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