Boating in France: Starting the Boating Season

While I always look forward to the boating season, I find it hard to be enthusiastic about the first couple of weeks.  Early in the year the weather in France can be cold and rainy for days at a time and the boat, left on its own for eight months, needs a lot of attention. There is the regular maintenance, and then there are the surprises.

joan-and-neil-malling-on-the-boatJoan has already written about opening things up, moving everything to its rightful place from winter storage, and cleaning.  I am the person who does much of the mechanical and “system” work that needs doing.  If you are already a boater, you will have experienced most of these. If you are not but considering it, perhaps it will give you an idea of what is involved.

Our cruising/live-aboard boat has the same sort of “life-support” systems that you have in your house: cold and hot water for washing and cooking; electricity for lighting, refrigeration, and appliances; gas for cooking and heating; waste disposal (sinks and toilets); and communications (telephone, radio, etc.). At home, almost all of us take these systems for granted until, for instance, the power goes out. On a boat, you are daily forced to be aware of them, because you are more involved in their day-to-day functioning. For example, your water is stored in a tank – if you don’t refill it, you will run out of water.  Your electricity, when you are not connected to shore power, comes from batteries similar to those in your car.  If you run too many lights and appliances for too long, you will run out. Gas (propane) comes in steel bottles, and if you don’t have a spare when you run out in the middle of cooking a meal, you will be eating cold meals until you get one.

neil-painting-1So, at the start of this France boating season I needed to bring all these systems up to operating level. This year for example, the water and waste disposal systems required some work before we could comfortably live aboard. The water storage tank needed to be sanitized and rinsed. The water system pipes, disconnected and drained to prevent freezing during the winter, needed to be re-connected and checked for leaks. The water pump needed to be tested, and this year after several years of service, it needed to be replaced. The toilet, which on a boat is emptied by either a hand or electric pump, this year would not pump fresh rinse water in, so the hand pump had to be disassembled and new flap valves and seals installed. The drainage pipes in the washroom sink became plugged with whatever lives in such places when no water is flowing through and had to be dismantled, cleaned and reassembled.

So far I’ve just talked about our water and waste disposal systems! Once I get into working on the boat, I really enjoy it. I like solving problems and working with my hands. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve also dealt with an electrical system that required some re-wiring and the replacement of two of our four batteries, each weighing over 100 pounds. My project for the rest of the summer will be painting the exterior of the boat (it is steel – more about that in a future blog) and re-varnishing the wood trim.

neil-relaxingIs it worth all the work? Yes, but if you own your own boat, you have to either love working on it, or be able to afford to have someone else do the work. A friend once said she liked hiking because of how good dinner tasted at the end of the day and how well she slept. With boating the reward is relaxing at day’s end, sipping a chilled glass of wine, visiting with friends or just leaning back and enjoying the evening. And I do sleep well.

For over eight years, Neil and Joan have been spending their summers cruising the canals and rivers of Western Europe aboard their now thirty-year-old Dutch motor-cruiser, the “Estate.”  This year they are sharing their experiences.