Remember Friso the tjalk we had looked at two or three weeks ago and that Jill subsequently bought? Well – back at the fermette we get the news that she has mostly passed the survey needing only a few fixes before she can start her journey to Limerick. There needs to be a safety rail fitted all around the back and the oil needs changing amongst other things. Friso has been moved up-river by the surveyor to a boatyard at Migennes on the Yonne – only a couple of hours away from the fermette. We are going as far as Paris and an approximate date for leaving is given as Wednesday 29th. We will take the van up to the handily-placed campsite near the boatyard and help prepare the barge until it’s time to go. Portia will stay in the secured parking of the campsite while we sail up to Paris then get the train back to the, equally handily-placed, station. Things seem to be falling nicely into place.
We get to Camping Les Confluents in Migennes on Monday 27th. It’s a municipal so only 11€ a night with electricity, nicely kept and it has a small swimming pool – ideal for a quick cool down on a red hot day! Evans Boatyard International is a ten minute walk away and we wander over to find Jill and Friso. What a place of wonder the boatyard is! Apart from all the boats standing high and dry having their bottoms scraped or repainted, the quay is cheek-by-jowl with rusting hulks awaiting goodness knows what, and ancient craft that Simon Evans collects. Friso is moored three deep alongside two huge rusting barges that have to be climbed across to gain access. Worth remembering not to push too hard with your feet on the deck of one boat while heaving yourself up onto another – the gap widens as you struggle:-(
Friso is a real beauty – high at the front and wide bodied with elegant lines. A beauty in need of some tender loving care and not a little updating however. The wheel house is airy, the living area and galley are one large living space beautifully panelled and with made to measure persian carpets and runners.
There are two cabins with double beds – one at the side and one at the front. Our cabin was the size of a double bed with a couple of feet spare down one side – small but adequate – and adjacent to the loo. The loo is a throne-like construction to keep it above the water level outside and with a hose for flushing. Bizarre but functional (and normal for old tjalks).
All Friso’s systems need de-winterising, rooms and bedding need airing and everywhere needs cleaning. Jill masters the water, battery and electrical aspects of the process – some lights and sockets come on and all taps run. The gas water heater could not be persuaded to light but the immersion heater will work when on hook up – not otherwise or it will drain the batteries. Cooker works, fridge works, shower works, pump for the shower tray works (it is below water level) and the toilet works – hurrah! I sort and air bedding and degrease the kitchen while and Neil carries out various handyman fixes.
There are three bikes on board which, once pumped up, prove handy for coming and going to shops, campsite etc. Feeling pretty chuffed we eat at Jill’s nearby air bnb flatlet and look at maps and charts. The next day – more of the same plus stocking the fridge and cupboards ready for the trip.
By Wednesday the date for leaving had been put back to Thursday but we secured the van and moved aboard anyway ready for an early departure. Jill was hoping for another hour or two handling instruction from the surveyor but, unfortunately, this did not materialise. The stick for the throttle/gears is small and the wheel is huge – it takes a lot of turning to manoeuvre 35 tons at the slow speeds needed for locks and docking generally. Use of the bow thruster in conjunction with the forward and reverse thrust is an art form in it’s own right. We celebrate in optimistic mood with dinner aboard.
Finally, on Thursday 30th, safety rail firmly welded in place, we got away and did a few graceful but unexpected pirouettes down the Yonne while Jill got the hang of the handling the barge. The sun was shining, Friso was purring and Jill steered us beautifully, if a little too fast, into the first lock. Three hundred metres out the other side and the engine temperature soared to 190, the oil pressure dropped to zero and wispy smoke issued from below the wheelhouse deck. On about zero revs Jill steered/drifted us to the bank and made a controlled collision with a tiny, leafy fishing jetty. Fortunately it was made of concrete rather than being the more fragile, rotten wood structures you usually see tottering at the side of fishing lakes, and withstood the impact. As did Friso. All slightly unnerving:-(
We secured ourselves to the jetty and phoned the incomparable Simon Evans from the boatyard who turned up and took the relevant panels of the boat off to get at the fan belt on the front of the 1967 Mercedes truck engine.
The fan belt had snapped, the engine had overheated and the coolant had burst out into the bilges under the heat. Strangely, none of the several spare fan belts on board was the right size and one of Simon’s lads from the yard would need to go and get one. We just had to wait and smile apologetically at the hopeful fishermen who came along hoping for a quiet fish from the jetty. The sun shone, we read and looked at charts. Six hours later, with much relief and good cheer we got away again – the worst had happened – drifting without power – and all was well again……
We made for the marina at Joigny. It turned out to be a few pontoons extending out into the water and there was more heart-in-mouth turning and priouetting in the river attempting to reverse into a narrow empty berth. After a few attempts we were directed to moor on the end of the jetty in the river alongside an empty boat and several people abandoned dinners to come out and catch ropes and fasten us alongside. Thank you fellow boating people! Ten hours, two locks and only a sorry eight kilometres. Slow beginnings. Jill has sailing experience but of sailing boats rather than barges, Neil and I have some experience of barge holidays on English canals – not a whole lot of expertise between us. The kitchen sink would not drain either:-(
Friday 31st – day two of the voyage.
The advantage of going downstream is that you enter all the locks when they are full so no need to climb up slimey ladders to fasten your line to a bollard several feet above your head and set back from the edge where you can’t see it anyway. In theory you just come to a gentle stop beside the quay and loop your line loosely around a handy bollard. Coming to a standstill close enough to the bollards was not proving so easy. Neil had adopted fore and I was aft and depending which side we moored we had to rush across with ropes and fasten them around the cleats on the boat in the approved non-slip fashion before trying to lasso a bollard as we motored gently past it. All a bit heart-in-mouth.
We had several locks ahead of us that day. Some were a slope-sided lock of a type with which none of us are familiar. You have to stay in the middle of the channel to avoid bashing your rudder on the stone banks as the water goes down. Some of these have floating pontoons at the side which you moor to and they slide down with the water thus keeping you and your rudder safely away from the edges. We approached the first one and a slight miscommunication as to whether it was port or starboard mooring resulted in a last minute change of direction and caused Jill to end up taking it sideways whilst battling with the wheel to rectify it. This alarmed the couple in the fibre glass boat already moored there – our thirty five tons of steel would fare better in this encounter. They and the lock keeper rushed to catch our lines and brought us alongside the pontoon safely.
Janine and Bruce were friendliness itself and we tailed them through the next few locks although they managed to get behind us at one point – maybe did not fancy being crushed after all. At each succeeding lock either they went in first and took our lines or, for odd ones too short for going end to end, we went first and they came alongside and tethered to us. In one particularly nerve-wracking lock, without sliding pontoons, the lock keeper came along and handed us long poles to use to keep the barge away from the edges. We had our own boat hooks of the telescoping variety – and they telescoped unhelpfully under pressure:-( Jill used the bow thruster judiciously and rudder and lockside did not collide.
At the end of a day of many stressful locks, a few burst fenders from heavy moorings and peaceful gliding through beautiful countryside in glorious sunshine we reached the marina at Pont sur Yonne and found Janine and Bruce moored there already.
They introduced us to another long term bargeing couple (John and Rosemary) moored nearby in another tjalk who commented casually, over a bottle of wine, how brave we were to be taking the boat along the Seine into Paris with an inexperienced captain with a new-to-her boat and a novice crew. Brave? Really? Gulp. John gave us a card and said to get in touch if we needed any help. They advised we should ensure the tank was full of fuel to minimise the churn caused by the passing (massive, heavy, fast) working barges and tourist boats in Paris. Churn could stir up all the debris at the bottom of the tank and block the fuel filter causing the engine to fail. Gulp. In fact, we should change the fuel filter anyway as we did not know the condition of the current one. Gulp again. We were unsure as to how much fuel we had as the fuel gauge was some kind of primitive glass tube affair which neither Neil nor Jill had fully fathomed – but it seemed to show there was some. We would be joining the Seine tomorrow and I was feeling apprehensive.
We had decided to eat out that night and I used my phone app to find a restaurant and ring to book a table. The proprietor seemed bemused at my request but said ‘bien sur’ and took my name. It turned out to be a take away kebab shop with a couple of formica tables for those eating in! I felt slightly foolish. Ah well. The kebabs were large and tasty:-)