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