In the third of our reports from France on the waterways our Journal describes our first weeks living aboard amongst a boating community of diverse nationalities and personalities in the Gare d’Eau at the centre of inland France, Saint Jean de Losne. Enjoy! (we certainly did).
” . . . We live on Ponton A, moored at an angle so that the break in our life lines, the easiest way to get on and off the boat, on the port side, meets the end of the typical short French finger pontoon. There are about 300 other boats at the Port de Plaisance, most of them empty now, but a good few have liveaboards like us.
The town itself is small considering it is at the junction of the Saone river, and the Bourgogne and Rhone et Rhin canals. It’s pleasant and has most things we need. Last week-end it staged its Fete de St Nicholas, putting a great deal of effort into decorating the lamposts and shop fronts, piping music everywhere via loud speakers and providing street-fulls of stands. Even Pere Noel arrived by barge. However, it was bitterly cold, snow in the air, and turned out to be a very quiet event.
There is a community here, a group very loosely organised and called the River Rats, within the wider fraternity of commercial and private vessels and all things boaty. It is very informally led by Captain Bob, an American of vast experience in many spheres, who has lived here for over 18 months and who swears he will leave if anyone ever says ‘let’s form a committee’.At the monthly Saturday afternoon meetings in the Bar we have chance to meet with those from ‘the old lock’, mostly liveaboards with large, barge homes, and we talk about social activities and so on. This week we talked about security – how to discourage petty crime and vandalism – and a Christmas party – who’s bringing what.
Each morning at 9.30am we take it in turns to host a VHF call in. Tuning in to channel 77 means you can get a forecast, borrow or lend, give or take items, get and give lifts and exchange all sorts of information, including medical or emergency needs, and reminders of regular social events. The latter include a book swop on Saturdays and Thursdays, French class on Tuesdays, petanque games ad hoc and early evening drinks at the Bar PMU every Friday. As Christmas approaches this side of life is increasingly busy – and we had envisaged that we would have a very quiet and strange Christmas without any family, save Chloe. Instead, we shall spend the day with another English couple, a couple from Australia and a couple from New Zealand.
So far, the gritty stuff of life aboard has been what we expected. Our standards have not fallen exactly, but changed. When water is at a premium washing up is saved for a once a day activity. Clothes get worn more times in between washes. We are more tidy than ever; everything must have a place when to put something down anywhere makes a mess. But whilst every chore generally takes longer to complete, getting up in the morning is much quicker. No decisions to make. Three steps to the kettle.
The weather, being more or less in it, is easy to assess. In any case, in winter, wear plenty – it saves on heating. We have rigged up a permanent tarpaulin to cover the stern of the boat for extra protection from rain and wind, and we have a removable tarpaulin to cover the windscreen windows at night. This makes a considerable difference to the temperature inside the boat – which hovers around 10 degrees during the day, hits 18 in the evening with the fan heater on and drops close to zero when we sleep. It may drop to -14 degrees outside, with skateable ice on the canal, before the winter is through.
We have been surprised by the sheer volume of condensation in the boat, and are watching it carefully so that things do not spoil. We now think nothing of drops of water splashing down on our pillows and of keeping the mattress edges dry by stuffing newspapers around the sides. Until we put our plastic double glazing up, we had ice on the inside of the windows. At times, everything feels damp.
We are used to deciding daily what we are going to eat and then going out to fetch only that. It’s a discipline enforced by not having room to store anything but the basics. Result – we eat better, waste less. Red wine and bread and cheese are part of every day’s nutrition. Breakfast is porridge or ‘croustillant’ cereal, lunch is bread and cheese with a beer, supper is always a dish that can be hob cooked because our oven does not reach high enough temperatures to roast or bake successfully.
We meet our new friends here every day, ad hoc when we go to the ‘facilities’ (showers, washing machines etc) or to collect the post from the chandlery or shopping at the supermarché or in town. Or by design. Someone is always going off to help somebody do something, have a cuppa, plan something.
We use our bikes nearly every day, to fetch diesel, to get to the old lock or just to explore. They continue to be invaluable. In the evenings, if we haven’t got a couple of friends round, we watch borrowed DVDs via the computer, or write our journals, or read. We haven’t watched TV since September, nor had a bath nor a bag of chips.