That’ll do

In the north of England, principally Yorkshire, but also Lancashire, that’ll do is a commonly head saying that means ‘that’s good’ or ‘that’s enough’ or many local variations on a similar theme. As we pull into our final mooring for the year, St Jean de Losne, we both uttered the words that’ll do.

2021 cruise – done

We still have another couple of weeks aboard Anticus which will include our visit to the Salon Fluvial in St Jean. Over the next couple of posts we will review the Salon and look back at the highlights of our summer, but for now to mark the end of our cruising, here are a few facts and figures of our journey:

Brugge – St Jean de Losne via: the Kanal Gent-Oostende, Gent, the river Leie, Dendremonde, the river Dendre Blaton Ath Canal, Strepy-Thieu Lift, Charleroi, Namur, River Meuse, Dinant, Montherme (for 2 weeks due to flooding), Sedan, Verdun, Toul, the River Rhin, canal des Vosges, Charmes, Epinal, the Petit Saône, Auxonne.

912 km / 567 miles

225 locks

200.2 engine hours

104 days

4 tunnels, 1 boat lift, and 35 swing/lift bridges.


Why did I buy that?

I was just sat here watching the swans swimming by under an azure French sky, and thought that it was about time for a ‘boaty’ post.

Those of you who prefer pretty pictures of spectacular scenery and gorgeous meals may want to look away now (or skip to the end). But hopefully a few will be titillated enough to see what I feel are a couple of the things that I shouldn’t have bought and put on Anticus.

Simrad GO 12 XSE

Here we go -I feel like I should be dressed in a horse-hair coat and be self-flagellating with an oar wrapped in barbed wire. I know this will earn me a few “I told you so” moments from Nicola, but hey-ho, in the interests of journalistic and Blog integrity, it is a tale, I fear, that must be told. If you can bare to share my shame and despair, then read on – but please, I implore, think only a little less of me.

So, the picture above is of the 12 inch display screen for our boat navigation and engine instrument display. It is made by SIMRAD, a world renowned company, and I have to say, a lovely bit of kit. Recommended retail price today is somewhere just north of £2000. I upgraded to this size from a smaller screen offered by our boat builders Pipers, and for good measure spent an extra few hundred quid on Navionics navigation software. I have a confession here readers, I have a few vices; gadgets, whiskey, curry, gadgets – oh and gadgets. Hence the fact I was more than happy to spruce up the helm position on the boat.

Here is the first problem – the Navionics display, as you can see above, on the inland waterways of France is worse than useless – not sure Christopher Columbus would have seen the detail on my screen as any sort of improvement from his hand drawn charts.

In comparison my other bit of navigation software, PCNavigo, here on my helm laptop is superb, in ease of use, detail, and accuracy – as by the way is the item in the following picture – a chart book (which unlike the one in this picture, doesn’t always come with a shopping list)!

As a comparison, the all up cost of SIMRAD and Navionics – around £2500; laptop and PCNavigo – around £500; chart book £19.99.

On a daily basis I use the laptop and PCNavigo for planning and also AIS information of other boats, the chart book for a quick idea about where we will be stopping and as a backup for the laptop, and the SIMRAD setup as an instrument panel!

This now qualifies as the most expensive rudder/depth gauge, clock, and speedometer ever installed on a boat! If I had bought all these as separated instruments like the ones below the screen I would have saved £2300.

So with all this in mind – I can officially declare the SIMRAD and Navionics gubbins to be the biggest waste of money on the boat.

Next I come to the dinghy, complete with electric outboard motor.

There is a saying amongst boat owners that B O A T actually means – Bring On Another Thousand.

Guess what, the dinghy was £1000 and the electric motor was (insert your own drum roll here) another £1000. And here it is, in all its glory:

Yep, you’ve probably hit on the theme to this narrative, it is tucked away in a long-forgotten corner of the engine room, unloved and unused (probably for a year). The intentions were good – moor up in a quiet spot, hop on the dinghy into town for a nice curry and a beer – see all my vices covered; curry, beer and gadget.

However, even with an electric pump it is a good half an hour to get the dinghy ready to sail, and then the comfort of the journey – especially on the way back from a hearty graze and sluice leaves much to be desired.

So, without hesitation, I declare the dinghy (and electric outboard) to be the second most poor buy on the boat.

There are, dear reader, probably many more on here, but there are only so many “I told you so’s” a man can take without throwing himself off the yardarm or walking the plank.

Anyway – as a small token of the esteem in which I hold you all, and as some sort of reward for sticking at this non-travelogue of a post – here are some pretty pictures of this mornings sunrise.

From the Canal des Vosges to the Petit Soane

The journey continues a pace now, and with less than 150km to go to our winter destination we have left the Canal des Vosges which has taken us from Toul to Corre, and moved seamlessly onto the Petit Soane in the beautiful region of Franche-Comte, which will take us to the doorstep of St Jean de Losne.

The difference between a canal (the Vosges) and river (Petit Soane) is traditionally that the canal is artificial, it is engineered rather than a natural watercourse, however this difference has been difficult to spot here in France with some rivers having shuttered sides and some canals lapping onto meadows and fields. I suppose what we have noticed is that on the 122km of the Canal des Vosges we have passed through 93 locks. On the 139km of the Petit Soane we will have to negotiate just 19 locks. Here, at least for us is the quintessential difference between a river and a canal.

No matter how the cartographers, geographers, and riparian owners wish to label the stretch of waterway, they all have something in common – beauty.

Our last week or so has been on mainly rural stretches of water, as mentioned – with plenty of locks, so progress has been more pedestrian than normal. We generally average around 12 miles (18km) per day at around 5mph (8kmph) however with days where we have done 15 or 16 locks our pace has slowed considerably – a couple of days we only managed 4 or 5 miles in 5 or 6 hours! We get into a routine in the locks, with Nicola holding us against the lock bollard as we rise and fall, and me piloting the boat between the ecluse (lock)(showing off my French – sorry).

Our progress has been steady though, and as we sat last night and marked on a map our passage, we were amazed, pleased and proud of what we have done.

Our journey so far

Every day we wake up to a different landscape, except when we moor for a few nights – when we see the local changes of weather, farmers work schedules and the amazing wildlife, or manage to find a little time for some painting.

And, luckily for you dear reader, there never seems to be a shortage of photo opportunities.

And finally, we left a couple of our ‘Anticus’ business cards in a couple of locks – a little like throwing a message-in-a-bottle into the ocean – imagine our delights when our newest followers, Ben Sanders and Ele Klein, contacted us to say they had found one of them. Brilliant! Something we will surely repeat.

Ta-ta for now folks!

Charmes, Epinal and beyond

Those of you who are paying attention may remember that I left you on the proverbial cliff-edge last time, posing the question “is Charmes charming?” Not, I grant you, a cliff-hanger of the style, panache, or even thrill of Agatha Christie, but designed to get you back here this time. And, dear reader, your reward for revisiting is a bundle of photos (in no particular order) of our time in Charmes and our cruise to, and stay in, the beautiful city of Epinal.

Moored in the ‘see-and-be-seen’ spot in Epinal

The old and new parts of Epinal are separated by a branch of the Canal des Vosges and the mighty river Moselle. Beautiful, if sometimes ‘tatty-chic’ buildings occupied by stylish shops, patisserie, bars, bistros, boulangerie, and restaurants line the streets and make this city one f our favourites on our journey so far. If you get chance, do visit. We are thinking we will be back in the boat next August, so if our paths cross, do say hello.

So, the answer in my mind is; Charmes is definitely charming – bur Epinal is epic.

Ta-ta to Toul, Charmed in Charmes

After a two week hiatus in the lovely Port de France, Toul it was finally time to wave bye-bye.

Lovely mooring at Port de France, Toul.

Toul was definitely one of our surprise highlights of the year. As you will be aware, well you will if you have been paying attention to this drivel over the course of the last few months, Toul was not on our original route to Auxerre, nor did we intend to stop here when our route changed – Nancy was our preferred port to harbour in whilst Nicola returned to the UK for a week.

However, as soon as we pulled into the Port de France we had a good feeling (inside – not a case of wandering hands!). The moorings are very well serviced, electricity and water available at ever mooring point, sturdy pontoons, helpful Captinaire (and student apprentice – Theo), and a great bistro on site with the eccentric Jean the chef patron.

Toul itself is a lovely city, well worth a visit should you happen on these parts. A magnificent Cathedral, great bars, coffee shops, restaurants and a wonderful weekly market. Considering it has such a turbulent past – revolving around conflict and more conflict, it really is a most welcoming port, whether in a storm or not!

Anyway, as rumoured above, leave we did, and continued south, leaving the Canal de Meuse and joining the Moselle, which in turn becomes the Canal des Vosges after a few dozen miles. After we skirted Nancy to the south on a large commercial waterway, we started travelling on the most stunning of waterways, wooded hills rose like guardians above the river, bejewelled with houses offering their occupants what must be truly majestic views over the valley below. The weather had cooled down from the 30+ degrees at Toul, but even had it been hotter, we would not have been inconvenienced as the Moselle is lined with sycamore, chestnut and a plethora of wild fruit trees and bushes offering shade to boaters, and walkers and cyclists using the towpath. In turn this led to a couple of nights of exceptionally beautiful and peaceful ‘wild’ moorings. Away from civilisation, no traffic, no noise and pitch black nights. Bliss.

And so we arrived at Charmes, which at first glance seems – well how can I put this – charming. But more to follow on what this town has in store for us.

If you can bring yourself to subscribe to this blog, then you will not miss a post, and it will also show that you are one of quite a number who obviously are in need of something to fill the quiet moments in your life.

Toodle-pip and tatty-bye for now dear reader.

What boating is to me.

What is boating to me?

Well it is probably not what boating is to you!

I’ve been reflecting on the first three years of boat ownership. I bought new – a Piper 49ft replica Dutch barge – with no interest in fixing, fettling or converting. I mooched around on the Thames for a couple of summers, then over to Belgium for a couple of winters, then cruising in France.

So far so good, apart from Brexit and Covid, but these are just things we have to cope with, my question really is more esoteric, more philosophical, more reflective. Generally I am not a boater. I don’t get all flustered and excited when a barge from the early 20th century goes past, nor am I prone to gasps and palpitations when talking about inclined planes, boat lifts or tunnels a mile long. Sure, I can appreciate the design, engineering and sheer spectacle of some of the feats of ingenuity, but I really can’t get over excited by them. 

A good bottle of Pomerol, a cassoulet simmering with succulent pork and beautiful beans, or the lightness of touch and fullness of fruit of a tarte tatin – now that gets my blood racing.

The cities of Europe are breathtakingly beautiful filled with Cathedrals, stone buildings from a bygone age, cobbled streets, shops that close for a two hour lunch, memorials to the brave and the dead, unusual objets d’art litter the walls and window cills everywhere you look. My other boaty friends tend to drool over this sort of thing, off they go, hither and thither at the crack of dawn, camera in hand, walking miles through the well and less-well trod paths of towns and cities throughout the land. Back they come, imploring me to visit the Rue de something-or-other, the Abbey of the whatever-it-was, or the gargoyle that looks just like me (quite common, that one!).

For me though, a nice little local café serving fresh coffee, in those little demi-tasse, so strong that the sugar is a necessity (even for a diabetic). A bar in the middle of nowhere run by a geriatric, with the only other customer, a local, cradling their cognac as if it is the first time they had tasted this miracle of the distillery, and wondering what language I am speaking. For me, this is what boating is about.

The canals and rivers of Europe are many and varied, I have friends cruising as far north as Sweden and as far south as the Med. As far west as Atlantic coast and as far east as the Black Sea. The great rivers and capitals of the continent have witnessed the passage of many of my peers, the Thames through London, the Seine through Paris, the Amstel through Amsterdam and so on and so forth. Many miles are ‘boated’ each year, for me this year is huge – around 500 miles. For other this is just playing at it. On they plough, seemingly racing to be at their next mooring, 20, 25, 30 miles a day. Six, seven, eight hours cruising. A flight of 17 locks in half a mile. And so they go on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

For me though two – at the most three – hours at the helm, pushing along at around 4mph (walking pace) is just about right. Pulling into the next village, a promising town, or a lovely city centre mooring. Excited by what I will find, but under no pressure to even step ashore. As a matter of fact I’m not even sure I need a boat to do what I do! I’m basically travelling around France, going to places that many have been before me, but I have never seen. Drinking beer and wine that many have imbibed before me but are new to me. Tasting food that many have enjoyed before me but for me it is the first time. For me, this is what boating is about.

Boating to me has actually very little to do with ‘the boating’. 

It is not steering the thing through the rivers and canals. It is though looking at the rivers and canals and fields and landscape as they pass sedately by, marvelling at nature and breathing the fresh air. 

It is not mooring the boat in a tight spot using discreet puffs of fore and aft on the throttle and swinging the wheel from port to starboard. It is though, for me, using the bow and stern thruster moving sideways into a large space and doing so without a modicum of nautical know-how.

It is not putting in the miles or the hours to tick off another landmark or visit a ‘must-see’ attraction. It is though, for me, stopping cruising before my shoulders hurt, finding something interesting in the most unexpected of places and eating and drinking very nicely. And friends, strange as they may be.

This is what boating is for me.

A landlubbers guide to Jackspeak!

As I am sat here with Alfie the Border Terrier counting the days until Nicola returns from the UK I was wondering how to fill a blog post without actually cruising. I spent most of yesterday cleaning lines (ropes), gunging off the decks (cleaning the floors), and generally getting the boat (not ship) shipshape (not boatshape) and Bristol fashion.

So the idea was born, the start of an occasional series on the origins and meanings go nautical terms commonly used in everyday language – Jackspeak as it is called in boating circles!

So ‘when is a boat a ship’ or indeed ‘is a ship a boat’? Well, an easy one to start with – a boat will fit on a ship but a ship is too big to fit on a boat. Oh! and just for clarity, a submarine is a boat, not a ship (even though it’s a submersible)!

As you can see all is becoming beautiful in its simplicity and unarguable in its logic. Read on if you dare.

Ropes being lines came to my attention when I joined the Fire Service which is steeped in the traditions of the Royal Navy, from where many of the old-timers were recruited and many of our methods of drill (practice) were developed.

Let’s start at the end – or more properly – the Bitter End. I’m sure we have all heard a phrase such as “the boxer fought to the bitter end” and we all know what that means. However did you know the “bitter end” is a term derived from the sea, and refers to the end of the anchor rope or chain nearest the ship or boat to which it is fixed often around bollards known as ‘bitts’. When all the rope or chain is let out and you are literally at your ‘ropes end’ it is said to be at the bitter end.

Anchor and bitts (bollards) on Anticus – although not attached to each other.

I mentioned early the phrase ‘shipshape and Bristol Fashion’ which has come to mean everything is in good order. The phrase seems to originate from the 17th century where one of the original manuals of seamanship produce by Sir Henry Mainwairing (1587-1653) refers to items being stowed away correctly in a ship shapely manner ie. in its proper place. Bristol Fashion came along a little later, when Liverpool and Bristol were vying for the prestigious title of being the foremost Atlantic port. It was apparent to some that Liverpool was a little more artisan and rough and ready as a port, and Bristol perhaps a little more pleasant and orderly. Hence the phrase Bristol Fashion came to mean being of a standard to pass muster in Bristol.

Whilst we are here ‘pass muster’ which means to reach an expected standard, is also nautical in origin. The ships watch (duty crew) used to parade on deck at the start of their duties and were inspected by their Officers, if all was in order then they had ‘passed muster’. Still to this day in the fire service, the on duty ‘watch’ muster ‘on deck’ at the start of shift for allocation of duties and inspection.

White watch, Cambridge mustering on deck at the start of shift

And so ends the first few definitions of Jackspeak the language of the Jack – or the Jolly Jack-Tar – the nickname of the old seafarers from the days of wooden ships (and boats). More salty-sea definitions for you landlubbers (non-sailors) in the days and weeks ahead !

Toul tour

We have just been for a wander around Toul, before Nicola leaves for a brief sojourn back to the UK tomorrow. We have also spent a couple of hours booking Covid tests for her return (although double jabbed and negative test here in France), and being completely ripped off by a UK government approved test provider!

Anyway, that’s enough about that, I’m sure, dear reader, that you read this blog for nice photos, witty ditties, and tales from the riverbank, not woe ridden rants. That’s presuming, of course, that you aren’t in some way incapacitated and your nurse just happened to drop on this blog accidentally, plonked it in front of you as some way to keep you quiet, and now you have no way of escaping from this drivel !

So, to try and retain your interest a little longer, I shall presume to present you with a few photos from our stroll.

A birds-eye view of Anticus
Time for a clean. Boy, she needed it!
A help-yourself herb pot in the middle of Toul
Paella for all at the marina (Chef Jean trying to look nonchalant – and failing)

Two to Toul and Alfie too

Despite being a town mired in events of wartime, Verdun was a lovely place to moor for a couple of nights but it was soon time to cast-off and head further south towards our final mooring of the year at St Jean de Losne (StJdeL), which we are hoping to reach in time for the Salon Fluvial where we will be one of the Piper show boats.

The big hills and slate cliffs of the Ardennes valley started to give way to the more rolling landscape of the southern Meuse as we sedately cruised further onwards. Our first sight of Storks and spectacular ‘big skies’, perhaps a little more grey than we hoped for – the skies, not the storks, kept the long journey to our next mooring interesting.

The words “long journey” are not usually associated with our modus operandi (I must be reading too much crime fiction!) but in this case needs must. These particular needs really centre around the time scale we have to get to the afore mentioned boat show in StJdeL in time to get Anticus spruced up before opening day on the 25 September. Not only that, but we also need to plan a visit by Nicola back to our home in the UK for a couple of appointments and to check on the general well being of sons and house. For this we need a town with a station that will get her into Paris and onwards to London – this put Nancy firmly on our radar which would fulfil the travel needs, was about 3 weeks from StJdeL and about a week from our present location. This meant though that we would have to push-on a little to meet these deadlines, so necessitating a couple of long days. In this case a 25 mile, 10 lock, 7 hour cruise to St Mihiel!

Imagine then our disappointment to arrive in St Mihiel to find no available mooring spaces in the town! No problem however, we have a Piper 49M ! Designed to be able to, amongst other things, wild moor on the bank of French rivers and canals. And that is just what we did.

A little further on from the town was a grass bank waiting for us

As you can see, the view was beautiful, the dog walking was great, the road quiet, the night pitch black, and we even had a satellite signal to catch up on the Tokyo Olympics.

The following day we untied and set sail – well actually put the engine into gear and pressed on stopping in the pretty town of Commercy and a quiet village, Pagny-Sur-Meuse.

From Pagny it was a short hop through a heavily weed filled waterway to the lovely city of Toul. And here a plans changed a little – no more Nancy, you hoo to Toul. We managed to get a lovely quay-side mooring with water and electricity close by, not to mention a lovely cafe on our doorstep, and a spectacularly beautiful small city 5 minutes walk away. Ou plans changed because we decided to take advantage of the reasonable mooring rates (10€ a night), the proximity of the station (3 mins walk) and the convenience and beauty of the moorings. So here we are for a couple of weeks.

Prepare yourselves for an in depth look at Toul in the next couple of updates!