Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Locked Down in New Zealand


                                                        'We are all in this together'
                                                                NZ April 2020

Not an original heading in these uncertain times as our customary life is turned on its head. Our thoughts and hopes are with our friends around the world. For the first time in over 20 years Annie and I are hunkering down for a winter in New Zealand.

Any plans to return to Antiope in France in the near future have been taken out of our hands. However this enforced lock down has prompted me to reflect on a lifetime of messing about in boats with the adventures afloat that I have shared along the way. It has also given me the time and motive to open up my photo archives.

In 1966  David and I sailed this dinghy to Denmark from England 
 For a while now I have also been gathering material for a second book, 'Waterway Magic'. This will be a follow up to 'Swatchway Magic' which was a modest little book of stories co-authored by Paul Antrobus and myself and was first published 9 years ago. It was unashamedly a nostalgic look at our old haunts on the East Anglian coast of England. The current book is a tale of my adventures in a variety of boats on inland waters from a young age through until today. Below are a few pics of the boats that have shaped that life afloat.

My first 'live aboard' at aged 14
The Kiel canal en-route to Copenhagen 1966

A three month round trip from England

That voyage to the Baltic was a life defining experience. Whether it was an act of bravado or recklessness, the motive is the subject of the longer story. David and I survived and friendships made then remain today.


Newly married to Janet a boat with a lid was a more acceptable option. Swan was a shallow draft barge yacht. For four years we cruised the coastal and canal waterways. but Swan was just a touch too wide for the narrower English canals. In recent years I found Swan again, a story by itself.


Swan my first grown up boat
We cruised  Swan deep into England













A chance find  in 1972 was this old river launch in need of a new life. She would fit the locks. It was a project rebuild. We had fun and the prospect of a profit when I had finished, neither of which really happened.


Re-purposing the launch was big learning curve during an English winter. We  gave Smaug a canal boat look and did eventually manage a few summer weekends aboard before the opportunity to move to New Zealand forced a quick sale.

Smaug, the re-build completed, sadly cruising time was short lived  

Rolling through a whole chapter of life in a new country, holding down a real job, having a family to raise, a house or two to build, a sad but amicable parting of the ways with Jan, not forgetting a fair bit of sailing over the years before meeting up with Annie eventually brought me to a point when I wanted to show my new wife the magic of the waterways.

So we fast forward to the 90s and our first experience with narrow boats, this tired old hire boat  which we renamed Water Gipsy was intended to be a short term 'do up' cruise it and sell it project. Five years later we were hooked on the waterway lifestyle, but the old boat was getting tired and needed increasing maintenance.

Our first narrowboat project, A tired old ex-hire boat.


 Water Gipsy became a much loved but temperamental old girl
Water Gipsy, yes there is a story behind the name, took us to the far reaches of the English waterways, but she did have her off days and we were frequently hosting visitors who often had to patiently wait while I took the engine apart. We needed a larger and more reliable craft.

The answer was to build our own boat, or at least fit out a custom built hull, and incorporate our own ideas.
The bare hull built to our specs and ready for delivery  

In 2002 we took delivery of a bare 64ft hull and over the next 5 months completed the fit out.
She was built and fitted out to comply with RCD regulations to which our surveyor ensured compliance.

We set ourselves a  tight schedule.

Job done and ready for cruising

We kept the name Water Gipsy and hosted many guests for a further 6 years. Water Gipsy turned out to be everything we wished for but by 2007 I wanted a break from cruising the now all too familiar English waterways, What about France? Within two years we had bought Antiope refitted her and crossed the North Sea to Europe where we have cruised for the past ten years.

Antiope in Copenhagen  2016, and 50 years on from the dinghy voyage,

Meanwhile, I must get on with the book.

Keep safe all of our readers, we will get through this.

Cheers Charles.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Snugged up for winter

In the final days of September, the long dry summer came to an abrupt end. Time for us to pack up and head South.

On a grey morning Antiope is lifted out at Migennes

During the heat of summer we had found the nylon rudder bearings were binding on the shafts, so once out of the water we dropped both rudders for inspection and arrange for some adjustment to the shafts to be sorted over winter.

These steel rudders each weigh close to 40kg
 

 In between the rain showers we built the canopy frame and covered Antiope up for the winter.

All snugged up, back in springtime

  

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Navigation Stop

There is nothing quite like a solid wall of steel to put a stop to your cruise plans.

The stop planks are in place at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne lock.
We have cruised to Villeneuve-sur-Yonne to see what all the fuss is about. The lock here was declared unsafe earlier this summer and closed to all navigation effectively cutting off the route north to Paris by water. New gates are due to be fitted in October. In the meantime massive steel planks hold back the water.
 
Joigny seen from our favourite mooring spot



Having made it along the Nivernais canal with no trouble, we have time in hand to explore the river Yonne as far down as we can navigate before wrapping up Antiope for the winter back at Migennes. 

A warm still evening at Joigny

The river is strangely quiet, finding handy moorings is no problem 


Auxerre and Joigny became our bases for a week or two, cruising out and back while we had guests aboard.

Old town house Joigny
13th century Northern gate house into Joigny


Built on a hillside, Joigny looks down over the Yonne valley
 
Above the town vineyards stretch out over the limestone hills
It was the 24th August 75 years ago that Joigny was liberated from the Nazis. The occasion was marked with ceremony. A parade, a fly-past, fireworks and a free dance in the market hall.
The mayor reads a tribute to the liberators of his town

The fly-past, by the local aero club

    
Vintage but not quite wartime planes.

Clamacy raft parade


Along the Nivernais canal is the charming town of Clamacy, It was here that the annual raft parade coincided with our stop.

We were somewhat concerned in the morning when an exited group arrived in a hurry alongside us on the dock and started to unload what looked like a grand piano strapped to a raft. To our amazement it floated and was paddled away by four dinner suited crew blowing confetti at the crowds.

What is it? It will surely capsize
 
Will it float?

 The crew paddle past us to join the parade.
 
A fully elevating piano and a confetti blowing double base.


A very crowded lock and the first rain in months


At least the water was warm.
   We were in Clamacy a month ago now, but I have only just found time to download these pics.

                                                            Cheers Charles and Annie

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Over the top

Having resigned ourselves to having to return Northwards via the Nivernais canal, water shortages and a lock failures having curtailed our plan to cruise eastwards to Nancy and Metz, we figured that we might as well take a very leisurely saunter along this charming nearly two century old waterway. The last time we came this way it was not enjoyable, in miserable weather and probably in a hurry to make a rendezvous.
Typical of the Nivernais, a gently winding canal and elegant bridges.

The lock cottages were well built back in 1834  

The climb to the summit level from Decise involves 35 locks, and not a problem if taken in daily bites. Antiope does like a metre of water to float in, at times however close to the top locks this was all we had beneath us.
Annie on lock duty
The skipper on BBQ duty


At the summit, the massive lakes at Baye and Vaux provide the water for the high reaches of the Nivernais, a reminder of the engineering feat involved in creating this 180 km waterway through the high central regions of France and a vital link between Paris and the Med.
 
We moor lakeside at Baye at the Nivernais summit
From Baye we cruise through the hill in a series of tunnels carved out of the solid rock before the steep descent through 27 locks in only 10 kms.
No passing room here, The Collancelle tunnels.
A rare sight in France these days, wooden lock gates

We cruise for some days with Kiwi friends aboard Petronella 

 The impressive limestone cliffs at Merry-sur- Yonne

Once through the steep descent the waterway cuts a straight line through flat farm lands
These simple but clever 'needle' wiers on the Yonne river. 
Down from the hills the River Yonne begins to supply the Nivernais with water, the river levels are controlled these days by mechanical barrages (wiers) but in some places the original hand 'pulled' needle wiers have been preserved and restored.
The Nivernais will take us to Auxerre where we rejoin the Yonne river and what has become our local waters and completing the 'Burgundy loup'

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

It Ain't half hot !



This July has been the hottest on record across France, even where we are in mid France the mercury has topped 40c more than once.
From our smartphone last week, but this was not on the hottest day !  
 While we have been able to avoid cruising in the heat of the day and find shade under trees, the continuing dry weather is causing chaos on the waterways. With no significant rain since May the reservoirs that feed the canals have all but dried up. Our planned round trip up the Soane river to Nancy and then down the Marne has also been thwarted by a munted lock on the Yonne river at Villeneuve. The damage is severe and will not be fixed before the end of the season. We have had no choice but to turn around and head back up the Nivernais canal in order to get back to our winter base in Migennes.

Burgundy region canals and rivers, as of 1st August our options are limited, The only route open to us is the Nivernais. 
 Ours is not the only region with issues. We hear that some lifting bridges in the Netherlands are not opening just in case they cannot close them again in the heat.

   
The lift bridge at Montceau les Mines, This was to be the furthest point of our cruise.

We had reached Montceau-les-Mines when we learned of the broken lock, followed by the restriction and closure notices. Along with many other craft we have had to revise our plans or risk getting stuck somewhere until the rains come.

We arrive in Digoin as they are setting up the firework display on the Aqueduct

 Bastille Day, La Fete Nationale, is marked across France with bands, parades and always a firework display.





The Mayoress inspects her fire brigade in scorching temps 
Pomp and speeches 

Perfect ballooning day
Ducks, almost in a row


A Ragondin (Coypu ) a common sight in the early evenings
Yes, Storks too