Into the valley of the Somme

We joined the Canal du Nord at Arleux, overnighted at Marquion, until we turned off onto the Somme. 45 kms, 12 locks and the Ruyaulcourt tunnel. I had not been looking forward to the Canal du Nord, expecting it to be very large and commercially busy. It was fine. and neither of us were looking forward to the 4.4kms tunnel after our experience in the Pouilly tunnel on the Burgundy canal.  This one even has a passing place in the middle & we were warned to watch for the lights and to ensure we were well tied up if we had to wait for a boat to pass us. In the event it was fine. We followed a commercial all the way through, didn’t have to wait in the middle. Only took about 45 mins and no bashing about ……… as compared to the 2 hours and lots of bashes in the Pouilly tunnel 4 years ago.

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We moored for the night just before our last lock on the Canal du Nord ready to join the Somme in the morning. We had intended to go to Peronne for a few days first but the marina had no room for us so straight to the Somme it had to be.

The engine hours turned 1000 as we came out of the tunnel so we had a beer to celebrate that evening!

What a change of pace and environment! The locks on the Canal du Nord were large (can take double length barges ie 100m), automatic, 6 to 8 metres deep with widely spaced bollards. The locks on the Somme are for freycinet barges so only about 40 m long. The first only had about a 1m drop. And you have to call ahead as the locks are all worked by an eclusier.  We had been told how friendly the eclusiers are …….. but we got Mr Grumpy!

We turned into the Somme on 15th August – just a few months later than intended!

The Somme is not part of the VNF (Voies Navigables de France) network but is run by the Agence Fluviale et Maritime with the central control based in Amiens. There seems to be a lot of work going on to protect the banks. Like going back in time travelling along with an eclusier – so much more personal.

Very soon saw a kingfisher and then a woodpecker. The lockside was covered with a pretty wildflowers – Common Toadflax – and it is peaceful and not at all industrial. What a contrast to the Grand Cabarit waterway we have been on for sometime. The water is pretty weedy but one day in we are feeling so much more relaxed.

We cruised through the countryside, joined by a Dutch boat, to Cappy for the night. Bit tight getting into the only possible space but we managed. There was a vide grenier going on in the village but it really was not up to normal standards! Even I didn’t find anything.

 

The boat in front of us, Contessa,  sported a NZ flag so we invited them on board for an aperitif and promptly discussed all the different people we both knew from NZ and from St Jean de Losne. Really is a small world!

Onwards to Corbie the next day where we were to stop for 2 days but it became 3 when the weather turned to heavy rain overnight.

First night we moored beside the campsite but Adrian got fed up of being talked at very fast and very loud by a lady from the site. She was trying to be ‘helpful’ but after she knocked on the window as we were having breakfast, we decided to move down near the lock. Contessa was there and Camelot (brits Rob and Sue) and found we had more boaty friends in common with them! Small small world!

We had tried unsuccessfully to hit the tourist spots in Corbie. We were given a walking tour map at the Office de Tourism but everywhere was either closed or fully booked. We returned to the boat and decided to get a taxi to go and visit the Franco-Australian war memorial at and the John Monash WW1 museum at Villers-Bretonneux. Rob & Sue joined us.

An excellent museum dedicated to the participation of the Australian Imperial Forces during WW1 – sign shows that these lads were fighting over 14000m from home. Commemorates the decisive battle July 1918 when Australian troops, led by General Monash, finally managed to break through the enemy lines. He orchestrated aircraft, infantry, artillery and tanks to a very precise and detailed plan to surprise and defeat the Germans.

The museum features personal stories (related by actors), contemporary footage interwoven with modern visual representations of the battles. The main film was very realistic with the sounds & sights of battle.

 

 

Weekend in Wambrechies

We had arranged to meet up with Sue and Tony Crang from NZ, on Waimanu in Wambrechies. Last year we spent a week on a hire boat on the river Shannon in Ireland together. So it was great to be able to meet up in France again. As soon as we had unpacked and parked the car we went over to say hello – drinks on board followed by dinner in the bar / restaurant beside their boat! Lovely welcome return!

Saturday was, predictably, tidying and shopping day but we joined them for dinner on board that night. Since they were moored in front of the bar we met the ‘Wambrechies’ crowd too – most notably Brigitte, Natalie & Jean-Michel. Being kiwis dinner included a BBQ and they had various requests from people having a drink outside. Later there was live music in the bar and so Tony and I were able to join in the dancing with them all! Great fun!

On Sunday we were able to take Tony and Sue to visit my 2 favourite places in the area – Villa Cavrois (art deco chateau) and La Piscine (museum and art gallery in former art deco swimming pool). I’ve covered these places previously so just a couple of photos to remind me / you!

 

 

We had to be back in Wambrechies for aperitifs with a Australian couple, Bob & Karyl, whom Tony and Sue had already met. They have been on board for 5 years and have sailed it all the way from Adelaide! Can’t remember where they are aiming for …….. their stories were many …….

We left Tony and Sue with them and joined the Wambrechies crowd in the bar. What a hoot! I have trouble keeping up with the banter in french – Adrian doesn’t, and has to explain some of the jokes for me. Definitely lose soimething when it has to be dissected!

For example …… ‘Maggie’s dress’ ……. well that’s what it sounded like to my English ear …….. actually ‘ma guise dresse’ …….. which sounds the same but means ……my penis (slang) stands up! You can imagine the hilarity when I questioned what was wrong with Maggie’s dress! Definitely loses something in the translation.

I think our table was the loudest! A young motor biker kept looking and smiling at out antics. And Alain, the Capitaine & ‘animator’ of the port, made sure that the Mayor said hello to the visiting Anglais when he came out of the bar!

So Monday morning we said goodbye to Tony, Sue and Wambrechies & headed for Don where we knew we could moor peacefully that night. Needless to say another boat arrived – eMCee – Maggie and Colin from Brisbane in Australia. He is originally from UK and she from Poland. So our quiet night in turned into a bit of a session on Piedaleau. Maggie works half the year as a private Neuro Psychologist so she was fascinated to hear about the study Adrian is involved in and the memory tests he was given.

Tuesday we headed off quite early, cruising for about 8 hours to get down to Marquion, just outside the lock, and a very quiet, early night!

 

 

 

A month at home

I usually enjoy being at home for a month in the summer but can’t say its a great place to be at present.

It was super to see all the kids, spend time with Freddie, visit friends etc. I had a lovely birthday meal with Stuart and Adrian. We fitted a lot in & enjoyed being with our friends and family.

Adrian and I spent a couple of days in London courtesy of a longitudinal health and social study that Adrian has been involved in since birth. He has been monitored and assessed for different things every few years. Memory was the focus this year. Which, as many of you will know, is not Adrian’s forte. Various tests were administered and I was asked details of a couple of recent events that we were involved in together. Bit of a test for my memory too! He was then asked about these to see how well he remembered them or at least how closely our memories of them coincided. A week later, when we were back on the boat & cruising along, the researcher rang him and asked him questions related to items in the various tests. Not easy & just a little bizarre!

We decided to make the most of our stay in London – met my sister and brother in law for dinner, went to see the Dolly Parton musical  ‘9 to 5’ and I went with Frankie to see the Dior exhibition at the V & A. Stunning, no other word for it – just stunning!

 

And to top it all off Lisa, Alex and their 4 kids (Amy 15, Ella 13, Freddie 12, & Adam 10) came to stay Weds night & left very early Thurs morning en route to their week’s holiday in Spain. Great fun but a lot of washing to do on Thurs before returning to the boat on Friday. We left at 1pm and arrived at Wambrechies around 7.30pm – ready to party!

Heading for home

We finally escaped from Zelzate and the boatyard on 3rd July – much poorer but much relieved to have got through it all. We altered our plans again. Decided to return home for our ‘summer break’ early and so headed back to Wambrechies where we had booked to leave the boat. This also put us on a quite tight timescale as we could use one of the remaining tunnel crossings for this year (we buy a set of 10 per year & providing we use 6 or more we are winners!). Last date we could travel on this was 8th July so we planned to arrive in Wambrechies by the Saturday, pack up and return home on Monday 8th.

We tarried an extra day or so in Deinze – Keith kindly helped us transfer our car from Zelzate to Wanbrechies – and aimed to set off early on the Saturday. Being somewhat paranoid about all things engine, Adrian tried to sort some things and was checking under the gearbox when a hose on top of the transmission arm sprung a leak (actually he sat on it trying to reach under the gearbox). 3 hours later, the salon full of ‘blue’ air he had managed to apply a rather special bandaid to seal the leak and off we set, heading for Menen that night.

Two hours later we reached the first lock to discover the gates were under repair & so it was shut until the next morning. Nowhere close by for us to moor as lots of commercials were lining up ready for the morning. We had to go back about half an hour and managed to moor ‘illegally’ on a passenger boat pontoon. Didn’t look as if it was expected anytime soon, & we tried to ring to get permission to moor there…… no reply so we stayed!

Next morning, Sunday, we headed up to the lock about 10am expecting quite a long wait but we were called in with another pleasure boat behind a HUGE commercial, so we were off again….. We hoped we could get all the way to Wambrechies – except the locks shut earlier on a Sunday so we didn’t quite manage it! Moored in front of the last lock and were ready for the off early Monday. But by 8am it didn’t look as if the lock was open – so I radioed the geezer to ask when it would open and was told he’d open the gates NOW. Never seen Adrian get up, dressed and at the wheel so quickly!

We arrived in Wanbrechies by 9am and enjoyed coffee and croissants before packing everything up, loading the car and heading for home. Left at 2pm & home around 9pm having stopped for dinner because of traffic problems.

So our best laid plans nearly came a cropper once again ……..

Never a dull moment as they say in the trade!

 

 

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!