AFLOAT IN FRANCE
Taking your boat to France is a dream for many, but just how do you go about it? Aileen and Mike Queenan did it and explain all you need to know in the first part of their adventure
Thinking about taking a boat to France? Here’s some advice from one boating couple who did it and their tips for a sucessful trip
Before Quaintrelle’s baseplate was even a twinkle in the welder’s eye, the plan was to take our boat to France once we had explored the UK canal system. We were up in the northern regions of the UK waterways for much of 2015, accompanied by cold winds for most of the summer and our thoughts turned to France and warmer climes, so from January 2016 the planning and preparation began in earnest. There were three areas of consideration in terms of planning;
How would we get there?
What did we need done to the boat for France? What did we need in terms of documentation and qualifications?
To start with we decided to go to France and find someone who had done it already and pick their brains, so in December 2015 we headed to Carcassonne, on the Canal du Midi in the South of France, and rented a house for two months.
The French canals are generally closed from November 1 to March 31 so the waterways were quiet when we got there,
but we got lucky and stumbled upon widebeam Xenia, owned by English couple Charles and Pam Briggs. They had brought her over in the spring of 2014 and proved a wealth of knowledge, not just through talking with them but also from their blog where Charles had extensively listed everything required for France.
We were in no doubt that we would not be cruising across the Channel, and the Briggs had shipped Xenia over on the back of a CPL lorry. Lifting out wouldn’t be a problem as many yards in the UK have cranes able to lift narrowboats, and with Gayton Marina just a short hop from Weedon on the Grand Union, where our boat was fitted out by Jim Birch, it made sense to go from there.
Xenia had been put in at Newport in Belgium and navigated south into France, but having researched this option, we decided against it because it meant potentially navigating through some heavily commercialised waters and we probably wouldn’t cope very well with the big wash from the commercial barges and other traffic.
Charles suggested Migennes as an option, south of Paris, where the River Yonne crosses paths with the Canal de Bourgogne, and where Simon Evans Marine provides craneage.
At the end of February we left Carcassonne and journeyed northward through France, following the Rhone and Saone much of the way, having a look at some of the big locks we might need to navigate if we wanted to take Quaintrelle south to the Canal du Midi.
By the time we reached Auxerre in Burgundy and met Mike and Lesley at Aquarelle, who run the Port de Plaisance
‘As it gets very hot in France in the summer we’d need shade, not only when we were enjoying our aperitifs but also when on the move’
in the town, we had decided that rather than winter Quaintrelle in the UK and do another recce of France over the winter, we should just move her over and live on her in France during the winter, which would give us a chance to work on our French.
Lesley said they’d welcome us gladly for the winter and to contact them when we had fixed dates.
The next stop was Simon Evans’ yard in Migennes. His crane would be able to lift us in and they had nothing booked in for the week we were now looking at, the last week in November. It turned out that they deal with CPL frequently, so we contacted CPL for a price and made a
provisional booking. Suddenly it was becoming very real – we’d be moving to France on Quaintrelle at the end of November!
When we’d been with Xenia in Carcassonne, we’d also had a good look at her and quizzed Charles and Pam on how they’d got on with moorings and locks. Mike took pictures of the bollards they have on the front and sent them over to Jim Birch at Weedon requesting something similar be made for Quaintrelle.
As many of the French locks are much deeper than in the UK, we also decided to adapt our dollies at the stern so that the ropes wouldn’t slip off. We’d also need a flag. In France you must fly the flag of your country of registration, a courtesy flag, and boats from the UK must fly the red ensign. We’d nowhere to put a flag so tasked Jim with fitting something to hold the flag and pole.
As it gets very hot in France in the summer we’d also need shade, not only when enjoying our aperitifs after a day’s cruising, but also when on the move; as all narrow-boaters know, you are exposed to the elements when at the tiller. We found a parasol that would provide the cover we needed and added to Jim’s list of challenges a way to hold it steady in position at the front and back of the boat.
Back in the UK, by mid-April we set off on our travels for the summer and enjoyed some great cruising down south before heading home up the Grand Union in late October to make the final preparations for our move. At Milton Keynes we stopped off to collect eight balloon fenders we had purchased.
We know that bumps and scrapes are part and parcel of navigating the waterways in a narrowboat, but in France we would be contending with big washes from larger boats pushing us
against the sides when moored, not to mention some of the large locks with their strong currents, so for us the balloon fenders would be ideal to cushion any potential blows. This meant another Jim challenge; how do we hang them?
Our handrail is integrated to the body of the boat so we can’t tie a rope around it. In the past we had used the white plastic hangers available at most chandleries, but as soon as a fender snagged on anything, they would snap and disappear off down the cut so they bwould definitely not handle what we might be defending ourselves against in France.
Back at Weedon, Jim had purchased a new machine and between him and his son Jack, they designed and constructed stainless steel fender hangers for us – perfect!
As Jim and Jack worked away on the adaptations for Quaintrelle it was back to school for us as there are various certificates you must have to cruise your own boat in France. The main one is the CEVNI certificate, which is like the Highway Code for European Waterways, and we did it online. Fortunately we both already had our Inland Waterways Helmsman certificates, which you must have to get the CEVNI.
Mike already had his VHF radio licence but I needed to sit the exam to get mine and we had to send our radio back to the manufacturer to be ATIS enabled, after being issued with an MMSI number from Offcom.
Your boat must also be registered on the Small Ships Register which then allocates your boat a unique SSR number which must be permanently displayed on the exterior.
All too soon we were on our way back down the Grand Union to Gayton Marina on the Northampton Arm where we were booked to be craned out on November 28. CPL were meeting us there at 10am and we would be on our way.
The morning of the 28th dawned clear and bright but most importantly still, there was not a breath of wind. The team at Gayton were fantastic. They had clearly done this many times and handled the crane and lifting out and loading of
Quaintrelle with the utmost professionalism.
Firstly the slings were dropped in the water and we steered into them, after which we were pulled in to the side and disembarked. Quaintrelle was then lifted up and down a few times to get the balance right and then in a simple four-minute manoeuvre, was on the back of the lorry with Paul at the wheel ready to head to Migennes. Next month the arrival in France and what you need to know to do it yourself.
‘All too soon we were on our way to Gayton where we were to be craned out. CPL were meeting us there and we would be on our way’
A perfect opportunity to touch up the hull
Xxxx xx x xxxx xxx xxx xxx x xxx xxxxxxx Bathroom door on the floor, the only casualty
Anxious time as the boat is lifted
Cupboards tied closed to prevent spillages
Luckily the wind dropped on the day of the lift
Surrounded by French tricolours, Quintrelle finds a new home
Plants safely stored in the shower
Breakables safely packed
The SSR number is mandatory
The River Yonne where we were craned in