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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Diemen to Sillery

Till now we had avoided cruising the Amsterdam-Rhine canal. Long time ago we once did a stretch onboard a friends barge and we remembered the canal as busy, choppy and with nasty waves.
And in later years other skippers shared this opinion, so we avoided it, rather taking the slightly longer route via de river Amstel (just as nice).
We now had no choice as the Amstel was blocked and, as waiting for the quiet of a Sunday was no option, off we went.
As is so often the case it’s fear for the unknown and it turned out not half bad.
It is not a very nice route, choppy indeed, but still fair cruising. We keep forgetting that we are not a small barge plus you can cruise at a fair speed.
After a short stay in Meerkerk we carried on to the quay at Thieu. We had made arrangements with different guests to tour the Belgian artefacts twice.
The trip South is known territory to us, not exciting anymore but still nice cruising.
And the first Belgian beer, in Willebroek this time, didn’t taste half bad.
But, Michel using the time it takes to go up at Ronquières for checking his email, is a bit blasé.

going up on the Inclined Plane of Ronquières

We were in Thieu in good time and put our time to good use; we cleaned the ship inside and out, we put fresh soil and flowers in the flower tubs and made a new tabletop.
We had not been up to that yet, after wintering and our trip to Groningen. It had been too cold and wet but now, mid April, the weather was fine.

We also had time to spare for a few jobs, like stripping all the paint from the side of the corridor to our sleeping quarters.
Ever since the conversion it is been house to a creepy kind of worm that only likes plywood.
We tried to fight them over the past years (look it up in the blog) but without much success. Now we go all the way, stripping and applying a nasty fluid to kill them. It’s a bit frustrating to remove paint you applied yourself.
quiet a bit to do here, but now it's done
Once the work was done we could go cruising again, both the old and the new lifts have been visited before but are still very impressive.
What adds to the fun is that it is new for our visitors. Plus we found different moorings to stay overnight, we visited new places and had to reroute because some lifts were out of order.
We stayed one night just off this illuminated lift and there landed a small crustacean on our deck, falling from the lift door.

an unexpected guest

before the lift
We wanted to do the Spiere-canal en route to Lille. We wanted to do it once more not only because it is a nice waterway but also because it has been reopened for a five-year period. If there are not enough boats using it they will let it silt up again, as was the case till 2011 (see my blog of August 2011) and we would like to prevent that from happening.
Unfortunately we could not go through it as there was – on the Belgian side – a stoppage that would take too long to repair. We now intent to go through on the way back.

We spent a few days in Antoing, there is a bunker boat where we filled up our tanks; 3000 litres diesel, 2000 litres of water. All our tanks were empty and it increased our water draught by 10 centimetres. 
We had so little gasoil left that in Thieu we had to take 4 jerry cans to the local fuel station.
Our bike trailer was strained to the limit getting the cans back.

Antoing on a photo

Antoing, artist's impression on a house
From Antoing we took the train to Tournai, we passed right through it two years ago but didn’t stop there then. It is a beauty, oldest town in Belgium, lots of history and beautiful buildings, a 276 steps high Belfroi
on top of the Belfroi, not bad for someone with vertigo
and a museum where this happy hippo was suspended over a field of sunflowers, each of them powered by a small solar panel.


Although here, like elsewhere in Europe, temperatures are too low and there is an amazing downpour there are also signs of spring.
We get more and more info on problems with high water levels causing stoppages on rivers and canals further South and East. Partly on our intended route, so we’re glad that we are not in a hurry. We know from past experience that these problems can easily and quickly change into problems due to low water levels!
We’ll see what happens, it is beyond our control anyway and if it affects our plans we just have to adapt.

trees in bloom in Tournai

the family swan

endless fields of bright yellow rapeseed

little ducks without their mother, they got away in time
So, we cruised via Valenciennes where we didn’t stop, saving it for next time.
We did spend a few days however in Cambrai, spending frustrated time watching out for the two SIM-cards we had ordered. It appeared afterwards that one of them had been delivered to the wrong mailbox and the other one is still out of our hands. It’ll be alright in due course.
Cambrai was host to people we knew, so we had a few get-togethers, touching up our contacts.

The canal Saint Quentin is very nice with little traffic. Here commercial barging has declined over the past years.
We crossed the beginnings of the Scheldt river and the Somme, both rivers we cruised; here they are but lovely, puny streams.

the Scheldt
the Somme
And then in this canal we reached the Tunnel of Macquincourt, the longest in France at 5,67 kilometres. We were a bit hesitant about going through it because of its length and because you cannot go under power but are being towed by an electrical tug.
Quite a few horror stories do the rounds and it is hard not to be influenced by them.
We had to be at the ready at 9:30 a.m. at the entrance so we moored just short of it the night before. Thus we had a perfect view of the overhead tram-like wires running from 1 kilometre before to 1 kilometre after the tunnel.
As said before, there being little traffic, we were the first and only tow which was nice as we had no one behind us and the tug runs a steady course.
They roll out a 30 metre tow line and at a snails pace we went through the tunnel. It takes time, almost two hours and it is cold in the tunnel.
Although it was easier going than expected we were relieved to reach the exit; it is extenuating.

waiting for he tug

de overhead wires
we won't fit in there

oh, not to bad
glad to see light at the end of the tunnel
This was one bump we managed successfully but there was another one on its way, the tunnel of Braye-en-Laonnois where we damaged our canopy quite a bit two years ago. Last year we had it repaired and we completely lost the canopy in a whirlwind in September; now we have a supersonic electrically operated new canopy. And again, as already a few times earlier this trip, we discovered the ease and effectiveness of this construction. And we gained experience and learned to trust ourselves and our ship.
So. We managed this 2.3 kilometre tunnel without a hitch, although it was exciting.

Panache is not fond of tunnels and takes shelter to Michel’s leg as he steers the ship, standing in the gangway.
As Michel says: “It is frightfully cold in these tunnels, but my leg stays warm.”

Panache looks after Michel

To our pleasure we found more commercial traffic after Saint Quentin, the French peniches, and certainly more than two years ago when we travelled the same stretch.
We think it a positive sign, indicating a rise in cargo hauling on the waterways, it is “greener” and increases maintenance.

passerende peniche
Now we are moored in Sillery, just South of Reims. We will leave the ship here in the pouring rain whilst going to Amsterdam for a week.
Hopefully the weather will be fine when we return so we can continue our journey with a bit of sunshine and no high water levels.
To be continued!