The International Living Podcast

Episode 40: Cruising the Canal du Midi in France

August 30, 2023 International Living
Episode 40: Cruising the Canal du Midi in France
The International Living Podcast
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The International Living Podcast
Episode 40: Cruising the Canal du Midi in France
Aug 30, 2023
International Living

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This week, we chat with International Living contributor Kevin McGoff about his passion for France and, more specifically, his love of traversing the country via its extensive network of navigable waterways.

Whether it’s a slow-paced getaway for just Kevin and his wife, Patty, or a more extensive trip with a group of friends, the rivers and canals of France open up a side of the country that’s often missed by visitors. A side where things are altogether more languid, where the slow filling and emptying of boat locks dictates the pace of travel, and where a shared glass of wine and conversation with the lock keeper is more important than deadlines or itinerary.

Making new friends, learning new skills, exploring an entirely different France than the one the highways bring you to—the boating experience offers a vast range of countryside, scenery, and historical perspective on life in the heart of rural Europe. Meeting experienced boaters, as well as complete novices, Kevin and Patty have racked up a wealth of anecdotes and memories, from watching the fall colors of the Burgundy forests to getting dug out of a mudbank by the French army.

‘I would say the relaxing mode of travel,’ says Kevin, explaining what he loves about boating in France. ‘You get into this rhythm where… I liken it to a beach vacation where you have something to do because it's not terribly taxing, but you have to keep alert. So you've got a challenge, if you will, of navigating the boat, navigating the locks…. And being out in the countryside on a nice day at the end of a maybe four or five-hour cruise. There's nothing like it.’

Join host, Jim Santos, as he meets Kevin McGoff in the latest episode of Bigger, Better World.

Read Kevin's full article in the June issue of the International Living Magazine: No Experience Required: Pilot a Boat on a French Canal.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform: https://lovethepodcast.com/internationalliving.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

This week, we chat with International Living contributor Kevin McGoff about his passion for France and, more specifically, his love of traversing the country via its extensive network of navigable waterways.

Whether it’s a slow-paced getaway for just Kevin and his wife, Patty, or a more extensive trip with a group of friends, the rivers and canals of France open up a side of the country that’s often missed by visitors. A side where things are altogether more languid, where the slow filling and emptying of boat locks dictates the pace of travel, and where a shared glass of wine and conversation with the lock keeper is more important than deadlines or itinerary.

Making new friends, learning new skills, exploring an entirely different France than the one the highways bring you to—the boating experience offers a vast range of countryside, scenery, and historical perspective on life in the heart of rural Europe. Meeting experienced boaters, as well as complete novices, Kevin and Patty have racked up a wealth of anecdotes and memories, from watching the fall colors of the Burgundy forests to getting dug out of a mudbank by the French army.

‘I would say the relaxing mode of travel,’ says Kevin, explaining what he loves about boating in France. ‘You get into this rhythm where… I liken it to a beach vacation where you have something to do because it's not terribly taxing, but you have to keep alert. So you've got a challenge, if you will, of navigating the boat, navigating the locks…. And being out in the countryside on a nice day at the end of a maybe four or five-hour cruise. There's nothing like it.’

Join host, Jim Santos, as he meets Kevin McGoff in the latest episode of Bigger, Better World.

Read Kevin's full article in the June issue of the International Living Magazine: No Experience Required: Pilot a Boat on a French Canal.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform: https://lovethepodcast.com/internationalliving.

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube


Jim Santos 00:09 
Hello once again and welcome to Bigger, Better World. You know, having a more international lifestyle doesn't have to mean cutting all ties and moving forever to another country. For many, it means simply exploring options outside of the usual North American vacation. Our guest today is a great example of that kind of expanded horizon. Kevin McGoff is a freelance writer and contributor to International Living. He's here today to talk to us about his June 2023 article ‘No Experience Required: Pilot a Boat on a French Canal’. 

Kevin, welcome to Bigger, Better World and thanks for joining us today.

Kevin McGoff 01:18 
Well, thanks for having me, Jim. I'm excited to share some time with you today.

Jim Santos 01:22 
Well, since you're new to the show here, how about taking a moment, first of all to give us a little bit of background about yourself and your wife Patty.

Kevin McGoff 01:30 
Sure.

Jim Santos 01:31 
Where are you from and how did you end up in France?

Kevin McGoff 01:33 
We live in Indianapolis where we were both born and raised and Patty and I over the years traveled a lot to France, probably every year during the course of our marriage, which will be 50 years coming in January.

Jim Santos 01:47 
Congratulations.

Kevin McGoff 01:49 
Thank you. And I've been a lawyer here in Indianapolis and Patty owned a beauty shop, she was a hairdresser. And ultimately I made a decision after she retired to investigate other career possibilities and I started doing some travel writing and then we ended up we purchased a small apartment in the south of France in a town called Sorgue, which is close to Avignon in Provence. And that was a rental apartment for the eight years. 

And we decided to spend more time in France as I wound down my days as a lawyer. And we now have a bit larger apartment, it's not huge, 1,100 square feet, still in Isle sur la Sorgue, where we spend about half the year. And I'm no longer working as a lawyer, but I've been doing some travel writing. We certainly travel and have also written a book that the American Bar Association is publishing, Find Your Landing Zone Life Beyond the Bar, which is encouragement to lawyers to look at their talents and if they choose to do something else or switch gears, there's a route that I propose as to how to go about it.

Jim Santos 03:06 
What was it about France that attracted you? I mean, did you look at other countries or has it just always been France for you?

Kevin McGoff 03:12 
When I was in the army, when I was 18 years old, I was stationed in Germany and traveled to Paris and decided that I liked that lifestyle. Both Patty and I had taken high school French. We took some French in college and we ultimately decided that we really liked the lifestyle. That's what attracted us. And so, over the course of the years we both studied French and Patty still she takes three lessons a week with tutors around the world and we both have learned to speak the language. Our friends are French, English, Scots, Moroccans…from all over the world, and we really enjoy the lifestyle and the pace of life.

Jim Santos 03:59 
It's interesting, we're finding more and more people who are finding that you don't necessarily have to commit to ‘I'm going to move to another country and live the rest of my life there’. You can actually have an international lifestyle where you split your time between two or more countries.

Kevin McGoff 04:15 
Absolutely. We have three children and five grandchildren and they're scattered about the United States. And so we enjoy coming back here, particularly in the summertime when we can spend the time with our grandchildren that are living Indianapolis and the ones that don't we can go visit. And so it's a nice lifestyle that we've adapted to where we're roughly half of our life is in France. The other part of our life is a month in Mexico in a condo on the beach in Puerto Vallarta in January and then back here in Indy and between here in Cleveland and Denver where our girls live.

Jim Santos 04:56 
Yeah, I understand the grandchild problem there. I think this summer we put about 4000 miles on the car making the grandchild circuit of 2023.

Kevin McGoff 05:07 
I'm with you, Jim. Being a grandfather is a very good gig, I tell people. It's enjoyable, but we find that they're busy and we don't feel a bit bad about it. We're heading back to France here in a couple of weeks and we'll be there from early September until just before Thanksgiving and back here in the United States for the holidays.

Jim Santos 05:27 
Well, it sounds great. And the part we wanted to talk to you about the article that you wrote for International Living was about boating on the French canals. I understand this is all your wife's fault.

Kevin McGoff 05:38 
It is, actually. For her monumental birthday some years ago she said that she would love to go on one of those French canal boats that we'd seen during our travels. This is pre-Internet days. And I did some investigation and found that the cost of a berth for two people on a boat that held six or eight complete with chef, deck hand captain and such, was pretty pricey for people with kids in high school and all the bills that go with being 40. So I started looking around to an alternative and I stumbled upon a company. Locaboat is the name of it. 

There's various other companies throughout France and the world that rent self-drive boats. And so I called the company, I rented the boat and put a little brochure together for my wife for her birthday, extolling the virtues of this grand cruise that we would have and disclosed on the last page that it would just be two people on the boat and that she was a pilot.

Jim Santos 06:50 
And let's get this out front right away. Neither of you had ever owned a boat before or had any experience piloting a boat?

Kevin McGoff 06:56 
I've never owned a boat, never piloted a boat and thought this would be a great lark. She thought that I was crazy and wasn't particularly high on the idea, although she's adventurous enough that we know why not. It can be done. And so we did. We headed to a canal, the Canal de Briare in the middle of France, and went to the base and started our adventure.

Jim Santos 07:28
Now, was there any kind of training period before you started this?

Kevin McGoff 07:32 
There is. This company has technicians that are on the bases. They have a number of bases that are throughout France. So you can take your pick about where you might want to boat. And they get on board. They're bilingual, if not trilingual, and coach you about how to turn on the heating system and operate the windshield wipers, get the boat started in the morning, and then they take you out into the canal and give you a lesson. And the tech will stay with you probably about as long as you want. But they teach you how to navigate the boat, turn it around in a narrow space, and then you're on your own, although they're a phone call away. And so if you ever have a problem, help is not far.

Jim Santos 08:22 
I was aware that England had a pretty extensive canal system, but I had never heard of the canal system in France. But it's fairly large, isn't it?

Kevin McGoff 08:30 
It is the canal system. There's about 2,300 miles of navigable water in France.

Jim Santos 08:36 
Wow.

Kevin McGoff 08:36 
And some of the canals are still used for commerce, although on a lesser scale. And the larger rivers, like the Saone and the Rhone, you can get on them with a canal boat, although smaller boats, you're better, in my opinion, staying on the canals. It's a little more easier ride. And you're not riding up next to a Viking cruise ship in a boat that's about 40ft long.

Jim Santos 09:06 
Did you have to apply for a special license or a permit in order to rent the boat?

Kevin McGoff 09:10 
No, that is included in the price. There's no license for piloting these small boats.

Jim Santos 09:16 
I imagine you got to sign some sort of waiver or is there insurance involved?

Kevin McGoff 09:20 
There is, there's various packages that the company that we've been using offers you for insurance. And yes, you're certainly on your own in terms of getting hurt. But I can tell you, in ten years we've had two fall ins, and it was the same person who fell in, and he fell in on two different trips. And it was just accident. Nobody got hurt. But we've never had a problem. 

They're pretty durable boats and you do travel pretty slowly. They regulate the speed because churning up a wake would destroy the banks. You're on parts of land that have been part of the canal system for many, many years and you preserve them in part by not producing a wake. So therefore you're not really going fast enough to get hurt, is what I tell people.

Jim Santos 10:24 
Now, if this is anything like the English systems, you also have locks at various places where the water level changes. Are those difficult to navigate?

Kevin McGoff 10:33 
They really are not. Now, like anything else, the first lock that you venture into is a challenge. But once you get the hang of it, it's actually pretty simple. It gets a little complicated, I suppose, when you're on a busier canal, where the lockkeeper, if there's a handful of boats waiting for the lock, the lockkeeper will insist that up to four boats go into the lock at the same time. And that requires a little communication with the other captains and sometimes different languages, because you encounter people that are not English speakers necessarily, or not even French speakers sometimes. That may be Germans or from other countries and little pointing and such, it all gets done. And we've never had any serious problems with that. 

But no. And the locks, I have to tell you, Jim, are a very social atmosphere because you're in the lock for maybe 20 or 30 minutes depending on if you're going up or down and how big the lock is. And so because you do travel slowly, you may on the canal at Bourgogne, for example, which has quite a fall, so there's locks frequently versus other canals. You may be in a lock with the same group all day.

Quick story, the very first lock that we went into on the canal to Bourgogne on our first trip, I jumped off the boat. It was a lock that was going down, so I just stepped off, I took the ropes, I started wrapping them around the post, it's called a bollard, which secures the boat as it goes down the lock. And this woman jumped off another boat and to show me how I was doing it incorrectly and I read the book and she'd been on boats for years. 

When we started a conversation in French she realized that English was also a common language. And so we ended up traveling with this Austrian couple the rest of the week. And Robert and Hannah, who live in Vienna, became very good friends. We keep in touch with them to this day. We've been to Vienna twice and stayed at their home. She's been to our house. We've traveled in other boat trips with them and all occasioned by me fumbling around with the rope and then spending the day on the canal with them. It was really a fun friendship. We still enjoy their company.

Jim Santos 13:07 
I would imagine that there's also some leapfrogging involved. You're probably running into the same people at different points along the trip. 

Kevin McGoff 13:15 
Absolutely. And it's fun because the way the system works on the canals that we've navigated in France, there are ports where you might pull in, there's restaurants, you need to take on water, recharge the batteries by plugging into electricity. And when you're in the port, then that's a social atmosphere. Everybody's got a story to tell and maybe a bottle of wine might be popped open and invitations extended. And we've met lots of interesting people who were doing what we were doing on a casual basis. 

We've been several times invited onto boats of people, Americans and some Australians who bought a larger boat than we were renting and live on their boat in France, and really living a fascinating life and willing to share some time and some hors d'oeuvres and a glass of know-how.

Jim Santos 14:10 
Wide are these canals? Is it two way traffic?

Kevin McGoff 14:13 
It is two-way traffic and they're really not much wider than, I would say, a four lane highway with a median in a shallower canal. You could walk across it in seconds. They're not terribly deep for the most part, and if you're not navigating on a river, the canals are pretty narrow.

Jim Santos 14:38 
Tell us about the boats themselves. How comfortable are they to live on? I assume you're going at least a week at a time on these trips.

Kevin McGoff 14:46 
Yes, you can get a weekend trip if you would like, but the minimum we've ever done it is for a week. And we find that we prefer to do it for ten days minimum or two weeks. Because just when you're getting settled into this pretty relaxing lifestyle, if you're on a week trip, you're quickly done. And so the boats that we've rented through Locaboat are…there are various sizes. They have a boat for two people and they have a boat where you can get eight or twelve people on them. 

And what we've found comfortable, particularly when we're taking other people with us, if we have three other couples, they have a nice boat that has four berths. Each berth has its own bathroom and shower. And the boat that we like a lot has an upper deck, and so there's room for everybody to sit on top. You can drive also from the top. There's a wheel on the top of the boat and also a wheel inside the boat if you're navigating in poor weather or when it's cold. But there's a galley. So our typical practice is to have something on board.

If we choose not to go to a port, we might just take the stakes that they provide and pound them into the ground. Out in the middle of between towns and it's dark at night, you're in the woods, it's quiet, and you cook on the boat and just enjoy a nice evening away from everybody. Everybody sleeps pretty comfortably and there's a sitting area with a table, pretty good sized table on the boat that seats eight. Yeah, it's very comfortable living. 

My wife equates it to, it's sort of like camping on water and that's a good description of it. The first time that we went we read the brochure of course and it said that there was a shower. We went into the bathroom and searched high and low for the shower and couldn't find it and wondered what we were doing wrong before we discovered that the faucet, if you pulled it out from the sink, there was a hook on the wall and you turned the water on in the sink and it came out the faucet hanging from the hook on the wall. And that was the shower. 

We've also learned a lesson the hard way that it's a good idea to take everything out of the bathroom, your cosmetics, toothbrush and the toilet paper before you turn the shower on because everything gets wet.

Jim Santos 17:23 
Now that water reminds me that it's not just a matter of having food and drink on board, you're also going to need gas for the engine. Assume maybe something like propane for the kitchen and potable water and water for the shower. How do you handle the provisioning?

Kevin McGoff 17:40 
How the provisioning is these boats are even on a two-week trip we've never needed to take on fuel really. They're a diesel engine and they are full when you leave. That takes care of the powering, the boat. There's batteries that operate the electricity and obviously it works much better when you're in port and you can plug in and bypass the batteries, but otherwise, if you're staying out remotely there's lighting in the boat that's plenty adequate for reading if you're not on a Kindle. As far as for water, there are tanks on the boat, and they do require one to fill up the water about every two or three days, depending on how many people are on the boat. And so then that's just a function of there's a hose that's provided by the company, and you have a navigational book that will tell you where there's water, where there's electricity, and you have to do a little planning. 

You just can't go freelancing for a week, you need to have a route planned and have your water stop and electricity stop planned. In this day and age you can get WiFi and I've yet to be able to convince the voyagers that we take along that we could do without the WiFi for a week.

Jim Santos 19:13 
On these trips, are they normally one-way or do you have to turn around and go back where you started originally.?

Kevin McGoff 19:20 
Yeah, you actually have a choice on that and there is a bit of a surcharge on the one-way trip, but we like both. We've done many one-way trips and we've done many round trips. With the one-way trip, obviously, you see different scenery for your seven or 14 days, however long you're going to be on the boat, the company will provide for transportation to get back, which is something to account for in our case, because we'll have a car on our next trip. 

What's coming up this fall, we're going to do a one-way trip, and the company will drive our car from the originating base to where we're ending, and it'll park it in a protected lot and it'll be there when we get back.

Jim Santos 20:14 
What's it like actually piloting the boats? Are they difficult to control? Imagine moving at a slow speed like that.

Kevin McGoff 20:20 
Yes. Well, the smaller boats and also certainly it's a function of the longer the boat, the more careful you have to be. It's like any other moving vehicle. If you operate it at a reasonable… read that to mean slow speed, then you tend not to get yourself in trouble. But these boats have not much of a keel, and so wind can be a factor. If you're coming slowly into a lock and you have one of the smaller boats, you just have to account for the wind. But again, if you happen to tap the side of a lock, it's not the end of the world. It can be corrected easily. 
The newer boats have bow thrusters, and the bow thruster gives you the ability to move the boat not exactly sideways like an ocean liner, but it adds a dimension of control that in our early boating days, we did not enjoy. And so once you get used to the bow thruster, if a little wind's causing problems, a push of the button will correct what seems like going sideways.

Jim Santos 21:33 
And on these trips, how often are you getting off the boat and exploring the areas around you?

Kevin McGoff 21:40 
Well, you can have bicycles. We've always had the company provide bicycles for the passengers, and that has enabled us to plan to park the boat in a town and go off to explore some wineries, towns that are not right on the water, which is really a lot of fun. One of our trips, we had several people who liked to run in the morning, and we had another fellow that just liked to walk to be by himself. And so it was pretty common for the joggers or the walkers to get off the boat. And as long as there are at least two of us, three, if we have a bigger boat staying on the boat, those folks could go ahead and ultimately we would catch up with them down the road and pull the boat over and they could jump back on. 

And so also, these trips allow for everybody to have a chance to do what they want. You don't really have to feel like you're bound to the boat like you might be if you're on the QE2 crossing the Atlantic Ocean. 

Jim Santos 22:56 
Are there a lot?

Kevin McGoff 23:00
Well, I guess it varies with the canals, but some of them must go by French villages. 

Jim Santos 23:01
That would be interesting to explore.

Kevin McGoff 23:03 
Yes. What happened is, speaking specifically about the Canal de Midi, which was built during the reign of Louis XIV. The idea being to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean, and the sailors then could avoid going through the Strait of Gibraltar. It was a quicker trip from England to get into the Mediterranean. So this canal then was built for that purpose. 

And then the railroads in the 1860s sort of put it out of business for commercial purposes, but the French government kept the thing alive and presently the Canal de Midi serves strictly pleasure boats. And so all along the canal there are these small towns that have if they were sort of slowed down by the lack of traffic, they've come back to life. And so you'll find quaint restaurants, a couple of little towns. These housing developments have gone up and they're actually desirable places to live, away from the bigger cities and provide a great spot for one at the end of a boating day, to sit in the shade and have a coffee or a sundae or a wine or whatever. And they're fun little towns to visit.

Jim Santos 24:28 
And you've managed to cruise quite a few of these canals at this point, haven't you?

Kevin McGoff 24:32 
We have. We've done trips in Brittany. We've done trips there's a variety of canals in the center of France, along with de Bourgogne, the Canal du Nivernais, the Canal de Midi. We've done it in bits and pieces to the point we've done most, but not all of it. There's several rivers. We've been on the Saone several times. And our next trip is planning. We've got this trip. We're going back to the Canal de Midi in a few weeks, but I think at the end of next year or next fall, there's a group that wants to go and Patty and I are going to be the captain and crew taking a group somewhere, probably in Brittany, where there's a lot of canals. We've just got a little taste of one of them.

Jim Santos 25:29 
Is there a time of the year that's better or worse for the canal trips?

Kevin McGoff 25:33 
Of course, it depends on your personal situation. Patty and I tend to avoid the summer months when vacationers are there. The canals can have a lot of people on them, particularly in the months of July and August, which is a traditional vacation month for the French, but also visitors from elsewhere. And so our preference is to go in May or September or October.

Jim Santos 26:03 
Yeah, I imagine it's beautiful in the French countryside there in October.

Kevin McGoff 26:07 
Lovely. Of course, the weather is never predictable and never was, but I believe that the Canal de Midi offers more of assurance that you're not going to encounter rain, although there's never a guarantee. We've always had pretty pleasant weather, although one trip we took where we were in Burgundy, it rained every day and it was just the two of us and, despite the fact that we were pretty wet because on that canal you had to get out and there was no lock keeper on some of the locks. They went through farm fields and so there was a giant wheel that I had to get out and crank the wheel to lift like a foot bridge or a bridge for a tractor connecting two fields. We had a blast. We were both soaked, but it didn't matter. You know what? We were in France enjoying the countryside and it was fun even though we were wet.

Jim Santos 27:03 
Yeah. That spirit of adventure has got to get you through. When the elements turn against you.

Kevin McGoff 27:09 
There's no guarantees, but I think if people that want to do this go appreciating that and you take a rain jacket and two pairs of shoes that can get wet, you'll still have fun.

Jim Santos 27:23 
Now, if you're listening to this and thinking, this is something that I'd like to try… as an experienced canal boater, are there any recommendations or suggestions you can make on planning that first trip?

Kevin McGoff 27:34 
Yes, I'd start with the region where you would like to go and once you narrow it down to two or three, appreciate how you're going to get there, because some of these canals are remote and the starting point is remote. And so if you're going to fly into Paris, if you're doing the French canals and you want to go to a place in the center of Burgundy, then you need to figure out how you're going to get there, because you just can't jump off the train and walk to the canal. There's a taxi ride. 

The canal company, the boating company is very good. They provide services and taxi service to get you there and there's an expense involved and when you're preparing your budget, that's something you want to consider. Another thing that I would say equally, if not probably the most important thing is pick wisely, is who's going with you. You are in a small confines for however many days that one chooses to do this and you need to be compatible. 

We've witnessed some interesting discussions, I'll say, among other boaters on other boats. And my Austrian friend Robert observed as he watched the squabble going on with two French couples, he chuckled and said, many a good friendship has been lost on a canal boat.

Jim Santos 29:05 
In any place where you're going to be in potentially high stress situations. Yeah, I can see where that can either make or break a relationship.

Kevin McGoff 29:13 
The other thing is in picking an area, what are you interested in again? Locoboat, that we company that we've used, they'll direct you if you're somebody who likes nature and you want to be in a bird sanctuary type area in the woods, very doable. If you're a wine enthusiast, there's plenty of trips through Bourgogne, Burgundy, where you will have the opportunity to either walk to a winery, get a taxi—that's very easy to do—to get a cab to pick you up and take you up the hill or ride the bikes. 

There's others where maybe there's some historic castles that are close by. And so I think that's another planning element to narrow down the interest of what you intend to see. Although I will say it's very enjoyable. In some of our early trips, we spent our time on the boat. A little bike ride, a good book, and maybe a little nap. You don't necessarily ride the boat all day, every day, which is another planning tip, I would say, is you have a navigational book that will give you tips about how far you can go. 

But I'd always counsel people to go less than sometimes is recommended because you'll see more and you'll have a leisurely pace and you don't want to be motoring 6 hours a day because while it's fun, I think there's things that are missed.

The whole idea of these trips, in my view, is you see a part of France you'll never see from the highway, right? And you might as well see it while you're there and not just ride through it.

Jim Santos 31:09 
Now, I know from hiking trips it also is very important to make sure that you know what provisions you're going to need and where you're going to need them. Is it the same way on the canals? Do you have maybe long stretches where there's not a place where you can hop off and get a cheeseburger or some places that are overly commercial?

Kevin McGoff 31:30 
Absolutely. I'm glad you brought that up because on one of our trips we thought that we'd get to the base and we'd take the boat and then we'd stop and have a meal and also go to a grocery store. And we didn't have any provisions. Well, we got to the first town where that was going to happen in a pouring rain to find that because it was a small town, the one restaurant in town was closed that day and the closest grocery store was up a hill. 

We put our raincoats on, got on our bikes, started riding up the hill, decided that it was getting dark, this is dangerous. And so our meal that night was crackers that we'd taken from the Air France flight. And so that lesson was that we never leave the base without at least one meal. Usually it's chicken, there's some pasta, some bread, some salad in there, in the fridge. And that way if you do get somewhere, we know that we're going to eat.

Jim Santos 32:44 
Now, thinking back to that very first trip, was there a moment where you either thought, well, this was a big mistake, or a moment where it hit you that wow, this is really a nice thing for us to be doing.

Kevin McGoff 32:58 
Yeah. Actually, Jim, I'd say both the moment that when we realized that it was really a meaningful experience is when it was all said and done and we recognized that we'd made two great friends in Robert and Hannah. That just over total happenstance in that first lock, and they remain friends. 

The other side of it is, on this particular trip, we left the canal, the Bourgogne, and we went up the Saone River and we woke up, Patty and I went out to dinner. When we came back, we noticed that there was a glass of water sitting on the table and it looked like it was tilted. And we said, this just seems odd. I don't know, maybe this table's crooked or something. We went to bed. We got up in the morning and realized that that glass was tilted because the whole boat was tilted. And what happened is the tide had gone out the night before. And what we didn't appreciate, not being mariners, is that since we were no longer on a canal where the level of the water could be regulated by the locks, we were now on a river where the tides are affected by the moon.

So our boat was stuck with the aft, the front of the boat, in the sand along the side of the river. Robert and Hannah's boat was stuck. The rudder was stuck in the mud. And so we're thinking, oh, this is bad. We need to end this trip. We're kind of close, and now we're stuck in the mud, literally. 

Well, this massive barge goes by, and the pilot, the barge, he recognized what was happening, and so when he got alongside our boats, he goosed the engine on the barge. It's agitated the water, and I was able to push the front of our boat into the river. And we were good, but our friends were stuck. And about the time we're trying to sort out what happens, there is a group of French soldiers, there were probably 20 of them that were marching. They were jogging, but in formation on the canal path. 

Well, these soldiers saw what was going on. They stopped what they were doing. One of them grabbed a great big tree limb and put it under the boat for leverage, and the French army pushed their boat back into the river.

Jim Santos 35:35 
And you were vive la France!

Kevin McGoff 35:40 
Absolutely.

Jim Santos 35:42 
What do you think it is that keeps bringing you back to the canals?

Kevin McGoff 35:46 
I would say the relaxing mode of travel. You get into this rhythm where, I liken it to a beach vacation where you have something to do because it's not terribly taxing, but you have to keep alert. So you've got a challenge, if you will, of navigating the boat, navigating the locks. You stand on the front of the boat with your binoculars to make sure that you can see if the lock is open or closed. And being out in the countryside on a nice day at the end of a maybe four or five hour cruise. There's nothing like it.

Jim Santos 36:28. 
We've been talking with Kevin McGoff about his June 2023 article. ‘No Experience Required: Pilot a Boat on a French Canal’. You can find more information from Kevin and about some of his travels on his website at www.Surlaroutekm.com. That's Surlaroutekm.com. 

Kevin, thanks again for sharing with us on Bigger, Better World, and I hope you've inspired others to let their wives get them into new adventures abroad as well.

Kevin McGoff 36:57 
Well, I've enjoyed speaking with you, Jim, and I encourage any would-be mariner to take the plunge and go on a French canal trip.

Jim Santos 37:16 
The Bigger, Better World podcast is a production of International Living. If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. If you have an idea for an episode or a question you'd like us to answer, email us at mailbag@internationalliving.com. And don't forget to put podcast in the subject line of your email. That's mailbag@internationalliving.com. 

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Jim Santos 38:26 
Well, it's time for me to pack my bags as Rita and I head off to the Denver, Colorado Ultimate Go Overseas Bootcamp. 

But fear not, the podcast will continue next week. We'll be talking with a couple that have been cycling their way around Europe. Until then, remember, there's a Bigger, Better World out there just waiting for you.


From Indianapolis to Owning a Vacation Home in France
Part-Time Living in France
In at the Deep End—Learning How to Captain a Boat, As You Do it
Why France is the Place For Boating
What Are the Boats Like? How Do You Live Onboard for That Long?
Dealing With the Practical Stuff
Day Trips and Adventures on Dry Land
Where We Plan to Go Next
How to Choose the Right Cruise For You
What we Love About it, And Why We Do it