2023 Barging France

Finally – the Overplating (16/08 – 21/10)


It would take ten weeks to finish the work on Catharina Elisabeth before were able to leave for Australia. In this blog, I’ll summarise the work we undertook over this period. However, during this work, we were able to get a couple of chances to play. We’ll cover those separately in the next blog.


Back from our trips with the Whelans and Simon had everything arranged for the liftout. Steel was there and the crane was due a few days later, on Monday. Finaly, Catharina’s big day arrived and we set up for a time-lapse of the event, chairs set up for the audience and we tried to keep calm. Our French friends, Muriel and Didier had come to witness the long-awaited event.

A big reassurance was that we had been berthed next to Hoop op Zegen in the yard and nearby at the Rally. She is a significantly bigger and heavier barge than Catharina and it transpired that she had been lifted out a few years previously at Simon’s yard using two cranes in exactly the place and fashion planned for us. Nick told us that it had been perfectly routine and that it was so smooth that any storage of breakables was completely unnecessary. Well, we did that anyway but were considerably reassured. Lisette took down all of the glasses (and the heavy cans of duck confit), placing them all in containers on the salon floor. Just in case anything shifted as we were lifted out. Simon did comment, though, that there would be no wobbling in his capable hands.

The day arrived and Simon first drove his crane from its normal position down the quay so it was positioned near Catharina’s bow and placed the strops at pre-marked spots on her foredeck.

The second crane arrival was delayed but just after lunch, it all started (the next video covers the whole process in time-lapse). The mobile crane positioned itself near Catharina’s stern, set out various stabilisers and moved to place a second set of strops on the stern, again, positioned carefully to avoid damaging the keel cooling. Then with a roar, the lift commenced.

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For the second crane, it was just a lift and swing. Simon, however, had to lift, drive backwards and swing. Still, he handled it with aplomb and with no trouble soon had Catharina positioned above the trestles. This video shows the view that Lisette had from the audience seats.

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Because the overplating would extend over the spots where Catharina rested on the trestles, and it would not be possible to lift later her to insert these plates, Gaetan cut and placed two smaller sheets of steel on the trestles and then she was lowered the final few centimetres onto the plates and the trestles.

Once she was resting on the trestles, the crew moved around Catharina and added a number of braces against the hull to make absolutely sure she would remain stable. Last, the tension was taken off the strops and Catharina was officially ‘on the hard’.

The whole process was handled smoothly, professionally and looked almost routine. No excitement whatsoever. Catharina’s bottom had a pressure wash to clean off the grime she had collected since the heavy wash she had suffered at Rousseau’s yard. The markings for most of the bad rivets were still visible.

Life in the air was to be quite different than in the water. First, there was a different view. We also could not use the shower or toilet and dishes had to be washed in a bucket, which was then carried down for disposal but there were showers and toilets nearby and a porta-potty on board  for backup. Of course, we had to climb up and down many times per day. Simon very generously moved a wooden staircase from one of his lifeboats and attached it to Catharina. That allowed us to walk up the stairs rather than climb a ladder.

Immeasurably easier as, eventually, we would be up in the air for eight weeks. The other feature was that Catharina had about a 5º tilt downwards to the bow which felt a bit peculiar. Very soon I would be sort of wrecking the bedroom and bathroom to gain access to the bilges. The changes to the bedroom would mean taking out the water tank (a plastic bladder) and so we would also have to cart all our water up from the taps on the quay and would have no running water at all.

The 2000 L water bladder under our bed.


Making access to the bilges on the starboard side. Portside, we have some access to the bilges.


The estimate was that it would take four to six weeks to do the overplating. Added to that was the need to paint the hull below the waterline, at least. A bit of maths and calendar consultation showed that this would mean we would not make our (late September) planned flights back home. Uncertain of when the work would finish, we couldn’t simply rebook the flights for another date, so we had to cancel them. Also exercising our minds was that our visas would expire on the 25th of October.

So, it was with increasing concern that we didn’t see any work starting on the overplating. Understandably, actually, but frustrating nonetheless. Gaetan was finishing a welding job on another boat, but was working in hot dry conditions, suffered heat stroke – and one week was gone. Then another job had to be finished. Another week gone. Getting desperate, Lisette had a quiet word with Shannon, the office manager who promptly had a chat with the ‘boys’ and shortly after the pre-planning work was in train. Finally, the day arrived when Gaetan started his welding. He was spot welding the first of the plates when he had an accident which could have been serious but he escaped with some bruising. He had to take off a few days to recover and another week passed. Three weeks gone.

We did have one break, each of us crewing on two friends’ barges. More on that next blog. The other incident was that it was my turn for a hospital visit. The children have been very clear – if we do require medical attention, then it must alternate between myself and Lisette from one season to the next. Stepping on one of the unsecured sections of the salon floor, I slipped into the bilges and grazed my shin. Not particularly badly but I always react poorly to shin injuries. We went to the Joigny hospital emergency section and I was seen pretty promptly. They assessed it as just needing cleaning and surface antiseptics – and provided us with an A4 page of lotions and dressings to buy and a strict daily regime of cleaning and dressing. We knew that this wouldn’t be enough to stop the inevitable infection but they wouldn’t give antibiotics without evidence of actual infection. So we left and a few days later were back again with the infection raging – as required. We were upbraided for not being on antibiotics, of course, but gave them a gallic shrug and took the prescription. A few days later, all was well.


Then, we got into the swing of things and Gaetan worked like a machine. In just three weeks he finished all the welding! He would measure and cut the steel, place a plate under Catharina using a forklift. Then brace it into position, hammer and tack weld it before completing the continuous weld on the edge of each section.

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Each time he was welding I would be inside with my heavy-duty mask on, torch and water spray at hand. The mirror was a car wing mirror we had picked up the mirror from a nearby car wrecker (turned out to be useless for all practical purposes – too cumbersome) and both were duct-taped to long poles. I would watch the red spot of the superheated steel and the smoke from the vaporising grease (‘Dutch Grease’ that coats the inside of the hull to protect from condensation causing rust) in case a fire broke out.

Naturally, I had been very worried about this aspect. While I had some access to the bilges, it was limited – especially towards the outside of the hull in the salon. Despite removing two sections of the bathroom floor, there was even less access in the bedroom and no access at all in the forepeak. Only in the engine room would there be relatively unfettered viewing of the work. Fortunately, again, I had met a Frenchman with good English, who had a big, steel luxemotor-type barge moored in the yard and had been through exactly the same process a year ago. He had said that the welding would only cause the melting and vapourising of the grease and that he had not seen a fire at all during his work.

Indeed, that turned out to be the case – mostly. I saw three small events when a fire started but they fizzled out, without intervention, in just a few seconds.

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The main issue was the smoke. It was acrid and eyes and lungs did not take kindly to operating in it unprotected. The mask I had was excellent and, along with a fan drawing air in from outside, the fire watch task was mostly boring.

However, Lisette could not tolerate even the merest exposure with asthma problems and headaches from the fumes and we realised very quickly that she could not remain on board during the welding. Each day she would head off as soon as Gaetan started work, spending the day on a friends’ boat, only returning to Catharina an hour or more after welding was finished for the day and the interior was reasonably well vented. In addition to this we had to arrange somewhere to sleep once I had destroyed the bedroom. Luckily, our great Kiwi friends Ruth and Roger on Romany had left to return home and graciously allowed us to use her as a temporary bedroom. We had to climb over four boats to get there, but it was much more convenient and comfortable than all the other options we had. We only needed the bedroom cabin for a little over a week but during welding, Lisette would retire to Romany and spend the day on her.

To get to Romany (the green wide beam) we had to clamber over and around three other boats

The original plan was to overplate the underside where the rivets were worn and damaged but to weld caps on a few rivets on the stern section. In the event, Gaetan overplated pretty much all of the marked section and only capped a few rivets under the keel cooling and a couple along the hull above the chine (where the underside changes to the side of the hull). In concert with some small sections of previous work, most of the underside of Catharina is now overplated. Of course, this has added to her weight although not that much, proportionately. About 1.5 tonnes have been added to her (probable) weight of 45-ish tonnes. The extra draft will be in the order of 1-2 cm – insignificant.

When Gaetan had finished the welding and painting the seams with epoxy he then added a new set of anodes around the hull and inside the bow thruster tunnel.

Old anode
New anode

One other job that we tackled, Simon and I, was maintenance on the bow thruster. It has been working fine but the bearings are supposed to be replaced every five years. I’m not sure this has ever been done but we tackled it now. Parts were sent from the Netherlands from Kalkman (the manufacturer) and after a considerable amount of team hammering, levering, heating and cursing we were able to get the prop out of the tunnel. Bearings went on (guessing one – correctly – that had been sent without instruction) followed by seals and the propellor and checked for operation. Seems OK, so let’s hope that this is not a case of ‘should have left well enough alone’.

Also during the welding, we took the opportunity of having Catharina being on the hard to test the spud poles. The last time, in 2019, we used them, it was catastrophic. The wire on the rear spudpole snapped and it dropped into the canal, skewering Catharina in place. We were rescued with Simon’s help and the spud pole was later repaired but we haven’t been game enough to use it since. Now we could let them deploy where we could see what was going on and where any problems could be addressed fairly easily. The video shows the stern pole deploying – to it’s full extent. It’s a bit slow but clearly shows how these mooring aids are used.

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In any case, both deployed and retracted without any problems.

The bow spud pole.


Once the welding was coming to an end, Lisette got onto touching up areas of the hull and rubbing strake paintwork using a mobile scaffold.

She also finished most of the refurbishment of our ‘new’ aft deck table and did a fabulous job of stripping the bathroom bench and restaining it.


The next task was to paint the hull to protect it from water-based corrosion (ie rusting). We had opted for a synthetic tar rather than the better but more tricky and expensive epoxy treatments partly because the new steel would not present a surface to which the epoxy coating would adhere strongly. The aim was three coats to areas of old steel, two coats to the new steel on the underside and two coats to the hull above the waterline. There was a fair bit of grinding, washing and acid pretreatment to get ready before the coating.

We started this near the end of the welding so that we would be ready to apply the paint as soon as Gaetan had finished.

The tar is very thick and has to sit on a hot plate to keep it fluid enough to handle. Every time we went back to reloading our rollers, we had to stir the tar to keep it homogeneous. I did the underside painting using a trolly we borrowed from Simon

Relaxing for about 30 seconds, then lean over for more. Note the tin of tar on the hotplate.

while Lisette did most of the hull on the sides, above and below the waterline. There was a solid four days of work completing that.

Meanwhile, we had another hull project. I’ve always wanted Catharina to have a ‘bloody nose’ or what the Dutch call a ‘spie‘. This is an angled red section of paint at the bow which is fairly common on old Dutch barges. We know that Catharina (then Vita) was painted in this fashion when she was originally refurbished in the ’80s.


This required that the hull section had to be thoroughly ground down, cleaned and acid treated – my job. Then Lisette applied two coats of epoxy, one of undercoat and then three coats of red enamel. The result was quite spectacular and Laurent, Gaetan and Norbert all commented that Catharina now looked “comme un requin” – like a shark. Indeed!

Although most of this period was pretty busy, we did squeeze in a trip to Peter and Christine’s (friends from Amity, rafted next to us at the Rally) house on the Nivernais. Details in the next blog.


That term came from Simon’s warped sense of humour. We were now ready to get off the hard. By now, we had booked very expensive one-way plane tickets back to Australia on the day before our visa was to expire. We had one week left.

But the night before, we set to giving the yard a surprise. Lisette cut out triangles of white card, I made up flour glue and waiting for everyone in the morning was a shark. It prompted a few giggles.

To a large extent, this was the reverse of the liftout. All the boats in the water were moved away from the quay and Laurent squeeeeezed the crane past Catharina and positioned it at her bow. The big mobile crane arrived, anchored itself and the straps were attached fore and aft. As Catharina was lifted, this revealed the sections of the hull that had been on the trestles and thus not painted. I quickly ducked underneath and applied a single coat over the naked strips.

The liftback went generally smoothly except for one short period when the two cranes got out of sync and Catharina swayed back and forth rather alarmingly (to us at least!) but she was soon back in the Yonne.

I did the mandatory check of the bilges to see that water was not pouring in – it wasn’t and the activity continued. This time, another big barge was being lifted out on the same session (halving our cost for this lift) so Ian cruised moved back, the other barge replaced us, was lifted out and we then we were supposed to return to our familiar spot against the quay. However, it was too shallow for them to drag us back while against the quayside so they had to attach a line from Catharina to the forklift and get some grunt behind the dragging.

Later that day, we were alarmed to find some water in the bilges. Long story (and some great stress on our part) short, this proved not to be a problem – it is not uncommon to find small leaks after welding but they generally close up quickly and after a couple of days of nervous checking, draining and measuring volumes, no more water seemed to be entering. It was something we had heard regarding a friend’s barge that had been lifted out recently. It took three weeks for his barge to reseal.

It was such a joy to be back in the water. It is a strange, but oft-quoted feature of being on the hard, that it has a totally different and harsh feel compared to being in the water. Even moored there are just slight movements that comfort and relax us. Such a delight to be back in our natural element.

Now we had less than a week to fully prepare for winter. We had arranged to leave a few days before the flight, not our usual practice, and stay for a few days with our great Canadian barging friends on their barge Aleau in Paris. However, before this could happen, we had some electrics to update.

We had arranged for a Victron specialist and DBA member to install a 10 kWh Li-ion battery (ex-Tesla) in 2018. This had been working perfectly well. However, Daniël sent an email while we were on the hard and said that it would be best if we replaced the battery with two 7 kWh Li-FePO4 batteries. For those not acquainted with lithium batteries, the Li-FePO4 batteries are considered to be much, much less of a fire risk and have up to five times the recharging lifecycle of Li-ion types. I replied that it sounded like a very good idea but we were skint after paying for overplating. Daniël countered with that he wasn’t asking us to buy them – but he was offering to give them and the associated installation modules, cables and accessories to us for free! He felt that he hadn’t served our needs properly with the original installation (despite it being accepted practice at the time) and now wished us to have the best system he had available. Almost unbelievable customer service! To add to his generosity, delivery would be free – his parents were travelling from the Netherlands to the south of France and would stop off and deliver the batteries and other gear.

We’re happy to unreservedly recommend Daniël Boekel and his company, EcoLithium both on the basis of this current customer service and the faultless performance of the system he installed in 2018 that has served us well over the last six years.

Sure enough, the batteries had arrived a few weeks earlier and had been held in storage until Catharina was back in the water. But first, we had to get the old battery out. It is a solid case weighing well over 100 kg and took a lot of man-handling by Laurent and Gaetan to manoeuvre it and then crane it out of the engine room.

I had removed the top cover in an unsuccessful attempt to break the battery down into smaller units.

Then the two new batteries (‘only’ about 40 kg) were hoisted in and put in position. The next day, Laurent (mostly) and I rewired the system and we were off and running with 14 kWh of battery capacity.

In passing, as a boat where all our services, including cooking, are electrical our average consumption is about 4 kWh per day. Our solar panels generate a maximum of about 2 kWh per day on a sunny mid-summer day and half that on sub-optimum days. The extra capacity gives us a bigger buffer but we really need to update and increase our 14-year-old solar system.

Wrapping up

This would be the second time we fully wrapped Catharina for the winter. It took the best part of two days but, fortunately, the weather was good. It would be a horrible task in the rain, particularly covering the roof of the wheelhouse. This year, I placed a number of voluminous objects (fenders, jerry cans, plastic bottles) in the places where water has pooled on previous occasions – hoping to prevent that this winter.

All that remained was storing stuff away, shutting down all the systems, adding antifreeze where necessary and flushing the water out of all the lines and we were packed (courtesy of Lisette who expertly and comprehensively prepared the inside and our travel gear while I do the outside) and ready for our trip to Paris and the few days we would spend with our friends on Aleau.

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    8 Responses

  1. Oh my, what a saga your lift out proved to be. I’m so glad you got it all done in time and, of course, now it means you’ll have this summer to completely enjoy your cruising without interruptions. A great post and congratulations on having a safely sound bottom. I love the shark’s teeth!

    1. Saga indeed – but you know about barges, maintenance and shipyards. You’ve been there with similar experiences. Memorable and a ‘growth’ experience but pleased it is, hopefully, over.

  2. Another ‘riveting’ read, thanks to you both.
    I can certainly understand how nerve wracking the lift out must have been … however I do have a question… how come the hull leaks, after the welding ?
    Is it like adding Barrs Leak into a leaking car radiator?
    Kind regards, John

    1. Hi John, I think the leaking must, obviously, be small gaps either in the welding or around the capped rivets. No one seems particularly concerned so we are going to move on as we don’t have any other option!

  3. Hi Eurmacs with apologies for delay
    I have had trouble with my wordpress account which is only your link but this morning it seems better.

    What a time you have had summer of 2023! I remember when Daniel came to your boat to install the new batteries and what a sterling guy he has proven to be. I think we had caravan at Diksmuide and we generally trolled around when free but the small harbour you were moored in was convenient with great access to the hardware store.

    Catharina must be just how you want her now so I hope you have a well earned cruising season this year.

    I shall try ring you today, Lisette looked totally capable with all the work, you do make a good team! xxGina

    1. Yes Gina, I remember the campsite and seeing an annexe that could be erected by pumping air into the supports for the first time. We’ll certainly make sure to chat sometime this week. You must be leaving soon for the UK if not already there. We’ve eight days to go!

  4. Well with all your work with the help of your friends it is an excellent result. Just a big job with alot of setbacks it is a credit to you Ian. Just love reading all the progress to get Catharina Elisabeth shipped shaped for a new year of travelling. 👏👏👏👏

    1. That’s what we hope Mary – work done, now for cruising!

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