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!