Waters and wars

Sitting in front of the lounge fired Kalk Bay, ( yes, in September )I will attempt to write the story of Octo’s passage from Nevers to Beaucaire , to do this trip justice it should have been written by say Jonathan Raban with the odd poet thrown in but it’ll have to be at my pace.with apologies to James Joyce .
Imagine having 70 one night stands in 70 different places in about 70 consecutive days ,,,apart from the sex we managed ,,but now imagine how to remember any of those places ,which was the one with that most delightful square , at what mooring did an irate fisherman whose lines we’d just demolished ( in the harbour) threaten us all with the foulest of French insults which I understood and then throw sand all over the boat , fishermen were a complete pain all the way they sat there exposing their big white tummies with four rods in the water which they refused to pull out for our passage so in the beginning we tried to avoid their floats which always resulted in the Octo wiggle so cancel that and don’t look ,they weren’t there to catch fish anyway it was to avoid the wife..

.did the restaurant we moored alongside on the Rhone at midi have frittures or was it the cannelloni with frogs legs and fresh water prawns and was the wine pouilly fume or Sancerre and why when we walked up the lawn from Octo to the restaurant did the waitress say “have you reserved” , and believe it or not at one small village mooring in France there was not a single place to buy a beer ,as the custom was as soon as we’d moored for the night ,off to the nearest bar for a couple of beers even if we didn’t feel like a beer,and by the way which was the best beer we drank French or Belgian and was the highest degree of alcohol in it 9 or eleven ,of the many restaurants we ate at was the budget Bocuse the best one or was that other one where we can’t remember what we ate but it was a Michelin copy with a price to suit ,

what were the names of all those newzealanders and Australians we met at moorings ,it seemed that they plus Octo were the only boats on the canals and rivers ok a few Dutch boats and a few crazily driven hire boats by correctly dressed frenchies but why when were on the biggest rivers in France there no traffic ,on some rivers or canals we’d go the whole day without seeing another boat,, one or two peniches maybe ,so we say France is in a bad way and it is , in many of the towns we passed through Main Street shops were boarded up all the factories on the rivers were closed except the three or four nuclear power stations and I think our impressions were right and confirmed by the many we met en route ,

how come in one province the locks are open 24 hours but in others you have to wait from midi to treize , so ok you stop for lunch by sticking a couple of stakes in the grass ,and happily realise that you can’t get arrested for drunken driving,why is mooring so difficult on the Rhone but not the Saone well it’s the current and the wind and we took some heavy knocks trying to come alongside having to turn upstream , and the expression stuck in the mud does not refer to the crew but to a mooring at Givors which we slid into alongside at 7pm but couldn’t budge the next morning in spite of 7helpers pushing ,,,the port keel was held so tight by the mud that it had to be removed and already damaged thrown away or that other place where the only mooring was in a harbour with fingers which we HAD to get in as you can’t moor Octo on the banks of the Rhone and it was 20m wide and Octo is 15 , I didn’t sleep that night trying to work out how to get her out , and if you see the photo you’ll know what mean ,

and at the huge Avignon lock we moored at huge pillars meant for the peniches and were loud hailed by the lockkeeper to get the hell out so we moored alongside an affable old French bargee and his ancient boat and wife who said the supermarket is just round the corner (joke) and when we woke there was a peniche 85metrelong at our previous spot, we both sailed together next morning from that lock to St Giles where he left us for the canal du midi , not to mention that on these great rivers ply even greater hotel boats and container barges some 110 m long I.e. 7timeslongerthan Octo and they carry 3000 tonnes , so when you see one of these you slow down and dive for the nearest bank but once we got caught in the wash of two peniches crossing us one upstream the other downstream and the whole front deck and lounge was underwater as were my underpants.

There was never a day without incident feeding swans and ducks with rock hard baguettes that nearly choked them , coming to a lock and blowing the vuvuzela to wake the lockkeeper to no avail and so having to move on ,,,finding a mooring that says showers which have become smellingly vital ,to find that they’re under repair , walking miles to find the baker only to see that he opens at 6 then disappears to reopen at 4pm ,passing a boat aground for not being in the buoyed channel, seeing the markers on the pillar buoys showing that the Rhone can flood over 3metre over it’s now level ,buying local wines from a lady lockkeeper at a price we could afford as this route covers the most famous vineyards in France Burgundy ,Cotes du Rhone , Beaune etc etc , mooring where’s there’s no water and we’ve run out , trying to get petrol either hire a taxi (which is forbidden) but done anyhow ,or ask the supermarket to borrow a trolley and then cart the stuff for a couple of kilometers and back with the trolley ,look for a washing machine ,,apart from Norma ,which you eventually find but you can’t work it, having David’s birthday at a great restaurant a brasserie which actually means a beer maker but has become known as place where you get none of the French bullshit and bullying waiters but a great big meal at a reasonable price , but there’s no such thing as a reasonable price for a South African ,a cheap bottle of wine at a restaurant costs R290 which is also the cost of a meal so we go to places where for R188 you get a 3litre box and restaurants where the fixed menu is R145.

I arbitrarily decided that the HUGE resonsibility I was undertaking exempted me from both cooking and washing up ,,a task that Norma did happily and beautifully .as to cooking there was the Dave and norm team with all sorts of specialities including endives with Gorgonzola,the Helga team specializing in cutting things up very tiny, the Mary team (very fast) the Michele and flora team cooked endives et al , and the ICRC team which has to rate highly as they carefully cut up spring onions and endives to make the most divine salad and talking of meals David took us all (by this time Nicky had come aboard) to a friend of his living in an elegant chateau which they were refurbishing some 20km from Octo’s berth for a dejeuner sur outside patio ,salads quiches and plenty of wine on o lovely day ,

which brings one to the weather we had it was raining and horrible up in the Ardennes but once David and norm and car had joined it seemed to have improved though I was cold most of the time and kept my hat on in bed , hitting at last the sun in the south we wondered how the hell to keep cool and back to Africa Mosquitos,

It was at Nevers that Mary and Helga joined the crew increasing the average age aboard by about 7% and with Mary giving me a huge blast because of the numerous changes in times and places for the rendezvous , however she relaxed by taking us all out to dinner where the frittures were divine and lots of the local wines disappeared ,then to Decize where we had to navigate up an ancient thin canal to a mooring full of hire boats but no hirers, hated the whole bit,next to Digoin where we had a double up lock to pass over the huge Loire on a canal bridge and into the Canal du Centre which has 62locks in 112kilometres ,we went up and up and up and then onto the plateau section and then down down down , much easier ,,,these are all very very ancient locks and only a few metres deep ,,some were operated by us with remotes or turning posts others by lock keepers following us in their tiny cars , no wonder France is in trouble , but it’s all very tense each lock ,however close has to be approached just right and the slightest wind or water change results in a bang , we must have lost or exploded at least 10 fenders ,,or in two incidents the out wash from the emptying lock turned Octo completely round and in the other she’s was blown to the opposite bank ,big manoeuvre to get into the lock from that angle , but that taught us how to get Octo into finger locks and bow on to docks and how to reverse out.

David and I took half an hour at the wheel each over the 7to10 hours daily passage , david also had to drive his car forward some 200km and train back and his navigation was spot on which had to be as we can’t wild moor in Octo so a haven for the night was the rule ,and one was at Genelard on the Canal du Centre ,and as we docked we saw a 4metre high rusty steel wall with the words “line de demarcation” written on it THIS was the line that separated occupied France (germanruled) from Vichy ruled under Petain ,,that line ran from Switzerland along the canal du centre to Orleans , Tours and down past and including Bordeaux to Spain just avoiding the dordogne and at Fayats was the sign of DeGaulle etched into the barn door proving resistance fighters .

And so to the titles in the blog , on this trip we have done some of the great waters of Europe ,the Rhine Maas Meuse (same river) the Ardennes canal and the Marne, areas of formidable battles in both wars , the Seine the Loire the Saone and the Rhone and we have seen the Vichy line , of all the rivers the Saone is the most gentle and not too much traffic it was when we locked into the Saone from the centre that all stress and tension evaporated from the crew and I was able to have a kip during my off watch for the first time in two and a half months ,,the Seine is enormous and kind of beautiful for the houses and villages alongside more traffic ,enormous looks that could hold 10 Octo’s ,,the Loire is I think the longest river in France but mostly canalised as is the Rhone now ,but when I did this river with Nicky in Shambira in 1977 there was I think only one lock 23m high one of the biggest in Europe for the rest we whizzed down missing wrecks tree trunks etc ,,now there are a few more locks but the current is strong and the mistral ever present and Octo can’t handle wind and I can’t handle Octo

but the Rhone is beautiful with ancient villages and castles hugging the great limestone cliffs and the patchy vineyards with their brilliant wines and the PK (which doesn’t stand for piccanin kia) but post kilometric so by looking at the French charts we had aboard you know exactly where you are , which helps. There was no schedule or itinerary the idea being to get Octo to the canal du midi , but about 10 days before my visa expired we realised that we’d never make it ,,panic aboard but we had to get off the Rhone (and so missed some of the most beautiful towns in France,, Valence Lyon Avignon,Arles, ) into a nice warm safe port for the year ,so we picked a spot off le petit Rhone up an old canal that was once a part of the Rhone a Sete reasoning that as it went nowhere we’d find a berth, so we upped the daily run from say 25km to around 60 km and arrived at St Gilles 3days before my departure to be told ,,Messieurs this is the south of France everybody wants to keep there boat here so bugger off.

Another Panic aboard consult fluvial magazine phone email all the boat yards within 25 km in bad French I kinda speak it but when it comes to French letters ! sorry ,pas de place ,finally two days before my departure for Amsterdam we motored 40km to Beaucaire where a kindly harbourmaster gave us a berth beneath a bridge (not too good for the solar panels) in a most beautiful harbour with a million restaurants hot showers a washing machine ,arriving there at noon I went with Nicky to Travel agent got our tickets she to Paris and got on the TGV the next morning at 10 ,me change at Paris with Nicky’s help and on to a cheap hotel near Schiphol and then an eleven hour day flight to Capetown , I was wiped out.

We were on Octo for 90days from Maastricht to Beaucaire of which we motored about 70. We were at the wheel for over 500 hours and our average speed including hundreds of locks for the whole journey which covered more than 1800 km was about 3,6km/hr and old mans walking pace ,it was all peace and love except for my shouting which though ever present became hysterical at all moorings and some locks whenever in my opinion Octo was in danger so I apologise to all concerned but everyone was warned by me on arrival of this character deficiency,.

I’ve left out (no cheering) much. ,the wonders the excitements the beauty of nature with water and enormous trees and kingfishers and herons (which David insists are herrings) the kind people ( even Frenchmen ) who helped us and the crew who sailed aboard , one way or another it had to be one of their most memorable voyages /experiences and in spite of the vagaries I thank them all for their help without which Octo would still be in Namur . The Jews say ” next year in Jerusalem. We say, why not the Canal du Midi?


Small amendment

To prevent confusion in all our many readers, Gail is no longer on the boat but I cannot remove her name from the by line. So it is I, Gerald who is writing these wondrous stories!

Nevers on Sunday

Now we are at a place called Nevers ,which to the unanitiated is the town mentioned In the Alain Renais and Margaret. Duras film Hiroshima mon amour ….were in a lovely canal port with showers and opposite a restaurant that specialises in frittures du Rhone a type of whitebait where we ate last night with Mary and Helga who arrived from London by train that evening .

The voyage has been long sometimes tiring with many adventures but Octo is like a semi tamed wild horse with a mind of her own she’ll stay straight for ten minutes and suddenly take a dive for the bank to recover one has to whirl the wheel as she is now in what we call The Wiggle and we’ve had near misses of boats locks and floating logs and some big bumps and lost and broken fenders

The lock system is wondrous there are automatic locks that you operate with a remote or by turning a pole in the canal middle some pick you up by radar and others have a lockkeeper who does all the work and those are the slowest and the guys follow us on motorbikes to open up Octo with fenders fits exactly into these and the boat has to be carefully lined up with someone on the port bow shouting. Right right right ok and then BANG ,,,,,,,some have the most beautiful gardens mostly geraniums which France seems to grow better than any other country and every bridge has it’s huge pots of flowers locks in different parts of the system open and close at different times we are now opening at 9 close between 12and1 and close at 7 all this determines our routine which is we get up half an hour before opening time have a coffee and start the engines David and I do half an hour at the wheel each but I do the locks sometimes 20 a day And our record distance has been 51km

We seem to have calculated that locks take about 15minutes and our speed is 6km/hr so we can roughly determine where we’ll be that night but the chart shows what facilities are available and we choose the best ,,,lunch is on the run and you won’t find abetter one 3types of pate including rillettes 3or4cheeses. Celerirave tomato endive salad

fruit and rose or white wine plus fresh bread bought either before we leave or the night before,we try to arrive around 5pm to ensure a berth and then head straight to nearest bar for a beer we mostly cook supper aboard but have been to many delicious country restaurants and tried all sorts of dishes we didn’t know about or just love And we found a brasserie in Nemours which was France of the fiftees

When David and Norma and car joined as Michy left we started by him driving to the next destination say 25km away and then leaving the car there he’d cycle back but that meant we could only leave at midday so we soon abandoned that and instead he’d take the car 100km and return by train

Nearing the south of Paris I phoned Pierre to come with Eric but he was in st palais so at Epernay he and martine joined us for a restaurant lunch we were then on the Marne river which you and mum and Michèle took on Shambira in 1977

The weather has been generally good and once it was 40degrees in the saloon but heavy thunderstorms are part of a French summer .

Culturally we’ve not done too much but we’ve done Reims cathedral we walked around a medieval village and in most places the church has some mitigating features ,we never have any news or music and we don’t miss them

Driving thru these narrow canals means slowing down when crossing other boats and once we were nearly demolished by a huge peniche that took over most of the canal and then got shouted at for not passing him on the wrong side we’ve been over one of the wonders of France the pont canal at Briare built by Eiffel in 1890 it goes over the Loire river which must be over a km wide another pont canal required a double lock to get onto it . The countryside is so beautiful tree lined then open areas where you can look over pastures maize fields the canal twists and turns and the many cyclists on the tow path give us a wave and we feed the ducks and swans and the grey heron and white tern are the most prominent birds the beautiful old villages that line the canal and the very many deserted factories are a feature and at one lock we were able to buy Sancerre wine and pouilly fume two of the great wines of france

Petrol and food are very difficult the villages might have a baker and a bar but if you need a supermarket it’s out of town as is petrol so we have to hire taxis and some won’t take fuel and Octo thrives on fuel

When it’s sunny we eat and have sundowners on the top deck with the cover up on the canal sitting up there while motoring is totally different from the downstairs view and gives a greater idea of the canal the scale changes somehow. You will remember that fishermen line the canal and very often refuse to pull in their lines which we then run over and get called connards .

The most I regret about this fantastic trip is that my friends cannot share this unique experience and join in our talks and discussion on the days events of which there are always a few yesterday three drunks walked over the bridge near us and the two pushed their mate into the canal .

We’re heading south slowly today well do Nevers many churches and the fantastic palace of the dukes of Nevers we’ll leave in a couple of days to get to the central canal which has 62locks in 112 km , Mary and Helga will have to experience lack of hot water showers and get used to the routine and new experience but that should be what they came for .

Now that we are in France it is called Le blog of course it could be called La blogge as in France Octo is masculine whilst she’s feminine in English

My new crew two rather elderly ladies (no offence meant) joined me on morts departure and fearing the worst that day I gave them a practical lesson in docking but did spend a disturbed night imagining the first lock out of Namur which was rather interesting , on our way via 5other locks to Dinant which is celebrated for three things ……the birthday celebrations for Mr Lewin……the 200th anniversary of the birth of Adolf Sacs who invented the saxophone …..and the towns pride ,,moulded picture biscuits made from a delicate mixture of honey and cement.

Trying to leave Dinant one engine refused to start call the mechanic who helped with the prop and it’s the battery so a new one and stayed the night and still in search of the national dish of Belgium moules frites….Next morn the other engine refused so a taxi and a new battery were cruising thru the Ardennes huge heavily forrested hills on each side of the river the ladies were not happy with the locks and were stunned when both motors stalled as did I on a sandbank in the middle of the large river and I only got out using the foreward bow thruster.

Then the left engine ran out of fuel even though the voyage showed quarter so not telling the ladies I went to 2000revs and prayed that the other wouldn’t conk out and leave us helpless ,,,,one and a half hours later we reached the sweetest village port and a guy sitting on the bank took us to get petrol

At our next stop we had at last moules frites which come in a huge covered black pot are smaller than ones in s.a. But after enjoying them I counted I’d eaten 99 .in one town in Belgium they were proudly announcing moules imported from New Zealand

We crossed the Belgium border at Givet and were asked to pay our dues for the French canals a huge sum in rand and the village itself was a dream with shops like Carrefour to replenish and a great restaurant.

Pont a Bar was our next stop it had a small marine shop where I bought fenders a 18th century French bar all in wood with a croaking barman and perhaps 20different types of Belgian beer it also had douches and toilets .

The ladies left there Saturday morning butthe previous two days we visited Charleville and Sedan where parts of the maginot line are still visible miche and flora arrived late that night after 19hour:s driving. Next day rest as we knew that the next phase would make men of them and so it did ,,,,with little experience we did 25 descending locks in 30km, in pouring rain the locks are tiny and Octo fits in with fenders exactly so to line her up an get in without bumps and bursting fenders is not easy and I only did 4 in 25 without hitting they are also self operated with a remote control aboard .This was taken from us at the end lock and we were told that the next locks where operated by a pole hanging over the canal which required a quarter turn it was a terrible day rained like hell and poor flora on ropes with boots ankle pads of plastic bags heavy raincoat and pants , she did an amazing job and was also a good helmsman/lady in the kitchen Michy was happily cooking all delicious French dishes , celeriac endives jambon. Rillettes daily croissants and baguettes and great salads.

The locks open at 9 and close at six and our daily routine is french breakfast with coffee and freshly bought croissants and petit pain au chocolate and depending on potential moorings we can do fro 25to 35 km a:day and lunch is pâté saucisson tomato cheese and baguette and wine and at our mooring we go to the nearest restaurant for the night meal.
The weather has been so poor no sunshine for a week that the solar panels can barely work and the batteries are very low.
Last night after a large Belgian beer I ordered a carafe of vin ordinaries but for the first time in my life was overwhelmed by the quantity so Michy nonplussed went and got it put into a wine bottle thus creating the very first (take away bottle)

Tomorrow to LOIVRE where Michy leaves and the kirkpatricks join .q

Stage two

imageHerewith the two B blog one b stands for bicycle the other for baguette and it all unfolds one year after stage one which was practically one tear ago so arriving in Maasrticht we found Octo covered in cobwebs and lacking lights in about half the boat so as Milton doesn’t believe in lazy barging holidays we were put to work he and dawie made keels and I had to rewire half the boat THEN the bike we had aboard a foldable beauty which cost 1800 rand was stolen along with 10000 other bikes that day (that’s official) a week later we sailed for Namur to meet Gail who was arriving from a luxury cruise to a beat up barge we then had to wait in Namur for the arrival of Milton’s son Paul ( here from America for three days only) and to give him a small barge trip we motored from Namur to Dinant 30 km via 6 locks a beautiful town where we celebrated my 86th with chateau Neufdu pape donated by the crew however we noticed a drop on steering on the return to Namur ,,one prop gone and with a eta in Namur we needed to know our speed with only one engine so we used the ancient mariners system ,,,the log,,, with Paul at the stern and me at the bow with half an old baguette we timed the boat and it was faster on one than with two so that’s the one b,,at dinner that night we realised that the bill equaled one bicycle so from then on all meals were measured in bicycles a two bicycle meal or a quarter one , no Michelin stars and that’s the other b. Gail and Milton leave tomorrow and will be replaced by two old female friends of Cecile’s years in ICRC and the three of us will head slowly down the Meuse towards France

A new journey begins

12F08471-7279-4D3E-B871-7E0341ED537D.pngA  working team, consisting of Milton, Gerald and Dawie, arrived this morning in Maastricht to board OCTO  after she spent the winter in T’Bassin, where we left her last year. They found her in good shape and will spend some time adding new keels and doing some maintenance work before setting off to Belguim and France.

There will be many guests coming and going during her travels in the next 3 months, so watch out for our blogs from now on. Gail will join the crew on 15th June after she does a leisurely cruise down the Rhine on a very much bigger boat!