2020 & 2021 …… what a couple of years!

In each of 2020 and 2021 we have only been able to spend about 6 weeks on board Piedaleau. Therefore we have been away for 10 months each year. Much much longer than we have been used to since buying Piedaleau 6 years ago. Some years we have been on board almost 6 months of the year.

We both have severe withdrawal symptoms! So our cruise in the sunshine up the Scheldt this year was particularly lovely.

We are lucky, however, to have been able to go for some time both years – many of our friends from Autralia and New Zealand haven’t been to their boats for 2 full years now. How hard is that?

We have been busy through the lockdowns, however, as we have moved house and we got married, ‘at last’, in September!

We now live in Lincoln, close to Lisa and Freddie and are settling in well. It’s a year since we moved here. Although we weren’t able to get out and about much for the first 6 months it enabled us to concentrate on getting ourselves organised in our new residence! Just as we had got nearly everything organised we had the kitchen / dining room revamped. Lots of repacking, mess and camping upstairs! But we are really pleased with the result. Opening up the kitchen / dining room has given us a lovely entertaining area. The whole of the ground floor is now ‘done’; the upstairs is staying as it is. Our next project will be the garden. I’m just starting to get quotes.

We are keeping well & have both had our vaccinations and boosters. But we also had Covid in July. Lisa caught it at school and it spread through us all following my family birthday dinner in July. Out of 10 of us (not all at dinner) only Freddie and Frankie, my sister, did not come down with it. Double vaxed Adrian caught it from Lisa and then passed it on to double vaxed me! He likes to share! Neither of us were badly affected. Lisa was the worst of us all as she had only had one jab at that time. She had a couple of trips to hospital for check ups. Everyone is well now and have had 2 jabs and a booster.

Through the summer things were opening up throughout the Uk, but this has now halted due to the Omicron variant which is causing mayhem. Another lock down is probably on the cards in the New Year.

It is really nice to be geographically close to Lisa and Freddie so that we can see each other easily, go for walks, help each other out etc. We are on the north west side of Lincoln, overlooking West Common. It is only about 25 min walk into the centre of town with lots of pubs, cinemas and restaurants etc. We have sampled a few ….. but have many more yet to try.

Our other main place of interest, at present, is a David Lloyd fitness centre. There is a lovely pool there – an essential requirement for me when we were looking at houses here – a huge gym and lots of classes to join, particularly aqua fit and pilates. We also walk a lot since we can get into town in half an hour. So we are focussing on our fitness & on cooking in our swanky new kitchen.

As I write this last blog for 2021, Christmas is upon us. We attended a beautiful carol concert at Lincoln Cathedral the other evening. Probably our last social outing for while. We’ll keep well away from crowds for the foreseeable future.

So I’ll finish my Piedaleau blogs for this year by sending you all our very best wishes for Christmas and a healthy 2022. Jenny & Adrian x

Lincoln Cathedral at night

PS At night we can see the illuminated Cathedral on the hill in the distance from our front door.

Piedaleau in action….

Just thought I’d include a few photos of Piedaleau ‘in action’ which I managed to take on the Bossuit canal in September. Don’t often have the opportunity to photograph her in motion – I’m usually in charge of the ropes – so whilst we had very competent crew on board I jumped off at the pontoon and enjoyed watching the action as Piedaleau set off, turned and then came into the lock. Adrian was happy to hand over the helm to Chris!

Back in Valenciennes

Once the fog had finally cleared and all the commercial traffic had dispersed we left our little layby, headed up through the lock and did a sharp righthand turn into the mooring channel at Valenciennes. We had decided we would moor up on the visitors’ pontoon (well we actually tied up to the blackwater tank emptying pontoon!) and wait for the river flow to slow right down. As soon as we saw things go virtually still we phoned the Capitainerie and headed up to our mooring.

What a good idea this was. A different, longer boat is now moored before us, making the turn into our mooring even tighter, but Adrian was able to gently turn Piedaleau in without issue. When the flow is fast, as we have previously experienced, the stern gets pushed round towards the boat on the other side and, since we don’t have a stern thruster, there is little we can do. We are now sandwiched between two boats even longer than us.

Piedaleau went in beautifully. Help was at hand to take the ropes and we were very pleased with our entry! The boat next door’s parrot (!) squawked us in!!!!

So we now had a week at our base to sort all the things we needed to do before leaving Piedaleau safely until next spring.

First off was the gas leak. Adrian got a gas detector but it wasn’t that much help in locating exactly where the leak was coming from. We decided to replace the gas bottle adaptors and the flexible pipes. The gas detector came in handy then to ensure all joints were tight and there were no further leaks. Yippee!

We have been discussing painting the upper, cream paint but find it somewhat daunting both in terms of doing it ourselves or paying for it to be done. We decided to try out the special undercoat which we had bought from Port Services in Ghent a couple of years ago. We did a couple of trial areas which we will look at when we return in 2022. If it looks good we may well continue ourselves.

Servicing and winterisation also took some time.

But Piedaleau is now properly tucked up for the winter. The French boaters beside us (parrot) and Benoit (from end of pontoon) both said they would keep a weather eye on Piedaleau and contact either Pascaline or us directly if they have any concerns. How nice is that!

After all our hard work we treated oursdelves to a meal at our favourite Greek restaurant along the canal. We returned home on Sunday 17th October.

Nearly 6 weeks on board, nearly 3 weeks cruising! Not as much as we would have liked but certainly a lot more than many other boaters have managed this year because of Covid.

Hopefully we will do better in 2022 but we will have to negotiate the regulations due to Brexit.

Return to Valenciennes

After our few days in Ghent it was time we headed back to Valenciennes. We decided to stop over in Oudenaarde, at the end of the Espeirres and in Antoing.

We got to Oudenaarde without problem but then had to wait outside the lifting bridge for about 30 mins in quite strong winds for the harbour meester to arrive to open the bridge. Hanging about in a strong wind is never a good idea and challenges patience and steering abilities!

Eventually we got in and managed to do a U turn in the mooring channel and to moor up without incident. Surprise, surprise Bella Fortuna was there! We knew that Voirrey and Andy had palnned to stop in Oudenaarde but they should have left by now. However, Poppy, one of their cats, had been unwell and they were awaiting delivery of some special food for her at the vets. But it meant we met up again – much sooner than we could have hoped!

We have several boating friends with pets (both cats and dogs) on board who have received outstanding service from vets in Belgium. Grainne and Andy have formed a real friendship with the vet who cared for their dog Wilma over the last 3 years.

But I digress …… now for admission of my stupidity / failing memory! I related a visit to a museum with Andy and Voirrey at Sint Martens Latham. It was not there! It was in Oudenaarde! Sin of all sins!!!

Note to self: Do not leave blog writing too long or you may forget where you are and what you did!

We spent a pleasant couple of days in Oudenaarde, visiting the museum and eating fast food! We left on 7th oct in convoy with Bella Fortuna so as to reduce trips for the harbour meester. A couple of people had to wait quite a while for us to go through the lifting bridge before they could cross! We then parted company – Bella Fortuna turning right to go through the lock, towards Ghent, and Piedalaeu turning left to continue up the Scheldt to Valenciennes.

We were going to stop at the top of the Espierres Canal, as we did on our way down, but the river was clear, the weather reasonable and Adrian was in the mood to carry on through – so we went right through to Antoing. The little mooring basin was empty again so we moored up, had a little walk around the town and an early night.

Certainly the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ was upon us – each morning starting quite misty but then the sun coming out to burn off the mist. We had an absolutely gorgeous cruise up the Scheldt past the area known as Montagne du Nord, across the border and into France. The sun was out, there were no other boats around and we could just enjoy cruising!

We then turned right onto the final section of the Scheldt before Valenciennes. Three locks to go. Our French vignette had run out; but we had heard that sometimes you can get permission just to go through to Valenciennes without buying another vignette. So we had a chat with the very, very nice eclusier and he gave us a piece of paper to allow us through withour further cost! Yay!! But he said that should we try to go through the next lock we would be charged!!

All was going so well ……

There was a problem at the last lock. It was ‘en panne’ (broken down) and divers were awaited. We had seen a lot of debris eg logs in the river over the previous days and guessed that a large log had jammed the lock gates. Commercial boats were already queuing. We pulled over into a ‘lay by’ well before the lock and moored up against the shuttering and waited. And waited. And waited……

Frustratingly we could actually see the end of the moorings in the basin over the weir across the river. So near and yet so far.

However, this meant we were able to watch how the water started and stopped coming over the weir. Interesting. When at our mooring, we have seen how the water flow changes. At times it is really quite still, which makes entering and leaving our berth quite ok. At other times the flow is pretty strong which makes going in and out somewhat problematic. This can change very quickly. Interesting, very interesting, we thought!

The eclusier came through over the radio to say that the lock wouldn’t be open until the morning. We were glad we were away from the lock and that we had plenty of provisions – including beer – and water on board.

The next morning the fog was so thick we could not see across the river! It took until lunchtime to clear. We decided to wait it out and to let the accumulated commercial boats get away in both directions!

Elvis even hammered
past!

Ghent

On Friday (1st Oct) we continued on into Ghent for a few days. We love Ghent, have been several times now, we just enjoy wandering around. The city has a great feel with many interesting shops. We stayed in the boathaven at Linderlei which is very close to the centre of town.

Mooring in some berths at Linderlei requires an interesting procedure, reversing between 2 poles. Needless to say Piedaleau did not cover herself in glory on this – she tried to take one of the poles with her! Some Americans on a Le Boat beside us helped by relaying my instructions to ‘Adrian’ – he was driving from inside and I was outside – they found it all quite funny. They told Adrian that they like to moor early so they can watch others coming in. They have a 2 tier rating system – 10 points for ability and 10 points for entertainment value! Didn’t tell us how we scored but we can guess!!

You can just see Piedaleau’s nose poking out!

Note to Captain – always steer from up top when coming into difficult moorings……..

On saturday Grainne, Andy, George and Pat (Irish Rover) came over from Bruges by train to visit us. Andy and Adrian spent quite sometime trying to get to the bottom of the gas problem, trying to find the source of the leak. Despite their best efforts they could not get it sorted so we decided we would use the gas as sparingly as possible and only turn it on when actually needed. Adrian is ordering a gas leak locator to be delivered at Valenciennes.

Then we went to the pub.

We had a great late lunch at the Irish Pub nearby (how could we go elsewhere with Pat with us!) Another boating couple (Mandy & Guy) and her mum joined us so it was all very jolly! Unfortunately the Bruges crew had other celebrations to return to Bruges for so they headed off on the train that evening.

I had noticed 2 boats in Linderleie – Ebernaezer and Elodie. Christine and Peter Craig (Elodie) we met back in 2018 at the Ghent DBA rally. Nats and Andy Parker (Ebernaezer) we had ‘met virtually’ last winter when Keith Sweet video called us when he was visiting them in Ghent. They had needed to return to UK and so missed the Veurne rally. We hoped we might meet them all.

Firstly we ‘bumped’ into Christine and Peter in the pouring rain one day and arranged to have a drink together that evening and then to go out for a meal the next evening. As luck would have it we saw Nats & Andy returning to their boat and invited them to join us for the meal – at the Irish pub again of course! They had not met each other before so it was fortuitous as they are both overwintering in Ghent. And they are both in the process of working through the mire that is required to obtain residency for boaters in Belgium.

We enjoyed both evenings immensely.

On a wet and windy afternoon we visited the Ghent City Museum (STAM) which we hadn’t been to before and found it fascinating. The floor panorama was stunning; it gives a real feeling for the size of the city and of the waterways in and around Ghent. We were able to trace our routes to the various places we have visited around Ghent.

On sunday morning – still wet – we walked up to the flower market which was understandably much reduced in size but Adrian still got to buy me flowers! We also bought loads of chocolate ready for Christmas.

Sint Martens-Latham

From Deinze we set off down the wiggly-woggly Liei. This is always an interesting stretch of river – it really is wiggly with right angle & hairpin bends and narrow stretches with overhanging trees. have to keep your wits about you. At least this time, being rather late in the year, we didn’t have to contend with day boats cutting right across our bows without warning!

The small mooring at Sint Martens-Latham is a favourite of ours and of many others! Luckily there was room for us as we had arranged to meet up with Voirrey and Andy on Bella Fortuna. Just room for the 2 boats. The last time we saw them was about 2 years ago when we went to stay with them for a couple of nights at their winter mooring in Amsterdam. Really great to see them again and to hear how they had weathered Covid in the Netherlands. They moored up on deserted ‘islands’ for a week at a time before returning to civilisation to fill up with water and do the shopping. Well organised these navy types!

Voirrey and Andy spoilt us! We had Piper (what else on a Piper boat) Heidsech champagne as an aperitif and then a superb Italian meal at the I Ratazzi restaurant near the moorings. Belated wedding present! How nice is that!

Food – sampling different delicacies along the way – is an important part of the boating experience. Andy and Voirrey are real foodies and fabulous cooks, drawing on their varied cultural experiences from their time in the navy. They are also very good at finding restaurants – like I Ratazzi. So we were interested to learn of Andy’s penchant for fast food and to join them for a real cultural fast food experience! A picture paints a thousand words, as they say!

A touch of culture was required after that feast, so we went to the museum. It is in a fabulous building and houses some exquisite tapestries. Having been an Occupational Therapist all my working life (runs through me like a stick of rock) I was interested to see the looms used for the repair of tapestries.

Bella Fortuna left the next day – I wonder when and where we’ll get together again! Not too long I hope.

We stayed another day and just wandered around Lathem. The lady in the rather upmarket art gallery told us that the village used to be poor – artists came there because of this and were able to buy land by the river. The town is anything but poor these days and the houses along the river are huge and look stunning!

Latem is still a centre for artists however, with several stunning galleries. Unfortunately we couldn’t get into the church this time to see the carvings for the Stations of the Cross – I remember them as stunning.

The sculpture on the bank in front of the mooring always makes me smile!

Deinze & gas tanks!

After Chris and Helen left we spent a second night in Kortrijk and then set off for Deinze where we had arranged to meet up with Chris Fryatt. We like Deinze and had a most enjoyable meal at Bruno’s bar beside the moorings. Chris is well known there and so we alwyas receive a warm welcome at Bruno’s.

Chris headed off on Tuesday to return to Bruges for the winter but we decided to stay another night.

All was well until Weds morning when I got up to make the tea only to find the gas had run out! It really should not have done so; we had only replaced the bottle a week before. And the spare was also empty because we had changed it when when we were in Valenciennes. Strange goings on! 1 gas bottle would usually last almost a whole season. The gas bottle locker is on the top deck and well ventilated but we could smell there was a gas leak.

It is not easy to replace our gas bottles when in Belgium – we have kept with the french ones which were on board when we bought Piedaleau – and we discovered long ago that the best solution is a quick trip down to the huge Aucun supermarket at Roncq (near Calais). We usually then combine gas replacement with wine replacement! Makes the trip / diesel cost worthwhile, you undertsand!

But we didn’t have a car at Deinze!

A quick couple of phone calls and 2 offers of assistance!

Lucreze came to our rescue! She picked us up within the hour and drove us to Roncq about 40 minutes away, we bought 2 new bottles – no wine this time – and were back on board by midday.

So the next conundrum was where was the gas leak!

Visitors & the tanks!

Sorry for delay in posting blogs – life takes over sometimes – we have been home for sometime so I have decided I must catch up on the blog!

Helen & Chris

On Monday 20th September Chris & Helen Hanley came to join us for a week. Chris is the guy who installed the plastic water tanks ……..started them about 18 months ago in Bruges but Covid kept throwing curved balls at us. When he left just over a year ago he needed to replace a dodgy pipe that had been used in the original build but was impossible to stop leaking when the tanks were filled to capacity. Chris had bought all the relevant bits but Covid prevented his return last summer. They had decided not to bring their boat to France this year so we combined the completion of the TANKS with a week’s visit!

I made sure we had baguettes awaiting their arrival as Helen loves a good baguette! And croissants ….. and patisseries!

We planned where to cruise together so that they would be able to head straight for home from our destination on Monday. Kortrijk provided a reasonable cruise, we know car parking is possible & it is a big enough town to provide the PCR testing facilities they would need before departure. So Tues 21st Sept was busy – shopping; collecting battery from Coutrai and dropping their car off in Kortrijk.

Antoing was our first overnight stop on Weds 22nd Sept. No one else there! We walked around town and decided to frequent the little pizza restaurant for dinner. It was exceptionally good. We’ll go there again. Unfortunately the boulangerie is not open on a Thursday so no fresh croissants or baguettes for Helen!

Onwards on Thursday to the rural mooring at the entrance to the Espierre Canal. A really lovely peaceful mooring despite the commercials heading past the basin.

Friday took us into Kortrijk.We had to purchase a vignette for the Flanders waterways as we came through the deep lock at Bossuit. The vignette system has changed since we were last in this part of Belgium. You can now buy the vignette online for the exact number of days you require. We paid around 100 euros for 3 weeks. Not the cheapest way to do it but that’s all the time we have this year.

Mr & Mrs …… waiting for the eclusier!

We went through the Bossuit / Kortrijk Canal and had to wait for the lock keeper at the Kortrijk end where the three small locks are hand operated. Despite being in Belgium this guy was a master of the ‘eclusier walk’ we know so well from our travels in France. Slow was not in it! Particularly at the last lock where we had to wait nearly half an hour for him to return (from who knows where) and finally let us out!

We went round into the visitors mooring haven but it was full! A very careful u-turn to exit (with a french boater, relaxing with a glass of red in his hand, watching Adrian’s every move ) and go to the other mooring site which was empty! We revisited the little Thai restaurant we went to with David Almond 3 or 4 years ago. It has changed hands, is a bit more expensive but the food was excellent.

Helen and I enjoyed wandering around the town which seems to be really up and coming! Lots of cafes and restaurants along the water side and smart shops off from the square. We had coffee at the former, but resisted spending loads of dosh in the latter!

On saturday Chris and Helen got an appointment for their PCR tests and retrieved their car. All went according to plan – they received their negative results within a few hours, completed their passenger ID forms and were all set for departure on Sunday morning. No worries!

A most enjoyable week!

Chris sent a photo of the lovely red pipe that he brought and fitted to our tanks! I thought you’d all appreciate seeing it!

Pipe rouge!

DBA rally at Veurne

Having arrived on Piedaleau on Weds 8th Sept we went to Veurne on Friday to join Andy and Grainne on JoNi for the DBA rally weekend.

There is an annual Dutch Barg Association rally – we attended one in Ghent 3 years ago …. but obviousl last year it was cancelled because of Covid. At Veurne there were 22 boats and about 50 attendees. The organisers had to be careful regarding the activities provided and the weather was a little unkind at times …. but it was great fun none the less. We got to meet up with friends and fellow boaters which made life seem almost normal again! Needless to say there was much eating and drinking and sharing of boaty type escapades and stories.

Shared lunch along beside the boats

We shared a bottle of Champers with Andy, Pat and Grainne (aka Boozey Boaters) on JoNi to celebrate our nuptials.

We returned to Piedaleau on the Monday morning and I vowed to stay off the booze for a while ….. but the continuing saga of the starter battery didn’t help my will power! Hey ho!

Back on board at last!

After getting married we were off to Piedaleau in Valenciennes for a few weeks. We left her here just over a year ago expecing to return within a few weeks. She was dirty but we were very pleased to discover everything dry and protected inside.

We did various checks ….. oil & water fine; fuel test showed all well in the tanks!

So we tried to start her up! Absolutely NO GO! Dead as a Do Do, as they say down under! Probably the starter battery had died but we wanted to be sure it was not anything else, eg corrosion around the contacts. After discussion with Andy we checked and sandpapered the contacts to the starter motor in the engine. As always not the easiest of tasks but we persevered. We tried to start her again ….. NO GO!

About this time a nearby boat started their engine up and then guy apologised for the noise / fumes. I made some comment about being jealous since we couldn’t start Piedaleau. A rather bizarre afternoon / evening ensued!

The guy, Oscar, came over to have a look! He told us (I forget now just how many times) that he is the only boat mechanic in the area and had been working on the other boat. He is from Peru and has been in France for many years. Now divorcing French wife and looking for an English wife, even though he doesn’t speak English but, thanks to British TV, thinks this would suit him better.

His apprentice, Julie, her fiance, their dog and the guy from the end of the pontoon, and his dog, then arrived looking for Oscar. Julie was beside herself because they had had no idea where he had disappeared to and all were worried he may have fallen in the water! Apparently this has happened before! Needless to say drinks were required to soothe worried brows……..

But Oscar did manage to get the engine to start (think he jumped across from anothere battery) thereby confirming that it is a dead starter battery. We tried charging it overnight, to no avail, so then we had to source a new one.

So we drove to the Neptunia chandlery boat at Antoing. No luck. Sent us onto a battery place at Tournai where they sourced one for delivery Monday or Tuesday. Hopefully that will work out and we will be able to get a little cruising in before we have to return home late October. Got to do some cruising since we’re here!

In th meantime we took the opportunity to walk around Valenciennes and enjoy a coffee or a beer or 2! Lovely sitting in front of the Gare watching the world go by!