go for an outing, on the other hand we feel settled and secure for the winter. The weather this last couple of weeks has been so beautiful we can’t believe it when we awake each morning to find clear mornings but with cool temperatures which will soon turn to cold as this fine spell surely can’t last much longer by all accounts.

We have joined up to the local book swap where there are many hundreds of books and magazines plus videos, DVD’s and all in English plus CD’s, and even jigsaw puzzles. This service is free and is operated by a few expat English ladies who have chosen to make St Jean-de-Losne their home, one who has been doing it for 15 years. Each morning at 9.30am there is a VHF radio service channel from which we receive information on the ports activities, either social or business and in return you can call in with items to discuss or requests for assistance for any matters. This kind of links the boating community together which can be of real help particularly if folk are feeling a bit isolated living on their boats away from the main populated area.

Each Wednesday there is a boaters information morning where any items which are thought to be of assistance to other fellow boaters or if advice is sought regarding repairs, services or general information is exchanged over a “cuppa” and then on Monday mornings. There is a walking club which is another social activity as you stroll or stride according to your ability and this is a good way to get to know the town and its environs and lastly there are French/ English lesson classes and quiz evenings at one of the local restaurants so we have become fully immersed in SJL (as the locals refer to St Jean-de-Losne) life and its activities.
Already we have had a host of visitors who simply call in to say “Hi” or to ask about the boat and the Kiwi flags we fly proudly at our bow, stern and masthead. It seems as though coffee and tea are on the go onboard almost continually which is great and when the afternoon draws to a close the odd glass or bottle of red is shared. Life’s tough at the coal face I can tell you…..

We have commented in the past about the numbers of French military aircraft which we see (or more to the point hear as they are going so fast) streaking across the skies from an airbase which is not too far away. We have since learned that you can park your barge at the end of the main runway and watch these aircraft roar overhead including once a month when they have night exercise with up to 6 aircraft taking off in formation. I sure look forward to seeing this one day. Well the other day we could hear this scream across the sky then a few seconds later the loudest rolling thunder-like sound, shook all and sundry. For a moment I feared the worst then realised that I had heard that sound once before and that was while in Wellington in 1954 visiting the USS Tarawa, a huge American aircraft carrier and one of the Phantom fighter planes from aboard had broken the sound barrier above the Capital and when they tallied up the broken windows, the terrified kids, dogs and other animals plus grandmothers, they passed a law prohibiting this amazing event occurring again. No such problems for the French with their huge range of subsonic fighters and bombers which we see from time to time. Perhaps the Kiwi government could go cap in hand to the French to see if they could borrow a few planes or swap some for the Skyhawks which I understand are still sitting in mothballs in New Zealand awaiting a buyer after around 10 years costing as much to store as it used to fly them. Well done Helen Clarke eh.

Yesterday being the 30th September I awoke to find that I had added another year to my age, now 68 (gee it is scary) but aren’t I lucky to be able to do what we are doing here on these canals. Again we met some other Kiwis and ex Kiwis last evening, who had been on the canals for up to 11 years so it must have something pretty special going for it. Some had been through Germany and Belgium and of course the Netherlands and each country offer so much beauty and history we are looking forward to next cruising season so much.

Just to demonstrate, how size doesn’t matter, we met a couple from the UK, or more to the point Wales, who had just purchased their first barge 3 months ago (a 10.5 metre model which is small but that is all they thought they could handle and were loving it so far. He is a big man at over 6ft and weighs in at around 18 stone but says he has no trouble getting around inside it and then in the afternoon we met another couple who had just bought a 38 metre barge as they wanted ROOM to carry 6 guests in the season for a week or two at a time so it is the old story of go set some must-haves on your list and start looking. There is bound to be a model and a price to suit your particular needs and budgets.

Well, here we are at the first of November after a very full October which included a road trip to Manchester in England and back in the middle of the month. We hired a (small car) which turned out to be a 7 seater people mover when we went to pick it up but the rental company gave it to us at the same price as no small cars were available. To be sure we would be able to find our way around we had purchased a TOM TOM sat/nav system only to find that the rental already had one built-in so it gave Rhonda two toys to play with.

Let me tell you about this Citroen people-mover first. If there was any item that wasn’t electronic then I don’t think we found it as the rear doors opened at the touch of a button, the seats moved in similar fashion in all directions plus had their own inbuilt heaters. The windscreen wipers came on automatically as did the headlights. It had cruise control, automatic side mirrors which folded back when you switched off the ignition and had so many dials you felt as though you were at the controls of a small aircraft. To top it all off, every French car must have an emergency kit inside at all times. This consists of red reflective triangles, colour and reflective jacket, a couple of flares, a fist aid kit all of which makes great sense in the case of an accident. I think the fine for not carrying one of these kits is about 500 Euros I understand.

Rhonda's Comment: Anyone for a spot of afternoon tea? This is how the truck drivers do it.

While all the toys are great it sure took me some time to get used to driving a left-hand drive on the right-hand side of the road and occasionally Rhonda would have to give me a sharp reminder that I needed to keep to the right rather than the left which is a fairly usual response to Kiwi drivers I think. Then when in the UK, it was a case of changing again to the left-hand side of the road with a left-hand drive vehicle. This adds to the need to concentrate even more and brings about those special moments which send the adrenalin pumping.

We drove from SJL to Dunkirk avoiding toll roads which took us an additional 3 hours to what we had guessed, but to where we stayed overnight. Unfortunately we did not see much of the town before moving on to Calais, for our ferry crossing at 12.15. The 1½ hour crossing is pretty much of a doddle and of course we were on the lookout for the White Cliffs of Dover which were sadly clouded in mist and murk

We then took off and stayed in Canterbury which was a pretty short day so caught up on some well earned rest. The next morning we left driving through some really beautiful countryside on a mixture of using the B roads to the motorways so all in all it was interesting. Harry travelled well and enjoyed watering some new areas on English roadside greens etc and as it was pretty normal he was allowed to stay in our hotel room which was great too.

Huntington, in the middle of England, was our next stopover and then on to Manchester the next day after skirting around the huge industrial city of Birmingham. Not a place I would care to live in at all but we did get to see the Jockingham satellite, communications and star tracking dish complex, one of the largest in the world. It sort of made the system at Warkworth look like a pimple on an elephant in comparison.

We checked into the Travelodge right in the heart of Manchester and took a good long walk through some of the city centre. It is an amazing mixture of old coupled with super modern and to give an example of this, right next to the cathedral is a smaller version of the London Eye amid huge glass panelled buildings and super-sized shopping centres. The students are just like in New Zealand and make the Malls a meeting point and despite the murky weather spent hours sprawled all over the grass sections of ground and on the few public seats available. Some of the dress code was out of this (or should I say my) world.

The hotel was fully booked due to the Cliff Richard and The Shadows concerts taking place at the MEN Arena (Manchester Evening News) which was just nearby in fact on our first morning there they ran out of most ingredients of the cooked breakfast. You would have thought world war three had broken out as people made their feelings heard loud and clear complaining about no bacon to add to their already heaped plates of scrambled eggs and so on. We are a funny lot for sure.

Rhonda's Comment: He's singing just to me.

Well, off we went to the concert and were so surrounded by the grey hair brigade that I thought we must be at the wrong venue but no, we were all going to see the same concert which to the 15000 oldies like me, just loved. It was amazing really to think that it had been 40 years since they last played together yet every note, tune and song was perfect rock and roll. To see all these folks up dancing and waving there arms etc was an eye opener. Thank goodness Hank Marvin, the magic lead guitarist for The Shadows, commented that while the applause and support was quite amazing, he did ask the ladies not to throw any underwear on to the stage. Ha ha.

Leaving Manchester the next day was a bit of a relief as we seem to have got away from liking city life so were thrilled to get out again into the English countryside and to see the thousands of acres of bush in its autumnal colours. Red, gold yellow and green make a beautiful back drop to the green English country and despite the still overcast conditions was really pleasant to view.

As we were due to visit some barge friends on the outskirts of Swindon, not far from the magic Cotswolds, we stopped off at our favourite little English town of Bourton-On-The-Water where we had stayed during our visit to the area in 2004 and just fell in love with this area and can only say “It is a must to visit if you are ever in the area. It will blow you away for sure”. We arrived at Carol and John’s beautiful country home in the hamlet of Ashbury late in the afternoon, but we where still able to view some of the area and to enjoy a wonderful home-cooked meal with them coupled with a few wines to celebrate our luck at being bargees.

The next day after visiting their nearby shopping complex and doing a large English product shop, we reluctantly left them and pushed on to Aldershot on the outskirts of London where the huge army base is located and from where so many young men leave from to fight in Afghanistan with so many of them not to return. Here we stayed at a local motel and met up with another boating couple we had as neighbours while we were moored in Penton Hook. Michelle and Jason came to see us for the evening so we had a good chinwag and enjoyed a few beers. They are still maintaining their berth at Penton Hook and just love the opportunity to just get on their launch and while they don’t go anywhere, thoroughly enjoy the rest and the feeling that only boating can give you.

The next morning on our way to Dover we stopped by to visit Lindsay and Mike who were also our neighbours at Penton Hook. Lindsay and Mike bought the most beautiful section on The Thames and had built a dock at the bottom on their garden to house Panacea, their barge. They have the best of both worlds, being able to live on Panacea and retain the use of the wooden cabin structure for all of Lindsay’s work and hobby interests. It was so good to catch up with them and see the progression if their section.

From London to Dover is only a short drive and so we stopped off at various places along the way to do some more shopping, things we can’t purchase in France. We stayed overnight in Dover and had a very pleasant evening and meal in the Premier Inn right on the harbour.

We crossed over on the early morning sailing to Calais and headed for Holland where we had arranged to meet up with my old boss at Zodiac, Tim Fleming and to meet his wife Elizabeth and son Piers who now live just south of Amsterdam. It took us a bit longer than planned to cover this distance due in part to the volume of heavy traffic I have ever seen. Trucks by the thousand clogging the motorways so when one or more decided to overtake, the slowness of this activity just slowed and at times stopped the traffic flow all together. While the roads are beautiful they must be easy to lay them as it is flat across from France and Belgium and the soil is really a light loam or even sand, the traffic volume just overwhelms the capacity available and with the biggest container terminal at Antwerp being in the middle of this area, the roads are well used by so many trucks from Germany and even further north, east and south. At the off ramps where you might find a MacDonald’s etc plus fuel stop it is not uncommon to see a hundred or more huge trucks laid up for a meal or compulsory stop. It is so mind boggling.

As we entered Belgium we were blown away by the huge, and I mean huge, IKEA centre seemingly stuck out in the countryside but with a car park so huge it would be impossible to guess at numbers but Rhonda and I both commented that the building would have to be twice or even maybe three times the size of the whole of Eden Park in size and height. Thinking this must be a European distribution centre we were simply stunned to eventually see another two similar size Ikea’s in Holland and in France. One wonders where all the product goes to and is there any trees left in Sweden.

Tim and Elizabeth’s home is set in an acre of beautiful park like grounds with small lakes and waterways creeping into the back yard giving them direct access to a lake and some main waterways. The back yard looks a bit like a mini Zodiac show room with boats, pools and toys from the old company. We hade a lovely meal with them and then enjoyed an evening of real family entertainment from Piers board game to listening to Tim play his guitar in a well accomplished manner. We so enjoyed being able to catch up with them and to chatting about the Good Old Days in Australia etc. We were made so welcome and stayed the night with them before pushing on the next morning to Amsterdam City to get to a local branch of the office equivalent to New Zealand’s Work and Income department as we had to get out passport equivalent stamped by them.

After all that driving etc however, I must point out what we found which would be so unlike a New Zealand office. This is situated in a government building which is painted white and you just go through the barrier which allows you to drive down to free parking below. It is again all painted white with not a mark on the walls and the floor is a light coloured grey with each parking space painted out in black so you sure know where to park. Up in the stream lined lifts to the waiting room which is about 100m by 60m with only Rhonda and me waiting to be served so it was an opportunity to view closely all the works of contemporary art. Many of these were porcelain standing up to 2m high and were amazing which only the photos we took being able to describe them. Not a mark or a chip could be found on any of them and despite the fact that the heads of some of the characters were just balanced on a spikes above the rest of the character, nobody had damaged them in any way.

Once we were clear of our passport duties we headed for home but stopped overnight in the town of Dinant in Belgium which again is a town which has to be seen to be believed. It sits right on the bank of the large Meuse River and is quite ancient with a castle structure sitting right atop the nearby bluffs but I think the most amazing thing is the entrance to this town is through a huge slit in the rock wall. It is no doubt a holiday destination spot with many river boats running day cruises and longer so maybe we will get our “Somewhere” to there one day too.

From Dinant we decided that we just wanted to be home so we took the fastest route despite some of it maybe under toll, however, after 6 hours we were back on the boat again despite Tom Tom throwing a wobbly right at the last hurdle so to speak. We stopped at a supermarket to get fresh food and as we left I followed Tom Toms directions only to find that the road was getting narrower and then turned to a gravel surface. Thinking that perhaps it linked to a road we could see in the distance I pushed on as requested by the sat/nav only to find that we had entered a private forestry road so an immediate turn around was necessary and once back to our supermarket we got all together instructions which got us home in around 30 mins. Great to be home and to get back to Saint Jean-de-Losne life again but a marvellous trip was had really.

We were just unloading the car when a knock at the door came and there was Jo, a friend staying onboard with Iris and Graham on “Manatee” asking if we would join them for drinks and dinner that evening. It was wonderful to see them again. They are moving up to Dijon to winter over so I can imagine we will be making a few trips up to see them through the winter.

The social calendar has been printed for the next month and we look forward to all the events including Quiz Night even though I am sure Terry and Sandra will not want us back on their team as Rhonda and I only answered 5 questions out of 60!!!!!! We couldn’t even get the last question right that was put in for our benefit “In what year was the Treat of Waitangi signed?”!!!!!!!!!!!!

The weather has since cooled down and luckily we ordered two metres of fire wood for our log burner so that was delivered the next day, stacked and covered so now we can sit back and relax in nice warm quarters. More next time folks. Love to all.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


As we said in our last blog, it has been a long and winding road for the past couple of weeks as we have made our way from St Leger-sur-Dheune to Fragnes which is an outlying suburb of Chalon-sur-Saone where we moored for the past 4 days as it is again a quiet little place with power and water right on the dock and a nice park alongside which Harry sure appreciates.

The trip down, and I do say down, as we went through another 15 locks which were all ‘down hill’ as the canal dropped from over 450 meters at the peak. Some of the locks were only a couple of hundred meters apart with other gaps being a couple of kms separating them so by the end of the day we were both pretty tired to say the least and while it is not hard work going through the locks it is somewhat physically demanding pulling on the guiding ropes as the water rises or falls plus the need to be so alert as the rush in or out of the water can throw the boat (yes even our 45 tonner) around depending on how the lock is set up. You may imagine what it is like if you have a plastic hire boat behind you in the lock as they really do bounce all about.

At one point we were held up at a lock due to a jamming gate. This is one of the reasons why the authorities hate tyres being used as fenders as if they drop off their ties to the barge they can jam in the lock gates etc. We were told by the lock keeper that it would take 2 hours to repair. Funny that it was right on 12 noon, dinner time and rest time, so we could only back up the canal to where we could tie up. It so happened that the only near space for us was under some trees which was nice except when we got under them a number of the branches were jamming against the wheelhouse and dropping leaves all over the boat. I climbed up on top to snap them off to find that they were in fact walnuts, so over the next hour I picked a large bowl of the fruit and peeled much of it from its outer coating so it wasn’t too bad after all. We had just finished our own lunch when the lockmaster turned up and said all was well and away we went convinced that there was really nothing wrong with the gate which made us smile, but that is the French way I guess.
Rhonda's Comment: Another bit of French ingenuity - building a restaurant across the canal.

On the way we experienced looking at great farm country so similar to New Zealand and England and the canal widened a bit too so when we met the odd commercial we were able to simply navigate past them as the situation dictated.

From our mooring place at Fragnes we made a trip into the city which is about a 20min bus ride away and here is how that works. You phone up and book your passage and they give you a time for pickup at your nearest bus stop. The fare is 1 Euro only and here is what is amazing, if there are insufficient passengers to make it worth running the bus at that time, they send you a taxi and still at the same price. Apparently they save heaps of money operating this way and saves big buses running around suburban streets if not really required. This is what happened to us, so when the taxi pulled up and the driver indicated for us to enter we were pleasantly surprised to say the least to meet the only other passenger who was born French but of Moroccan descent and was a real stunner. She spoke beautiful English due to her spending three years in London studying Import and Export regulations so she could get a degree at University which she did, and returned to France only to find no-one wanted to employ her due in part, she believes, to her being a foreigner. She claims the French are quite racist which surprises us when you see how many North Africans in particular are working here.

She gave us lots of tips on what to see and do so we were very grateful and spent a couple of hours at the local market which took up about 6 blocks offering all sorts of fresh food plus the usual clothing etc and then when we did catch the bus back at 3.30 pm she was on board as well. So we chatted some more about how hard it was to get work in this recession and pointed out one suburb where she claimed over 60% of the inhabitants were unemployed so the area was slowly becoming a ghetto. We felt really sorry for her so I suggested to Rhonda that we employ her as an au pair girl for Harry which to be honest went down like a lead balloon and I can’t understand why. Oh well that’s life I suppose, one can only offer to do so much good.

This locale was made famous for not only being first inhabited 6,000 years ago by Neolithic tribes from the south of France and then later the Romans who made it a major base and sanctuary as well as being the kick off point for their marauding armies. Chalon is where the first photographs and processing was invented by Nicephore-Niepce using the new-fangled instrument called a camera. Even today Kodak has a huge plant here but was sadly closed last winter throwing some 3000 people out of work. We also understand that Philips whose plant is nearby has also closed over half of its production areas with a similar loss of jobs, so you can imagine how those closures affect all the commerce of the area. We couldn’t help but notice so many closed factories as we came into the area via the canal.

Rhonda's Comment: Loved this car - thought our son-in-law (whose name is Tom obviously) should buy one.

Chalon-sur-Saone is a quite large city sited on the banks of the huge Saone River which we will go onto via some more locks before we can make our way up stream to Saint Jean de Losne where we will winter over at the huge marina of H2O.

We have commented before about the great cycling tracks provided, which runs mainly alongside the canals and are kept in excellent order so cycling is a big leisure time activity with young and old sharing these trails which are generally flat and tar sealed as well. We learnt that it is part of a whole European project to provide a cycleway which will link Nantes to the Black Sea following the Loire, the Saone, the Doubs, the Rhine and the Danube, so come on Kiwis, get your bottoms onto a cycle seat rather than a lounge seat and come and give it a go. It seems as though every man woman and child has a bike here just like the Netherlands so this is probably one reason why the kids are seldom seen in overweight condition. (I need to buy a bike).

We left Fragnes early one morning to make our way towards Saint Jean de Losne and knowing we were to get down to the biggest lock we had experienced (10.76 meters) which finished the Canal du Centre so once down in the lock we were straight out onto the Saone River which was a bit of an eye opener. The lock had a great steel door which was winched up by two massive gearboxes after the main bulk of the water held in the lock had been vacated. To watch Rhonda’s face as we went into a full lock and to look over to see the river far below, was a sight to behold really as she was on the bow with a rope to the floating bollard. The lockmaster signalled that we were about to be lowered down and all of a sudden we were lowered to the river level and then the huge doors were winched up and we sailed out onto this marvellous river. Immediately the colour of the water changed to a nice blue and visibility was tripled I would guess.

Rhonda's Comment: Note the smiling face in the first photo and then in the next, the little spot on the bow of the boat is me!!!!!! I wasn't smiling by the time we got to the bottom.

The river is approx 200m wide at least and is well marked by navigation buoys so it is easy going even though we were now going up stream. It reminded me of the Waikato River when you encounter it at about Mercer but the Saone is more slow flowing at this time of the year but I am told it is pretty rapid in winter and spring when the snow melt has its effect. All along the banks were fishermen with there array of rods mounted onto frames and they were all set up with little tents or weather shelters, some with BBQs and other cooking facilities. They sure are keen and as it was a Sunday the locals sure made the most of the mild fine weather.

The armada of boats ranging from the $50.00 dollar Para type kids boats to canoes, kayaks and skiffs to runabouts to quite expensive rigs were either pulled up on the banks or out being used as fishing platforms. The fish levels must be high as when you walk along the banks or just sit and look, the fish activity is amazing so the fact that boat’s sewage is dropped into the river sure does not seem to do any harm to the level of stock. It could well be a great adventure for the boys from Fishing New Zealand to investigate.

At around 5 knots we moved freely with room and depth to spare marvelling at this great waterway which still serves as a major water highway. It was recorded that in 1962 some 300,000 tonnes of product were barged along this river, however, from then on the amount of produce carried has declined rapidly but has been overtaken by the leisure trade market so it is not uncommon to see a small convoy of rentals and pleasure boats having fun during the holiday periods and weekends.

We arrived at Verdun sur le Doubs to find the small marina full of hire boats with the crews all lunching on deck etc. We decided to take a chance and moor against the pier where there was an old weathered notice saying reserved. The Capitanerie was closed until 4.00 pm and as you guessed it, when it opened we were told that we would have to get off the berth as there was a hotel boat due in at 5.30 pm. Pleading for a bit of assistance the Capitain eventually allowed us to straddle a couple of berth points so a great nights rest was assured and as you would know it the rental boats all moved off then to avoid paying the berthing fees so we had plenty of room so walked around this quaint town and took some pics which are included for your viewing.

After a pleasant night and an EARLY morning call from my sister in Tauranga (Rhonda’s Birthday) we left in beautiful clear sunny conditions with the river being a real picture with the reflections of the trees and the odd riverside home being so clear as we passed along.

We headed for Seurre the next day which we had decided would be our next stopover. Being still on the Saone River we were able to get along at approx 4.5knots so covered the distance very well and apart from going through the largest lock we have yet encountered which would have held at least two Peniches which are each 38meters in length, behind each other and was much wider than usual so barges of our size could have been parked in there side by side as well.

As we were the only ones in it, when the paddles started to open to allow the inflow of the water I have to say that this was the roughest stretch of water I had struck since coming off the English Channel. Despite having a heavy bow rope hooked to the fixed bollards and the boat in forward drive to keep the stern in against the wall, we were bounced around like a little duck on a pond. Quite and experience and one we shall remember for a while I believe. While travelling along Rhonda also got a nice birthday call from Michelle so it was a feeling of some amazement that here we are on the other side of the world where Switzerland is less than 2 hours drive away and one can talk to someone in New Zealand so clearly. The wonders of modern technology.

We stopped over for the night at Seurre but as we were so tired after our big Birthday lunch we just rested up on the boat and did not get to see much of this town but the marina was nice but expensive at 22 Euros per night to stay. The morning dawned beautifully so we cast off to follow another boat into the jaws of another huge lock like the one described earlier in the blog. Having seen two barges of over 89.2 metres make their way through the lock gives further detail of how big they are. The ride up on the filling rush was less than at the earlier lock so off we went on the ‘Cut’ which is just that, a cut in a straight line for about 8 kms rather than following the original river due we understand to there being rapids and water falls in the river bed.

After some 4 hours of pushing upstream we noticed that the sky was no longer quite so crystal clear but rather seemed to be a bit misty which we both had noticed on previous visits to Europe particularly in the winter months. Other visitors returning or tourists coming to New Zealand from Europe say that on arrival they notice how clear the air appears in comparison so I am sure we will face plenty of this condition before winter is over. It seemed to burn off by noon so as we rounded one of the few bends to get a look at the town of Saint Jean de Losne it was sparkling in the sunlight and 30 degrees temperature.

This is the town and port where we will be parking up for the winter and is also the town where Rhonda and I sat some 16 months ago on a bright sunny day marvelling at the views and how good the food was at the little riverside restaurant where we lunched that day watching the boats and leisure barges come in to tie up for meals etc and said at the time “This is what we should do” when we fully retire and the rest is history really. Here we are living “the dream”.

So I am going to close this blog off as the cycle has been completed but will come back with a new run on our winter living in this port later on. Good luck to you all and enjoy your southern summer and for those in the north, may it not be too cold or windy and may the global warming be kind to us.

Total Locks for Season - 282
Total Klms for Season - 1222