Thursday, 16 October 2014

Canal Boat on Salt Water

Dave and Natalie bought this old English narrow boat on a French canal ‘as seen’ for a remarkably
good price. It had languished on the water for six years, used only occasionally as a weekend cottage at the beautiful Breton village of Evran. Dave took a risk but not a huge one. He’s a skilled seaman and has already restored a Channel Islands 22 motor vessel – bringing her back to, and then beyond, her initial spec. Paul, his good friend has done similar restoration jobs on vintage cars.

Having bought the vessel they had the Volvo Penta engine running within half a day and then they discovered that the value of the wood-burning stove installed aboard almost covered the price paid for the entire vessel. In effect Dave bought a fully functioning eleven meter steel vessel for the price of a new stove. What’s more, the range of gear and equipment on board was pretty comprehensive – even down to cutlery, crockery and the all important corkscrew and bottle opener.

The main concern now was to make her secure for the winter and to ensure that the hull, after six
uninterrupted years afloat, remains sound. It isn’t easy to lift an eleven meter canal boat, she’s heavy and has to be supported in the right places along her hull. Fortunately the guys at Estuaire Marine at Plouer Sur Rance have the gear so all that was required was to get the boat there from her mooring at Evran on the canal. The trip involved several miles of canal travel through four locks and then through a much larger lock out of the fresh water canal into the salt water of the estuary.

They planned to do the trip in two phases – first from Evran to the beautiful medieval town of Dinan, then the following day, from Dinan out of the canal locking into the estuary for the five or so mile trip down to Plouer. We had no concerns for waves on the estuary, neither, given our 0.5meter draft, did we fear running aground. Our main concerns were whether the engine would be powerful enough to counter the tide and the potential for leeway if a cross-wind caught the boat in a tight spot. The first issues was easily dealt with – lock into the estuary just after high water when the ebb would assist the journey. The second issue would be one of choosing decent weather.

Initially the trip down the estuary was planned for Wednesday but given a forecast of 30 knot winds, the timing was brought forward to Tuesday when the wind would be less strong and from a favorable direction for most of the time.

Davy and Paul brought the boat from Dinan and I hopped aboard at the sea lock. All was well with gentle wind and tide, even the sun came out briefly and the entire trip was without incident save for a moment of minor concern when we crossed the wake of the passenger steamer coming up-channel as we were turning to enter Plouer Marina. Dave turned into the bow wave and we took the waves effortlessly, except for the fact that the automatic bilge-pump suddenly kicked into life and started pumping gallons of water out of her. Where had the water come from? The bilges had been dry when Davy checked them at Evran. I went forward to see if a wave had splashed over the foredeck but it was dry. Then, within a couple of minutes, to our relief, the pump stopped. The only explanation is that the motion of the boat in the ferry’s wake must have been enough to open one or two limber holes in the bilges enabling trapped water in fairly obscure places to run aft. The water was not salty so at least we weren't leaking.

Thursday morning, top of the tide, the boat was run onto a waiting trailer on the slipway. Estuaire Marine hauler her out and hosed her down. The hull was clean and sound and the anodes were as new. So now we’re waiting for a survey report on the hull but, given our initial findings, I don’t think Dave has much to worry about.