Living Large on a Living Barge- 2

A six month per year barge tour of Europe, in installments

Tom Miller’s Travelogue Column

Local writer and adventurer, Tom Miller planned on spending six months a year exploring every village and town along the rivers and canals of Europe.


 Above: The official passing of the keys to Tom’s newly acquired barge “Robelo.”

Feb. 9, 2012

I officially became the owner of a BFB.  For those not familiar with the haughty world of yachting, BFB means Big F-ing Boat. Rabelo was built in 1929, and at 130 feet she was a small ship, weighing 150 tons with lots of interior volume and plenty of deck space.  The  20 year old interior will definitely need some re-decorating. I had no doubt my wife Lisa would be up for the challenge.

The former owners, along with another couple had moved Rabelo from La Havre, France to Namur, Belgium.  On deck were two cars and a trailer.  Using Rabelo’s crane the cars and trailer were now sitting on the dock fully loaded. On that dreary overcast day with the temperature hovering around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the  time had come to take a picture of the official passing of the keys (photo at top).  The former owners had spent many wonderful vacations aboard their big baby, and now it was time to say goodbye.  With one last handshake and a teary-eyed former owner, the BFB is mine.

P1030808My friend Scott went to work organizing the galley. He would do the cooking on our trip to The Netherlands.

Photo: Our first meal onboard Rabelo, as prepared by Chef Scott.  Wilco is on the right.






P1030888Wilco and I went back to the original owner’s stateroom.   It consisted of two tiny bedrooms and a sitting area.  There was no head (bathroom).  We worked out a solution to turn one of the bedrooms into a useable bathroom, and eliminate the other so that we could fit a king-size bed in the remaining space.

Photo: This little stateroom (bedroom) will be removed and replaced by a king-size bunk (bed).  The other identical stateroom will become our head (bathroom).




The next day started with a bit of a scare.  Our captain did not show up at the appointed time.  At that time Wilco did not have the proper license to drive Rabelo.  Because Wilco was a Dutch citizen it was going to take a little time for him to get his license despite having tons of experience.   On that first day neither Wilco, Scott, nor I possessed a license.  Fortunately Captain Jan, who I hired because he did have the proper paperwork, arrived on the next train looking every bit the part with his gray beard, deep-set eyes and booming baritone voice.  He could  have come right out of central casting.  I explained to Jan that  he was the captain, but if he didn’t mind I would like to pilot the boat under his supervision.

The next decision was how to turn Rabelo around.  There was a bridge less than one and a half boat lengths ahead of us.  I wanted to back out to gain some room, but Jan thought we could make it by going ahead.  Jan’s decision proved right.  We missed the bridge with 20 feet to spare.  When you’re maneuvering a 130 ft. boat for the first time 20 ft. comes awfully close.

We headed downstream and within half a mile we were in solid ice.  I gave our trusty diesel more throttle and we continued to push ahead.  The sound of ice striking Rabelo’s steel hull was sickening, as if she were being rung like a bell.  In our very first lock the ice was so thick I couldn’t make it to the wall to tie up.  The ice held us in its grip, centered in the lock as we descended 20 ft.  The lock doors opened and we exited into clear water.  We were officially on our way, but our adventure had just begun.    (to be continued …..)

P1030812Above: The ice is starting to get thicker and thicker.


THEWAVE_sigTom Miller is an adventure writer from Thousand Oaks. His novel The Wave, about a tsunami destroying Honolulu was published in 2010. Tom has a degree in geology, 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.

Previous installment:

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Stefan Djordjevic
Stefan Djordjevic
7 years ago

Sounds great. I admire your adventurous spirit. How are the French?