On June 29th 2016, after a series of delays, it was finally time for Wanderlust to leave her winter mooring. In April, two and a half months earlier, Becky, myself, and our dog Gigi returned from California to Auxerre France. Wanderlust spent its second winter in Auxerre’s attractive port de plaisance. Normally we’d return to the barge, spend a week or so getting things set, and then head off onto the inland waterways. But that would not be the case in 2016.
Before we could start our season there were things that needed to be done. Over the winter the disagreement with the builder had intensified. After we received a letter from the builder’s solicitor in February, it was clear that we were in a legal dispute. As such, we needed to arrange for a UK-based marine surveyor to officially document Wanderlust’s many problems. At the same time the builder also wanted to inspect Wanderlust with his own surveyor.
Our surveyor examined Wanderlust on the 18th and 19th of April, soon after we arrived back in France. At the time we scheduled the survey we figured that the builder would want to inspect soon afterwards. It would be most convenient for him as he would be within an hour of Auxerre as he headed to a promotional event at St. Jean de Losne on April 23rd. But instead he chose to schedule his visit for the 18th of May, a date that would require him to make a separate 14-hour round trip journey from the Midlands. The choice of a less convenient date had us doubting whether the builder would actually attend on the 18th. And indeed, it was no surprise to us when he canceled a week before his appointment.
Whether we believed the builder would inspect Wanderlust on the 18th or not, we still needed to hear that the appointment was formally canceled before we could start any repair work. This postponed the start of the repair of Wanderlust’s exhaust leaks until the middle of May. In the end, with the delays for the repairs and the scheduled inspections, it wasn’t until the end of June that Wanderlust was finally ready.
With Wanderlust at last on the move we headed down the River Yonne to our first destination, the commune of Migennes. At Migennes we would turn east off of the river and onto the Canal de Bourgogne. Though the Canal de Bourgogne qualifies as a destination waterway, the preeminent aim was to find a place where we could get Wanderlust repaired.
All told there would be five places on the planned route where we could potentially get Wanderlust’s repair work done. The first opportunity was at the start in Auxerre. Though an engineer at Auxerre’s port was able to repair Wanderlust’s exhaust leaks, the other problems were beyond the yard’s capabilities. Our next possible boat yard was in Migennes. After that it would be Saint Jean de Losne, at the far end of the Canal de Bourgogne. Saint Jean, historically and today, is the hub of France’s inland waterways. With three yards, it would be our best hope for finding a place to get the work done in France.
This was Wanderlust’s fourth time on the Yonne between Auxerre and Migennes. It is familiar territory. In fact, we first cruised this section of the Yonne in hire boat in 2010, a journey that set us on the course to Wanderlust.
In 2016 between Auxerre and Migennes we had one planned and one unplanned stop. The planned stop was in Gurgy, where we were pleased to find that a spiffy new pontoon had been installed over the winter. Leaving Gurgy it should have been a quick jaunt to Migennes. But just as we approached the last ecluse on the Yonne above the intersection with the Canal de Bourgogne, a lock gate failed. The VNF, the French waterway authority, was on the case quickly, but the repairs to the lock gate required calling in a mobile crane. This took time to arrange. In the end, we spent three nights at the holding dolphin above the lock waiting for the VNF finished their work.
As we waited moored above the lock, hire boats, blocked from their bases by the closure, collected and tied up to shore nearby. The hire companies scrambled to service their boats and turn them over to the next round of customers. For us there was no stress. We had everything we needed on board. The spot near the lock was a pleasant enough place to stay. If we were desperate for food we were close enough to bike to the markets and restaurants in Migennes.
When the lock gate was fixed we untied from the dolphin and continued on our way. On reaching Migennes we contacted the local boat yard. The owner had visited us earlier in Auxerre to look over the scope of Wanderlust’s repairs. At the time he seemed interested in taking the project on. Wanderlust, he figured, could be a job for the winter.
But by the time we reconnected with the owner in Migennes things had changed. As we talked we learned that the yard owner had spoken with Wanderlust’s builder. What the yard owner then told us is something that still flabbergasts us: “I value my business with [the builder] more than I do my business with you.” It seemed for some reason that the yard owner felt that he could either do business with us or with the builder, but not both. He was reluctant to do work on Wanderlust. Why?
Later a friend told me that the builder and the yard owner were “as thick as thieves.” Fair enough, but why the yard owner’s friendship with the builder should stand in the way of his doing business with us was beyond me. But for some reason it did matter. Intentionally or otherwise, the builder had discouraged a yard from repairing Wanderlust. For us, it meant that we would need to look elsewhere to have the repair work done.
The experience with the yard in Migennes was deeply discouraging. Were we going to be blackballed by the other boat yards we approached? If so, it would make it extremely difficult to get the repairs made. We feared that we would be left with two choices: We could live with Wanderlust’s many problems, her peeling paint, the diesel in the bilge and the blowback, or we could sell our wounded barge under duress. Neither option appealed.
From Auxerre to Migennes it is a little over 23 kilometers with 10 locks.