Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Douai to Dunkerque then Brugge

Oct 14

The first big ecluse after Douai heading west had rising bollards at plaisancier distances - heaven we thought, but the next one only had one working and the next none working.  Big double chamber ecluses but still not having to share.

Grand Gabarit

This commercial pulled out behind us and started to overtake us as another commercial came the other way - it was between two bridges and with a rocky side so nowhere to go - barely metres to spare, not sure being in the right would have compensated for going under his props!

We found a nice mooring in the old canal bypass at La Bassee - heaven after the mainline - but must be autumn as lots of misty mornings so late starts.  Near Arques the surface weed starting building up and up which caused a lot of filter cleaning (at the worst moments).


Fontinettes ecluse - about 13m which surprised us
The deep ecluse at Fontinettes had replaced a 19thC boat lift (which had replaced 5 x 18C small ecluses).


Fontinettes Boat Lift (a copy of the UK Anderton lift)

Barges, first hauled by people, then horses, then diesel locomotive
After the heavy commercial activity we had planned a rural route/diversion and turned off to a little quai on a 'stream' near Watten - nice little village and the photo doesn't do it justice.

Watten Church
Then it was onto our little used route, first the River AA towards Gravelines, then a turn right onto the Bourbourg.  At a guess the eclusiers got a boat a week on the Bourbourg if that and you could see their faces reflecing 'mad dogs and Englishmen'.  Once we got used to waiting an hour at lifting bridges and ecluses (with fingers crossed they would work) all was OK.  Bourbourg was a lovely mooring but dying from lack of use.

Canal de Bourbourg
The last 8km was through thick weed and we were worried, but we delighted the wildlife that took to our wake and the clear water.

Weed and more weed.
Then into Dunkerque and civilisation again.  A language mix up with the eclusier, where his timing referred to a lift bridge on the Canal de Furnes (Veurne) and we thought he meant the last ecluse in France led to a 90 min delay.

Last French ecluse with river running at right angles under the ecluse
Over the border into Flanders, after a big wine stock up at an Carrefour near the French border,


Angie wouldn't let Peter stop at the first Belgian canalside Frituur (mental cruelty) but despite pushing on we still got stuck on the outskirts of Veurne by a liftbridge (the Belgian sluiskeepers had knocked off for the weekend - at 5pm) so we tied up to some wooden railings and settled in to wait until the Monday.

Veurne marketplace
On the Monday we organised a permit for Flanders, but the €80 wasn't enough to convince the sluiskeeper to let us fill up with water - welcome to Belgium.

Half an hour out of Veurne on the Lokanaal our power control cable failed - no phone coverage to organise a replacement so we overnighted on a village quay  - where the village bar had closed since our last visit 4 years ago - sob!!

The next day we limped into Diksmuide using a combination of a piece of string on the straight bits and Peter in the engine room, manually operating the throttle, on the tricky bits (like Fintele sluis).

Back in windmill country
Fintele sluis - sloping sides and a wooden windlass
Life improved at Diksmuide as Jo (from 'Johanna') a DBA member, gave Peter a lift into a Nieuwpoort chandler for a replacement cable (they only had an 'Extreme' version at vast cost but Angie won't be able to break that). We celebrated with our first Belgian beer.

Coming into Diksmuide (the boat in the middle) courtesy of Johanna
Flemish War Memorial - Diksmuide
Under control again (?) it was off down the River Izjer to Nieuwpoort (by water) where we snuck onto the end of a pontoon - it seemed like a km to shore. Very yachty with prices to match.

Nieuwpoort Marina
Lots of lift bridges en route to Oudenburg, so the sluis keepers run a 'timed' convoy system. Angie stocked up with eggs and vegetables from a local pensioner who called 5 mins after we tied up - all helps the local economy (especially as the mooring is free). After two days we pottered - off towards Jabbeke our last planned halt. We started early before the Plassendale bridges were closed for the Oostende Marathon and just made it through.

Plassendale sluis - the widest sluis basin we have seen (though rarely used/needed)
Oostende turn
At Oostende we turned east onto the Gent-Oostende canal, back with the commercials.

Gent - Oostende canal
No doubts hat Autumn has well and truly arrived with morning mist and the trees all turning colour. The electricity at Jabbeke was 'broken' which was a sad as we had lots of cleaning, boat washing etc to do. So the Generator was fired up for a few hours (only been used 16 hours this cruising season which reflects well on the solar panels). We tried out the highly recommended Ter Spinde restaurant (for beer and tapas) but the service was a bit offhand and we winced at Belgian prices (after France).

Jabbeke lift bridge - interesting design
Oostende Marthon - we enjoyed the jazz band next to the pontoon serenading them.
The annual bath
The final run into Brugge took us though a new road bridge that was seriously impressive (bet the EU paid)!



It was a good run in to Brugge, had to dodge a few commercials at lift bridges but we weren't held up anywhere even at the final 'round' town sluis. Angie reversed to the end of the Coupure mooring without difficulty (Peter claims it is down to his training, Angie claims it s despite it)? Aidy and Lorna (fellow Kiwis) on 'Ariana' had preceded us and were still mooring up.

End of the line
Peter's target -not the horse but the Frituur at the back.
Not a bad cruising season overall - we achieved our aim of doing the 'bits' in France we had previously missed like Paris and even got to Luxembourg and a bit of Germany. About 2200 kms and 520 ecluses - not quite a personal record but close!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Canal de Nord and the River Somme

Sep 14

We joined the Canal de Nord at Pont l'Eveque - a definite change to northern architecture with lots of brick and stepped house gables.  The bassin had been emptied 'for fireworks' so the only mooring was very tightly squeezed  between two peniches on the mainline. A peniche anchor took off my stern jackstaff overnight so another repair job.


A charmed run as we didn't have to share or give way to any commercials travelling our way. No good moorings so after doing a longish tunnel we found a small rather bleak layby for the night, Between one bollard and large stakes we survived a windy night helped by very few commercials passing.

The next afternoon it was into the River Somme, a slightly different scale.

First Somme ecluse (only automated one)
The Somme is Somme Conseil General rather than VNF operated - much friendlier eclusiers overall and all the facilities are immaculate. After the first lift bridge (and having been given our guide book and map) we tucked in for the night at Frise. Massive wetlands all around (peat cuttings and we arrived atthe start of the hunting season   - most dawns sounded like a reprise of the Battle of the Somme - Kes was not amused.

An easy to spot eclusier
Through the lift bridge at Cappy where a Danish bargee got stroppy with La Capitaine because we weren't listening out on Ch 10 (nothing about that in the Somme reglements :) and into Froissy for a night (and a visit to the narrow gauge train museum) then into Corbie for a few days. Nice system at a lot of the moorings where  €2 provides 4+ hours electricity and water (cheap barging).

Not coypu - snorkellers at Corbie (takes all kinds)
At Glisy we moored on top of a wasps nest - but once we had moved 15m to the other end of the quai we coexisted in harmony. We slid through Amiens checking out the moorings for the return trip.

Amiens - should have turned right
Amiens ecluse - should have lowered the wheelhouse
Quite a lot of rain so the River was running quite fast, interesting on the tight bends as the boat wants to follow the current rather than the rudder. Picquigny was a nice stop with the remnants of a chateau (with church) we also visited some of the WW1 war graves (all these villages were on the Lof C so had hospitals, with the canal running barges of casualties).

Picquigny - chateau bits
Picquigny chateau church
Please can I come
End of 100 years War - Treaty de Picquigny 1475
It all got exciting in Long with a fast current, a tight bridge, a weir on one side and a boat in the middle of a short mooring on the other blocking the ecluse entrance - backed off into the undergrowth and managed to get a rope on a bollard with much cursing.

Long
Angie liked Abbeville, After stocking up at the Intermarche, she risked a haircut with the last of her euros, while Peter jerricanned 200 litres of diesel onboard (going to need it coming back against the current). St Vulfans had a nice exterior but the rest was renovated on the cheap.

Abbeville
Then it was down the tidal Maritime canal to the coast at St Valery.  We slid under two of the four lift bridges but the eclusiers opened the others manually (we were expecting a sea shanty as they swung on the windlass but no luck).

Maritime Canal bridge
St Valery was quite like a Cornish port without the 'cove' and extreme commercialism. Useless knowledge - William the Conqueror embarked here for the Battle of Hastings.

St Valery port
More trains
A 'beach holiday' in the rain
Well silted up bay
The day we started on the return the sun came out.  We tried for some different moorings - especially as we were travelling at half speed against the current.  A narrowboat we met (Genie's Wish) was a bit worried it wouldn't make it with a small engine). A lot of water in the peat etangs.

Are you sure this is the right way?
Pont Remy was free electricity but not a lot else so a few days later we slotted into Samara - Angie visited the neolithic theme park and Peter did some varnishing and painting. Day 1 a couple of peniche working barges/tugs missed us by not a lot streaking downstream - one took a lot of the bank with him (so much for professional boatmen), Day 2 we were joined overnight by 10 boats from a Friends of the Somme rally, we all rafted up on two tiny pontoons (they gave us a Pennant for our troubles).

Samara craftsman
We stopped for the day in Amiens before moving on.  Mainly the cathedral and the ancien quartier (wall to wall restaurants).

Amiens

Looks pagan to me
Long was much easier from the opposite direction and with the current slowing.

Long Chateau - lovely gardens
A few nice chateau en route

Angie fancies
Angie expects
A night at Cappy then to Feuillieres after the last lift bridge which ended our Somme excursion (a nice trip recommended to all). A bit thin on plaisanciers and social life though.

Then it was back on the Canal de Nord - still being lucky with the ecluses with no hold ups. We had five ecluses - then the Ruyualcourt tunnel 5 km with a passing spot in the middle where three commercials passed us without slowing - rumour has it La Capitaine shut her eyes!

Help
Needing a beer break we stopped for our last night on the Canal de Nord in a layby at Hermies.

Hermies Canal de Nord
Then the 'final' push off towards Douai on the Grand Gabarit - Wednesday and every commercial in Northern France suddenly appeared, luckily mostly going south. All the moorings were peniche haltes which Angie didn't fancy, but running out of options we ended up on a concrete wall tied to a dolphin and rocked to sleep by the wash of passing commercials.