Monday, August 20, 2012

Back in action

The photo above was taken on a happy day in September 2008 when the the barge in the picture, the Hennie Ha, was newly ours and we had just finished sprucing it up to take it to its new home in Sas van Gent. We were celebrating our delight with the work we had done. However, the four years since have seen troubled times for our little barge. At the insurance inspection we'd had done in Rotterdam, the inspector told us we would have to have the steel plates that had been used to 'double' the bottom removed and replaced. They were too thin to be acceptable and we were given one year to have the work done.

Shortly after this happier photo was snapped, we made the journey through Zeeland as far as Hansweert, where I left Koos to go back to work in Rotterdam. Koos continued across the Westerschelde, an estuary so busy with sea-going ships and so riddled with sandbanks and shallows that you need a special licence to navigate it. He made the crossing without mishap, but just as he turned into the big sea canal from Terneuzen to Gent, the steering shaft broke. Some of you who have been reading my blog a long time might remember this episode. It was traumatic for Koos but a blessing that it happened so close to a lock and not out in the middle of the main shipping channel.

He was given a tow to Sas van Gent, and since then, the furthest the Hennie Ha has travelled under its own steam is from Zelzate (four kilometres towards Gent) back to Sas after having spent nearly a year at the shipyard having its bottom replaced (so to speak).

It took close to the year we were given to organise these very necessary repairs as we couldn't find anyone to do the work at a price we could afford.  Some of you might also remember that at the first attempt, the yard at Zelzate could not lift the Hennie Ha with their crane because it was too heavy, so she had to be towed back to Sas by our narrow-boating friends, Olly and Anne on the Wandering Snail. That was on 2 July 2009

The second attempt  was made early in 2010.  In the intervening months, we had looked at several other options, all of which were too costly and the Hennie Ha just lay sadly at its berth. Except for the fact that Koos managed to fix the steering and I did my best to keep up with the maintenance, it could not go anywhere. Had any problems occurred with the hull, we would not have been insured, hence we were effectively 'gated'.  In the end, another arrangement was made with the yard at Zelzate and Koos risked the trip back. This time the barge was pulled up the slipway - where it remained until February 2011.

On that cold, but exciting day, we brought the Hennie Ha back to Sas van Gent again, but that was not the end of the story. The steering was still giving problems and we needed to set up the cooling system. It had only ever been a botch job, so now it needed doing properly.

In May 2011, we attempted a trip out with some friends, but once again, the steering gave problems. By this time, our confidence in the little barge had dropped again, and it never really recovered sufficiently to get things moving again during 2011. Apart from that, the rest of the year brought other priorities that needed our attention and so the Hennie Ha lay in its berth again.

This summer did not really materialise until this month, weather wise, and again, there were other priorities that prevented us from testing out the new cooling system that Koos had set up in June. Still, (and yes, you knew I'd come to the point eventually) we finally did it.

As I mentioned in my last post, after some very necessary testing  - and I won't bore you with the details - we were finally satisfied the Hennie Ha was ready to go again. So, today, we did it. It took some resolve - after all, our faith in the boat had taken some knocks - but we finally cast off and went for a test run. The silly thing is that it was so thrilling and so exhilerating I totally forgot to take any photos!

We didn't go far. Bit by bit, you understand. Next time, it will be further, and we have a special trip in September to aim for. The point is, though, we did it. Out and back without a problem. Are we pleased? We are. More than just a bit.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Catching Up

Rooftops at Rennes Le Chateau
I can't believe it's been so long since I wrote a blog post! I really can't. But when I think about it, it's not so very surprising. Since I officially finished work on 20th July, I've been either away or very busy much of the time.
Sunflowers near Salle sur L'Hers

The first week was spent on my first real holiday in ages in the south west of France. I was lucky enough to get a real bargain of a flight from those wonderful Irish carriers, Ryan Air. Just to put it in perspective, my return flight from the Netherlands to Carcassonne (around 1500 kms distance) cost less than the return train fare from Carcassonne to Agen (less than 200 kms distance). It would be so great if train travel were the more cost effective, wouldn't it? I much prefer it for many reasons, not just the sense of real travel. Anyhow, I was also very lucky to have friends and family down there to stay with and I had a wonderful week. The sun was hot, the sunflowers pure gold and I literally wallowed in the warmth. Just what I needed, in fact. Carcassonne itself is a beautiful, historic city steeped in legends and drama, and for anyone who is interested in things to do with Cathars, Knights Templar and Holy Grail stories, this is surely the place to revel in them. I came home with a book on the subject that I am finding hard to resist, but know I will have to if I want to get other things done at all. It's called The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Harry Lincoln. It is quite a tome, but from what I have read so far, absolutely fascinating.

An enduring image of Carcassonne for me - sun, steely blue skies,
colour and above all, historic battlements

The only part of the ramparts that are still in the original
style with wooden walkways and palisades

The streets of 'new' Carcassonne - still lovely

When I came back on the 31st, I stopped overnight in Rotterdam to sort a few things out and give a final lesson, but then I sped on down to Zeeuws Vlaanderen to join Koos and Sindy at our usual haven of peace and tranquillity. We spent a few days pottering, painting and doing the garden but achieved a golden triumph when we got our little barge, the Hennie Ha, running on its new cooling system. What a moment that was! What a relief too, as it's taken forever to get it fixed. I also started doing the summer painting that's always necessary on boats so hopefully, this weekend, we will take a short test run in our ongoing project. I can't wait to be on the water again...

The Hennie Ha after its smooshing last weekend

Then on Monday, it was back to Rotterdam again to work on Koos's Luxor. It was in need of some serious TLC, so we've just spent the last few days cleaning, scrubbing and clearing the detritus of ages out of the old barge. We hefted an unwanted fridge, various other electrical appliances and heaps of old wood up to the tip, and then attacked everything with soap, scrubbing brushes and a high pressure hose, not to mention a good dose of strong will. It was hard, dirty work, but worth it. The Luxor now looks almost respectable again - just in time, as it seems someone is interested in taking it on, which will be another relief, especially for Koos.

We are now back in Zeeuws Vlaanderen once more and it is well into August, but the time has been well spent. We are hoping to have a few days of rest and relaxation, plus another foray into France, but more importantly, I need to finish some assignments for my studies and prepare things for next year....yes, already....sigh....

Life then is never dull, and while I hope I can get down to some writing as well, I know that will be the luxury I might not have time to afford. I do hope so, though. It's what makes life worth living in the long run. Well, it is for me, anyway, and this, our getaway retreat, is the best place for inspiring me.