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Friday, 19 September 2014

Saint Dizier to Tweede Havendok (Second Harbourdock) in Antwerp

We found a dry dock, have been there too in the meantime but it was no piece of cake.
As we had already found out there are not many possibilities for repairs for our size barge in France. We tried to get information wherever we could and got a negative reply or none at all. Plus, August is a trying time to get anything done in France as many businesses are closed.

Meanwhile we knew that we could be serviced in Antwerp on the 8th of September so we decided to amble along over there, trying our luck at yards as we passed, but to no avail.

Michel picked up on cruising without the bow thruster and the crew also got better in mooring, managing locks and other manoeuvres; one gets used to everything although we had our moment.
At least we now know why we wanted a bow thruster in the first place.
Taking the by now familiar route through Reims we cruised to Berry-au-Bac. In the olden days a cross roads for the interior traffic with shops, chandlery, a bunker station and café’s. Now all these buildings are derelict and, pleasure boats apart, only the occasional peniche passes. It still is a nice spot to linger for a few days.
From here we took the Canal latéral à l’Aisne and the canalized Aisne (in turn river and canal), a hitherto unknown waterway for us and very beautiful.
Lots of locks, a few of them so called double-chambers: the lower chamber gets filled by the upper chamber and then in its turn empties into the river.
Double chamber lock
Soissons treated us to a beautiful rainbow showing over some old houses on the harbour.
Rainbow over Soissons
And here we had visitors who came by car, enabling us to see more of the surrounding countryside like the Pierrefonds castle, a most impressive building. The oldest parts date from the 12th century, it was demolished in the 17th and completely restored in the 19th century, with pomp and luxury, by Napoleon. It is still intact these days and well worth a visit.
Pierrefonds Castle near Cambrai
And now for something completely different; a few days later we visited Guise, we went there on our scooter. So different but most impressive is this, partially dug up and dug out, medieval castle. Volunteers are working there for over 60 years already, also guiding you through endless tunnels, corridors, caverns and halls, informing you that only 25% has been restored.

The only remaining building that was built above-ground, the tower with a kitchen high up and a still visible chimney.


Both castles well worth a second visit, but then taking our grandson :-).

After Soissons was the first time in weeks that we had no visitors and we could apply ourselves to (overdue) household tasks, filling in our tax forms (a bit overdue as well) and repairing mooring lines. 

Michel doing a bit of bookkeeping and repairing damaged mooring lines (splicing a new loop, also on a 12 strand rope)

Leaving Choissy-au-Bac we cycled to the Armistice Clearing, a most fascinating spot well within the woods where they signed the truce between Germany and the Allied forces on November 18th, 1918; a defeat for the Germans marking the end of the first World War. But also the truce between Germany and France of July 22nd 1940, a big victory for the Germans, was signed at this very spot.
The cariage in the museum
the spot where it was situated both times

In 1918 a railway dining carriage was shunted to this open spot where the declaration would be signed. Later the wagon was brought to a Paris museum, but in 1940 Hitler ordered the carriage to be returned to the very same spot, restoring the very same interior. By paying attention to all the little details, like the setting of the table and sticking to the same times of arrival and departure, Hitler reversed the roles, thus emphasizing Germany’s victory.
Afterwards he ordered the spot to be demolished, except for the statue of Marshall Foch, erected in 1918, who now looked out over empty space.
The wagon was brought to Germany as a trophy and destroyed in 1945, so the present carriage is a replica.
Hitler and entourage stepping into the carriage
This is where history is made palpable.
As we had plenty of time we decided to take the Canal Saint Quentin back north instead of the Canal du Nord. Last year we went through the tunnel in this canal without a hitch. Although it is the longest tunnel (5.3 K) in France and the only one where you’re being pulled through by means of an electrical tug, we foresaw no problems.
The Saint Quentin canal is nice to cruise, but then … that tunnel.
Alas, things turned out differently. Last year the brought out one line, that split in front of our bow, so we stayed central behind the tug.
For reasons unclear they now brought out a single rope, brand new and very stiff, and things went wrong. We followed all instructions to a tee and three times in a row our ship was pulled into the tunnels side. Without a bow thruster there was no way to correct and we felt powerless; only by shouting and hooting we could make them stop the tug.
The tug’s crew got angrier and angrier and started shouting commands in French which we didn’t understand which made them shout even louder.
Meanwhile our railing was a bit bent and quite a bit of paint was scraped so we were not too happy either.
So it happened that the tug’s crew made us loosen the rope and told us to cruise the remainder of the trip on our own.
We happily did so, covering the remaining 5 K without a hitch.
Afterwards the damage was inspected and reported to a VNF official who told us that this was already the second time that week and two other ships reported the same problems.
It’s a pity but it’s just paint!

We will take this tunnel again next time, but only when the bow thruster is in mint condition.
Before we crossed the border to Belgium we paid Cambrai a visit. What we didn’t know was that there was a fair, covering all of the centre, we’ve never seen anything like it. Not one haunted house, but three; not one shooting gallery but ten at least and so on.
I get a bit sick already by thinking about a Ferris wheel, but looking at a wheel where people were swung high over the town halls tower, yack!
Cambrai fair
Further north we had arranged a meeting in Tournai with friends, who were on their own barge. We cruised together for a few days, doing the Bossuit Canal and the Lys river until we reached Deinze. Michel and I made a slight detour to Oudenaarde and back, because we hadn’t been there before. The only thing we did there was take a nice photo of our ship in front of the church and that was all because it was raining plentiful. Still on the list!
In front of the church in Oudenaarde
In Belgium you can have your fill with nice beer and after a cycling tour it is very rewarding.
The only reason for putting this picture in the blog is that I think it is a nice picture.
Cheers to the readers of this blog!
So far, so good and then via Ghent and the Scheldt river, tidal and no bow thruster, to the ship yard of the Moordtgat family. 
back out and park in
First we had to back out and park in between the giant ships that were all over the place so we could get into dry dock. Beware, where our neighbours could only get their bow or stern in, we fitted completely.
The skippers have time off, there’s other people working on their barge, so they have plenty of time to watch us and make comments (all nice and positive).
As we were completely out of the water we wanted an inspection of our propeller, as we still felt something was not right after we had a steel cable wrapped around the prop last year (see the September 2013 blog).
It turned out to be wise and, advised by our caring and helpful insurer, the prop was taken care off. All in a day’s work for those chaps and refitted the same day.
A tear and some missing bits in the propeller blade

Propeller is freed
Propeller is measured and put back in shape, with some machinery but mainly by hitting it hard with a hammer
At the end of the day the propeller is mounted again, smoother and shinier than we’ve ever seen it.
Our prop was but a small one and there was a huge shed filled with big ones, waiting to be repaired
What we really came for was the bow thruster.
Once out of the water we could clearly see a lot of rubbish in and around the props and we could also see that the bars prevented access. You can get your hand in between but then you cannot get a good grip on something so tightly wound, as the diver in the Bassin de la Villette had found out.
A perfect view of the rubbish behind the bars
At first we had no bars at the tunnels openings so quite often branches and rubbish went in and damaged the props, most of the time getting out on the other side, but not good.
Now we have bars, less branches and plastic bags get in, but when something gets stuck you can’t get at it.
We’re considering mesh, that should be easy to remove, but we are still pondering.
The catch
After half an hours serious pulling and pushing everything had been removed; it turned out to be part of a big bag with tie ribs and all and quite a lot of it.
We did a dry run with the bow thruster that produced a bit of a rattling sound but the mechanic said it was all right and as it should be.
Back went the bars, then the stern prop was refitted and we went back into the water.
Last inspection by the skipper, both in the dock and in the water we look a bit like the dinghy that the boats around us carry on deck
Hurray, we’re going in again and can be off. What a pity, it didn’t work that way. Once in the water the bow thruster did not function, when doing the dry run with no pressure it seemed OK, but now there was no jet.
So, off to the quay again, everybody went home and we had to wait till next day.
From the inside we could diagnose that a big part of the thruster, the gears, had to be replaced, but only after demounting the thruster. And that required to be lifted again. So we had to consult our insurer (VNN was very helpful again), a surveyor had to visit us, we had to arrange things with the dealer in Amsterdam and then we had to wait for the delivery of the package.
The new tailpiece with new props
By Friday we went out again, bars had to be cut away, tailpiece to be replaced, bars welded back and when the paint was dry we were off.
Everything functions as expected, no strange sounds or curious vibrations.
Although everybody had been kind and helpful and there was not a lot that we could do ourselves the days were tiring, if only because the Antwerp harbour is a round the clock operation and you notice that all around you.
After an hours trip we entered the canal from Schoten to Dessel and we moored at the first green and quiet spot, getting our feet under the table again.
This year’s last leg and blog will be from here to Amersfoort, more about that later.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Ghent to Saint Dizier via Ostend and Paris


All my intentions to write more frequent and shorter blogs have come to nothing. Life on board is just too busy and the blog …. But when finally I put myself to the task it turns out to be lengthy. I do hope it’s still fun to read, but poor Michel has a lot of text to translate.
After  spending a long day on the Scheldt river, mistiming the tide and the distance, we were forced to moor for the night on the river instead of mooring behind lock Merelbeke (Ghent).
It was late and it got dark so we moored on a pontoon that was a bit too flimsy for our barge. The chairman of the club, that owned the pontoon, had been alarmed by the neighbours. We could show him that we had ropes directly on the quay in order not to damage the pontoon, we shared a beer and he let us stay for the night. We now have firmly resolved not ever to cruise the Scheldt between Antwerp and Ghent in one day.  It is a beautiful stretch and you have to enjoy it.
together with Shell V in Ghent on the Lindelei
So next day we arrived in Ghent where we found a nice mooring for us, we were still together with our friends from Shell V, in town centre on the Lindelei.
And Ghent is a lovely town, perfectly suited for a few days shopping, nice food and a visit to the hair dresser.
't Majeur in Ostend harbour, last in the row next to a real big one
From Ghent to Ostend was not very far and we arrived ahead of the crowd so we had a perfect position to see them all come in.
In no time at all the whole of the harbour was filled with very big and very small boats, everybody geared for an few days of festivities. 
the smallest ship in the harbour, it came on a trailer but the skipper slept on board
The weather did its utmost and we quite enjoyed meeting old friends and acquaintances and making new ones. 

only the ships that joined in the evacuation can carry this plaque

This year’s theme for Ostend at Anchor was the liberation of Ostend 70 years ago. Some twenty “little Dunkirk” ships had crossed from England. These were ships that had actually partaken in operation “Dynamo” in 1940.
The British admiralty managed to evacuate during May-June 1940 some 338.000 British, French and Belgian troops sending out an armada of more than 700 privately owned ships. Only those ships managed to come close to the beaches at Panne and Dunkirk.
These at least 70 years old ships are lovingly maintained by volunteers who still cruise them.
Guest of honour was Lord Mountbatten’s son.
all the 'little Dunkirk ships' in Ostend harbour
After Ostend Michel sailed, together with Shell V, to Veurne while Rebecca went back to Amsterdam, using the occasion to also buy a new gauge for the freshwater tanks.
Once back in Veurne installing it  proved to be a bit cumbersome. Michel couldn’t get his hands in the allotted space so Rebecca had a go. She did well until force had to be applied and then more space was needed.
first attempt by Rebecca
Brute force was called for and out came the flex. After some hesitation Michel decided to cut out part of a rib. Exciting, covers everywhere to catch the fireworks with an eye to catching fire. It worked out quite well and the gauge could be installed. Another job well done!
second attempt by Michel
Only ……. The gauge doesn’t work so we cruise without one, calculate our use of water and we’re doing fine J.
Meanwhile the neighbours had already left and we took off on our own for Paris where we would meet again.

We dearly wanted to visit Bergues, we hadn’t been there before and we enjoyed watching the movie “Bienvenue chez les Ch’ti” that has been shot in and plays in Bergues. For those of you who don’t know that movie: go see it!
As soon as Bergues and the walls of the ramparts came into view I recognized it and realised that we had been there before, driving our car instead. Apparently so different that I couldn’t remember it when we planned the trip on the canals. A nice little town and a beautiful mooring.
part of the ramparts around Bergues
After that we had to do the bigger waterways, sharing them with the commercials going South. It’s good to find that commercial transport is on the up, the skippers are finding more work and we don’t mind sharing the waterways.
Unfortunately the situation then is such that straight away there’s a big pile up when, on one of the busiest waterways, the Canal du Nord, a lock is out of order. That takes hours, if not days waiting but that’s everyone problem so ours as well.
Punch and Judy on the scooter
We managed to get the scooter on shore and for the first time we had the possibility to visit a wider area. Michel drives, I’m in the buddy seat and I really have to set  myself to drive.
After the Canal du Nord we took to the Oise, a bit more to the South. It’s a river but no strong current and yet it is different, both landscape and surroundings. 
the Zeppelin looks small but in reality it was very big
During our stint on the Oise we saw each night a huge Zeppelin cruising overhead, stately and slowly. These are the real airships.
And then, where the Oise ends you turn left onto the Seine, almost in Paris.
overtaking a heavily loaded colleague, in the bent, at 16 km an hour
The Seine also is a busy river and the commercials here are a lot bigger than on the Canal du Nord and the Oise. Here you see ships that have come from le Havre. No problem as long as everybody sticks to the – very clear – rules. But things can get exciting when one of the big boys, empty, and way over the speed limit, is racing past not only us – we’re small fish – but also a big, fully loaded, colleague.
coming home a bit in Paris
We took the Canal St. Denis into Paris and we moored in the Basin de la Villette. Exactly where we moored last year, it felt a bit like coming home. Another Dutch barge was already moored there and next day Shell V arrived, so lots of merriment and social traffic.
And although the Parisians are used to quiet a lot, ‘t Majeur each time pulls many spectators, here even a full class, instructed by their teacher to draw the ship.
Spectators not only for the ship, Panache gets his share as well and he knows quite well to position himself on the aft deck in order to get as many Oooh’s and Aaah’s from the passers-by. Lots of pictures are taken and he seems to enjoy it.
Unfortunately one of the bikes got stolen in the first night. We thought everything was secured and out of sight but still …

Michel makes outrigers to moore, at least at night, a meter out of the quay

this is how the system works
The advantage now is that Rebecca rides a brand new bike, even more comfy; the distinct disadvantage is that our care free attitude has been severely dented. That is the worst, and it will surely get better although we aim to stay more alert.

We frequently and with great fun used our scooter, the perfect means of transport for Paris. Not just for the two of us but also with Panache in the crate to drive him to a park where he could run free.
Punch and Judy and their dog
Let it be well understood: Panache loves driving in the crate, just as he loves cruising in the dinghy.
We unfortunately already noticed in the Canal St. Denis that the bow thruster had been clogged and didn’t work properly. When in the Bassin de la Villette it was completely out of order.
René tries his best, helas in vain
Our son in law used the dinghy to give it a good try to get to the prop, but to no avail.
And even the diver, who happened to be working in the Bassin and who very kindly helped us couldn’t get all the rubbish out of the props. Part of it only – some synthetic textile – but the remainder is so tight around the props that we have to be lifted. And by now the bow thruster sounds completely blocked. 
even the diver could not get it out
Not only was our son in law visiting us in Paris, but also our daughter and grandchild Nathan.
Panache adores Nathan and from the moment he got on board Panache took it on himself to guard and protect the puppy.
Panache protects and guards the puppy

Nathan's prerogative
As we thought Panache accepts a lot from Nathan, even piggy back riding and we expect Nathan to be able to freely pull his ears and tail.
All around the Basin de la Villette there is a daily crowd picnicking, making music and playing games.
We joined them playing Mölkky, a game we got to know last year in Paris.
People from nearby, who also were playing, came over to ask after the white thing on the crate: did it have anything to do for scoring or such, but no, it is the baby phone.
playing games with the baby phone close by
For Nathan there were lots of things to do and a lot of firsts like cruising in the dinghy with his parents, wearing a life vest
Sitting in the swing, rigged in the crane just for him, he had fun and lots of on lookers.
Nathan enjoys it all

in the dinghy and Panache can come to, his favourite thing to do

Nathan can enjoy this one for years to come
And then watching his first Wimbledon final on grandpa’s lap; Michel says you just cannot start too early to learn that tennis in general and Wimbledon in particular are important.
watching Wimbledon on grandpa's lap
And then the stay in Paris was over and we continued along the Marne river. No bow thruster, as it appears impossible to have it repaired in France. In the area where we’re cruising there are but a few yards that can handle ships of our size and those who can were booked full.
We have now decided to change our itinerary and go slowly back to Belgium where we will manage to get in a dock in Antwerp or Namur.

On the 14th of July the locks don’t work in France, it’s a public holiday, so we planned to moor on a nice spot on the Marne for that day. And because there was a ship moored on the pontoon already we could only use part of it and the fore ship was moored in the trees, having a line over to the quay. A bit nasty to moor with a bow thruster, a real bitch without one. But no problem, we did well.
And when we were properly moored we were informed that the fireworks were to be lit just there so we had to be away for half an hour at 23 hundred hours.
the awkward mooring we had to go back to, in pitch dark
Getting off the pontoon was the least of the problem, but hovering in the dark of a current and then to moor again on that awkward spot, no bow thruster, was a real challenge. It wasn’t the first and definitely the last test on manoeuvring without it, but things are getting better and we, especially Michel, is getting the hang of it.
they took it in tun to keep the roast going and the meat was delicious
Next day there was a big feast in the village, Reuil, with a lunch for everyone for which they roasted a pig and a lam. As part of the automatic spit had broken down and as from 5 o’clock some has been turning it by hand. There were games and especially lots of wine and champagne. A perfect day and at the end they thanked us that we had joined them!
lunch with the locals
Meanwhile we have arrived in Saint Dizier, which is our turning point.
Gotten wise and experienced in Paris we now, certainly in the cities, moor away from the quay. Using our spud poles that can be done easily in the canals. We bring out the gangway and at night we close the castle by raising the bridge and we can sleep peacefully. 

We amble along direction Belgium, next time more about finding a dock.