Canal du Centre to the Sambre

After ‘doing the Strepy’ we headed along the Canal du Centre to Seneffe – a little port where we have moored in previous years. Not much to do there – particularly as we had been unable to book dinner at one of our favourite restaurants – Au GrĂ© du Vent. We did find, however, that Le Petit Baigneur provided a most acceptable alternative.

The weather is being extremely changeable – some lovely bright sunny days and some real wet ones. We decided to stay put if the weather was forecast to be really bad, and so we spent 2 days at both Thieu & Seneffe. Then it was onward towards Charleroi and then hang a right & down the Sambre, which was our plan. The Sambre is partly in Belgium and partly in France but the french side was only reopened in 2021 after many years closure. We wanted to go as far as we could – revisit some known places but also try waters anew.

Charleroi is close to Namur and was very industrial in its day ….. now mainly abandonned factories although some sites now seem to be being cleared. There is lots of graffiti / wall art which makes for an interesting passage.

Finally we were on The Sambre and back to much smaller locks with a lock keeper to boot! How we missed the infamous ‘eclusier’s walk!’ Our first stop was the little port of Landelies where we were just about able to get in. Not many boats are cruising now, most are already tucked up in their home ports ready for winter. But we got in and hooked up to electricity as it is getting quite cool at night. The little church in Landelies was pretty, but not much else to see.

On this stretch of the Sambre the eclusiers work the locks, literally turn the handles which we don’t often see these days. They also call ahead to the next lock so that radios and telephones are not required. Very calming. And the autumen colours are developing along the canal sides.

In one lock the lifting road bridge was literally right behind us as we came up in the lock!

Our other stops on the Belgian Sambre were Thuin and Jeumont. Nothing much to report from either except that the frites at Thuin were delicious!

Then we were ready to start the french Sambre – waters new – and that’s where things became increasingly frustrating! Because it was after 15th sept we had to ‘book passage’ at least 48 hrs beforehand. And works were planned at a lock further down starting on Monday. It would be shut for 3 weeks so unless we got our skates on we wouldn’t be able to go past that lock. A nice ‘young man’ said they would accept our booking for the next day providing we went through that lock on the Saturday. We agreed and set off early next morning.

At the next lock an eclusier was waiting for us and explained the telecommand gadget and system for this section of the Sambre. Great we thought! We happily went through a couple of locks with our new gizmo and then stopped for lunch at the new Port de Plaisance at Hautmont.

That’s when things got even more complicated and frustrating. Firstly the fuel barge, where we were going to take on the extra diesel we needed to complete the full round trip, was out of action. Then Amanda and Peter (Le Piglet), told us that there were other problems on the flight of locks ahead. A friend of theirs had had to make a huge detour as a lock was out somewhere further down – Amanda couldn’t remember exactly where. It wasn’t shown on the VNF website. We therefore decided that enough was enough & that the gods were obviously trying to tell us something. We stopped for a couple of nights and are turning round to go back the way we came. Not quite the penultimate cruise we wanted but it is time to head for home!

Doing the Strepy!

Having done the historical / touristy description of the Strepy boat lift it was time for us to go up and over! We set off on a fine morning, once the tourist boat was out of our way, and approached the lift. Basically its like going into any lock – same process applies – radio ahead, await response and instructions and the green light before going in. Then moor up and enjoy the ride and the views!

Although the lift only takes about 8 minutes to go up it takes a little longer for the water to fully equalise before the gates can be opened at the other end and you can go out onto the higher level canal.

The final part of the whole engineering feat is the protection gate about a kilometer along the canal which is presumably not often closed off.

We enjoy waving at all and sundry, but particularly at kids, along the way.

Strepy-Thieu Funicular Boat Lift

The boat lift was designed during the Canal du Centre’s modernisation program in order to replace a system of two locks and four 16-metre (52 ft) lifts dating from 1888 to 1919. The canal itself began operations in 1879 and its locks and lifts were able to accommodate vessels of up to 300 tonnes. By the 1960s, this was no longer adequate for the new European standard of 1350 tonnes for bage traffic, and a replacement was sought.

Construction of the lift commenced in 1982 and was not completed until 2002 at an estimated cost of 160 million euros, but once operational, permitted river traffic of up to the new 1350-tonne standard to pass between the waterways of the Meuse and Scheldt rivers. Taking traffic from France, across Belgium to Germany. The lift increased river traffic from 256 kT in 2001 to 2,295 kT in 2006.

It really is HUGE when you get up close!

We played tourists & visited the exhibition on the 8th floor of the Strepy on Thursday afternoon – really good information and a short film. The 5th floor provides panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

The history of commercial boats included some great photos of yester-year. Boats were originally wooden but then replaced by steel which were much longer lasting. Originally boats were pulled by people (often the wives) using harnesses; then horses or mules & then engines. Transit times became appropriately faster as a result.

The Historique Canal du Centre, with its 4 smaller boat lifts, remains in use as a tourist attraction but for the use of pleasure craft only. These are on the UNESCO World Heritage list. There seems to be quite a lot of weed in the Canal Historique this year so we decided not to go that way but to use the BIG-YUN, as Billy Connolly would say!

First of the historique boat lifts

Saturday had been wet off and on all day but Sunday promised to be fine so we set off – just in time to have to wait for a tourist boat to come up through the lock into Thieu. They seem to do a circular route – down the Strepy lift and up the Historique Canal lifts. So that wasted quite a bit of time! But we were soon approaching the edifice on the water!

Penultimate cruise on Piedaleau

Before completing the sale we wanted to take Piedaleau for our final cruise. We decided to head for the Sambre and get as far as we could / want to go in the time we have. We set off on Weds 23rd Sept along the Escaut, turned onto the Canal du Centre (Belgium) and stopped at Peronnes for the night. We were last there about 5 years ago and it has changed a lot!

Smart new visitors’ mooring jetty and lots of development in what had been disused boat workshops. Quite an entertainment area now with go carting, children’s play area and new bars and restaurants. It was a lovely afternoon so we went for a walk and then stopped at a bar for a beer – what a beer menu!!!

We spent ages trying to make our choices —— needless to say the one Adrian chose was ‘fini’ so he reverted to Paix Dieu, his old favourite.

A little more walking and we repaired to the restaurant in the old boat warehouse. A most interesting development – they have tried to incorporate photgraphs & artefacts found in the building.

I particularly liked the boat engine air filters which had been upcycled for lighting! And the food was pretty good too!

I awoke to a misty morning over the grand large at Peronnes……

But the mist soon lifted and the sailing school got into action before we left.

We headed off along the Canal du Centre aiming to stop at Pommeroeul – an area in front of unused canal which we have enjoyed before. Not any longer! Big works are in progress around the area, so stopping there was not an option for a peaceful night. We went onto Mons and thought we would stay a couple of nights – never really explored Mons. Unfortunately a speedboat extravaganza was scheduled for the weekend and so we set off early on Friday morning behind a french peniche, getting used to some deep locks and industrial areas again.

We got to Thieu and decided to go up into the Port de Plaisance since rain was forecast for Saturday and we would need electricity for more than a one night stay.

We took advantage of the weather on Friday afternoon to revisit the Strepy-Thieu boat lift as tourists. It really is an amazing feat of engineering which you can see from miles around!

View from our back windows

End of an era…..

Many will be aware that we have been planning to sell Piedaleau this year. It is indeed happening! We have french buyers, contract has been agreed and toasted at their bar. So this will be the end of an era for me / us ……

I have been a boat owner since the early 1990s when I met and then married Tom. Since bringing Misty Morning to France in 2009, I have spent a good part of each year on afloat in Europe. During Covid lock down Adrian and I watched quite a few TV programmes about parts of the Uk and realised that we would very much like to visit more there.

So we have decided to sell Piedaleau and buy a motorhome – so that we can tour UK and Europe whilst we are still fit and able to embrace a new challenge. We have lots of baoty type friends who have offered to provide us with a boating fix as and wen we need! How lucky is that!

We have, therefore, been packing up Piedaleau – amazing what you can accumulate in a fairly constrained living machine! Luckily for us (perhaps not quite so for Chris and Helen) Vrouwe Olive is providing transport to the UK for quite a lot of our ‘stuff’! So when we leave towards the end of October we hope to fill the car up one last time and head home to start hunting for our new toy!

On our first trip with stuff to Vrouwe Olive two policemen got out of their car and came to see what was going on! Must have looked a little dodgy – forming a chain to load all sorts of ‘stuff’ into Vrouwe Olive’s hold! I was on the roadside so it was moi who was asked for the boat papers. I quickly explained that it wasn’t my boat – it was Chris’s – he obligingly popped his head up out of the hold to say bonjour! One copper then said, with a very straight face, that he was only joking! I kind of flicked my hand towards his shoulder saying he’d had me worried there for a bit in a similar jovial vein ……. ‘you weren’t going to hit a policeman were you?’ Ooooops!!

Turned out that they were just interested in finding out about the boat and Chris offered for them to look inside. I ended up showing them around, discussing the boat at length, while the others finished loading our goods and chattels and came to find out what on earth I was up to with these two nice young policemen!

Catching up with the Bernadette

We have been trying to meet up with friends, whom we haven’t seen in ages (due to Covid), this year. Unfortunately we couldn’t quite manage to see Sue and David Thurston who were in Auxerre. But I was determined to meet up with Henk and Bernadette whom we hadn’t seen for something like six years! Long term readers of my blogs will know that I first met Henk and Bernadette on the Nivernais with their neighbours Tony and Annie. I was on Misty Morning with Nadine and they were on a hire boat. Henk came to our assistance – and as Annie said that chance meeting has resulted in a lovely, lovely friendship! Henk and Bernadette came to join my 60th birthday celebration in Paris; they joined me on Misty Morning several times; Bernadette has visited me in the Uk and I have visited her in Aus. Great friends and lots of friends in common too – Elizabeth and David Wrigglesworth in particular! Lovely memories of us all at Cascarot – which Elizabeth has now sold (end of an era) and she and David have moved to Aus.

We were also planning to rendezvous with Chris and Helen (Vrouwe Olive). I twigged that the boats would not be far from each other on Thursday (15th) evening – so we timed things so we could see them both. Then Chris further twigged that if the Bernadette went an extra few kms ……. they could moor just in front of Vrouwe Olive on the Scarpe at Corbehem. So that is what happened and a lovely evening ensued!

Chris, Helen, Henk and Bernadette had never met before but that was no problem. Henk fired up the barbie, in true Aus tradition, and between the 2 boats we shared a meal on Vrouwe Olive – complete with Champers and Cremant de Bourgogne.

Friday morning Henk excelled himself yet again by continuing his Sunday morning pancake tradition! (OK so it wasn’t Sunday but no one held that against him!) I so remember him doing this for Bernadette & myself on Misty Morning whilst sporting my Australian pinny!

Really sorry to see them go – a short but very very sweet meet up. xxx

Some light relief

During all that boaty type ‘excitement’ we met Margaret and John on Catharina. They are New Zealanders and so we know quite a few people in common! Tony & Sue Crang, Bill & Mandy Leckie to name a few. Stories were swapped. They were especially interested to learn that we had taken a trip to NZ in 2016. We had hoped to meet up with Sue & David Thurston this year but timescales just didn’t allow. We have such lovely memories of our trip and all the lovely kiwis who welcomed us with open arms!

After Joni, Coole Swan and then Vrouwe Olive had all left we arranged to go out for dinner with John & Margaret on Saturday 10th. We went out to a very nice resaurant called Les Arcades for a rather splendid meal. We ate very well, drank very well and talked and talked! Lovely evening.

Turbot with aubergine sauce – yummy!

Margaret had found a lovely Roumanian lass who does nails. So on Sunday Adrian and John went for a beer (or 2) while we both had pedicures!

And then on Monday evening, since they were leaving on Tuesday morning, they suggested visiting our favourite family run greek restaurant! We’re becoming quite well known there…..

At Mykonos!

On that Sunday (while we were having pedicures) there was the annual procession through town to commenorate Notre-Dame du Saint-Cordon. She is attributed with saving the town from the plague in the 15th Century by encirculing the town with a cordon which the plague never crossed. Unfortunately I have no photos of this. But on Monday afternoon I did manage a quick look around the annual brocante in the Place d’Armes. I was tempted by a few little niceties but, unusually for moi, I resisted temptation!

Hectic week continues

Monday saw the start of the works we needed doing on Piedaleau. Both problems had previously been fixed, or so we thought, but had raised their heads again. We decided enough was enough and arranged for Oscar Marine to come & sort it all out on our return in September.

First problem was the gaskets on the propeller shaft which were spraying water AGAIN despite 2 expensive trips to Carron Marine at Zezate in 2019. Oscar removed the gaskets previously istalled and checked matters out. He thinks that some factory applied packaging had not been removed and this was causing the prop to move and shred the excess ‘stuff’. He looks to have done a neat job but we haven’t properly tested it yet. He is,apparently, one of the few mechanics who will do this job without lifting the boat.

For light relief that evening Nadine, Sophie and Hubert (french friends of Nadine) who were staying in Lille, came to take us out to dinner – to that nice little Greek family restaurant again (not many places are open on a Monday). Goodness only knows if and when we will see Nadine again. Long haul flights have become increasingly unappealing since Covid! But we have been invited to visit Sophie and Hubert in the Massive Centrale sometime. Not been there before so that would be great!

Fuel bug had also raised its ugly head again – also first dealt with, or so we thought,in 2019. Not so! Friends had said it was important to clean the tanks out completely in order to properly irradicate the BUG but we hadn’t done that at the time. And then Covid restrictions meant that we were hardly here for 2 years which probably exacerbated the problem. So now we decided we could no longer avoid it. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent emptying 500 liters (!!) of diesel which all turned out to be seriously affected and had to be disposed of (!!!!!!) The tanks were scrubbed and left to dry. Looks like this was indeed a long standing problem possibly because of the poor design of the fuel tank inspection covers. They may have been leaking in water over the years. The tanks had lots of water in them. We were most unhappy to say the least!

Oscar’s crew pumping out the contaminated diesel

Chris and Helen Hanley had come into Valencinnes for a few days and he sealed the existing tank lids properly – perhaps a more permanent solution will be completed next year.

When this was all done we decided not to completely fill the tanks yet but to check things out with a bit of cruising first. So Adrian and I spent a ‘happy’ day going to & from the garage to fill tanks and pour them into the tank! Reminded us of what we used to do for Misty Morning but her tank was much smaller!

I have to tell you a little about Oscar – he surely is a one off! Originally from Peru he has been in France some years. Amongst other things he has worked on tanks for the military somewhere. He is very pproud of being one of the few boat mechanics in northern France, of being ‘professionel’ and of his standard of work. We lost count of how many times he told us this! Whilst he is at work he is totally focused, quiet and thorough. But the chat is relentless once that’s done – the same thing seems to be repeated upteen times! Oh and, of course, its thirsty work! We had to lay in extra supplies of beer for them all!

Quite an experience and quite exhausting in itself. Hopefully both issues are now sorted and we know who to call if any future issues on this. Phew!

Wedding anniversary

Sunday 4th September …….. our 1st Wedding Anniversary!

We spent time preparing for Oscar and his crew who were due on Monday.

Grainne, Andy and Pat decided a small anniversary celebration was in order & invited us to dinner. Lovely!

Andy Pat Grainne Adrian

On Monday morning Joni and Coole Swan headed off – been great seeing them and hope we manage to visit them in Bruges before we return home.

A rather hectic, and boozy, few days.

Return to Piedaleau

We left home at 7am on 1st September to return to the boat once again. Our journey time UK side is now around 4.5 hrs (about 1.5 hrs longer since we moved to Lincoln which makes a difference)! We had hoped to go the day before to visit my brother en route, and stay over so making the final stretch much shorter. But Peter has not been well for sometime and was having a hard time, & then we thought Adrian might have Covid, so unfortunately we had to cancel our visit. So we had to do the full journey that morning. Various problems on motorways made our timing a little tight but we got there in time.

We used Irish ferries again and had a lovely crossing – sitting out on deck away from everyone! Valenciennes is about 2 or 2.5 hrs from Calais. We were looking forward to seeing Grainne, Andy (Joni) and Pat (Coole Swan) who were due to visit Valenciennes for a few days.

We arrived around 5.30pm to mayhem in the port!!!

Basically what seems to have happened is that Joni was coming further into the port to turn around before rafting up to another boat. Joni picked ‘something’ up in her prop, lost steerage & was drifting towards other boats and, potentially, the weir at the far end of the port!

Coole Swan was on the waiting pontoon just outside the port because the whole place was chocker block with boats. As he came out of the office Pat heard Grainne’s cries for help and, according to Grainne, ran the length of that side of the port to jump on his boat and come to their rescue. I should perhaps point out that Pat is not made for sprinting and he was wearing clogs, but he knows his stuff re dealing with boat-type emergencies & helping a damsel in distress!

Coole Swan high tailed it down the canal – narrow boats, like this owner, are not renowned for their speed – came alongside Joni and pushed her across until lines could be secured so that the problem with the prop was investigated. When we arrived there were several people trying to free the prop using boat hooks …… & lots of other people watching & commenting! It turned out to be a wooden fender complete with rope that had been caught in the prop. It was safely removed but it wasn’t until Joni finally left a few days later that all the rope was finally got detached.

Grainne and Andy were really pretty shaken up. This is not surprising in itself but they really have had a hard time this year………. their car was written off; a commercial barge hit Jomi outside a lock causing 24000 euros of damage (luckily no one was hurt); and then in Paris their bikes were stoeln from their boat. All in all an awful year for them!

A recuperative drink and then dinner followed on Czyvargo.

John Pat Adrian Julie Moi Rachel Grainne Andy

So that was Thursday.

Friday was a slow day but we all went out to dinner at Mykonos, the family run Greek restaurant near the station. Very pleasant evening.

Saturday became boat moving day. Czyvargo left so Joni had to go out to let them off the pontoon then return and then Coole Swan moved in alongside.

We all took a trip to the Saturday market for a little light relief!

Then, in the afternoon, we grabbed various people to help us turn Piedaleau around so that her stern was to the pontoon ready for works to be carried out on Monday. We actually had quite a lot of fun with people strategically positioned to catch ropes or fend off as we turned. A thank you beer was definitely in order!

Pat Barbara Gerard Chantal Cat Grainne Adrian Peter