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Old 11-06-2012, 03:34 PM   #1
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Living aboard a French canal boat

I posted this over on Cruisers Forum (which has an international membership) but I would appreciate comments from you guys:

Ok, indulge me for a moment and tell me if this will or won't work as I sit here and look at the beginnings of a nor'easter developing outside (eastern North Carolina).

I can buy a converted (from a commercial barge) French canal boat for under US$100,000. These boats are 13-15 meters (40-45 feet) long and 3.5-4 meters (11-12') wide. They have all of the cruising equipment one would expect but usually propanerefrigeration and hot water heating, which limits DC usage. Some have washer/dryer units and a generator. All have decent water and fuel tankage. The only wierd thing from an American cruiser perspective is that most have DAF diesels and are built from steel hulls.

My thought is to buy one, fly over and
cruise the canals from May to Sept and then put it into dry storage for 7 months and do it again the next year. I can do virtually all maintenance myself and one would hope that the fresh water will limit steel hullcorrosion problems. Dry storage is about $2,000 for the 7 mo period. So other than the initial investment it seems to be a cheap way to cruise in a beautiful area of the world (well as much as putting along at 4 kts in a straight line can be considered cruising).

So for those who have experience with this life style, here are some questions:

I assume that like the Erie Canal in the US, cruising dockage is mostly just pulling over to the side of the canal and tying up for the night. Bistros, wine bars, grocery stores, chandleries etc should be within easy walking distance. In other words I don't have to
budget for dockage while cruising nor any shore based transportation costs (other than public transportation).

Waste disposal. Some of the boats listed on
www.h2ofrance.com have holding tanks, but most do not list one. What does one do?

Anything else that I have missed?

David
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Old 11-06-2012, 03:51 PM   #2
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My question would be about user fees and or taxes levied for use of the canal and lock system. On the surface it sounds like an affordable way to see Europe.
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Old 11-06-2012, 04:30 PM   #3
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You might be better off finding a long term charter and let them do the maintenance and use the boat while you are somewhere else. Just a thought, might be worth looking into. You know sometimes people tell me if it flys or floats it is cheaper to rent it
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Old 11-06-2012, 04:43 PM   #4
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Sounds like a great adventure. I assume you are fluent in French? Hustling parts and doing repairs your self at home can be a PIA let alone in a foreign country as a seasonal boater. Repairs/maintenance will also take up some of your cruising time.

Maybe lease for a season and see if this is want you want to do. What's your boating experience?

I'm not trying to be negative but we've cruised outside NA for awhile and let's just say, it can be a challenge, culturally, working on your boat in foreign places.
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Old 11-06-2012, 05:17 PM   #5
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Here is what I have found after a few hours of internet searching as guided by the nice folks at Cruisers Forum:

Fees- About $200 or so for 4 months in France.

Chartering long term- Yes that would be nice to try it out. But like long term chartering in the US, it just isn't done. Probably an insurance limitation.

French language- I lived in Paris for three months and developed a rudimentary working French. But part of the charm would be to learn better French. Yes figuring out parts would be a pain, but doable I think.

I could buy the boat in the Netherlands where everyone speaks English. But I like the charm, culture, food and wine of France.

Cruising skills- I have owned sailboats from 30 to 43 feet and have put about 10,000 miles under their keels while cruising/living aboard for a total of about 3 years, but all coastal and near offshore US. There is little in the way of boat maintenance I can't do myself.

So I am still looking for show stoppers. Haven't found one yet.

Certification may be a PITA as Europe requires licenses unlike the US.

David
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Old 11-06-2012, 06:11 PM   #6
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I am sure Marin will chime in as he has had experience with canal cruising in Europe.

My sister & brother in law spent some time on the French canals last year, had a great time.

The only negative seemed to be the canals were very polluted, the don't fall in level & the boats themselves don't track very well.

They met some people, English, I think who own a barge and travel through France much like you are talking about. I think I remember that they tie the boat up in Amsterdam for the winter and hire it out as accommodation. Could be wrong about that though. I will have a chat with my sister, and if anything that may be of use comes up I will post it.

It sounds like a bit of an adventure.
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Old 11-06-2012, 07:41 PM   #7
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Our canal cruising has been in the UK. Other than the fact you are on a boat in a man made canal there is nothing--- and I mean nothing-- in common between canal boating in the UK and canal boating in France/Germany/Netherlands/ etc.. The boats are totally different, the canals are totally different, the locks and their operation are totally different, etc.

The one thing I will say with regards to working and traveling in France is that while some familiarity with the language is great it's not necessary. And if one is in France for any length of time you start picking up the language--at least the basics-- fairly quickly.
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Old 11-06-2012, 08:54 PM   #8
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I've cruised the canals in France a bit. I think your plan is do-able, however, for under $100K you might be spending a fair amount of time fixing her up. Nice turn key units go for $200-400K, but if you enjoy doing the work it may be possible. Corrosion is definitely reduced in the canals with steel boats built in the 1800s still plying the canals (although often replated in spots). Many of the boat yards are owned, run &/or populated by ex-pat Brits, so you can probably get what you need with minimal language skills. Just don't plan on a set schedule. A number of courses exist (5 -10 days) which provide instruction and appropriate experience and credentials for European canals. Except for the large rivers, minimal seamanship skills are needed. Although you can pull the boat for winter, you can also winterize and leave it in the water, pulling every 2-3 years for bottom maintenance. Holding tanks are required for both grey and black waste water, but finding a pump-out station is not always easy. The result is polluted canals. Overnights at village docks (often with electricity and water) can be $10-15 and there are some full service marinas where you can spend $80-100/night if you want. Staking out along side the canal is common - water is often available at the locks, if they aren't too busy.

The only other problem is the weight gain...

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Old 11-06-2012, 09:26 PM   #9
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Try this

Friend of a friends blog Linquenda

Someone who is doing it right now. Found by looking for the first...
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Old 11-06-2012, 09:32 PM   #10
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Other than as a visitor to France (our daughter married a French fellow and lives in Paris) and an avid boater, I have no personal experience with what you propose to do. I do know a fellow who bought a 100' commercial barge in the Netherlands, converted it to pleasure use, cruised from the North Sea to the Med, then back up the Canal duMedi over 1.5 yrs, had a great time and sold it. He was thrilled with the trip and eager to tell us all about it.
In Paris, there are few pleasure barges on the Seine, so I presume cost keeps them away.
Other reports I have seen suggest that you can tie up along the side of the canals and walk or cycle to nearby places for food and drink, just about anywhere along the route.
This is definitely something I would check out for some time in my own future. Keep us posted.
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Old 11-07-2012, 04:39 AM   #11
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Your plan is very do-able ... if you want to enjoy the dream while planning there are a couple of very good books on the subject written by Bill and Laurel Cooper, a British couple who converted a barge and traveled extensively through Europe's waterways. The go into great detail on the culture and techniques of barging.

I always make it a point to walk the canal banks and often meet some very interesting people who are enjoying that dream in real life.
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Old 11-07-2012, 06:42 AM   #12
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Several years ago, Vicky and I rented a canal boat (La Boat) in southern France and had a fantastic experience on the Canal du Midi. We sometimes tied up along the canal (overnight) but we preferred mooring at one of the villages and walking (sightseeing) around - we enjoyed meals at the canal side cafe's with lots of friendly locals. Certainly a very memorable holiday. The boat was 30' and perfect for 2 people - galley, head, helm, bedroom, and the roof over the salon slid back (opened) to the sights and smells of the French countryside... we tried to stop at every winery along the way...

The locks were both easy and amusing. The lockmasters can be very creative with their free time - paintings, gardens, interests in boaters... nice experience. Some locks were boater activated - there was a sign with instructions about how to operate the locks... if the gate was closed, wait until it opened; ease in; push the button to close the gate then walk to the other end to push the button to open that gate... no OSAH in sight....

The boat had no holding tank... all waste went into the canal... sides of the locks were slime - don't touch! But we saw kids swimming in the canals :-(

You may want to spend a short holiday on a rental boat to get the feel of canal life, but that would only convince you that this was what you wanted to do all along.

You didn't say how many people would accompany you... if it's just 2 people, maybe a 45' boat would be more than you needed. If you're open to short term paying passangers, please keep us in mind...

Earl & Vicky
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Old 11-07-2012, 06:48 AM   #13
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Rick- Thanks, I just ordered the Cooper's book.

I did get a reply to this same post that I emailed to h20france, one of the main brokers of these boats. They confirmed that tying up along side the canal or paying a minimum town mooring fee is de rigueur.

But they also confirmed that there are very few pumpouts and holding tanks, so most stuff goes overboard!!! Not too surprising. The US is way ahead of the world on this one.

David
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Old 11-07-2012, 06:54 AM   #14
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But they also confirmed that there are very few pumpouts and holding tanks, so most stuff goes overboard!!! Not too surprising. The US is way ahead of the world on this one.

David
We've been running narrowboats in the UK since 1990. All the narrowboats have holding tanks and almost all the boatyards have pumpout systems. While the canals tend to be muddy all the time from the passage of boats, runoff from fields, etc, they are clean enough to support a wde variety of fish including pike. Fishing the canals is as popular a pastime as running boats on them. Still not advisable to swim in them or drink the water but at least they don't have sewage in them.
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Old 11-07-2012, 06:59 AM   #15
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Which one(s) did you order?

Watersteps round Europe is good, Watersteps through France is great, and Backdoor to Byzantium is probably the best in my opinion.
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Old 11-07-2012, 10:05 AM   #16
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Rick:

Hmm, they must have written a lot of books on the subject. I ordered Sell up and Cruise the Inland Waterways. It was only one of two that Amazon had from those authors. The other was nearly the same title but about sailling cruisng.

Do you know anything about that book. I think I can still cancel.

I researched the other titles and found them in Amazon's used section, cheap. So I ordered them all.

David
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Old 11-07-2012, 10:12 AM   #17
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Don't cancel ... it is a good book too, it is (I think) the first of their books and talks about their decision to sell off the home and go cruising. It has been a long time since I read that one but I think it is about their "normal" boat that they took to Greece ... they have another one about leaving the Med and going back to the UK to convert the canal boat they lived on and took on all the other trips.

If you can get the entire series it is worth reading. I'd offer to share mine but I would have to be dead before I let them go.
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Old 11-07-2012, 03:23 PM   #18
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... - paintings, gardens, interests in boaters... nice experience....
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Old 11-08-2012, 01:00 AM   #19
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Hi,

Well, I'm based in the UK and my personal experience is limited to having cruised the Seine to Paris and back a few times - stunning, gorgeous, and can't wait to do it again.

But, coming to your specific enquiry, I've known many folk who have barges on the French canals and the fun they have is extreme. Such beauty, such lovely people, such sights to see, such wine, such food - and it goes on and on.

Re steel hulls. They are excellent and not a problem. The sacrificial anodes for fresh water on a steel hull would be magnesium, and the best reference site for info and manufacturer in Europe is Sacrificial Anodes - Marine Cathodic Protection - MGDUFF

Re grey and black tanks, until a few years there was only one pump out station in France yet the law said you had to use poump outs, and not dump into the water! Impossible but wonderfully French - make the rules and disregard them all. Great mentality!

Re navigating the canals, you would be advised to know the CEVNI regs. The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) (search for CEVNI) can supply the small booklets. If you want to get the CEVNI qualification there are many places where this can be done - it's a short simple test and keeps the authorities at bay (as does a good glass of Pernod!)

You'll love living the dream - just do it.
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Old 11-08-2012, 01:07 AM   #20
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Wonderful photo, what's the car sign in the top right of the photo supposed to mean?
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