Stats for 2019

Well 2019 did not really work out as we had intended. We had to keep changing our plans & we seem to have spent almost as long in the boatyard, up in the air, as actually cruising! Our bank balance has certainly taken a big hit!

We did, however, really enjoy our time on the Somme and intend to return there again. It was also nice to return to Bruges and old friends for a little R & R before returning home.

 

Waterways travelled:

Kanaal Gent – Oostende;        Kanaal Gent – Terneuzen;      Afleidingskanaal;      River Leie;  Grensleie;       Canal de la Deule;       Canal du Nord;      Canal de la Somme

 

Kilometers:              1150        

Locks:                         122         

Lifting Bridges:       7                                                       

Big rides:                   Tunnel at Ruyaulcourt – both directions without being stopped!

Engine Hours:          175

Fuel used:                  700 litres  = 4.0 l per engine hour

Boarded by the Belgian Maritime Police – but not put in the clink!

Out of the water for 4 weeks in total!

Back to Bruges

We finally left Zelzate on Thurs 3rd Oct after another few days up in the air & on the wonk! They were as keen for us to go as we were to leave as another boat was revving up to replace Piedaleau up in the air….
But we have had the transmission leak redone (after only 80 engine hours! not happy!), the back fender we ripped off last year rewelded in position, the fractured hose & isolation tap replaced and had a new solanoid provided so that we can turn the engine off easily again! Phew! It sure has been an expensive year this year.

And we still have the water tank to get sorted. Chris Hanley (not Lanley!) came to have a proper look at the weekend and is thinking it through. He will do the drawings etc for TecTanks to fabricate made to measure plastic tanks for us. The logistics of getting guys and tanks here to do the actual work have yet to be worked out.

We were planning for Chris and his mate to come over to Bruges to do the work in Nov or December and Adrian would come over too if possible. However, disaster hit Chris and put him out of action. They were awaiting a weather window in Calais so that they could return across the channel to their birth in Ipswich, when Chris had a nasty argument with the winch! Took off the top of his thumb and broke a finger on the other hand. So no crossing the channel to return home and no working on any boats for a while. Last we heard they are still in Calais after a couple of operations and various hospital visits! Ouch!!!

So, the saga of the LEAK  drips on & on …… Has to be left until the New Year now.

 

Back to my tale: So there we were ….. heading up the Ternuzen Canal through the port of Ghent with all the big boys which was fine this time …… & no police boarders this time either …. when I suddenly got a text saying ‘I can see you on cctv in the harbour!’ ….. spooky or what!   Joeri, whom we met last year, is now a lieutenant for the Port of Ghent, was obviously keeping his eye on Piedaleau on the AIS!

We were heading for Schipdonk for the night so that we would have an easy run through to Bruges on Friday. As we approached the moorings we saw Coole Swan (Pat) was already there. We went on board for a beer (or so) and planned to set off together in the morning.

We set off happily enough and were overtaken by another boat from Flandria with Patrick the harbour master on board. Then along came Joni (Grainne & Andy) with Jeanne (Keith) behind! We formed quite a convoy! Patrick called into the control centre so that we could all get through the lifting bridges together. Made our life easier but I’m not sure the cars, bikes, pedestrians thought much of waiting for 5 boats to go through!

We are moored in front of the clubhouse this year which is helpful for showers etc. Nice & close for aperitifs ….. and not far to stumble back afterwards. Which is exactly what we did on Friday (4th Oct) evening – all celebrating our various returns to Bruges for the winter and exchanging tales from the season’s cruising. This important activity continued on the Saturday when we joined friends from La Coupure to help Diana celebrate her birthday. We felt it was particularly important to do this as Chris and Diana have sold their boat, Esme, and will be returning to UK as landlubbers very soon. Chris is, however, continuing to act as editor for the DBA’s Blue Flag magazine so they are not severing all boaty type ties.

We (well Grainne & I) decided to host a shared supper – us, Grainne & Andy, Chris F, Keith and Irish couple, Paul & Elaine, whom we met on the Somme and are now moored beside us for the winter. Managed to seat all 8 on Piedaleau for dinner. Great evening.

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Then suddenly we were packing up and trying to empty out all the water from the tank in order to return home for a while. Packing up always seems to take so much time and we are always amazed at how much stuff has to come to & fro with us!

We came home on 14th Oct – 10 days in which to prepare for our next adventure!

The LEAK!

Whilst sorting some bits and pieces when we were in Amiens at the beginning of Sept we found water in the bilge under the kitchen floor. We manually pumped and then soaked up around 35 litres of what looked like clean water. We tried to dry out the bilge so that we could see if any more was coming in. This took some patience and lots of wringing of mopping up cloths as water seemed to ooze down from the stuff lining the bilges.

Then it was a case of trying to identify a likely source. Not easy when you can’t just expose the bilge throughout the length of the boat. It really is a process of elimination. After much towel wringing and discussion with Rob Curry (at Amiens) and then Chris Lanley (at Corbie), we decided the water tank is the most likely candidate. It holds over 1400 litres and we really cannot function on board without it since it provides all our domestic water, including toilet flushing! It has to get fixed.

Chris Lanley suggested that maybe a seam or a fixing on the tank was stressed / flexed when we were out of the water at Zelzate. Seems the most likely option since we didn’t have any sign of a leak beforehand. But impossible to be certain.

There is no easy access / sight of the tank. Over several days Adrian has dismantled various panels and we’ve tried to look down various holes/gaps. We bought an endoscopic camera thingy hoping to try and get to ‘see’ the sides / seams of the tank.

We have exposed one side of the tank in the rear cabin so that is now a total mess! We found what we thought was THE leak. Sopping up water with cloths & wringing them out 2 or 3 times a day. We estimate it is running at nearly a litre a day. When we exposed the side of the tank and got down on the floor with the endoscopic camera it became clear that there are more areas of concern – rusting and showing some drips along the bottom side seams, although not as bad as the main one.

We sent email and pictures to the manufacturer and hope they are considerate because, at this stage,  it looks like a new tank is probably the only answer! It seems that the cheapskate guy from whom we bought the boat, put in the cheapest (why are we surprised?) stainless steel tank and it was not really right for the job. He would have been told the better quality steel & thickness were more suitable for a tank of this size. But since he always intended to sell the boat he was only thinking of cost. He was unlikely to get caught in the situation in which we now find ourselves. Yet another example of his highfalutin claims turning out to be downright lies!

The next question will be how to take the old one out and put the new one in! The tank was put in and the boat built around it with no thought as to how it could be removed / replaced. Its big ……. about 3m long ……. we thought that the wheelhouse would have to be taken apart but that is not possible because of the construction of the boat. Another option considered was taking it out through the back window of the salon which would mean taking part of the kitchen out! Finally Martin at Carron Marine suggested cutting out the exposed side of the tank and using the rest as a ‘cupboard’ to house new plastic tanks.

Following discussions with both Jay Wolfe (original manufacturer) and Chris Langley (whom we met on the Somme) we are considering both stainless steel and plastic tanks. We may replace the black water tank whilst we are at it as that is too small and also showing some signs of problems.

We arrived at Zelzate on 23rd Sept and were finally lifted out of the water again on the 30th. Talk about ‘deja vue’! Back on the wonk / piss ….. whilst they do various jobs. Most notably the leaking around the prop shaft needs redoing because despite all the work they did in May / June it has started spraying water again. We couldn’t believe it!

During this week we have done lots of research on tanks for boats. There are stainless steel ones (various qualities & thicknesses), plastic ones and bladders! They can be ‘off the shelf’ or ‘made to measure’. A big constraint for either is the access available to get said tank(s) into the back cabin. We have also dismantled the bed so that we have full access to the side of the tank. Looks loverly!

Our options seem to be:

  • cut a panel out of the tank and send a guy inside to see if it can be welded from the inside! Little boys and chimneys come to mind!
  • cut out the whole side of the tank at Zelzate and get them to source and fit plastic ones into the old shell
  • get side of tank cut off at Zelzate & head to Bruges and have Chris Langley provide and fit new plastic ones
  • head back to Bruges as soon as Carron has finished the other jobs and give whole tank job to Chris Lanley
    • this takes the pressure off us – when the tank is cut we would have to be off the boat as we would have no water
    • it enables us and Chris to properly decide on best configuration of new tanks and to get them ordered & delivered in a timely fashion.

So that is what we will do. We’ll sort out the rest of the details with Chris as and when we need. It means we can return home around 15th Oct as planned ready for our short trip to Egypt at the end of the month. We are both really looking forward to that, if not to actually being at home.

So that’s the story of the LEAK to date. More will no doubt follow as things progress.

We sure ain’t had much luck this year!

Heading back – 2

Wambrechies to Zelzate

We arrived back in Wambrechies in the middle of the afternoon (18th Sept) and tied up in our ‘usual’ spot. After a beer at the bar we slept very well & enjoyed croissants on the upper deck in glorious sunshine for breakfast the next day. The guy in the architect’s office opposite later commented that he’d seen us on deck that morning and wanted to come over for coffee – but we hadn’t met him then!

We spent most of the next 2 days dismantling the woodwork in the back cabin & hunting for the leak! Joys! We even had an endoscopic camera delivered to help with the process.

Friday evening we arranged to meet Brigitte for a drink at the bar. With Brigitte its always an occasion. She seems to know most of Wambrechies – particularly as she has just retired from teaching and so knows some from when they were in her class. Similarly everyone seems to know Brigitte and come over to say hello ……

On this particular occasion a guy called Jean-Luc was with Brigitte. He’s an artist and he sketched Virginie whilst we were all sitting outside. Impressive!

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On Sat 21st (after more dismantling of woodwork) we set off again heading back to Zelzate to complete some more stuff on the boat and, hopefully, the leak.

We stopped at a place called Commines – lovely new pontoon – but a slightly strange place. One side of the bridge is in Belgium and the other is in France. Never seen so many tobacco shops – all on the Belgian side because the duty is significantly less! Apparently (so Brigitte reliably informed us) many french people stock up with fags in Belgium.

Next day we headed to the first lock ready for it to open at 10am (Sunday hours) and were first through along with a commercial. We kept going all day and stayed overnight at Schipdonk lock so that we were ready to head for Zelzate on Monday 23rd Sept.

We got through Evergem lock with 3 commercials and headed down the huge waterway to Zelzate. Saw a peniche loading a car into its hold …….

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Not my favourite stretch of water but all went well – bridge opening for the H U G E ships

 

That is until the maritime police came alongside and boarded us! Just a check of papers by a really nice young female copper but an interesting event ………. She sat at the table on the top deck, whilst her colleague pootled along beside Piedaleau. She was happy with our papers, wished us a safe journey and went off on the police speed boat!

Stuart asked me what we did to ‘look dodge’? I was at the helm when they approached so it must have been me dark glasses and hat that made me look as if I was going incognito!

Heading back – 1

By lunchtime on 16th Sept we had left the Somme behind & were on the Canal du Nord, playing with the big boys and the big locks once again. Bit of a culture shock after the genteel Somme.

Somehow we just kept on going. Each time we thought about stopping things would go in our favour, so carried on cruising. We reached the Ruyaulcourt tunnel (4354m long) at about 5pm and were in the process of tying up when the lights at the entrance turned green. So we decided to go through since the commercial traffic appeared to have quietened down. I was dreading having to stop at the layby in the middle of the tunnel for traffic coming in the opposite direction. Didn’t fancy that at all! particularly as we had been told that one boat, which wasn’t properly tied up, had been ‘sucked out’ by a passing commercial barge. As we approached the lay-by the red light was on, so we were preparing to pull over & tie up to wait. But then, like magic, it turned to green and we were able to carry on through all on our ownio! Phew!! Good timing as there were very few commercials moving at this time.

It was well after 6pm when we moored up outside the first lock the other side. When we stopped the engine wouldn’t turn off! Had to find the lever on the engine and do it manually! Sure ain’t our year this year!

The commercial traffic started again around 6.30am the next day which is when the locks on the Canal dui Nord are open! We set off just after 9am and were doing well until we got to the 4th lock and heard on the VHF radio that there was a ‘micro chaumage’ (small strike) and we had to wait a bit behind an old peniche. We locked down with him for a few locks and his engine fumes were awful! Reminded me of the Nivernais Canal on Misty Morning with Nadine and Margaret where an eclusier presented us with a flower to smell instead of a French boat’s exhaust! But I digress…….

We took a rest at Marquion, to get away from him and to hook up a temporary fix for the engine stop mechanism. Then we pressed onwards hoping to reach Courrieres for the night. Unfortunately I had somewhat miscalculated (ie missed one page in the book) and it began to get darker and darker ……. and Courrieres didn’t seem to be getting any closer! We eventually turned off the main channel just before 9pm. We came in very carefully, remembering there is some sort of floating platform for wildlife just before the mooring. We came in by torchlight! ie me on the bow holding a mega beam torch so that Adrian could manoeuver around it. Just about a 12 hour day!

No sooner had we tied up than we were off to the family run kebab restaurant we had been to with Chris Fryat earlier this year. The owner came round to shake our hands and made us most welcome. As were the beers and kebabs and chips! Lisa commented that this is not usually my style but on this occasion it really was delicious!

The mooring at Courrieres is very pretty –

– this was the view from the galley window in the morning!

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We were off again around 9am on the 18th Sept and had a much less stressful 5 hour run down to Wambrechies. Except for the lock at Don; where we had to wait along with several big boys, but couldn’t find anywhere to tie up. Well, we were heading to some bollards when a very large commercial came behind us and tooted for us to get out of his way. Oooh! he had a loud hooter! So we headed back across to the other side and tied against a sign because we couldn’t find any bollards. A VNF geezer came hurtling down in his little whgite van to tell us we shouldn’t tie to the sign and we explained our problem. He noted that the bollards there were hidden under vegetation and took photos so that he could get them sorted. Then we followed one of the big guys into the lock and carried on again!

I was amused to see that the commercial had a car on the back – it’s number plate being the boat’s name! Often see tenders and life rings with the boat’s name but never seen a car with matching number plate before!

Another thing that made us smile was the bridge we passed with ‘Je t’aime’ graffitied up on high! How the devil did they get up there to write it? Adrian thought it was clever not to have included any name!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meandering back up the Somme – 2

We left Amiens on 10th September and headed for Corbie where Sue and Alan (Suzanne) told us there was space and even got a couple of boats to squeeze up so that we could fit onto the lower pontoon outside the campsite. We wanted to paint the starboard side of the hull that we couldn’t reach when we were on the raised pontoon at Zelzate. It was still far from easy – in fact we had to lie down flat on the pontoon to reach down to the waterline. Not much fun but we were determined to get it finished before the winter.

Sue and Alan were completing some upholstery changes having had the inside of their boat altered with the help of David Wrigglesworth at the beginning of the season. Small world yet again! I lent them my sewing machine and we finally managed to get together for a proper drink & chat. We just love the kiwi boaters we seem to meet!

Keith and Lucreze came down in their campervan for a couple of days which was great – apart from the jobs we had to complete – leak hunting and painting! We all went to the John Monash Memorial Centre and ate at the Carolina restaurant near the moorings. Keith took away the Heinz salad cream and malt vinegar supplies he had requested!

We then met Chris and Helen on Olive. They have lived on their tjalk for about 20 years,  on the Thames & then near Ipswich. So more aperitifs required! And another very knowledgeable and helpful contact. Much talk of the leak!

On the 15th Sept we headed off again! Stopped for lunch at Merricourt and walked around the wetland nature reserve which is obviously a fisherman’s delight!

At one lock we saw the only remaining horse water trough from the days of barges being pulled by horses and at another we learnt that Tolkein had stayed in the area for sometime and had been influenced by the wetlands landscape when writing the Hobbit! Amazing the little titbits you pick up along the way!

 

Then onwards to Froissy for the night. We walked around Le P’tit Train depot – apparently the small gauge train track was built by allied troops during WW1 to delievr supplies and munitions to the troops at the front. It is now a tourist attraction run by volunteers.

We moored behind an Irish couple (Paul & Elaine) who will be in Flandria for the winter. He warned us that there was due to be a lock closure on part of the Canal du Nord on the 17th. So next day we set off early and left the Somme to head back towards Belgium and to revisit the boatyard at Zelzate to try and get things finished!

Altogether we spent a month on the Somme and thoroughly enjoyed it! ‘Normal’ locks, helpful lock keepers providing excellent service and some lovely moorings. Amazingly, apart from Cappy, all moorings are free – you just pay for water and electricity (2euros for 4 hours). You don’t even need a VNF licence for the Somme! Amazing! We’ll return another time for sure.

As we passed Cappy we saw a boat name which made us smile …… obviously the owners of this renovated working boat have our kind of sense of humour!

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Albert

Whilst in Amiens we took a day trip to Albert – a smallish town about 25kms away. We had been told that it was of art deco era, having been destroyed in WW1, and worth a visit. Unfortunately we were more than a little disappointed. The very chatty lady in the Tourist Info centre gave us a leaflet which just showed some art deco architectural details such as balcony railings, windows & plasterwork. Not quite what I was hoping to see!

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The Hotel de Ville was quite impressive……

 

The Basilica, however, is superb! A real bizantine surprise!

 

And everywhere there are reminders of the allied troops and the sacrifices made in WW1.

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