My Travel Blog

We Got A Car! The French Don’t Mess Around…

I hate tunnels.  They’re dark and cold, and there’s nothing to see for miles except red brick and rock.  Construction on the Riqueval tunnel was started in 1802, and it was almost six kilometers long.  That’s over three and half miles.  You’re not allowed to run your engine or generator in the long tunnels for fear of asphyxiation.  Consequently we were towed by an electric tug.  Convoys of up to seventeen barges can transit the tunnel at one time.  The tug is a rather amazing piece of equipment.  There is a heavy chain that runs along the bottom of the canal through the tunnel.  The tug warps the chain up on an electric winch and spits it out the back thus pulling the entire convoy along.

The biggest problem with these tunnels is that no matter what happens you can’t slow down or stop.  If you hit the side of the tunnel or one of the many rock outcroppings it’s tough luck.  What ever you broke off stays behind, and there’s nothing you can do.  The only requirement they have for going through these long tunnels is that you carry insurance.  Fortunately we made it through without any damage.  The pleasure boat behind us wasn’t so lucky, but it was nothing that a little paint couldn’t fix.

Note the electric tug in front of Relicat.

The walls looked deceptively smooth as we entered. That changed after a few hundred yards.

We ended up spending four nights in Saint Quentin, as it was time for Julian to take some days off.  Because we are rarely in the same town for very long it was the perfect time to buy a car.  Julian did a little checking and found a few used car lots for us to look at.  We discussed buying from a private party, and decided against it.  It was going to be much easier to a buy from a commercial enterprise as they would register the car for us.  We bought a 2007 Renault Megane with 132,000 kilometers on it.  That’s a little over 80,000 miles.  I wasn’t particularly worried about the mileage because we drive so little.  So far the car has been great and gets really good mileage, but then again, it is a diesel.

Lifting our new car onto Rabelo.

A family of fishermen.

The easy part was buying the car and getting it registered.  All we needed was what the French call an “Attestation.”  It’s just a letter from the Captain of the Port that states we have a permanent address.  The dealer took care of everything else. The hard part was getting the car insurance.  When it comes to insurance the French don’t fool around.  You are required to have a sticker on your windshield that shows when your insurance expires.    We could take a few lessons from the French on car insurance back in the states, as they don’t have a problem with uninsured motorists.  Eventually Julian’s old insurance company was able to help us obtain insurance. All they needed was a letter from my insurance broker back in the states listing any losses.  Lisa ended up the legal owner of the car, as she didn’t have any losses and I had one.  Does that mean I get the boat and she gets the car?

Lisa was getting a little too cozy with this guy.

Lisa had us make a stop at Saint- Simon. She was out of baguettes, and needed something for dessert.

Spectators watching Rabelo enter a lock.

-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.