We’re having a barge built to go cruising on Europe’s network of inland waterways. Living on a barge is a major, unexpected change in our lives. It is not part of a vetted and polished long-term plan. The fork in the path that took us in this direction happened without intention. In the midst of the barge build, with the chaotic logistics threatening to overwhelm us, we ask ourselves how we ended up on this course. How do we find ourselves in the rainy and cold of the British Midlands struggling to oversee the construction of a 65-foot steel behemoth? What could cause such a shift in our lives?
When we look back we find that the answer is simple. The force majeure behind the change in our life path is most innocent; we are on this course because of puppy love.
Winding back the reel of our life story we now recognize that a deviation occurred during our visit to Moissac France in 2011. Twenty-one days from the start of our journey from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic ends of the Canals des Deux Mers, our 11 m long fiberglass hire boat reached Moissac’s small halte nautique. In theory the stay would be just another stop on a long cruise. Beautiful Moissac could easily have been lost amongst the fond memories we have of the myriad of idyllic villages we’d seen as we floated along the canal. Little did we know that when Moissac appeared like a dream from the top of the lock at the far end of the Pont-Canal du Cancor that our lives would change.
Our stay in Moissac was comfortable and relaxed. Waiting for friends to arrive by boat from the west, we had no daily agenda. The days were spent wandering the village stocking up at the local markets for the next leg of our journey. In the evening, we dined at the local restaurants with Gigi at our feet outside in the warm October air.
Gigi quickly set into her own rhythm. Our extended stop meant that she could expect more walks. It was during one of her many walks along the towpath that Gigi met Kes, a boy Border Collie. Gigi loves Border Collie boys. And it was through the powerful influence of puppy love our future fate was set.
As it turned out Kes’s owners live on the barge Kotare as they travel the waterways of France. Before long, Kes introduced Becky to his human Angie. Angie, responding to Becky’s curiosity, showed Becky the inside of Kotare.
“It’s like an apartment,” Becky excitedly reported later. “You could live on their boat full time.”
It was our first introduction to the inside of the curious Dutch-style barges that we’d seen on the canals of France. We saw more barges as we continued across France. Most barge owners are happy to show a curious visitor their boats if they ask. Becky was not afraid to ask.
The barges we saw fit into two categories. There are historic barges. Indeed some of the old barges that travel Europe’s waterways have been in use from the sailing days at the turn of the 19th Century. Many of these old barges have been lovingly restored and fitted for modern live-aboard cruising. Along with the old boats are modern “replica” barges like the Kotare. The new boats retain the basic form of the historic ships but been purpose built from the keel up to support modern life aboard.
Old or new, all the barges we saw made comfortable homes. Most have multiple bedrooms and bathrooms. Each has a fully functional kitchen complete with modern appliances. Clothes washers and dryers, with power supplied by an on board diesel generator, were fit on most boats. All the conveniences of modern life were carefully packed into 600 square feet of carefully arranged living space. Our cute rental peninchette, by comparison, had less than half that space. And after weeks afloat, the space and modern conveniences of a full-sized barge had a strong appeal.
Though a barge can be a comfortable home, the biggest appeal of the barging lifestyle is not the boat. A barge has an important difference from a house; it can move. Europe’s network of inland waterways is extensive. France alone has nearly 5,000 miles of navigable rivers and canals. The waterways extend from the heart of the cities to remote countryside. A barge makes it possible to take all the comforts of home on a walking speed tour of the Continent. The barging lifestyle permits slow travel and gentle discovery. It is about as far from a cruise ship or a bus whistle stop tour as one can get. Cruising Europe’s inland waterways promises a peaceful adventure.
After spending weeks on the Canal du Nivernais and on the Midi, purchasing a barge would seem a logical next step. But the truth is, without Gigi’s influence, we might have never of given it serious thought. Somehow our amorous canine tipped the balance of our lives and changed our trajectory. Did Gigi know what she was doing? It’s unlikely. She is only a dog after all. But you never know. Dog does work in mysterious ways.