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%!

Deinze to Ghent

Friday 30th and Saturday 31st October 2015

This is the third time we have travelled the Kromme Leie between the two cities (although Deinze is probably more a town than a city) and all three times have been in beautiful weather! The river is one of the prettiest we have traveled, in a developed kind of way.

Gorgeous homes, 

 lawns kept manicured in a variety of ways

interesting boats,


and the most entertaining statuary.

Spot the Bot

 Just a wonderful piece of water!

On arrival at the Lindenlei Jachthaven in Ghent, we walked through the city

and later found the ‘other’ Irish pub in the center of the city and settled down to enjoy the Rugby World Cup third-place playoffs between the Springboks and Argentina; who should walk in but none other than Leslie who we had met watching an earlier game in Brugge. He works in Ghent and finished too late to get to Brugge to watch the game so decided to watch here instead. Anyway, the Bokke gave the Pumas a good pakslae and we went off to bed happy.

Palace of Justice - a stone throw from our mooring.

Saturday was spent re-provisioning as we had invited Leslie and another South African who lives in Beijing and who was in Ghent on business, for a braai aboard Elle before making our way to watch the rugby final. Leslie turned up but the other guy did not – maybe the rounds of Jaegermeister he was buying the night before had the last word.

Anyway the All Blacks deservedly won!

Well done All Blacks

Meandering back to Elle after the game - not the moon but a raindrop on the lens.

And back to Deinze.

Thursday 29th October 2015

Apart from the two big locks on the canalised Leie river, the stretch from Kortrijk to the junction with the Kromme Leie leading to Deinze is somewhat boring and apart from dodging big commercial vessels it is a bit of a plod.

But in the evening we had an excellent meal at an Egyptian restaurant Ramsis.

Leers-Noord to Kortrijk via the Bossuit-Kortrijk canal.

Tuesday 27th and Wednesday 28th October 2015

Tuesday was another wonderful weather day but still cool in the morning at around 6C with a maximum of around 16C predicted but, most importantly, not a cloud in sight and virtually no wind. Having made arrangements to meet our friendly lockie at 09h00 in the morning we were away without further ado, down the tranquil Canal Espierres headed for the lovely of Kortrijk.

As we entered the Haut-Escaut canal

Dryland on the Haut-Escaut - strange name for a ship.

we were almost immediately at the first lock, a large one which was occupied and with two boats waiting to go in, one a standard commercial barge of about 65m and a 40m hotel-type barge. Once the lock had discharged its contents everyone began moving in; we waited a while for them to settle down and as we were entering I saw a pusher barge coming up behind us so back we went to allow his 80-odd meters in which left us about 20 meters at the back of the lock to squeeze in which we did, tying up with only one line as we could not reach another bollard. All the while the pusher in front and the hotel boat (and probably the other boat too) had their engines running to hold position which made our life quite uncomfortable.

And then the lock doors opened and all hell broke loose! The three commercials simultaneously engaged gear and it was like an instant tsunami had been thrown into the lock as we were thrown all over the place and by pure fluke and with much revving of engines and slapping of gears, we somehow managed to stay pointing in a vaguely forward direction. To compound matters, the pusher’s line jammed and, as he accelerated to get away, even more the water was churned up until realising his problem, he changed into reverse to go back to the bollard to free himself, creating a new whirlpool dimension, before roaring out of the lock at top speed. Eventually the waters subsided and we crawled on our way to the next lock, another biggie…which, after waiting for the lockkeeper’s lunch break to end, we entered in glorious solitude! And the same with the next one – what a pleasure.

This part of the canal is lined by factories and is not particularly attractive.

After a smattering of rain, we finally arrived at the first of three small locks which would take us through almost straight to our leafy mooring in Kortrijk.

With crystal clear water revealing the kelp-like fronds of lily stems

and the evening approaching, we reached the last one which, despite the lady lockkeeper’s best efforts, would not open.

"Last lock and then I can go home"

"Come on!"

Lock 1 - lockkeeper 0.

“Wait!” we are instructed (as if there was anything else we could do being stuck between locks). A cyclist rode up and it turned up to be Mike (I think his name is) from the beautiful barge Gem and whom, with his partner (Janna?) we had briefly met on our last visit to Kortrijk and who had hailed us while strolling past our mooring in Aalst. Anyway, he kindly offered to inform the havenmeester that we would be late and make sure that there would still be a spot for us. Finally, after about a forty minute delay, another keeper arrived and with one person on the wheel of each door, they managed to open up and we gratefully bid them farewell as we lowered the bimini to enter under the low bridge guarding the jachthaven where Mike was there to guide us into a slot and to assist with our lines.

A long day but most interesting and which is why we did nothing the next day apart from trying, unsuccessfully, to return the massively overcharged-for glowplugs to the dodgy chandlery next to the yacht club in Kuurne.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Tournai to Leers-Noord via Spierebrug and with Antoing thrown in.

Sunday 25th and Monday 26th October 2015

The Springboks went down to the All Blacks by two points! So we decided, over a rather unmemorable meal at La Villa Bellini, an Italian restaurant next to the pub,

Salad and hot snails in cream sauce do not go!

that we would leave for a wild mooring at the mouth of the Canal Espierres the next morning so that a commercial-traffic free day's cruising on the big Haut Escaut could be enjoyed.

But first we cycled through the Tournai city outskirts, past pretty parks and old forts

 and along the stark, cement factory lined road to the nearby town of Antoing to visit the castle which we had seen from the canal. A pretty little hilltop town which tumbles toward the canal, dominated by the 12th Century fortress – a real gem and well worth visiting.

The circle on entering Antoing - four 'grafittiesque' panels.

What a good idea it turned out to be to travel on a Sunday! As we left the mooring we radioed ahead and were told we could proceed downstream – the big light turned green and we were on our solitary way,

through the huge 125m x 15m lock which was emptied just for us, and leisurely on down the Haut Escaut to a small jetty 100 meters from the town of Spierebrug, strange in that although it is just inside the Flemish border and all the place names are in Dutch, the people we spoke to all spoke French.

Flower boxes at the pontoon.
A quick beer at the nearby pub, a braai back on board and an early night after a great day.

Monday morning at 09h00 we called the lock service and agreed to meet the lockie at 10h00 about 1,500 meters upstream from our mooring. The Canal Espierres is really beautiful and it was a spoil to see it in such perfect weather.

Crystal clear!

On arrival at the Leers-Noord lock we were informed that the one door was jamming and that we could go no further; luckily, there is another pontoon below the lock with free electricity and water and only 100 meters from the restaurant Maison de Canal, the object of our return and where we enjoyed a hearty steak at the bustling little venue.

Looking upstream, Ecluse Leers-Nord (after repair) with Maison de Canal on left.

After lunch we cycled into Leers to stock up on the much cheaper wine in France. We found a huge shopping centre and a plentiful supply of Lynn’s ‘Grand Sud Merlot’ at nearly €2 per bottle cheaper that what we had paid in Belgium. And I dropped my bike keys in the crowded aisles, didn’t I? Back at the firmly locked bikes Lynn returned to the store and very luckily someone had handed the keys in at security so with bags laden, it was back to Elle. And later, just to have enough wine to last the remainder of this trip, we went back again!

Another lovely day!