Logbook: Breakdowns

July 2017

We have the first break-down, one year into our Boating Europe journey, along the Rhone-Rhine Canal, just before we get into the infamous Rhine River.

The Rhone-Rhine Canal is the last bit of the French Canals System before the Rhine. 237km and 112 locks that takes us 1,5months to go through. Slowly enjoying the french countryside and the small boat world life while we can, as once we get to the Rhine we get into big rivers and big cargo ships world until the Black Sea.

The plan is to stop in Mulhouse, to pick up some plumbing parts we got online and ordered to the local marina. But as we are about to arrive to the big town, a weird clanking noise on the engine, and Hamish realises the coolant box just snapped out off the engine.

We need to stop or we might have coolant spread all over the engine soon and a bigger problem in hands.

We explain our allocated VNF (Vois Navigables de France) lock-keepers that had been operating the last few locks what happened and they promptly offer to help. One of them comes inside, looks at the broken piece and realises we do need to weld it somehow. We stop on the next lock, Hamish and the VNF guy removes the broken bit and they both go to a VNF warehouse nearby to cut a new one. Half an hour later we have a new shinny metal bracket that we hope will last for at least 6 months. Anyway, they get us an appointment with a local boatyard just past Mulhouse to see if anything stronger and long lasting can be put in place. As it’s Friday evening and everything will be closed for the weekend we spend the weekend in town. Mulhouse is the liveliest place we’ve been for the last few months, after the abandoned french countryside, mixed architecture styles and crepes. Always the crepes.

On Monday morning we head to boatyard, but has the boat is on the water there’s not too much to be done. The coolant box is fixed with the new metal angle to the shaky engine, and we just hope this will last us until we take the boat out of water in the winter.

It lasts two weeks! As we set sail from a beautiful anchoring place on the old Rhine to escape an approaching storm, we notice the new piece has a crack on it. The strong winds make us bang against a lock wall as we approach it and the new piece snaps off again from the engine. But we are now so close to Strasbourg we’ll try to make it to town. We take turns between holding the snapped coolant box with our hands inside the engine and driving. After a long noisy ride we make it to the last lock before Strasbourg but as we need to wait for a few ships ahead, we tie ourselves to the side bollards and switch the engine off. When the lock light turns green, indicating we can go inside, the engine doesn’t switch on.

We get stuck on the lock for a couple of days, trying to get either a mechanic to look at the boat, or a tow, both will be very expansive, but we just can’t stay there, tied to the side wall, with the strong stormy wind banging against the sides and huge 200m boats passing just a couple meters distance from us.

We get a mechanic in, hoping he will fix the engine just enough to make us get to Strasbourg on our own, with no luck. the starter motor is gone and nothing can be done where we are. We need a new starter motor and a towe to town. The French speaker lock-keeper gets us in touch with the local marina and we get a “special price” tow with the boat from the marina’s owner.

We get to Strasbourg, tied to a metal pleasure boat, not as we expected, but we get there! Good to be out of the lock and able to go for a walk.

We end up staying in Strasbourg one month. Had to wait for the new starter motor to be delivered, once it was replaced, the starter batteries stopped working needing as well replacement, we still have an on-going electrical issue going on that would be good to sort out as we’re at it, and we need to properly fix the snapped coolant box.

We stayed for free in the marina while waiting for all broken bits. The break-down already costed us near €800 with the tow, new starter motor and new batteries plus the few hours of mechanical service, so was nice not to have that extra cost. Marinas are usually not cheap places.

Hamish gets to know a few nearby live-a-board boaters, during one of his evening walks, doing some welding to their boats and he manages to get a new metal bracket for our coolant box, that same evening. We end up mooring next to Didier’s Peniche, for the rest of the month. A month of vegetarian bbq’s, evening drinks, good talks, and live music with his band every Wednesday evenings and we get help relocating the coolant box to a remote place in the engine where it wouldn’t snap again.

We leave Strasbourg a month later, this time on our own. Early morning start at 6.00am. We’re eager to continue our European journey along the Rhine.

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