Hello everyone and welcome to the latest blog in The Olivia Rose Diaries on 23rd April 2022.
On Monday 18th April we left our winter mooring at Gannay. The first lock was only a few hundred metres away but, as we approached it, I realised something was wrong. Instead of our usual easy glide in, we weren’t lined up properly at all. I was up at the bow, ready with my ropes, and as I turned back towards Michael with a sarcastic comment about a good skipper aiming to get into the lock without hitting the gates, one look at his face silenced me.
‘I can’t steer,’ he shouted. ‘She’s all over the place.’
By some miracle we got into the lock without hitting anything, but the wheel was sluggish and unresponsive, forcing him to turn it several times to get any change in direction at all. Once she started to turn, he then had to swing the wheel back rapidly in the other direction in a bid to stop the boat see-sawing erratically from one side of the canal to the other.
‘Why is it doing that?’ I asked, wincing as we narrowly missed hitting the lock wall on the way out.
‘I’m not sure. And it’s not just the wheel that’s playing up. The rudder angle indicator’s not working either.’
‘Are the two related?’
‘No. I think the indicator is an electrical problem.’
I tapped the glass display counter a couple of times, which may sound a very untechnical solution to a problem, but experience has taught us that giving something a tap or a wiggle can deliver miraculous results. Unfortunately, no miracle was forthcoming today.
‘So what do we do?’ I asked.
‘Maybe the wheel is low on steering oil. You take the helm while I go and get some out of the back locker.’
‘Me? How am I supposed to keep her straight?’ I squeaked.
‘By turning the wheel a lot more than you do normally, and then back again quickly. It doesn’t need to be graceful, just keep us off the banks.’
And with that he disappeared over the back of the boat, down to the swim platform and the oil locker. Then he had to empty out one of the lockers inside the wheelhouse to find the right spanner, but eventually the oil reservoir on the steering column was topped up.
‘Is that making any difference?’ Michael asked.
‘Not exactly,’ I muttered, gratefully handing the steering back to him.
‘Air must have got into the system. We’ll keep topping it up and hopefully it will settle down.’
A few kilometres later we both managed to convince ourselves that there was some small improvement, enough at least to get us to the mooring we had planned to reach that day. Thankfully, it was only half a day away which gave us the afternoon to try and sort everything out.
‘I wish I was an electrician.’ Michael was lying on his back with his head inside the fuse box under the inside steering wheel. ‘Or an engineer. Or somebody who knew what they were doing.’
I wished we had a boat where you could turn the key, the engine would purr into life, and everything would work perfectly. Unfortunately, they haven’t invented that boat yet. By the end of the day, my non-electrician husband had re-wired the rudder indicator so that it was working again, and had researched the steering problem to the point that he knew how to fix it if it didn’t sort itself out.
By 6 pm, feeling slightly frazzled, we were finally able to sit up on deck in the warm evening sunshine and appreciate our surroundings.
The next morning we started the engine, which had sounded as sweet as a nut the day before – and then it promptly died on us. Up came the floor in the wheel house and down went Michael into the engine bay. This time there was air in the fuel filters, but once they were duly bled, the engine started and stayed running and we set off once more.
Since then everything seems to be running smoothly, although it is the blunt truth of boating life that wiring, switches, filters and all other moving parts on a boat can decide they’ve had enough and throw the towel in at any point of any given day on a journey. The trick is not to worry about things that haven’t happened yet, or to dwell on yesterday’s frustrations.
The next day we joined the Canal du Nivernais. We’d been along this canal, in the opposite direction, three years ago and decided that it was one of the best waterway experiences that France has to offer. I was nervous that it might disappoint second time around but soon found myself even more beguiled and enchanted than on that first trip.
The canal banks and surrounding fields were sprinkled with cowslips, bluebells and buttercups, and a host of other wild flowers that I don’t know the names of. Each year I look them up, whether I am on the canals or back at Le Shack, and each year I forget them. The lush pastures that are a feature of this rural waterway rolled themselves out like a carpet up a slight incline to a ridge that follows the canal, looking strangely as if they had been dusted with icing sugar, an effect caused by a profusion of dandelion seed heads, softly white against that vivid green that we only get in spring.
We spent two nights in Cercy-la-Tour, our visit happily coinciding with the weekly market, but there were just four stalls, a butcher, a greengrocer and two cheese makers, and only a handful of customers. As we bought our vegetables I wondered how these stallholders made a living when there was so little trade. Returning to the boat through the back streets we noticed a number of ‘For Sale’ signs, as dilapidated as the properties they half-heartedly promoted. Both the pharmacy and the butcher in the small shopping parade by the port where we were moored had closed, relocating to what they must have hoped would be a more profitable location. This is a familiar story in rural France. The impressive statue of Our Lady presides over the town, her arms open in welcome, but she’s not getting many takers these days.
It often seems to us that the commercial human element is quietly fading away in so many small, rural towns in France but we are strangers, just passing through, and so never see the whole story. In contrast, the natural world around us was full of life, with a sense of abundance, a rich and fertile landscape that provided a safe haven to a whole host of creatures. Familiar feathered friends became part of our lives once more: swans regally patrolling their patch, glaring at us crossly for forcing them out of the way, woodpeckers and blue jays screeching noisily in the trees, old man heron searching for fish, coypu’s nibbling away on the bank with their enormous teeth and even a pair of nesting storks. White Charolais cattle grazed lazily in the long grass and brood mares nursed young foals. This particular area must be recognised for breeding horses because we saw so many of them, fine creatures with coats that gleamed in the sunshine.
The weather makes all the difference whilst cruising. April is a difficult month to predict but we’ve been lucky this week, with temperatures around 19- 20 degrees, and blue skies. The shorts came out, as did the white legs, and we revelled in the joy of spending the whole day outside. Our evenings were spent on peaceful bankside moorings, often by ourselves, having our dinner outside on top deck and amusing ourselves with Rummikubs and Bananagram as the temperature dropped, forcing us back inside. We fell asleep each night to the sound of silence. If there is paradise on earth, then this is our Eden.
It’s all change in the next few days, with high winds and even thunderstorms expected this evening, and of course tomorrow we get the results of the elections. But for now, all is well.
See you next week.
Best wishes. MJ