The fourth report and our second Journal. It’s Christmas. It’s New Year. It’s cold. It’s snowing. The boat is dripping with condensation. The water has frozen over. We’re having A Ball ! . .

” . . Happy New Year. It’s snowing as I type and I can hardly sit still for wanting to go out and play. We are surviving the cold quite well by ignoring the spinning electricity meter supplying our boat. We used to monitor it weekly, and two weeks ago we calculated that we were using 50% more than when we first arrived at St Jean. Goodness knows how much we are burning through now. To help conserve the therms we have a huge white tarpaulin (below, right) over the whole boat and another that nestles close to the pilot house windows, and we keep the external louvred doors covered at night. During the day, exits and entrances are made rapidly, whenever possible without removing the washboard or sliding the hatch back.

We have a convector heater on a low setting in the aft cabin day and night, and a fan heater in the saloon during the day to boost the temperature quickly and keep it above 14 degrees. Below that, we find we can’t settle to anything and constantly have to be moving around doing jobs, or eating, or both. We wear 2 or 3 pairs of socks and sometimes 3 or 4 layers on our tops and hats and scarves.

The water in the lock froze a few nights ago, just enough to support the gulls, but the ducks and cormorants soon broke it up and the clear, sunshiny day finished off the job. However, February is predicted to see temperatures of -14 degrees with ice in the lock for days, thick and safe enough for skating.

Condensation is still a problem but we have discovered that regular scrutiny in all the corners, wiping down with a bleach solution to combat black mould and the changing of the blotting newspapers every few days works fine, and so far we have avoided any damage to clothes, books or other precious things.

Whilst coping well, we still have a ‘things we should have brought with us’ list. So far:

  • The other fan heater
  • The other convector heater
  • Oven to table serving dish(es)
  • Endless supplies of tea-bags (the French do have tea, Liptons has cornered the market here, but it comes in presentation packs and is very expensive).
  • Ditto Custard Powder
  • Ditto Golden Syrup (for our porridge)

We have only purchased one personal item in the last 3 months – a new pair of jeans for the skipper (costing 13 Euros). I had already patched the patches on his previous pair. Enough is enough!

For Christmas I bought Him a neat Tin-Tin annual (Herge’s Adventures of), and he bought me a bottle of delicious champagne, which I drank up completely on Christmas morning before I got out of bed.

Xmas day continued with more champagne and mince pies on board the ‘Edward Thomas’, an immaculate British barge from Hull belonging to Mike and Sue, who have rigged a proper Xmas tree, with twinkling lights, on its bow. Then, off to the Australian’s apartment by the lock for an excellent Xmas lunch. The Aussies and the Kiwis like to have lamb, not turkey, which was fine with us, since we took our own ‘festive veggie pie’, along with our own contributions to the shared feast – parsnip croquettes, Mediterranean potatoes and a big trifle. The rest of the afternoon and most of the evening, during which other guests arrived, was spent on THE QUIZ – everyone brought 10 questions along and a jolly good time was had.

We saw the New Year in in the company of our German, Finnish, Australian, New Zealand and Irish friends, and our local French bar tenders and their little lad, Baptiste, aged 5. It turned out to be an unforgettable evening, spent in the Café de la Navigation and afterwards in the Finns’ apartment overlooking the River Saone. We danced the early hours away to Elvis Presley!

With the turning of the New Year and the promise of longer, warmer days the conversations have turned to plans for 2004. Most of our friends here have a long-term aim to keep on boating. Some are on their way north to Paris, Belgium and Holland. Others, like us, are heading south, to the Canal du Midi, Spain, and Cyprus. All boaters’ plans are flexible, however. Having just seen Le Seigneur des Anneaux 3 (at a cinema in Dijon with a handful of mates here) we have been toying with the idea of a trip to New Zealand, accompanying our Kiwi friends back home across the Pacific!

Tonga beckons.

So, we are spending our days very happily, in the company of many kindred spirits, sharing suppers and playing games, fixing things, moving boats, planning excursions and parties (and enjoying them), going to French class at the Office de Tourisme, and just taking the time of day to walk and talk and tell our stories. Over the Christmas week we really began to get to know our fellow travellers and to appreciate the unique community here. Whilst we have all happily chosen this itinerant life, we know it will be a real wrench when the day comes for one of our boats to move on. We are all already making sure that we have the means to stay in touch, whichever directions we each take.