‘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!

 

 

Lille

From Deulement we headed onto Lille on 27th April. Keith had told us about the port at Wambrechies, which is on the outskirts of Lille & an easy bus ride into the centre of town. We also saw that there was to be a big carnival in Lille that weekend and so decided not to moor in the centre, especially as Chris was nervous having had his bike stolen in Kortrijk ( where there had also been a big fair). So we moored in Wambrechies and it really is a lovely little port with several pubs and a superb boulangerie close by. We booked for a week so that we could go into Lille several times.

On the Tuesday the 3 of us went into Lille for a general wander about and had lunch in one of Adrian’s old haunts – Les Trois Brasseurs (three brewers) beside the station. Its a micro brewery so we each tried a different beer and had flammacouches – the local equivalent of pizza. All really rather good!

 

On Wednesday Adrian and I walked around Wambrechies and visited the Doll & Toy museum. Rather quaint I would say – the dolls are displayed in little tableaux, including WW1 scenes – we particularly enjoyed playing with some of the old fashioned games. Adrian had the audacity to beat me at draughts!

 

We noted that the celebrations in Lille had been deferred to the next weekend, rain & wind had stopped play on the 28th April. Lucky really because Rachel & Jonathan were due to join us on Friday 3rd May for a few days! I went off on Thursday to visit the Musee des Beaux Arts – unfortunately Adrian had managed to pull something in his back so was rather incapacitated for a few days. Very nice museum – not too big – and houses some excellent works. Good coffee too!

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Rachel and Jonathan arrived fairly late on Friday evening but we managed to share a bottle of Cremant de Bourgogne (or 3) while we caught up. Had a little jig on the top deck as a party boat went past. Love them to bits!

On Saturday Rachel, Jonathan & I (Adrian’s back still sore) headed into Lille for the Eldorado parade and celebrations. After walking around for a while we followed TripAdvisor’s suggestion for a beer and ended up at Les Trois Brasseurs! And we were ideally placed to ‘watch’ the procession as it started through the old town. Couldn’t see it all from our table in the bar but saw enough and heard lots more! Lots of music and dancing on the floats. There were bands and illuminations in front of the Hotel de Ville & the Place de Gaulle. There were lots of police around but the atmosphere was great with people (Rachel & I included) dancing in the street. One way to keep warm!

Then around 10.30pm, beside the canal, there were fireworks! And a very good display it was too. All in all a very good day!

And then we went to try and find a bus …… or a taxi ….. none to be found! So Adrian drove in to pick us ‘dirty stop outs’ up! What a star!

On Sunday we all went in search of a huge market. Unfortunately it had loads of food and clothing but no brocante which is what Rachel & I had been hoping for. Still you can’t win them all!

Monday 6th morning everyone was up early & we cruised the 16kms & 1 lock to Don. Although Rachel & Jonathan had joined us on board last year in Ghent at the DBA rally, this was the first time they had actually cruised on Piedaleau. We moored at Don, had lunch and then Rachel & Jonathan had to head off home – needed to visit a large supermarket en route to stock up on beer and wine.

 

The engine did not behave itself properly so at one point we thought we might have to stop ……. but the burning-type smell was coming from a waste disposal place outside, not the engine! But we did spend the next day bleeding air out of the fuel system and changing the gear box oil. The joys of boat ownership!

 

Chris then had a couple of friends come to stay with him for 2 days. John and Julie, narrow boaters and bikers. Huge bike with trailer on which they go off to rallies all over the place – literally covered thousands & thousands of miles. We had great fun all eating together first on Chris’s boat and then on ours. Very warm people with a great repertoire of stories! I even got to play ‘biker’s moll’ before they headed off….

 

 

 

 

 

Pat

 

Only some of you will have met, but many will have heard me talk about, my dear friend Pat Payton. He died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 97 years.

He worked with Tom at Jordan’s in Biggleswade and they would often ‘gang up’ together to get issues through the Board meetings. Pat was always active – working with Bill & David Jordan and playing cricket and tennis at Jordan’s into his 90s.

He was extremely upset when Tom died and helped me a great deal through that difficult period. He would come with me each March to Southwold to remember Tom, polish his plaque on the pier – calling him an ‘old bugger’ as he did so – & have fish and chips with a pint of Adnam’s beer for lunch. It’s only in the last 3 years or so that he was unable to come as his health was failing and he moved down to Rye to be close to his family.

In 2011 he joined me on Misty Morning in France for a week and I had great difficulty stopping him going up ladders in the locks. He did not like it that I was concerned for his safety. I was not impressed when a french ‘gentleman’ asked me why the Captain was driving the boat – or my husband (ie Pat sitting up the front holding the rope) when I explained politely that I was the Captain! We enjoyed the opening of the port at Auxonne with Sue & John Parker on the Aryani and the crazy jazz band!

Adrian and I managed to do a day trip from Belgium to Hastings to attend Pat’s funeral. It was good to put faces to some of the people I have heard about from Pat over the years. It seems that many others knew of me and Adrian too – referred to as ‘Jenny with the boat’!

I shall miss Pat.