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Narrowboat “Sextant”

By now I am sure you know how we feel about France, so you can probably see where this urge to buy a boat springs from.
There are more than 6000 kilometres of canals or rivers in France, and that doesnt include the Brittany area.
What better way to explore France than from ones own boat on these beautiful waterways?
Of course these waterways do come with some 1600 locks, 9 tunnels and innumerable bridges, which brings me to one of the most important factors to take into account when thinking of buying a boat and that is ‘air draft’.
For the non nautically inclined, this is the height between the water and the boats highest point.
Sometime back, when we were on the Monmouth and Brecon canal in Wales, I posted a picture of us approaching an impossibly low looking bridge See post: Back to the Start.
Low bridges like this are not uncommon on the canals of UK and the traditional narrowboats are designed with this in mind.
These craft generallly have an air draft of around 1.8 metres.
The first picture shows ‘Sextant’, the well designed narrowboat of a good friend of mine, on which they spend most of the European summer cruising the UK waterways.
(Lucky them!) (Photos of ‘Sextant’ by courtesy of Andy Cross)

Capestang Bridge – Canal du Midi – France

 The bridges on the French waterways are usually not quite so low, but there are exceptions. The second picture shows Capestang bridge on the Canal du Midi, which is apparently one of the most tricky in France.
At its highest point the clearance is about 3 metres, but gets less towards the sides. So, after much research, it would seem that one needs a final air draft of about 2.4 metres, and this would allow one to cruise on most of the French waterways.
The ‘Dutch Steel’ boats that I have mentioned in a previous post conform pretty well to this, with masts or windscreens folded down.
Which is not surprising as there are also a lot of waterways in Holland, and the Dutch are renowned boat builders.
If one considers that the waterways of Belgium and Germany also connect to those of France and Holland, there is a lot of cruising ahead of us.

‘Sextant’ approaching Tower Bridge on River Thames

And lets not forget the rivers of the UK.

Approximately one third of the navigable waterways of UK would be accessible to a boat constructed along the ‘Dutch Steel’
lines, and I think that is the direction in which our boat buying journey is heading!
The last picture shows the other extreme – my friends boat ‘Sextant’ approaching Tower Bridge on the Thames.
No need to duck here.

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