(All photographs can be viewed at a larger
size by clicking on the image)
Since the first day we met, we decided that we wanted to live on the canals
of Europe on our own boat.Two divergent individual paths had had
the same destiny; it took a sunny, balmy day in Miami for us to
meet and subsequently spark inspiration for the planning and hard
work ahead. Of course, a bit of a love story and romance is involved.
Maybe that's what "soulmates" are all about - an understanding
that your destinies are bound together and your goals and dreams
are the same. Thus we have subtitled our website "Living the
Dream". For this has been our dream for almost ten years and
only since August 2001 has our dream become reality and we can say
we are truly "Living the Dream".
The lovely idea of a Dream is created with inspiration and hope. The Reality
is made of Goals and subsequent Work. We went through dozens, maybe hundreds of
small goals to reach the Big Goal. One of the major targets was to actually look
at some of these canal boats after thinking about them for about two years. So,
our first adventure was bicycling along the towpath of some canals in France,
observing canal life in action.
That trip was a foray into combining the modern world of jet travel
and big cities with the remote, off-the-beaten-path world of canals
and their tiny villages. We packed our own bicycles and reassembled
them in the airport. Thus we were able to comfortably transport
them via trains.
first destination was Alsace-Lorraine, the town of Strasbourg. There, to our delight
and utter surprise we found a towpath that was beautifully paved which we bicycled
with ease for 30 miles to the town of Severn. Alas, for the next 30 miles this
idyllic path became more rugged, a little narrower, the asphalt eroded, the grass
grew and we found ourselves biking a six inch wide towpath amongst weeds as high
as our ears. But it was still there and we persevered. Even after it became a
small train track and led us through a three mile tunnel. You see, canal boats
were often pulled by miniature trains along the canal. That is before the trains
made hauling goods via canals obsolete.
At the end of the trip, we felt our bicycle trip went very well,
we had spent about three weeks exploring various canals in France,
mostly the Marne au Rhine, and others in the Alsace-Lorraine region.
It was May, very sunny, the tourist hire boats were out in droves
and we got an eyeful. However, these fibreglass fun hire boats were
only one kind of boat that European canals have and we were itching
to see more.
we went to Holland a couple of years later. Why Holland? Many of the large pleasure
boats in the French canals (and work boats too) are originally from Holland. These
Dutch "tjalks" as they are known are often over one hundred years old,
built entirely or iron and last forever. They are converted from their original
"working" life to a pleasure craft. The length is from 30 feet to 120
feet approximately, and width about 12 to 15 feet. We saw a variety from the northern
Harlingen town in Holland to just across the Belgian border. There were no two
even remotely alike. Some had been outfitted, renovated, repainted and redone
to within an inch of their life. Others were just a mess inside, obviously the
result of overzealous intentions and under funded means. And some, well, were
downright bizarre. For example, on the first boat "Elizabeth" we had
to crawl around on our knees except for a small part in the dining area. It was
built for hobbits! Very beautiful varnished woodwork, but we are both tall so
it was a no go.
Then the beautiful, multihued and lovingly decorated boat which
the owner still lived in but did not plan for a shower. Nope. We
actually settled on a beauty called "Oulde Gesina". But
in the end we conceded that the Dutch barges were not quite for
us. Generally, they are very large and the canals are not always
so wide. So we returned home without a boat.
next adventure involved heading to France and studying the canals again - this
time on mopeds! You should know that shopping for these canal boats is not quite
the same as getting a car or house. There is no such thing as "location"
as with a fixed (not floating) home. And, the market is not very easy to get a
grasp on it. It's a nebulous marketplace, full of boats from all corners of the
world or the country you're in. The sellers may be owners, or brokers, and the
prices are all over the board and difficult to compare. We flew to Paris and bought
two blue MotoBecanes, the same mopeds the French police use, and took off for
the canal hinterlands.
It took us three days to get out of Paris. Often we were lost and found ourselves
going back to Paris, retracing our path. Eventually we were breezing along the
road to Epernay, County Champagne, and smelling the crushed Chardonnay grapes
on the road that had been dropped from trucks transporting them. Heaven.
even found our way back to the little inn that we had stayed in two years previously
on our bike trip. The lady owner welcomed us back as if we had been there last
week! "Where are your bicycles?" she asked. "Mopeds this time"
we replied. No matter, she laughed, back to the same garage we had put the bikes
into. Also, back to her wonderful home cooking and bistro of local characters
from this world renowned town. Her place is an oasis in a sea of pretension and
high prices. We found that the delicious family style meals she prepared pleased
our stomachs better than any of the fancy restaurants. But we still had champagne
and the locals love it as well.
Our moped trip took us from Paris down to the Riviera. Along the way we explored
many canals but the towpaths were too rough for the mopeds. So we eventually gave
up traveling the towpaths, but still roughly followed the canals by road. We saw
many hire company boats and some odd "one offs". One in particular was
on the Seine, in the middle of Paris. As we peered inside, an English language
newspaper was evident and so we knocked on the window, just hoping to chat with
someone actually doing what we were dreaming of. We were cordially greeted by
an older English couple and they very kindly offered us tea. We proceeded to have
a tour of their boat. It was immense. Five bedrooms, 3 or 4 baths (with tubs)
and it was simply overwhelming for us. For them too. They wanted to sell it to
us but we already knew why - too much boat! We thanked them but declined.
Eventually, our trip took us over the Italian border (but just) then down and
across the Riviera in a breathtaking and magnificent sweep of road that lasted
for days. It was the highlight of our journey although we did not see any canals
or canal boats. The road followed the sea and the lovely quaint seaside villages.
By car it is a memorable journey, but by moped even better. We enjoyed the sea
breezes, shimmering blue sea and sky and observed sheer drops from occasional
cliffs. So swept away were we by this wonderful coast line that we simply continued
down into Spain and the Costa del Sol all the way to Cadiz. Sometimes you get
swept away and that's okay, all part of the plan in a way. Eventually we returned
to the original idea. Still, we had more adventures in store.
return to the States from our wild moped experience of about four months and 4000
kilometers we resettled in our hometown of Atlanta, Georgia - soon to be in the
throes of hosting the Olympics. Just before this great event we found a beautiful
classic sailboat in need of restoration located in South Florida. So we rented
out the house to a good friend and set out on a new project. This was about two
years after mopeding. It had a tabernacle mast that would allow it to go under
bridges, not unlike many of the Dutch tjalks. We thought she would sail around
the Caribbean and possibly cross the Atlantic and thus cruise some canals. Well,
we never claim to be completely sane. We restored her, sailed her, but in our
hearts we knew that it would not take us to Europe or on the canals. We realized
that the six foot draft was too deep for most canals and the incredible weight
of the 50 foot mast was just too much for us to handle by ourselves. At least
we were finally floating in the water and we did have a lot of fun. We named her
OO-LA-LA. A nod to our destiny, which we have always known is there, in Europe.
Obviously, we enjoy the ride and not just the destination. After three years we
sold our sailboat in Annapolis.
The Dream was in it's realization phase, finally. For now we had taken some
trips (via airplane) to England and had discovered the world of narrowboats. Our
dream was to be fulfilled, at least in England, in a narowboat or a Broads cruiser.
Just which one we were not yet sure.
we were still not yet decided when we packed up our home (now in Georgetown, Washington
DC) and set sail on the incredible QEII for Southampton, England. Less than one
month later we were firmly ensconced in our new home. We had visited the Broads,
toured England by car, looked at dozens of boats and only found one we could not
live without. The narrowboat OO-LA-LA of this website is the boat of our dreams
and we live in it. This is our story
Rob and Marlane O'Neill - About us
(All photographs can be viewed at a larger size by clicking
on the image)
in New York City, on the island of Manhattan, Marlane has been travelling the
world on her own since the age of 16. By the time she was 21 she had been to several
islands in the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, several European cities, Australia and
East, West and North Africa. She always knew that she wanted to voyage, that is,
to see the world as a part of her life, not just a place outside of it.
She is fascinated by travel involving a vessel or vehicle that she can call
home as well as a way of life. For four years before living on a narrow boat,
she and Rob lived on their sailboat on the eastcoast of the USA. Prior to 'living
the dream', Marlane lived on both coasts of the USA, Australia, Paris and South
America. During this time she learned to speak French and Spanish fluently while
being active in the visual arts. She has hosted exhibitions of Chinese and primitive
art in world class venues and museums in two different national tours of Australia
and imported fashions to the USA from haute couture houses in South America. In
Miami she acted in Christofo Colombo, and Manot Lescaut for the Miami Opera Company
and was in the production of Carmen for the Atlanta Opera Company. While participating
in a fashion benefit show for the Miami Opera Company she and Rob met and have
been together since. She received her Bachelors of English and Fine Arts from
Florida International University.
living in Atlanta, Georgia, she jointly published articles about bicycling along
the French canals for the Atlanta Constitution and Journal newspaper. She now
writes about the European canal journeys for the website www.robandmarlane.com
and general publication. Cooking, photography, drawing and music are her interests
while living aboard. When she is land based she loves to garden. For Marlane,
'Living the Dream' is a philosophy that integrates travel as a lifestyle and she
hopes to help breathe new life into the ancient spirits of the worlds nomads,
that are dwindling in this world of 'settling down'. Laplanders, Bedouins, American
Indians, Gypsies and Australian Aborigines are just some of the worlds colorful
travellers. European canal boaters are yet another. Her path is to live, let live
and beckon the dreamtime wherever it may be found.
Born in St. Louis Missouri, Robs wanderlust was seeded by the typical American
Vacation. The family Pontiac station wagon packed with parents and as many as
seven brothers and sisters cruised the highways of the United States every summer.
The Dream took on a maritime theme at a very early age. This fantasy would vary
between Sports Fishing Yachts to Lobster Boats. The basic idea was a new life
wandering the sea feeding endlessly on shrimp, lobster and the finest fish.
Upon graduation from high school, he travelled around the East Coast in a
1955 Chevrolet school bus that he and his school chums converted to a landyacht.
He then joined the Navy. Not caring to be a target for small arms fire he volunteered
for the Nuclear Submarine service. The rest is top secret, but you don't get to
see much on a submarine. Soon after an honourable discharge he was wheeling tractor-trailer
trucks. Driving was fun, unloading was murder. He would gravitate back to the
road during his college years driving over-the -road trucks on weekends and holidays.
Rather than running the interstates he preferred the back roads of the older highways
visiting the towns left behind by the newer interstate system. He circled the
contiguous USA in a thirty-day run on holidays and on weekends; it was a round
trip from Columbia, Mo. to Corsicana, Texas hauling building insulation for a
giant food distribution complex.
After receiving his B.A. in Commercial Art and Advertising from Columbia College
in Missouri, Rob was employed by the local ABC-TV affiliate producing commercials,
news, features and the odd stint as the weatherman. This was the beginning of
a career in writing and producing video, film and multi-image slide productions.
After becoming a commercial success, the hard work finally panned out resulting
in the first boat. The Merry Prankster was a sailing catamaran for the right price
in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was off to the Bahamas for a well-deserved break.
His scenario for the next seven boats was sailing around the Eastcoast, the Bahamas
and the Caribbean; he obtained a 100 ton Masters License from the US Coast Guard.
With this in hand he captained various power and sail charter boats.
in Miami, he continued writing and producing advertising and corporate presentations.
Responding to a newspaper ad, he joined the Miami Opera Company and acted in Cristofo
Columbo, Macbeth and Popeii. He met Marlane at a Mothers Day Fashion Benefit on
the runway as they modelled costumes from different operas. They started a conversation
that continues today. After a business transfer they moved to Atlanta where they
did the production of Carmen for the Atlanta Opera Company. Yearning to be near
the water, Rob soon found an opportunity in KeyWest, Florida to be Director of
the Historic Seaport. He successfully marketed the Seaport via the web and special
events such as Key West Yachting Race Week. Desiring to explore new sailing grounds,
after two years he and Marlane sailed up the East Coast to Annapolis, Maryland
and the Chesapeake Bay. With the European canals still on his mind, the sailing
vessel Oo-La-La, home for four years, was sold. It was time to 'Live the Dream'.
Rob worked to wrap up their affairs in the USA and relocate to England. The sailboat
was replaced with the narrow boat Oo-La-La. Rob currently works managing the boat
and website. He enjoys exploring the English canals and planning future adventures
in Europe. Rob is available to deliver lectures and computer presentations on
European canal life.