Maintaining our sanity

Tolkantor – B & B

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The current owners bought the dilapidated old customs house in 1999. They spent 3 years restoring & converting it for its use as a B&B. A further couple of years were then spent creating a Japanese style garden; beautiful & peaceful.  Complete with water features, koi carp, a gazebo & artfully placed rocks. Throughout the building examples of Christine’s pottery are on display and her partner is a metal craftsman who constructed the staircases etc. A truly lovely place in which to relax and escape from the listing building site which is Piedaleau at present! I think it might have just about saved our sanity.

 

Sea Locks – Turneuzen

It was  looking as if we could well be ‘up in the air’ for sometime so on Saturday (8th June) we took ourselves back to Wambrechies (walk, bus, train, walk, bus) to collect the car so we could be more independent. Zelzate is literally on the Belgian / Dutch border, only a few kilometers from the sea at Turneuzen. So we drove there on Monday to have a look at the huge sea locks through which all the H U G E ships we have been seeing come in & out of Belgium.

 

Sas van Ghent

We also visited the quaint little town of Sas van Ghent. Enjoyed walking around the town and seeing the historique ships by the auld lock.

 

Weekend away

Further sanity saving came in the form of an invitation from Diana & Chris to join them on Esme for a few days. We went by bus then train to meet them in Liege, cruised down to Namur before training and bussing it back to Zelzate. It was lovely to see them! Also caught up with Jo & Tim ( Maria of Zaandam) and Christine & Pete (Elodie) whom we met at the Ghent rally last year. All in all a delightful weekend!

 

 

Assenede

Another lovely place we found through the recommendation of Joeri, whom we met last year and who saw Piedaleau ‘up in the air’ when he came to the boatyard. A friend of his runs the somewhat alternative Cafe Passe on the outskirts of this village. We sat outside, overlooking the fields eating spaghetti (only available on Friday evenings) and supping good beer. We passed a newly opened Thai restaurant in the middle of the town which we also visited and thoroughly enjoyed!

Using Zelzate swimming pool helped me cool off and calm down too. Particularly when I when I went for an ice cream or Adrian met me for a beer afterwards.

The things one has to do to maintain one’s sanity!

On an uneven keel……

My apologies for the delay in posting this blog ….. I started writing it soon after we arrived in Zelzate (beginning June) to go to Carron Marine for essential repairs. It is bad enough when you have planned to have works done, but when it is forced upon you and then one thing after another gets added to the list it’s somewhat annoying to say the least! So this is what I started writing ………

Well here we are in Zelzate ……. up in the air ……. and on the wonk …….. strong list to starboard …….. really strange to be continually on an uneven keel! Particularly unnerving when one has to get up in the middle of the night & stumble down the incline to the loo! I really felt quite odd after our first such night (3rd June) on board, so much so that we went to enquire at the local B&B which is literally just across the road from the marina / boatyard.

So what’s been the problem(s) I hear you ask……

Well there was the knackered transmission arm which needed removal – had to cut the rudder off in order to get it out- a new one of them was required!

Then the gearbox needed some attention – major job getting that off and then back on the boat! They had to lift it with the crane.

And the fuel problem, which we thought we’d dealt with a couple of weeks ago, resurfaced as we came down the big Ghent-Turneuzen Kanaal. Engine repeatedly lost revs and actually cut out a couple of times – not good amongst the H U G E sea going ships! We had treated the fuel and changed the fuel filter some weeks ago but we didn’t know we have 2 fuel filters! As soon as Adrian removed that little deevil we could see it was chocker block with crud! We had to order some new bits for it as the guy who took it away to clean it promptly lost the important central filter! But we know we have two filters now, where they both are and that they need TLC …… Onto servicing list!

And whilst we were out of the water we thought we’d have the hull pressure washed so that any ‘scratches’ we might have received over the last 4 years could be titivated! It didn’t look too bad but when washed – the paint on the hull flaked off in lots of places!!!! Ever wished you’d kept your mouth shut????

This was the expensive job we had done when we first bought the boat because it had not been properly sorted out underneath when built. At Evans in Migennes it was industrial high speed pressure washed to get right back to steel and then given 3 coats of ‘good stuff’. We were certainly not expecting it to literally come away in our hands, sir! And, guess what? Simon at Migennes has ‘never had a problem like that before’ ‘ you must have knocked or scraped it’! Yeah right!!!

This led to all the underside paint having to be ground off by hand and then the steel was scoured to give proper purchase for the new paint – 2 coats undercoat and 2 top coat!    All by hand! Took days & days and was very noisy and very very dirty! And the temperature went up and up!

Carron’s boatyard was very reminiscent of Evans at Migennes – including a workers’ toilet we could use but it was basic. And a bit of an obstacle course to negotiate to get to it. On board was not a nice place to be. That B&B came in very handy.

 

We took advantage of our elevated position to re paint the blue hull once they had stopped making such a mess. When we painted the cream in Migennes it was very hot …. and so it was this time so we started as early as we could. At first I was very cautious about walking around on the platform but its amazing what you get used to when needs must. Adrian rigged up a harness system so that he could reach the bow.

It seemed like we would be there, up in the air, forever but suddenly the guys were everywhere – replacing the transmission arm and gear box; welding the rudder back on etc etc. The pontoon contraption we were on was needed for a commercial boat, so after 3.5 weeks they wanted rid of us asap! We eventually left the yard on 27th June and moved back into the marina so that final adjustments and checks could be carried out when we were horizontal once again!

It took us 3 days to get the inside back to some sort of normality! A drawback of having the engine under the salon floor is the mess that you have to live with whilst major works are underway. So glad we have our ‘home’ back again.

 

Having had the last part delivered and fitted to the exhaust we were finally able to get moving again on 3rd July.           After we paid a rather hefty bill!            For those of you who know about whippets we estimated we could have bought 2 whole litters!!!                  Phew…..

The trip up the Ghent-Turnuezen Kanaal was so much less fraught than the trip down when we did not dare to rev the engine too much (because of the transmission problem) and the engine kept losing revs (because of the fuel problem) just as a ferry was cutting across towards us at speed….

We just cruised on up to Evergem lock, went straight in and carried on to Deinze where we promptly met Keith again and went for a most welcome beer at BrunO’s.

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Relieved to leave these H U G E bad boys behind!!!

 

 

 

‘Zipping’ off to Zelzate

We left Wambrechies on 28th May aiming to take a few gentle cruising days to get to the boatyard at Zelzate on the Belgium / Netherlands border. We retraced our route stopping at Menen, Deinze & Schipdonk lock. We had intended to stay a couple of nights at Deinze but were told that the whole quay was booked for a local boat club so we could only stay one night. A huge fair was in town so we were happy to get out to the peace and quiet at Schipdonk lock. I’d thought this was a big lock but its not at all and is, in fact, self operated now (altho we couldn’t quite see how) and a narrow canal just goes up to Eeklo.

We therefore came down to Zelzate a couple of days earlier than expected. We were really pleased that the big lock at Evergem turned out to be fine. No probs! Then onto what can only be described as a HUGE shipping motorway with H U G E ships ploughing up and down. Basically the whole area is a port for ships coming into Belgium via the sea port of Terneuzen in the Netherlands.

Talk about feeling insignificant!                                                                                              Bicycle on a motorway doesn’t come close.                                                                               And then the fuel problem returned …… big time. The engine didn’t just stutter it actually cut out a couple of times!                                                                                                              Talk about scary!!!!                                                                                                                        Adrian suggested I check out how we operate the anchor …….. at which point I put on my life jacket, more as a security blanket than anything else but I was really not at all happy.

 

Sooooo relieved when we finally made it to the little harbour at Zelzate! After speaking with the guy at the boatyard we headed into town for a beer or two……. Really bizarre to be moored in front of the Old Customs House, amongst ‘little’ boats with monsters all around!

Late on Monday (3rd June) morning we went round to the floating pontoon contraption and were raised up and out of the water. Not exactly fun but we are up in the air! That would be fine but the boat is listing quite a lot which makes walking about rather iffy! We spent Monday night on board but have now decided, for our sanity and rest, to book into the nice B & B in the Old Customs House beside the boatyard.

The underside of the boat isn’t too bad as regards crud but there are some stowaways ….. little mussels attached in places! Piedaleau will have a good clean up whilst she’s up in the air!

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Now we wait to see what the experts think are the problems and how they can fix them! We’ll probably need more beer whilst this is happening and a Wambrechies gin or 2 when we get the bill!

In the meantime continued……

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Since we were getting nowhere fast with finding a boatyard willing and able to take on Piedaleau, we booked a month’s berth at Wambrechies. The problem seemed to be that we are too big for small scale yards, with little cranes, but too small for big yards with huge dry dock facilities which usually deal with commercial boats. So we drew up a couple of lists – places we wanted to visit / jobs that are outstanding – with a view to making the most of our enforced stay. No sooner booked than we found a boatyard!

So our plans changed again ……… we left Wambrechies on Tues 28th May and made our way slowly to the north of Ghent where we will have the dubious pleasure of a ‘floating pontoon’ method of lifting Piedaleau. Not sure how this will work but should be interesting! Never a dull moment in this boating world……

In the meantime we ticked off some items on our visiting list……

 

Distillerie Claeyssens de Wambrechies

Right beside the port de plaisance at Wambrechies is the distillery! We went on a guided tour complete with tasting session….

The distillery is a couple of hundred years old and has now been given National Monument status. This includes both the buildings and most of the machines in use but makes it difficult for the owners to update the technology in line with other places.

The main product is the ‘traditional fabrication’ of Caeyssens GIN but they also produce some whiskies and beer. ‘Traditional’ involves use of the old machinery & methods so that gin is only produced during the winter months – the old machines with leather belts cannot operate in the summer. This time is used to maintain the machinery and renovate the buildings.

The tasting and shop were excellent!

 

 

LaM —– Museum of Modern Art 

The museum is located on the outskirts of Lille and has the most superb grounds which showcase larger sculptures.

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The temporary exhibition, which attracted a lot of visitors, was of the works of Alderto Giacometti, Swiss painter, sculptor & draughtsman. I particularly liked the group of sculptures entitled The Women of Venice which was lit so as to throw silhouettes onto the surrounding white walls.

 

Open Air Museum 

This is a collection of old buildings saved, transported and reconstructed within a parkland space. It includes farm buildings, houses with animals & gardens to enhance the whole. Old crafts, housed in various of the buildings, are represented & there seems to be a training element with people coming to learn and practice in the tranquil surroundings. Crafts such as glass window making, blacksmith, wood turning, puppetry and the repair of the ‘geants’ that are still used in some local town processions.

 

Hospice de Comtesse

Located in the heart of Old Lille, the museum is housed in the hospital which was founded in 1237 by the Countess Jeanne de Flandre and which remained in service until 1939. The present buildings date back to the 15th, 17th and 18th centuries. They consist of a hospital ward with a panelled barrel vault ceiling, a chapel decorated with the coats of arms of the hospital’s main benefactors and buildings belonging to the community of Augustine nuns, all arranged around two courtyards and a medicinal garden.
Since 1962, these buildings are the setting for a collection of paintings, tapestries, wood sculptures and porcelain from the region, thus creating the atmosphere of a 17th century Flemish small convent.

I have copied the above description from the guide book. I had been really interested to visit but was disappointed when we finally got there. Thought it would be along the lines of the Hospice at Beaune. The main ward and chapel were closed off because of a temporary exhibition and the Pharmacy was closed for works! So all the areas I particularly wanted to see were not open! The guy at the desk was very dismissive when I said I was disappointed because of this, basically saying there wasn’t that much to see anyway!

I liked the portraits of young girls and the 18th century globes – both terrestrial & celestrial…..

 

Restaurant La Balsamique

Lovely restaurant with interesting menu, good staff & very well frequented!

Creperie de Wambrechies

Delicious crepes – both savoury & sweet – again packed out on a Wednesday evening!

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After visiting the Museum of Modern Art we needed some refreshment before going onto the Open Air Museum. We found a bikers’ stop cafe which served everything in pots!

In the meantime….

Whilst trying to sort our transmission problem we have time to visit around & about……

Lens

Adrian very much wanted to visit Lens where he lived for 2 to 3 years whilst working for Hygena about 25 years ago. We were quite impressed with Lens, particularly with the new tourist office. Newly opened in an art deco building which was a porcelain shop (La Ville de Limoges) previously, left to decline but then bought by the town and converted for use as tourist office. The young staff were extremely pleasant, helpful & make excellent coffee!

 

Terril du Marais de Fouquierres

We also visited a nature reserve that has been established on the old marshes and mining area near Lens. In fact it was the dumping area for both the mines and for the coal fire ash from peoples’ homes. In places you can still see smoke rising from the deep pits within the marshes. We spent a most pleasant afternoon wandering around the reserve with time to stop, listen and look at nature all around. The birdsong was superb but even Chris with his humungous camera could not capture them!

Loved the wild flowers, a moorhen on her nest with her baby, emerging caterpillars & a swan carrying out his ablutions!

 

And so here we sit watching the world go by but enjoying northern France, the Pas de Calais, and hoping we can get sorted and on our merry way again soon!

 

Canadian National Vimy Memorial 

 

A magnificent monument on the Vimy Ridge, designed by Canadian sculptor & architect Walter Seymour Allward to commemorate the sacrifice of Canadians in the First World War.

The limestone monument is stunning, overlooking the Douai Plain, with symbolic figures carved into the stone. A cloaked figure stands at the front, a sorrowful figure of a woman, representing Canada, mourning her dead.

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Carved on the walls are the names of over 11,000 Canadians who died in France but whose final resting place is unknown.

We visited restored tunnels & trenches with a young Canadian volunteer (they come to France for 4 month stints) who made it clear just how close the allied and German trench lines were – at some points only 25m – and how awful life in the trenches must have been. The network of trenches originally ran the entire 7 kms length of the Canadian sector at Vimy.  5 British tunneling companies excavated 14 ‘subways’ in the Canadian sector, the longest being 1,700m long. They were used for communications, safe movement of soldiers to front line & other support services eg dressing stations.

In the Visitor Centre we read about the contribution of the Canadian Corps in recapturing the strategically important high ground of Vimy Ridge as part of the Battle of the Somme, April 9 – 12th 1917.

Grazing sheep – much of the site is off limits to visitors because it is still littered with unexploded munitions. Sheep graze the rough terrain and craters to keep the grass down. The craters were created by heavy artillery fire & by powerful underground mine explosions. Some were even named eg The Montreal Crater at Vimy Ridge.

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There are also 2 cemeteries for more than 3000 soldiers of the WW1 – including more than 370 Canadians who lost their lives during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

 

Problems problems problems

I mentioned in my last blog that things did not run entirely smoothly as we cruised from Wambrechies to Don. Every so often the engine revs would falter. We’d had this towards the end of last season and had changed the fuel filter, which seemed to do the trick. So Adrian tried to ‘bleed’ the fuel filter again. Lots of air came out so we reckoned we couldn’t have done this properly last time.

All seemed good when we set off from Don to Courchierres. But no, it came back again. So at Courchierres we decided to take the fuel filter out to have a proper look-see. Discovered we had the dreaded DIESEL-BUG! Nasty little micro organisms that like to live in your fuel tank & cause problems. We took samples from the fuel filter and both tanks to check – all had been clear at the end of last season but not so now! Dealing with this can be difficult – there are powerful preparations to put in the tank but if they don’t work the tank may need to be emptied and cleaned. We are carrying about 1000 litres of diesel. Luckily we had bought some ‘mega-jollop’ last year as a precautionary move, so we poured it in and waited 36 hours for it to do its work, took new samples and were amazed!

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Memo to self: always remember to add jollop when filling tank

2nd memo to self: buy more mega jollop asap – to be prepared, just in case…..

 

Whilst dealing with the BUG we were made aware of another problem. Water in the bilge. Original photos of the boat show no water in the bilge. The transmission shaft is water cooled and now we seem to always have water in the bilge. Can now see it spraying out of a gasket as the transmission shaft turns. It shouldn’t do that. And the automatic bilge pump should clear it anyway. The bilge pump wasn’t operating as it should either.

So Adrian spent ages trying to sort the bilge pump – thought it was kaput but he now thinks there’s some fault in the wiring to it. So that needs further investigation. In the meantime we can operate the pump by using the manual setting.

Memo to self: remind Adrian to do this after each day’s cruising

 

In the meantime we went to see a boatyard near where we were to ask what he thought re the water / gasket issue. He put the wind up us – gallic equivalent of ‘sucking air in through teeth’ – saying it needed sorting so as not to cause damage to the prop shaft. This involves getting the boat out of the water. His is a big yard, for big boats (40m ish) and therefore may not be suitable for us. Adrian has sent him photos of the hull so he can decide. We are also contacting other yards & keeping fingers crossed that we can get this sorted in a reasonable timescale.

At Courchierres we were moored in a lovely park but without any facilities. We were also having difficulty identifying moorings further along our proposed route without very long days. And since we had to go down the Canal du Nord and through a long tunnel to get to the Somme, we decided this would now be foolhardy. We aborted the plan and decided to return, gently, to Wambrechies where we have all facilities and can try to find suitable assistance.

So that’s where we are now. Chris decided not to continue on his own so he came back too & will return to Belgium soon.

Arrived on 14th – now 19th – but no joy yet. Alain the Capitaine here is very understanding & realises we may be here for sometime…….

As Liam once asked Adrian ‘and you do this for fun!?!?’

Even the local wildlife seem to think we’ve taken root. We were woken this morning by noises on the top deck ……… moorhens looking through the back window and generally rummaging about!