The purpose of my visit to central France in the Bourgogne and Loire region was to look at river boats and see how it all works and hopefully talk with people first hand. It was interesting and I now have a better perspective on the boating life.
I didn’t manage to actually stay on one which was my hope but I did mange to get aboard a few and have some chats with owners. The two optons are basically the barge style and the cruiser style. The Dutch steel ones can be really old, dating back as far as the 1890’s, many are completely renovated and there’s new ones now made in the same style. The Dutch steel’s have plenty of interior room but there are big costs involved in the cleaning of them and lifting them from water because they weight about 10 tonne.
The second type, (and I’m not including all the weird odd-looking boats with no outside areas that are also available), but the lighter cruisers with fibre glass or wooden hulls and often white – what a New Zealander would call a ‘launch’ and the Americans call a ‘motor yacht’. These are smaller, lighter and easier to clean, there are also less costs involved. They have slightly less charm but some look really good – others, have a bit too much white plastic.
My preference would be to have the aft deck, where you’d spend a good deal of your time, with plenty of space and easily accessible to the interior. I’ve seen some with the aft on the same level as the interior, no steps. Some of them have too many steps in and out and that would be annoying after a while.
Canal touring is quite a busy activity, it’s not just a matter of sitting up on the aft deck under the canopy with a glass of wine or strumming a guitar all day because there are locks, lots of locks. In one day you might encounter twenty or more locks.
These locks are a two person job, one to operate on the shore and one to steer the boat, but some people can do it on their own. I’m not sure how it works and I guess there’s a few things there to learn.
Also, there’s the mooring fees, it’s free in some places along the banks in the country, a small charge where there’s facilities in a town, more where there’s better facilities to power up and drain off, and on it goes I guess, and it’s about $75 a night in Paris if you can find a spot in the peak season.
The cost of a river boat ranges roughly from $100,000 to $300,000. Storing them over winter has monthly costs because they’re not too cosy in winter. Although, many now have heat pumps and the older ones have cute little log burners. I heard of a guy in his 90’s living in a huge barge on the Amsterdam canals that looks like a piece of floating junk, and he stays on-board all winter every winter – must have a good wooly jumper or three I’d say – remember, the canals freeze over in winter.