Living large on a living barge–14: 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 fourteenth 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 the forlorn little village of Fumay and was run out of town at Montherme by the town’s incessant bells playing Three Blind Mice.

It looks like a garage door opener.  It even works like a garage door opener, but it’s a lock opener.  I pressed the transmitter button, and the doors to Ecluse 40 parted.  I had to maneuver Rabelo into the lock with just one and a half inches to spare on either side.  Randy secured the bow-line leaving just under a foot of room between the

There were a couple of spots where the tree limbs were touching both sides of Rabelo

There were a couple of spots where the tree limbs were touching both sides of Rabelo

lock doors and our bow.  I secured the stern line, and then turned the rudder so that it was ninety degrees to the lock.  Rabelo is so long that I worried that if I left the rudder straight it would get caught on the lock door. Within a matter of minutes we were lifted ten feet, and were on our way.  The river was not much higher than the prior day so maybe last night’s storm wasn’t as bad as I had thought.  The scenery was not just beautiful, but take your breath away knock your socks off incredible. The canal was also very narrow at times.  My son Randy (who was visiting us with his wife and two daughters) and I were handling Rabelo just fine without Wilco’s help.  Even so, we knew he’d be back from his vacation soon enough and that will take some of the pressure off of me.

We cruised into the city of Sedan only to find the marina closed.  There were a couple of boats tied up on the opposite side of the channel, so I decide to check it out.  I started to back Rabelo down the dead-end waterway when I heard someone on the radio calling Rabelo in French.  What was I going to say?  I utilized most of my French vocabulary and told them, “This is Rabelo. Do you speak English?”  My prayers were answered.  A lovely female voice responded with an accent that I thought was British.  The nice lady told me we could moor behind her barge Zambezi.  We found out that Georgie and her husband Greg were actually Aussies.  He was a Geologist that had spent most of his career in Africa. She was a doctor who worked in the refugee camps.  I thought we had an exciting life, but these delightful people made us look down right boring.  One of the many positive aspects of barging is you get to meet so many interesting people.


Chateau Fort Sedan

We had to tie Rabelo to some large boulders, as there were no bollards.  As soon as I shut down the engine Lisa announced that we had to go to the supermarket.  She had a list a mile long.  As we were running up and down the supermarket aisles I heard rain on the roof.  The chorus of rain began to build.  Then the percussion section with its lightning and thunder drowned out the chorus culminating in a spectacular crescendo.  Everyone in the market stopped and looked up.  The exits were blocked.  It was raining so hard that nobody wanted to go to their cars.  It was a twenty-minute walk back to Rabelo.  Eventually the rain let up. We made it back to the boat relatively dry, but the river was now two feet higher and the current was really moving.  I was not happy.


These guys were serious.

The next day things had dried out so we decide to go exploring. Sedan is home to the largest castle in Europe.  I’m not sure what parameters they are using, but the castle covers about ten acres, so it’s pretty big. Our new friends Greg and Georgie told us that on Saturdays and Sundays they have jousting matches at the castle.  We bought tickets early as they sell out. Not only were our granddaughters excited, but so were the parents and grandparents. What a fun show.  Everything was in French.  We didn’t understand a word, but it didn’t matter.

I had been keeping an eye on the river, as we would be leaving soon.  I knew it was close to flood level, and it didn’t seem to be going down.  The next leg was going to be interesting.

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



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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Stefan Djordjevic

Thanks. Sounds fun. Have you considered using some of the spare time to study more French? It might enhance your experience there. Keep up the good work and have fun.