For Wanderlust’s return trip to Burgundy there were no viable route options. She could get back in days on the Rhône and Saône rivers, superhighways on the scale of the inland waterways of Europe. Short of loading Wanderlust onto a truck there aren’t any practical alternative ways to get her to Saint Jean de Losne from Port Napoleon. Wanderlust would inevitably return to Saint Jean de Losne the way she came. She’d go back up the rivers.
Re-traveling recently traversed waterways is more relaxed. We knew in advance where we wanted to stay and where we were likely to find moorings. Not being pushed by a schedule, the return trip was a chance to stop at the places that we skipped on the way down the Rhône. In addition to staying at some of our favorite moorings that we enjoyed on the way down the river we also spent nights in St. Etienne des Sorts, La Voulte, and St. Vallier. All are pleasant and quiet at the slow end of the cruising season.
September and October are our favorite times of the year to cruise. The mornings are often dead still and foggy. The leaves tinted with autumn gold reflect from the mirror flat water. Some days are cool and rainy, but it is a welcome relief from the baking mid-summer heat. With many boats already back at their winter berths there was less competition from passing pleasure boats for moorings.
We would have lingered longer on the rivers if we could have. But in a major move towards resolving the dispute, the builder proposed mediation. Mediation, if acceptable terms were negotiated, would take place in the England. This meant that we were on call for a trip across the Channel to the UK. With Gigi and everything, the logistics would be a challenge.
Though the mediation offer was encouraging there was no guarantee that a mediation meeting would end the dispute. A mediator seeks to find the common ground between to the parties. But if he or she can’t find an acceptable middle ground for both parties, the dispute would continue to binding arbitration or to court. No matter what happened were facing a time consuming and expensive process.
Nominally to reduce costs but also undoubtedly to sway the process, the builder proposed that the mediation would be done without the surveyors present. We pushed back on this arguing that if we were merely discussing financial terms and not the technical merits it could just as well be done over the phone or by email. It seemed pointless and expensive to have a meeting to reach a financial settlement when it could just as easily be done remotely.
Nevertheless, no matter how the negotiations to arrange mediation turned out, we needed to prepare for the possibility that we would be traveling to the UK. Among other things, Wanderlust needed to be in a place where we might be able to get someone to take care of Gigi. So we headed back to Saint Jean de Losne faster than we would have preferred. Wanderlust’s truncated cruising season was coming to a quick end.
There was another factor that triggered an early end to Wanderlust’s cruising season. In the spring, on March 30th 2017, we created a detailed remedial works proposal that laid out a framework to take Wanderlust back to the builder’s plant near Stoke-on-Trent to make the needed repairs. This was a counter to the builder’s own offer, which had provided no guarantee that effective or reasonable repairs be made. We expected the builder would respond to our counter offer if they were seriously considering making the repairs themselves. But there was no such reply. Indeed months later there had been no evidence that the builder had even closely read our March 30th offer. There was no acceptance or rejection; the offer had simply been ignored.
In September, through our UK solicitor, we pressed the matter of the remedial works, drawing a date line in the sand. Several of Wanderlust’s issues had not been resolved four years after they were reported to the builder in writing, as required by contract. At this point the dispute had progressed sufficiently so that we were finally in the position where we could set a firm deadline. The builder either needed to respond to our remedial works plan or disclaim any rights to the do the repairs themselves. They could no longer reasonably delay responding.
Until this time the ongoing legal dispute had kept us from having substantive repairs made for nearly two years. If we had initiated the remedial works to Wanderlust the builder could have claimed that we had given them no opportunity to make the repairs themselves. We had not choice but to wait. This was one of the most frustrating aspects of the legal dispute.
All this time fuel was continuing to leak from the tank into the bilge and the paint continued to come off of the decks. If the builder would not make repairs, we needed to get them started ourselves. With the placement of a deadline we were finally able arrange for the long-delayed repairs.
On October 19th, after we reached Saint Jean de Losne and nearly seven months after we submitted our remedial works proposal, we did hear back from the builder’s solicitor. We were told that the builder would not warranty their paintwork, remedial or new, for more than a year. As such, they could not accept any part of our remedial works offer, which had specified a longer warranty period for the paint.
So much for the claim in the builder’s brochure that boats they have painted look new 10-years after launch and it is possible to have a 10-year warranty on hull protection. Even bad paint jobs doomed to fail often look good for a year. A one-year guarantee was worthless from a company with an abysmal record for painting.
Nevertheless the paint warranty was the criterion used by the builder to reject the entire remedial works proposal. Clearly if would have been cheaper for the builder to do the work themselves, if they were confident in their technical skills. Though we left the window open for a counter proposal in our reply, the builder did not budge. They were unwilling to stand behind their paintwork, at launch, now, and presumably for any other boats they build in the future. As customers, this is something that was not clear when we purchased the boat.
Disappointing as it was to hear in writing that the builder had no intent to honor their warranty for any of Wanderlust repairs at least we had something definitive. Two and a half years after diesel was spotted in the bilge we could initiate repair works without risk to our legal position. We were finally in the position to begin repairs to Wanderlust.
Thus there was more motivation to cut Wanderlust’s already brief cruising season short. We could finally initiate the repair works.
We took four weeks on the journey up river. It was a deliberated pace to give us a chance to enjoy the season. On October 4th Wanderlust returned back to Saint Jean de Losne for the winter. She would stay in Burgundy at least 18 months as the dispute continued on and repairs were initiated. All told we expect that the Wanderlust’s “warranty” repairs will take the best part of two cruising seasons to complete.
We chose to buy a new barge because we felt that it would be “plug and play”. If there were problems we expected the builder would quickly resolve them. This did not turn out to be the case. Indeed, after cruising six months in 2015, Wanderlust would cruise only seven months out of the 24 months we spent in Europe the following three years. Even then her cruising grounds were chosen by their access to boatyards. This is not what we paid for.
According to canalplan.eu it is 493 kilometers with 18 locks from Port Saint Louis on the Mediterranean Sea to Saint Jean de Losne on the Saône. We haven’t found canalplan.eu to be 100% accurate with the distance numbers, but this should be close, other than the 10 extra kilometers to get from Port Napoleon to Port Saint Louis. The map generated by canalplan.eu is here.
Wanderlust’s engine ran 67.3 hours on the return journey. She arrived in Saint Jean on the 4th of October 2017 after departing Port Napoleon on the 5th of September. Little did we know at the time that Wanderlust would not be cruising again until 2019, at the earliest.