My Travel Blog

She Did A Bad, Bad Thing

Rabelo has been a bad girl. We were headed to Dijon to meet our friends Tom and Ilana who were joining us in just a few days.  From St. Jean de Losne it’s a two-day trip on the Burgundy Canal that includes 22 locks on the least scenic portion of the canal. With that said it’s still rather picturesque in some places. I was approaching a lock and placed the gearshift in neutral to slow Rabelo down. Something wasn’t right.  Normally I can detect a change in the engine RPM’s whenever I shift gears, but there was nothing.  I then tried reverse, and nothing happened.  Rabelo was still in forward.  “Oh crap.” At that point the only thing I could do was turn off the engine. Without any power to the propeller Rabelo finally began to slow, but she weighs over 200 tons so there’s a lot of momentum there.  We typically begin to slow Rabelo before entering a lock around 300 meters, or almost 1,000 feet, before we reach the lock.  We were still going too fast, but I had another even bigger problem to deal with.  A hydraulic pump on the main engine powers the steering system. Without the engine running there was no steering.  Fortunately when we were building Rabelo I had the yard install an emergency hydraulic steering pump for just these situations.  I pressed the red button on the control panel, and I was back in business.  The only thing left for me to do was figure out how to stop Rabelo before we got to the lock. Actually it wasn’t that big of a problem.  I waited until the last minute when Rabelo had already slowed as much as possible, and then headed her bow for shore.  By rubbing the bow up against the side of the canal I was able to slow Rabelo to a stop without doing any damage.

A beautiful fall day on the Saone River.

The leaves are just starting to change colors.

The Burgundy Canal covered in leaves.

Once my big girl was stopped we managed to back her up, and tie her to some bollards on the side of the canal.  Now it was time to figure out what the problem was.  To make a long story short the electronic gearshift system was broken.  It would have to go back to the factory for repairs.  In France that’s a minimum of one month, and most likely two.  Ultimately we decided the best course of action was to remove the entire system, and install a much simpler and more reliable manual system.   Unfortunately we were stuck in the middle of the countryside, and needed to get to Dijon.  There was only one solution.  I rigged up a system of lines and pulleys from the transmission to the wheelhouse.  Nathalie became my automatic gear shifter.  All I had to do was tell her forward, neutral or reverse.  With our jury rigged system in place we tried the first lock, and it worked.

Some of the ropes I rigged up so that Nathalie could operate the transmission.

Nathalie, Rabelo’s new automatic transmission.

Rabelo is extremely difficult to put into a lock when there is a strong cross wind blowing.  Unfortunately on the one day we needed the conditions as calm as possible it wasn’t.  I had to deal with some of the strongest cross winds I’ve ever driven Rabelo in. We somehow managed to make it to Dijon that day where we could tie up safely and unload the car.  The following week our new gearshift and throttle was installed.  The good news was that Chapeau Rouge, our favorite restaurant in all of France, is in Dijon.

Chapeau Rouge’s tasting menu. It’s not cheap, but for special occasions it’s our go to restaurant.

A happy birthday for my beautiful wife.

Different kinds of mushrooms.

Different kinds of mushrooms.

Don’t forget the cheese course.

This perfect soufflé was just one of our desserts.

– Tom Miller
Author of “The Wave”  and “When Stones Speak”– 
Chuck Palmer Adventure novels


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.