Living large on a living barge–13 A six month per year barge tour of Europe, in installments

By Tom Miller

Tom and family are touring Europe by barge. This is the eleventh in his series of reports on what is to be six months per year of cruising the waterways there.

Editors Note: Last week Tom visited Dinant Belgium where the hometown hero is Mr. Sax who invented the Saxophone

Rabelo at a very secure mooring in the middle of no where

Rabelo at a very secure mooring in the middle of no where

From Ecluse (lock) 53 it was only a 45-minute cruise to the forlorn little village of Fumay.  Up until the 1970’s Fumay was known for its high quality slate used for roofing tiles.  Like so many mining towns their source of income eventually dried up, story and the town began to whither.  In the case of Fumay the world wide economic recession did not helped.  The pretty little church on the hill with the broken stained glass windows was another reminder of how tough times were.

We were fortunate to find a spot on the main quay in the middle of the town.  When I parked Rabelo between two boats with just a few feet to spare we really drew a lot of attention especially from the boats directly in front and behind us.  The guy that ended up behind us was furious.  He had his undies all up in a wad worried that I was going to crush his plastic boat, and then he said we were blocking his view.  He immediately untied his mooring lines and left…as if he owned the view.

I was paid a nice compliment by another one of the yacht owners.  He said that when he saw me coming in so slowly he could tell that I knew what I was doing.  He wasn’t worried at all.  I’m glad he wasn’t worried.  I only wish I was as confident.  We eventually ended up making new friends.  My admirer along with his wife and another couple came over for drinks and hors d’oeuvre.  They had both been cruising the rivers and canals of France for over 20 years.  We will no doubt see them again during our travels.

Tied up in Montherme

Tied up in Montherme

From Fumay we cruised to Montherme along some very narrow, but beautiful canals.  We only spent the night in Montherme because of their annoying bells.  Imagine the first three notes to Three Blind Mice.  Now imagine hearing those three notes every fifteen minutes all night long.

We decided to eat out that night so we went to the Tourist Information office to get a recommendation.  They sent us to the best restaurant in town that happened to be next to where we were moored.  Unfortunately it was closed.  We ended up at a roach coach 50 feet away.  Everything was freshly made.  Their pizza and sandwiches tasted great and were amazingly cheap.

The next day we dropped off our friends Steve and Ilana at the train station in Charleville-Mezieres and a week later picked up my son Randy, daughter-in-law Alexis and our two granddaughters Talia (4) and Zoe (1 1/2).  Wilco was on vacation, so it was going to be a very big day for me.  It was time to leave Charleville-Mezieres.  Like a student learning to fly you eventually have to do it on your own. Today was my day to solo.  Pilots say that any landing you can walk away from is a good one.  Barge captains can say the same about entering a lock.  Actually everything went smoothly that first day except for the broken lock, but that wasn’t my fault.  At least I don’t think it was. In fact I managed to call the VNF on the emergency phone that every lock has, and tell them in my fractured French that Ecluse 40 was broken.  Within 10 minutes they were there to fix it, so everything worked out fine. 


Lisa next to a WWII German Gun emplacement.

A little further up the river we found a nice mooring next to the village of Dom Le Mesnil.  Of course Lisa had to buy some shot glasses at a local antique store to serve her famous limoncello in.  Then we walked to the top of a nearby ridge.  There was an old German pillbox left over from World War II that had been turned into a viewing platform.

A view from the high ridge, with Rabelo in the center of the picture

A view from the high ridge, with Rabelo in the center of the picture

That night we were grateful to be at a very secure mooring.  We were hit by one of the most violent storms I have ever experienced.  The wind went from calm to over 30 knots in less than 5 minutes. Randy and I rushed up on deck to add more dock lines.  Then we stowed the patio furniture so that it wouldn’t blow away.  Yes, that’s how windy it was. The rain was as hard as any I have ever seen and the lightning and thunder were almost constant.  Randy and I looked like two drowned rats by the time we were done. With all that rain I was very concerned about the river.  For the past couple of weeks it had been close to flood stage.  Would the storm be enough that the VNF would close the river? (Insert image P1000039 with caption, “Rabelo at a very secure mooring in the middle of no where.”)(Insert image P1000051 with caption, “A narrow canal.  I hope we don’t meet a boat going in the opposite direction.”)

Come back next week for more living large on a living barge.


When Stones Speak

When Stones Speak


Tom Miller is an adventure writer from Thousand Oaks. His latest novel When Stones Speak Dr. Hannigan sets out to find the historical Jesus of Nazareth, but he soon discovers there are people in high places who will stop at nothing including murder to insure he fails. Mr. Miller has been a contractor and developer, prolific diver, pilot, sailor, and barge captain. When he’s not chasing adrenalin overseas, he hikes with the local “Heartbreak Hiking Fools.” LIVING BARGE is his memory of his recent six month journey through the canals of Europe with his wife Lisa.


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