Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A mini May meander on the waterways

In my last post, I was all excited that we were going to the boat lifts in Belgium, wasn't I? Well, that proved to be a no go. We set off on Sunday as planned but when we were half way there we learned from a skipper on one of the locks that a stretch we needed to go through would be closed until this week Tuesday, so that put an end to our plans for an uplifting experience (sorry).

As a result, and after dealing with my severe wobbly of disappointment, we turned off the Scheldt (Schelde here) onto one of our favourite stretches of water, the Canal de Roubaix and decided to spend a couple of days of relaxation at a mooring we haven't used before in Roubaix itself, a suburb of Lille. 

The canal starts as the Canal de L'Espierres on the Belgian side of the border and this was the first surprise. We have always loved this eight-kilometre stretch up to the French border because of the glorious, towering poplars that line the waterway. Well for the first few kilometres, we were revelling in seeing them again, but then suddenly, at the second lock, the scenery changed dramatically. The friendly (as always) lock keepers warned us we'd be seeing big changes and I can't honestly say this was a totally unexpected as I knew it was happening, but given we were in the same place only last August, it was still astonishing to see. To cut the story short, all the poplars are being felled and replaced by lime trees, and the first phase of the programme has been completed in just six months.

The first stretch of canal looks the same

Then came the surprise

The new look mooring: open and a little empty
but the trees will grow...

How the mooring at Leers looked last year

In fact, they've done an amazing job. The felling, clearing and replanting is complete along a stretch of about two kilometres. The towpaths have been resurfaced and everything is neat and tidy. But it looks open and empty compared with how it used to be. I suppose it didn't help that the weather was also cold, dreary, grey and misty, but we missed our glorious poplars. And did I just say it was cold? 

It will be many years before the lime trees reach a height that provides the lush shade and magnificent tunnel that their predecessors formed. Apparently, it was very necessary as the poplars had reached the end of their lives and were becoming dangerous. I do understand it, but yes, it was sad to see. Next year, another stretch will be done, and the year after, the final reach to the beginning of the canal. I took plenty of photos as I don't know when we will pass this way again.

All the same, it was good to moor up at Leers Nord again and cycle to the familiar village supermarket to fetch a few supplies. It's a wonderfully peaceful mooring and I am sure we will be back again in the future. It has that feeling of having arrived.

The next day (Tuesday), we travelled on under the care of the French canal authorities. The two cheerful novice lock assistants helped us through the system at something of a snail's pace. We couldn't help remarking at how last year, we'd had the A team and this year, we got the B team. That sounds unfair as they were lovely and very helpful and definitely working on their A status, but it seemed to take forever as they were both learning the ropes and spent a lot of time on the phone taking instructions. Unfortunately, as we drifted around waiting for one of the locks, a youth walking along the towpath with his mates decided it would be fun to throw stones at us, something we've never experienced before. I'm just glad they were quite small — the stones, not the boys.

Mooring in Roubaix

Anyway, eventually, we arrived at the moorings in Roubaix. The lock assistants helped us connect up to the electricity and then left us to it, promising to be back on Thursday when we wanted to make the return journey. Then the charming PR lady, Camille, from the canal administration dropped by to give us yet another folder of information about the canal (we already have two from the previous two years). She was accompanied by one of last year's A Team so we have to assume he's been promoted. It was great to find that he remembered us, another welcome we shall treasure.

After lots of laughter and convivial chat (well, more Koos than me as my French is limited to occasional interjections and an attempt to look comprehending and agréable, as one does), they departed, but with a warning not to leave anything outside that could be stolen. Roubaix is part of the greater Lille urban area and, like Rotterdam, carries the attendant problems (which we are used to) of petty crime – as we were soon to discover.

However, what we also discovered is that today's millenial petty thief has lost his edge and become what we quickly termed a Vulnerable Vandal....but perhaps I'll keep that story for next time. Suffice to say, it was très amusant.

Watch this space allemaal! To make up for a late post this week, I'll do two instead...or maybe even three!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Carol Ann Kauffman's VISION and VERSE : Interview with Author Valerie Poore

Many thanks to Carol Ann Kauffman for having me on her blog for a Q&A interview! It was great fun to do :)

 Carol Ann Kauffman's VISION and VERSE : Interview with Author Valerie Poore: Valerie Poore  (I prefer Val, but write as Valerie) City, Rotterdam Country, the Netherlands Good morning, Val, and welcome...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

We're on our way again

And this is where we're going! Now the Hennie Ha is fit for business again, we are taking a week's holiday to go to our beloved Belgium and experience this amazing waterways piece of engineering. It is the great boat lift at Strépy Thieu near Charleroi, or rather La louvière to be precise. We are taking three days to get there, one day there and three to come home again (all being well!). 

I took these photos in 2010, when going up it (or down it) in a barge seemed just a dream. I can still hardly believe we are actually going to be doing it. The aqueduct along the top feeds barges from the hilltop into the lift, which then drops 72 metres to the lower level of the canal.

These are the lift shafts that you can see from the side view. I've watched boats being lifted up here many times, and it is just amazing to think I'll be doing it for real. Koos did it once soon after it opened in 2002, so for him it is the second time, but still exciting.

This view out over the valley shows just how high these hills are. Isn't it fantastic? I think this lift is one of the great wonders of the waterways. We are also going to try and do the four old lifts that this one replaced. They are only in use during the summer and are just for tourists as they are now a World Heritage site. I've done one of those before and blogged about it, but it would be fun to do all four if they are open.

Have a great week allemaal. I just hope mine will be all I am expecting it to be...

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Terry Tyler: Free Books :)

STOP PRESS!!!  Only till tomorrow! Grab one or all of these now. I’ve loved them all! Terry Tyler: Free Books :): On impulse, I've put four of my older books on FREE for 5 days,  from May 9-13th .  Click on title for universal Amazon link. �� Th...

Monday, May 07, 2018

A picture post of our trip to the shipyard

A quick weekend to the yard just over the Belgian border started early Friday morning when we left our harbour at 07:00. I'll fill in the details later, but we just wanted to paint the hull, especially around the water line. It had suffered so much damage from the harsh winter, so a weekend out of the water was just what was needed. The pictures tell their own story...I hope!

The Ghent-Terneuzen Canal was like a millpond

So off we went

The yard at Zelzate is mostly for commercials, but yachts
are stored there over the winter too

The Hennie H in dry dock just before we started painting

We had a wonderful show of passing traffic

And a nice view off the back deck

Looking forward while the dock dried out

And two days later, a nice gleaming black hull

Just as we wanted it

The dock being sunk again on Monday morning

The water is pumped into cavities below the bottom
to push it down

Back at our berth by 11:00

One smart little barge again

This video is for Carol Palin, so she can see how the dry dock is 'sunk' by flooding it.
And now I have to scoot back to Rotterdam to work, so have a great week, allemaal!

Monday, April 30, 2018

A week of highs and lows (or Smoke on the Water)

I've just looked at that title and smiled. It sounds a bit dramatic, doesn't it? But actually every week is like that to some extent. Anyway, I'll get rid of the low bits first so we can move on to the highs, which are much more fun.

The main low is my ongoing frustration over workmen who don't pitch up to do a job. I won't bore you with the details, but it's becoming a pattern that's beginning to feel like a burden as it stops us moving on with things. Enough said, I think.

The main high was much more exciting. We finally got the Vereeniging's engine going after more than a year of puzzling over the fact that it wouldn't run. This is a massive thrill and a huge relief as it suddenly makes that dream trip to Utrecht all the more possible.

As far as we can tell, there were two problems: the first being that it had the dreaded diesel bug, a recent phenomenon caused by the use of plant based oils mixed with mineral diesel oil (normal practice these days). Plant oils are vulnerable and since we are no longer allowed to use marine red diesel, which is purer, we constantly run the risk of getting bacteria in our fuel. This is especially risky when it condensates over the winter (if the tank is not completely full). It seems this happened and we weren't aware of it. A nice fungus develops in the fuel and once it gets into the engine, it causes havoc – well, it makes it stop running, anyway, which is havoc of a sort. We only actually found the contaminated diesel in the filter, but drained the tank to be sure. Then Koos flushed it through, changed the filter and put more diesel in again with some anti-bacteria additive.

The second problem was a bit odd, and I'm not sure if Koos actually believes it either, but the diesel wasn't reaching the engine inlet. It seems possible (to me, anyway) that we simply didn't have enough in the tank to push it through the fuel line system, which works on gravity and communicating vessels. I won't go into too much explanation, but once we put an extra twenty litres in, the diesel finally reached the inlet to the engine and we were all systems go again. The thrill of hearing it burst into life again after so long was just magic; the smoke that filled the harbour as it started running like the clappers was not, but that was soon dealt with. It was a glorious moment that we both needed and the feeling that my lovely barge has woken up again is just amazing.

Lastly, it shouldn't go without mention that Friday was King's Day here in the Netherlands, it being his majesty's birthday and a public holiday. As tradition demands, the Dutch deck themselves out in Orange gear and do daft things. The harbour was not exempt from these displays and this was what I saw when looking out of the engine room on the Vereeniging.

I should say that the weather was not particularly conducive to stripping off, but the tub is full of hot water, so I suppose at least their lower halves were toasty warm! There was definitely a fairly brisk wind and a maximum temperature of about 14 degrees. Not something I would do, but it takes all sorts and they appeared to be having fun.

Have a good week, allemaal!

PS: If you'd like to read my first memoir about my life in the Oude Haven, it is currently selling for 99p/c on Amazon's UK and US sites as an e-book. Here is the link

Sunday, April 22, 2018

From vineyards to boatyards: springing into spring

Spring has finally arrived and we can shed those heavy layers of clothing. It’s such a relief, isn’t it? I am not one to bare all, but I love being able to go outside in just jeans and a tee-shirt. It’s what I think of  when I hear the title of that film (and book) ‘The Incredible Lightness of Being’. Silly, I know.

To make it even better, I spent a few days in Spain last week. One of the upsides of living in Europe is the ease of access to other countries, so I took advantage of a week’s break in my courses, to hop on a flight to Alicante and a bus ride later, I was in rural Valencia with a fellow former South African  friend. It was just lovely and the hills were sprouting young vines in great profusion. The geometry of the patterns they form really caught my eye and I took loads of photos.

There were also some fiestas going on (when aren’t there?) but these children we came across performing in the streets of Dénia were just captivating.

Then it was back to the Netherlands where the temperatures were even warmer than they were in Spain (true!), so yesterday we took the Hennie Ha for its first spuddle of the year. We always like to do this to make sure everything is working properly before we do any serious faring. It was the most glorious day for it and it has inspired us no end. We went as far as the shipyard just over the border to have a look as we want to have a quick lift out to clean the bottom and paint it to the waterline before we set off for the summer. The winter has been hard on the paint work!

Today has been equally lovely, but I’m afraid rain is coming soon. We cannot have more than a few days of sunshine in this part of the world without the obligatory storm to prevent us getting too used to it. It is also guaranteed to rain when I want to work on the Vereeniging, which I’m planning to do in my free time this week.

Oh and we have a spell of holidays coming up starting with King’s day this coming week...have a good one alllemaal. Do you have any holidays coming up soon?

Monday, April 16, 2018

The way forward

It was two and a half years ago that I wrote what has become my most popular post about my barge, the Vereeniging. As I wrote at the time, I bought it “as an empty shell complete with several not so optional extras, these being rust holes, a rotten axle and rather too obvious ventilation in all the wrong places. I had to forgive her though. She was a hundred and three years old and had survived serious abuse and neglect, somehow managing to stay afloat while the weeds grew out of the rust in her hull. It was a match made for the tenacious; both her and me.”

The blog post I wrote described what I needed to do keep my dream boat alive; how it became my passion and my goal; how even when I moved out of it to give my daughters a home when they needed bolt holes, it still occupied my thoughts, my life and my time.

Now we are a bit further on in time and I haven’t changed my feelings of affection for my lovely barge. She is 120 years old this year. The trouble is that even though I am still only just over half her age, my energies are not quite as resilient as they used to be. I’m beginning to notice the, shall we say, limitations of my advancing years even if she isn’t. Frozen shoulders, locked up ankles, spasmodic (is there such a word?) muscles; yes, these are all rather potent reminders that I am sixty something and I can kiss goodbye to my ideas (note that word) of lissome, lithe agility. Not that I ever have been that, but the idea of it, you understand, is what has kept me going.

So I am pondering on our future – my barge’s and mine – and maybe rethinking the plans. The Vereeniging has been part of my life and my heart for so long I still find it hard to think of a future without my damesschip, but before even contemplating that, there is the dream trip to be done; the one that in all the seventeen years I’ve had her has not yet been done. We, that is Koos, the Vereeniging and I, have a journey to undertake and that is a non- negotiable. We have to take my old lady home. We have to take her to Utrecht and then along the Vecht and Oude Rijn to revisit the route she travelled as a working barge so many years ago. After that, well, we’ll see. Maybe it will be time to pass her over to some younger hands, but before then, she will be smooshed, smartened and shined as never before. We, the Vereeniging and I, have plenty to do together and with Koos’ help on her oily bits, we will prepare for that day, whenever it may be.

Watercolourisations of two of my photos

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A late blog is better than a late blog

I love blogging as most of you know, and I love reading blogs. I try to post a blog every week at the weekend, but sometimes life gets in the way and I don't get round to it. That has happened this week for a number of reasons, some of which I will elaborate on, because after all, that's what a blog is for, isn't it? Well, sort of. We write about life, its meaning and everything, among other tales of nonsense and irrelevance. I do, anyway.

So why is my post late this week? Some reasons are good and one rather sucks a bit.

But taking the good first. Now the weather is at last cheering up (hooray, I hear you say; Val will stop moaning) and we've had some real sunshiny and warm days, there is the opportunity to go outside and work on the barge, or in the garden. I spent several hours doing both at the weekend and there is plenty left to be done, so this could mean more late blogs. But as my heading says, better a late blog than a late (or deceased) blog.

Former spot

Firstly, though, last Thursday, we had to move the Vereeniging from one spot to another (all of about six metres) because a neighbour was returning after several months absence and wanted his place back. I'd been occupying it since last October after my hellingbeurt as it is lighter and brighter than being next to a large clipper that dwarfs me. Still, I was instructed to move and so we did. Now you'd think this would be a ten minute job, wouldn't you? So would I except for the fact I know there's no such thing as a ten minute job when it comes to boats. A mere shift like this means untying numerous ropes, adjusting electric cables and moving gangplanks. Then everything has to be retied again to the new neighbour and to other bollards on the quay, a process usually accompanied by much head scratching as a certain Koos decides what is the 'proper' way to secure the barge (if it were down to me it would be a much more random affair, but I know he's right).

New Spot

Next up, I attacked the green layer that has grown on almost everything over the winter. This includes the the Vereeniging, the Hennie H and areas of the crumbly cottage, especially the white stripe of rendering all round the bottom of the house; a stripe that gets larger as we go down the side path of the neighbour's house. Following my meanness to the greenness, I repainted said white stripe, so that took me the best part of a nice long afternoon. Very satisfying, especially now we've got clean fascia boards (and gutters too). The crumbly cottage is looking slightly less crumbly.

A de-greened Hennie H

The last reason for my postponed post was less pleasant. We arrived back in Rotterdam on Monday to find we'd had a break-in sometime over the weekend. No one had heard or seen anything (city life, I guess), but as always, the inconvenience and indignation at the invasion of personal space outweighs everything else. There was nothing taken as we have nothing to take, but dealing with the police and the aftermath took time and emotional energy.

And there I was thinking we were immune to such things here. I now realise I've been the victim of more thefts since I've lived in Europe than I ever was in South Africa.

We live and learn. Have a good week, allemaal

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Gutter news

It's amazing what we'll do when on the crest of an indignant wave, isn't it? No? Well, perhaps it's just me, then, but when I make an appointment with a company to come and clean out the gutters at the crumbly cottage and they fail to turn up not once, but twice, my cup of indignation overflows and becomes a veritable tsunami.

The first time said company didn't arrive at the allotted time last Monday, someone called me and asked if it would be okay if they came later in the day. I agreed, but after thumb twiddling for several hours, they never showed up at all. I called them. The woman who answered sounded surprised and apologised. We made another appointment for Friday morning, me forgetting until some hours later that it would be Good Friday – not an official public holiday here, but many people take the day off. Good Friday for them, but not good for me as it turned out.

The result was that Koos and I didn't hold our combined breaths yesterday morning (being Friday), which was just as well as by early afternoon, we had accepted what we'd anticipated: no one came. All the same, I was more than a bit cross; hence the wave of indignation.

"It's all right," said Koos. "I thought we could do it ourselves, anyway, so let's do just that," he finished before going back to his laptop.
High on my surfboard of ire, I wasn't letting it stop there.
"Right," I agreed. "Let's do it now. It's dry now, and it might rain later, so let's get on with it."
Koos gave me a slightly pained look, but, bless him, didn't argue.

I should say that in my mind I was having a 'so there' conversation with the gutter people along the lines being gutted they hadn't come (sorry) and the gutter being where they belonged. And then, why hadn't they let me know? And then again, who needed them anyway? It's a pity I'll have to wait until Tuesday to do this, though, as no doubt my huge roller wave of righteous annoyance will have subsided to a mild swell by then and the satisfaction of my verbal tongue poking will be similarly diminished.

Koos up the ladder. I followed him, so you can see
the point where I got to cleaning the fascia boards

Anyway, outside we went, hauled out the ladder and took it in turns to go up to the gutters. Koos cleaned out the accumulated leaf mould of several years, after which I went up and cleaned the fascia boards. This doesn't sound like much I know, but if you understand I am very very nervous of climbing ladders, and I'm absolutely terrified of descending them, this was quite a feat for me. Added to that, the house is built on a dyke, so on one side, the neighbour's path slopes down to the lower level. The climbing height thus became correspondingly greater as did my stomach flips. Still, I was brought up never to ask someone to do something for me that I wouldn't do myself, so this meant I was honour bound to do my share, given that it was me insisting it couldn't be put off to a warmer day.

Some of the gunk that came out of the gutter
Anyway, we did it. Both sides of the house. And we were immensely proud of ourselves for our efforts.  Not only do we now have cleared gutters with nice clean fascia boards, we have also saved quite a bit of cash, so some of this was justly spent on toasting our success last night. Well, who wouldn't after such courage?

Have a lovely Easter weekend allemaal. More to come soon!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Meandering along the Moervaart

Yesterday was a day for dreaming of faring to come. It was beautiful; the first really lovely weather of this year in my inexpert opinion. Not only was the temperature balmy and mild but the sun even had some warmth to it as it touched our faces.

"Let's go for a walk?" I suggested to Koos. "In fact let's go somewhere for a walk."
He agreed, always keen to go somewhere other, so we decided on a ramble along one of our favourite waterways, the Moervaart. It's not too far from the crumbly cottage and is a navigable route we love to take at the end of our summer trips these days; in other words, ideal for boosting our anticipation of faring away in the holidays.

So we hopped in the car and off we went...and went...and went.
"When are we going to get there?" I asked,
"Soon, I have a special spot in mind." said Koos
Twenty minutes later we were still driving.
"We must be nearly there," I complained. "We've been driving for ages!"
"Not far now," soothed Koos.
"Yes, but I'm hungry now. And I need the loo"
"Stop complaining. It'll be worth it."
 "But it's never taken us this long. I'm feeling queasy with all these bends. We'll be in Lokeren before you know it!" I was whining now, but it made me laugh too, reminding me of a funny cartoon I saw on the internet recently:

Well, the next signpost we saw was indeed heading to Lokeren, but back the way we'd come. We'd done some kind of circuitous route and overshot it by several kilometres. Maybe this is the right place to mention Lokeren is at the far end of the Moervaart. It doesn't go any further. Right.

So, after going back past the town and heading again towards home, Koos took yet another turning (nooooo!!! I squealed) and finally brought us to the bridge at Sinaai on the Moervaart he'd had in mind.

And it was good (it really was. And a relief too). We climbed out of the car, inspected the bridge, one of several lifting bridges on this waterway, and set off along the towpath in the direction of Lokeren. I have to say the walk was definitely worth the wait as I hope these photos will demonstrate. Within minutes, we were conjuring up images of pottering along the Moervaart in the Hennie Ha. And it resulted in our planning a long weekend of cruising from Sas van Gent to Lokeren, a distance of around 38 kilometres. I'm sure you'll agree this is going to be a trip worth taking and a wonderful start to our faring year.

That was yesterday, then. Today, it hasn't been half as nice, but with the fire of faring in our blood, we started cleaning the Hennie Ha in anticipation of our travels to come. Neither of us can wait for the day we 'maak lossen' the ropes and pull away out of our berth. And that was the great thing about this one day of sunshine we've had. It's set our wanderlust loose and got us going again. Roll on spring and more boating adventures.

Have a great week, allemaal!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Still winter...?

I saw a funny poster on Twitter today. It's about the first thing I've read about winter that's actually made me laugh. It went something along the lines of 'Winter's behaving like an angry relative who keeps storming out of the room and then rushes back in shouting "And another thing!"'

What March in the harbour should really look like

It's true though, isn't it? We can't get rid of this blessed season. It keeps coming back with a vengeance. Last weekend I posted photos of a lovely spring walk we took. I even opened my coat and took off my hat. Can you imagine that? This weekend I've barely been out of the crumbly cottage. Yesterday we managed a trip to the dump with some junk that had been accumulating over many months, but it was snowing quite determinedly. So I decided that was it for the day apart from braving the throngs in the local supermarket. Today I managed an hour outside in company with a large container of cleaning vinegar. Together we attacked the green mould that has been covering just about everything of a stone or concrete surface. But it was absolutely freezing. I feel so sorry for the birds and wildlife, not to mention my panzies and daffodils which have all bent over in despair.

My rowing boat
Talking of cleaning vinegar, I must say I love it. It's my number one favourite stuff for cleaning just about anything...well, except me. I draw the line at that. Sharp and refreshing it might be, but I have certain sensitivities about just how sharp that can be. That said I have used it to clean the shower and chucked it down the loo. It's amazing at removing the unpleasant orange residue you get from the water in these parts. And the nice thing is that it's natural...well, it's the best part, actually.

last year's spuddle in March
I also use it to clean the green off my barge and I spent a few hours on Wednesday afternoon doing just that. It's funny to think that this time last year we were already spuddling about in the harbour. I was emptying my rowing boat of icy water on Wednesday too and remembered our first venture out last March. It'll have to get a sight warmer before I'm willing to start out this year.

Look! We weren't even wearing coats!

So there you are. I've managed to rabbit on about total rubbish for a few paragraphs just for the pleasure of writing my blog. Enough, you say? Okay. Have a good week allemaal.