Jay and Maureen McDaniell

 

"A Couple of Aussies, Barging Through Europe" or

 

"How we quit the Rat Race for a Sea Change"

 

 

CONTACT US Phone (France 33)  06 73 73 74 88 E-Mail:  jaymcdaniell@hotmail.com    

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2001

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The Beginning

The Plan

The Boat

Waterways

Qualifications

The Place 

Occupations

Why?

Arrangements

 

Links to other interesting sites

www.saintjeandelosne.com  The town we wintered in in 2001

www.rfbyc.asn.au  Arguably the best yacht club in the southern hemisphere (not my words)

www.barges.org   The Dutch Barge Association (Check out 'Our Barges'... 'Mea Vota')

 

Van Nelle - our 27m 'Katwijker' Dutch Barge

The Beginning

Before this all started we were a respectable couple running a Public Relations and Special Events Company in Perth, Western Australia with a bit of a hankering for adventure. In 1999 we took a group to Paris and the Nivernais Canal on a rented boat (Locaboat Penichette) and were hooked. On our return to Perth and work, a suggestion became a dream, which changed into a determination and then a decision. We were going to sell up, buy a real barge and explore the rivers and waterways of Europe for some years. How many years ? Who knows ? We started in 2001 and our plan considered at least 10 years but hey - we're flexible. If it takes 15, so much the better.

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The Plan

The idea was to buy a barge big enough for us to live on in comfort as we traversed the more than 15,000 kilometres of Europe's famous rivers and not so well known (but extensive) canal system. We wanted the important comforts such as a big, easy to get around bed, a washing machine and dryer, a couple of big sofas to sleep away afternoons on, room for a couple of computers for writing those trashy airport novels and - most importantly - room for a couple of friends (or a couple of couples), to come stay with us occasionally. For this we needed a boat of at least 20 metres and probably up to 25. It had to conform to the minimum dimensions of the whole range of canals we were going to explore which meant no more than 30m long, 5m wide, 1.2m deep and 2.4m high. The air height (or tirant d'air) is achieved by the ability to fold down the wheel house when approaching low bridges, tunnels and other obstructions.

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The Boat

Above, I have spoken about the basic requirements of the boat, its size and essential equipment - but for those of you who are interested - there is more to it (isn't there always to boats). First of all, there is not just one kind of barge. There are commercial barges Vs converted commercial barges Vs pleasure boats. This is a subject that fills many books but for the un-initiated here is a brief explanation.

Commercial barges began in Holland, France, Germany and Belgium back in the 1700s when roads were muddy, rutted tracks and transport comprised of bone jolting carts pulled by horses or men. A better way of moving very heavy loads such as quarried stone, crops, wine, livestock and other valuables such as glass, ceramics and precious metals was by the extensive rivers that the major towns and cities were built on for their water requirements. Where these did not link, trenches were built to connect them. Since the land between rivers was generally hilly it required a means of raising and lowering the boats that were pulled along by families or horses. Great feats of engineering resulted in the lock systems that fed water in at the top and cascaded it down hill via locks that were able to take in boats, fill or empty water to raise or lower the boats to the next level and let them out into the lower or higher 'bief'.

Barges began as wooden craft and developed into iron after the industrial revolution. While most were human or horse drawn, some, in more expansive waterways, were sail powered. At the beginning of the 1900s simple engines became available and developed as the most reliable means of powering the boats which were either converted to take engines or built new for engine power. Boats developed as a result from the clog shaped Tjalks to the sophisticated Luxemotors and Klippers that had master's cabins in the stern and enclosed wheelhouses, allowing all-weather trading.

Just as engines powered boats, so too could they power trucks and trains and as the cheaper and more flexible road and rail networks developed, so the traffic on the canals declined - but not completely. While the two world wars also largely put an end to barge building and, as invading armies destroyed barge stocks to reduce their opponents transport infrastructure, people began to live on the existing boats to overcome limited housing, especially in countries such as The Netherlands. The extensive cargo space of the barges allowed for easy conversion to housing and their shallow draft meant they could be placed almost anywhere. The longevity of some of these boats owes much to the skill of their designers and builders and the ruggedness of their construction for the heavy loads they were originally built to carry.

Most of today's converted barges were built between 1880 and 1920. Riveted iron plates are fastened to iron ribs and keels and steel upper works were bolted, welded and riveted into place. Finishing off was with timber and many barges still proudly display the marvelous dark mahogany and teak timber work inside the aft cabins.

Converted barges are mostly of the Tjalk, Luxemotor, Klipper, Katwijker and Steilsteven designs and they vary between 20 and 40 metres in length, with the longer vessels mostly used as hotel boats.  These larger barges tend to ply the same areas as they are too large to fit throughout the smaller waterways. The French finally settled on a standard size, 'the Freycinet' with locks 30m by 5m and with depths of 1.2m or more, common.

Rental pleasure craft are of smaller dimensions and completely different designs. Normally from about 8 - 17m (25 to 45 feet) in length, these boats are mostly of fibre glass construction and owe much to the advances in cruising yacht designs, being able to fit in two, three or four double cabins, multiple bathrooms and still leave room for a galley (kitchen) saloon (lounge area) and outside covered cockpits. Equipped with efficient stoves, refrigerators, central heating, hot water systems and low cost / low maintenance engines, they are ideal for the non expert boating enthusiast to hire for a week or two with friends or family.

Available from Locaboat, Crown Blue Line, Connoisseur Cruisers and others, these boats will cost around $A 3,000 to 5,000 per week plus fuel, linen, food, insurance and other consumables - around $A 1200 - 1500 per couple per week. They are available in all the popular canal areas of France and some in Germany, Alsace/Lorraine, Holland and Belgium. You can cruise through Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy (Bourgogne), the south of France (the Midi) and other lush life locations.

Van Nelle (pictured above) is a pretty typical Katwijker barge.  27m long by 4.8m wide (beam) and a water draft (tirant d'eau) of just about 1.3m, she has an air draft (tirant d'air) about 3.4m, but with the wheelhouse folded down can scrape under 2.8m obstructions. She has a big wheelhouse with plenty of room for 6 people dining or lounging in poor, cool, wet or too sunny weather, as the scenes of rural France slide slowly by. A huge aft deck (la poupe) of about 4m provides an outdoor lounge and eatery.  The fore decks stretch out for some 17m to the bow (prouwe).

Down a staircase from the wheelhouse brings you to the galley and saloon looking forward to a companionway that leads to three bedrooms. Behind the staircase is the study and bathroom, while the engine room and extensive storage and locker space is below the aft deck behind the bathroom.

Van Nelle was built in 1915 for a coffee and tobacco company which used her to take their raw materials from Rotterdam to their factory inland. Extended by 5m during her life, she carried drinking water to Amsterdam under the name 'Water Victory'.  She still has the original engine, a huge, six cylinder, slow revving French Badouin DK6..

Fully centrally heated, she has been extensively converted for living with reticulated hot and cold water, 24v and 220v power supplies and gas cooking facilities. She has a washing machine and dryer, (perhaps a television soon) and hi-fi sound, refrigeration, extensive living areas including a huge saloon / dining / galley and office area, three bedrooms, a large wheelhouse with table and banquette for 6, an expansive rear deck and forward cabin roof, large storage areas and a walk through engine room .

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The Waterways of Europe

15,000 kilometres of rivers, canals, lakes and estuaries stretching from the top of Holland in the north to the Mediterranean in the south, and from the Channel and the Atlantic coast to the Swiss Alps. Russia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Alsace / Lorraine, France - most of civilised Western Europe is criss-crossed by this enormous set of water highways. Most of those countries important cities rest on the shores of the rivers and canals once used to transport heavy or valuable cargoes, mostly now providing simple, safe and tranquil routes for tourists.  Maps

Areas and regions such as Champagne, Bourgogne, Bretagne, the Loire, Normandie, Charente, Isle de Paris, Languedoc, Provence, Flandres, Picardie, the Somme, the Cote d'Azur, towns and cities such as Paris, Versailles, Fontainbleau, Dijon, Reims, Toulouse, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Bruxelles, Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Mulhouse, Le Mans, Orleans, Nantes, Avignon and many, many more are opened up to the crew of the barge. 

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The Qualifications

No qualifications are required for rental pleasure boats but if you contemplate staying longer than 6 weeks on anything bigger than 20 metres, you will need a Certificate de Capacité (known as the 'PP') qualification in France. This comes at the cost of a weeks course (about $A 1500) an examination (in French) and most likely, a practical test on your ability to operate such a vessel. This of course means that you will have to have some grasp of the language, a boat on which to learn, practice and take your test and preferably, a skilled instructor.

These qualifications can be gained with the help of Tam and Di Burrell on their barge Friesland in either Cambrai or Champagne.  tamanddi@compuserve.com 

The Place

People who know anything about the existence of canals and barging know that France has an extensive and popular series of waterways that stretch from the Channel and the Belgian border in the north to the Mediterranean in the south, encompassing the best areas of that rich and fertile land. The Champage district, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Provence, the Cote d'Azure, Brittany, Alsace and so on. Indeed France's canal system is wonderful, all 8,500 kilometres of it. Many don't know that a greater expanse of waterways extends north through Belgium, Germany, Holland and up into Russia.

On a practical note - it took us ten days to travel about 120km at some haste in a rental boat on the Nivernais Canal since we had to deliver the boat to the depot at the other end of our journey by an appointed day. Extend that distance to 15,000km and we estimate it should keep us and our friends busy for most of 15 years - if we rush.

Barging will not be all things to all people and some may be heartily glad to leave France quickly - given the reputed gallic charm we hear so much about - however, our experience is that if we approach our hosts with a few faltering words and phrases of French, a torrent of hospitality, help or friendliness is normally the result. A result that is well worth the effort.

This is the way to experience the grandeur of the millenniums of history, cities full of rich and varied constructions and  vast buildings crammed with improbable amounts of art and artifacts throughout Europe.  Then there is the staggering amounts of varied foods and wines - and - flavours lost to the new world's extensive agricultural methods decades ago (just try French strawberries - even from the supermarkets).  Wonderfully, these sights and tastes change each time you round a bend, enter a different region, and enter a new village, town or city.

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Our Planned Occupations

We are often asked whether we are going to Europe to work. Well the answer is yes and no since we will bend our minds to creative pursuits like writing. Maureen will offer her extensive PR skills as an agent in France for those looking to find information, contacts or to place information or products and services. I have retired and plan to write and we both plan to immerse ourselves in this different culture - Aussies barging through France.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the grand novel or travel book, it may take some time.  And even if these works do get finished, they will have to compete against the thousands of other manuscripts for publishing and distribution acceptance. 

Why ?

Why are we doing this ? Easy. We have only one life (unlike Shirley MacLaine) and we are determined to do more with it than just 'live to work' in Perth, Western Australia. Having had a fair bit of travel we are only too aware of what and who is out there and the pleasure that getting to know them can give. Someone said once that 'the only things you will regret on your death bed are the things you haven't done'. We don't intend this dream to be one of them.

We have to do this while we are still young enough to be able. A 20 - 25m (70 - 80 foot) iron boat is a big object and of course has all the same systems as a home or small town. Water and electricity supply, garbage, waste disposal, all added to by the normal hassles of household appliances plus engines, steering equipment, winches, a hull as well as walls, roofs, ceilings, floors etc etc. Quite a lot to go wrong - go wrong - go wrong.

The Arrangements

This is where it gets interesting. The French (especially) have a complex and demanding bureaucracy and some regulations that must be met.

VISA: You must be a European to live in Europe or you need a visa. Since I am an Australian, I need a Carte de Longue Sejour (Long Stay Visa) if I am to stay for more than one year in France or a Carte Sejour for a year - otherwise I have to leave and re-enter each 3 months.

In order to get a Carte de Longue Sejour I need to prove I am of good character, have an income sufficient for my needs, health insurance, and a place to live. I also have to have an address (no not a barge) and a bank account and telephone account (more on that later). Here's where it gets interesting.

In order to get a visa you have to have an address or a bank account (which you cannot get if you don't have an address) - catch 22. If you plan to live on a barge that is a difficult one. More interesting is that the address is supposed to be one where you have received accounts from the electricity company in your name (no not the phone, water, gas or rates). And no, they don't deliver electricity to moving barges.

We think we have the answer here as they appear to be willing to accept a cancelled cheque from your French bank account as proof of your existence since, as in Australia, it is difficult to get a bank account without extensive identity checks. We understand that others have been able to get bank accounts set up with La Poste, the French Postal Service, which also runs a banking service, an internet service provider and poste restante services and, is in every town and village throughout France. Ideal !

We will need a telephone account for E-mail since this is the most effective and cheapest way to communicate. Unfortunately when using an Australian ISP and mobile phone, the costs are outrageous - so we need a local ISP (Internet Service Provider). We also can reduce costs by making local phone calls or use pre-paid phone cards. However, pre-paid cards in France do not carry data, only voice. Since I assume I can get an account with La Poste, I can also use their phone company (a bit like Telecom) for phone, internet, web and other reasons.  We shall see. And if all else fails we can revert to Maureen's European passport and right of residency!!!

Also, unlike some bargees who have pleasant homes somewhere else to escape to if it gets too cold, wet or hot, we burnt our bridges to some extent having sold our house in Australia to finance this venture - our barge will be our only home for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately, life is quite cheap on the waterways of Europe. Current experience puts the cost of running the boat at about $A 6,000 per year including insurance, fuel, licenses, hauling the boat out every four years and other minor expenses such as mooring fees in some places ($1200 per month in Paris) but free in others. Montargis outside Paris is free except for water and electricity which are conveniently supplied boat-side. Add Australian taxation and health insurance (a must for a long stay visa) and the total on-costs should be about $A15-18,000 per year. Minimal living at about $150 per week on groceries, $ 100 for wine, the same for restaurants and some for extras - say about $A400 per week by fifty weeks adds up to another $ 20,000 for a total of about $ 40,000 per year. We have yet to fully test the veracity of these budgets!

To run the boat in France one also needs local qualifications, gained at some expense in November 2000 in Cambrai on Tam and Di's Barge Friesland. Tam is a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) instructor and examiner who has a very good working relationship with the French Inland Waterways department who administer the Certificate de Capacite or PP as it is known. Doing a course with Tam and Di involves a 3 day barge handling and 3 day intensive PP study course plus the bonus of some cruising in Champagne or St Quentin. Tam has been on the water in narrow boats in the UK and now Dutch barges in France since the 60s.

Qualification this way comes with the bonus of a British Inland Waters Helmsman Ticket, membership in the RYA and the opportunity to also join the Dutch Barge Association (barges.org) - worth its weight in gold for the electronic contacts available on every subject from the arcane to the very practical. For example - Canadian friends had a problem with parts for a DAF motor that powered their bow thruster and could not get the manufacturer to find the parts or even their engine type. After a call for help on the internet link, members not only knew the engine type but sent a copy of the manual and the parts list by email. Information on power systems, electricity supplies and issues, hulls, toilets, rules and regulations, best areas to cruise and restaurants to frequent - absolutely everything you may need to know is available though this great organisation.

The Dutch Barge Association (now known as DBA - the Barge Association at www.barges.org 

For more information and some very interesting sites on barging - check out the DBA website and look for the section called 'Our Barges'.  Especially check the journal of Ian McLean and Helen Jordin, owners of Mea Vota.

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