Come with us as we travel round Europe in our floating home

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Saint Venant to Haubourdin

Hi, Welcome back.

After spending a really good weekend at Saint Venant catching up on all the laundry and doing a few other little jobs, we eventually left on Tuesday. The final stretch of the River Lys was really beautiful and very "French". Fields of potatoes, maize and wheat lined both banks

We'd booked our passage through the next two locks but had to wait on the dolphins for about 20 minutes for the lock-keeper to arrive in his little van.

When he arrived he was extremely apologetic and as he didn't speak any English it was a good excuse for us to practice our French.  He raced on ahead of us to open the road bridge

By this time it was 12.30, lock-keepers lunchtime, but he told us to continue and had the final lock set for us as we arrived at 12.45.  He said that as it he'd been late for our rendez-vous he'd lock us up and then told us where to moor for our lunch before we carried on to our over-night mooring. Lunchtime is a really big deal over here.  I gave him an ice-cream for his help and wished him "bon appetit".

The mooring in Aire-sur-la-Lys was down an inlet off the main Canal d'Aire and was just a rickety pontoon beside the grain silos.  An elderly Dutchman in a little cruiser was already moored on the pontoon and despite not being very good on his feet he came out to help us moor up behind him. Everyone we've met so far has been amazingly friendly and helpful, whether they speak English or not (he didn't). We overhang the pontoon by about 5m but it wasn't a problem.  Every time a commercial barge went past on the mainline canal a wave came rushing down the inlet and the pontoon moved a few metres in each direction. It wasn't the best mooring we've stayed on so far but it was only 20 minutes walk to the town which had some beautiful architecture and the added bonus of a Mr Bricolage, a Leclerc supermarket and a Lidl so we could stock up on wine. The shopping trolleys are getting plenty of use here ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

On Thursday we rejoined the Canal d'Aire with the BIG boats but it was only a short 3 hour cruise without any locks to Bethune where we moored on another Halte Nautique floating pontoon at the end of another inlet. It was quite a long walk into town, past the prison and the Eglise St Baast which we popped into as I'd read on Google that it had spectacular stained windows. It was beautiful inside and unusually built from small bricks rather than stone.

It also had a spectacular huge organ

We only stayed in Bethune for one night, continuing our journey on the big canal on Friday.
A huge engine-less container pan being driven by a "pusher" barge overtook us going so fast that we ended up going backwards as his bow and stern waves sucked the water from under us.  Almost at the same time an unladen barge went past us in the opposite direction and we heard him on the VHF radio reporting the "pusher" for speeding dangerously. We were really happy that he was travelling so fast that he'd already passed through Cuinchy lock by the time we arrived.  It was our first really big French lock and we assumed that we'd have to wait to share with a commercial boat the same as we'd had to do in Belgium.  We had lunch on the waiting moorings and then walked up to the lock to check it out and chat to the lock-keeper.  He was quite shocked when I asked if we had to wait for a barge and told us to come in straight away. We had the huge lock to ourselves and felt a bit guilty for using so much water!

Once again, last night's Halt Nautique was another floating pontoon down an off-shoot away from the mainline canal. Once again we were the only ones there although a French cruiser arrived this morning just before we left which gave us a good chance to practice our French ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

This was at the little town of La Bassee which seemed to be mostly closed for the annual holidays, although the Intermarche supermarket was open so Roger could stock up on beer.

Today was the first time we've descended a lock and I'll admit I was quite nervous. We had to wait on a dolphin while boats came up the lock

The gates opened and this monster came out!  It was a HUGE hotel boat, the first we've seen. There didn't seem to be many passengers on board though.

They were followed out by our friends Dave and Grace who we'd met in Bruges. Unfortunately it was "ships that pass in the night" and we had to make do with frantic waves as we'd been given the green light to go into the lock. Once again we were all alone in this huge lock and it was nowhere near as scary as I'd expected.  It had a guillotine bottom gate which lifted high into the air and dripped all over us as we left

Tonight's mooring isn't at a Halte Nautique for a change. We're actually moored up on the mainline tucked in between a couple of commercial barges.  It was a spot marked by the DBA (Dutch Barge Association) and despite the many big working boats going past it's actually quite calm.

Don't we look tiny? ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

That's all for now, see you again soon

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