Here and on our website ’t Majeur we tell about our live aboard and the adventures to be as we barge trough Europe.

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Friday, 5 August 2011

Pommeroeul – Courtray – Menen - Courtray & Courtray-Spierre-Astene-Lille & Lille-Douai-Péronne-Somme

The last entry in my Dutch blog has not been done in English. There was little of interest to tell, but now here is an update.
From Pommeroeul we went to Courtray by way of the Bossuit Canal. We spent a night at the Bossuit end, next to big pumps that get oxygen into the water, which is pumped out of the Scheldt river and contains too little of it for the fish in the canal. We slept like roses, no coincidence I’m sure.
oxygen pumps in the water
In Courtray we could leave the ship for a few days so we could go to Holland for a few anniversaries and such like and we came back by car to find out if having it nearby would be handy.
From Courtray we sailed to Menen, about a hour and a halve cruising, where we stayed for a fortnight.
Michel did a lot of maintenance on the main engine, we did some shopping with the car and Michel watched tennis at Roland Garros, time well spent. Unfortunately we discovered that our woodworm was still active. Our bathroom sink (that is, the wood underneath) was full of little holes.
We had a man from Rentokill aboard who told us that it was not woodworm but an different kind of beetle that loves multilayered wood and mostly stays in one layer, eating it away completely. So there is no way of knowing how much of this wood is still there, or isn’t.
The only real solution is to scrape the paint of all wood (absolutely impossible) and hire an official exterminator – costing a lot of money and even then.
This we considered not be an option so we treated as much of the contaminated wood that we could get at ourselves after removing the paint; time well spent but no fun.
When we were to make to return trip to Courtray, in order to go to Holland once more, we were a bit delayed as the canal was blocked because of a body floating in the river; brrrr I am just happy it wasn’t us who discovered it.
one trip going round and the other up and down
It’s been quite awhile since my last entry, so I will split this one; otherwise the map will be incomprehensible.
Life aboard seems to be quiet and at a slow pace, but time really flies and we’re always busy so updating this blog often comes last.
using a hotspot where it's to be found
And getting an entry uploaded is more complicated than at home. Email onboard is fairly easy, but for Skype or an upload you need a hotspot. Not always easy to find and when found you sometimes have to be on the street with your laptop.
Off course we are running a household with al standard chores such as washing, cleaning, shopping in short all the things we don’t do when barging.
And then there is getting to know the new whereabouts, cycling and walking.
Shopping for instance takes up more time and planning if only because it has to be done when shops are available, nearby or in a neighbouring village.
Shopping is done by bike, so it takes getting the bike on land, together with the trolley and afterwards getting them onboard again, sometimes by hand, sometimes with our little crane.

You cannot always moor right up against the quay because its too shallow and then we have to get the gangway in place which takes a bit of palaver and hoisting and in any case lots of time. Every day we are barging you have to get the ship ready to go and afterwards to moor.
Regularly we – that is Michel, really – have to fill the water tanks, clean the filters (for the cooling water) check the oil and batteries and all sorts of clutter.
What does take up time too is chatting: all the people we meet in locks, near moorings or if they come up to ask questions; very good for our French and very entertaining.
And then all the locks we have to get through. Any given lock takes three quarters of an hour to pass (on the average). So, at the end of a days barging, we’re tired and have just enough energy left to cook, to rig the satellite dish, watch the telly or read a bit.
We’re going to bed earlier than we used to. And, everything we do is done at a slower pace, something we cherish.

Lots has happened since the last entry in this blog and we have come a long way. We have gone back to Holland twice and gone to France by car. That’s something we will do differently next year. Getting to and fro is disquieting and having the car nearby whilst barging is not really a bonus, because having it nearby means collecting it every few days by bike.
how could this happen???
When we returned from Holland on June, 16th we found the ship in a fine condition moored to the pontoon, this time no ado with the pumps. But– to our amazement -  we found that one of the spud poles, firmly embedded, had turned twice along its axis getting a knot in the steel cable. It is still an enigma how this could happen.
the rural Belgian Canal de l'Espierre
Next day we sailed the Bossuit Canal again, this time heading for Spierre.
The Canal de l’Espierre – Roubaix is a link between Belgium and France, a passage for commercials that has not been navigable and closed of for the last thirty years.
the more urban French Canal de Roubaix
The Belgian stretch is very rural, in France it takes you right through the town of Roubaix.
Working together on both sides, the canal now has been reopened for pleasure craft only.
the entrance, we heard they now did something about the walls
That is where the cooperation stops, any communication between the two is nonexistent, which makes it a bit puzzling. It’s all a bit new, we were the first sizable barge to get through the entire length of the canal, there was uncertainty about opening times or where to get that information, but in all it was very amusing.
 The Spierre entrance – a lock no longer in use – had a width of 5.10M, in theory, but we could only get through at a snails pace and even then we pried stones loose from the quay. Thirty years of non use takes it’s toll apparently. ‘t Majeur has a width of 4,58M so any barge broader than that has a problem. We pointed this out to the responsible people and they would look into it.
it made us feel 'royal' all those people waving and cheering
We found a few more teething problems that had not been detected when smaller boats went through which made it all good fun.
During the trip, and the more so in Roubaix, people came out to wave at us because they were happy to see ships passing again, an almost royal experience.
Musée de Piscine in Roubaix
In Roubaix we went to visit de Musée de Piscine, formerly a swimming pool that has been converted into a museum, retaining the look and feel of a swimming pool (the water, dressing rooms etc.), beautiful glass stained windows and worth a visit.
In the canal we also passed under an very interesting bridge, that is to say, two lifting bridges about 25M apart, getting up in unison. They are part of a roundabout, the canal goes right “through” it, so to speak.
both bridges lifted
't Majeur in the middle of the roundabout
It takes four bridge keepers to handle the traffic because no one is used to those bridges being open.
At the first lock we happened to talk with a couple that strolled by. They were looking at our ship and when we came trough the next lock they were there as well. We picked up where we left the conversation, now in the pub at the lock, enjoying the local Satcheu-beer (the satcheu is the man, or woman, who towed a barge in the olden days.
One of the strollers – the man – runs a small pub plus museum in the so called Sashuis (lockkeepers house) in Astene, nearby Ghent on the Leie river. The lock is redundant but the lifting bridge is still operated by hand.
The following weekend there would be a Sas-festival, there would be a few beflagged barges and we were asked to join, exposing ‘t Majeur and because it would be fun.
And indeed, when we came out of the Roubaix canal, we did not turn left Southwards but went right, up North going into Belgian territory again.
En route, waiting before the St Baafsvijve lock, the out-coming barge cast us aside (by its bow wave) effectively stranding us on the sloping bank of the canal. Using VHF we informed the lockkeeper that we were unable to move and the huge barge behind us immediately offered assistance.
the closer they get, the bigger they look
The wash of their bow thruster however proved to be sufficient to lift us and set us free, case closed.
the bridge and the quais of the unused lock
the dead Leie branch makes a beautiful bit of nature
It was a long day, but we finally arrived at one of our most idyllic moorings ever.
We went back to Courtray to collect our own car and then went on to visit France in order to open a banking account. That took us, after the preliminary introduction by a friend of ours already done, almost two hours and 100 signatures.
Later that week Rebecca went back to visit Holland and we opened – on the spur of the moment – an account in Belgium (just walk in, 15 minutes work, 2 signatures and we could even use our own home address).
Thereafter we partook in the Sas festival and all the drinking and socializing that come with it.

beautiful weatherlots and lots of people having fun

the beflagged ships behind the lock quai
After a very nice and relaxing fortnight, we decided to go south after all. Again via Courtray and Menen (fourth time in all) until at Lille we entered new territory al last.

Just south of Lille we crossed – underneath – the A1, known to everyone that travels that highway by its colourful bridges. This is what it looks like underneath
going under the A1
In Douai we managed eventually to get an internet subscription, thanks to our French account. We decided to forgo a pay-as-you-go SIM-card when we found out that using our own Dutch subscription – in France! -  is cheaper than the French prepaid.
Unfortunately  I dropped my cell phone containing the Dutch SIM in the canal – no amount of dredging got it back -  and Michel’s cell plus SIM couldn’t be found. So all we then had was 2 Belgian SIM’s with very low credit and no opportunity to buy a French one, not the most practical of situations!
Lucky for us a week afterwards we got visitors from Holland, that brought us the replacement SIM’s.
From Douai we went on to Arleux, Capital of Garlic, so we now have a nice string of garlic hanging on the aft deck. At Arleux we entered  the Canal du Nord.
On the Canal du Nord all locks are 91M in length and 5,95 wide, so the really big commercials can not get there which makes navigating a bit more relaxing and enjoyable.
Going down that canal up to Péronne where we wanted to enter the Somme meant getting through six locks – rising 6m apiece – at the summit going through a 4,5Km tunnel and then another 5 locks going down 6M at each.
the screens to watch the tunnel, 't Majeur you can see moored near the entrance on the middle screen left
The Tunnel de Ruyaulcourt was our first and quite an experience. Traffic is regulated with lights and there is a “lock” keeper with an array of screens, overlooking it all. We were allowed to visit there, very impressive.
the entrance to the tunnel
halfway in the tunnel
First there is 1,5Km stretch that is one-way, than a 1,5Km two-way and another 1,5Km one-way stretch. When the lights are green you may enter the tunnel until the red-light at the end of the first part, then you may enter the middle part, not too much width there so crawling is advised, and all that in semi darkness. There are lights but we were relieved to get to the end.
At the last lock before Péronne we were told that a barge with a draught of 1,4M had entered the Somme the day before, so that was our green light, expecting no problems with our 1,2M draught.
After a stop in Péronne to do some shopping we finally entered the Somme on July, 9th ; an occasion we had been looking forward to that had been uncertain until the last moment, so a memorable event!

We have been sailing the Somme for some three weeks now and we are halfway the return trip. We went up to Abbeville an turned there; we skipped the last leg to the Atlantic because of expected mooring problems.
beautiful mooring places with trees to hang the hammock
and again nice scenery around the bend
This is a terrific region, the weather is fair to beautiful, around each bend (lots and lots) is again a beautiful scenery. Sometimes we look at each other, stifling a yawn because it a bit monotonous. Cute villages, nice – palatial – homes, beautiful nature, lots of flowers, birds and animals, clear water and very few barges.
it really was a test for the crane, 300 kilo, but it worked fine
On and off we have friends or relatives barging along, which is very enjoyable. One of them had a bike that we hoisted onboard and took with us.

There was this spot where we had arranged to meet friends and there was moored up a small tug used for maintenance. It was the clearest indication of telling our friends where to meet us, better than a self built signpost.
we made it, with the sunroof intact
Most of the Somme bridges are fixed, but with enough clearance and on a few occasions we had to lower the canopy in order to get through. There was this one bridge where margins were really thin.
the lady watches all traffic
And then, luckily, you come across a golden blessed Virgin, baby on her arms, watching over the few boats getting under the bridge and the even fewer cars going over, should be helpful anyway
And even Panache lives like a king. He seldom has to be on a leash, only when in urban areas, and he has most of the “halage” (the towpath) to himself. He will really have to re-adjust when he’s back in Haarlem.
Panache strolls along