Casting off from corporate life, Mike and Liz sell-up, abandon family and buy a boat in France. Join them, as they cruise Against the Current.

Like Bill Bryson? You'll love Against The Current!


‘Do not, do NOT, let go of that rope!’ I yelled to Liz as she heaved back on it, trying with all her might to hold Liberty’s bows from swinging further into the current. She had wrapped it once round a guardrail on the quai, but it wasn’t enough, and the rope was slipping through her grip.


‘I can’t hold on, there’s not enough rope,’ she screamed back. I pulled harder on the stern rope, but could feel it too dragging through my hands as the rear of the boat wanted to follow the bows out into the river. By now the bows were about five metres out from the quai and the stern about three. The current was winning. ‘We’re losing her!’ I shouted. ‘Pull!’


But the bow swung out further. And yet somehow the stern seemed to have paused, almost as though it needed to make up its mind what to do. It was the pivot on which the rest of the boat would at any moment completely swing round, the current taking control and pulling the ropes out of our hands.


For the diners at the riverside restaurant on the opposite bank it must have been a tug of awe, but we could see Liberty crashing into the other craft moored behind us further along the quai, then being swept away down the Rhône to collide with one of the giant hotel boats or a bridge support. She would heel over, the green waters of the river surging through her hatches, and within minutes she’d be gone.


Despite heaving with all my might it had hardly any impact. We were, after all, fighting ten tonnes of steel. There was only one thing left to do. I let the rope go, ran to the edge of the quayside, and leapt…



Sample chapter



I lost my temper in French for the first time on Friday 9 May. I only mention the specific day because the French love to name streets after dates special in French history, hence Rue de 14 Juillet, etc. Avenue de 9 Mai is likely to also take its place in history. Read on...


Liz and I had been going well on a long day of sailing, part of our planned schedule to get us close to Agde so she could catch a train to Nîmes for a flight back to the UK.


Unfortunately, all the locks we came to were set against us, so each time we had to wait mid-stream for them to empty and for the gates to open and let us in. It was getting frustrating, because being able to cruise into a lock with the water at your level is a breeze. And quick.


But it was not to be, and it was hugely annoying to have been overtaken by a boat about the same size as ours only to find when we caught up with them at the next lock that they’d gone in and decided to close the gates against us, when they knew full well we were behind them. Lock etiquette dictates that if you have another boat behind you, you wait for them and let them share the lock with you. It saves the following boat time and, perhaps more importantly, helps conserve water on the canal.


But these people seemed to be in a hurry and to have thrown their etiquette overboard. So, we were forced to tie up at a pontoon and wait for the lock cycle to be in our favour again.


I took the opportunity to stride up to the lock and asked the skipper in question if he was French. He said he was, at which point I ranted (in French with much arm-waving) about there being plenty of room in the lock for two boats but that he had chosen to keep the lock to himself. He tried to tell me something about being new to boating and I told him to learn, and fumed off. His wife hurled something at me, but since I didn’t feel it land I assume it must have been abuse.

I was shaking with anger when I got back to our boat, though with some chagrin wondered whether my tirade in French hadn’t actually sounded something like the British undercover gendarme in the TV series ’Allo ’Allo: ‘Fast of all, you are pissing by us on the canal, going at spode. Then you enter the lick and close the goats just as we arrive. Monsieur, you are very road! My woof is very upset and so am I! You ’ave no idea how to soil a bat.’


However it came out I must have put the fear of God in them because they sped away once their gates were open and we didn’t catch sight of them again (thinkfully)... until after we’d done our last lock of the long day.


It was just after 7pm, closing time for the lock system, and we were aiming to moor on a pontoon beside the next lock, so we could then be first through the following morning. But we were disheartened to find that the errant new boatie and his woof had already moored there, so we greenbanked a kilometre or more back, out of sight.


So twice they had thwarted us. I was fuming, again. I was shaking. Liz was annoyed too. There were waves in our wineglasses.


Next morning we were a bit late leaving, about 0920, so we hoped that the soilers would have already gone through the lock as we weren’t looking forward to sharing with them now, even if they offered. However, having slept on it I was feeling un petit contrite, so in case we did meet up with them I rehearsed an apology in French.


And yes, bugger it, as we cruised around the bend to the lock, there they were, sitting on their top deck having breakfast. They didn’t seem to be in a hurry, so we activated the pole mid-stream to begin the lock cycle and I dropped Liz off on the bank so she could go and get ready to catch ropes at the lock. I saw her stop and talk to the delinquent French couple, though I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but the man didn’t seem too angry.


With the lock gates now open I began to cruise past them and as I did they both gave me a cheery bonjour, at which point I did my grovel in French and told them that I was sorry and that yesterday I had been The Devil but today I was very calm. They laughed and the man said they were sorry too for not knowing about the etiquette and that they’d only been boating for three days. I felt a bit sick.


On the other hand, they were probably laughing, a) in relief because I wasn’t holding an axe and foaming at the mouth, and b) because my apology probably came out sounding like, ‘I apple-juice for my behaviour yestoady, but I was like Satin himself, hoover toady I am very clam.’


I asked if they wanted to share the lock with us but they said they were waiting for friends, so we went ahead. When I caught up with Liz she said, ‘I told them that you could sometimes be un homme fache, an angry man. They both nodded, but the man seemed quite embarrassed that they’d broken a major rule of canal boating and seemed genuinely contrite. He was quite nice really.’


Hmph. But at least I know I can yell in French…up to a pint.




Mike Bodnar loses his temper in French!