Quotes of note:
“I get the urge for going … winter’s closing in.” Joni Mitchell.
“Should I stay or should I go.” The Clash.
“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine.
“Holy cow, I can’t believe how friggin’ cold it is. And it isn’t even winter yet.” Ernest Shackleton (or if he didn’t actually say this, the thought must have crossed his mind.)
Spoiler alert. For those of you addicted to the HBO TV series Game of Thrones – we had dinner a couple of months ago at the castle at Chateauneuf and felt as if we were visiting Ned Stark – here is a hint about where the series is going, gleaned from having read the 3,000 or so pages of all the books in the series. WINTER IS COMING. We’re learning the same thing about Bourgogne (how you spell Burgundy in French). It hasn’t quite arrived yet but we know its bags are packed and it is heading straight for us. Recently, we’ve had the full spectrum of Burgundian autumnal weather, everything from light drizzles to torrential downpours. But not to worry. We’re getting settled in at our new home in Auxonne (about midway between Dole and Dijon on Google maps). Besides putting the diesel engine to bed for the winter we’ve prepared our heating armada.
Hoop Doet Leven has several heating systems. There are two diesel-burning stoves, one in the main cabin and one in the aft cabin. These stoves are plumbed to one of our three diesel fuel tanks, the 500 liter tank that holds “red” diesel, the variety of diesel that has no road tax and can only be used for non-transport purposes, such as heating and the generator. The other variety of diesel, “white” diesel, called gasoil, is used by the engine. Its price includes a transportation tax. Gasoil costs about 1.50 euros a liter. “Red” diesel, which we are forbidden to use as fuel but nonetheless is called, in French, “fuel,” costs about 1 euro a liter. Supposedly, the authorities can inspect your engine’s fuel filters and fine you to oblivion if you are using untaxed red “fuel” to fuel your engine. We’re not quite clear who these authorities might be but, this being France, they are out there somewhere, probably sipping red wine and telling each other they ought to go check somebody’s fuel filters, maybe tomorrow. Hoop’s engine room has a spaghetti bowl of copper tubes, valves and pumps to transfer liquids back and forth from the engine tank to the heater tank to the generator tank. Using all these tubes and pumps we could probably produce a melange of “rose'” petroleum, should we feel petrochemically artistic.
Last week, we tested our heating stoves. When we’d first arrived at the boat in March – was it really only seven months ago, seems like another life – the stoves didn’t work. An electric pump was supposed to transfer diesel fuel to the stoves but try as we might, the stoves stayed dry, not to mention cold. The fuel pump had given up the ghost and needed replacing. That was our first lesson in the wonders of repairing an 86-year-old boat, built in the Netherlands, rebuilt in Britain and residing in France. It turned out the fuel pump for the stoves, a Lucas pump, was from an MGB sports car. (Which brings to mind a story from when Harvey was flying gliders and his flight instructor, Geoffrey Love, a Brit, admired Harvey’s MG. Geoffrey asked about problems with the electrics and Harvey moaned. Geoffrey then asked if Harvey knew why the English drank warm beer. Harvey shook his head no and Geoffrey replied, with a grin, “Lucas makes refrigerators, too.”) The pump was readily available in the UK and delivered to us by Federal Express. That got the stove in the main cabin working. It is a wonderful device that drips drops of diesel – red, of course – one pump click at a time and gives off a yellow flame behind the windows in the stove door. It keeps the main cabin toasty, even at its lowest setting. The similar stove in the aft cabin was another matter. We eventually got it to work only after disregarding the dire warnings in the instruction manual about having it serviced only by the nearest authorized technician, who most likely was in England while we were in France.
The aft cabin stove, unlike the one in the main cabin, has all sorts of pipes and hoses running to its back. These tubes are supposed to circulate an antifreeze solution to radiators around the boat. We hadn’t been able to get anything even moderately warm to radiate from any of the radiators. No problem all summer, obviously, but October – and even more so the thought of November, December, January and February – raised the priority of radiated heat on our Things To Do list. Two days of bleeding air from each radiator’s air bleed screw, of turning electric pumps on and off, of draining antifreeze from one place and adding it to another place and, voila, the radiators were radiating.
But our diesel stoves are only one quill in our armory against winter. We have three electric heaters, devices that in March, when the diesel stoves were merely decorative, were carted from room to room. These heaters, the kind you sneak under your desk at work to warm your feet, had to be managed with precision. Sometimes they worked. More often, there were myriad combinations of Heater A and ceiling light B and vacuum cleaner C that when all were turned on simultaneously tripped the boat yard electrical breaker, requiring a hike down the quay to reset the circuit. We have a somewhat more reliable electrical supply this winter but we’ll still have to ration our electrical use.
Heating source Number Three is a stove called a poele that burns stove fuel, whatever that is. This is a boxlike device that when filled with fuel – available at the Brico, France’s version of Home Depot – and plugged in, glows and blows and puffs and then produces a hoard of heat. Unfortunately, in our tightly sealed boat it also seems to produce a certain amount of carbon monoxide. Fortunately, it has its own carbon monoxide detector that is supposed to shut the stove down when levels reach the wrong level. For obvious reasons we don’t feel comfortable using this as any regular source of heat. It was great in the spring, however, to heat the wheelhouse while we traveled, since we keep the front window open for the helmsperson to see through when motoring.
Finally, stored in the engine room are several plastic tubes, about a foot or so long, with electrical cords coming out one end. These, we were told, were used a couple of owners ago to keep the engine and water tanks from freezing.
We packed lots of fleece clothing and our deep winter down comforter from home. Being New Englanders, we know that winter, the colder the better, is Nature’s way of making you a Better Person. When we replaced the heating system in our house we didn’t even heat the second floor, where the bedrooms are. Heat rises, right?
Hoop Doet Leven is cheery now, as Sandra uses her hair dryer to shrink plastic wrap on all the windows, a poor man’s version of storm windows. We’re just back from Sunday lunch at one of the few restaurants here in Auxonne, an entre’ of pastry filled with escargot and a main course of pave de cerf, which our iPhone’s Larousse translator converted to “brick of stag.” One must leave oneself open to new experience, right, including deer and masonry products. And, we hope, including heat.