The Best Laid Plans…

Barbican 33 yachtMy regular readers will know that I have been away for a couple of weeks. The plan was that we would take our sailing boat, a Barbican 33 called ‘Red Dawn IV’ (a 33ft family cruising yacht pictured) across to Calais, where we would get the mast removed and stowed along the cabin top before entering the French canals. We were intending to leave the boat in Lille until after our return from our forthcoming classic road race bike rally in Spain next month. Then we would return to the yacht, take it through the Belgian canals into Holland where we planned to leave it over the coming winter.

So we went, via Ramsgate and Dover, to Calais. As we went through the swing bridge into the marina we passed two boats coming out on their way to the canal entrance. One was a motorboat from Ramsgate, the other was a yacht crewed by a group of young Australians, who had also had their mast removed. We booked our mast removal and began the preparations for doing this. We took the sails off the boat and I hoisted my husband up the mast so he could remove the Radar dome and some of the ‘yachting string’ ready for the mast to be lifted off the next day. That night the two boats we had passed returned to Calais.

They had paid for their inland waterways licences and as mentioned the Australian foursome had paid to have their mast removed. They had been allowed to lock through into the canal and travelled a couple of miles up the canal to the first bridge where they came to a standstill. After some time and several phone calls they discovered that the canal bridges were all closed and they could not proceed down the canal. Nowhere had this been explained or the information displayed. The Australians had paid – a lot of money I might add – for a month on the canals, to get to the south of France where they planned to sell the boat before returning home to Australia. They had also done thorough research about their trip and nowhere had this closure come up. It was not mentioned on the French inland waterways website.

After many phone calls over several hours the girl in the marina office in Calais was eventually able to confirm that this was in fact the case and the canal would not open for another 10 or 11 days. The motorboat couple had only paid for a week (and that was expensive enough!) so there was no way they could get into the canals. They decided to return to the UK and try to get their money back since they had been sold a useless licence.

We considered our options but at the end of the day decided that we hadn’t got sufficient time to wait and then get to our chosen destination. So it was up the mast again for my husband to replace all the detached components and on with the sails once more – we too would return home. Meanwhile the Australians had little option but to try to continue. They chose to motor up to Dunkirk and enter the canal system there. With no mast and sails and a fairly rough sea they had a lumpy journey but last we heard they had made it safely and were in the canals. We wish them good luck for their onward journey.

We were annoyed and disappointed but at least we hadn’t removed our mast and paid for our licence. We crossed back to Dover and then on to Ramsgate where we met up with the aforementioned motor-boaters to lick our wounds. Here strong winds blowing in the wrong direction kept us in harbour for several days before we could finally make our return to our home port of Bradwell in Essex, where we had cancelled our marina berth. We had to phone ahead to see if we could have a berth for the season after all and fortunately they were able to oblige (we have been there many years and they know us well). We then had to wait a couple of days until our son could come to pick us up as we had no car there – we weren’t intending to return! It’s a good thing we had the folding bikes so we could at least get out and about while we waited.

It seems that the French left hand doesn’t know what its right-hand is doing. Why on earth did they sell people canal licences and let them into a canal that wasn’t open? As I say, at least we had not involved ourselves in this wasted expense, but I wonder what real hope the couple on the motorboat have of getting their money back. Our plans for later in the summer are now completely upset and we shall have to do a lot of re-thinking. To be fair though, we did have a couple of lovely, relaxing weeks away on the boat, even if the WIFI was frequently unreliable, but then it is good to have time away from that too!

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Red Dawn

Yacht Red Dawn IV

Red Dawn IV

You’ve heard so much about her so for my ‘Small Stone’ today I thought I would share this picture of our Yacht ‘Red Dawn IV’. She is a Barbican 33, so she is approximately 33 ft long (9.96 meters). You can just make us out in the cockpit!

We are still on board and will return home at the weekend. Unfortunately this means we will miss watching the Olympic Games opening ceremony on the TV this evening and will have to catch up later on ‘iplayer’!

Site content copyright of Elizabeth Leaper (Libby).

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