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.

Curiously Piper Boats’ plant in Biddulph is not on the water. Indeed, Piper’s shop is on a hill far away from a waterway large enough to accommodate the majority of the barges they build. In practice this means that Piper’s completed barges are lifted by crane up onto a truck and then moved slowly down the motorways to be launched. More often than not, launching and commissioning of Piper’s new barges occurs on the Thames, just outside of Reading. If need be, Piper Boats can launch new vessel elsewhere. They can and will take a new barge by truck across the English Channel for launch on the inland waterways of the European continent.

Wanderlust at sea

Wanderlust at sea

Wanderlust was intended for use on the waters of the European continent. Logically, it seems we would choose to have her trucked directly to France to be launched. But in practice there are advantages to a Thames commissioning. Barges are complicated. Many things will have to be fixed or adjusted after launch. For all parties, it is very useful to have the new boat positioned in a place where there is easier service access. A result, many owners choose to have their barges launched on the Thames.

The decision to launch on the Thames is not only about convenience of service during the shakedown period. River Thames is the best waterway in Britain for larger barges. The river is full of history and lined with interesting places to visit; it deserves exploration. It helps that navigation of the Thames is easy. The non-tidal portion of the river is an ideal place to start the waterway life.

Siga Siga, newly completed, waits in Piper's lot before her launch.

Siga Siga, newly completed, waits in Piper’s lot before her launch.

And thus, at the end of her construction in Biddulph, Wanderlust was loaded onto a lorry. The truck moved her slowly down the motorways to the EA crane at T&K Marina in Caversham where she was put into the water.

Being on the Thames was good. Including the winter, Wanderlust spent a full year on the river. The time gave a good chance to have things sorted out on board. Along the way, we had an opportunity to explore the non-tidal Thames. Eventually we’d seen what there was to see. It was time move across the Channel to France. Now there was a decision to be made. How do we get Wanderlust across the Channel to her intended cruising grounds?

There are two basic choices for getting a barge from the UK to Europe. One option is to have the boat lifted onto a truck and taken across the water onboard a ferry. Alternatively, most barges can, under the right conditions, cross the Channel under their own power.

The Environment Agency's crane in Caversham

The Environment Agency’s crane in Caversham

Originally, Piper’s construction schedule had Wanderlust in the water by the end of June in 2013. With that launch date we figured that the best option was to have our barge trucked across the Channel a couple of weeks before we returned to the States in October. That plan, we thought, would provide time to have things worked out onboard. It would also give us the chance to explore the Thames.

Some much for our best-laid plans: Construction complications delayed Wanderlust’s launch until the beginning of September 2013. If we continued with the original plan, we’d have only had a short time on the Thames to get things straight before the truck arrive. So instead, we decided to winter Wanderlust at T&K and take her across the following summer.

Winding the clock forward, we once again at the end of the summer of 2014 had a choice on how to get Wanderlust across the Channel. A truck would get us across at a fixed date; taking Wanderlust across on her own has an aesthetic appeal but also has built in uncertainties.

Wanderlust nears completion at Piper Boats.

Wanderlust nears completion at Piper Boats.

Crossing the Channel in barge comes with limitations. For comfort and insurance reasons, we cannot cross the Channel in Wanderlust under wind conditions that exceed Force 4, forecasted or actual. In practice this requirement can lead to significant delays. Barges have been known to wait for several weeks for Force 4 or lower winds on the Channel. Indeed, the potential for weather related delays was a big reason why we had originally chosen to bring Wanderlust over by truck.

In 2013, we could not afford the time to wait out the weather. In the summer of 2014 things were different. We had more time. Importantly, we also had time to make it from a Channel port on the continent side to a desirable winter mooring. So we had a choice; Wanderlust could go to France by land or by sea.

Wanderlust leaves Piper Boats plant in Biddulph on her way to be launched on the Thames.

Wanderlust leaves Piper Boats plant in Biddulph on her way to be launched on the Thames.

Though it is substantially more expensive, going by truck is a seemingly easier option. It is well defined. Bring your barge to the crane on Thames and pick it up soon after in France. On the computer screen, it is a straightforward process. But we hadn’t traveled the path that took us to Wanderlust because it was easy. Indeed, at times it seems like we had set before ourselves an unmanageable challenge in taking up the barge life.

And so it is probably no surprise that we decided to take Wanderlust across the English Channel under her own power. Moving Wanderlust to France under her own steam promised to be the greater adventure. It would be a trip into the unknown. By taking her across on the water we would see and do things we wouldn’t do otherwise. How could we pass on that?

Fuss 'n' Bother being loaded onto a waiting lorry at Piper Boats.

Fuss ‘n’ Bother being loaded onto a waiting lorry at Piper Boats.

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