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The very last stories from our European Sojourn

It is a year since our last visit to France and a lot has happened in my world and the world. Where to begin? – I guess I should complete our European Sojourn and enjoy our adventures in hindsight – ah yes the famous 20:20 vision we have when looking back. 

Martin and I returned to France in early September 2019. I arrived with my not-quite-so-broken shoulder – I broke the greater tuberosity and tore the rotator cuff on July  20 in an exercise class, and was in week 12 of recovery. Needless to say it was very weak and I did not feel very confident in my ability to work on the boat. So my son Tim planned to join us to help with Skookum on the river and in the big locks. 

The boat was fixed after the prop shaft debacle and we were fixing it up to sell at H2O in St Jean de Losne on the Soanne river. We arrived on time to ready Skookum for her final journey with us. Kerry stayed home for this journey – we would be away 6 weeks but our 12 year old dog was not really young enough to make another transatlantic crossing. She stayed home with a dear friend who took really good care of her. 

We arrived in Valence, opened the boat and a couple of days later headed to see our friends in Germany. Freiburg is only three hours from Valence and we always had fun visiting Brigitte and Peter. After two days in Teningen we headed back to Lyon and picked up Tim to take him Skookum. In the meantime we met two younger Rasta Swedes who were sailing their 23ft boat down to the Canal di Midi and then out into the Atlantic. From there they were sailing down to La Gomera in the Canary Islands to start a herbal farm growing medicinal plants. It amazes me; the paths younger people follow. I can only admire their courage and tenacity. 

Tim arrived in Valance a bit jetlagged but we immediately set off up the Rhone towards Lyon and beyond. In Tournon sur Rhone we met Martin’s sister and her husband for the night. They travel in France in a VW van – very new and comfortable. We had a super dinner together and went off the next morning in different directions. As we travelled north Tim helped with locks as my broken shoulder was not up lassoing bollards. It took about five days to get to Macon plus stopping for a day or so in Lyon to visit the Roman ruins and enjoy this beautiful city. 

Le Rhone Condrieu Marina

We reached Macon, which is an ancient wine centre – a place where the vineyards brought their product for shipment up and down the river – we were in the Cote d’Rhone another of France’s famous wine growing regions. Tim was fascinated with French food (the wine not so much) – for a guy for whom going out to dinner was normally to Montanas, he loved the presentation and the taste, and quantity was no longer an issue. We borrowed bikes from the very modern marina and rode into town visiting many of the places we had seen four years before when we had visited in 2015. The day that Tim and I left for England to see my mum and his grandmother, Martin went back to Valence to pick up Scarlett ready to pick up Paul when arrived.  

We took the Eurostar to London – Tim was not impressed. I think he was looking forward to a ride on the Orient Express but it turned out to be a packed train, seats without legroom and rather crap expensive food and beverages. Meanwhile in England my cousin Paul – another frequent visitor to Skookum was preparing to leave for the boat and to hang out with Martin to progress upriver. 

Tim and I spent about a week with my Mum and we travelled up to Yorkshire for a week. We booked into an Air B & B in some village in the middle of nowhere. The ‘Tour de Yorkshire’ bike race was on so many of the roads were either blocked off and/or narrowed for the re-routed traffic. The journey was horrendous as British roads are very busy and the weather on that day was miserable – rain and wind made driving intense. 

Tim and his nana

After a couple of days in Hawkshead we ended up in the lovely Yorkshire town of Knaresborough on the River Nidd. It was my mum’s favourite town in the area so she was delighted to be there. We had a nice day wandering around the area. Mum in a wheelchair pushed by her grandson.

Knaresborough Yorkshire

Tim left us and returned to Canada via Gatwick and mum and I returned to Norfolk for a week. Paul had gone to France and mum and I spent a couple of days finding respite care for the week my cousin Veronica would be away in December. My mother could not stay alone for a week, so we inspected some of the care homes. The exploitation of the elderly in the UK is very clear in the cost of care. There almost no government care facilities but the government will subsidize poor people. My mother is not rich but neither is she poor by government standards, so the facilities wanted to charge her for £1100 per week (about CND$1900 per week) for care.

She was not impressed, and Lilian being Lilian was not going to waste her money on some private facility. A month after I left France (around early November) my mum called me with a grin so wide she looked like the cat that had just got the cream. She had arranged a holiday with her grandniece in Norfolk for 6 days while Veronica was away so there was no way she would be going to a residential care facility. 

Lillian aged 90

I left my mum around the October 4, with the realization that I would not see her again until the Spring Equinox. She was in fine form mentally fit and physically well for a 92 year old. I spoke with her everyday (and had done for 6 years) via Facetime, she was safe and monitored by Veronica.

Back to France – Martin and my cousin Paul continued up the Soanne river – taking a slight detour for a few days to explore a tributary. The river took them to Louhans at the end of the Seille (as featured in the book “The little Paris bookshop”. They met up with Martin’s nephew Guy along the way and took almost two weeks to do the journey from Macon to Chalon sur Soanne where I met them. Guy and Paul went off to the Lyon Car show where Guy was picking up a McLaren to deliver to Italy. (In a trailer)

On October 4, I took the Eurostar train from London to Djion for our final trip from Chalon to St Jean de Losne and the H20 boat sales yard; our final destination. We had not been to Chalon for 4 years. Having our Paul along on the boat was great – he always volunteered to do the washing up and was happy to go off on a bike ride and explore the surrounding countryside. He was always affable, generous, knowledgeable and very helpful. Paul loved Skookum, he was a frequent visitor – I think if he had had more boat knowledge he would have bought her himself. He hung on for a few days until we reached St Jean de Losne then returned to the UK on his was back to New Zealand.

Quebecois Restaurant in Djion (Scarlett parked in front)

Skookum was going to be sold in H2O with an asking price of €44,000.  I thought it a little low but realistic. We had spent about €60,000 on the boat with all the improvements and used it for 8 years. We cleaned and cleaned, Martin worked on the systems and we had her shipshape. We packed everything we thought we could use in the camper into Scarlett and stored it at the H2O storage facility. Our plan was to sell Skookum and then buy a RV (Mercedes sprinter van) in Germany, bring it back to Canada ( east coast) and drive across. Well we all know what happened to those plans! 

The marina at H2O was a busy harbour – it was the confluence of the Soanne and three canals. H2O as a boat yard has a bit of a reputation – long on costs and salesmanship short on negotiation and support. But I had give them credit for honesty – H2O is a place for sales and salesmen – something we should not forget. They had a reputation as the biggest sales marina in France and were very successful. We had come to the end of our Skookum days – after seven summers I was ready to let go and more importantly so was Martin. 

Martin Paul and me at St Jean de Losne

Fast forward to Feburary 2020 – just before Covid hit Martin and I went to New Zealand for a vacation. My cousin Paul lives in Auckland on the North Island. It was now so easy to climb on an Air New Zealand flight in Vancouver and arrive on the other side of the world 13 hours later, to be greeted by Paul. 

Me and Paul on the beach near Auckland

Weatherwise it was lovely –soft heat and gentle breezes, and complaints about the lack of rain. Paul and his lovely partner Emiko were very hospitable to the point that Paul had recently acquired another car, which he allowed us to use. I have another cousin in Napier – not related to Paul but related to me, as he is my father’s nephew. Conrad was living in Auckland and Napier as his work with a large food producing company demanded he work in two places.  

Paul Emiko Conrad and I in Auckland

One of our reasons for going down to NZ was to attend the Art Deco festival in Napier. Everyone got dressed up and the whole town was involved. 

The Art Deco ‘Flappers and Gangster’ Ball

We arrived in Auckland on February 19 and had planned to go to Napier a couple of days later via Tauranga where we visited Gord and Lynn who had sailed from Victoria BC to New Zealand about 20 years before. Just before we left we received an email from H2O with an offer on Skookum. Negotiation between parties that are 20,000 miles apart are notoriously difficult.  At €38,000 the offer was rather low in my opinion and so I rejected the offer with a counter. We eventually agreed on €40,000 – 10% less than our asking price – but we received a lot less – in fact we only received €34, 000 – 10K less than the asking price.  This meant €4500 was the minimum commission – about 12% for us (non-negotiable), plus the cost of removal and storage of the boat and its parts and taxes ( 20% Value Added tax on the work done by H2O). Martin was just grateful that we even sold the boat in the time of Covid-19. Apparently that is not the case – recreation anything – campsites, boats, hotels, RV’s campers, tents are all hot commodities as we live in a ‘stay at home’ world. Hindsight is 20/20. 

Good Luck to the Walter who bought our boat – he got a great bargain with lots of gadgets and extras, and a word to the blog readers about my experience with H2O.

Negotiating and selling Skookum took some time – we were on the other side of the world with a huge time change, but we did the deal. I really enjoyed NZ – not just because I have family there but because it was so comfortable . We really enjoyed the Art Deco dinner we went to, and our trip down the North Island to Wellington was great but I was unwell. I had ‘plane flu’ – sore throat, very very dry cough, elevated temperature and feeling like I had been run over by a bus. Who knows what it was ( I think it was Covid but was not tested), but it was not going to spoil my trip. We visited with my friend Eva’s cousins ( she understands the notion of important cousins) in Rotarua and Raglan. What a privilege to be invited into the Maori culture by such hospitable people. I learned a great deal about the changes in New Zealand over the last 25 years – Maori was made an official language of NZ in 1987 – very impressive first adopters. Indeed the right to vote by women in NZ has been in existence since the 1870’s .

Marlena Martin and Didi in Raglan

After leaving our lovely Maori hosts we travelled back across to meet my cousin Paul . While we were waiting for him and Emiko at the beginning of our camping trip to the Coromandel, I received a phone call from my cousin  in the UK, who had been trying to get a hold of me on Facetime. My mother was gravely ill and had only hours to live. 

You must know that experience when your mind goes numb and your body stops existing and your heart beats at 150 miles per hour, well that was me when I received the news. I couldn’t have been further away on the planet if I had tried, and there was no way I could get back to the UK. The decision to go to the airport was taken out of my hands as we continued our travel to the Coromandel trying to find better Wifi. I called Tim and told him what was happening and he called the Kings Lynn hospital and was put through to his grandmother’s room. He spoke to her on the phone and she, I am sure, was listening.  I also spoke to my mum, as my cousin, who was with her, placed the phone next to Lilian’s ear so she could hear me. We were driving as I blabbed to her the story of my efforts to get her invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden party for the 75th Anniversary of  the end of World War 2 in Europe. My mum was in the ATS at the end of the war – the same outfit as Queen Elizabeth. I told her that I loved her very much and that her beloved husband, my dearest father, was waiting for her with open arms.

My dad and mum circa 1990

My cousin came on the phone when I was in mid sentence and told me Lilian had passed over. My lovely mother had died as I was talking to her.  I’d  like to think that the last thing my mother heard was her daughter, half a world away, telling her how much she was loved. 

We were still driving while this was happening. Eventually we stopped and were able to tell Paul and Emiko what had happened – then we all cried. We continued on our journey – I was looking for a church so I could light a candle for my mother, but did not find an open Catholic Church until we returned to Auckland. We stayed in NZ until our set leaving date, I informed my family in different places, we continued our negotiations on Skookum and organized for me to return to the UK within 36 hours after arriving back in Vancouver. 

Covid had not quite hit yet. 

I arrived in the UK on March 10 to deal with my mothers affairs. Martin  and I had planned to arrived in the UK on March 23 and then go on to France to settle our affairs there, sort out and sell Scarlett, our dogged red Toyota and look for a recreational vehicle we could use, then export back to Canada.  Tim arrived March 13th, while he was flying to the UK, the Prime Minister – Justin Trudeau told Canadians to get back home again. I had a lot to do and the funeral was already planned for March 24. Martin had decide to cancel his flight to the UK on March 22. Tim and I set to work trying to clear my mums home in Wisbech and took a trip to Hull to see other family. 

In the middle of all of this Tim had a birthday. 

On March 17 the BBC news had an article that said Heathrow and Gatwick airports were about to close. As private corporations these airports were no longer receiving landing fees as the number of flights into the UK dropped considerably. That scared me.

I immediately looked for flights for Tim and I back to Victoria knowing we would need to go into 2 weeks quarantine. We got an Air Canada flight back to Victoria via Toronto and Vancouver on March 21st .  France was locked down completely by March 17 and the UK was locking down as we left – the roads were empty, Heathrow was empty, and I think Tim and I were empty as we were emotionally exhausted. We would miss my mum’s funeral on March 24th and funerals were allowed a maximum of 6 people so my cousins attended as best they could. 

Back in Canada Tim and I settled into two weeks quarantine. Martin threw his lot in with us and we settled into the time in our house, reflection and decompression after the drama of the previous weeks. I should have written this final chapter at that point but to be honest my energy level was low and I, like the rest of the world, was gripped in the Covid crisis wondering what would happen next. 

Here we are – still in Covid but learning to live with it. Martin and I are well and have adjusted to Covid, while dealing with the consequences of my mothers passing and selling Skookum from a distance. Kerry is still going, albeit slowly and with lots of sleeps in-between sleeps,  but at almost 14 years of age (Wheatons live to about 15) we are bracing for her demise too. So three of the pillars of our European Sojourn (Skookum, Lilian and Kerry) will soon be a distant memory but I have my blog and you dear readers who have followed our story. 

We are flexible and adaptable people  and part of our adjustment is the purchase of a recreational vehicle; a Rialta 21ft VW/Winnebago combo that will take us on our Canadian Sojourn – coming soon.  Join me if you want. 

Skookum 2

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The Last Word – well maybe

Climbing onto Skookum on March 7 2019 I had such a feeling of being back home, it was palpable. The deck and the companion way, salon and galley are such familiar places to me after our seven year European Sojourn. Skookum has been our 300 sq ft (100 sq m) apartment with a permanent water view. She was now back in the water, tied to the end of H dock at the Valence port d’plaisance.

 

skookum in evening

It was dark when I arrived after a long journey from the UK consisting of a taxi, two trains, a bus, a plane, a tramway and another train. Martin looked more exhausted than I felt as he had been working non-stop to get the boat ready to go back in the water. He said he was tired and ached from crouching under the boat painting and moving stuff around to have interior pictures taken for the brokerage website. Martin, being the super man he is, then cooked us a simple and tasty dinner that we ate between our meandering conversations. Martin smiled and said it was so nice to have someone to talk to and I felt glad he had missed me. I did the dishes!

The next day we both rested – although we found ourselves a storage locker and did some other bits of shopping. All seemed well except there was something or someone missing. It was Kerry – we both remarked on how odd it felt to be on Skookum without our dog. Kerry has been a constant travel company over the years we have been in Europe, but this trip we left her at home in the care of a dear friend and dog lover.

I had arrived in the UK in mid February after leaving Vancouver on a cold snowy Valentines Day. After a few days of catching up on the family and my sleep, Mum and I left again for Palma Mallorca in the Mediterranean. I didn’t think it would be warm but felt it would be a nice break for my mum who is always game for a holiday.

hotel sonsantjordi

Hotel Son Sant Jordi Pollensca Mallorca

Mallorca is a lovely island , the largest of the Balearic Islands of the coast of Spain. It has a population of around a million. Traveling with a  91 year old is a lot of responsibility, which increased once I realized the hotel was not quite what I expected. The Hotel Son Sant Jordi was a lovely boutique hotel near the centre of a delightful historic city. We had  a car for the week so I drove us somewhere every day. The north of the island is rugged almost jagged range of hills. The karst scenary is a physical barrier between the northern ports of lovely cities like Soller and the agricultural southern areas of the island that grow grapes, nuts, olives and lots of sheep and goats. Tourism is the biggest industry that booms from March to November, so we were a little off season. We toured the capital Palma on a hop-on hop-off bus (but we stayed on) and learned about the fourteenth century Balearic monarchs that ruled this part of the Mediterranean. We spent time on the south coast where we had stayed 30 years earlier. It was warm in the day and cool at night. My mum was a real trooper as this was a hard holiday for both of us – mobility issues were front and centre, but we made it and flew back to the UK after a week .

IMG_3885

Lilian in Mallorca

Mallorca basilica

Bascilica in Palma Mallorca

I arrived in France to the welcome sights of Martin’s smile and our boat in the water – all fixed.  Skookum is a well maintained, well equipped, strong and right for the job (hence the name). She is a very comfortable live-aboard that gives you the freedom to go anywhere on inland waterways.

Back Cabin with a double bed, closet and air conditioner

 

Salon with two moveable chairs, coffee table, washing machine, television and fixed bench and steering station.

 

Dinette, galley and v berth/front bunk

 

Bathroom                                            Back Deck

We have been to the major cities of Holland (Den Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam), Belgium (Brussels and Antwerp), Germany (Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg) and all over France including Paris, Strassbourg, and Lyon by boat and all documented in our blogs. This has been a remarkable journey for a retired Canadian couple and their dog in an old Dutch Steel Cruiser. We have had visitors, family and friends of all ages and stages of life that have added to the rich story we have lived over the last seven years.

We had a week to get her shipshape and equipped so anyone who bought her could just climb on board, do some grocery shopping and leave Valence with two thirds of a tank of diesel. Martin worked so hard getting the boat ready for the water  and we decided we needed a little rest. We took a short trip to Marseilles as it was only a two hour drive. Marseilles had a reputation of being a seedy port town full of gunrunners and drug lords, but there is very little evidence of that now. The centre of town has been cleaned up filled with outdoor dining, a lovely small yacht port, surrounded by three fortresses and some beautiful churches.

Marseilles 2

Martin in Marseilles

We spent a couple days exploring then returned to Valence via Aix d Provence. This lovely small town happened to have a market on Tuesdays J, which allowed us to do a little shopping (limited only by the size of our suitcases. I will really miss French markets – especially those in historic towns, which are always colourful, full of bargains and delicious foods.

Marseilles 1

Enjoying the wind overlooking Marseilles

There are many other aspects of French life I will miss: – two hour lunches where everything is closed except the restaurants, fresh bread every morning, delicious local cheese everywhere, restored historic towns and cities demanding research on my part, very well dressed women out shopping, innovative buildings/architecture and hearing the French language despite not understanding it.

french markets

I will miss living in France and actually can’t quite believe that I will no longer be doing that after the Fall. If we don’t sell Skookum then we will move her to Burgundy, where there is access to a number of  canals. Valence gives easy access to the Canal di Midi and the Mediterranean. If Skookum sells then our plan is to buy a Sprinter van in Europe spend time seeing those places not reachable by inland waterways and eventually ship the van back to Canada (Halifax) then drive across our amazing country.

I will miss Skookum – my second home on the water in Europe. However I am ready to give up her, as I feel we have had a brilliant experience, which cannot be improved upon.  We have had the best of times on Skookum, but life is short (especially at our age) and it is time to move on to new pastures, roads and highways, with a smile of satisfaction and confidence that says ‘we did it!’.

skookuminwater

She is listed with

https://www.boatshed.com/dutch_motor_cruiser-boat-260417.html

No regrets, no hankering after something better, it could not be better. We just seized the opportunity to travel in the most interesting way. Carpe Diem is our motto. Now I would like to see Skookum go to good owners who will enjoy her as much as we have, and take to the waterways with the same sense of adventure and joy.

 

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Goodbye to Skookum

 

Sitting outside Gare Part Dieu in Lyon

Watching the world go by.

Girls with sleeping or drugged babies working the crowd.

Great hordes of wheelie cases descending from buses.

Always ask the stranger for directions. I try to help.

Ads of ladies in lingerie look down on the travelers as if to say

“We are your reward”.

A porter assigns me to a blind man to guide him to the train.

He seems capable and competent and unhesitating; but definitely blind.

I am off to Valence to arrange the sale of Skookum, our home of the last seven years.

Mixed feelings but it is time.

Bastille

The Arsenal marina at the Bastille in Paris

And now two weeks later

Skookum is in the water. The BoatShed broker, Graham has been and photographed and videoed and VR’ed and filled out all kinds of documentation. Barbara and I have cleaned and removed stuff to storage for a possible next stage of camper van. You know the old shibolith ‘Sail boat, Motor boat, Motor home, Rest home’. I just returned from dropping Barbara off at Lyon airport, St. Exupery for her flight back to the UK to see her 92 year old mum for a week before returning to Canada. We will meet again in Vancouver airport on the 20th. She from the UK and I from Amsterdam. The last time I dropped her at St Exupery I drove away back to Valence not knowing that a crazy man had driven his car through some glass terminal doors and then onto the runway closing the airport for a day. Barbara ended up on the TGV and Eurostar train back to the UK. This time I hung around till the coast looked clear.

 

barb and cyclops2

I sit now in the salon on Skookum next to a sign which says ‘Home’ on the wall over the cabinet that houses ‘Cyclops’ our Ikea washing machine. Leonard is crooning from ‘Popular Problems’. A nice glass of Cote du Rhone is to hand.  The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. The first week I was here alone and it was all about getting the below waterline work done before my booking date of March 5thwith the Port of Eperviere to lift Skookum into the water. Bruno from Valence Mecanautic was installing the shaft and propeller. Marcel who had towed us into port last year with a broken prop shaft came to help with the bottom painting. I installed the rudder the day before the lift. Phillipe  who lives under a tree in the boat yard welded up a crack in the rudder in the hours before the lift.

up up and away

Then Barbara arrived and the two of us have been cleaning up the debris of seven years aboard. It is so much easier to acquire stuff that to get rid of it. Sounds like a cultural statement for the moment as tomorrow is March 15th, the day of the global student strike for the climate.

It’s difficult sometimes just trying to get a grip. The insanity swirling around us is unfathomable.  I guess we all knew that these end times would be somewhat unsettling but with no ‘shaking head in disbelief’ emoji on FaceBook I am not sure that I can get through them.

Somehow when some far away dictator sends police out to round up all the people who don’t toe his line whether politically or sexually it seems as though it has always been so. But following the absolutely nutzoid antics closer to home makes me realize that there is a lot going on out there that is totally incomprehensible to me. In the UK: no deal Brexit looming. In the US: #45. In Canada: Ford and Scheer declaring war on decency.

And yet there are heroes. Mostly women and children.

But back to Skookum.

Why do I want to say ‘She’ has been a skookum boat?

Tradition? Perhaps Skookum is LBGTQ+2 or 3, I do lose track. However whatever her sexual stature she has served us well.

The cover page from the comprehensive Skookum manual:

SKOOKUM

1973 Altena 12.5m

Skookum

Skookum at anchor on the Havel, Berlin

Dutch Steel Cruiser

SKOOKUM

A Chinook word from the west coast of Canada. It has a range of positive meanings. The word can mean ‘good,’ ‘strong,'[2] ‘best,’ ‘powerful,’ ‘ultimate,’ or ‘brave.’ Something can be skookummeaning ‘really good’ or ‘right on! ‘excellent!’, or it can be skookummeaning ‘tough’ or ‘durable.’   Wikipedia

As a sailor on the west coast of Canada I knew the word ‘skookum’ as a term referring to various jobs one might do on one’s boat. If well done and correct they would be referred to as a ‘skookum’ job. It was not until I used the term in the UK that I discovered that it was not a universal sailing term but was just used on the west coast.

There are many place names in BC such as Skookumchuck narrows which means strong powerful rapids.

When we purchased ‘Skookum’ the paperwork said ‘Dolfijn’ but the boat itself had no name. We were initially not adverse to ‘Dolfijn’ until we saw about 12 ‘Dolfijn’s on our first week on the water. We decided that a new name was needed and appropriate.

Certainly  Skookum has lived up to her name. She has carried us through seven summers in Europe from Berlin to Friesland to Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and the south of France. She has travelled through the Rhine gorge and the 23 meter lift in the Ecluse de Bollene on the Rhone. She has cruised down the Elbe past the old East German watch towers. She has berthed at the Reichstag and the Bastille. She passed through the 5km long St. Quentin tunnel pulled by an electric towboat. She rode the 1.5km long railway up the hill and the 73m elevator down the other side at Ronquieresin Belgium.

Outside

 

The Reichstag

Bollens lock

The massive Rhone locks

inclined plane

 

Arzville Slide lift.

New Treasure

New Treasures

She spent months in Champagne where we were encouraged to drink Champagne as our regular everyday wine. Ayja, my sommelier granddaughter joined us whenever we were in a good wine region. We had many visitors over the seven years. Barbara’s mum Lilian and her friend Joan came every year for a few days. Lilian in her late 80s and the ‘young’ Joan 4 years younger clambered up and down the companion way and became excellent at the ‘boat yoga’ one needs to move around the confined spaces of a boat. Although having been used to a small sailboat Skookum at 12.5m long is luxurious.

Fronsenerre1

Seven lock stairway at Beziers

midi riquet

 

Barbara’s son Tim came several times. Melanie and Ayja joined us in Burgundy and Michael and Oliver in Avignon and the Languedoc.

mel and Ayja in Santenay

Melanie and Ayja

Many friends spent several days with us and sometimes every night was a feast. My ex wife Alex and Tony took Skookum for 6 weeks on the Canal du Midi when we were back in Canada one year.  Tony kindly did some much needed varnishing to occupy his time. He even had a go at organizing the tool locker.

la somail on the midi

 

The Canal du Midi

Mike and Ollie at Pont Du Gare

We did a boat swap for 6 weeks with  Monique and Wynn. Their boat in BC is a 41’ DeFever of great luxury and worth five times Skookum however they were keen to do some canals in Europe and we had ‘location, location, location’ as they say. They joined Skookum in Nerac on the Garonne and sailed her to Narbonne on the Midi.

breakfast-on-the-boat

 

We cruised their boat, the mighty Christina Rose from Victoria to Desolation Sound and back visiting old west coast haunts and anchoring  in places that I had previously been with Chuan, a 30’ sailboat.  Tucking the Defever into some little Gunk hole spots was an adventure. We again had many visitors and each evening was a wonderful gathering. Tim and Neil and Gintare came with us to the spectacular Jedidiah Island and George and Pam and Ray and Maggie from the UK visited for a day cruise out of Victoria. It was quite a treat but the two huge engines definitely sucked up the diesel and we were a bit nervous of all that pristine gelcoat. I was thankful for Skookum’s pre-dinged steel and Uncle Lehman (our engine)  .

Christina Rose

Christina Rose

So now the seven year adventure with Skookum comes to an end.  If she sells this summer in Valence then that is good. If she doesn’t sell we will return in September for 6 weeks and take her back into Burgundy where we will leave her for sale. That will be good too. Still a cottage in France! I met some Brits here in Valence who were living on their boat with no plans to go anywhere. They said that their monthly rent in the marina was under €200/mo and was about a tenth of their monthly accommodation expense when they had been living in the UK. Of course like everyone from the PM down they had no idea what Brexit might mean to them.

locks - canal du Nivernais

 

Canal du Nivernais lock address

I will post the listing with BoatShed for anyone who is interested. It will also be on Apollo Duck amongst other places. The asking price is €49k. We had been thinking a bit about shares amongst 4 people. Each party would get 6 summer weeks. We met several of these which seemed to work quite well. However we are moving on so if anyone wants to explore this option we can tell you what we know but you will have to put your own consortium together.

There are so many stories and so many friends both old and new. They are all in Barbara’s epic 90 episode blog. Here is just me waxing a bit philosophical and nostalgic as I say my goodbyes to Skookum.

 

Tim and  Barbara’s mum

boatyard life 2

Skookum and Scarlet .

I am talking to you

And as always there was Kerry getting into mud and mischief

us

Thank you Skookum. Thank you Barbara and thanks to all the visitors who made this experience so memorable for us

 

Skookum is listed with Boatshed.com you need to search river and canal boats, by price and or date ( >30years old )and location (France) . Today March 18 2019 the boat is not yet on the web site but hopefully it will be there by the end of the week.

 

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Life’s ups and downs continue.

Apart from Mick Jagger singing ‘Emotional Rescue’ in my head, my constant companion throughout our recent river experience was a new book ‘Slow Boat to Paris ‘ by my friend and fellow traveler Mary Koyl. The story is relates Mary and Marc’s experience on their 20 meter barge Nooit Volmaakt. It is a tale of adventure, food, characters, challenges and the mechanics involved owning a barge in France. It was a great support as I felt that I was no longer alone in my tale of woe, as my friend of many years (Mary and I have known each other since 1981) lived though similar experiences and survived. To me, this meant I too would survive. ‘Slow Boat to Paris’ is a great read as she expresses, more eloquently than I, the many joys, delights, sorrows, costs and ambushes of owning and using a canal boat in France.

Boatyard life 1

The boatyard

Given we were in the boat yard on Thursday afternoon, and the French are the inventors of the thirty hour week we had very little hope than anything would happen before Monday. We had asked the owner of the repair company to get us an estimate and schedule for repairs in the hope we could continue our journey. As it turned out, Bruno of Valence Meconautic was his own man, who worked at his own pace (slow). We thought it would be best to leave town instead of living for a couple of days at 30C in the boat on the hard as this was no fun.

So we looked at the map and headed out to Annecy in the Alps. Who knew about Annecy? Obviously a lot of people including my mum who said it had a great reputation as a picturesque tourist resort/destination and was a great place for just enjoying the French Alps.

Annecy 6

Annecy

Annecy was about two hours drive, close to the Swiss border (near to Geneva). We could feel the temperatures go down a little as we ascended into the mountains. We found a motel style hotel residence on the edge of the downtown area (about 25 minutes walk from the Lac Annecy).

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It was similar to hotel model we had seen in Dunkirk, largish room, basic bed, small kitchen (two electric burners, microwave, fridge and sink plus plates etc), TV, desk and small table with chairs. It served us well as it took dogs and we could make breakfast and feed Kerry. It was located in a new development which was complete contrast to the ancient downtown area.

 

Annecy 3

It was still quite warm 26C, the first weekend in September and the town was packed with tourists. It was quite delightful – a system of small canals off the lake created a lovely environment and earned Annecy the moniker ‘Venice of the Alps’. It is a large city of 120,000 and a regional centre.

Annecy 1

The centre of the city is a medieval, narrow streets full of ancient houses, churches, restaurants and stores. We wandered the streets and enjoyed the ambience of a busy tourist city in the middle of the surrounding Alps.

Our second day – again quite warm, prompted a two hour boat trip on Lac Annecy. It was nice to be on the water – Martin thought it was very funny when I told him I had propeller envy of the tourist boat.

Annecy 2

Lake Annecy

The lake is about 15km long and 3km wide, surrounded by mountains and is circumnavigated by a road dotted with resort villages,. Our boat trip took a couple of hours. It was a lovely sunny afternoon on the boat.

Our return from Annecy was via Lyon St Exupery Airport as I was booked onto a ‘ Flybe’ Flight to Gatwick England leaving Monday afternoon. Martin dropped me and I went to check in. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, there were a few people waiting to check in, as the ‘ Flybe ‘ App was not working on my Ipad.

Then there was a sign on the bulletin board –‘ the airport was closed as there was a security incident’. The passengers had no idea what was going on, there were lots of police and firemen around the airport but no-one was giving out information. After a couple of hours wait I thought it was time for a coffee and a bite to eat. The restaurants ran out of food, so I went to the store and bought a sandwich etc and waited again. Everyone in the airport was on the phone – I had no functional phone but I could access the WIFI so spent some time calling Martin.

Airport chaos

Red Alert at Lyon airport

I spoke to a couple of Brits trying to get home on the same flight. We were in the middle of a ‘terrorist’ incident – they happen frequently in France and go largely unreported as French authorities do not want encourage this behaviour with notoriety. Apparently some guy in a fast Mercedes car had crashed through some glass doors, driven the wrong way down the highway then through the barriers on to the runway at Lyon airport. He was chased by the police, shots were fired, so he abandoned the car then ran away. I believe was caught by the police. The guy may have thought himself to be James Bond or someone of that ilk with this high speed chase. All it did for me was to create a problem, as all the UK flights out of Lyon were cancelled that day. The incident on September 10 (maybe the date had some bearing on his behaviour) was given a short paragraph in the Guardian – but we have heard nothing since.

About three hours into this wait and I decided to try the train station. There is a TGV station at St Exupery) to find out if I could get back to Valence or even take the train to the UK. I was visiting my mum for this last time this summer and was concerned that I would not see her again until spring 2019 if I did not make it to the UK for at least a few days. Part of our reasons for living in France during the summer allows me to visit my 91 year old mother more easily and frequently than I can from Victoria.

I was in luck – there was a train leaving downtown Lyon in about 90 minutes from my decision to take the train. I took the tram into Part Dieu train station in Lyon – 30 minutes and €16.20 later arrived to catch the Eurostar to London. Another stroke of luck was that this train went from Lyon to Lille where we did passport control and avoided Paris. The cost was €108 Lyon to London arriving at 22:15. But my luck went missing again as the train was 35 minutes late. The late arrival in London meant I could not get a train to Peterborough and I certainly could not ask my cousin to pick me up at the station at midnight – it was far too late.

I contacted my dear friend Abigail who lives in St Albans and asked for a bed for the night. St Albans is on the same line as St Pancreas International so I was able to catch a train without leaving the station. I arrived at Abigail’s around 23:45 – exhausted but glad to be there. I immediately booked a train to Peterborough on the next day and emailed my cousin to meet me. Off again early the next morning, but my visit gave Abigail and I time for a catch up chat and a couple of whiskeys (she is a whiskey afficianado) before crashing out around 1:30 am.

I got to my mothers by lunch time the next day and started the process of getting my money back from Flybe airline and some compensation for my trouble. Needless to say the airline flatly refused to take any responsibility and referred me to the operators of the flight Stobart Air. I am also dealing with travel agents ‘ E –dreams’ who charged a whooping 26% for booking my flight on ‘Fly by Night’ airlines. So this is another mess I am sorting out over the internet.

In the meantime poor Martin caught a nasty cold that laid him flat so he and Kerry drove to his sisters in Aigues Mortes, instead of suffering in the boatyard. Suffering in the boatyard was a real thing, as the guy with a sailboat rebuild beside us is sand blasting and creating all kinds of awful silicon dust in the air that coated everything. If he wasn’t sandblasting then he is painting generating noxious paint fumes. According to other neighbours (who also complained) the regulations regarding the fumes and dust are not enforced in the boatyard.

 

neighbours boat

Martin stayed with Carol for a few days while I was in the UK visiting with my mother. My cousin Paul from New Zealand also arrived at my mothers home. I related our tale of woe and was concerned as Paul and his partner had booked a train to Dijon and planned to join us for a few days on the boat. We talked and he agreed to join us but understood we were in the boatyard. I spent a few sunny days with my mum, she is slowing up, but was excited as she off to Scotland for a few days in late September.

I returned to France without incident on Easyjet. Martin met me at the airport. We decided not to stay in the boatyard and booked into a motel-style hotel in Valence for the next week. It allowed us to work on the boat and leave the boatyard behind. During that week we learned that Valence Meconautic had not even sent the parts to Cannes, where the prop-shaft was being made, to have the machine work done. They waited until mid week to even give us an estimate on the cost. Once the shaft is made and shipped to the boat yard it would only take a few hours to put in. This made it clear to us that we would not be in the water before we left for Canada and we would need to manage on the boat for another week or so.

life on the ladder

My cousin Paul and his partner Emiko arrived a couple of days later than planned in Valence and we all managed on the boat. There are no toilet facilities on the boat or in the boat yard so that made life much more complicated.

Romans

We did manage a day out up to the mountains to a lovely place called Pont du Royons, and Paul took Emiko out for another drive to some of the surrounding villages.

Pont du Royons

Our last evening was spent on the west bank of the Rhone at Chateau du Crussol, where a walk and lovely French dinner was our farewell. I did feel sorry for Emiko as this trip from New Zealand to the boat had been planned for my months and we were all disappointed. But such is the unpredictability of boat life.

We are preparing to leave Skookum in the boat yard in the knowledge she is still broken and in the hope that Valence Mecoanutic will fix her soon. The ‘not-to-be-hurried’ Bruno (the mechanic) has assured Martin that the repair will be done once the prop-shaft arrives (he says the week after we have left – I have my doubts, but it does not matter). It has been a very difficult four weeks living in the boatyard and I not yet convinced that everything will turn out fine. There is, however, nothing more we can do at the moment. We could not waste our homeward bound tickets and try to find a new date for our return to Canada, as any date may also fall short of the actual date that Skookum is fixed.

So we are on our way home on October 3rd, our boat will remain on the hard for the winter and we will return to Valence in March to put Skookum back in the water and get her ready for sale. This will be a short trip as we cannot actually move Skookum north to Burgundy until next July/August, when we can safely travel upstream against the current on the mighty Rhone. She may be sold over the spring as she is a tough, well equipped, well maintained boat at a reasonable price in an ideal location for anyone interested in living in the south of France. So you never know………..

In the meantime we are looking forward to seeing friends and family and spending a relaxed winter in our home in Victoria. Thanks to all the blog readers for sticking with me on the tale of woe this year, your support has been truly important to me. Most of all thanks to my darling husband Martin whose cool head and calm demeanor have seen us through this mess. I know it has been difficult for him, but he kept his sense of humour and direction throughout these trying times.

us

This whole episode in our life on Skookum will be a great story in years to come, and be fondly recounted with smiles and jokes, while the sting of reality will be a distant memory like many of the bug bites we have had in our lives.

 

 

 

 

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Emotional Rescue – part 2

Our second night on the pylons was not so pleasant. As predicted the Mistral came up in the evening and started to blow quite hard, with gusts up to 40kph (23knots) and we were stilled tied to the pylons. Add to that Martin was absolutely exhausted after the rescue the day before and a 8 km walk into town under the hot sun plus tones of stress – he fell asleep immediately we went to bed. I was still running on adrenalin and found sleep elusive as I listened to the creaking noise of the lines as they tugged against the pylons and boat.

ON the pylons

At around 2:00 I asked Martin to drop the anchor – it wasn’t much additional security but every little bit helped (my mind anyway). Martin jumped up and felt his old self again as he went on deck stark naked and dropped the anchor. He said it reminded him of the old days on the sail boats when the anchor would break free or drift in a rocky bay and he had to secure the boat at 2:00 am. I remember one of those occasions on Middlenacht Island in the middle of the Salish Sea, when the anchor broke free at 2:00 am and we surrounded in the rocky bay by snapping seals looking on us a fair game. Again Martin in his all-together secured our anchor in a more sheltered spot out of the Force 5 winds. We survived that night and we survived this one.

ready for rescue

 

The next morning our rescue party turned up. Mer Sea Navigation Marine Assistance; Chris Medico and his daughter (both Navy trained) arrived with two craft – small boat with a powerful engine (100hp) and a zodiac with a 50hp. With skill they attached themselves to Skookum – their boat at our starboard side and the zodiac at the back. We then drove north against the current and the mistral, which was still blowing. It was a two hour journey to Viviers.

 

After the barrage the river narrowed into a gorge, and the river speeded up. Luckily our 150hp were enough to continue plowing through. Chris was a super guy who gave instructions in French with some English thrown in for good measure. He spoke French well, so even I could get what he was saying given the context. High above we saw statues on the hilltops, one to St Michael the Archangel and one to the Virgin Mary. We were in devout Catholic country and I felt somehow quite safe, as I said a little prayer to both of these icons to take care of us.

Statue of the virgin

 

We arrived in the small port of Viviers. Chris has been instrumental in getting the pleasure boat port restored after it had been ravaged by a major flood. We tied Skookum up securely and went for a well deserved lunch with wine followed by a relaxed afternoon as we were off the river in a safe harbour. Chris put his boats away and told us he would return the next day with the local welder, as he felt confident the prop-shaft could be fixed without taking Skookum out of the water.

 

The next day he arrived early with the welder. Welders seem to have a particular look in France – long straggly hair, small tight statue, smokers with a look that says ‘ I may look like a scruffy loser but I am actually the answer to your dreams.” Martin was impressed with the work, the precision and the dedication he showed to fixing our prop, but Chris – a marine engineer type was not so sure that the prop-shaft was as fixable as he thought. They worked most of the day Friday but had to come back on Monday to make sure it was all working as it should as the weld was still hot.

Skookum in port at Viviers

Viviers is a pretty little French town with the smallest cathedral in the country set on a hill above the river with a population of around 3100. It was founded in Roman times, became a strategic hill top settlement overlooking the Rhone. After the Roman Empire fell ( around 303 AD) it became an important ecclesiastical centre , a major centre in the Holy Roman Empire ( until 1032). As a bishopric it enjoy immunity from many of the conflicts within the France but was involved in others.

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The narrow streets of town bear witness to the hundreds of years of life and occupation. The seat of the bishops is well preserved and this tiny enclave of Catholic life bears witness to the religious challenges in France. Today it is a delightful, but sleepy town full of ancient streets, houses, churches and church buildings. Walking around the central part of Viviers allows a visit to get a sense of the well trodden pathways that have survived until today.

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Streets of Viviers

It was a lovely place to be for the weekend but we were not alone. Our first couple of nights in Viviers we shared with the crew of La Flaneur who waiting out the Mistral. Another great evening of chat food and wine with Mark E his family and a couple of friends who had joined them in Avignon. There were also quite a few river cruises that used Viviers as a visiting port or to meet a variety of tour buses.

river cruisers

We also had visitors join us. Malcolm and Patricia were scheduled to visit around the beginning of September , but our prop-shaft trouble meant we were not going anywhere, with the boat or by car (which was still in Avignon) . So they rented a car and drove down from their friends place in the Alps and visited on our stationary boat in Viviers. It was a great couple of days spent exploring the local area. We walked the narrow car-free streets of Viviers (Vivieraise) to the tiny Cathedral, the ancient market and the abutted houses and they hiked up to the statue of the Virgin.

Our visitors

The next day we took a drive to the town of Grignan, another hill top fortress on the east side of the river in Provence (Viviers is on the west in the Archeche). It was a delightful town with the narrow streets, churches, statues and a couple of interesting stores. The town was made famous by Madame de Sevigne a woman of letters who remained in the castle for many years.

Grignan

Lunch in the country and a visit to a small town with a castle in a car was followed by a trip to the supermarket where we could pick up heavy goods like bottles of water, wine and milk.

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Viviers and Rhone from above

When we came back from our day, the boat was ready so we tentatively took it out for a short spin around the bay in front of Viviers. Everything seemed to be good to go. Phew!

Our visitor left on Tuesday morning – they took another long walk in the town. When Patricia and Malcolm returned they told us they had been in the local Cathedral renewing their wedding vows as it was their twenty fifth wedding anniversary. We had no idea and could not celebrate as they left shortly after that.

Martin’s sister Carol and partner John turned up a hour or so later and we had lunch in the marina restaurant said our goodbyes and boarded Skookum to go up river. We took it very easy and made 20km and one lock before arriving at the tiny port of Cruas on the Rhone. Safely tucked up for the night and no mistral in the forecast we slept soundly.

Next morning we set off to our next port Valence – 30km up river plus one lock. We gently putted along and made good time, thinking maybe it was all OK. Then within sight of the Valence marina (1km away) cluck – we no longer had propulsion. Martin checked the shaft, it had sheered on the welding line and we were again in the middle of river needing to be rescued.

We called the CNR river authority – no-body home – it was 3:00pm on a Wednesday. Then we called the Valence marina told them of our circumstances and they gave us the numbers of two rescue boats. The first one answered and told us we would have to wait until 5:00pm. I was a bit panicked because we were in the middle of the shipping lane. Martin put the anchor down and it held (this was real river not canalized). We hailed the oncoming cruise ship ( sleeping 150 people so it was big), told him of our plight and asked him to warn other ships in the immediate area. Again we were sitting ducks in the river – help was on the way in a couple of hours.

Our rescuer must have felt bad because, within half and hour, a big pleasure cruiser was motoring towards us. We were in luck this was our rescue boat. The big boat tied us to his starboard side and we were in safe hands motoring into Valence harbour. Safer hands than we thought as Martin recognized the captain – Marcel, as the guy who had helped him paint the bottom of Skookum in 2016. Marcel is a jolly fellow, skilled and independent who makes a living working on boats in the yard. We parked for the night at the end of dock, safe again. The next morning Marcel towed us into the boatlift Skookum was hauled out, a new story began and the fates continued to f**k with us.

 

 

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Emotional rescue – part 1.

‘We cannot move your boat until your wife and dog are safely onshore” (in French) so said Sauper/Pompier in the orange neoprine jumpsuit. He was standing in a bright red rescue zodiac with other Pompiers in the middle of the Rhone river just after the Bollene lock near Pierrelatte. It was a Tuesday evening and we had been adrift in our disabled Skookum since 3:00 in the afternoon. There was a strong current in the river and we were in the middle of a busy shipping lane.

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TGV bridge at Pierrelatte

Skookum and we were in big trouble as the prop shaft sheered very unexpectedly as we were just cruising down the river at about 10 kph towards our next stop at Viviers. Suddenly we had no propulsion ( the engine was fine) and could not move, expect sideways as we had a little power in our bow thrusters. Martin called the CNR (the Rhone river authority) in Valence – the nearest phone number we could find but it was in Valence 70km away. The receptionist did not speak English and failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

We made for shore but ran aground on the rocks. This part of the Rhone has been canalized to make it straight and more manageable from a flood control perspective, the river bottom was smooth concrete but the edges were shallow and rocky. We had a current pushing us downstream (we were going up stream) at 2 KPH. Martin tried to move us off the rocks. This took a while as the height of the river went up and down based on the locks opening and closing a few kilometers up and down stream. When the water came up we used the bow thrusters to get us off the bank and decided our best bet was to put down an anchor.

rescue me

Great idea except that the anchor did not hold very well on the smooth riverbed and we were again drifting into the shipping lane. A vehicle came by with some guys from the CNR (the Rhone navigation authority), I caught their attention by waving furiously and shouting for help (in English so they did not understand), but they could see we needed assistance. They called the CNR people, who came by and gave us the phone number of a towing company. We called the towing company but there was no-one home. I was getting concerned. We flagged down a boat that was too small to help us, and later a guy in a UK registered boat moved over to the other side of the river to avoid giving us any assistance. While we waited, I was growing more anxious as this was a difficult situation that we were ill-equipped to handle, then I looked up and there were the Saupers/Pompiers. I was so pleased to see the firemen and felt that help was at hand. They checked we were OK physically then told us we had to get off the boat. Martin refused and asked for help to tow the boat.

rescue me2

Next thing we knew, on the other side of the river, they were launching a boat to help us. They could not tow us to the next town but offered to tow the boat to a couple of pylons/tall bollards in the river made for the large barges, where we could tie up and the boat would be safe. A zodiac with a powerful engine came along side and the pompier in the pink dive suit told me I have to get off Skookum. By this time the land based contingent had expanded and included the police.

pompiers

Kerry and I wearing life jackets and clutching my handbag with a phone and money disembarked and we were taken to the shore. The lady Gendarme was very kind – she spoke English and asked for lots of information about us; name, date of birth, home address etc

She told me we could not go back to the boat as it was too dangerous and she would book us into a hotel. Talk about feeling like a river refugee! I was wearing shorts as it had been a hot day and was still pretty warm. Unfortunately the evening brought the bugs out and I was being eaten alive by mosquitos and some terrible biting black fly. The officer asked me about our insurance and told me I had to report to the Gendarmerie the next day with a plan as to how we were going to remove the boat from river.

Meanwhile Martin and the pompiers were having lots of fun lassoing the boat to the pylons in the dark. Martin thought it hilarious that they were taking selfies throughout the exercise. I guess they hadn’t had this much fun for ages.

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Martin returned to the shore where Kerry and I were waiting. It was dark by now. He had left the lights on the boat and it was open, but safe on the river. The officer was very concerned that we not return to the boat, but Martin had other ideas. The pompiers went back to our boat and took the dinghy off and moored it on the rivers edge so we could reach our boat using the the dinghy with oars.

Martin asked me what I wanted to do – I knew the boat was open and unlocked with the lights on so was reluctant to leave it like that. The officer was equally concerned that we did not endanger ourselves or anyone else by returning to the boat. Martin asked the pompiers, who confirmed to the police officer that the boat was safe to go back on board.  So we three (Martin Kerry and I) set off into the night down the path to the pylons where the boat was moored. Luckily my girl guide instincts were still intact and I pulled out a bright flashlight and that helped us row the few meters between the shore and our boat. It was open (with all our money and possessions onboard) and lit up like a Christmas tree, so I was pleased to be on board knowing we were tightly tied to the pylons. I had confidence in the lines (ropes) was they were new and strong– recently purchased from a chandlery in Dartmouth.

None of us had eaten since lunch and it was 10pm so I pulled out some sausages from the fridge and fried them up. In the meantime I fed Kerry her gormand: raw ground beef, kibble and a treat from yesterday’s dinner. We ate sausages wrapped in tortillas with tomatoes and a bit of pesto, a glass of wine and went to bed – but not quickly to sleep as we had been running on andrenalin most of the day and I was still feeling nervous.

The next day we were still there, the weather was still calm and we had an early visitor – the guy that owned the towing company MER SEA Nautical Marine Assistance. Chris came aboard to look at the damage, and asked for information on the boat like its length, weight and the registration etc. We, then, called our insurance company and told them our situation. To our delight they agreed to pay for the towing and may pay for the repairs. Being in a shipping lane we had to be taken out of danger (we were a danger to ourselves and the river traffic) and we had an all-risk marine insurance policy.

pierrelatte

Nuclear power station at Pierrelatte

The plan was to tow Skookum 14km to the nearest port called Viviers the next day, and start work on welding the prop shaft, as a temporary fix, the day after. I was a bit concerned as a Mistral was predicted for the night (our second night on the pylons), but we were helpless to speed up the process. So we decided to walk the 4km into Pierrelatte and report to the Gendarmerie. It was a long walk on a hot day (30C). After we saw the police we had a beer in shady spot (Kerry had a long drink as well) then looked for a taxi. Not finding one we walked the 4km back to the boat. We were all exhausted between the heat, the walk and the stress. Walking slowly back when we saw our friends on La Flaneur cruising down the river. Once onboard we found a note to say they had stopped to offer assistance and had a gin and tonic while waiting for us to return. But we missed them

Mark, Helen and Imogen were a lovely Australian family we met in Avignon a few days (which feels like another era) before our prop trouble. La Flaneur is a beautiful 43ft motor/sail boat they had purchased the year before. We met them in Avignon, which was also the beginning and end of the trip for a couple of our family visitors.

Avignon bridge

Le Pont d’Avignon

Martin’s son Michael and his son Oliver (Martin’s grandson aged almost 13) arrived in Avignon on the TGV (fast French train)about a ten days before our breakdown. We were not quite at Avignon having made our way from Beziers in the week after we arrived back from Blighty. Leaving the Canal du Midi was the end of an era for us in the south of France. We did make another stop at the magical Maguelone church on the Rhone a Sete Canal and hear a beautiful voice singing part of the Mass in perfect pitch with perfect acoustics – heavenly.

Maguelone and Flamingos

After that we settled into Aigues Mortes to wait for our family members to arrive in Avignon. Boating is a very social world and we met a couple of Western Australians on Le Canard du Oz. Steve was from Oz but Henriette was originally from Ottawa – so we had a fine time swapping stories and information.

Mike and Oliver’s arrival was a great occasion for Martin, who had been wanting to share our adventures with Mike and his family for years. Mike’s wife Christine and their daughter Charlotte stayed in Victoria while Oliver and Mike flew to Paris, where they spent a couple of days and then headed south. They were amazed at the heat and took great pleasure in cold showers on the dock in Aigues Mortes.

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We stayed in Aigues Mortes for about three days before cruising down the canal to St Gilles and onto the Petit Rhone. Oliver was our first youth guest on the boat and I was concerned that he would get bored. However he is a very bright guy and has an avid interest in anything (mechanical) that flies, so kept himself amused with Youtube vids on the history of flying machines (rockets, planes, space stations etc) with a view to some day being involved with aerospace design and development.

I did want Oliver to appreciate the Roman culture from two millennia ago (as the Romans were the great civil engineers of antiquity), so suggested to Martin that they spend a day in Nimes and Pont du Gare.

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Boys at Pont du Gare

This is a two thousand year old aqueduct that is still intact but no longer used. It was also an opportunity to go swimming in the river at the Pont du Gare.

The Golder boys had a Roman day out together. Another day was spent exploring Aigues Mortes, and heading down to Le Grau di Roi for a swim in the Med and a wander around the Mediterranean seaside resort.

The next day was spent on the Sete a Rhone Canal (which I am sure was quite boring for Oliver but he didn’t complain) and we saw the horses and a few flamingos. But like most almost 13year olds he seemed under-impressed. We spent a night ‘in the wild’ and I persuaded Martin to accept Mike’s help to blow up the dinghy in preparation for our trip down the Rhone.

We arrived in Avignon and the boys went off for a stroll around town to discover the fortress of the Avignon popes (1304 – 70) and the half a bridge. Mike speaks French so it was a chance to flex his language skills, and for Oliver was for the first time I think he was in a culture where he was not able to communicate well, because in English he is a very articulate and aware youth.

They left early one morning and Martin went with them to the train station. Oliver and Mike were great guests, Mike helped with shopping and washing up. He was impressed at the lower cost of food in France (we took him to French supermarkets) and Oliver loved the fresh French bread. They took a train to Toulouse as Oliver was interested in the Airbus 380, so they did the factory tour, then flew back to Paris for another day in city (mostly a fun day in the water park) before heading back to Canada. In the meantime Martin picked up the car from Aigues Mortes so we could have it with us it in Avignon.

We met Mark E in the marina when he asked about Skookum – the Altena. He and Martin were very similar people, practical, theatrical, kind and concerned about social justice issues, so got along famously. We spent a lovely evening with them before heading up the Rhone – five hours of chat, wine and food.

rhone castle

Ruins at Rouquemaur

We went through three locks including the massive Bollene lock and power station before our fateful breakdown. Bollene is a 23 meter lock. Rising over 70ft with water underneath is quite a feeling of ascendance.

Bollene Lock – going up 23 meters

We left the lock and cruised along the canalized part of the river, passed a few windmills, an array of solar panels and a large nuclear plant. Then just before the TGV bridge we stopped dead in the water and my heart sank into the river with a thud that said ‘oh no’

 

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There and back again 2018

We have been on the road for a month visiting with family and friends in the UK France and Germany. Martin says I shouldn’t devote too much of the blog talking about our family and friends but they are the reason we get to so many lovely places and take in so many sights, monuments and experiences. But I do understand that it may get a bit boring for readers interested in the boat thing. For me, my blog is also a diary of sorts so that when I am really old and incapacitated I re-read my adventures during our seven summers on Skookum. So bear with me on this detail – we visited some interesting places and drove thousands of kilometers in Scarlet in the heat.

We left la Grau d’Adge on July 6, Mike and Jacqui were installed on Skookum for the next month and we were driving north. I was very stressed when we left – so much so that I left my Ipad mini in the hotel – so we had to go back and get it. Luckily we were only on the edge of town.

Feasting with our eyes

Our journey took us through the middle of France and Massif Central. It was a hot day (what else is new this summer) as we drove to one of the engineering wonders of France – the modern (opened in December 2004) Le Viaduct du Millau in the Department of Aveyron. This was a joint Franco/British project designed by Sir Norman Foster and engineered by Dr Michel Virloguex that spanned the gorge valley of the Tarn River. The four of the steel and concrete pylons were over 1100 ft high (taller than the Eiffel Tower) as they connected the two sides of this vast gorge with a bridge that was 2.5 km long. We drove over the bridge and took pictures from the visitor centre.

Millau bridge

Millau Bridge

Our driving day ended in a town called Bourges where we booked into a funny old hotel. Bourges was a gorgeous Gothic town in the heart of a France. It has lots of medieval buildings and a beautiful twelfth century Cathedral.

Bourges buildings and Cathedral

We continued our journey the next day as we headed through Paris on our way to Dunkerque. Paris was its own adventure as we narrowly escaped a vehicle accident on the road that is a kind of by-pass for the capital. Five lanes of traffic were all going in the same direction were slowed down when the back axle from a small trailer bounced across the road. The taxi in front of us stopped as the axle came to a standstill. Martin slammed on the brakes and hoped the cars behind would do the same thing. Luckily we were unscathed apart from some rapid heart beating but we did see the car and trailer sans back axle, five lanes away on the median.

The drive to Dunkerque took us through Normandy, which looks a lot like the Prairies with harvested wheat fields spanning the horizon. We stayed in a funky student style hotel in the town and enjoyed a bucket of mussels and fries plus wine before going back to hotel for an early start.

Dunkerque

Dunkirk harbour

The next day we took the DFDS ferry to Dover, down the M20 through the tunnel north to see my mum in Wisbech. We arrived after two nights and 1000km in Scarlet with plastic window and everything else intact. My cousin had gone on holiday the morning we arrived so I was concerned to stay with my mum while Veronica was away. Lilian was also preparing to go on vacation with Joan to Jersey in the Channel Islands a week after we arrived. Joan arrived and off they went using a door to door service that took them to the airport and returned them a week later.

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White cliffs of Dover

Martin and I went off to Skegness – my cousin Valerie kindly let us use her holiday chalet located about 5 miles out of the resort. It is a lovely spot – wide wild beaches, sand dunes and a few welcome sights like a pub just off the beach that welcomed dogs. We took a few walks along the beach over the two days, then headed up to Hull to visit friends and family. We stayed in our friend’s home (they were on our boat), which is close to town, for a couple of nights. Then we took off for the City of Liverpool.

Liverpool was a bit of a blast for me – I graduated with an Honours degree from Liverpool University in 1975 and had only been back once since then.

Food for thought

My last trip to Liverpool was in 1984 for the Flower Festival, which was one of Liverpool’s early attempts to become a tourist attraction. Fueled by money from the EU, becoming the European City of Culture in 2008 and a UNESCO designation for its splendid waterfront architecture in 2004 Liverpool has become a premier tourist destination.

The Beatles

The city is the home of the Beatles and other bands that made up the ‘Merseybeat’, two major football teams, the beautiful Catholic Cathedral (affectionately known as ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’) and the waterfront buildings from the heyday of Liverpool’s maritime history.

The city has an incredible history as a major seaport, industrial and cultural centre. Waves of immigrants – the Irish in the 1850’s the Welsh in the 1880 former African slaves in the 1770’s, Caribbean people in the 1960’s , Europeans, Chinese, and even Confederate Americans have shaped the culture mosaic of the city. Liverpool was also the centre of the Transatlantic slave trade between West Africa, England, the West Indies and the southern United States. The city’s population increased from 80,000 in 1800 to 700000 by 1900, and was a city of slums and abject poverty as well of obscene opulence which experienced many economic ups and downs. It was the home port of the White Star (think Titanic and Olympic) and Cunard Lines that sailed the North Atlantic. These companies and vast port industries supported the building or the famous waterfront buildings at the Pier Head

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Pier Head: Royal Liver Building  Cunard building and the Liverpool Maritime Building

When I lived in the city during the early 1970s Liverpool was becoming a poorer place. By 1981 there was 20% unemployment and a sense of hopelessness that resulted in riots and marches demanding the right to work. The resilience of Liverpudlians, with their wry sense of humour and determination saw the future in terms of tourism and changed the face of the city from dire to fun and hope.

Liverpool capitalized on its famous sons – the Beatles, the splendid buildings and a diverse culture that offered something for everyone. We stayed for a couple of nights in the Adelphi Hotel an example of the Edwardian opulence that has now become a rather shabby shadow of its former self. Still elements of the once great hotel in the heart of the city still remain – especially in the ballroom and reception area The rooms however needed refurbishment and a nice paint job.

The adelphi

We wandered around the busy downtown core and visited a couple of museums on theAlbert Dock. The Museum of Liverpool was especially interesting us as it had an exposition called Double Fantasy which chronicled the lives of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Museum

Many of the exhibits were familiar to us as we were raised in the age of the Beatles and have followed their lives and deaths over the last 50 years.

We toured the Cathedral and the University, and also visited a couple of famous pubs – the Philharmonic (where Paul McCartney did his recent car-karoke concert) and the Cambridge – a campus pub that was a favoured lunch time hang out for students like me. I felt Liverpool was now a much better place than the city I left, although there are still great economic inequities, and Liverpool Eight is still a hang out for homeless people and drug addicts. It has hope now and can be proud, as the Liverpool and its people have accomplished a great turnaround of fortunes.

Remembering the old days

We left Liverpool and headed back to Wisbech to spend some time with my mother. My cousin Paul arrived from New Zealand so it was great to hang out with family. Martin and I went off on another adventure in Scarlet when we drove another 300 miles to visit our pals in Devon for five days. As a Canadian, I understand long distances, driving for hours was not a problem, but the heat and the incredible traffic made our journeys longer and more stressful.

Before we left we had another stress – our lovely Kerry became ill. She had an abcess that burst on the side of her neck. Martin feared the worst but the vet indicated she had had a piece of spear grass stuck in her neck and it had festered. She was put on a course of anti-biotics and a twice daily cleaning of the wound and was soon healthy again. Spear grass is the enemy of animals; for years I have checked Kerry’s paws to ensure that none had found its way into the deep crevies of her pads, but I never expected it would go for the jugular and become lodged in her neck. However the vet assured us she would be fine and she seems well and healthy for an 11.5 year old dog.

Wounded Kerry dog

She is now getting stiff so now we give her Glucosamine which seems to give her more of a spring in her step. In addition we try to protect her from the ever threatening ticks with a treatment once per month. We have not regretted one day of having our dog on our travels she is an integral part of our adventure and has shaped many encounters and pathways since we began in 2012.

Meeting our friends in Somerset and Devon was a wonderful reunion as we were last down in the South West in 2016. George and Pam live in the most lovely place on the river Dart in Devon, while Ray and Maggie live in rural Somerset in an delightful valley just outside of Bath. We met them on our epic cruise down to Tierra del Fuego in January and February 2016. At the end of our 54 day cruise, I invited Table 5 (our friends from Devon and Somerset and others from Lancashire) to Victoria for dinner on September 23rd 2017. We had had dinner together on board the Marco Polo every night for 50 consecutive nights celebrated birthdays anniversaries etc and laughed a lot so it seem fitting to continue the adventure Last September (2017) four out of the six dinner mates came to Victoria for dinner. Ray and Maggie came for six weeks and did a grand tour of western Alberta and British Columbia. They are hikers and nature photographers so thought BC was marvelous. George and Pam made a last minute decision to come to BC and stayed a couple of weeks, enjoying the art and culture of the West coast. We had our dinner and a few days sharing our house and city sight seeing in glorious Victoria.

Dinner 2017

Dinner in Victoria 2017

It was our turn to enjoy their hospitality in Stoke Gabriel, Devon, although the weather was not especially cooperative as we had a couple of downpours. Undaunted we had a BBQ in the rain and laughed at ourselves for being so stoic.George and Martin 2018

George and Martin messing around on the River Dart

We also visited a couple of delightful Devon towns – Totnes where we also connected with Martin’s cousin Jackie (our host in southern Spain) and Dartmouth where the local chandelery proved to be a source of a few bits ( mainly new 20 m ropes) for Skookum

Dartmouth harbour

Maggie and Ray also came to stay so the six of us had another reunion. We went on to visit them in Somerset to break our journey back to Wisbech.

 

 

We made another family stop on the way and visited Martins ‘nephew’ Guy who lives in a lovely Cotswolds village called Sheepscombe. Guy who was also working at the time was thrilled so we had a quick bite and went on our way.

Gloucestershire

I love the South West of England and believe if I had stayed in the UK I would have made one of these counties my home.

Back to Wisbech for a few days with my mum and my cousins, a haircut for Kerry and a closer look at the ancient centre of Peterborough and the Cathedral of St Peter. Interestingly Catherine of Aragon is buried here.

St Peters, Peterborough

It was interesting because we went on to London for a couple of days with Martin’s sister on our way back to France and visited Hampton Court Palac. It was made famous by Henry VIII but had been the home of many kings and queens of Britain.

The Victorians restored as an English monument and today it is a brilliant educational tourist attraction.

I was impressed by interactivity of the exhibits and was most impressed by the kitchens where cooks dressed in period (Tudor) costume toiled over a fire, making pies and chatting with curious children.

 

 

Other actors/docents walked the streets within the castle. We also visited the gardens as they backed onto the Thames. Images of Royal Tudor barges came to mind as walked through the formal gardens to the riverbank.

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Hampton Court Palace

It was an interesting afternoon but the weather was getting hot again. The next day we set off back to France and Germany on the ferry. Our first stop was in Reims – a favourite of ours. We stayed in the Crystal Hotel – an old hotel in the heart of the city. After an evening of Moules et frits ( Mussels and fries) and the purchase of a few bottles on champagne we were on the road again on our way to visit friends in Germany

Brigitte and Peter won the ‘post code’ lottery when it comes to a lovely part of the country. The Vosges Mountains and Black Forest are either side of the Rhine valley. The area is agriculturally highly productive and also produces some of the most beautiful wines in the world. I noticed that Germany was considerably cheaper than France – even the wine seemed discounted.

Martin was a little under the weather so Brigitte and I had a day out in Freiburg. I swam in the local outdoor pool (just across the road from her house) every day I was there and we went on an electric bike outing one evening for supper. Again we left on another hot day without air-conditioning and spent nine hours traveling to our next destination near Bagnols sur Ceze in the Ardeche.

Finian is a new friend who has made the leap from Tasmania to France. He was originally from Ireland. lived for many years in Oz and now returns to Australia every winter ( summer in the southern hemisphere). His new venture is a B & B hosts in a house he acquired and renovated a few years ago. It is a little off the beaten track but in the middle of vineyards and hilltop villages, swimmable rivers and resorts. I would certainly recommend his Chambres d’hotes in St Andre de Roqupertuis as ancient/modern serene calm accommodation with a great breakfast. The breaking news is that it will also soon have a swimming pool.

Finians

Our final push back to Beziers and the boat was another hot but short drive. It was great to see Skookum after 36 days on the road. We were home again – our home in France. The temperatures were becoming bearable as we missed the 42C and we can now sleep in the cooler nights. Lots adventures still to come but right now we are just back messing around in the boat.

 

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Maintenance is progress as we get older.

Maintenance is progress when you are older, thus spoke my former fitness instructor Blanche. This sage advice also applies to machines as we have found over the last few weeks. We have spent seven summers in Europe since we bought Skookum in 2012. So far we have been very lucky with our health, Kerry’s well being, the canals and our vehicles and machines, but it seems our luck may be running out – especially with regard to the machines.

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My first story about the lovely Scarlet began last fall (October 2017) when Alex (Martin’s former wife) and her partner Tony took Skookum for a few weeks to cruise the mythical Canal du Midi. Our previous cruisers Wynne and Monique left Skookum in good order in the lovely port of Narbonne. Alex and Tony cruised back up the Canal du Midi to put Skookum to bed in the port of Castelnaudary in late October 2017. They enjoyed their time on Skookum as Tony wrote:

Lucky us to find Skookum alongside next to the public market place in the centre of ancient Narbonne. Monique and Wynn had left Skookum ready to go complete with goodies in the fridge and wine on the table.

Martin and Barb had prepared a thorough manual for the ships systems to which Monique and Wynn had added a few notes .

Narbonne is a lovely historic city with much to offer and easily accessible on foot or the two on board bikes.

To ease our learning curve of Skookum’s handling  and her systems and grateful for the bow thruster we choose an overnight voyage south on the quiet Canal du Robine where we experienced our first lock with out the pressure of other boats around .

Over the next two weeks Skookum faithfully carried us east to the Mediterranean town of Agde where we took the train for a day trip to Sete highly recommended.

Our eyes then turned west and over the next three weeks Skookum carried us west to pretty Castlenaudry where we laid  her up for the winter .

I could go on at great length describing the peacefulness of puttering along the canal with vineyards falling away on one side and rising gently on the other ,the tranquil ancient villages with , cafés, boulongerie , and patissere, each requiring close inspection , cheese , wine , and fresh bread , fresh produce and friendly people at each stop. But I will leave it to you to discover your self.

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While there must be some industrial and common/modern towns near this section of the Canal Du Midi they were always out of sight and out of mind, delightful.

We departed from Narbonne Sept 12 under sunny skies , generally with the excellent bimini up for shade and finished in Castlenaudary  Oct 29 still under sunny skies but no longer needing shade and occasionally using the welcome  furnace to take the chill off in the morning .

We spent the majority of nights tied up wild to the canal bank using three stakes and occasionally the planks to fend off the tree roots.

All told we cruised 298 kms in 86 engine hours, used about 220liters of diesel fuel, transited 85 locks and filled the enormous water tank three times .

At all times we found Skookum well up to the task, comfortable and  all systems working well .

Thank you Martin, Barb and Skookum for the trip of a lifetime .

 la somail on the midi

La Somail

Scarlet’s Story

Tony and Alex also had a surprise in store when they checked in with Odile the harbour master in Castelnaudary (our winter moorage) only to be told that the Scarlet had been towed by the police about a month or so earlier. There was one of the many summer festivals in Castelnaudary and our little red car was in the way and removed by the police. Apparently when cars are impounded in France the police keep them for 45 days, then they are crushed!

Alex and Tony explained to the Gendarmarie their relationship to the car and then took a ride in a police car to the pound where they rescued Scarlet, which was being held for ransom for about €300. They were just in time, as it was slated to be crushed. Odile (the very conscientious harbour master) felt it would be better to leave Scarlet parked for the winter outside the Captainiere (port office). Unfortunately this was not a good plan as a few weeks later, in the wake of a another festival some kid with a bb-gun shot the windows out of nine cars – including our Scarlet.

So we lost the passenger side window in our 20 year old Toyota. Odile felt very responsible for this, as she had suggested parking in front of the Captainiere. She found a garage but the owner wanted €100 per month, but Martin asked her to find something cheaper so she found a locked garage for €38 per month. Martin used the internet to find a replacement window, none in France but there was one in the Netherlands, so he had DHL deliver it to Castelnaudary.

The window arrived broken. Back to the drawing board.

Martin again tried all over France to find a Starlet window but I think this particular Toyota is quite unique in France (remember Martin registering this Dutch car in France (Rheims) in 2014) and thus the French wreckers yards yielded nothing. Eventually Martin found a window in a wreckers yard in England, they agreed to remove the window from a Starlet door and ship it. However it was broken in the process of removal so it was back to the drawing board again (the internet) to find another car window.

martins window

Third time lucky? Yes but only just, because I was a bit stubborn.

Martin located another window in another scrap yard and had it shipped to my mother’s house in Wisbech. It arrived – apparently intact, and waited until I got to the UK. I flew in on Easyjet (a UK discount airline) to Gatwick from Toulouse to spend some time with my mum. I was due to return to Toulouse five days later.

Martin asked if I would carry the window back with me on the plane as it fitted within measurements for the total cubic area of a piece of luggage permitted by the airline. The window and packing 1m by 500 cm almost the size of a cello and he thought we could put a handle on the packing materials and send it through the ‘oversized bags’ luggage department on Easyjet.

I was not convinced. I didn’t think I could carry this cello sized piece of glass on the bus, then the train, across London to Gatwick, have it loaded onto the plane to Toulouse and arrive unbroken. So I declined to do this.

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I cautiously unpacked this very well packed window and made a paper stencil instead so Martin could at least make a plastic window for our journey back to the UK. As usual, my engineering genius husband successfully fitted the plastic window (which looked like a regular car window but did not quite close properly) and it took us all the way from the south of France to Norfolk (about a 1000 miles and a ferry over three days). Once back in the UK he fitted the glass window and now it looks like new (or as new as a 20 year old car can look). We also treated Scarlet to a new battery and a new windshield wiper – now she is at her optimum for a car with 235,000km on the clock.

Skookum’s story

My second story is about Skookum, our 45 year old Dutch steel cruiser. Skookum has been a great investment over the last seven summers. We have travelled about 5000 km on the waterways of Europe, through four countries, countless locks. up and down a good number of rivers, through lakes and of course dozens of canals. She has been true to her name. Skookum is a Chinook word ( the native trading language of the West Coast of Canada) meaning strong, brave, tough, and right for the job.

Martin had maintained her conscientiously over the years, painting the bottom frequently, changing oil, replacing batteries and all the other jobs/investments that a boat requires to keep her good running order. The hull gets painted every couple of years and we were due to paint it this year. We left Castelnaudary only to discover we had a leak in the forward bilge – it was slow but there was a definite need to have it fixed. Martin thought it may have been caused when we got stuck on the rocks in Nerac or when we ran slightly aground outside a lock shortly after leaving our winter moorage. We also had some problems with the batteries – after five years they were no longer holding a charge.

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Canal du Robine

We made our way to Port Robine at the junction of the Canal du Midi and the Canal du Robine to Narbonne. We planned to attend the festival for Summer Solstice in Narbonne. Cruising back down the Canal du Midi we were in familiar territory. It was of course very hot but we had added a new piece of equipment to help us cope with the heat – an ice cube making machine. It makes ice cubes in 20 minutes. So we had cold drinks and cooling wine very quickly.

Narbonne

Summer solstice in Narbonne was a city party – everyone was out. We had a lovely dinner in one of the popular local restaurants, listened to some of the many musical venues and wondered the ancient streets until it began to get dark around 10:15. We left Kerry onboard as there were firecrackers and noisy people everywhere.

We enjoyed the city for a few more days, collected Scarlet then took a drive to Agde to check out the boatyard in La Grau d’Agde on the H’erault river. We booked Skookum in and then made plans to get to Le Grau. While we were waiting Martin investigated the leak a little more and thought it was a thinning of the hull. He used a bilge pump to keep the seepage to a minimum and us nice and dry. We had plans and were expecting visitors, so our time line was quite narrow and we needed to get the job done.

Martin’s sister Carol and her partner John visited us one afternoon. They have a home in Aigues Mortes about 90 minutes drive away. We spent a few hours and a tasty lunch in the streets of Narbonne.

Our next visitors were my pal Colin and his partner Leslie who were on an extended tour of Europe. They left a car in Narbonne and joined us on board for 3 nights as were made our way back up the Robine (9 locks) to the Canal du Midi. We spent one night along the side of the canal – they were quite impressed with our life of sauntering through the French countryside, eating well and sipping pink wine.

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When we reached the top of the Fonsceronnes staircase it was too late to make it down so we spent another night off grid waiting for the locks to open early the next morning (Canada Day – July 1st) to reach Adge. It was very helpful having a couple of experienced sailors on board as we negotiated the staircase of seven locks down into Beziers.

Canada day in Agde

They came all the way to Adge with us – spending a night in town moored to a dock and went out for a delicious meal before heading to the boat yard.

Skookum was hauled out of the water and put on the ‘hard’ (terra firma) on July 2nd. Once out of the water Martin immediately power washed the hull. The boat was then relocated to our spot in the tiny boatyard by a machine that took the boat across the road, around a number of corners to a place where the work was to be done. The owner of the boatyard must have enjoyed playing Tetris as he was moving huge boats around all day.

up up and away

Being on the hard in a boat is no fun, so we decided to make it easy on ourselves and booked into a hotel beside the beach for a few days. It was a very good decision – a nice room to cool down, relax out of the 32C heat, enjoy a shower and sleep comfortably. We were in a rush to get the work done as some friends were taking over the boat and we were scheduled to be the UK by July 9 to take care of my mum as my cousin was going away.

moving across the road

Talk about all hands to the pumps – in this case it was all hands to the painting once the welding and scrapping had been done. In two days the welders fixed the leak with replating along the keel (Martin was impressed by their technique, professionalism and the result). Martin scrapped the bottom, after which we put two coats of paint on the hull – aluminium primer and anti-fouling. We were back in the water late afternoon on July 6 just as our friends arrived to take the boat. By the time we bought new batteries and a few odds and ends we had spent about $4500 on the whole exercise.

boat painting

The problem with boats is that every repair seems to come in thousands of whatever currency you are using.

 

 

Martin was very pleased with the job and we left Le Grau d’Agde feeling confident that Skookum will take is all the way to St Jean de Losne without a hitch, where we will list Skookum for sale this Fall or next Spring.

Hopefully that is true because as I said; maintenance is progress when we get older (and that also applies to boats and cars) and life gets more expensive.

Our next trip was 1400km north to Britain in Scarlet to see family and friends.

 

 

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Tales of Nerac 2017

We first heard about Nerac a few years ago from a friend in the Turkey Head Sailing club in Victoria. Ron had taken a canal boat down the Garonne to the Baïse river and discovered this gem. In the tradition of all good sailors, he shared his experience and information with others doing a similar journey. Ron was particularly impressed with the harbour master Maurice, who welcomed boaters to this historic town.

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Weir at a lock on the Baïse

Geographically Nerac is located in the Acquitaine region of France – the south West corner. The river Baïse connects it to the Garonne Canal at Buzet Sur Baïse. A couple locks took us down to the river, which has been canalized through a series of locks as we went upstream. The river was quite low after a very dry June and July (with soaring temperatures if you remember) but there is enough water to reach Nerac. Other rivers like the Lot were closed because there was insufficient water. Lilian (my mother) and Joan (her friend) were on board so we made our way to the first port of call – Vianne, a delightful walled village/town. We had a great lunch and explored the ramparts just up from the tiny port. There was a weir just across from the port and huge willow trees with branches trailing in the water – an exquisite scene.

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Nerac port

 

Story I

Joan in Vianne

Joan at Vianne

mussels for lunch

Lilian at lunch

After Vianne we moved down the gladed river with it’s self-serve locks, passed Lavardac and the mill at Lagrange-Monreos. We were in very rural France. The lands above there river were under cultivation and very productive (as is the case in most of France). We entered Nerac through a lock and sharp right turn, turning to the left would have taken us over another weir. It was a picturesque entrance under the old bridge (twelfth century) to the river port where we moored. We stopped first outside a restaurant and decided it would be too noisy so moored a little further down beside what we thought was an old warehouse.

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Reparking in Nerac

Turns out we were mistaken; the ‘warehouse’ was an exposition space – i.e. it was a community centre that hosted concerts, plus bar and sometimes food. Maurice (the harbour master) was also the curator of the building and hosted the events. The night we arrived we had a Dixieland Jazz band that played until 11:30. I must say it was great to have a ringside seat, and we all sat on the boat tapped out feet and drank our own wine.

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Entertainment in Nerac

Story II

There were a few events hosted by the ‘Exposition centre’ most of them included beer wine and food. In addition there was a town festival with local bands and singers. Nerac was one of those historic places that provoked a look at history and the stories of Henry IV of France. Henry was born 1553 and was assassinated in 1610. He became king of Narvarre in 1572 and had a reputation as a good kind king, and was crowned King of France in 1589. He married in 1552 and had his marriage annulled (as was common practice at that time as an alternative to divorce in 1599). He married again in 1600 to Marie de Medici – part of the wealthy and powerful Medici family. He was known as a reformer, a savy politician and a womanizer.

Henry’s castle

Henry IV-‘ le vert galant’ started with mistresses when he was a young man. Before becoming king he lived in a palace in Nerac where he made the gardeners daughter – Fleurette pregnant. The poor 16 year old girl was desolate and drown herself in the river Baïse for love. A statute to the beautiful Fleurette has been erected beside the river and her story lingers on in local history and language. The French verb ‘ flirter ‘ means to flirt in English and is derived from the story of Fleurette.

 

Fleurette

Story III

Prince Henry had an impact on Nerac, which is a delightful 14th century town with palaces and statutes to the man who became Henry IV of France. We spent a few days there waiting for our next guests. While we were waiting we met a couple building a bar at the exposition space next to the river. They saw our Canadian flag and stopped by for a chat. Their daughter was living in Canada – British Columbia in fact. We enquired further and found out their daughter Sara lived in Port Renfrew!

Port Renfrew on the beach with friends

Port Renfrew, for those who are not familiar with BC geography, is a mostly indigenous village on the far Pacific coast of Vancouver Island, about 2 hours on a winding highway out of Victoria. This was one of those – it is a small world surprises Nerac to Port Renfrew. Martin and I went away with friends for the weekend in April 2018 to Port Renfrew and contacted Sara, who turned out to be a delightful surfer girl who loved the wildness of the Pacific coast and was making her life there.

Story IV

Last year (2017) we did a boat swap with a couple of women sailors who own a deluxe very white 44ft Defever cruiser. It has two engines, and three floors and was moored in Sidney BC. Monique and Wynne had read the blog and we were introduced through a mutual friend. They were very excited at the idea of cruising the canals of France and the mythical Midi.

Monique is a Quebecquer so French was her first language. She was a skilled seawoman who had worked as an RCMP officer on the BC coast. However she had never been to Europe before. Her wife Wynne was a retired lawyer who had taken to the sea, and she had visited Europe before. Monique was quite surprised on her first morning – she said she didn’t know where she was. I reminded her she was in Nerac – she said no, it was not the place that was a mystery, it was the century!

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Their first night on board was an evening full of BBQ duck and red wine (we are always in wine country in France but this was Bordeaulaise) and the next day we took Monique and Wynne up the river and back down again to show them how to use the locks. It was a good exercise as the locks on the river were narrow and sometimes they were located on a sharp corner. They were a quick study and soon got the hang of the locks and the boat so we felt quite comfortable leaving them on the boat and we had a few weeks on their boat to look forward to.

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Story V

Our last evening in Nerac we went out for dinner at the restaurant ‘Le vert Galant’ (think Henry IV) on the riverbank that we avoided when we first arrived. It turned out to be a very interesting menu. The Maitre’d and owner was wheelchair bound, spoke excellent English, took us to the table and explained the house specialty – tartine (which is like a French pizza) with ice cream. It was very special ice cream – Camembert ice cream, basil/tomato gelato, mustard ice cream, mushroom ice cream. She explained that they had the idea of savory ice cream and had gone to Italy to ask Italian ice cream makers to create such confections to go with tartine. Now they were importing 5000 liters of ice cream per year for this very popular restaurant.

Story VI

The next day was the day we were leaving Martin and I , so  we were having our usual cup of tea in bed when there was a crunch on the boat – we jumped up and ran outside. We were aground – sitting on some rocks on the side of the river. We looked across the river to see 6 other boats also aground. I gave our guests a rude awaking and alert with the words ‘this is your wake up call – we are aground’. Monique and Wynne also jumped up and Martin directed us to sit on the bow railing while he gunned the boat to get us off the rocks. We were successful – although I was concerned over the boat, Wynne and Monique were more concerned that Martin was leaving in case something like that happened again.

It turned out that the farmers upstream had drained the river by taking the water for irrigation and failed to notify the international river authority (Spain/France) at the source of the river in the high Pyrenees. Maurice (the harbour master) was down on the dock and gave us the news, he also told our new crew that it would take two days before the river would be full again. We had to leave Nerac so we jumped into Scarlet on our way to the Toulouse to pick up a rental car and drop Scarlet at Castelnaudary (our winter moorage) then onto Lyon where we dropped the rental car and caught our flight back to Canada on August 2nd 2017.

In the meantime Maurice organized a pot-luck dinner for the stranded boaters. Monique and Wynne couldn’t believe their luck – two days in France and they had already been invited to a party.

Nerac pot luck

SKOOKUM EXPERIENCE (July-Sept 2017)

We so enjoyed our 6 week trip on Skookum. Having the familiarization with Martin & Barbara prior to leaving the dock helped us settle in and become comfortable with her systems. We went through 100+ locks from Nerac to Narbonne and Skookum provided us with all we needed to make the trip. Her single diesel was economical and performed flawlessly. The bow thruster helped manoeuver through the locks and tight marina spaces. We spent the majority of our time including most meals seated on the aft deck under the protection of a canopy. Rain or shine we were comfortable inside and out. Wonderful experience and one we will never forget. Thank you again.

Monique & Wynn

Our trip back to Canada was uneventful but we were on our way to big events. First was the Total Solar Eclipse – the epicenter for which was in central Oregon on August 21st. Martin went down with son Michael and grandson Oliver. A Golder boys trip with a spectacular event as the reward for waiting in lots of traffic (many eclipse chasers on the same track). I saw it in Victoria where it was less spectacular (there was no diamond ring) but we still had those eerie moments when everything goes silent and cold.

Boys tour and the eclipse

We planned our early return to Canada to attend our granddaughter’s wedding. Ayja married David Alvarez on August 26 at a beautiful garden wedding. After which there was a dance in the evening at a local restaurant downtown. Lots of wine and cocktails flowing as they are both in liquor business. Martin and I hosted a family brunch the next day – the family was now greatly expanded as we catered for 34 people. We had a NAFTA wedding as David’s father from Mexico, and Ajya’s mother, Melanie is married to a Texan so we had North American wedding party, hosted in Canada. Now the couple are now living happily ever after in Victoria.

Happy couple

Ayja and David

In September 2017 we set off on our boat trip in the deluxe Christina Rose (our reward for the boat swap) up to Courtney, Lund and Pender Harbour picking up friends and visiting on our way around the Salish Sea. It was a wonderful trip back to the wilderness and reminded us of the beauty and awesome nature that is British Columbia.

Christina Rose

Christina Rose in the water

We had some UK visitors in late September and took them for a ride on this lovely yacht – just around the corner to Finlayson inlet – they, too, were impressed with Beautiful BC from the water.

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Wynne and Monique returned in September and other friends took Skookum for 6 weeks in late September and October. Therein lies another tale, this time it is a story of our car Scarlet.

 

 

 

 

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All A’Bordeaux

 

We arrived in Toulouse France from Toronto on May 30 2018 got to the boat after a long journey and five hour lay-over in Paris. After leaving Victoria on May 24 we spent five days near Toronto visiting pals and playing tourist in Cabbage Town (or the Little Apple as it is sometimes called).

Toronto me

We did the CN Tower tour – $34.00 and an hour wait for a few minutes of a brilliant view 300 meters in the sky. We also toured the city courtesy of Laurie and Jere who kindly made the hour long run into the city and gave us the historical tour (Martin’s history).

In addition we went to see the production of “Come From Away” a delightful and entertaining musical about the 7000 people on the planes that landed in Gander Newfoundland on 9/11. It was a story that made me proud to be Canadian, as it showed the fearless generosity of the people on the ‘Rock’ and the kindness they showed to the frightened and confused passengers on the planes that were diverted from American airports to Newfoundland.

larurie and martin

Martin and I also visited some other friends from his youth – his pal Ed and wife Irina who live near Hamilton. They have a delightful property with a lovely garden. Ed was kind enough to take us out and let us drive his new Tesla X- I thought the car should fly it was so smooth.

TeslaX

Tesla X

When we arrived back in France after 10 months; the longest we have been away from Europe in the last 6 years. Actually I had been back in the UK twice in late 2017 and early 2018 but there is another story. I was only in France for a couple of days before catching and Easyjet flight from Toulouse to Gatwick to visit my mum. Yes, she is still around and as fit as a 91year old fiddle – mentally sharp although she tires easily and walking is slow and limited (91 year old legs have their limitations). I spent 5 days in the UK only to find that my uncle Albert was very ill and at 92 did not have the strength to carry on. Lilian (my mum) is now the last woman standing on both sides of my family and feeling her age. I just tell her that Queen Elizabeth is a year older, so she can’t give up until the monarch does.

Leaving Castelnaudary after a week I remember that going downhill through the locks is much easier than going up. There are a few bumper boats on the way which reminds me of last summer (almost a year ago) and a lot has happened since then. My apologies dear readers but I will recount some of the interesting stories from the end of last season and the intervening year – cos they are worth reading.

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Classic Canal du Midi oval lock

In Castelnaudary we remembered our previous year (2017) when we started our journey to Toulouse. We left the port (and the home of the cassoulet) in June 2017 we were still climbing. Our goal was to reach Toulouse by Canada Day 150. Martin had written to the Canadian Consulate in Toulouse to ask if there were any local festivities to mark the 150 years since Confederation. The answer was a resounding ‘non’ but we were cordially invited to the Canada Day party in Paris – a bit far for us. So we invited the writer to join us for pancakes, Canadian Maple syrup and champagne on our back deck. The writer did not reply, nor did she join us – well we tried.

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The canal rose to its summit six locks outside Castelnaudary, a couple of singles, a triple the a double followed by another single and voila we were at the summit of the Canal du Midi. It was downhill from here, but before we started down we went to Naurouze the watershed of the canals and rivers between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, which is about 190 meters above sea-level. It is now a park with an obelisk dedicated to Richet the Midi engineer, built and paid for by other engineers from around the world who recognized and honoured his genius.

Riquet monument

 

Riquet’s genius was that he used an unexpected water source for the canal, as he brought water down from the Black Mountains and financed the creation of a feeder canal to the proposed location of the canal. The Canal du Briare (visited by us in 2015 but built in 1642) pre-dated the Midi and showed that it was possible to link two river systems with a canal.

midi riquet

Work on the Midi began in 1667 and the first lock was built in Toulouse. At this point the distinct oval shape of the locks on the Midi was developed. Work continued from 1667 for the next 12 years but Riquet died 6 months before the completion of the canal in 1681. In the following years other engineers –noteably Vauban were also involved in the creation of feeder systems.

We moored in Toulouse on July 2nd 2017 at newly developed Port Saint Sauveur. Toulouse is on the Garonne river which was connected via canal to the Midi, it later became a shipping hub. However the Garonne was not canalized until 1850, even though Vauban had proposed the project in the 1690’s, until then goods were moved from large barges on the Canal to small river boats.

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Garonne Canal

We were in Toulouse for the Sunday market – I have never seen so much fresh food on display – in the market hall and along a main street for about six blocks. Toulsoue will always live in my body – as I came off my bike and hurt my arm and shoulder. Happily I heal well and quickly although the first couple of nights after the fall were a tad painful.

Today, Toulouse is a city of around 480,000 with a metro population of about 1.35 million. It is the home of the European Space program and the Airbus factory that builds the new Airbus 380 planes. We took a factory tour (sorry no photos allowed) where we saw the assembly of these massive planes. Since the development of this double decker long range plane in 2005, there have been 330 orders of which 103 have been filled. The parts come from all over Europe e.g. the wings come from North Wales and are shipped over water and land, and added to the assembly line in Toulouse. I was very impressed by the engineering and the production facilities but personally I would never fly in one.

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Toulouse – Occitan (Haute Garonne) Regional Government building

We continued to head west along the Canal de Garonne, which is about 248 kms long and has 54 locks. There were some interesting spots between Toulouse and Agen including a short canal that leaves the Garonne and goes to Montauban, but we gave it a pass. One place that especially fascinated Martin was the waterslope at Montech. The waterslope was built in 1974 when water transport was still significant. Two large diesel engines were used to go up or down a 13.3 m elevation pushing a volume water in a channel which carries the boat. It saved some time (around 45 minutes), compared to the alternative of five smaller locks but was only used for boats 20 m long or longer. It was one of many interesting engineering devices to move water and boats up and down slopes (remember Belgium). However Montech has recently fallen into disrepair and disuse.

Montech

We met our friend Graham Bristol in Toulouse after we had seen the Airbus exhibit. He spent a brief but seemingly memorable day or so with us on the Canal du Garonne.

Graham B

Moving on down the canal we came to the lovely town of Moissac, where we met Captain Jim (a larger than life Brit who ran the port) who suggested we go down to the Tarn river. There are a couple of locks that step down from the canal onto a 12 km stretch of the Tarn river that is completely navigable and swimmable. Given the heat we were experiencing last year it was a delight to just hang off the boat in colder water. We had lots of company in the shape of a chorus of frogs (who never seemed to sleep). Moissac also had some interesting buildings including the 11th Century Church of St Peter. We stayed a couple of days before heading down to Agen and beyond.

Agen is a major town in the region like many of the places along the canal full of treasures and places of interest. We stayed for a while, collected the car and prepared for the arrival of Lilian and Joan. This was my mother’s fourth visit to the boat, considering she was 90 years, was quite spry and young Joan (now 86) was positively athletic. We drove to Bordeaux airport and picked them up. Even though the Aquitaine and areas west of Toulouse are cooler than the eastern side (Aude) driving there and back was a hot journey. Scarlet has no air-conditioning and is quite cramped with 4 people, one dog and cases).

After a day in Agen, we four plus Kerry set off the complete our journey on the Garonne canal and take a little side trip down the Baise river to a highly recommended port called Nerac. We pulled into Buzet-sur-Baise and prepared to again take a couple of locks down. The river was low but we found ourselves cruising through a gladed valley to the magical town of Nerac. I am going to devote another episode to Nerac as there are tales to tell. Lilian and Joan were with us for a week, so once we had spent a day or so in Nerac we decided to drive them to Bordeaux. Their flights were in and out of Bordeaux airport thus it was appropriate to some spent time in this gorgeous city. It was so lovely that Martin and I returned this year for another couple of days in the wine capital of the world.

Visiting with my mum and Joan in 2017 meant we needed to get Lilian some extra help, so we rented a wheelchair from a Bordeaux pharmacy to tour the city. In addition we caught the ‘Hop-on Hop-off’ bus with a great English commentary that told the tale of this legendary city.

Bordeaux tourists

The ‘never give up’ tourist in Bordeaux

This year Martin and I were more directed in our tourism focusing on the marvelous ‘Cite Du Vin’, the fountains on the waterfront walk way and the lovely eighteenth century buildings. Bordeaux is the sixth largest city in France (population 250,000, metro area is 1.2million) but rates secondly only to Paris when it comes to monuments, and architecture

Bordeaux water front and water park and central square

A UNESCO World Heritage site (surprise surprise) this wealthy city with its beautiful churches and eighteenth century wine houses, changed over the last fifteen years when the old warehouses along the Garonne estuary were demolished and a public park along the estuary with water features, cafes, tall ships and even some shopping. We had thought of bringing Skookum to Bordeaux but were pleased we had decided to leave the boat in Nerac because the Garonne is tidal at this point and running about 12 knots – turning every 6 hours with very few places to moor.

Racing Garonne Estuary

Historically Bordeaux owes much to its geographic location on the Atlantic coast where the sheltered estuary gave sanctuary from the Bay of Bisque to the trading boats since Roman times. Wine became important as a traded commodity for the tin and other metals from the north isles. It was a garrison town used against the Basques and other tribes to south in the eighth century. By the twelfth century it was annexed as a part of England after marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet.

I will write more about those two in my next missive as they are most important to this history of this area.

It was not until Louis XIV took Bordeaux in 1653 that the city became truly French (even today there are remnants of Englishness that have survived including being home to the best cricket team in France). The eighteenth century was Bordeaux’s golden age, when the magnificent wine houses, warehouses, customs buildings and opulent churches were built to service the vast wine industry. There are over 10,000 chateaux in the Bordeaux region (appellation) growing delicious grapes that blended and sold at a premium all over the world. The wine trade in Bordeaux is worth €14.5 billion per year.

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Cite du Vin – the swirling carafe

We drove the 650km round trip from Castelnaudary to Bordeaux to visit the Cite du Vin which opened in 2016. (France is always so much bigger than I ever anticipated). Please add this marvelous museum to your bucket list as it was worth every kilometer. The building represents a swirl of wine in a carafe. It takes a minimum of 3 hours to tour the permanent exhibition but I could have lingered longer. I felt I had completed a sommelier course by the end of visit and for an entry fee of €8 it was really a good deal.

Service, information and tasting in the Cite du Vin

On both occasions we stayed in Ibis hotels around the Gare St Jean – the biggest station in Bordeaux. It was a bit confusing as there are three Ibis hotels around the train station. There is a great tram connection with the downtown core that runs along the river.

Bordeaux transit

 

 

Our Bordeaux visits are over for now – last year we took Lilian and Joan to the airport, then went back to Nerac, this year we returned to Castelnaudary for more adventures.