When did this journey begin? On June 28th when we left for France? On January 31st when I retired and started on the myriad tasks necessary to allow us to begin this adventure? Back in September when my husband, Craig, told me about this amazing possiblity? No, I think it began years ago with one simple choice that led to a series of fortunate events.
In 2000, as my three best friends and I realized that we were approaching a new decade in our lives, we decided that we needed to do something fantastic to soften the blow of this cruel twist of fate (back then, 50 wasn’t the new 40….it was, pretty much, 50). We had celebrated our 40th birthdays with a trip to Hawaii, but as one friend said, “we need something way better than that for 50!”
Fortunate Event #1: I received an unsolicted copy of a boating magazine in the mail. It included an article on cruising the waterways of Europe and listed two US travel agencies that specialized in these cruises; one was only an hour away from my home in California! I contacted this company and was sent a plethora of brochures. After spending hours perusing all of the delightful options available, we determined that we’d book a self-driven boat and cruise either an English or French canal. France was finally selected for the simple reason that we thought the food would be better. Now that the country was chosen, what canal would we cruise? The choice was narrowed to two: Canal du Nivernais and Canal du Midi. Being first-timers at canal-boating, we opted for the Canal du Nivernais for the simple reason that it had fewer locks to traverse.
Fortunate Event #2: A few years later, we booked another canal boat; this time choosing to cruise the Canal du Bourgogne instead of the Canal du Midi because it was closer to Paris and transportation was more easily accommodated.
Fortunate Event #3: Craig obtained his sailing credentials so we attended a “Strictly Sail” boat show. While he inspected the boats available for sale, I attended a lecture given by a couple from San Diego on “Cruising in the South of France”. Their slide show on the Canal de Midi was breathtaking; afterward, they were selling a guide book they had authored on this World Heritage site. Since we were now looking at the possibility of buying a sailboat, I enjoyed the lecture but passed on the book.
Fortunate Event #4: Friends who hadn’t been able to join us on our first canal trip pursuaded the group to plan another cruise. Since the Canal du Nivernais and Canal du Bourgogne had already been explored, group consensus was to cruise the Canal du Midi. Darn, why didn’t I buy that book? I found the book on-line and its purchase added me to the authors’ address list.
Fortunate Event #5: We received a broadcast email from the authors of the book announcing that their boat, “Joie de France”, was being offered for sale to allow them to purchase a newer boat. After many emails back and forth, we flew to France, fell in love with the boat (visualize a 1985 Winnebago on water) and finalized the deal. We contracted with Caryl, a lovely woman who lived in a charming cottage along the canal, to watch over her for us and flew back home leaving our new family member in her care.
Fortunate Event #6: We cruised in our “Joie” in the Fall and again in the Spring, but she had a slow leak and needed to be repaired. She started her life as a rental boat in the fleet of Rive de France, so we left her at a local marina to be tended to by Rive de France. We knew they’d take good care of her until we returned in the Fall to pick her up.
Fortunate Event #7: Due to work constraints, I wasn’t able to return in the Fall so Craig came alone to pick up our little “Joie” and do a few more repairs before settling her in for the long winter months. Although we were assured repeatedly by Rive de France that “Joie” would be ready for us; this is France, where nothing but the trains seem to be on time. Craig had planned to live aboard “Joie” during his stay but that was now impossible. He was able to stay at a local B&B for a few days, but due to the grape harvest, all other rooms and all other B&B’s were booked – there were no rooms available. He asked Caryl if she knew of any other lodgings.
Fortunate Event #8: Caryl had good news for us. She had recently moved in with her boyfriend so Craig would be able to stay in the cottage. During his stay, she stopped by and mentioned that although she was reluctant to give up her little cottage she didn’t want to maintain it from afar. She sighed and said it would be wonderful if she could find friends who could pick up expenses and tend the garden so she could leave it worry-free and in good hands.
So there you have it…..had any of these “fortunate events” not occurred, none of the remaining could have transpired. There were just too many coincidences for us to overlook, so Craig and I sat down with pen and paper determined to find a way to make this adventure real.