Several people who read our cruising reports have expressed an interest in the layout of the boat, so I have added this page in response. The photographs were mostly taken on the day we went to view Desormais, shortly after which we decided to buy her. I’ve got to say, she’s hardly ever been this tidy since!
The word Desormais is French for ‘henceforward’ or ‘from now on’. It’s also the title of a popular song sung by Charles Aznavour, and though I’ve never heard the song in the original, I’ve lost count of the number of times a cheery lockie has gone down on one knee, opened his arms wide and treated us to the first few lines of the song. I feel like I know it by heart!
The skyline of Skipton Castle in North Yorkshire, England, has the word crafted into the stonework above the main entrance. Apparently it was the motto of the Clifford family who owned the castle in the 17th century.
Desormais was built by Sagar Marine, Brighouse, West Yorkshire, who have now ceased trading leaving a legacy of many easily identifiable, beautifully crafted replica dutch barges. (There is a Sagar Dutch Barge forum, where owners keep in touch, share problems, solutions and experiences.)
She’s just over 16m, almost 4m wide, with a Perkins diesel engine (marinised by Sabre) and was built in 2005, acquired by us in August 2007.
The layout comprises the main sleeping cabin in the bow, with wardrobes, cupboards and drawers, leading into a small bathroom with a three quarter size bath with shower over, loo and handbasin.
There’s plenty of storage in the bathroom, and a heated towel rail. There are three built in, simple air-cooling systems in this cabin, in the lounge and back cabin. It’s not quite as effective as true air con, but it certainly does reduce the temperature, working off either land-line or generator.
The lounge has a diesel bubble stove, which we’ve never used as we have Webasto generated central heating running off diesel, which is more than adequate for our needs. We have spent several weeks on her during the winter months and have been quite warm enough, but it’s not something we do every year. There’s an overhead ‘pigeon loft’ window for additional light and ventilation. The television and video unit are enclosed in a cabinet (we have satellite dish on the roof), and there are a wide range of base and overhead cabinets for storage.
(In 2014 we removed the two settees, replacing them with two reclining chairs with footstools, and we replaced the small television located inside the cabinet with a larger, high definition television.)
The open plan kitchen has a tower system gas oven, grill and microwave, single drainer sink, fridge, and we’ve put in extra power points in the kitchen area. The floors in the bathroom and kitchen are Amtico.
There was a dining table and two chairs at the side of the kitchen, but since we always eat in the wheelhouse we have recently removed these dining arrangements and installed a cupboard to house a small freezer. We tiled the top of this cupboard with (almost) matching tiles to the splashback in the kitchen.
There are steps leading up to the wheelhouse, each step having a pull down facer to reveal a shelf for storing things. We use it for wine and beers – it’s never empty. But then again… it’s never full either.
The wheelhouse has cushioned seating, and we have a couple of extra matching bench blocks which we can fit across one exit and the door leading down to the back cabin to form almost a horseshoe round the dining table.
There’s a table with drop down leaves. We do most of our entertaining up here, where we can see what’s going on around us. The upper wheelhouse is dismountable, but it’s a lot of work and we’ve only ever taken down once for shipping from England to France. It’s not something you’d tackle lightly. The wheelhouse windows are single glazed, slightly tinted and toughened as a safety measure. Double glazing would make it too cumbersome to dismantle. The large front and rear windows drop down onto the cabin roof for pleasant cruising in hot weather and those long summer evenings. When eating in the wheelhouse during the winter months we usually bring up an electric radiator, for which purpose we’ve installed additional electricity points up there.
We have Raymarine GPS, rudder indicator and VHF radio on the control panel. We don’t use the VHF radio on the canals, it’s mostly for contacting lockies on the rivers.
There are steps leading down to the back cabin which strictly speaking is a self-contained guest cabin, with two single beds, a chest of drawers, wardrobe, loo, handbasin and shower cubicle. In reality, it’s our floating shed, with all sorts of things stored on and below the beds.
The stairs which lead down from the wheelhouse to the back cabin can be pulled down, (the underside forming another set of steps) to gain access to the engine room, which can also, and more usually be accessed via a trapdoor in the wheelhouse. I use the back steps to access the washing machine which is also housed in the engine room. We used to house the freezer down here, but the temperatures generated by the engine were not conducive to its operation – we’re now on our second freezer.
Hot water is generated by the engine, but we have an immersion heater, powered by landline or genny, for days when we’re moored up. The genny is housed in the engine room, and we use it only occasionally when we’ve been mooring wild, or when we’ve been doing short runs insufficient to recharge the batteries.
There is a fairly short front deck, beneath which lie the gas locker and the anchor gear, and the rear deck, slightly longer, is where we keep our bikes. There are holders on the back rails into which we can slot sun-shades and a rotary clothes drier. Neither of us are sun-bathers (we think we’ve probably subjected our skins to enough UV whilst living in South Africa and Spain) so we don’t sit out on deck, though it’s possible to do so.
In 2015 we had matching green covers made to cover the wheelhouse doors/windows, cabin windows and front portholes. The front and back wheelhouse window covers have tapes so that they can alternatively be used for ventilated shade in summer.
So there you have it; it’s hardly what you’d call roughing it, I know, and we have friends with more traditional boats that have a charm all of their own.
But it suits us, and it’s comfortable. There’s enough space for clothes, books, etc if you adopt an ordered (and minimalist) approach to storage and there’s a whole world of difference between living on a dutch barge and living on a narrowboat as we used to. For me, the wheelhouse makes it. It’s where I write, where we eat, entertain and watch the scenery go by as we cruise.
We’re very lucky, we realise that; we’re creating memories to reflect on for the rest of our days.