The Grand Gabarit: Béthune to Douai

A loaded commercial passing our mooring in Douai.

A loaded commercial passing our mooring in Douai.

When we started planning our route through France we figured that we’d want to minimize our time major commercial waterways. The commercial routes, we imagined, would be sterile concrete-lined channels choked with massive cargo carrying barges. They would be the equivalent of a semi-truck filled superhighways. Continue reading

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The Grand Gabarit: Béthune

Wanderlust moored on the pontoon in Bethune.

Wanderlust moored on the pontoon in Béthune.

Just off of the Grand Gabarit in Béthune there’s a single unserviced mooring pontoon for passing pleasure boats at the Port de Plaisance. We were fortunate enough to find this pontoon empty when we arrived and took advantage of the free mooring for the night. Staying in Béthune let us escape the wakes of the heavy commercial barge traffic on the major waterway nearby. Continue reading

Le Grand Gabarit: Fontinettes Ecluse

Wanderlust floating upwards inside the Fontinettes Ecluse

Wanderlust floating upwards inside the Fontinettes Ecluse

Between our first inland stop at Watten and our second at Béthune lies 48 km of the Grand Gabarit, the main commercial navigational artery in this region of Europe. Le Grand Gabarit, also known as the Canal Dunkerque-Escaut, is a 189 kilometer-long linked sequence of large waterways. It is the water equivalent of a superhighway. This day, we traveled a portion of Continue reading

Canal de Calais and the River Aa: Calais to Watten

Inside a lock while departing Calais

Inside a lock while departing Calais

Once we had Wanderlust safely tucked into the Calais’ Port de Plaisance we had a number of things to do. Our dog Gigi needed to be liberated from her foster parents in Canterbury England. Once a convenience, our leased car had become a burden and had to be retrieved from Caversham and returned to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Inside the barge, our preparations for the crossing had to be unraveled to recapture the living space. And importantly, the heavy layer of salt that we picked up crossing the Channel needed to be removed from the outside surfaces of the barge. Steel boats and seawater are always a challenging combination. We held at the port in Calais for four nights doing the things we had to do. All the time we lusted for a taste of the waterways before us. Continue reading

Waterway Dreams

DSC_8457-Edit-EditFinally, a year after she was launched on the Thames, Wanderlust reached France. At her bow was Europe’s network of inland waterways. France alone has over 5,300 miles of navigable water. Though the French network of navigable waterways is the largest in Europe, the water routes do not stop at the border. Past France, navigable inland waterways extend into Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and on to the Black Sea. Using the inland waterways a boat can cruise from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. It takes years to explore at canal boat pace. Continue reading

Crossing the Channel

The Goal:  A pier marks the harbor at Calais France.

The Goal: A pier marks the harbor at Calais France.

On the scale of things, a two-week wait for a weather window to cross the English Channel is not much. We’ve heard stories of barges waiting two months for a suitable crossing weather. Even better, we were waiting at St. Katherines Dock, a particularly posh marina. Many barges are forced by the circumstances to stay in far less desirable locations. For us, having to stay longer at St. Kats was hardly a hardship. Continue reading

The Channel Crossing: Prepping the Barge

The waves of the English Channel can disrupt life inside flat bottomed barge like Wanderlust.

The waves of the English Channel can disrupt life inside flat bottomed barge like Wanderlust.

In the interest of helping others who will do the Channel crossing at some point in the future, I thought I share what we did to secure the loose stuff before things got bumpy. Though everything on Wanderlust held together and we didn’t have any breakage in relatively rough conditions, I would not advertise our preparations as necessarily reliable approach for others. Undoubtedly some of what we did was more than was needed. Also we could well have just gotten lucky that stuff that could have been damaged wasn’t. Everybody’s barge is different so, as they say, “Your mileage may vary”. Continue reading

The Crossing: The Weather and the Wait

A pretty sky doesn't mean that it is a good day to cross the Channel.

A pretty sky doesn’t mean that it is a good day to cross the Channel.

Numerous things must be done in order to take a barge such as Wanderlust across the English Channel. As a requirement of the insurance, a qualified skipper must be in charge. We needed to find and hire a delivery skipper for Wanderlust. Closer to the crossing date, Wanderlust had to be positioned on or near to the Thames Estuary. A few days before crossing, the insurance company has to be notified of the plans and funds must be transferred to cover the costs of the Channel crossing policy rider. And, just before crossing, all loose items on the inside and out must be secured to withstand the waves of the Channel. Continue reading

The Crossing: One If By Land, Two If By Sea

A mobile crane arrives at Piper Boat's plant in Biddulph.

A mobile crane arrives at Piper Boat’s plant in Biddulph.

Wanderlust was constructed to gives us a craft suitable for live aboard cruising on the inland waterways on the European continent. Instead of building new, we could have purchased an existing barge. As things worked out, we felt that our best option was to go the new build route. And once we decided to build new, we, for various reasons, figured that our best option was to have Piper Boats construct the barge. Choosing Piper Boats meant that our barge would be constructed in Biddulph, a short distance north of Stoke-on-Trent in the British Midlands. Continue reading

The Thames: St. Katherines Dock

Wanderlust moored next to Starbucks at St. Katherines Dock

Wanderlust moored next to Starbucks at St. Katherines Dock

A flat-bottomed barge such as Wanderlust needs to find favorable conditions to cross the English Channel. Some barges cross at the first opportunity; others must wait until the winds and waves calm so that they can make the crossing. Wanderlust’s Channel crossing plans fit into the later category. As the date of our planned crossing approached, the winds increased and the waves built. According to the forecasts, the weather would not improve for days. For the time being, we would be stuck on the English side of the Channel. But at least we were in London, assuming we could find a place to tie our barge up. Continue reading