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August 13 - September 4
Monday 13 August
I had become so entrenched in the Loosdrecht life (loosdrecht party) that to actually leave was a bit of a whim. I knew we had to get going at some time but there were still so many things to do. After thinking about it, discussing it with Maureen and rationalising the desire to get underway against the conservative philosophy of staying put in an area where I had access to resources, I just decided that we had better get on with it and fix the ‘to do list’ on the way. Besides, after almost cutting ‘Little Nell’ in half, we had no way of commuting to shore.
We woke on the Monday morning and with a great deal of trepidation, prepared to leave. Before getting underway, I had to check that there was no damage to the prop from the Little Nell mishap so an early morning swim was called for. Bear in mind that you cannot see anything in the waters of the Loosdrechtse and it looks (and was) cold that morning with grey leaden skies and a keen wind. I put some tyres down as ladders and carefully slid into the water, feeling my way to the stern and the prop and rudder. Since I could not see underwater, the inspection was by feel and I rotated the prop carefully feeling the edges and the shape of each of the three blades. To my fingers and hands there were no marks, cracks, nicks or gauges, Van Nelle had cut through an outboard motor and a two hull fibre glass dinghy without feeling a thing.
I clambered back on deck and showered the muddy Dutch water off, put on new socks and warm clothes and started the motor. Just the day before I had a meeting with Frank to discuss the cost of fixing the engine coolant leak and we had agreed his contribution so I was still greatly nervous about this aspect of the boat’s performance on a long and challenging journey. Everything sounded and looked right however and we wound up the anchor and set off for the Nieuwersluis exit to Loosdrecht. No flags or bunting, no waving crowds or wailing left lovers here, just a quiet and unseen departure from our anchorage outside the Chinese restaurant at West End.
The trip down the Vecht, (Vecht) which is the narrow and very pretty waterway out to the Amsterdam Rhinecanal, was uneventful except that Maureen forgot to have a coin ready at the first bridge and was quite startled by the sudden appearance of a clog, supported by a fishing line. This is the method by which the lock and bridge keepers augment their incomes and the normal charge is a guilder in the shoe.
As we slowly made our way towards one of the world’s great waterways I resolved to fix Little Nell. She sits on the deck ahead of the wheelhouse, bearing her broken stern and gashed underbody with a certain wounded dignity and reminds me each time I look forward of the stupid oversight I made in not bringing her on deck for the watering.
After a couple of uneventful hours I was starting to relax a little as we turned left into the RhineCanal. This is a long, wide, busy stretch of water that takes huge commercial boats and passenger vessels from Amsterdam through to the Rhine. We were a small addition to the bustling population of oil carriers, work ships, tugs, cruisers and official boats plying the route.
To get to our destination required a turn off the canal onto the Waal River which we did some hours later. This is a different kettle (or canal) of fish altogether. A broad, navigable river with a current running at 5 kmh against us and commercial ships still doing 15kmh against the current bearing down on us from behind and speeding towards us from the front. This was the first big test for Van Nelle’s propulsion equipment, engine, gearbox, shaft and prop. All performed beautifully and Johan’s work on the guauges allowed me to monitor the engine and gearbox performance constantly, a great comfort when the dials reported good operating conditions without change for hour after hour.
We pushed on until about 7.00pm which found us at the entrance to an overnight harbour for commercial vessels. We entered and over the radio negotiated a berth at the end behind a small tug. There was nothing nearby to excite the explorer in us so we prepared dinner and went to bed. A long, tiring but very successful day punctuated once by a large gas carrying ship suddenly turning across us in the channel. He and we managed our affairs suitably and passed with room to spare but with a slight quickening of the pulse.
In a day of ten hours traveling we achieved approximately 75 kilometres.
Tuesday 14 August
A lovely day dawned with sunshine and a total lack of clouds. This was to be the prevailing pattern as we headed away from the Low Countries of the Netherlands. I don’t want to be down about their weather but the Dutch have to be used to rain, rain and more rain. In more than two months I had only about 6 days of warm sunny weather in Holland and in the following two weeks, only 2 or 3 days without sunshine.
I started the day by thoroughly checking the engine and running gear, oil levels, fluid reservoirs, pipes, connections and stern gland. Everything passed with flying colours. Confidence boosting stuff !
Engine started at about 0800 and on to Venlo. We traveled on the Waal again for some time before passing into the Maas River, less current and somewhat less traffic but still busy and bustling. After a day of about 88 kilometres we arrived at Venlo and into the Jachthaven where, by phone, we had arranged a berth. When we arrived we found to our consternation that another couple of boats had arrived unannounced before us and taken our position. We had one choice, the back side of the jetty with the bows firmly on the muddy bottom and a number of fenders required to keep us from sharp protruding edges.
The Jachthaven was well founded however with a restaurant and boat repair facilities, power and water supplied in the price of an overnight stay. We settled up and set off on bikes to explore the nearby town. After some distance we had found little of interest and as it was getting late, decided to return and go to the reataurant for dinner. This was in a building up a hill on the side of the marina with a nice view of the boats below. We found a table on the balcony and ordered steaks and local wine. Everyone there were ‘boaties’ so conversations flowed across tables between ourselves and a couple of couples widely different in ages, backgrounds and outlooks. Sated we headed for bed and the thoughts of another long day at the wheel in only a few hours. So far however, despite the few locks being enormous - 100+ mtres long and drops or rises of 10-12 metres, there were few of them and easily handled.
Maureen finished the recovering of the wheelhouse cushions today. Dark blue velvet - looks magnificent.
Wednesday 15, Thursday 16 and Friday 17 August
A HOT day. With the sun and light breezes, the temperature these days are regularly above 30 degrees. We departed Venlo at a leisurely 11.00am and headed for Maastricht, some 65km south, where we arrived at 3.00pm.
Maastricht is a pretty town and we were quite overjoyed to find three choices of moorings. There is the ‘New Basin’ which is a rebuild of the old original commercial port and very pretty but quite expensive, there is a wall running between two bridges (which was filled with small plastic boats) and there was the town wall just behind the Shell bunker ship and boat shop. We chose the latter and after tying up securely began a three day break to explore this lovely little city.
Maastricht is set on the river Maas, overlooked by a fortress, populated with lots of lod, picturesqu buildings and lovely shady squares filled with tables, chairs, umbrellas, busy waiters and cold glasses of beer, wine and spirits. We felt instantly at ease and at one with the world. It doesn’t get better than this !
The first day we explored the town, the next we rode to the top of the fortress hill in a cool and sometimes rainy day and were dispatched underground by the guides at the top, into kilometres of tunnels from where limestone had been excavated for buildings throughout the district and for larger towns abroad. It was a day reminiscent of one we had experienced in France with the Reeds and the Prattleys in the caves above the Nivernais Canal but this one without the sparkling wine.
A highlight of the sightseeing for me (but one Maureen swears she didn’t see) was the female who appeared out of a boutique and walked ahead of us for a hundred metres or so. This was no young model but a very slim (skinny perhaps) 50 year old woman. As is the fashion in the Netherlands and Belgium (but strangely not France) she was wearing a ‘thong’ otherwise known as a ‘G string’ but that was all - under a completely see through dress. Stilettos and a poodle completed the outfit. Quite an eyeful.
We decided to stay overnight to see the two museums the next day - an art gallery and an exposition of life ‘under the bridges’ with quite an emphasis on the river life and times of the old port town.
Friday morning was taken up at the museums and then the nearby supermarket where a large store of excellent wines were purchased at ridiculously low prices. Another highlight was a visit to a branch of the ABN AMRO bank where they could not tell me what my account balance was, whether a couple of transactions had been processed or any other useful information. I guess the Dutch banking system suits them but I would not recommend it.
This night we had a couple from an adjoining boat over for a barbecue on the back deck with the huge umbrella guarding us from the late sunset and the slow moving river traffic a passing parade of sights to watch as the wine and local produce quenched our more personal appetites.
Saturday 18 August
We departed at 10.30am for Liege on a cool and slightly wet morning and traveled the 15 kilometres in three hours. The yacht harbour entrance was a bit narrow and maneuvering room very restricted inside so we chose the outside wall and settled in. This led to a contre-temps with the harbour master as I argued we were not in the harbour and had no access to their facilities or protection from passing vessels and therefore should not pay, or be offered a discount for the overnight fee. They disagreed and enlisted a resident yachtie to try and convince me. It was a war not worth winning at about $12 for the privilege so I caved in and paid.
Our trusty mountain bikes took us through the town to the inevitable cathedral, old town, shopping streets (the shopping in Belgium is very good) and out to the Palace (huge), the main town square (even huger).
We soaked up the sights and later some pizza and pasta, wine and a beer or two and settled in for the night.
Sunday 19 August
We went to the catholic cathedral for the mass since it was advertised as a sung Eucharist and we had not had a chance to experience any performances so far. The choir consisted of two female and about five male singers, enthusiastically led by a thirties something female with a glorious voice and a very insistent baton. We had a qick energy recharge following the service and set off for the town of Huy at 12.00, arriving there at 2.00pm.
We arrived at Huy to find a large carnivale in full swing along the river just across and up from our mooring. Our bikes sped us to the centre of the goings on and we wandered through the slightly frousy set of ‘side show alley’ attractions before buying a bottle of wine made from flowers. The seller’s daughter had spent a year in central America - which is a propos of nothing really but a reflection on the sort of useless information one gathers in these wanderings.
The first week of travel had seen us pass 278km of canals and rivers and uncounted towns, villages and cities. So far, so good.
Monday 20 August
One week underway and everything is operating very well. We had decided to pick up cheap fuel in Belgium where it is something like half the price of diesel in France and had nominated the town of Dave as the target. Unfortunately on our arrival at Dave we found the fuel stop had closed permanently so we continued on to Namur and picked up a mooring on the riverside in town right in front of the Casino.
Once again a town dominated by a large castle above which demanded investigation. The view were stunning and the area at the top was serviced by both a parfumerie and a couple of free museums. Well worth the effort of the climb.
We explored the town, again picturesque with lovely town squares and a plethora of restaurants, cafes and outside eating. We enjoyed a beer at one and returned to Van Nelle for dinner before a wander over to the Casino..... We dressed for the occasion as the building appeared quite swish. On arrival and after a slow look at the art exhibition in the foyer we made for the entrance to the gaming room. Stopped at the door for our passes we were surprised to learn that you need a passport and 150 francs for entrance. As we contemplated these facts we noticed the lowly calibre of those inside and decided we would skip the experience - back to the boat.
Tuesday 21 August
On to Dinant where we arrived early in the afternoon to an absolutely delightful scene. This is a very pretty place dominated (again) by fortresses on the heights above the town which boasts a lovely church, old buildings, narrow streets and cheerful people. We took a mooring right in front of the restaurants and the church images/dinant2.jpg and immediately headed of f to the Leffe Bar and Restaurant for a refreshment. As it was nearing dinner time and the meals appearing around us looked fantastic, and since we had chanced a great table on the balcony overlooking Van Nelle on the river, we decided to stay for a meal. We ordered and received the biggest pork hocks and steaks we had yet seen. These were accompanied by frites (chips), roast potatoes, salads, beans and other garnishments. A bottle of the local and a hour or so of dedicated feeding and we were well passed caring.
We decided to stay for a day or so to explore and enjoy - one can’t be always on the move you know ! Shopping, riding, walking, communicating in French, this is all very tiring work for the traveller and requires equal amounts of rest and refreshment. We decided on the long lunch and went to the ‘King of Moules’ Restaurant for Moules Frites. This is mussels (in your choice of over 20 sauces) together with bread and french fries. Carafes of Rose (perfect accompaniment) completed the repast that stretched from 12.00 till after 2.00 and prompted a bit of a lie down to follow. Redolent.images/moules.jpg
I’m prompted to comment and compare our voyage so far with the diarised experience of the MacLean- Jordin family in their travels through Belgium in their luxemotor Mea Vota. Their path took them through the industrial heartland of Belgium, complete with stinging, sulphur laden air, black watersides and industrial overnight stops. Ours has been blissfully beautiful and enjoyable via the eastern side of the country rather than the (possibly) more industrial west. If you, the reader, are planning a trip north or south via Belgium - I can absolutely recommend our path.
We stayed through Wednesday, Thursday and reluctantly left on Friday for Givet and France.
Friday 24 August
Beautiful one day, perfect the next. The saying is of Queensland, Australia but can be used to describe the weather and scenery of the areas of the Meuse, Belgium and the north of France. As we meandered into canal country with the width of the waterways decreasing and the number of commercial vessels also becoming limited, the weather was kind and the boat performed beautifully.
We had taken on water, fuel and power in Dinant and arrived at another beautiful town with no pressing needs. We set out to explore the quiet river sides, the areas of historical interest, the centre of ceramique artisanship, the old Charlemont Castle and the restaurants, cafes, streetside bars and shopping hideways.
We arranged a French phone card and enjoyed the 30+ degree heat from the shade of the umbrella or the waterside trees. However, other ports and meetings awaited us so we decided to caste off the next day for Fumay on our way to Champagne.
Saturday 25 August
Our first tunnel was experienced this day. Its not a long tunnel but narrow and made somewhat disconcerting (if not difficult) by the light from the entrance reflecting in the wheelhouse windows and the light from the exit stabbing the eyes from the front. Our powerful little floodlight on the mast was overwhelmed at times but we made it through.
We were now in the country of the Freycinet ecluses (locks) a standard 38.5m long and 5m wide. Getting Van Nelle’s 4.5m width into a 5m space is a bit difficult at times despite slow approaches and the judicious use of power over the rudder. Small eddies, currents and wind can push the boat off the centre line as close as 5 metres from the entrance, resulting in loud (but not damaging) noises from the steel hull and rock lock walls.
Maureen has spent considerable time now practising rope throwing with increasing frustration as her efforts do not seem to be rewarded by success. She will not give up till she gets it right however.
Fumay, like the towns before it, was pretty and enjoyable. We wandered through making small purchases of bread and lettuce. A wedding passed us as we wandered the streets before dinner on board.
We decided to stay at Fumay to enjoy a long lunch on the river side on Sunday. Chicken, pate, bread, cheese, wine, sun, fun ! A passer by mentioned that the weather would deteriorate later but it showed no signs of change. We went to bed that night feeling pretty good.
3.00am and we woke to the full fury of a massive thunderstorm. A wall of noise and the sky rent by livid flashes of raw power in lightning bolts that created instant black and white pictures of frenzied activity inside Van Nelle as we raced to close skylights, portholes and windows from the onrush of solid water pouring out of the black sky. What an excitement, then to be warm and dry in bed with the sound of the fury passing over and receding into the distance. A memorable performance for us and one that brought back Johan’s misgivings of being in the wheelhouse of a ship during a storm.
Monday 27 August
The day started overcast but rapidly cleared as we headed away fro Fumay to Charleville Mezieres, two competing towns bbrought together only 20 or so years ago and now offering a range of facilities. This beginning to the third week has seen us cover 387km and puts us in our third country.
We are now definitely in French territory with almost noone but other boaties speaking English. All the wide waterways have given way to narrow canals that are increasingly shallower and where the speed is restricted to 6kmh. While this slows our progress it is not a discomfort as we have only Maureen’s appointment with Adrienne Keen in Paris (a friend from Clean Up Australia) and our week with Laurie and Marlene O’Meara who are joining us in Reims for a cruise to Epernay. Besides, we are now in France where the towns are about 10 - 15km apart and each has its charm, its facilities and its secrets for us to unlock.
Charleville Mezieres boasts the Musee d’Ardennes, the Place Ducale, the centre of puppetry (marionettes) in Europe (with a marionette clock much bigger than London Court, expansive markets and modern facilities. We moored first in their new jacht basin but it was isolated and deserted so early the next day we moved to the riverside.
Nearby was Johanna, a Luxemotor I had seen advertised as a hotel boat in the Blue Flag, the magazine of the Dutch Barge Association. We met John Wilson, her owner and shared a couple of nights discussing boats and all associated topics. Meanwhile the great weather prevailed prompting John to comment it was the best summer in three years.
Tuesday 28 August
We were feeling pretty guilty about the lack of work we had undertaken in the past few weeks so began this day with a rush of resolutions and actions.
Jay - the bath pump, engine works and some painting, Maureen - painting the study / office and the front cabin. Consciences appeased we relaxed over dinner with John and drinks later with a couple from Belgium.
The lost day. Somewhere we got out of whack with the diary and the actual days and this day appears to have been lost somewhere. It happens like that I guess.
Thursday 30 August
On to Pont a Bar and Le Chesne, arriving there at 4.30pm to find a small town with a Boulangerie operating (great - fresh bread), a small supermarket (no fresh milk) and a locked church. We looked for the restaurant but decided that we would eat rations. Tough choice given the great food we have on board.
We also decided to have a health night and stay away from the customary bottle of wine with dinner. We actually managed two health days in a row with the next day also ‘on the wagon’.
Friday 31 August
The day of the locks. 26 of them in only 8km !!!!! This is a true test of boat and crew as you idle from one lock almost straight into the next. We were caught behind a large, slow commercial barge and therefore had to wait at each ecluse for the water to return to level in order to take us down the 2-3metres to the next lock. For the last 7 or 8 ecluses we also had the company of a small yacht that just fitted in behind us.
We made or way to Attigny after the 26, just a few more to get there and found a nice park beside the river with bollards, water and lighting. Unfortunately it was Friday night and the local teenagers had adopted the park as their drinking place (despite the police patrol - from which they hid their ill gotten gains) so the noise level and threatening presence was felt until about midnight. Made for a good night of reading 20,000 Thieves.
This being Email night we were frustrated by the lack of reception and the inability of the Email program to get mail. We resolved to fix it when reception improved.
Saturday 1 September
A new month, my fourth in Europe. We departed Attigny for Asfeld and was met with a rather disappointing place. The river stop is isolated from the town and despite the town’s efforts to provide a reasonable mooring place the facilities are a bit glum and distant from shops - of which there are few. We walked a fair way looking but decided it was a night at home.
Sunday 2 September
Asfeld to Courcy where we arrived at 6.00pm. We decided we were too tired to explore and besides there was not much on offer so a quiet night at home. Van Nelle Performing beautifully and Maureen the queen of the crew in the locks. My performance a bit scattered at times.
I called the email service to find that the subscription to Ipass - the internet service overseas, had lapsed a couple of days before and that was the problem with the mail. Also, the phone credit was almost expended and the new card was not amenable to any of my attempts to load it. Very frustrating business, especially when the instructions both written and from the phone are in French that is spoken so fast it is impossible for me to gather more than a fraction of the meaning.
Monday 3 September
Departed at 9.30am for Reims after calling Ozemail and getting Ipass reinstated. Another of the problems of communication here is the time difference and the appalling wiat times imposed by service companies such as Ozemail. Most times their wait time exceeds 20 minutes. They will find that they will be deserted when there is a better service available. Perhaps we should emigrate to Hotmail with the rest of the world.
Arrival at Reims was through and industrial area and we contented ourselves with the thought that at least when we get to the Port de Plaisance there is sure to be a pleasant harbour in the centre of town. We arrived to find the only spaces for big boats taken and therefore power and water were not to be provided to us. We moved past the big commercials that dominated the port to the far end and moved in to the wall to moor. Maureen was gesticulating at me with a hieroglyphic that appeared to mean shallow water and it was. The boat came to a gentle halt, firmly held at the bow by the undelying mud. A quick prod with a boat hook confirmed about 2-3 feet of water at the wall, insufficient for Van Nelle’s 3-4feet.
We withdrew and heeding the advice of an old gentleman on the river side, moved past the marina to an area of low walls, bollards and a four lane highway. We were the only ship in the area but we tied up and went forth on bike to explore other possibilities. There appeared to be none so we decided to strike out for town and consider the future later. This we did with a visit to the Reims Cathedral - truly and awe inspiring building. Unfortunately, it is succumbing to the ravages of weather and car exhaust acid and can be seen to be disintegrating. Fortunately, large efforts are now being put in to restore the crumbling exterior.
We will be in or around Reims for the next week or two as Maureen goes off to Paris and we wait for our first guests - the O’Mearas.
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