• Peter

A Visit from La Douane Française

It was one of those days where the original plans were changed even before we got out of bed in the morning. The day was going to be crisp and clear, with no wind and an excellent opportunity for a nice long walk in the fresh air.

Clear days also coincide with cold mornings at this time of year and the little electric heater that we keep on for the night was off. I slipped out of bed to turn it back on, but the main breaker kept tripping off.

It seemed that there was a deeper problem that was causing too much current to be drawn and the addition of the little electric heater was just too much. This would be a day for “troubleshooting” the electrical system of the boat !

I tried the main breaker again, but this time the problem was compounded by the sound of the non stop running of the main fresh water pump and the sound of water flowing into the bilge.

Looking under the floor boards there was a significant amount of hot water flowing into the bilge and steam billowing out into the cool boat air. I suspected that there was a “problem” with the hot water tank (40 litres capacity) as it was being emptied into the bilge. This was not looking like a promising start to the morning as the water pump (that is connected to our 700 litre fresh water tank), continued to try and fill the hot water tank, which was emptying to the bilge, which was being pumped overboard by the bilge pump. At least we were not in danger of sinking as the safety measures were working.


First task was to isolate the water tank and then to find out how to turn off the water pump, not quite so obvious with the boats electrical system, but when this was done I could at least stop the pump, discover where the hot water tank was hidden and see what the damage was. It is actually hidden, like most critical boat parts, in a tiny location where a shoe horn is needed to help with access to the area for maintenance.

And all of this before the first coffee of the morning, in a cold boat while I was only wearing the clothes I wear in bed - which is usually not too much.

With the identification of the tank’s location, I needed to turn everything back on to see where the leak was coming from - was it a pipe ? (not expensive) was it the tank itself ? (very expensive), or somewhere in between ? With the fresh water tank re-connected and the water pump turned back on, there was a massive spray of water from the rubber seal that closes off the top of the tank where the electric heating elements are situated. Unfortunately, the tank is on its side, so water flows out of the rubber seal.

So, a long story short, the tank was dis-assembled, the faulty seal identified and a new part ordered. We hope that within a week, we should be having hot water again on the boat !

While I was deep under the sofa, squeezed into the compartment with the water tank, wearing a T Shirt that says “Work Less, Sail More” there was a firm knock on the outside hull of the boat. Visitors - this was the last thing I really wanted at this specific moment in time and as we don't have many “friends” at this time of year, I could not imagine who wanted to see Ingrid (nobody wants to see me).

Peter, it is "La Douane Française", calls Ingrid, so I guess someone did want to see me. This was actually the second visit from the French Customs in less than a month.

The first visit in December; six burly douaniers turned up to inform me they were doing a “control” on my boat - they were of course welcome as I have nothing to hide. There were the usual questions of ships registration papers, ownership, did I have more than Euro 10,000 in cash (I wish !), any firearms (not since the Dutch police confiscated them), any stowaways (only my wife), any drugs (still clean for the last 61 years). Could they look around and check ? Of course, go ahead - so they checked cupboards, hatches and anywhere things could be hidden. They were not interested in my passport or any residence papers and they left me a signed paper to say that I was controlled and if the customs came again, I just needed to show them this paper.

The second visit was with just 2 customs officials, and again very polite and very correct. They explained that since Brexit, all the rules had changed - was I aware of this occurence ? Well, yes, I was aware that something had happened.

They were following a 2 page script of “Controls” for British personnel and vessels, checking off the responses; why we were in Brest, what our plans were, where we were going, when etc. Did I know that I was only allowed 90 days out of 180 days in the EU ?

Yes I knew of the rule, but, I have a trump card, Actually a little green piece of paper that says I am a resident in Spain. As they checked through their documentation they said they wanted to see the proof of residence and also my British Passport to confirm signatures - and a photo of the 2 were taken together. They looked at Ingrid and as soon as she mentioned that she was Dutch, there was no remaining interest in asking her any questions.


They were fully satisfied with my responses and the documentation provided, so it seems that our hard work (mainly Ingrid’s) to find our own solutions to Brexit had fully paid off - we are free to continue to live and travel within Europe !

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