Monday, September 27, 2021

The last of the summer fine

This last weekend was altogether perfect. What beautiful weather we had. It was almost as if summer was presenting us with one last blaze of glory before the autumn set in.

On Friday, we drove down to Zeeland from Rotterdam after some intense work preparing Vereeniging for her move (more on that later). The afternoon was stunning and we stopped for coffee at a filling station we don't normally use. As we got back in the car, I pointed to a road leading away from the forecourt and said to Koos, "I've always wondered where that road goes." Well, that was enough for Koos, so off we went on a detour and found two absolute treasures: the villages of Kortgene and Kats. 

The Netherlands is mostly known for its beautiful cities, and I tend to think of drop-dead cute villages as being England's preserve, but these two would rival any English village, I think. I'm sorry to say I didn't take a single photo of them, but they took charming to a new level. This link is for a website about Kats, but even the photos here don't do justice to how very lovely it was. Even better, both villages are on the waterside and host sizeable marinas, although the boats moored up were pretty much all sailboats and not a barge in sight. Not surprising, really. This was Zeeland, after all – the place where sailors flock to hone their tacking skills.

What did catch my photographic eye, though, was a somewhat decrepit shipyard where we saw these clearly disused and discarded lifeboats, seemingly put out to grass. Well, I totally fell for this cute little ET number and was captivated by its tiny rudder and propellor. Luckily the business was closed or I might have been tempted to go and ask if it was for sale. I don't think Koos would have stopped me either.

The rest of the yard was intriguing as well, full as it was of rusting old nissan-type huts, cranes and fuel drums. I love places like this. The colours, textures and general decrepitude really appeal to me.

On Saturday, the day started cloudy but gradually improved beyond all expectations. We'd already decided to go for a spin (or spuddle as we call it) and were delighted when the sun decided to accompany us the whole afternoon. It was a glorious few hours and we headed up a quiet sidearm of the Gent-Terneuzen canal just past Sluiskil. The perfect place to stop and brew a cuppa before heading back again. A fine day indeed.

The back deck has finally been painted

Love being passed by the big boys

Approaching a large harbour area

Ships and cranes and silos and things. Wonderful!

Not a mountain, but a mound of not-sure-what

A peaceful place to moor up and have coffee

Koos in contemplation

Close encounters of the shippy kind

Heading back out to the main canal

It's almost human, isn't it?

A real, live working shipyard and drydock. That's a monster in 
the second dock

Koos in his happy place

Sadly, the weather broke yesterday afternoon. We had a heavy downpour and since then it's been cloudy, wet and windy, although it did cheer up a bit this afternoon. Keep your fingers crossed for the coming weekend. It's supposed to be the big move date (as I mentioned earlier) this space!

Have a good week allemaal and I'll see what news I can come up with next time.


Monday, September 20, 2021

Sitting on the bank of the canal

This week hasn't generated much in the way of new news. It's been situation ongoing here in the flatlands; in other words, preparing for the Vereeniging's big move from Rotterdam and painting the Hennie H. 

I know there are only so many photos of the two barges in their usual spots I can show you without being tedious. It would be a bit like trying to post photos of my cat sleeping in the same position every week, wouldn't it? Not that I share my life with a feline friend–not yet, anyway, but you know what I mean. Suffice to say, both barges look marginally better each week, which is more than can be said for the cat...if I had one.

I had a brief eruption this weekend when a neighbour who shall remain nameless decided to use an angle grinder right next to my newly painted deck and deposited swarf (a new word for me) all over it, but that's about the only blip in an otherwise flatlining week. I will admit that my language became quite colourful when I discovered the damage (the result of the blip), a rare descent into extreme vernacular for me, but I think I got my message across. I told said neighbour I would forgive him, but it would take me a week or so.  

And for anyone who's wondering, Koos is doing well following his op. His first checkup confirmed his control panel (pacemaker) was working fine.

Anyway, given the dearth of fresh news, I thought I'd share these photos with you. I was sitting on the bank of the Gent-Terneuzen Canal last week watching the water traffic while waiting for the bridge. It was open to allow the tug boat in the photo below to pass through as well as the big tanker beneath. 

A man stopped to chat to me and seemed surprised that I loved watching the 'big boys' going by. I explained we had a boat in the harbour and that this was my world. He nodded and smiled; I think he understood. We carried on chatting for a while and he told me that on the 24th of December, the biggest freighter in the world would be passing Terneuzen on the Westerschelde on its way to Antwerp for repairs. It's 400 metres long, 70 metres wide and 17 metres deep. Just think about that for a moment. He suggested I might like to see it...would I ever? The date is noted in my diary with brighter colours than Christmas.

Meanwhile, on a slightly smaller scale, the photos below are a random collection of shipping moments I've captured at various times. Four of them are on the Gent-Terneuzen Canal, but the others are elsewhere, and perhaps they give you a glimpse into and an idea of what I love to see.

I would never be permanently content with waterways that only cater for pleasure craft. This commercial traffic has the vibrancy of real life and I revel in it. Maybe you can see why.

Gent-Terneuzen Canal

At Sas van Gent

A tug heading out into the Westerschelde at Terneuzen

A tanker on the Gent-Terneuzen Canal

Professional craft at Terneuzen

A container barge on the Juliana Canal in Limburg

One of the regulars on the Gent-Terneuzen Canal, this time from
the Hennie H.

 Have a lovely week allemaal and I hope I'll have more to say about our progress next time.

Monday, September 13, 2021

The yoyo effect

This week's blog is a reflection of our yoyo life at the moment. As I mentioned last time, we are moving the Vereeniging to a new mooring sometime in the next few weeks. The actual departure date depends on a number of things: weather – we don't do foul weather faring; tide – we want to leave at the beginning of the flood tide, which involves the next thing; time – the exact hour we're able to depart is important in order to reach halfway at least before dark. The last and most vital determiner is health – Koos has just had his pacemaker fitted and isn't supposed to exert himself too much for a few weeks; he needs to follow doctor's orders (some hope of that!) and if that means a delay, then so be it. My contract begins on the 1st of October, but we will wait until all these factors align before we make the move, either before or after that date.

Our destination is a town called Oudensbosch, and the arrows on this map are roughly the route we'll be taking:

Oudenbosch is situated on a branch off the river Mark, and because of its location, we cannot reach it without some deviation. The route we've decided to take towards the east first is, I admit, a bit circuitous, but it take us through slightly narrower channels than if we were to go west. Not being a fan of the wide waters (in other words, I'm a wimp), this way was my choice.

After twenty years in Rotterdam, the move is a major one for us and I am (as you might imagine) both excited and nervous. It's been a very long time since my Vereeniging did such a long two-day journey, but we hope she'll be happy in her new home next to a grassy dike and without tides and moving neighbours to contend with – which brings me back to our yoyo life. 

I've been busy trying to get her ready to make a good first impression, so during our weekly treks up to Rotterdam, I've managed to paint her decks, the cabin and engine room roofs and the rubbing rail, not to mention what we call the potdeksel the name of which I haven't been able to discover in English, but it's the rim that runs along the top of the hull all round the barge.

She's looking quite smart now, so let's hope we don't have a lot of dirty rain to mess it all up before we leave! I've also bought a new tarpaulin, which I'll probably put on next week. It's quite a job as holes have to be cut in it for the roof light and the chimney, as well as cutting the piece above the entrance hatch. 

There's still so much to prepare for, my mind's in a total tizz and full of thoughts of how much fuel we'll need, what documents we should have, the safety equipment we need and all the peripheral (but still necessary) extras, e.g. food, light, and drinking water. I don't have a bank of batteries or solar panels to provide our own energy, meaning everything has to be camping style for this trip – including the loo.

Back in Hennie H land at the other end of the yoyo, we've had some excitement of a different kind. A few weeks back, there was a report in the regional news that a steel-rotting bacteria had been identified in Zelzate marina just over the border in Belgium and a mere 4.5 kilometres from where we keep the HH. Apparently, the bacteria is so corrosive that it acts 75% faster than normal corrosion and several boats in the marina were seriously affected. We were naturally concerned (for that, read horrified!) but in our harbour, neighbours who had recently been out of the water reported no problems with their hulls. So we held thumbs and all our other digits crossed and waited for updates.

Even so, it wasn't long before the press came round to gauge our reactions to the news, and Koos and I were interviewed for the local newspaper. The headline the next day was a quote from Koos saying how  immensely relieved there'd been no place for us in Zelzate. In fact, we'd hoped to get a mooring there a few years back – a close call indeed.

The photo below was one the photographer took to go with the article. I think it's rather a nice one, despite the gloomy subject. Anyway, we've just heard that the researchers investigating the bacteria have established they can't find it anywhere else on the canal, so we can all relax and uncross our stiff fingers!

I have, of course, been painting on the HH too, while Koos has continued his finishing touches on the engine, but what I'm most pleased about is the progress I've made on cupboard number two; another fire extinguishing hole that has been wholly re-purposed (see post re the first cupboard) :)

I still have to make doors for it, and a shelf or two, but it's coming on well, I think. The first one is already in use....housing still more tools! One day, I hope it will hold books and other nice things, but for the moment, drills, screws and other bits are the order of the day.

And just to finish off, and for no reason at all other than it made me smile, here is a photo of a garden shed I saw on my walk the other day. Isn't it sweet? It looks as if it's got a scruffy haircut and I can't help thinking it's been left on purpose given the neat trimming on the lower parts of the shed. 

 Have a good week allemaal and I'll try and keep you updated on our move as and when it happens.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Forty-eight hours in Ghent

 Having proved the Hennie H's riverworthiness (as announced in my last post), we celebrated Koos's hard work and success with a two-day jaunt to Ghent (or Gent, as we spell it in this part of the world). Why only two days? Well, that's a good question, the answer to which is that we had to be back in the Netherlands this last weekend, so it was the best we could hope for. Even so, it more than enough as a first test run, especially as I have a very special affection for Ghent. 

One of the upsides about going in our own boat is that we could keep to our own bubble. But despite the apparent isolation of living, eating and sleeping on the Hennie H, we never felt lonely. The reactions we received from people we passed on the shore and the friendly warmth of the bridge and lock keepers made us feel very welcome. The Hennie H is that sort of boat, it seems. It draws happy smiles from almost everyone we encounter, which of course makes us smile too. You win all and lose none!

We set off on Tuesday after a quick trial run on Monday to make sure everything worked properly. The weather wasn't encouraging at all: grey, cloudy and very windy. The canal was as choppy as a free-flowing river and the Hennie H rolled like a porpoise. Val (green gills) P was not quite so happy with that.

I love the sea canal canal as a rule. The constantly seeking cranes, the dumb barges and the massive container ships give this waterway a vibrant life reminiscent of the London docklands I remember when I was a child. I loved them then and still do.

Still, I was happy to leave the wind and waves for the quieter waters of the canal that connects to the Schelde and Leie rivers in the city. The photos below show most of our progress towards Gentbrugge, where were were hoping to find a mooring.

The only bridge we needed help with on our way into the city

I loved this old crane

Built when industrial buildings were still

Tree-lined quays make this a lovely route

Beautiful old river 'furniture'

Entering the heart of Ghent

Several livaboards line the route. I might be just a bit envious!

And finally, at our favourite mooring in Gentbrugge

To our amazement, there was no one else at the mooring at all and although there were groups of people enjoying activities in the adjoining park, we didn't encounter a single other cruiser or even day-trip boat while we were there. It definitely had that feeling of 'summer's over' but it suited us perfectly.

I was particularly chuffed that I hadn't lost all the rope throwing skills I'd worked so hard to acquire. Since it's three years since we've done any serious travelling, I was anxious I might have forgotten everything, but tying up went smoothly– and without any frayed nerves, let alone knots (sorry).

Our evening was spent wandering the quiet streets of Gentbrugge, an area we've come to love for its eclectic mix of buildings and people from all walks and levels of life. All the photos below (except for the last one) were taken on a street that follows an old course of the Schelde river. It seems strange to think this narrow waterway was once a navigable commercial river route. We saw several hefty bollards along the banks which were evidence of its former use, but I suppose that over time the course has silted up and the banks have become overgrown. Our mooring was in a later cutting.

I like this photo of the HH tucked up in here favourite place

We spent a wonderfully peaceful night against the pontoon next to the island that separates the old from the new course of the river. The only sounds were those of traffic on the nearby bridge. Such a constant hum is an unusual backdrop for us, given the raucous nightlife of Rotterdam's Oude Haven, or the rumbling of tractors passing the crumbly cottage at all hours (whoever said the country was quiet?). 

The morning brought sunshine, a welcome sight and an immediate invitation to take another route through Ghent to moor at a different spot for our second night. Sadly, though, the new Scaldis lock, which would have taken us through the city to the Leie, was stuck and we couldn't get through it. 

Scaldis least we went into it, which was a first for us

As we only learnt this once we were in the lock, Koos had to do some masterful reversing back into the main route. However, we were even more pleased to be invited to go through the Sint Joris lock, which would take us into the heart of old Ghent. Which we did. 

And this diversion, without doubt, became the highlight of our trip.

Tied up in the Sint Joris lock

Exiting the lock in lovely sunshine

Faring forth into the old city.

And yes, we went through that very low bridge behind us 😳😳

But we stopped at this one. Koos accepted that my nerves
wouldn't take another one.

So we reversed into this delightful cutting to return

And enjoyed these lovely views on the way back

The Venice of the north. I do love Ghent!

One last scary bridge ...

What a wonderful excursion that was – nail-biting low bridges and all. The only downside was that we couldn't get to the Leie without going a very long way round. So we decided to go back to our happy place (first night's mooring) and spend another night there before heading home the following morning.

Our return journey was uneventful: calmer and with much less wind, but somewhat colder than we'd have liked. All the same, we were incredibly happy with our first adventure out on the waters again. It was magical to feel that sense of freedom again and it bodes well for more extended journeys in the coming months. I must admit I can't wait. 

Enjoy the week, allemaal and fingers crossed for an Indian summer that we can all experience here in the northern hemisphere. For all of you in the south, summer is coming!