24 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

May you be among the most appreciated gifts to those in your life.

From la Bourgogne to Zuid Holland

Zonder Zorg headed north this year from the Burgundy. We ascended la Saône and la Petit Saône through Franche-Comté and over Canal des Vosges into Lorraine then across to la Moselle and down it to Canal de la Marne au Rhin, which led us to Canal de la Meuse and eventually to La Meuse and into Belgium. From the Dutch border the river becomes de Maas and we followed it, then Julianakanaal, Kanaal Wessen-Nederweert, Zuid Wiliemsvaart, Maximakanaal, de Bergse Maas, Heusdens Kanaal, de Andesle Maas, de Afgedamde Maas. de Waal, de Gekan Linge, Merwedekanaal, de Lek, Doorslag and de Hollandse IJssel to Gouda for the winter.

The total distance covered was 994 kilometres through 244 locks, 6 tunnels and 26 movable bridges. This map shows Zonder Zorg's 2015 travels in white and her 2012-2014 travels in red. 

It was a very relaxing five-month trip with many extended stops along the way. Through the process I completed and published another canal boating book and a novel plus wrote two more novels that are now being edited. I've been much too busy to add much to this blog. 

11 June 2015

To the Top of the Saône

 The flooding on the Saône persisted for several days, then water level and river current slowly started easing. The temperature followed the water level down and the second week of May we were on the verge of overnight frost. After the second of the four national holidays in May, I headed down river to Saint-Jean-de-Losne to refuel to buy new mooring lines, a new courtesy flag and replace a few other things that wear-out.

I was fortunate to again find an open spot on Quai national, the same spot we had vacated in late September. In the evening I celebrated cutting loose from winter moorings.

Two weeks previously I had received an email invitation from Richard Carras, a wine business colleague from the 1980s and 90s. The invitation was to a winemaker’s dinner in Vancouver presented by one of my favourite wine producers, Masi. I replied that unfortunately I would have to miss it, since I was in the Burgundy. He replied immediately that he would be arriving in Saint-Jean-de-Losne on 10 May to begin a cruise on a hotel barge. I spent a splendid evening aboard Après Tout with Richard and his wife Marion and with more dear old friends, George and Trudy Heiss, British Columbia wine pioneers.

The following morning I bade them farewell as they headed up Canal de Bourgogne and I continued with my purchases and maintenance in preparation for heading north. I was still waiting for two pieces of mail addressed to Zonder Zorg in the port de plaisance in Auxonne, so I sat through the two remaining national holidays of May and watched most of the French take between twelve and sixteen days off.

Finally, after waiting for proofs of my new novel and for mail from one of the many malfunctioning sectors of corporate France, on Friday 29 May I left Auxonne and headed up the Saône. Edi was still in the Netherlands arranging a place for the off-season, so I would be soloing. One of the few benefits of the extended wait was that the current in the river was almost nonexistent.

In the late afternoon I passed the very attractive village of Mantoche and was tempted to stop there for the night, but its lack of shopping of any kind convinced me to continue the six kilometres to the city of Gray. In the dozen years since my last visit there, I had forgotten that the place lives up to its name. Besides its fine old Hôtel de Ville and many rather graceless, though historic and crumbling old buildings, the main attraction is the large supermarket just a block away from the moorings. Maybe the next time, Mantoche.

I spent most of Saturday exploring the city and stocking-up from the convenient supermarket. On Sunday I continued up the river, passing through the first tunnel of the year, the 640 metre Souterrain de Savoyeux.

In the late afternoon, I took winding channel up the branch of the river past the lock toward the weir to the village of Ray-sur-Saône, which is dominated by the château on the ridge above. 

The château dates to the year 800, and before it was partially destroyed in the sixteenth century, it was the largest fortress in Franche-Comté. The tiny wooden mooring docks, not much more than two metres long are still unchanged from my first visit over a decade and a half ago. Unchanged except for deterioration, that is. Two of them were taped-off with plastic ribbons and danger signs.

On Monday morning I headed back down the river to the lock and ascended through it to continue up the river. The route passed through very sparsely settled areas for twenty kilometres and four more locks, passing small villages and tiny settlements sitting back across the flood plains from the river.

The next tunnel, the 680 metre Tunnel de Saint-Aubin, has a long, narrow masonry-lined cut leading to it, so steering is interesting for much more than the tunnel.

The tunnel is well-lit and its 6.6 metre width is very generous. Zonder Zorg tracked almost automatically from the pressure waves off the smooth sides. In the late afternoon I arrived in Port-sur-Saône and secured for the night on a solid concrete and steel quai in the centre of town.

On Tuesday, after another five and a half hours of travelling I arrived my twentieth and final lock on the Saône this trip. I entered the chamber, and using my standard routine, tossed the stern line to loop the bollard, adjusted it on the staghorn and went forward to toss the bow line, activating the lock as I passed the control rod. Zonder Zorg came to an abrupt stop. I looked back to see what had snagged and saw a man on the rim of the chamber pulling the stern line and smiling. I told him in French and English to leave the line alone. I restarted the engine and motored slowly forward on the stern line so I could reach the bow bollard. 

I tossed the bow line up and watched unbelievably as another man picked it up. I told him to put it back on the bollard. I went back to the stern to shift into neutral and shut-down the engine, then tail in the stern line as the boat swung back on its bow line. My routine has been to tail from the stern until the lock is a bit over half full and then go forward and tail in the bow line to the top of the fill. When I pulled on the bow line to adjust it, it was snagged. When I could see over the top of the chamber, I saw it had been tied to the bollard by the ‘helpful’ man from the rental boat waiting to descend. I told the two men that voluntary assistance is very often a hindrance and sometimes it can be dangerous. Do not touch another boater’s lines unless asked. Stand clear of the bollards. It took me more than five minutes trying to untie the line from the bollard, using mallet, fid and screwdriver and in the process I severely damaged it. My two week old twenty-metre line with an eye splice is now an eleven metre simple piece and an eight metre piece with an eye. Both rather useless, just like the two renters from Le Boat. Neither offered apologies no compensation.   

Five kilometres later, as I prepared to toss my stern line after entering the lock at Corre to start up the Canal des Vosges, a man stood over my bollard on the rim. I asked him to move, I motioned at him to move. I cursed him with my best Anglo-Saxon. He finally got the message and left. I looped both bollards and locked-up with ease, then moored for the night, off the Saône and into Canal des Vosges. The trip from Auxonne was four days of motoring for a total of 147.9 kilometres, twenty locks, two tunnels and three overzealous lock-top hindrances. At least there’s a supermarket nearby.

04 May 2015

A Flood on the Saône

Yesterday the Saône River at Auxonne rose quickly. It has been raining heavily for several days and the runoff from upstream is having trouble keeping within the river banks. Last evening there was a break in the weather and my view out across the cockpit showed the river to have nearly overtopped the marina breakwater.

This morning the water is over the top of the breakwater and the access road along its top was under several centimetres of water with only the grasses separating the river from the Port Royal basin. Half the marina is now an island, requiring wading for access to and from barges and the mainland. Fortunately, the float Zonder Zorg is on is attached to the other side of the basin, where the land is a bit higher.

We've had some patches of nice weather this spring, but there has been a lot of rain. In mid-March I hunkered down inside and began building a wooden model of a skûtsje.

While waiting for glue to dry, on 19 March I began writing a novel. I had no idea where the story was going, I just started writing. I’ve read quite a few novels, but I have no real concept of what a novel’s structure is. Four weeks later, after about 80,000 words I arrived at its finish.

Since then I’ve done a lot of content and text exiting, I've created front pages and put together some ideas for a cover. My writing background is non-fiction and editing, so I have no idea whether this piece of fiction has any merit, or is simply a bunch of babbling. One way or the other, I need to get the characters out of my head and get on with living. It's off to the printers this week.

The flood of words is over, but the flood of water isn't. The glue on the model is probably dry by now, I haven’t checked for almost six weeks.

I'm waiting for a hard copy of the proof to arrive, and if things go well, the book will be up on Amazon and other places around 20 May. In the meantime, if the river calms and recedes, Zonder Zorg is heading north, toward the Netherlands.

12 March 2015

Another New Book Going to Print

When I finished my last book at the end of December, I thought I was done writing for a while, but then at the Vancouver Boat Show in late January, I was prompted to write another. While talking with the marketing manager of the largest of the canal boat rental companies, she told me that many of their renters ask for recommendations on a book or books to read to prepare for their boating adventure. She had none to recommend, and so it began.

I decided to focus on France, where last year there were more than 150,000 canal boat renters, fifteen percent of whom came from the English-speaking world. I figured that this should provide me with a sufficiently large focused market to provide a few sales. The book quickly came together as an overview of the geography, history and culture of the main inland boating areas of France, followed by a chapter that gives a cross-section of the boats that are offered by the four major companies.

I added some background on the canal system and an examination of the types of locks and how they function.

Then there are chapters on Basic Boat Handling, on Line Handling and Safety in the Locks and on Rules of the Road and CEVNI. The book contains the essential information to enable a neophyte to decide on a region to explore, to choose a rental company and to safely and confidently head out on the French canals. Hopefully it will make things a little safer for the rest of us on the canals.

I sent the copy and the cover layout to the printers on Friday, I received an electronic proof of the book on Tuesday evening and this afternoon the printed proof arrived by DHL. It looks good, so I have just approved it and sent it to print. It should be available from Amazon next week and from other online retailers in the following weeks. I love the speed and efficiency of the modern world of publishing.

07 March 2015

Back in the Burgundy

On 25 February we began the final complex series of events that would lead us back to Zonder Zorg in Auxonne in the Burgundy region of France. For days we had been sorting and packing, a task much more complex this time than in our previous five trips back to the boat. Returning to Peru, Chile, Friesland and France had been a matter of closing-up in Vancouver and heading off. This time we were moving our furniture and belongings into storage, since we had decided to rent-out the loft. For more than five years we had left the place vacant while we cruised, but the temptation of an additional $30,000 annual input to our cruising kitty was now too strong to resist.

The moving van arrived on time at 0900 just as the woman with the elevator keys appeared. By noon the last of our items for storage were in the van and we were left with only our luggage on the balcony, safely sequestered from the movers. In the car we had rented the previous day using loyalty points, I drove to the storage facility to supervise the move from van to locker. By 1430 the move was complete, the locker contracted and paid and the account with the movers settled.

Meanwhile, Edi did the final cleaning in the loft, and I made it back just in time for the 1500 appointment with the rental agent for a walk-through and key hand-over. He helped us juggle our nine pieces of luggage down to the car and we were off. So far the complex clockwork was ticking perfectly. We drove to the airport hotel that we had booked on loyalty points and checked-in. On Thursday morning the car got our luggage to the airport and we were confirmed on our leg to Toronto for a connection to Paris. So far, so good.

In Toronto, the continuation to Paris was over-booked and we didn't make it on. We saw a flight to London Heathrow an hour-and-a-bit later with many open seats, so we had our bags and ourselves transferred to it. Otherwise, we would have had to reclaim all our checked luggage, find a hotel and a way to get our selves and our bags to it and back for the flight the following day. We preferred continuing to Europe, so online I booked two seats on the Eurostar through the Chunnel to Paris. I also booked a van to transfer us from Heathrow to St Pancras to catch the train.

Our luggage was first off on the belt in Heathrow, since it was the last onto the flight. Our driver was in the designated place and got us through the London snarl to the rail station. Our Eurostar bookings yielded two boarding passes, though there were many questions and discussions about our nine pieces of luggage. Train passengers are limited to two pieces each, so we sweet-talked our way through ticketing, the gate, security and onboard. There are no luggage carts in Paris Gare du Nord, nor are there any luggage handlers, so we organised a security relay along the platform and into the terminal, where Edi stood guard on our bags while I went to pick-up the rental car.

I had changed the booking online from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Paris Gare du Nord, and our car was waiting for us on the minus seven level of parking, near the elevator. Fortunately, our luggage stash was a short distance from the elevator, and with its speaker blaring a shrill bilingual "door blocked" announcement, we crammed all nine pieces and ourselves into the elevator and back out seven levels down. I flashed-up TomTom on my iPad and we were lead efficiently out of Paris and onto the Autoroute du Soleil.

After a pause for coffees and sandwiches, we continued along to Auxonne, arriving shortly past midnight. There was a gypsy encampment in the parking lot from the small midway set-up for Carnival d'Auxonne and there were some wandering groups of men. We decided to move all the luggage aboard, rather than risk losing it from the car overnight. The marina carts were locked-up and Zonder Zorg is in the last slip at the end of the furthest finger, so we again did a security relay. It was 0100 by the time we had opened-up the boat, had everything aboard, had flashed-up her systems and fired-up the central heating. I had asked the boat be de-winterised for our arrival, and everything was in order. After some Armagnac to ease the road-weariness, we made it to bed a little beyond 0200 on Saturday morning, thirty-four hours after springing-out of the hotel bed in Vancouver. We look forward to a slightly more relaxed schedule from here on.

On Saturday morning, while Edi slept-in, I headed into town to the supermarket for fresh supplies. By evening we were back into the swing of things with a nice dinner of dos de cabillaud with spätzle and diced mushrooms and fresh broccoli. We celebrated our being back aboard with a bottle of Bailly Lapierre 2007 Vive-la-Joie Crémant de Bourgogne.

30 January 2015

Vancouver Boat Show

We set-up at the Marine Authors booth during the Vancouver International Boat Show 21-25 January. Our four books were very well received and by noon of the final day we had sold-out of "Carefree on the European Canals" and were down to short stacks of the other titles.

I did three presentations in the educational seminar series, one on our adventures to Cape Horn and two on the European canals. We are chomping at the bit to get back to Zonder Zorg in Auxonne.

08 January 2015

We've Published Two New Books

We have been rather busy during our slack time since we left Zonder Zorg for the winter; Edi and I have each published new books. Mine is a 520-page tome of some 135,000 words and 1500 illustrations that offers insights, experiences and details on cruising many thousands of kilometres through the French canals over the past thirty years. It is now available on Amazon.com and will shortly be available on other online booksellers. The Look Inside feature should be up soon.

Edi's is offering is a beautifully illustrated children's book that she wrote to introduce her granddaughter, Annelies to her Dutch heritage. Edi created thirty-six paintings and illustrations for this book that features our skûtsje, Zonder Zorg spreading its leeboards like wings and taking Annelies on moonlit flights to discover some of her family background. It is also now available on Amazon.com and will shortly be available on other online booksellers. The Look Inside feature should be up soon.

The illustrations are delightful and the story is full of light-hearted fun.

We will again be set-up at the Marine Authors' booth at the Vancouver International Boat Show, 21-25 January, offering autographed copies at well below retail prices.