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 😃

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 😃

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? 😃

That's all for now, see you again soon

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Sailly-sur-la-Lys to Saint Venant

Welcome back

For the first time for ages it's raining today, so it's the ideal time to bring you up to date on our adventures.

We stayed in Sailly-sur-la-Lys until Monday so Roger could watch the Grand Prix. Apart from the commercial barges we haven't seen many pleasure boats. In fact we only saw one other boat in the whole 3 days we moored in Sailly and everyone we've spoken to has said how quiet the river is this year.

This section of the River Lys is really lovely, quite narrow and twisty and shallow in places but that still doesn't deter the working boats. This one only just got under the road bridge in Sailly.

After Sailly we stayed for a couple of nights on the town mooring pontoon at Estaires. Again it was a free mooring with no facilities but we did have free "entertainment" from the town drunk. Early in the evening a very frail old man (picture a very bronzed walking skeleton wearing a trilby) came down onto the pontoon with a tatty shopping trolley which he unloaded and laid out his supper, a bottle of rose wine, several boxes of medication and a huge cigarette machine. He ate his salad and drank his wine straight from the bottle, all the while muttering to himself and staggering up and down the pontoon and chain smoking. Teenagers came down onto the pontoon to sit in the sun and chat, so he decided he'd "rest" against our boat which was OK as he wasn't doing any harm. This went on for a couple of hours and he was getting louder and more obnoxious and even the teenagers got fed up with him and left. After our brush with the attempted suicide the other week, I had visions of him OD'ing on his pills and booze and falling into the river but fortunately that didn't happen and he suddenly decided it was time to leave. It took him ten minutes to climb/crawl back up the steps to the road and then he was gone, leaving his empty bottle on our roof and his supper containers and other rubbish on the pontoon for us to clear up. No harm done and thankfully he didn't come back again the next evening.

The pontoon mooring was beside the church, which in typical French style was HUGE and started ringing its bells at 7am with the first call to Mass 😦 And those bells rang and rang and'd have thought they were the town's alarm clock!

The only other interesting thing we saw in Estaires was our first French poo bin

It was fully stocked with bags and obviously never used as there were "deposits" everywhere and the bin itself was empty. Is it a macho thing do you think, that the French don't pick up after their dogs?

So after Estaires we carried on up river to Merville where we had to temporarily moor up to go and find the lock-keeper as there was no reply on the phone. It was a young woman who was very friendly and helpful and gave us some good local information and used her remote control to work us through the lock. It was much smaller than we've been used to so I reckon we've seen the last of the commercial barges for a while.

Once again there was a free public mooring pontoon, with the added benefit of having an Aldi supermarket and butchers on the other side of the hedge.

Our evening entertainment came from these guys "boat jousting"

It went on for hours and they took it in turns pushing each other into the river. Only the French could invent something like that 😃

We're now moored on the Halte Nautique at Saint Venant. Great mooring with free electric and free water PLUS the first continuous moorers we've come across.  There are 3 French cruisers who have been here for much longer than the 48 hours stipulated. One of them told us he'd been here for 3 weeks but didn't see any problem as there were so few boats about anyway. I can't say I blame him either as it's such a good place.

We won't be staying for 3 weeks but we will stay for the weekend.

Bye for now, see you again soon I hope

Friday, 14 July 2017

Menen to Sailly-sur-la-Lys

Hi, nice to see you again.

This week has flown by hasn't it?

We left Menen on Saturday, after I'd been to the hairdressers. It's been so hot that I couldn't wait any longer and so, armed with a photo of the hairstyle I wanted, I made an appointment and prayed that my French would be adequate to get what I wanted.  Hairdressers in Belgium had been averaging between 45-50 € but in the French side of town it was much better value and I paid 33€. The hairdresser spoke no English but she was very nice and very patient and I came away very happy. My french lessons are certainly starting to pay off 😃

We shared Menen Lock with 3 HUGE barges. One alongside us and two behind.

I have to admit that I'm still finding these massive locks a bit intimidating, but I've been assured by friends who have been over here for a few years that you soon get used to them. I hope they're right!

On the way to Wervik we passed this huge recycling plant.

These massive blocks were compressed aluminium cans

It's no wonder the commercial barges are so heavily laden, but it's nice to keep all that bulk transport off the roads.

We also passed the local fuel barge where 2 of the barges we'd shared Menen lock with were pulling over to fill up.

We stayed at Wervik Yacht Club for 3 nights, 10€ a night with free water but electric is extra if needed.

The bar & restaurant give the place a real holiday feel to it and it was full of locals. The food was basic but good and the beer was at French prices so no complaints there 😃

and the view from my kitchen window almost made doing the washing up pleasurable.

The only down-side to the mooring was the huge wash created by the big barges going past and we decided three disturbed nights were enough, so on Tuesday we set off again heading for Armentieres.

The first lock was on the border of Flanders and Wallonia which meant that we had to get new registration papers for this region.  The lock keeper had asked us for the papers while we were waiting for a commercial boat to arrive and were holding onto the wall. I misunderstood him and thought we had to walk up there before we could go through the lock and was about to do that when a commercial arrived and he told us to come into the lock.  Once we were roped up and the water was rising he came over the VHF radio and asked me to come now.  That meant climbing up the lock-side ladder and I don't like ladders or heights 😨 but I did it and I managed to get all the paperwork completed in French and I managed to climb back down the ladder onto the boat!  Well chuffed!

We've made ourselves a hook on a rope to make locking a bit easier. It's made from an English mooring pin that we haven't needed to use over here and has proved invaluable so far. It just takes the strain while I get the main rope over a bollard in the side of the lock and has made me much happier and much less stressed.

The mooring in Armentieres was a small pontoon only just long enough for us, but as we haven't seen any other pleasure boats for a long time that wasn't a problem. It's a nice small town with plenty of facilities.  We walked for about half an hour to a Mr Bricolage (B&Q) so Roger could check out what's available over here and then also stocked up the food cupboards and wine cellar at nearby Lidl and Carrefour Hypermarket.

As we're now officially in France I finally got to change the courtesy flag

Yesterday (Thursday) we set off again. The canal here is much narrower, more rural and very pretty although it is still used by some of the smaller commercial boats. When we came through Armentieres Lock we'd been given our first remote control for the next lock (Ecluse de Bac Saint Maur)

When you're about 50m away you aim the zapper at this board and press button 1

That opened the gates but then all the lights went out and we weren't sure what was going on.  A lock keeper came out and beckoned us on. Apparently the remote controls weren't working properly so he had to operate the lock for us. It was nice to be in a small(ish) lock on our own but I was quite disappointed that the zapper didn't work

We're now moored at the Halte Nautique de Sailly-sur-la-Lys on a 30m floating pontoon with no facilities.

It's a small town with a couple of bars, a friterie (chip shop), bakers and the ubiquitous Carrefour, but not a lot else.  It's lovely to be back in the countryside and we'll probably stay here for the weekend, especially as for the first time in a fortnight we've managed to get a satellite signal and it's the British Grand Prix on TV.

I hope you'll come back soon and see where we've got too.
Bye for now

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Kortrijk to Menen

Hi, nice to see you again.

We left Kortrijk on Monday, after spending a very pleasant Sunday afternoon in the town's main square.  We'd gone walkabout and found the square to be set up for a Historic Car Rally and a rock band was playing on the stage.  Well you know us...any excuse for a beer

There were over a hundred cars in the rally and most posed on the finish line to receive their certificate.

We were just approaching Menon town bridge on Monday morning when we saw a young Asian woman standing on the wrong side of the railings and Roger jokingly said that he hoped she wasn't going to jump.  Well guess what?  She jumped just as we were going past.  It must have been a 10ft drop into the water although at the time it looked much higher. When we did our ICC we had to do a "man overboard" exercise but when you're faced with it in real life it's not as easy as you think!  By the time I'd thrown our life ring into the water and Roger had stopped and reversed back to her an elderly Asian man had jumped out of his car and climbed down the ladder to try and rescue her. She didn't want rescuing and fought him off so he then jumped into the water to try and get to her. We couldn't get too close to them in case we crushed them against the concrete wall but luckily a couple of builders were walking past on their lunch break and heard the commotion. They threw a rope down to the man who managed to get it round her, despite her efforts to fend him off, and then they hauled her to the ladder where they managed to drag her up and out, all the while still kicking and screaming.  The old man really struggled getting himself up the ladder as he must have been exhausted by this time.  How desperate must you be to try and kill yourself like that?  I really hope she gets some help and that they don't suffer too much from having swallowed lots of river water.

There wasn't anything we could do other than keep a look out for any oncoming commercial barges so as soon as they were out of the water we carried on to the moorings where we've stayed since. It's a good spot opposite a small marina and apart from a couple of nights we've been here all alone. We're too long to go into the marina and as we don't need electric or water (and it's free) this suited us perfectly.

The weather is still HOT 😎 here but at last we've had some rain. The storm that was forecast on Thursday came with a bang...literally....Lots of thunder and lightening and about half an hour of heavy rain and then it was over.  As soon as it brightened up again we went into town looking for a car spares shop as Roger needed some bits for the boat, and when we got back an hour later the water level had risen by over half a meter and was just about to wash over the bank!  We needed to quickly slacken off the mooring ropes and add some tyres as fenders but thankfully it didn't rise any further and the level dropped back to normal again a couple of hours later.

It's a strange place to stay as it's basically on the border between Belgium and France. If you walk to the main road and turn left you're in Menen which is Belgian but if you turn right and walk over the bridge you're in Halluin which is French. We had a quick tour around Menen and then decided that the French town was better suited to us.  Not only could we speak to people and understand what they were saying, but it was SO much cheaper too. Beer went from being 4€ a glass to 3€60 for two and food prices were more realistic as well. Roger managed to get his stuff for the boat as the young man in the car parts shop was really helpful and between Roger's French and his pigeon English they managed to find what we needed and the assistant ordered it in for us to collect next day.

So it's time to move on again.  We're heading for a little town called Wervik which is the centre of the Belgian tobacco growing region, so I'll tell you about that next time.

Take care, see you soon