Buying a Dutch Barge in France

Let’s go on a journey – to find a Dutch Barge in France with an Aussie.

If you’d like to listen to this story – Click here.

‘Frankly, I wouldn’t take one of those boats if they were giving them away!’

Our first search for a barge for the European canals was not going well.

A few years ago we had traversed the French canals, south to north, on our sailboat Mariah II. Her five foot keel had caused some, let’s say, ‘interesting’ events in the locks, when the tidal-wave of water rolled in via exuberant lock keepers. We had planned to return one day on a boat better suited. Thirteen years later we were back in Europe searching for a barge.

We commenced the hunt in the UK, which was ridiculous – convert Aussie dollars to British pounds – it hurts! Aside from that, the boats in our price range (actually above our price range), needed everything doing to them except, perhaps, a new hull, and even that was questionable!

As usual, when making a hefty purchase, we had carried out months of research on-line first. The advice was, ‘head to Holland, the boats are better and cheaper.’ We have wonderful friends in Petten (North Holland), so it was an easy decision to head in that direction.

We never keep to a straightforward plan though. So, we stopped in France first, enroute to Holland from London. Just to see one boat. It was calling us.

However, that boat was badly presented, with dead batteries and no lights, (‘I think the engine is in here somewhere.’). We weren’t that impressed. The broker wasn’t that interested either. So, we headed off to Holland.

Natasja and Dennis and their gorgeous girls, Debby and Kim, have been friends for years. We met them in the Canary Islands and spent part of our adventure in The Great Loop in the USA with them.

We hadn’t seen them for a long time and I knew they’d laugh at my grey hair that was staging a takeover bid. I knew they would tell us off by wasting money by going to France.

I also knew they’d straighten us out and put us on the right track. I was right, they even loaned us their campervan.

Suddenly, we stepped into the nitty-gritty of boats. Tall ones, short ones, long, fat, thin, smelly, smart, expensive and cheap – boats glorious boats.

We were looking for a good-sized boat for two, with two cabins (for occasional visitors to have their own space), and a well-maintained engine that was big enough to push us along nicely. Sails would’ve been nice – but I think we were asking too much with lowering the mast regularly for bridges. We wanted a good wheelhouse that provided protection from the elements.

What we didn’t want was teak decks, rust, a toilet in the galley, a diesel-eater and we certainly didn’t want concrete in the bilge.

We learned something new on every boat viewed.

buying a barge in France
Our new home in Europe

Spring put on a fabulous show with clear skies and sunny days. The blooming tulips spread like a rainbow over the meadows; soft pinks, deep purples, glowing yellows, and flame reds. Across the flat land windmills gently turned in the lazy breeze. The Dutch couldn’t build an ugly house if they tried.

We became keen on a thirteen metre motor boat. That is, until the seller lied to us about the asbestos around the exhaust. While it wasn’t a disaster, we no longer trusted what he said.

While searching for ‘our boat’ we awoke each morning with fresh excitement. Was this the day we find our boat?

One morning, with sleepy eyes, I opened up our emails to see what was occurring in the world and this particular morning something made me sit up straight.

I read out-loud, ‘Your bid for the Valkruiser of $…. has not been accepted, keep trying!’

Suddenly, I was wide awake, glaring at Noel who was trying to hide behind his teacup.

The next day, we received another email.

‘You can come to view the ferry this afternoon.’

‘Ferry? FERRY?’ I know I said I wanted more room, but a ferry?! My thoughts turned to internet-blocking software to contain Noel’s enthusiasm; one which had a maturity level perhaps.

The weeks rolled by, and we became dispirited with our lack of excitement with boats on offer. Maybe we didn’t have the right budget, but we were determined to stick with it. However, patience was thinning. We went from, ‘Arhhhh, this is nice dear, travelling through Holland looking at boats, everything is very pretty isn’t it?

To, ‘Just where the ferk is this bloody turnoff? That bloody boat was a heap of shite, and look at this, another bloody suicide bloody wanker on a push-bike demanding right of bloody way on a bloody ferking round-a-bout!

We read every boat advert in Europe. When I found an interesting boat with just one out-of-focus picture, I couldn’t help responding to the ad, ‘Why are you advertising a boat to sell without pictures?’ then I wondered why they didn’t write back. I tell you, the wine cellar was being depleted at rather an alarming rate.

But, the Dutch were very forgiving, especially with our steady speed in the campervan and we had only one horn-blowing, arm-shacking incident. Well, we did nearly cut him in half. Noel had trouble differentiating between the wiper and blinker toggle, it was raining off and on. The other road user thought we were going port when in actual fact (had he of cared to look and listen) our Tom-Tom was broadcasting a rather urgent shriek for starboard.


On a positive note, trying to learn the lingo was a great way to clear any gunk from the back of your throat.

Amid this mayhem we put an offer on a boat: A twenty-three metre-hulk-of-a-boat.

To cut a rather long, boring, and upsetting story, short – we agreed a fabulous price, they agreed to let us move on, until the survey.

While starting to make ourselves at home we found the concrete in the bilge, the concrete that they swore was not there. We pulled from the deal, and thankfully received our deposit back in full.

Another boat caught our eye at the same time. The owners were delightful but had not kept up the maintenance. During numerous discussions with the broker, he unwittingly let slip details of the state of the hull. We had by now seen a few people get caught with having to re-plate. Steel hulls thin over time, and the re-plating exercise can be vastly expensive. During in-depth discussions with the broker, he pretty much talked us out of the deal, hinting at probable hull-thickness problems.

So, that was two near-misses and nothing else was appealing, not without an enormous increase in our budget.

We had been bouncing around figures via the broker of the French boat while all this was going on. There was ‘something’ about her. We put in an incredibly low offer and just let it sit.

After the concrete-in-the-bilge debacle we looked back, again, at photos of the boats we had previously viewed.

‘The boat in France is pretty.’

‘Yes, she’s got nice lines.our dutch barge does have nice lines

We studied the pictures, talked about the renovations we could do, as she had poor design below decks with the sleeping arrangements. We still couldn’t see the engine, but the dark, smudged photos didn’t look, ‘too bad,’ second time around. We can talk ourselves into anything!

The owners of the French boat had turned down our low offer – twice. Our options were running out, so we upped the offer a little, ‘subject to survey.’ By some miracle they accepted and so we were on our way to France once again.

We couldn’t haul out for several weeks. The nearest place to go on the hard (soonest) was where the broker lived, some 280 km away from the boat. The owner wanted to take his boat there anyway, so we commenced a 280 km test run, complete with eighty-seven locks, with the owners!

Ignoring the fact that both Noel and I are not good at ‘living’ with family, let alone strangers, we started to practice our French.

‘Le iceberg.’

‘Le pointy end.’

‘Merde.’ (We thought that’d be useful). Plus Noel had a few German words he could throw-in just to confuse me or them, or perhaps everyone. At least we knew the important words, ‘Je voudrais du vin blanc and bierre, s’il vous plait!’

The owners were sweet people, extremely gracious to invite us on board, and trusting too. However, they believed we should have been fluent in French within two-days. If we didn’t understand their rapid-fire French they’d come in close, face-to-face and shout into our somewhat startled faces.

Important aspects of the boat, like start-up procedure and central heating functions were ignored, but detailed training sessions on how to stow the cushions in the cupboard and clean the floor were a daily event! My patience became gossamer thin when I was told I was cutting potatoes the wrong way.

Upon arrival to St Jean de Losne we booked into a Gite (self-contained accommodation).

The boat went like a dream. The survey went very well, despite the surveyor being dressed like a teenager ready to go skate-boarding. He was thorough with the boat but left us a bit perplexed with some of his answers to our questions.

‘What paint do you recommend for the hull?’ Noel asked.

The Surveyor straightened his spine, rolled back his head, looked straight down his nose and replied, ‘I do not know, I am not a painter, non!

Some expert.

That said, he did find the slop in the rudder bearings and shaft – resulting in a new prop shaft and bearings. We were thinking it was just a worn key-way. We didn’t know anything about a NEW prop shaft until it was ordered! We were only the purchasers after all.

Fortunately, the people we were buying the boat from were paying for most of work, as per the contract, so we didn’t have too much of a heart-attack. The prop was enormous at 80 cm and it took two men to lift the shaft.

What we didn’t bank on, though, was the ‘band-aid’ style cover on the INSIDE of the hull where the prop shaft went. It was covered while we sat back in the water, waiting for the new prop shaft to be made and delivered.

And what happened next was like a rather stressful carry-on movie.

We were not happy with the temporary patch covering the rather large hole and asked the workers not to let the water into the dry-dock.

They thought this type of patching was fine, we couldn’t’ understand why a huge hole in a boat would be patched from the inside with the water pressure doing everything it could to push the patch off.

They opened the lock to let the water in, Noel closed it. Tempers were fraying, Noel was grasping the latch to prevent the water entering. Then the owner turned up, tapped an emergency switch and the dry-dock filled. Needless to say the temporary repairs were fine (after some adjustments at our insistence).

Our frantic behaviour and the fact that we locked an engineer (who monitored the patch) in our engine room for half-an-hour, without realising, were all forgiven. The French ‘way’ is very different from what we are used to. But we were exhausted and through lack of energy we finally relaxed, and allowed ourselves to ‘go with it’ and things improved.

Finally, with the surveyor’s report in our sticky hands, the insurance in place, the funds transferred and all the owners’ gear removed, we sat on our lovely home all alone and wondered how the hell we were going to manoeuvre an 18.5 metre boat through the middle of France!

I hope you enjoyed our adventure in France, it’s one of my many amazing memories and I feel privileged to have had this experience.


Rouge Corsair details

Rouge Corsair is a Dutch Luxemotor.

She was built in the Netherlands and was originally a bunker barge for the commercial vessels, hence she has a nice pointed bow (in comparison to many barges) to slice through the water.

She has no bow thrusters, but with her enormous prop we can use her prop walk for easy manoeuvring. She is a dream to handle.

LOA – 18.5 metres

Beam – 3.95

Air draft – 2.95

Draft (water) – 1 metre

The wheelhouse seating turns into a double bed, as does the lounge. There are two cabins, one had a three-quarter double and one had a three-quarter single. We’ve been demolishing the cabins to make two doubles as the space is not wisely used (at the moment) as it is on sailboats. We have one large cabin with an island bed now. The other ‘double cabin’ is a tool shed cum office!

For lots of more pictures and to follow our escapades in France, take a look at our blog

Concrete in the bilge – explanation

The following information is what we have learned/seen over many years of being around boats (commercial and recreational), reading, teaching maritime and talking to shipping surveyors, master mariners, brokers and many cruisers/sailors etc.

The boat is steel with concrete poured in the engine room as ballast. Under the bathroom, hallway and part of the galley cement has been laid up to the depth of 25 mm (it is also under the holding tank). We could cope with the concrete in the engine room as we had access to it and therefore we could remove it.

Our concerns with concrete (cement and aggregate (or gravel) makes up concrete), it is strong in compression but weak in tension that is why additives such as aggregate (gravel) is used to make concrete and in building/structural work, the additional use of reinforced steel is used.

On boats concrete was primarily used as a cheap form of ballast – however in Europe (for new builds) the use of cement based products in steel boats HAS BEEN BANNED. There is a reason for this.

  1. The inside of the hull cannot be maintained against corrosion.
  2. The slightest crack allows water ingress. Corrosion occurs with moisture between the steel and the cement.
  3. The problem is compounded with cement coverings as whenever the hull is deformed e.g. during haul out or the vessel takes the ground. The deformation of plates creates tension in the cement, which it cannot withstand and it cracks, allowing even more moisture to become trapped between the cement and the hull (more water and oxygen = more corrosion).

Cement is relatively easy to remove compared to concrete, however you have to gain access to it if it is underneath a floor and/or holding tanks and/walls etc. Then it is a major problem.

What should be used is hull plating grease as it protects the steel from corrosion, penetrates any gaps between the ribs and plates and it is flexible.

What also happens with the older boats, the rivets can start to weep, allow more water in, which is tolerable if the moisture can be removed. Condensation is water, causing corrosion.

The problem is you cannot see it and cannot get to it and you do not know what is going on there – it is a silent killer on a hull.

Someone asked if we are talking about ballast or just cement/concrete in the bilge that doesn’t matter. The point is that cement/concrete is on the steel, creating the above problems.

The Technical Expert at a well-known insurance company was very helpful in our concerns.

We telephoned him to discuss the situation, and he said:

  • You should avoid concrete in the bilge, we recommend that loose ballast is used.
  • Without the grease on the inside of the hull, there is always a problem with rusting between the ribs and hull plating.
  • Grease is the best thing to use, it is much better than paint. It should be used on all boats of this type as it seals between the ribs and the plating and it is flexible whereas cement is not and it cracks when the boat is lifted or the boat is on the ground.
  • With older hulls there is the problem with rivets popping out (becoming loose).

We are aware that some people use cement/concrete and do not have problems – in our humble opinion, they are lucky.

Let us know about your adventures – whatever they may be – and keep following us for the next installment of our first trip along the canals of France!

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