Wednesday, August 03, 2022

While we wait

I've been putting off writing this post for the reason that soon no one's going to believe we even want to go away on the boat. Of course, that's just me, and I know you know we do, but as has been happening on a regular basis this year, the fates are conspiring to stop us.

Poor Koos. After all the work that he's put into the engine, it's finally running well, but now it's his own engine that's not doing so good. Without going into details, we've just spent the last week getting to know ambulance paramedics, doctors' waiting rooms and the hospital emergency ward rather better than we'd like. The diagnosis is still escaping the medics and he's waiting on an invitation for further tests. However, he's feeling a lot better now and our fingers are still firmly crossed that we'll get away before too long, but we need to feel confident that it's safe to do so first.

In the meantime, when Koos was at the doctor the other day, I made a local discovery that bowled me over. I've always known there was an industrial museum in Sas van Gent, but it's been one of those places I've put on the back burner because it's always there. I opted to go for a stroll while I was waited for Koos. As I walked up the road, I suddenly noticed the museum and decided on impulse to pay it a visit.

What an amazing and rewarding surprise it was. I don't think I've ever seen such a wonderful collection of old factory machines, all beautifully restored and in perfect working order. The museum caters for children and as far as possible the machines can be put into operation so the youngsters can see and learn how the work. Well, I don't know about kids, but my inner child lit up and I was absolutely riveted.

The entire display represents the industry that used to be in the area, including a sugar factory, flour mills, a coke plant and a sweet factory. 

The main display hall

A roller mill for wheat crushing. Apparently, 13 of these could
crush 180,000 kgs of wheat a day. That's quite a number!

A centrifuge (spin dryer?) for separating starch from the maize

This amazing machine, built in 1957, was used to extract starch from maize. For this, the corn had first to be soaked. It was then ground and the maize and its bran were separated. What remained after that was a raw starch milk, from which the starch was separated using these centrifuges, a process which was repeated several times to achieve the highest concentration and purity.

And this, believe it or not is part of a sweet-wrapping machine,
from the Confiserie Naploeon, a local confectionary factory

I also enjoyed the displays showing the different sources of the electricity produced in Zeeland. One entire wall explained how electricity is produced from coal, gas, water, wind, biomass waste products, solar and nuclear power. Of course, many of these sources are used to create steam which in turn is used to generate the electicity. The magnificent steam generator below was one such that was used until 1999 at a coke factory in nearby Sluiskil. It was running while I was there and made some very impressive wheezing and puffing sounds as its monster pistons thrust to and fro (see bottom picture). As for the flywheel, well, I've never seen anything so magnificent!

There was plenty more to see and much I haven't included or described here, but I was quite smitten and plan to go back again when the opportunity arises. For a small town like Sas, this museum packs a real punch and I can highly recommend it if anyone is ever in the area.

So that's it from me for this time. Enjoy the rest of your week allemaal and I'll keep you posted on our vacillating vacation! Who knows what I'll have to say next time, but fingers crossed it will be from elsewhere and not here.


Monday, July 25, 2022

Ticking boxes

 Well, Koos has done it and we've finally got to the point when we can plan to leave for our somewhat delayed 'faring' holiday. But now procrastination has entered into the game of seeing how long we can postpone our departure. It sometimes feels as if we've got so used to having problems, we can't quite believe we can go and I, for one, am hesitating to name the day. That said, we have started ticking boxes and crossing items off our checklist.

The only trouble is, the list keeps growing. Every time I tick something off, we think of another essential item that we might or might not have. Is this procrastination? Possibly, but my excuse is it's just sense.

What, you may well ask, has led us to this point after so many months of disappointment? Well, the electric opvoerpomp supplied to us by the company we bought the engine from seems to be working well (hallelujah!!) and so we did a test run on the Hennie H yesterday, accompanied by two dear friends from Australia who serendipitously happened to arrive in Sas van Gent in the morning. I'm not sure they really took in the fact that we were testing the pump for the first time, and no one mentioned what might happen if it didn't work properly. To our good fortune (and my relief), it functioned perfectly, the Hennie H purred along and a good old catch up time was had by all.

The Hennie H at large at last

Today, I've been stocking up on essential travel sustenance: a crate of chocolate milk, another of ordinary milk (both indispensable for keeping the skipper properly fuelled), and large quantities of coffee and biscuits. Then there are the other goods that we can store in some bulk, like tinned vegetables, eggs, potatoes and onions. The perishable items will be bought as soon as Koos has received his doctor's all clear. When man has pacemaker, man must make pace to collect all his support items (in other words, he needs his meds).

So when will we actually cast off the ropes and sail into the sunset (which in our case is Gent)? Maybe Wednesday, maybe Thursday, but unless anything drastic happens, it will be this week. Wish us luck and fair faring allemaal. It looks as if we're really on the way!

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Waiting Game

Some of you may have noticed I haven't been posting as much as usual. This, my dear blogging friends, is not because I'm losing interest in my blog. Far from it. No, the problem is more that while much has been happening in our lives, it is not the kind of thing I post here. I try and keep this place for news about our watery life and travels, and sadly, there hasn't yet been much of that to write (home) about recently.

But...things are now looking up. The dreaded opvoer pump has now been replaced by an electric 'fuel transfer pump', sent to us 'free and for gratis' by the company that sold us the engine. I think they were so fed up with us bleating at them because the original wouldn't run consistently, they are hoping this will be the salve to make us shut up.

Koos has mounted it and established it works. Now, we are emptying the diesel from the tank and plan to replace it with new, fresh, fiendishly expensive diesel tomorrow, so as not to risk any further fuel problems. Once again, we await developments.

Added to the waiting game we've been playing with the engine, it appears we might also have to wait for the water levels to rise a little too before heading into France. The weather has been dry and warm for so long, there are serious water shortages and many canals have been closed. As I heard it from a Facebook friend, the route we want to take has been alright up to now, so fingers crossed we'll make it to the Sambre again this year. We can only be grateful that this part of the world isn't having the terrible fires they are experiencing in Portugal, Spain and France as a result of the intense heat. Mind you, our forecast is for 36C tomorrow and 39C on Tuesday, so we're hardly cool here.

In any event, we are hoping to be off and away in a week or so. The waiting is almost over. Wish us luck!

Meanwhile, I am still attending to my old girl in Oudenbosch, where I spend some time every week. We are planning some away days with her in September, so I've been quietly smooshing up her decks in anticipation.

A second coat on the foredeck

Repainted aft cabin and engine room roofs

I've also taken a bit of time out for some fun rides on my 'Tommy' moped. My eldest daughter has one now as well, so last week, we went out for a ride around the dykes together, and a good time was had by all, mopeds included. 

Last, but not (I trust) least. I have a new book out. It's taken me five years to write and seven months to edit, so I'm more than a little relieved to have released this particular labour of love into the world. 

Have a great week allemaal, and I hope I'll be posting from the water next time. Wouldn't that be something?

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Little By Boat

Little By Boat
Has lost her ship
And doesn't know where to find her
Leave her alone and she will come home
bringing By Boat behind her

Okay, just a bit of nonsense there because this is mainly going to be a picture post. To explain, we finally got the Hennie H's engine running steadily, so last week we did a few test runs to build our confidence. However, because we didn't want to take any risks on the sea canal to Gent (the waterway on which the HH is moored), we took our little rowing boat (in Dutch bij boot, hence my bit of rhyming nonsense)) along for the ride.

Now you'd be right in thinking a tiny boat like the one in the photo below would not be capable of performing any great rescue missions, especially for a twenty-ton barge like the Hennie H, but we have an electric outboard motor for it and if push came to shove, it would be possible to pull the HH ever so gently out of harm's way with her. I know it seems unlikely, but I did mention pushing and shoving, didn't I?

Anyway, luckily, we didn't need its services, and the test runs went well. Unluckily, we have a recurrence of the same problem this week, and the Hennie H is refusing to start again. Ah well, we had some fun while it lasted! Back to the drawing board again.

Below are some photos of our last test run on Koos's birthday, the 30th of June. We did all of about eight kilometres!

The shipyard at Zelzate just over the Belgian border:
Our goal for the day

Sand barge

And just to finish off, a happy skipper

However, after suffering something of an understandable loss of motivation this week, Koos feels confident he can get the engine going again by the weekend. Keep everything crossed allemaal! Let's hope we can be faring once more very shortly!

Sunday, June 26, 2022

A bookend type of month

I've been remiss, I know. It's three weeks since my last blog at the beginning of June, and here we are at the end of the month; mea culpa. I have to admit I've been finding it hard to focus recently and even took a month off Facebook altogether, but maybe I've mentioned that already.

Part of the difficulty has simply been the time of year. There's always a lot to do in May and June with the end of the academic year. Added to the usual course-end scramble, we have staff assessments, official English speaking tests, and coaching sessions for PhDers writing their theses in English. The speaking tests usually involve quite a bit of travelling around so at the end of the week, writing my blog has been something "I'll do later", except that later didn't arrive, not until today, that is.

I enjoy the speaking tests as we often go to schools to conduct them and I find it so interesting to experience the difference between them, which largely depends on where they are. 

Take your standard small town Dutch secondary school. Most of the children are competent, well-trained for the exam, polite and, well, dare I say it, a bit boring. They haven't seen or experienced much of life at all so their range of conversation is correspondingly limited, but they can do what's required and do it well. The city kids, on the other hand, especially those from 'alternative' educational backgrounds, are a world apart: feisty, often ill prepared but with so much more to say. They seem to have more life experience, more knowledge of the arts and literature and generally wider interests. It's fascinating to observe and one could easily be forgiven for thinking it's better for young people to grow up in a cosmopolitan, unusual environment if their ability to hold a conversation in English is any gauge of their educational and social development. I'm sure there's more to it than that, but on the surface, that's how it appears.

Anyway, back to our own world and tomorrow we will be testing the Hennie H in preparation for our summer travels. Koos has been away for a week on a well-deserved break to Hungary, so there's been a lull in proceedings there, but July is approaching and we hope to be on our way sometime in the first week. 

Last Monday, the bridge was returned to service (see previous post), so no more ferry, and life is more or less back to normal. We have painting on both boats to do before we go, fire extinguishers to have checked, fenders to pump up, diesel to buy and supplies to get in. Oh and in between all that, it will be Koos's birthday. I think things are about to get very busy!

To calm you down after all that exciting news, here are some photos from our world.

The Mark heading into Oudenbosch

The Basilica at Oudenbosch 

Snack hunting in Zeeland

The Vereeniging– just because

Horses and their foals at a nearby nature reserve

And again–just too adorable

Mummy and baby. The foal was very new

Have a good week allemaal, and I'll be back again at the beginning of July.

Monday, June 06, 2022

Fun with the ferry

It’s no surprise to anyone who follows my blog that I’m rather fond of boats and boat travel. “Yes, Val,” I hear you thinking. “That’s hardly news, is it?” However, as you also know from my previous post, we’ve been having some boat engine trouble, meaning we haven’t been anywhere much  on the water since last October, which for me has been a serious drought, despite the wet winter. One small ‘spuddle’ trip, just for fun, and a trip to the yard a mere 5kms away have been it so far this year.

Imagine my delight, then, when the local council announced the closure of the road bridge over to our nearest town in Zeeland for maintenance purposes. This was followed by a further announcement they would be providing a foot and bicycle ferry (voet en fiets) across the canal to compensate. Since we are spending most of our time in Zeeland (on account of said engine troubles), the bridge is a vital and daily connection between us and the boat, so I’ve been taking great pleasure in fulfilling a few faring needs by using the ferry every day.

It’s only a ten-minute ride across the canal, but it’s great fun and I would dearly love it if the council kept it going after the bridge is re-opened. I’ve been very lucky so far because I haven’t had to wait for the next crossing once. The ferry can take a maximum of twelve passengers and their bikes; it’s always well used, and sometimes totally full. On two occasions, I’ve seen people turned away due to the maximum being reached before the departure time. Sadly for them, it’s an hour’s wait before the next crossing. 

The thing is, although the crossing is short, it takes a while for passengers to embark and disembark, meaning there isn’t enough time to do more than a there and back (or heen en weer) trip in an hour. I reckon they should have a bigger boat, especially at weekends, but the fuel costs are probably quite a consideration at the moment.

Just so you can have an idea of the extent of the crossing, below are my photos from the trip over. As you can see, it’s no meagre waterway:

Embarkation point village side

Bicycles galore

Leaving the village

Out on the canal

A view of the bridge, which is now permanently
opn for shipping

Normal traffic on the canal

Turning off the canal into the harbour at
Sas van Gent

Not far from our Hennie H now

Disembarking point

Those photos were from my first crossing, but here are some others of the return and also what came past another day. 

Leaving the harbour

If you expand the photo, you might just see
The Hennie H in the distance

Skipper giving it some welly

Always grand to see these DFDS ferries
Little and large together!

And on it goes towards Gent

Heading home again

So that’s been my fun this last week. A small but real consolation given the hold ups we’ve been experiencing. Unfortunately, the weekend did an about turn with the weather and it’s now cold and wet, but I have work to keep me busy until the sun shines again. 

Have a good week allemaal and I’ll catch up with you all again soon.

Monday, May 30, 2022

The trials and tribulations of boat life

 I've hinted at it a few times in recent posts, but never quite knuckled down to writing a proper explanation of our recent issues with our Hennie H, so I thought I'd better do it before my readers here think I'm being deliberately obtuse.

I think I've mentioned already that following our lift out and inspection we had trouble starting the boat's engine. Koos noticed it didn't start quite as readily as usual when we first went to the yard, but this total refusal was a disturbing surprise. Nevertheless, he soldiered on, 'bled' the motor (for those who don't know, this releases any air trapped in the lines) and managed to get it going, following which we made our way back to Sas van Gent without incident.

Home again with a nice black hull, but only sanded sides

The following days proved the problem was real, not imagined, and for the next three weeks, we had a depressing series of failures in the attempts to resolve the issue. Having checked everything from the tank, to the fuel lines and filters, the culprit was eventually narrowed down to what is called the opvoerpomp in Dutch. I still don't really know what it is in English, but possibly the lift pump. Maybe some of my readers here will know, but its purpose is to pump the diesel from the tank into the fuel pump (by way of another filter) that feeds the injection system. It seems this vital mechanical device had got stuck, and poor Koos had to remove and replace it several times before it finally decided to keep running.

The testing became depressingly predictable. He'd dismantle it, clean it, make sure it was working, put it back and start the engine, which would obligingly run for about ten minutes and then stop again. I'm sure you can understand his frustration, as each time this happened the process had to be repeated, not to mention all the bleeding that ensued from such an operation. After nearly four weeks of stoic and tenacious work on Koos's part, the pump appears to be working properly again, but of course, we no longer fully trust it.

The down-heartening side of the whole sorry episode is that it's undermined all our expectations of trouble-free faring. Our new engine, the (somewhat expensive) answer to our dreams, has already let us down and we hadn't even done 20 hours' faring. Hopefully, our confidence will be restored and it will continue to behave itself, but it will take a while before we build up faith in the motor again.

One of the problems here is that there is nowhere quiet within easy reach to test it on the go. Our mooring is on the major shipping canal to Gent, so test runs will be confined to the harbour until we're at ease again. I won't deny it's been a difficult and stressful time. Koos has been incredibly courageous and kept working at it, but it's taken its toll. Altogether, May was a hard month, so let's keep everything crossed for a much more relaxing and forgiving June.

As for me, when the going gets tough, Val gets painting...

Working my way around the sides and windows,
which have suffered during the winter 

Have a good week allemaal, and I'll introduce you to our new 'spuddle' rowing boat next time. It's a sweetie, but it's going to have to work hard for its living :)

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Middleburg, the jewel of Zeeland

It's been over two weeks since I last wrote a post, and I'll confess I've been struggling to know what to write about. That's not because of a lack of subject matter; probably the reverse. There's been too much going on, and not much of it anything to be excited about. So I've been holding back until our fortunes change and I can be positive again.

Of course, that's an unfair teaser, I know, so just to put you briefly in the the picture, our Hennie H has been giving us problems again. 

When I last posted, I mentioned we'd had a starting problem when we left the slipway after our lift out and inspection. Once Koos managed to get it going, we made it back to our home port without incident, but since then the problem has persisted. Poor Koos has been at his wits' end trying to solve it, and to say we've been downcast about it would be putting it mildly. The engine has run a bare twenty hours; it's brand new, and this shouldn't be happening. Enough said.

Things are looking slightly more hopeful now, but I won't say more until we know the problem is truly resolved. In the meantime, to keep my poor blog from developing cobewebs and empty echoes, I'm taking you on a visit to Middleburg, the provincial capital of Zeeland.

Last Saturday, my daughter said she wanted to visit an art shop she'd located in the town, so I invited myself along for the ride. It's been a few years since I last went to the city and I felt it was due further investigation. During my previous visit with Koos, our main focus was the harbour area, which I knew was lovely, but I hadn't seen much more of it. Well, what a delightful surprise it was and a tonic for our sorry souls.

Middleburg is the epitome of the historic Dutch city. It exudes traditional Dutch style and every street is a feast for the eyes. I'm fully aware my photos don't do it justice, but have a look and if you like what you see, take a wander through its delightful centre on Google Streetview. We took a very circuitous route to the art shop and were quite honestly enchanted every step of the way.

One of the many waterways through the town

White and bright. Perfect Dutch townhouses

The market square with the magnificent city hall
at the back

The market square in the shade of the many
lovely old trees

Another delightful back street

Charming informality that exuded peace and

The same courtyard from a different angle

Riches indeed, and a very special cellar entrance

A lovely spot to relax and have a cup of coffee

The Kanaal door Walcheren
The main waterway through Middleburg

There's some good information about the town in this website and even more about its impressive history here on Wikipedia. The city's roots go back to the 8th or 9th century, and its cultural atmosphere is correspondingly rich.  

I loved reacquainting myself with Middleburg's gracious streets and elegant Dutch architecture and hope to make a return visit before too long to explore this lesser known gem still further. Not only that, there are some gorgeous villages in the vicinity that are worth visiting. Another day out is most definitely called for.

For now, have a good week allemaal and I'll be back with more of our own news as soon as I've distilled the blogworthy parts of it.