Lists, Lists, Lists and Boxes

As I type this we are 10 days from leaving for Europe for five months and….. still no word from the shipyard about the status of our boat (Decize)…


Leaving our townhome for 5 months requires a lot of lists. Lots and lots of lists. Here is one to give you an idea. There is no way we could do this without lists. This is our Townhome list. We also have a Boat Box list, a Boat Supplies list, a Medical Supplies list, and a Final Day list. Just to name a few.

  • Long stay (6 month) visa (Received)
  • Set up sprinkler systems (Done)
  • Car maintenance 30K miles (Done )
  • Prep car for 5 months (Trickle charger/fuel stabilizer)
  • Keys to Richard/Linda (Done)
  • Keys to neighbors (Done)
  • Program shades. (Done)
  • Pay 2021 taxes! (Done )
  • Back Gate lock – combination lock! (Done)
  • Replace AC filters. (Done)
  • Get copies of utilities (Electric and Gas) (Done)
  • Medical Kit (Done)
  • Practice packing (Done)
  • Mail – Virtual Post Office (Done)
  • Complete Itinerary to Richard/Linda/Francis (Done)
  • Stop Newspaper (Done).
  • Pack/ship boxes to marina (DonePicked up May 10)
  • Get latest (4th) Covid vaccine booster (Done – May 11).
  • Notify neighbors that we will be gone (Done)
  • Arrange lawn care (Done)
  • Car Inspection (Done)
  • Laptop backup
  • Empty/clean fridge (last day)
  • Drop cloths (for furniture)?? (Done)

We review the lists every few days and it looks like we are close to actually finishing some of them….


We decided early on that with all the stuff we wanted to take to the boat we would need to either take extra luggage on the plane or ship stuff directly to the marina. We opted for the latter (neither of us relishes the idea of schlepping heavy luggage up and down stairs at the train stations).

After a little online research we settled on Sherpr , a company who promises you can “skip the hassle and ship your luggage & boxes ahead of time!” We started planning our boxes. As they say on their website “we make the customs process simple for you.” Maybe. We’ll see. We ended up with two boxes (medium sized boxes weighting about 40 lbs each) costing a total of about $350.

Prohibited Items

And the list of “Prohibited Items” is pretty extensive. I think my favorites are “Juice Liquid Living creatures” and “Christmas Crackers”. I’m not even sure what those are. And, of course, no “Pornographic material”… “of any kind!”.

The boxes were picked up by a UPS driver five days ago. A few days later we received a request from a UPS person in France (at least we think he/she was in France as the email was in French) for a signed “ATTESTATION DE NON REVENTE ” along with a copy of my passport. Basically swearing nothing in the boxes is for resale. Will update this post when and if the boxes arrive…

Box update: Our boxes arrived! We put Apple AirTags in our boxes and tracked their progress. After about a week they arrived in St Jean de Losne!

Our boxes have arrived!!!

Decize… in the water? Oui ou Non?

And, ten days from departure, we still have no word from the shipyard about the status of our boat. Since Decize is our home for the next five months this is a little worrisome but we are hopeful….

France Long Stay Visa ….

We are heading back to Europe after an almost two year hiatus due to the Pandemic. We did a quick trip last year to check on the work on the boat (which is STILL not done, of course) but this summer will, hopefully, be our first cruising season on Decize.

The first thing we needed was a long-stay tourist visa. The standard visa (which, for US citizens, requires nothing more than a valid passport) is only good for 3 months and we are planning on being gone closer to 5. Here is the official statement on the “long stay” visa:

For any stay in France exceeding 90 days, you are required to apply in advance for a long-stay visa. In this instance your nationality does not exempt you from requirements.

Whatever the duration of your planned stay, the duration of your long-stay visa must be between three months and one year. In order to extend your stay beyond the period of validity of your visa, you must apply for a residence permit at a prefecture.

During its period of validity, the long-stay visa is equivalent to a Schengen visa, enabling you to move around and stay in the Schengen Area outside France for periods not exceeding 90 days over any period of 180 consecutive days, under the same conditions as if you held a Schengen visa.

Official France Visa Website

Besides a fee (about $100) you have to provide a bunch of documents. The consulate in Houston no longer handles the processing of the visa (though you still have to start the process at the official French site )- they now use a private firm that verifies your documents, records biometrics (fingerprints, photos) and takes your money (VSF Global). VSF then send everything to the French embassy in Washington for approval. If everything goes well you get your passport back (in 2-4 weeks) with the visa.

Not sure what you do if you are not in one of the 10 US cities that has a VSF Global office – fortunately we are. As stated above the visa is good in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days which is good as we plan on travelling outside of France. The Schengen area is ” an area comprising 26 European countries that have officially abolished all passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders.”

Schengen Area (Blue)

Required Documents

Requirements for a “Long-Stay” visa.

Some of this is easy, the passport and passport-size photo for instance, but just what the heck is a “note verbale” for instance? You MUST have a piece of paper for each box on the list. Here’s what we provided (and it worked!):

  • Travel Document: Passport
  • ID Photo: Passport pictures (Walgreens)
  • Purpose-1: A signed letter promising “not to exercise any professional activity in France.”
  • Purpose-2: We don’t have “pension certificates” in the USA. We worried about this one a bit. We finally provided copies of our latest social security statements.
  • Funds: A copy of our latest bank statements (not sure how much they are looking for).
  • Accomodation: We provided the address of our marina and a copy of the sales contract for Decize. The marina address would probably have been sufficient.
  • Health Insurance: “A copy of your American health insurance card is not acceptable .” You need a “travel health insurance certificate covering costs for medical repatriation, and emergency and/or hospital treatment, for a minimum amount of €30,000“. More on this below.

Travel Health Insurance

There are lots of companies that offer travel insurance. My advice is to avoid the US companies as they are ridiculously expensive. The range of premiums is huge (from hundreds to thousands of dollars). We elected to go with a premium package from Europe Assistance .

Total cost for both of us was €477 (about $570). A minimum package (that still meets the requirements) would have cost about €300, for both of us for 5 months. This is less that we pay for one month of health insurance for Roberta in the US. (This is where I start a rant about how totally screwed up the US healthcare system is but…. I won’t.)

The Interview

The interview at the VSF Global office in Houston (on the West Loop) took about an hour for both of us. You have to schedule an appointment online. The interviewer was very nice. We did not have a “we won’t work letter” (you MUST have a piece of paper for EACH applicant and EACH item on the list!) but she let us write one out by hand. We had to pay a copying fee for each page that needed to duplicated and for the actual visa application (for some reason the ones we brought were not acceptable?).

Total cost (VSF’s fee, the application fee and copying charges) was about $150 each. We also had to have our photos taken and provide fingerprints.


And… after about two weeks we received our visa-enabled passports back via Fedex… (these pics have the actual visa numbers and dates blurred out).

Back in France!

After almost two years we finally made it back to France last week. Very strange flying again….. and this time with masks the entire way! We almost missed our connection at Dulles but United held our flight so we arrived bright and early at Charles de Gaulle last Wednesday to begin a four hour train journey to St-Jean-de-Losne. 26 hours after leaving the house we stepped off the train in St Jean to an empty station and no taxis.

Waiting for a train… somewhere in France!
Trains are fast in France!

After walking about half a mile in a mild drizzle (not complaining – temperature is a wonderful 65 degrees!) a nice lady on vacation from Morocco offered us a ride to our B&B, Les Charmilles. Beatrice, the owner, said we were the first Americans she has had since the pandemic started.

We hooked up with the shipyard manager on Friday and he took us to the drydock where they were working on Decize. She still needs a lot of fiberglass repair before the painting starts. Phillippe says it should all be done well before next year’s cruising season starts in the spring. Fingers crossed!

After meeting with Phillippe we met with the marina manager, Vasily, to discuss where our slip would be. H2O has two marinas on the Saone, here at St-Jean and about 30 kms north in Auxonne. We prefer St-Jean since it has more facilities and Vasily said that would not be a problem.

St-Jean H2O Marina
Marina Captainerie

And then we spent the next few days exploring St-Jean and checking out the restaurants on the quai. St-Jean is a lovely French town of maybe 5,000 people located on the Saône river.

Decize Update…

Decize “on the hard” in St Lean de Losne.

Owning a Boat in France in the Time of Covid

Our plan had been to spend the summer in France, slowly moving Decize from the Locaboat base in Briare to our reserved slip in Auxonne on the Saône River. But then Covid-19 happened and France barred Americans from entering the country.

We managed to find a captain willing to move our boat and by mid-September our boat was in the H2O shipyard in St Jean De Losne (just a few miles from Auxonne).

Decize is over 20 years old so is in need of quite a bit of mostly cosmetic repairs. We have asked for a quote to clean and repair the hull, replace the rub rail, and re-paint the hull and superstructure. We had planned for this but had expected to be there to discuss the work in person.

I will post details as the work proceeds. Hopefully we will be able to get to France next summer.  Here are more pictures showing hull damage.

Rub rail damage.

Keel, rudder and propeller

Looking down the hull

The bow thruster inlet/outlet

More hull/rub rail damage.

We Bought a Boat!!

Well…. we did it. We bought a canal boat in France. We spent a summer on a Locaboat Penichette 1165FB in 2017. We really liked the 1165FB so we contacted Locaboat and asked if they had any for sale.  Which is how we ended up on “Decize” for a week in August. Decize is a 1996 1160FB which is nearly identical to the 1165FB. She is 23 years old and has been in rental that entire time, so the hull is showing some wear but the engine is only ~10 years old and most of her systems are quite a bit newer.

Here are some thoughts on how we selected our boat and more details about Decize.

Types of Canal Boats

There are two basic styles of (pleasure) boats that are used on the canals in Europe, motor cruisers and barges.  The motor cruisers can have fiberglass or steel hulls (most of the dutch models are steel). They typically have a single inboard diesel engine, are 10-15 meters in length (30-45 feet) and draw 1 to 1.5 meters (3 – 4 feet).

Classic Motor Cruiser (Steel Hull)

The other major category are barges. A lot of these were commercial barges that have been converted. They almost alway have steel hulls and many of them have hulls that are 100 years old.  There are also quite a few built-to-spec barges that have more recent hulls. They are usually much longer than motor cruisers, 20 meters (60 feet) is not unusual.

Converted Barge

We looked at lots of used boats of both types and decided we didn’t really want either.  The motor cruisers are nice (and sea worthy enough for light coastal cruising) but  they tended to be expensive for what we needed and the internal layout didn’t support guests as nicely as boats we have rented. The barges were nice and some are affordable but handling a >20 meter boat scared us both.

So… we finally decided just to buy a boat exactly like the Locaboat Penichette we rented for the summer. We contacted Locaboat and they had a ~20 year old 1160FB for sale. We booked “Decize” for a week in August to check her out, and as a bonus, they would apply the rental fee to the sale. And ….. we bought her!


Though Locaboat does not sell their boats new, Decize probably had a value of around €250,000 new. At 23 years old (she was commissioned in 1996) she was offered for €70,000 which was in our price range and should allow us to invest some money for upgrades and repairs.

She is 11.6 meters (38.1 feet) long, 3.85 meters (12.6 feet) wide and draws only 0.85 meters (2.8 feet). Her “air draft” (height above the water) is 2.90 meters (9.5 feet). These last two numbers are important as some of the canals are shallow and some of the bridges are very low.

She has a 2008 (16,700 hours) inboard 50HP diesel engine. There is a cabin heater that supplies heat throughout the boat. The heater uses the same diesel fuel tank as the engine to heat the boiler.


Decize has a 420L (110 Gallon) fuel tank. The spec sheet (above) gives fuel use (under power) as 4.0 L/Hr, but our experience with these boats is that it is much closer to 2 L/Hr.  Top speed is about 10 Km/Hr (about 5.5 kts). No, that is not a typo – top speed is about 6 mph. We generally cruise at 6-8 Km/Hr (and many of the canals have speed limits in this range).  Assuming 2L/Hr consumption at 6 Km/Hr she has a range of about 1200 Km (745 miles).

The fresh water tanks have a capacity of 700 L (185 Gallons) which, for two people used to boating is well over a week of use.  Decize has no black water or grey water tanks… everything goes overboard. This is legal in France but we expect that to change so we want to explore adding at least black water tanks. Unfortunately, there is no infrastructure (pump stations) in most of  the smaller marinas and until that changes people will continue to dump overboard.

Electrical Systems

I haven’t figured out all of this yet, will have to wait till the coming summer trip. As typical there are two battery banks, a house battery and an engine starting battery.

The house battery consists of six 12V batteries wired series/parallel to get 24V.   Total capacity is 118*3 = 352 Ah (20 Hr).  This runs all the lights, refrigerator, water pump, toilets, etc. The starter battery is a single 12 v  (75 AH) battery. Having two voltages is a little weird. Not sure how this works. Based on the breaker panel labels, the alternator has multiple windings and charges both batteries when the motor is running. 

Starter Battery

There is a battery charger that charges only the house battery (?) when the boat is connected to shore power. That would be strange but usually battery chargers cannot do multiple voltages.

There is a main breaker panel for the DC systems located in the closet of the main salon.

Main Breaker Panel


Decize definitely shows he wear and tear of being in rental for 20 odd years. The damage is entirely superficial but we would like to have her repaired and painted.

Some of the hull damage


As the spec shows, Decize has three berths and two heads. The fore head is an integrated shower/head/sink. The aft head is split into two small rooms, a toilet room and shower/sink room.

Aft port berth

Aft starboard berth


Interior helm

Main salon (looking forward)

Main salon (looking aft)