My Travel Blog

Ponderings Before Starting Your Own Barge Adventure

After Toul our next big town was Bar-Le-Duc, but first we had to pass through the 5-kilometer Tunnel de Mauvages.  A VNF employee warned us that the water level in the tunnel was low.  When we told him we only drew 80 centimeters (31 inches) he thought we would be okay.

“Beautiful clouds reflected in the canal on our way to the tunnel.”

“Low water in the summit pond.”

After 12 locks and 12 kilometers of canal we made it to the summit pond and tunnel.  The canal water was amazingly clear as we watched schools of fish escort us to the tunnel.  Wilco and I could not believe how low the water was.  You could see every stone and bottle on the bottom.  The canal was down at least 4 feet.  The tunnels in France are typically very narrow, just a few inches wider than Rabelo.  They have wooden rub-rails along the sides, but they are not much better than the rough stonework they are designed to protect us from.  Normally barges our size are towed through these long tunnels by an electric tug.  The water was so low the tug was sitting on the bottom, and couldn’t be used.  The VNF told us to go it alone.  Our topsides were really scratched up after the tunnel and Wilco had plenty of painting to do, but we did get the last say (See the attached picture).

“A piece of the rub-rail stuck in our window. Note the damage to our paint.”

It occurred to me that some of you might be interested in cruising the canals of France.  The easiest and most economical way is to rent a boat.   Or depending on your budget you may want to try a hotel barge.  If you are thinking long term then you will have to buy a boat.  The question becomes how big a boat will you need?  There is no clear answer.  It depends on the level of comfort you are looking for.  Rabelo is at the far end of the spectrum when it comes to size and amenities.  Most people don’t need a 38-meter barge. We have seen cruisers in fold-a boats that fit in the back of a station wagon and even an inflatable kayak.  These minuscule vessels are at the opposite end of the spectrum.  I did not get a chance to take any pictures of the interior of the kayak, so I will leave it to your imagination.

“This young man is cruising with just the basics.”

Here are a few before and after shots of Rabelo to give you an idea of what is possible.  I think it is fair to say we are not lacking when it comes to the comforts of home.

“The living room and dinning room the day we took delivery of Rabelo.”

“The living room and dinning room now.”

“The original owners cabin.”

“Owners cabin now.”

“Owners cabin now.”

“Guest stateroom one.”

“Guest stateroom two.”

“Our kitchen with a view through the window.”

-Tom Miller
Author of “The Wave” – 
a Chuck Palmer Adventure novel


About the Author:

Tom Miller graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science in Geology. He is a consummate adventurer with over 1,000 dives as a recreational scuba diver, and an avid sailor who has traveled 65,000 miles throughout the Pacific including the Hawaiian Islands. Miller has also cruised the canals of Europe on his canal barge and given numerous lectures on cruising the canals of Europe, as well as sailing in the South Pacific. Piloting is also an interest of Miller's, and He has completed over 1,000 hours flying everything from small Cessnas to Lear jets.