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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.