On a day-to-day basis, little is required to cruise through France on Wanderlust. Our fuel tanks are large and our engine is not particularly thirsty. Even when moving frequently we can go for months without needing to buy diesel. Electricity to power our domestic life does not have to come from the shore mains. A second alternator powered by Wanderlust’s main engine produces 110 amps at 24 V while we are cruising. If the engine is not running, 900 W of solar panels or our 3500 kva diesel powered generator support the bank of domestic batteries (800 ah 24 V). The tanks for our propane fueled oven and cook-top last for months. Aside from food the one thing that we need to take on regularly is freshwater.
Wanderlust’s freshwater tank, listed as 2200 liters in the build specification, is large. Nevertheless, depending on how many people are on board, every week or two we need to take on water.
Our guidebooks mark where freshwater is available along the waterways. At least the guides mark where water was once obtainable ten or so years ago. Between the maps being out of date and the fittings on the taps being incompatible with our hoses, it is hard to predict where the next water fill is going to come from.
Often tap water is provided by the VNF, the French waterway management organization. Curiously, VNF water is typically found at the locks. Boats add water to their tanks by pulling a hose from a nozzle near the lock and filling as they float in the chamber. The system works fine as long as you can locate the tap and there are no other boats wanting to use the lock.
As you might imagine, blocking a lock is a big problem. Filling a large tank can take an hour or so depending on the flow from the tap. Taking on a tank of water in a lock only works well on very quiet waterways. Even on the most vacant of waterways where we see almost no other boats all day, when we start filling from a lock’s tap another boat invariably comes along expecting to lock through. It almost seems that merely rolling out our hose summons all boats in the area. We could continue to fill and force the arriving boat to wait but it doesn’t seem polite. Invariably we cut short our fill and continue along the waterway hoping to spot another tap ahead.
Early on, as we proceeded inland from Calais to Auxere, we had great difficulty finding the freshwater taps that were indicated in the guidebook. The uncertainty about finding next water source is created a self-imposed limitation on water usage on board. Finding freshwater became an obsession. But eventually we always found a place to fill. We never actually came close to running dry. Nevertheless, we now cruise on the look out for freshwater taps whether we need to fill or not. Sometimes we top up. Other times, if we don’t need water, we update and correct our guidebook. At least the next time through we will have greater confidence that we will be able to find freshwater.