Living Large on a Living Barge — 5

By Tom Miller

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

P1030857We were on our way.  The ice had magically disappeared.   We had been stopped at the worst lock along the Muses River, and always the first lock to be closed by ice. (Above: Tom’s barge, Rabelo, with car loaded on front deck, cruising toward its interim destination in The Netherlands).

The weather was still cold, unusually cold.  Fortunately Rabelo’s heater was almost able to keep us warm.  I say almost because the temperature inside never got above 60 degrees.  Rabelo was not designed to be used in the winter. We had originally planned on stopping in Liege, Belgium where we would purchase fuel and fill up with water.  We were making such good progress that we decided to continue.  Unfortunately mooring spots were becoming harder and harder to find, especially when it was pitch black outside.  It wasn’t until two in the morning that a lock keeper was able to direct us to a spot where we could tie up.

I had been driving most of the night.  It was not unusual to have a busy road running alongside the river.  Many times I mistook a green or red traffic light off in the distance for a barge coming at us.  If the light was red it meant the barge would pass us on our left side, and that was okay.  If it were green it meant the barge was on the wrong side of the river.  Holy cow, what should I do?  Fortunately as soon as the traffic light changed everything went back to normal. 

After a nineteen-hour day on the river everyone hit the sack.  The next morning when I woke up Rabelo was unusually cold.  I got dressed and discovered that the generator wasn’t running.  Without the generator Rabelo’s heater would not operate.  When I tried to brush my teeth there was no water.  Now what?  I told Wilco about our  problem.  He said the water pressure pump had frozen overnight. Wilco managed to restart the generator, plug in a portable electric heater next to the water pressure pump, and four hours later we had running water again.  We continued to make good progress, but I started to notice that the water coming out of the tap was getting darker, as in brown. 

P1030872It was another nineteen-hour day, and we were exhausted.  The only place for us to tie up was in an abandoned lock (photo- above- A tight squeeze inside a giant lock.).  We powered slowly into the narrow lock lined with barges on both sides.  There was just a single spot for us at the very end.  I told Wilco we had no business going all the way into the lock.  It was too narrow to turn around.  He would have to back out the next morning.  The problem being barges are almost impossible to back up.  They have no directional control in reverse.  Wilco said he wasn’t worried.  It was Scott’s and my last night on Rabelo.  That meant it was going to be Wilco and Captain Jan’s problem to get out of the lock.  I went to bed thinking I’m glad I won’t be around to watch.

P1030881The next morning Wilco drove Scott and me to the train station where we said our farewells.  Our flight home was a warm and comfortable change.  I contacted Wilco via e-mail when I got home and discovered that despite all of our excitement on Rabelo, Jan and Wilco had even more.  The brown water coming out of the tap was sediment from the bottom of the tank.  They had run out of water.  Wilco then told me that as he and Jan were backing out of the lock the engine stopped, and they couldn’t restart it.  They were out of fuel.  Not only were they out of fuel, but like water tanks, fuel tanks also have sediment on the bottom.  The generator and main engine fuel filters were completely plugged.  Wilco spent a good part of the day looking for new fuel filters.  He then went to a gas station and filled a couple of jerry cans with diesel.  Once the main engine and generator were running they managed to back Rabelo out of the lock without hitting any of the other barges.  Fortunately the rest of their trip was uneventful.  Rabelo was safely tied up in Dintelord, The Netherlands.  Wilco had a long list of items to complete that winter starting with new water and fuel gauges.









Above: This barge is what Rabelo looked like before being turned in to a pleasure vessel.


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 installments:

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments