Sunday, December 20, 2009

Here we go again, two weeks earlier than last year. Minus 10 last night, minus 18 predicted for tonight. Feel sorry for the heron and kingfisher that hang around here as already the river is frozen for much of its length.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The last post. This is the River Moervaart back to Lokeren to moor Snail for the winter, following our friends from England that we welcomed to Belgium back in May.

It's been a varied year full of memorable experiences. And next year?

We are hearing rumours from boating associations as well as commercial ships that the French waterways authority (the VNF) are seriously threatening to close for good 1300km of canals to save money. They will do this over the next two years with the loss of more than 400 jobs. It seems sensible to head for these while they are still there to be explored.

Paris in the springtime, here we come.

Daylight again thank God and on familiar waterways, the Ringvaart around Gent. Those little orange blips on the stern of this ship are people, painting.

This is no ordinary sunset shot. This is Snail getting caught out on the tidal river by lack of daylight in November. It was very dark by the time we got to Merelbeke lock on the outskirts of Gent. Commercials had already stopped for the weekend taking up all available wall space and leaving us no choice but to moor up in the dark to an ancient tug which we hoped would not need to be working in the morning!

Daylight dawns at Boom and the tugboat owner can have a proper look at our boat. Sorry, Dave Thomas but he didn't think our 'T' stud was up to the tow so off he went without us.

Here we are at Dendermonde having caught up with him much later in the day, breaking our journey waiting for the tide to be favourable tomorrow.

In the meantime skipper had to get Woody up that wall (I refused to even try). Rope and undignified harness later, he was toileted. Oh, the trials of being a boat dog.

This rather large tug moors up behind us. Its been dredging the river and is heading for Dendermo-nde. So are we.

We're invited onboard (here we go again, its Belgium)and the owner of the tug offers to tow us, against the tide, to Dendermonde in the morning. Then we go under our own steam to Gent, by which time the tide will have turned in our favour.This journey was going to take us two days without their help, with their help just the one so, Yes please!

We really have to start making tracks for Lokeren. Now it gets complicated There are 2 rivers to negotiate with conflicting tides. If we don't get it right, we will be fighting the current, using loads of diesel.

We stop on the River Rupel at Boom to wait for the tide. This floating pontoon has the biggest risers we've ever seen. We try not to worry about what this river may be capable of and settle down for the night when.....

We love this canal! The towns along its banks have all got small family run breweries! This is the cafe run by Mechelen's Carolus brewery where skipper discovered their Christmas beer was at least as tasty as Westvleteren (the best beer in the world). Another town to re-visit in the winter.

500+ steps later and we've reached the top. Apparently you can see Antwerp from here and beyond. We prefer not to be reminded of the port and begin the much easier descent.

Here's just some of the bells. The smaller ones. They all weigh an incredible amount but the tower doesn't lean. There's a change. They also sound, often and beautifully.

We're back in the land of belfries. Mechelen's is famous. So famous for its bells (carillons)that it has a prestigious school for wouldbe carilloners. We begin the climb to the top. Only 500+ steps.

After 200 there is a platform from where you can look down onto the organ loft. There is also a 500 year old 3 person treadmill. This was used to crane up the bells and masonry. The roof tiles are there to break the fall if the clock weight wire should ever break.

Back along the Leuven Canal to Mechelen. We moor and settle down for the evening when there's a knock on the door of the boat. Alex introduces himself. He has read about our exploits with the KNRM and followed the link to this blog. He can't believe that we are here in his town and would like to show us around and take us to dinner. These things happen to us in Belgium. It's why we can't keep away for long.

At the head of navigation is the university town of Leuven. That stadthuis was jaw-droppingly spectacular and we loved the little statue. But it was a Sunday and everything was closed and quiet, including the little Domus brewery whose products we will have to wait to taste when we return by train in the winter.

After Lier it was on to the Leuven Canal, one of the few canals still new to us in Belgium. The locks are unique with wavy walls that our length of boat could not quite straddle. This made for some interesting roping up techniques, fully tested by the strength of the inward rushing water. Some of the lockkeepers were kind and filled the lock gently. Others weren't.

There was a lot of restoration and modernisation work underway on this canal. A crestfallen locky told us that, by the time we came back in a few days, all the locks would be automated, controlled from a central tower. No more boater interaction that he so enjoyed, just a north facing window and a lot of cctv screens to peer at.

After looking at Antwerp we were intending to carry on to Gent and so to Lokeren to stop for the winter. Unfortunately this meant being caught up in the antics of the Port of Antwerp again and neither of us could face that so we went the opposite way, along the Albert Canal and then the Nete Canal.
We moored at Lier, famous for it's clockmaker of the last century, a Mr Zimmer. Among many incredible horological achievements, he managed to make a clock that accurately measures a distant planet's movements. This dial would not complete a full circuit for 25,000 years.

The 'tide line' on Antwerp's castle is the original bit. It overlooks the river giving wonderful views of passing ships. The strange statue in the foreground we prefer to think is something to do with Gulliver.

We have the usual scary time in the Port of Antwerp, this time involving a commercial from Luxembourg who did his best to suck us in to his prop. Mental note to avoid this port next year. It's always chaotic and this makes it dangerous for small boats.

We find a mooring away from the port and take the tram in to the city. It was certainly worth the challenging boating.

The strangely named Kreekkrak sluice on the Belgian border is simply enormous. It took us a few minutes to get from one end of the lock to the other and yes, they did operate the whole thing just for us. But it must be Belgium, it's soo quiet.

Haven't posted one for a while and this is the last chance for this year as we are at Tholen, our final mooring in the Netherlands before we are back on Belgium waters again.

Tholen has the honour of being the most expensive overnight mooring of the entire trip. At 28euros for one night we did expect electricity. That was an extra 1.50 and the ampage on offer was so low it wouldn't work for us anyway!

Pretty windmill though.

We escape the clutches of the Biesbosch and stop at Roosendaal to surprise some friends made last year. This shopping mall, newly built, is the height of kitsch but a lot of fun to wander round.

This is the Dutch equivalent of the RNLI, unfortunately not just stopping by for a cup of tea. We now feature on their website ( for those of you who need to see our total humiliation). They tried to make us feel better by admitting that they too get stuck sometimes.

But then, if that enormous tripboat can get through the hidden sand banks, it can't be that difficult.

Nowadays the Biesbosch is mainly used by pleasure boaters and pleasurable it certainly was.

We had the island where Snail is moored to ourselves, apart from a short visit by park rangers in their boat who had come to give the grass its last cut of the year.

Origami was well used as we explored our surroundings. She grounded once mid-channel. No problem in Origami but should have given us food for thought.......

The Biesbosch was formed in the 15th century when flooding of the two rivers that surround this area swamped 14 villages. Many people were drowned and the water never did recede. Instead it formed this network of lakes and islands which are only accessible by boat. In the following centuries the islands were inhabited by skilled craftsmen working with reed and willow, as evidenced by the ancient pollarded trees found all over the Biesbosch.

We headed off the commercial waterways for the Biesbosch, an area of lakes and islands that had been too busy with cruisers when we had come this way earlier in the summer. Now it was blissfully deserted.

Just a reminder of how big the 'big stuff' can be. This German ship overtook us on the Nieue Maas, part of the River Meuse when we left Dodrecht.

Dordrecht was another lovely old town. We were shown around by Gerrit, a trad.sailing boater we'd met earlier in the year, who lives here. In return skipper suggested Belgian beers he might like to try at the specialist cafe we ended at. A great day, thanks Gerrit.

Dordrecht from their church tower. The big waterway, the Noord, ends in the busiest commercial junction in Europe, if not the world. When we negotiated it, there was not a ship to be seen. It was strangely disappointing.

Dordrecht was our next stop. We blithely Snailed in to their historic harbour, the bridge was lifted and our unusual boat was warmly welcomed to stay as long as we wanted. So much better than the unsuitable yachthaven which is often the only option.

Leaving Rotterdam, these little loves really stirred things up. They and their like make far more chop than the biggest of the 'big stuff'.

The new and the old. One old harbour and windmill in Rotterdam survived the bombs. It is a delightful place to wander around, especially as there is a small brewery here! The church on the far bank is where the Pilgrim Father's left on their way to England and then America.

We leave Gouda and catch up with friends in Rotterdam. The Museum Haven lines the opposite bank in front of our mooring. It is atmospherically lit at night. Rotterdam is proving to be a very special city.

Well, it is Gouda.

This is the old tollhouse at a now disused lock in Gouda. Judging by its size and splendour, there is nothing new in the concept of high taxation.

Gouda, in common with other Dutch towns, adorns its bridges with flowers. The Dutch love of flowers is shown in the popular and regular flower markets. You know there's one happening around the next corner when wobbling bicylists pass, trying to balance great masses of blooms that are headed for home.

Gouda was as famous for its clay pipemaking as its cheese and this beautiful building used to be a factory. The last traditional pipemaker in Gouda closed his doors for the last time a few months ago.

More stonework but brightly painted and well restored. This was the old people's home in 1614.

Amused by this little fellow. Many of Holland's old houses and bridges are adorned with stone ornamentation. Often they told passersby what trade or merchandise was on offer inside. We wondered what this merchant had traded in.

Too narrow by far for Snail but these medieval canals turn out to be do-able in our flexible Origami. It didn't say you couldn't as in Delft, so we did. Ancient Gouda towered up at us from down there and passersby looked amused as we squeezed through.

Gouda's flamboyant gothic stadthuis is one of many interesting buildings flanking the enormous market place here.