Tuesday, 22 December 2015

On a train and back to Sunny SA.

14 November to 21 December.

The train ride back to Paris was somewhat eventful following the events of November 13:

  • At Brussels station, right next to where we stopped for a cup of coffee, some idiot left his baggage unattended whilst he visited the toilet and in moments we were surrounded by heavily armed police with dogs. We departed our position with alacrity!
  • The offending baggage
    Part of the response team

  • Customs officials (?) boarded the train and every passenger had to identify their luggage.
  • On arrival at the Charles de Gaulle terminal we stopped at a kiosk for a baguette when an announcement came over the speakers that the floor were were on had to be evacuated. All done in a very orderly manner and we never got to find out what the problem was.
Back home in South Africa Lynn had a knee replacement operation (something like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBz03XDzd5Q ) and as of today is able to walk without crutches although she is still in quite a lot of pain by the end of the day (and sometimes in the mornings and during the day too - poor girl!).
We were offered membership of the IJzervaarders club in Diksmuide and a permanent mooring at the marina but after frantic calls to Brussels and the Belgian consulate in Johannesburg we were informed that there was no such thing as a long stay visitors visa which would allow us a stay longer than three months at a time. The French Consulate however confirmed that there is such a category and that we have grounds for a successful application so we will be sadly departing our Diksmuide ‘home’ in 2016 and heading for France permanently - or at least until we are forced retire from this marvelous life.
Our giggling president fired the Minister of Finance (apparently for saying “No” to another wasteful proposal by one of the president’s girlfriends who is head of the national airline) which caused the currency to lose 10%, appointed a totally unqualified and almost unheard of yes-man in his place, and three days later fired him and replaced him with a former Minister of Finance who had been shifted sideways for targeting crooked ANC cronies. What a joke!

So that’s it until next year...Happy Christmas and a Peaceful and Healthy 2016 to All.

Diksmuide - Winterising and liftout.

Tuesday 10th to Friday 13th November

The next couple of days were spent cleaning, tidying up, finding gearbox oil on the other side of the city, emptying my wallet at the nearby Delva buying all manner of winterising items, (winterising consists of changing engine and gearbox oils, pumping anti-freeze into the raw water cooling system, draining the house water system from the water tank to the taps via the pump bladder and geyser, topping up the stuffing box grease, draining, cleaning and disconnecting the shower pump system and drying any moisture in the bilges).

Lynn's nemesis

Draining the geyser

We also packed our suitcases and took pictures of the clothing and effects which we were leaving behind.

We also changed our hotel booking to the Best Western as it was, on average, closer to the station, city center, marina and the place where Elle would be lifted out of the water and stored for the winter than the place where we had originally booked. They also had accommodation for the period we wanted - and were cheaper. A great decision as the young owner-managers were fantastic hosts and we had everything we needed and more!

The view from our room

Pol and Gilbert popped in for a farewell drink and left quite some time later!

Gilbert, Pol and Lynn

On Friday morning we dismantled and stowed the bimini, covered the coach roofs with tarpaulins, and dragged the suitcases the 600 meters to the hotel where we had a call from Thijs from Buitenbeentje, the yard where Elle will spend the winter - can we bring her immediately as they are running early and bad weather is expected. So off we dashed and I will let the pictures tell the story.

The ABF cruise

In the queue

Tarpaulins and winter cover almost in place

Njord and "Elle"

Waterways waste.

Our last supper aboard

That evening it blew hard with gusts up to 78kph and in the morning, after consulting Thijs, I removed the grey tarpaulins as they had wrenched loose from their tie-downs and were flapping wildly against the paintwork. And the following evening it gusted up to 93kph!

Later on the evening of the lift-out we heard the news of the Isis terrorist attacks in Paris - what a dreadful blot on history. 

Oudeburgh to Diksmuide via Nieuwpoort, Veurne, Fintele and Stenestratebrug.

 Thursday 5th November to Monday 9th November

(Monday 21 December 2015: Yesterday, coincidentally, two people reminded me that I had not finished the Autumn cruise blog so, with 32C outside and high sub-tropical humidity the norm, I will try and do the necessary)

Going back on one’s route is never as exciting as exploring new waters and this last part of our journey has been no exception. As advised to, we left Oudeburgh promptly at 09h00, arriving at the troublesome Leffingebrug at the town of Middlekerke an hour later only to find that electricians were running around trying to re-connect the traffic lights and bridge opening warning lights without which the bridge operator would not open the bridge. "Two hours delay" we were told so we moored up and took a stroll into the town which seemed to be quite modern by European standards with the church only having been built in the 19th Century.

At five minutes to 12 we were back aboard Elle and a few minutes later the electricians and bridge operator agreed that it was safe to commence with the first test opening - the lights all seemed to work satisfactorily and whilst the bridge was open the bridge operator gestured to us to go through as quickly as possible.

Come on, open!


Two minutes later all lines were on board and we were waving goodbye to Middlekerke and on our way back to Nieuwpoort

Unattractive Nieuwpoort skyline

Delightful countryside

where we partially filled the diesel tank with 300 litres at 1.08 per litre and then settled in at the visitors moorings for a quiet session with the Weber while watching the youngsters racing their various classes of dinghy.

A lovely day weather-wise and one which ended far better than it had began.

Having arranged with the lock-keeper at the Sint Joris lock to be there at 09h00 the next morning it was up early to do engine checks and straight into the lock only to be informed that there would probably be some delay at the next lock because of the possibility of a working boat having to use it. So it was off with the engines and we waited - again! Luckily for us, the operator of the commercial decided that there was not enough water for them in the Gansepoort and we were ordered under way. So engines were started and we putted the short distance to the next lock - except the ‘putting’ didn’t sound the same as it usually did. I glanced over the stern and saw no water coming out of the starboard wet exhaust; something I had been dreading had happened - I had omitted to open the strainer valve after cleaning the strainer and the engine was overheating. Luckily Lynn was in the galley and switched off immediately and then took over the helm while I jumped into the engine room and opened the offending valve. And then we could only wait and see whether there had been any permanent damage or not. Ever so slowly the temperature gauge needle moved down from 120C toward a more normal 90C (according to my heat gun the gauges over read so 90C on the gauge is about 78C in reality) when, with hearts in mouths, we started up again and, lo and behold, the forty year old Peugeot turned over and settled into a comfortable rhythm almost immediately. What a relief!

And then we were off through the Gravensluis and Veurnesluis

Monument to King Albert I


Monument to French casualties

and, after Lynn comfortably managed the opening and closing sequence at the Wulpenbrug, we passed under the last couple of bridges and through the Nieuwpoortsluis to our Veurne mooring.



'Westhoek' marina, Veurne

That evening we again demolished a delicious bouillabaisse at the Hof t’ Hemel and returned home for a well earned sleep.

Morning dawned cold and threatening and after a visit to the local Colruyt to stock up on provisions

Veggie cool room at the Colruyt

Doggy Doo bin.

we were joined at a pre-arranged one o'clock by a most cheerful lockie who saw us through the first few obstacles before waving us good-bye and handing over to the same lock-keeper at Fintele whom we had met in the summer.

The restored sloping lock, Fintele

It wasn’t long before we were tied up at the pontoon outside the Hooipeter restaurant when who should come along in his lovely little boat but the Havenkaptein (chief harbourmaster) from Diksmuide, Pol Denijs, with his wife, son and grandchildren. They were on their way to Lo-Reniger to deliver their boat which would be used in the forthcoming Sinteklaasfeest celebrations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas).

Pol and family arriving
Later that evening they all popped aboard for coffee and a chat before returning to Lo-Reniger and leaving us on our own until the arrival of the British flagged, Piper replica barge Kabouter - whose owners never introduced themselves…

Sunday morning we cast off after 10h00 with plans to have Sunday lunch at the restaurant at Steenstratebrug which had been closed on our last visit. But silly us - we forgot to book and of course it was fully booked and packed to boot! So back aboard we had a delightful cold meat and cheese lunch but eventually made it back to the ‘Eetkaffee Steenstraete’ for dinner where Lynn enjoyed a ravioli dish and I had varkenswangetjes (pigs cheeks) - with chips of course.

The ninth of November, a day I had been dreading, finally arrived to herald our last day of cruising. With strong winds forecast for later in the day we made an early start and, with the only incident being a convoy of boats heading up the Ieper to take part in the Sinteklaas festival there, forcing us into the bushes on the bank because they refused to give us our right of way (downstream vessel), we had a lovely cruise in sunshine and only a ripple of wind , through the Knokkebrug which was open in anticipation of our arrival, to ‘home’ - which Diksmuide seems to feel like.

We were greeted at Ijzervaarders Diksmuide by the on-duty harbour master Gilbert and, after topping up the tanks with a further 250 litres of anti-bug treated diesel at €1.18 per litre, we were shown to a berth on the Le Boat quay behind the gorgeous Iron Lady owned by Australians Roger and Alison Brown - “Iron Lady was built in the Czech Republic in 2013 and sailed to Berlin from Prague in October of that year. In 2014 we cruised from Berlin through Holland, Belgium and down to Paris returning to Diksmuide in Belgium via the Meuse for the winter of 2014/15”. Just a pity we never got to see her from the inside.

That evening the wind really came up and it poured!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

An Amazing Story.

Before leaving us to go back to Ostend the owner of Cuba Libre told us this amazing story.

Apparently in June this year his club had a big get together for all its members. Martine, his wife, said she had a headache from the hot sun and wanted to get something for it from the boat. A short while after she had left, the music started up which seemed to upset doggy Rocco so Mr Cuba Libre decided to take him back to the boat; just before he arrived at their mooring he was met by a person from another boat across the river who asked if he had thrown something into the river to which he replied in the negative. The other person shrugged it off but said he was sure he had heard a loud splash – Mr Cuba Libre continued back to his boat wondering why Martine was taking so long and, as he came alongside, her body bobbed to the surface between the boats - she had apparently had a dizzy spell and fainted as she was climbing aboard fifteen minutes earlier!

Mr Cuba Libre and the other chap managed to lift Martine onto the bank and, with the help of another club member, commenced CPR. Twenty minutes later they were still at it when a large contingent of police and other emergency personnel arrived with Belgian TV in tow! Apparently Belgian TV were making a documentary on rescue services when the call came in about a woman drowning in the canal and so the medical staff took over and miraculously, after a further 25 minutes of CPR, a heartbeat was heard!

After a week in intensive care and three weeks under observation, the hospital phoned Mr Cuba Libre to come and collect his wife as she was making a nuisance of herself. Apart from some loss of short term memory Martine is fine and, after coping with her fear of getting onto the boat, is happily cruising again.


Ghent to Oudeburgh

Sunday 1st November to Wednesday 4th November 2015

With mist still hanging over the water we said goodbye to Ghent

and set off on the first leg of the cruise to Nieuwpoort, down the Ghent-Ostend and Plassendale-Nieuwpoort canals. The 1st of November 2015 turned out to be the hottest 1st November since 1886 or thereabouts with temperatures rocketing to a scorching 20.8C – while our friends in Durban were talking about temps in the mid-thirties!

The commercial canal to a few kilometres before Brugge is a bit sterile but at least we could enjoy it in stunning weather.

We had phoned Andy, the harbour master at the Coupure in Brugge, to see if there was a space for us but as he said that we would have to reverse in as there was no space to turn and then have to raft up to another boat as there were no open pontoon moorings, we decided to make course directly to Moerbrugge, the first of the bridges through which the convoy through Brugge has to pass, and there we would spend the night awaiting the ‘system’ to start on Monday.

Right at the bridge we found a 24 hour mooring which seemed to have free electricity but which was largely being hogged by a commercial. An hour or two later we were joined by another cruiser with a Belgian couple and their son aboard - and their very mischievous doggy named Rocco.

Skipper Cuba Libre and Rocco

 Sometime after nine on Monday morning, after having called the bridge on VHF and received a stony silence in reply, Lynn found the correct number to dial and we started the system going – the reason for no VHF reply is that this bridge is operated from further downstream and they could not hear us calling. In heavy mist we started toward Brugge with the other cruiser, Cuba Libre, in tow; the commercial saw us leaving and scrambled to get their lines aboard and managed to join too before the bridge closed behind us. It was a little ghostly at first

Boats in the mist

but as we passed the Flandria Yacht Club the mist lifted and we enjoyed really lovely cruising weather, through the lifting bridges and the single lock around Brugge and on to the Plassendale-Nieuwpoort canal where we eventually tied up at the free electricity and water pontoon near the town of Oudeburgh.

The skipper of Cuba Libre, whose name I never got, and whom we were supposed to have left at the Brugge-Ostend canal but who had decided to join us to Nieuwpoort, came over and we agreed to leave at 09h00 the next morning – he would make all the arrangements for the ‘ploeg’ to meet us and escort us to our destination. A chicken braai later it was off to bed.

The next morning we both cast off and just as we we were on our way the man in a yellow Waterway Authority vehicle gestured us to stop – as I had seen on the internet, the Leffingebrug was being serviced and would only be available again on Thursday so it was stuck in Oudeburgh for a couple of days which were spent exploring the little, and not too inspiring, town, buying some delicious burger patties wrapped in cheese and bacon for the Weber, missing the recommended game stew as the restaurant was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and generally twiddling our thumbs.

But we were visited by a Waterways inspector who very politely went through all our papers and did an equipment check and we were quite relieved when he pronounced us 100%!