We came across her three years ago; she was moored in our home port on the same pontoon as us, a couple of berths down on the opposite side. Once or twice we saw people on board, but for the most part she seemed uninhabited, and we never saw her leave her mooring.
During our second season at the port, we remarked that she looked to be in need of a bit of ‘tlc’ but nevertheless was a very attractive little boat, nicely built, with a red canopy. Any effort expended on her would be well worthwhile.
But the effort never was expended, for whatever reason, and as the winters gave way to summers she began to look sadder and sadder. Paint began to peel, windows began to rust, brass tarnished and wood began to rot. Once, probably in response to a call from one of the neighbouring boaters, a couple arrived and secured a flapping piece of the structure that acted as a shade over the cockpit. We thought the renovation was about to begin, but we were mistaken.
By the time we came back to the port three months ago to start our spring cruise, there was no doubt that she was on her last legs; the time for rescue had passed, and when we returned to port after seven weeks on the waterways, there was an empty space where she used to reside.
Gone, but not yet totally disappeared.
For as we walked through the port towards the town, we saw her standing high on the quayside, the true extent of her deterioration revealed from top to keel. We gradually pieced the story together with the help of neighbouring moorers.
Our neighbour had noticed that the boat was listing badly and the owners were seen on board later that day, having drinks with friends. She thought they’d come to attend to it, but they didn’t stay. It turned out to be a farewell drink, as two days later the boat finally gave up the ghost and sank at its berth.
The Pompiers were called, a boom was placed around her and divers went down to check that the fuel tank was secured. Then she was pumped out and ignominiously towed past the moored boats for all to see, to the quay on the far side of the port, where a crane from the atelier prepared to lift her out of the water.
What happened next is self-evident from the photos.
The slings of the cradle that were passed beneath her just sank into the rotten wood of the hull as she began to rise from the water. Once started, the process had to be completed for now she had two very large holes in the hull, in addition to her earlier problem.
It’s clear that the port would like the hulk removed. Apart from being unsightly, it’s taking up a significant area of the quay and probably represents a hazard to passers by. To make matters worse the word is that there is an insurance dispute.
Meanwhile, she sits there on the quay, and has done so for close on two months now, with her insides spilling out, the wood rotting even further and her shame evident to all who pass by.
Boaters are embarrassed to look; those of us who love boats are upset by the demise of a once fine craft. Soon, if not already, someone will start scavenging for items of value amongst the fixtures and fittings.
It’s no way to end her days.
And yet people do walk away from boats. Time and time again we’ve seen half-sunken boats protruding from canals and rivers, or boats that have been taken out of the water to avoid obstruction and now languish on the banks.
It’s easy to moralise about this, but you can never know the personal circumstances that have led to the demise of the boats you see littered along the waterways. People die, boating partners are lost for one reason or another, and some people find boating difficult as they themselves get older. Some people simply lose interest, but can’t be bothered to do anything about it.
Boat ownership is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a real commitment. Apart from being expensive to buy, they are expensive to run and need constant maintenance. It’s not just the price of the boat you need to think about. When something goes wrong it may well be below the water line – and craning out of the water to have it fixed is expensive. We’ve been charged 400 euros per lift before now, though we now know other places which will do it cheaper. But what if you can’t get the boat there…?
We’ve learned the hard way, you can’t just ‘take’ from a boat; you have to invest something in return. And that’s both time and money – on a fairly regular basis. As the saying goes, ‘a boat is a hole in the water, lined with steel, into which you pour a sizeable amount, if not all of your money’. And like most things, as they get older you have to spend more money on them.
Most of all though, you need to have a Plan B. What will you do when it’s time to quit the water?
Assuming it’s not some dire happening that suddenly forces you to sell, you need to identify the right time to put that plan into operation. Boats are not like cars; most people need a car, fewer people actually need a boat. Boats can remain on the market for two or three years, and if you’re not able to maintain it during that period it will probably remain on the market much longer than that, reducing in value all the while.
It’s a worrying thought. But it needs to be thought about.
We’d hate to think about Désormais ending her days like the one on the quayside at our home port. Sentimental or not, I think most of us feel the same way about our boats; they deserve better than that.
Do you have a plan?