Friday, 10 June 2016

Wandering around the Sambre

Monday 6 June to Thursday 9 June 2016

So what has been happening…

Monday was another beautiful day and with the Meuse still pushing down approximately 400 cubic meters of water per second we decided to take things easy and, over a few days, slowly move down the Sambre River and Sambre Canal to the (now almost mythical) city of Namur, the capital of Wallonie. Although a rich, muddy red-brown colour, the river around us had eased off to languid oiliness even producing an upstream cruising, Irish flagged, boat!

With such a fine day at hand time was spent strolling around the port area of town but being a Monday nothing much was open however the quaint old mariners’ quarter is well worth a stroll through. Sundowners were quaffed at the corner pub (proudly flying the American Stars and Stripes but for what reason we could not fathom) where we were joined by Oscar, the owner of Kamina, one of the barges moored on the visitors pontoon. His story is very typical of many barge owners; spent forty years on a commercial barge plying mainly between Antwerp and the ports of northern France, bought his barge thirty years ago and on retiring, he and his wife moved aboard permanently. His wife died seven years ago and he is simply cruising his last days away – his boat is his home. He has no brick and mortar structure to retire to once his now 82 year old body gets too tired to handle the waterways. He invited us aboard for coffee the next morning.

Tuesday dawned another brilliant day; misty at first,

but by nine the sun was bright and warm and after doing some last minute charcuterie and patisserie shopping and armed with an apple cake concoction, we walked over to Kamina. From the outside she is very tidy with everything in its right place and inside the woodwork gleams as if new although Oscar confirmed that it was last varnished eight years ago. Twenty meters long seems huge when compared to our twelve – the saloon was fitted out with lounge suite and a full bar. A master bedroom, second bedroom (with bunks for grand- and great-grandchildren) and a bathroom completed the accommodation – the kitchen (washing machine, full oven, microwave, etc) and dining area are housed in the large wheelhouse.

Koek, koffee and some more memories later we bad farewell, leaving Oscar ensconced until 20 June (when Thuin was having a dance evening, his second love), boarded Elle and having executed a U-turn, set off downstream managing 9.5kph at low revs.

[An aside: Oscar tells us that the Brits on the boat behind his, bring it to the Thuin visitors pontoon from its winter mooring in Mons every April and remain in situ until September taking advantage of free mooring, electricity and water to the detriment of any other passers-by – now that is what I call selfish!]

Without belting rain and blotting mist the riverway is pretty but somehow something is missing. Maybe it is the absence of small villages lining its banks or maybe the lack of any boats, commercial or pleasure but whatever it is, it is not a favourite to be returned to by us again.

The Sambre River


In no time we had cleared the set of small locks and were into Iron City and the center of Charleroi

Fire damage?

and into the first of the big locks of the day, our destination being Farciennes and a pontoon mooring recommended by friends Tony and Elaine of Dreamflower. With eyes peeled we passed the boatyard at Pont-de-Loop where we had originally intended to overnight, through the lock at Farciennes and, two kilometres later, with lightning and thunder approaching, we gave up the search for the pontoon and turned into one of the ‘turning areas’ which, by the smell of the place, was next to a municipal waste dump. There were some barges tied up in the basin, some looking abandoned, so we moored up against the rustiest of them (which had bollards spaced ideally for our lines) just as big raindrops began to splatter – fortunately the wind had swung, taking the smell with it. And then we were treated to another electrical spectacle accompanied by drums and a water feature!

Our mooring with storm clouds in the background.
Wednesday morning bright and chirpy we were on our way, through the next lock, past the low pontoon at Auvelais and, as we were approaching the Mornimont lock - the door of which appeared closed - we called on the VHF and the lockkeeper said he would open for us – how cool is that! But actually there something was preventing the sliding door from closing fully – much grapnel casting, long pole probing, arms gesticulating and lock door ramming later the lock began to empty despite the door being obviously not properly closed as the fountain of gushing water attested to.

But eventually we were out and on our way, rudely preceded by the hotel barge Savoir Faire which ran its engines in gear from the time we were bounced into the lock until, with engines full ahead, it pushed past us and disappeared. Racing downstream accompanied by branches and all sorts of rubbish, we passed quickly through the next lock and just before the last lock on the Sambre we chickened out and turned around, heading for the boatyard we had passed where the internet would be connected and an update of Meuse flow conditions would be obtained. Apart from a bitumen factory across the cutting which smelled as though it was making its product from eggs which had been buried for a month and then unearthed, the mooring was great with substantial protection from the passing wash.

During a delicious Lynn-created chicken curry a pair of legs on the quay appeared through our window. It turns out to be Jean-Pierre, the owner of Rayhana, the barge tied up in front of us. The upshot was that after joining us for a beer at six, he drove us on a conducted tour through Namur including a stop above the Casino quay which had nine or ten boats clustered there, all pointing into the strong current – no wonder the Jambes Port was half empty – no-one was taking the chance of crossing the river and trying to get into the cross-current berths.

Back aboard I decided that waiting for the Meuse to abate would be a great option for my nerves so yesterday, Thursday, leaving our rotten eggs behind, we went upstream to the small pontoon at Floreffe, a tiny village with obligatory pharmacy, optician, florist, charcuterie and boulangerie - and a pizza restaurant. It was a lovely mooring and, with the Abbey towering above us

and green fields on the other side, we relaxed in the warm sunshine. A hard life indeed!

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