Saturday, 20 June 2015

Steenstratebrug to Diksmuide and Home

Thursday 11 June to Tuesday 16 June 2015

15 kilometers, 2 hours 20 minutes.

 Another beautiful day (summer is at last arriving, just in time for us to say good bye) as we set off from our most pleasant Steenstratebrug mooring to Diksmuide where we fill up with 230.53 litres of diesel at €1.27 per litre and, in the process, while not looking out for an airlock, spraying Elle, the marina helpers and myself with the smelly stuff. Willy, who had made a special effort to meet us on arrival, graciously dismissed my stupidity and washed the deck, our lines, himself and his friends and allowed me to do myself, with some special soap which they had to hand. Maybe I was not the first idiot to do that trick…

The next couple of days went past in a blur of cleaning, packing and the biggest job of all, removing the doger-bimini and replacing it with the very tight fitting winter cover which would protect our newly varnished woodwork from the sun. We are very happy to be leaving Elle in Diksmuide in the knowledge that the camera monitored, arc light lit, regularly patrolled and up-market apartment viewed, marina is about as safe as it gets.

(As an aside: The morning of our departure, five minutes before the taxi driver was due to take us to the station, Pol Denijs, the chief ‘Havenkaptein’ advises us that there is a Club rule that no winter covers are allowed as these detract from the smartness of the marina and do not look good in tourists’ photographs. We handed him the keys and he said that he and another havenmeester would put up the summer doger-bimini after we had left. A reasonable rule but if only they had said so the day before – it would have saved hours of work, bruised knees from crawling under the cover and a very sore back!).

Promptly at nine o’ clock on Sunday 14th the taxi driver arrived, and at 10h13 we were off to Schiphol by train with a fortuitous changeover at Ghent which saved about ten small station stops between Ghent and Brussels – it was now no stops between the two cities! At Brussels we changed over to the Thalys high-speed train and by four thirty, after consuming a ghastly hamburger at a Deliciously Dutch outlet at Schiphol station, we were booked into the ‘nearby’ Ibis hotel in plenty of time to catch our 10h00 flight to Johannesburg the next morning and, after a night at the City Lodge at OR Tambo airport, a 09h00 flight to Durban on Tuesday.

We have done 145 engine hours (plus the approximately six hours used for heating the hot water cylinder when not attached to electricity), used approximately 620 litres of diesel (which works out at 4.26 litres per hour for two engines – not bad at all), 10 litres of oil, and travelled some 920 kilometres at a good average of 6.34 kilometres per hour.

 So that’s that and until we are back in September its ‘Totsiens’ from both of us.

Finkele to Steenstratebrug (between Boezinge and Zuidschote, just north of Ieper)

Tuesday 9 and Wednesday 10 June 2015

14 kilometers, 2 hours 10 minutes

 After a morning ride into the nearby town of Reninge for supplies

we up-anchored (figuratively of course) and headed downstream to Knokkebrug and then south onto the Ieper-IJzer and, after a 180 degree turn so that we were bow-on to the wind, moored up at a free pontoon just before the Steenstratebrug (‘Stone Streets Bridge’) and toddled over the road to the delightful ‘Eetkaffee Steenstraete’ to enjoy a cold beer.

Steenstratebrug mooring with 'Eetkaffee' in background.

Later that afternoon we walked the couple of kilometres to the memorial erected in memory of the brothers Van Raemdonk and Fievez, made out of masonry from the German stronghold ‘Stampkot’. This memorial has become one of the rallying points of Flemish nationalism.

 Steenstrate, together with Langemark, are famous as being the places where chlorine gas was first used in WWI.

At the end of the afternoon on 22 April 1915, the German troops released approximately 150 tons of chlorine gas at the allies, which were dug in at the Northern side of the so-called Ieper Salient between Steenstrate and Langemarck. This meant the start of chemical warfare in World War I, which would only increase up to the point where near the end of the war in 1918 approximately 25% of all ammunition would carry a chemical payload.

In 1929 the veteran French soldiers of the 418th regiment at Steenstrate erected a monument in commemoration of the first major gas attack with chlorine gas. The memorial was made by the French artist Maxime Real del Sarte and realistically portrayed a soldier with his hands around his neck fighting for one last sip air. Two soldiers are already choked at his feet. The text under the monument read that on April 22, 1915 troops of the French 45th Division and the 87th Territorial Division were poisoned by gas and since then there were still casualties of this terrible weapon which was first used by the Germans.

 This monument was clearly a thorn in the foot for the Germans and they blew up the monument during the Second World War in May 1941. Which says something about the realistic expressiveness of the memorial.

Wednesday, after first having to fix a puncture on my E-bike,

 we decided to ride a circular route to Bikschote-Langemark-Poelkapelle-Boezinge-Zuidschote and back to Steenstrate. Bikschote was almost deserted and, apart from a restored windmill which was not open to the public on Wednesdays,

 the road to Langemark and Poelkapelle was the best thing there.

Langemark was a bustling little town with a small morning market on the go and a Tourist Office without any sign that it was such (“As we are not open on Saturday afternoons and Sundays we don’t want to mislead people by putting up a ‘Tourist Office’ sign”!); but the big ‘drawcard’ was the very sombre, oak tree lined, WWI German cemetery, enclosing the graves of, and memorial to, some 44,000 soldiers including 3,000 student volunteers, named and unknown, who died in the area.

The names of unknown soldiers subsequently identified.

 From there it was on to Poelkapelle

Striking memorial in Poelkapelle

with its famous Stork memorial to the French WWI flying ace, Georges Guynemer, who went missing in action near the town on 11 September 2017.

 Having been starved of frites for some time, it was much to my delight that we found an open kiosk and while Lynn enjoyed an ice lolly (to round off the duo of sugared pancakes bought at the market in Langemark), I feasted on ‘kleintje met mayo’ (a small portion of chips with mayonnaise) – the kleintje is enormous and Lynn had to help me finish the portion.

Then it was on to Boezinge (almost via Ieper in a vain attempt to find the Yorkshire Trenches) and Zuidschote in an effort to find somewhere to have a late lunch but it would seem that all the restaurants close on Tuesdays and Wednesdays so it was back to the larder on board, and nothing wrong with that either!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Knokkebrug to Fintele

Monday 8 June 2015

The day dawned beautifully; not a breath of wind and the sun reflecting gloriously off the mirror-like water. Engine checks done and by 08h30 we were raring to go. Fortunately the lift bridge at Knokkebrug operates from 07h00 to 19h00 weekdays so it was no problem to get service and before nine o’ clock we were on our way – almost not however; it took a bit of doing to get Elle’s bum out of the goo.

The Knokkebridge

A short 6.5 kilometres later we moored up outside the Hooipeter restaurant in the hamlet of Fintele guided in by the most gentlemanly lockkeeper we had met on our previous visit. Tied up fast we took the bikes into the ever freshening breeze and rode to Pollinkhove where there was just about nothing apart from the compulsory large church with attendant graveyard and a scattering of houses. Then on to Lo or Lo-Reninge which was a bigger version of Pollinkhove but at least had an open bakery (of course, it’s Monday!); in order to use their loo we stopped for a beer at the “Oude Abdij" Hotel and, once a couple of chairs had been removed from atop one of the tables, we sat in splendid isolation examining the mementoes’ left behind by various visiting military interest groups.

The pub at Oude Abbij Hotel

With the now strong wind behind us we flew back to Fintele to pick up our takeaway ‘paling in ‘t groen’ (eel in green sauce) from the Hooipeter which was delicious, perhaps made a trifle more so by the fact that we did not have to pay the normal 400% mark-up on shop prices for a bottle of wine.

And moored in front of us were the Aussies we had met in Nieuwpoort

Fintele mooring with Aussies 'Le Boat'

– we said hello when they returned from a 10 kilometre ride (half into the wind so they must have been a bit pooped!) to the St Sixtus Abbey and Brewery at Westvlaterin; seems like that if you do not have the ‘almost impossible to obtain’ appointment to visit the Abbey it is hardly worth the effort so we will probably give it a miss tomorrow.

With leaves and twigs from the adjacent trees beginning to shower the decks in the howling wind it was gas hatch cover maintenance and nary a nose outside for the rest of the day.

Note: Finkele, as tiny as it is, has an interesting history. Fintele comes from the Flemish word ‘windele’ meaning ‘portage’ and refers to the 13th century practice of winching boats up/down and across the dam walls which separated the three levels of the Izer river.

13th Century!

The current lock complex, built during the eighteen hundreds, was demolished by the British during WWII and restored again after the War and is now a Protected Monument and used exclusively by pleasure craft.

Further, since the 17th Century, the connection between the Izer river and the ‘Ijzerbroeken’ or low lying surrounding fields which become submerged during winter when the river breaks its banks, was via a wooden swing bridge or ‘Hooipiete’ which was used by farmers in the summer months to drive their cattle into the rich pastures of the ‘Ijzerbroeken’ and to mow the hay. Each autumn the bridge was dismantled and stored until the following spring. In the 1850’s the swingbridge was replaced by a fixed bridge with had a bearing strain of three tons and a width of 5.2m – this bridge was dismantled each time a vessel passed and in 1990 this was done 65 times!

Nieuwpoort to Knokkebrug

Sunday 7 June 2015

Having said last goodbyes to Ian and Sian who happily had been offered a lift to Ostend by Willy to catch their train to (eventually) Schiphol, we set off through the large Sint Jorissluis, down the Izer River, past Diksmuide and after 25 kilometres of warm, sunny cruising with whatever wind there was just following us, we reached the intersection of the Izer River and the Izer Ieper canal. And De Knokke pub,
De Knokke pub from Knokkebrug.

only open on weekends and the watering place of Dominique and Ian’s other, latterly made, new crowd of friends.

Trouble! Dominique (with pony tail) and friends. Nice people.
Swopping beers and chat I think we were lucky to escape back to Elle for a delicious late lunchtime braai of the ‘hamburger patties’ and sausage bought in Veurne.

Later that evening and just before the weekend closing time of 19h00 we popped back to De Knokke for a sundowner, to be greeted once again by Dominique, now in full flow – I don’t know whether it was a mistake or not but we turned down his offer to join he and some friends for dinner at a nearby restaurant...

Nice place De Knokke and the owners Chris and Bruneel (I think) have week jobs too – I don’t know how they manage!

Back to our tenuous mooring against the canal wall with our stern firmly embedded in the mud but sticking out into the waterway, it was cheese and pate for supper and off to sleep.

Knokkebrug mooring - Elle far right..

As close as I could get before getting stuck in the mud.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Bergues to Veurne to Nieuwpoort

Wednesday 3 to Saturday 6 June 2015

We are now firmly on the home tack.
After spending a couple of very pleasant days in Bergues

Bergues station
The famous belfry


Our view from the aft deck

The boat which appears to have laid claim to a large chunk of the visitors jetty.
A typical meal.
including a Wednesday visit to the famous ‘La Dunkerquoise’ biscuit factory which was closed (why close on a Wednesday and not a Saturday, Sunday of even Monday like most of the other businesses in France?) and finding a huge and fantastically stocked hypermarket at the small next door town of Le Clerq, we said our farewells and headed downstream up to Dunkerque and then on to Veurne in Belgium.

Passing through the suburbs of Dunkerque

Seem to have done this before.

A short stop in the cigarette town of Adinkerke (which has the unusual claim to fame of having the greatest number of tobacconists per capita of any area in Europe) where we tied up to the roadside Armco’s so that we could pop into the town to see what gave – just a whole lot of cigarette and booze stores serving a lot of very unhealthy looking Brits, one of whom had just spent over 1,000 Pounds on tobacco – and we were again on our way.

Even the statues smoke

No comment.

Moored to the Armco barrier

After waiting nearly an hour at the small lifting bridge on the edge of the Veurne city limits, an harassed lockkeeper arrived and after sternly instructing us to wait for the green light before going through (he must have thought we were Dutch as they go through controlled bridges and locks as soon as there is space to fit, irrespective of what the control lights indicate) we eventually tied up at what we thought was free mooring just outside the marina and under a canopy of leafy trees. The lockkeeper arrived to inspect our vignette and to apologise for keeping us waiting so long; apparently he looks after six locks and bridges between Fintele and Veurne and there had been a lot of traffic on the waterways. We are also noticing a slight increase in traffic so June must be the month when everyone shakes off their winter covers.

The very balmy day ended with chicken on the Weber – perfect!

Friday morning at 09h00 sharp the havenmeester arrived to collect €13 for our night’s mooring. He explained that for us to have been able to made use of the electricity and water, we had to go to the ‘Stadshuis’ and put money on a card which could then be used to activate the mechanism – “And no, there is no notice anywhere explaining this”…

Mooring Veurne.

After some rust chipping applying rust converter to the stern step supports it was into the very pretty town center to provision up (yes, chocolates, cold meats, cheese, some very interesting hamburgers for a future braai, and a baguette). And then took a look inside the 13th Century Sint-Walburga Church – absolutely stunning!

Provisioning up at the butchery.

Saint Christopher

Gothic proportions.

The organ.

Roof with curves!

Back onto the bikes for a couple of kilometres to the ‘open 7 days a week’ baking museum – which was closed, and the cafeteria, the chalk-boards of which were advertising delicious Belgium pancakes, waffles and artesian sandwiches, was deserted except for a man servicing a coffee machine – and this at 11h00!

At the boat we painted the now rust-treated ironwork with primer, packed the four bikes on the foredeck and then followed our overnight neighbours – a Dutch couple who hailed from a town in the Netherlands quite nearby where we bought Elle on their absolutely sparkling boat called ‘Fermate’ – through the first lock and then, at 10kph in the 7kph speed limit canal, through two lifting bridges, the control to which they had been given together with instructions to keep the bridges open until both of us had passed through.

Fermate working the last bridge.
And before we knew it we were at the old Veurnesluis at Nieuwpoort. This whole lock complex known as De Ganzenpoot (goose’s foot)

De Ganzenpoot

which separates the Belgium interior from the North Sea, is famous as being the place where the order was given in 1914 to flood the polders in order to stop the German advance. The strategy was ‘successful’ if by that one means that the advance was stopped but at the cost of the millions of lives which were lost as the resulting battle lines became known as the Western Front.

A half hour wait and we were ushered through the Vernsluis and the Gravensluis and their attendant lifting bridges and it was a short drive to the Westhoek Marina (a different Westhoek Marina to the one 500 meters away where we stayed last time) where Ian and Sian were waiting. And where the same havenmeester who had ‘served’ us in Veurne was waiting to welcome us to his ‘other’ marina on what was apparently the hottest June 5th day since sometime in the 1950’s – and we just thought that it was a lovely, warm, Durban-like, normal summers day!

Le Boat base Nieuwpoort

The gleaming 'Fermate'

Our mooring at Westhoek.

After a tremendous thunderstorm followed by quite strong winds it was drinks on board with an Australian couple from Perth (Laurie and ???) who have hired a Le Boat for a week and whose berth in the Le Boat base is a pontoon-width from our stern, spagbol for supper and an early bedtime.

Saturday dawned clear but still with quite a strong wind blowing; Ian and I rode to two chandleries in Nieuwpoort to buy varnish, mastic for the gas hatch cover strips, and grease for the propshaft, which the big one did not have and the smaller one said they only had big drums but if I brought our bucket then they would fill it at a reasonable charge. So that afternoon it was back again only to find that they did not have the waterproof lithium grease we need. Hard work riding the non-E bike into the wind!

We had agreed to meet Ian and Sian for (another) farewell dinner at the restaurant in the nearby marina where who do we bump into? Willy, our charming havenmeester-now-deputy-club-president from Diksmuide, and his delightful wife Francine who bought us drinks while we tried to secure a table at the booked out restaurant - I think that it was due to Willy's influence (apart from his house near Brussels he also has a house in Nieuwpoort) that we were finally ushered to a table. Sharing the bill we enjoyed steaks, a superb piece of kabeljou (ekke) and a "yummy" vispotje (for Lynn) - and just a little dram of wine...

Thanks Njordtjes - we loved being with you and look forward to seeing you somewhere in Belgium or France in September.