Living Large on a Living Barge — 6

By Tom Miller

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


When Lisa and I purchased Rabelo we had a vision.  Actually Lisa had the vision.  I went along for the ride, treat though I did pick out the deck furniture and barbeque.  That winter Lisa made a whirlwind trip back to The Netherlands, with her friend Lovita.  They bought flooring, furniture, bedding, linens and all the other stuff we  needed for our second home. Wilco was in charge of making everything happen.  Here are the before and after pictures:



Above: One of the many street bands rocking out in Bergen op Zoom, Holland.



                       The main saloon before.                              The main saloon after.



<< Our bunk before.







Our bunk after >>>>>>










Above: Master cabin fireplace and inlaid cabinets.

When Lisa and I returned to Holland in the spring to begin our six-month journey Wilco had a crew of ten working long hours to get Rabelo ready. In all fairness to Wilco we had given him far too much to do with not enough time.  After spending a month in a motel we finally moved onto Rabelo.

Two days later we picked up our first guests at the train station, Lisa’s brother Jerry and his wife Arlene. Rather than going directly to Rabelo we decided to spend the day in Bergen op Zoom, the town where we had been living and where Wilco lived. The annual Bergen op Zoom Jazz Festival was going on. What a pleasant surprise.  There was a large tent in the town square for the featured bands, but there were also groups walking the streets and playing. The street bands were brilliant.  Everything was so impromptu as they’d stop in front of a shop and started playing. It was one of those special days, and completely unexpected. (See title photo: “One of the many street bands rocking out.”)

 P1040592Photo, right: The four of us enjoying a beer while listening to a great jazz band.

Rabelo wasn’t ready to leave the dock when Jerry and Arlene arrived, but it didn’t matter.  The weather sucked. Two days later we were on our way with clear skies and a partially completed boat.

There are many philosophies when it comes to buying a barge, especially when the subject is size. Many recommend purchasing the smallest barge you can be comfortable on.  I probably wouldn’t disagree with that sage advice, but then there’s the problem best summed up by, and I will paraphrase, “He who dies with the biggest toy wins.”  Lisa tells me I’m feeding an oversized ego.  I never disagree with my wife.


Left: I win.

We departed Bergen op Zoom and motored through the Dutch countryside for about two hours until we found a convenient dock that had shore power and water.   The next day we went to Breda and followed a sidearm off the main canal until it ended only a few hundred yards from the town center. The turning basin was so small that there was barely enough room to turn around. Wilco did an impressive job of spinning Rabelo 180 degrees in her own length.  Like so many Dutch cities Breda had a beautiful vibrant city center. Unfortunately I forgot to bring a camera.


P1040621Left: Some of the Dutch countryside. 

We were on our way, but I can’t say that we had settled into the cruising life.  Rabelo was brand new to us and we had plenty to learn about operating her many systems.  Our second night out Wilco had gone home for the evening while we were still close to Bergen op Zoom.  For some unknown reason I decided to throw a switch on the main electrical panel.  Unfortunately it was the wrong switch.  We lost all power.  They don’t call me Admiral for nothing. When I say lost power, not only did we not have lights for cooking, but there was no water.  Without water there were no showers and we couldn’t flush the toilets.  It was an interesting night.  Fortunately Wilco showed up the next morning and fixed the problem. No, he didn’t throw me overboard, but he did show me what I had done wrong.


Photo, right: more Dutch countryside

Our next stop was Tilburg.  This is where we said goodbye to Jerry and Arlene after a wonderful week together.  Once they got on the train it was time to go shopping.  Ugh, will it ever end? We needed more bedding, kitchen utensils and of course food.  Fortunately Tilburg had a marina that was only a five-minute walk from the town center.  Unfortunately, like typical dumb Americans, we tried to use the car because we didn’t realize how close the town center was.  Parking was expensive when you could find it, and the driving was impossible with all the one-way streets.  All we really needed to do was get off our butts and walk.  That was about to change.


THEWAVE_sig1Tom 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.



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stefan djordjevic

Barge-buying has its’ own collection of philosophies? That’s great. Who knew? Beautiful photos! Thanks.