Sunday, May 28, 2023

Harbour visits and visitors

This post is going to be a relatively short one. Mind you, I've said that before and ended up rabbiting on about nothing in particular, so let's see what I come up with. 

The thing is there isn't really much to relate this week. We've been blessed with some lovely sunny weather since last weekend, so much of the time, I've been escaping work duties to potter around my little garden and enjoy doing jobs on the Vereeniging and the Hennie H. There's always so much to be done, but this year we've started everything late. I blame the weather for that, though. It's only just warmed up enough to spend much time outdoors.

Today has been particularly lovely, so this morning we woke up on the Vereeniging with the sun streaming through the window and the reflection of rippling water on the ceiling. Lovely. Koos took the car round to the Hennie H with all our tools while Zoe and I walked over to continue with a project we, but mostly Koos, have been working on since the winter — expanding our tiny loo into a throne room of more comfortable dimensions (photos will follow when it's finished). 

It (the loo) was so small, even I couldn't easily stand to arrange my clothing, so poor Koos really struggled. The new enlarged version is infinitely more accommodating. Anyway, after making some very good progress with installing wall cladding and a ceiling, we returned to the Vereeniging the same way: Koos in the car, Zoe and me on foot. At just under a kilometre each way it gave us (Zoe and me) some exercise, and Koos and I wanted to take a look at some visitors to the harbour.

Hard to see but at the far end are two very cute small tugboats

Next week, from 1 to 4 June, there is a major classic boat festival at Ostend, called Ostend at Anchor, and some 150 traditional craft will be gathering there. If you'd like to know more about it, here is a link to the event's website. This afternoon, five beautiful old tugboats arrived in our harbour, participants in the festival who'd come across the Westerschelde (Western Scheldt) and will be staying overnight. I assume they'll be leaving for the next leg of their journey tomorrow. However, from Sas to Ostend by water is only around 80kms (50 miles), so not all that far. Who knows? Maybe they'll stay an extra day or stop in Bruges (Brugge) for a day. Whatever they do, they were a lovely sight to see opposite the Vereeniging and a welcome, if temporary, addition to our historic harbour.

More immaculate tugboats with flags flying

The Vereeniging from the other side

And a zoomed-in view

The Hennie H is just under a kilometre's walk
from the Vereeniging now. 

Still a lot of tidying to do in my scruffy garden, but I keep being
distracted by the view

Not very recent, but I found this photo on
my phone. Some random tulips and daffodils
growing at the edge of the lake near the cottage

Apparently, the fine weather is set to continue, so we'll try and keep up the momentum on the boats. We're also planning our summer faring now, so I'll tell you about that next time. See? It really is a short post for me, isn’t it? 

For now, then, have a good week, allemaal, and I'll be back with news and views from here in Zeeland next week.


Monday, May 22, 2023

Across the border


Last week saw the end of our endless rain here in Zeeland. Finally, the sun appeared and we were able to dispense with our Wellies, remove a few layers and walk in warm sunshine. All this just happened to coincide with my birthday, so to celebrate, Koos and I did something we haven't done for quite a while and crossed the border for a walk on the wild interesting side. In fact, I err greatly when I suggest Belgium is wild, as their towns and villages are very neat and well pruned, as demonstrated by Koos's photo of the road we chose to begin our walk.

However, we were soon in the country, and this is what I love Belgium for so much: not wild at all, but delightfully informal and much less ordered than our Dutch countryside, as the following three photos show. This was also Zoe's first excursion (or incursion) into the neighbouring territory, and she enjoyed all the new sniffs, not to mention a friendly encounter with a Flemish boxer dog. I couldn't help wondering if their accents got in the way of their canine communication, but judging by the tail wagging, the entente was very cordiale.

Having established friendly relations and had a lovely walk, it was then time for a cup of good Belgian coffee, which we consumed in the back yard of a café on the corner of the above street. The big German Shepherd that lived at the hostelry (or maybe she was Belgian) was not quite so welcoming as the boxer, but in the end accepted Zoe's presence with good enough grace. Even better, the coffee was delicious.

More locally, we also have some charming, informal corners, and our own small nature reserve near the crumbly cottage made an ideal walk on Saturday, especially now the trees have exploded into full and glorious leaf. I like the chairs outside the small house below and the air of relaxed disregard the owners must have towards their lack of privacy.

Yesterday, however, was a major first for me. My daughters treated me to a day at a bathing and sauna centre in Schiedam, near Rotterdam. I've never been to a sauna before, so was quite unprepared for the intensity of the 80C heat in the first room we entered. Later on, we tried a 70C room, which I found more to my liking, and as for the jacuzzis and heated swimming pool, they were delicious. It was a truly wonderful day: we swam, wallowed and steamed; we sat in the sunshine drinking coffee and snacking; and we talked virtually non-stop. Now, I'm hoping we can do it again sometime; I've definitely got the taste for it!

Today, unfortunately, it's been overcast for most of the day, but the sun is back this evening and there is promise of dry, sunny days to come. We have plenty to do outside, so keep everything crossed it remains fine. On Thursday, I'll be back in Rotterdam again, so maybe I can get some brighter photos of the beautiful harbours this time.

Have a good week allemaal. I hope you enjoy it wherever you happen to be,

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Zoe’s first spuddle on the Hennie H

After a week of endless rain, we finally had two lovely spring days, so how better to enjoy them than on the water?

We spent them on the Vereeniging as a kind of weekend away, and had a surprise visit from my daughter and her boyfriend on Saturday evening as a Mother’s Day gift. My other daughter joined us too, and a very splendid time was had by all, including the three puppies (one per household), on the foredeck of the boat. We ate pizza, drank a glass or two of wine and fed treats to the dogs, who were as entertaining as exuberant pups will always be. 

But today we had another kind of celebration. We took Zoe to the Hennie H for her first ever spuddle in preparation for our summer holiday travels and I’m very happy to report it went very well indeed. Just for security, I attached her lead to the railings, but she seemed quite content to sit in her bed on deck and watch the world pass her by. 

After all the years of adapting our lives to Sindy, my beloved dobermann/labrador cross who was terrified of moving boats, I was nervous about Zoe’s response, but I needn’t have worried. She was quite unperturbed by the manoeuvring and the revving and took it all in her stride. I can’t tell you what a relief that was and, of course, she was rewarded in the way dogs love best — with treats. Well, this one does. She’s not a little tubby spaniel for nothing. 😁

Nevertheless, it was clearly more stimulating than we thought because as soon as we returned to the Vereeniging, she sparked out on the sofa and slept for several hours. Bless her. We’ll have to take her out a few more times to  get her used to it all, but this has been a great start.

In other news, it’s going to rain again tomorrow, so I’ll be back at the crumbly cottage finishing the redecoration of our sunroom. I wonder what you’ll all be doing, allemaal?  

Monday, May 08, 2023

The aftermath of the adventure

The only problem with writing about our travels is that I become so immersed in re-living the experiences I forget completely what I'm supposed to be doing. Maybe it's a kind of post-adventure blues, but I realise I've spent the past couple of weeks faffing around and doing very little except my paid work. I have a list longer than both arms of jobs to be done on the boats and (I hate to say) at the crumbly cottage. But I seem to have developed a peculiar lassitude at the very thought of doing maintenance and have jumped at any excuse not to get out there and get on with it.

Fortunately for my lazy side, the weather has been supporting my inertia. Far from being a beautiful, sunny spring, this April has been wet, cold and more than a bit dismal. Even Zoe has baulked at going out to do her business, which has resulted in one or two unfortunate 'accidents' indoors. I should add that my little princess doesn't like getting her paws wet, although I can't say I blame her...neither do I. But needs must, so the pair of us have trudged around the muddy roads, with me urging her to perform at every blade of grass, until she at last squats and drops. I in turn scoop the poop and, much relieved, the pair of us beat a hasty path home.

In brief, then, while I should have plenty to report in terms of jobs completed and plans made, I can only admit to cutting the grass twice, doing a bit of paltry weeding, hosing down the boats and looking gloomily at all the paintwork that needs refreshing. Until now, that is.

Today, I'm happy to say, has been a good one. We intended to spend the weekend on Vereeniging, but in the end, the weather again kept us housebound until yesterday. When we arrived, it was grey and cool but lovely to be back on board for more than just the daytime visits. We've done lots of those and even entertained Koos's son one weekend, but we haven't stayed over since we returned from our trip. 

The harbour is a lovely place to be and our view is better than a wide screen TV. Koos took the photo below this morning, and I should say this is a pretty usual scene on the Gent-Terneuzen Canal, but to be able to watch it from the boat is something pretty special.

And for a bit more of a closeup, I took this one below from our open hatch.

It can be quite distracting when ships of this scale come past twice an hour throughout the day, but for all that, I managed to clean and tidy the aft cabin, sand and oil its teak entrance and clean all the nooks and crannies on the engine room roof. I've also been busy cleaning the bilges, a lesson in love for oily bits!

Then this afternoon, we introduced Zoe to the Hennie H with its engine running. To my relief, she didn't seem bothered by it at all, and she spent a good half hour exploring the interior of the boat, probably in search of a stray snack. What the Hennie H lacked, however, I provided, figuring that if she associates running engines with nice goodies, she'll willingly get used to faring with us. I've bought her a lifejacket to wear on board when we're on the way. Doesn't she look smart in it?

Oh and one last mentionable event before I go: last Friday saw me back in Rotterdam for work. I arrived early in the morning, my absolute favourite time in the city, and I revelled in the tranquillity of my walk through the Oude Haven (my old home) and through the empty back streets along the river Rotte. Here are a few snaps I took just for the pleasure of the peaceful atmosphere in a city on the brink of waking.

So that's it for this time allemaal. Have a good one and I'll be back with more news and views from our world next week.

Monday, May 01, 2023

A Trip to Write Home about, Part 3: the wiggly bits

It seems impossible to think we've already been home for nearly three weeks, especially as my mind is still full of our journey. It was such a special experience and on reflection, probably the longest journey Vereeniging has ever made in her entire existence. 

Anyway, to continue the story, on the morning we woke up on the Nete Canal, we were aware that it was Saturday and we needed to cover the last 100 or so kilometres over the coming three days. I'd bought a Belgian vignet (permit) for two weeks, but because we were late leaving Oudenbosch (remember that awful weather at the end of March?), we only had until Tuesday the 11th to get back into the Netherlands before it expired. It was already the 7th. The aim had always been to arrive home on Monday, the 10th, so with our target day in view we set off along the misty, peaceful canal with fingers crossed we wouldn't run foul of inconvenient tides. 

We would meet the first tidal stretch when we arrived at the Duffel lock, which separates the Nete canal from its tidal reach, which itself becomes the Rupel further downstream at Rumst where the Dijle flows into it.

The red line on the map below shows our route through Lier to Duffel and continuing on to Boom. As it happened, the tidal restrictions made for some tense moments, the first of which came when we approached Duffel lock around 10 a.m.

"We don't know what the situation is at the moment. I'll have to ask the lock keeper if we can go through," Koos told me.
"Meaning that if it's low water, we might not?"
"Exactly. This lock can only operate if there's sufficient depth on the other side. When the tide's out, the channel isn't deep enough to let boats through. We need high water or even better an hour before high water to be on the safe side."

Koos called the lock keeper on the VHF. At first the news wasn't encouraging. He told us the tide had turned a couple of hours before and was running out to the estuary. Even worse, the next high water would only be at 8:45 the next morning.

"Well, we mustn't go if it means we'll get stuck," I said with a firmness tinged by panic. "I really don't want to take any risks. Not now. Tomorrow sounds much safer."
"Hmm, well let me ask if that's possible," Koos said. "Remember, this is Easter weekend."

He called up the lock keeper again, who confirmed our unspoken fears. The lock would be out of operation the next day, Easter Sunday. If we didn't go through today, we'd have to wait until Monday.

"You've chosen one of only three days in the year that it's closed," the lock keeper said. "But listen, there are floating pontoons at Zennegat and at Boom. You can go through the lock now and tie up on the way if the tide turns. At least you'll be on the other side and free to go when the current is with you, and anyway, you've still got time. You could reach the Schelde before low water."

Knowing there were safe havens 'just in case' made all the difference to our decision. I stopped threatening to have a hissy fit and we prepared to go through, grateful for the lock keeper's cooperation and assurance. Our descent to the river was smooth and when the double gates opened (tidal locks are often double gated), we slid with unhurried ease into the downstream current. 

Now on the river, the natural twists and turns had Koos negotiating bends with more care. The eddying waters around the bridges made for numerous cross currents but luckily, the flow wasn't too fast and within two hours we'd reached the much broader section of the Rupel at Boom.

"We can easily go through to the Schelde now," Koos said. "It never gets too low or shallow here as long as we follow the buoys."

And so we went on, the steady, comforting beat of Vereeniging's Samofa engine giving us the confidence we needed to continue. Casting my eyes over the environs, I had to conclude that the Rupel was not very inspiring; it had nothing of the wild appeal of its big brother, the Schelde (Scheldt), but it offered us a hushed, peaceful progress to its mouth, dominated by the misty skies above that the sun was threatening to dispel. The soft, whispery light and the stillness surrounding us left the greater impression. Koos took photos of objects I never even saw. The scenery was food for his camera.

When we exited the Rupel somewhere around one o'clock, the tide was still flowing downstream and it didn't take us long to realise it would be hard work to make progress against this current. Our 25 old shire horses were no match for the charge of the Schelde brigade on their way to Antwerp. After trudging along for a kilometre, we found a pontoon against which to moor to wait until the tide turned.

An hour or so later, Koos called out to me.
"Look behind you. Do you see what I see?"
At first, I didn't understand what he was pointing to, but then I saw it: three small waves. one after the other and clearly heading our way. The ebb had given way to the flood tide and we were witnessing the evidence of it rolling towards us.
We both grinned.
"Time to cast off?" I asked. Koos nodded and within a couple of minutes we were on our way, heading upstream with the current easing our passage. Even the sun was doing its best to break through the overlying clouds and the light it cast on the moored boats we passed was stunning.

It took us three lovely hours to reach Dendermonde, the place we'd decided to spend the night. The Schelde is always captivating, combining wilderness and mudflats with the human side of river life: boats, ferries, pontoons and small marinas. I love it, especially as it had the untamed element I find so appealing in tidal reaches. 

At Dendermonde, the sun came through with more conviction promising a lovely evening. We decided to bite the bullet and take a mooring at the marina, a fitting and comfortable end to the sixty kilometres we'd travelled that day. Having tied up, we looked for someone to report to and found a phone number, which Koos called.  The harbour master was busy elsewhere but told us he'd come by shortly. When he turned up, he thanked us for our honesty in calling, something he acknowledged the Dutch were particularly good about; others, he said, were more likely to take a chance if he wasn't there.  He was a friendly, chatty soul, but quite what he was doing as a harbour master, I don't know, because he he promptly proceeded to tell us all about the classic Porsche he was restoring. His enthusiasm for old cars was definitely greater than it was for old boats.

The following day, Easter Sunday, was glorious. Since we knew we couldn't leave until the afternoon (that tide again), we were blessed with a visit from one of my daughters and her partner. They came bearing breakfast, good cheer and towpath walks, but even after they left, we had to wait more than two hours for the change of the tide, a time spent doing gentle jobs in gentle sunshine. 

In fact it was four o'clock before the current stilled and we were able to leave Dendermonde to complete the last thirty plus kilometres to Gent. The map below shows this stretch of the journey, which as you can see, was full of twists and turns; the Schelde is as natural a river as can be found anywhere.

It was a gorgeous if somewhat suspense-filled few hours. We'd made two assumptions: the first being that having the current with us, we'd go much faster than our usual 8 kms per hour; the second was that owing to the first, we'd be at the Merelbeke lock well before dark. We were wrong on both counts. The advantage we'd expected from going with the flow never happened. For some reason, we were ahead of the incoming tide all the way, so our speed was disappointing. As a result, we were increasingly aware of the sinking sun as the afternoon sped into early evening, and I couldn't help checking Google maps at frequent intervals to see how far we had to go. All the same, the river was so beautiful it was easy to relish the warmth and golden glow of the spring sun.

Our relief at reaching the Merelbeke lock a few minutes after eight o'clock was palpable. We'd arrived in time to avoid having to put on our emergency lights, and we were even more relieved when a passing cruiser told us we could enter the lock ready for an early passage the next morning. Not only that, but the skipper of the commercial barge  already in the lock invited us to tie up to him, so we wouldn't have to adjust our ropes during the night to compensate for the rise and fall of the water. Such good fortune and such kindness made a perfect ending to the day. All we had to do was make sure our lights were ready for the six o'clock start in the morning and set our alarms for five thirty, a time of day I don't see very often.

The light fading in the Merelbeke lock

It was still what I consider to be the middle of the night when the lock keeper did her rounds just after six, checking on our details and our permit number. We'd barely managed a cup of coffee before scrambling outside and turning on our green and red navigation lights – the first time we'd ever used them, and, for me, my first time navigating in the dark, albeit not for long. 

The first signs of dawn were nowhere to be seen as we exited the lock. The darkness enveloped us and I stood up in the bow absorbing the new experience of faring at night. However, within fifteen minutes, everything changed and the grey light of day crept over us as we steered into the Schelde's city reaches to encounter the first of the day's disappointments. 

To cut a long and slightly tortuous story short, we discovered quite quickly that we wouldn't be able to take our normal route through Gent: all the locks and bridges were closed for Easter Monday, a hold up we weren't expecting. 

After some extensive and extended manoeuvring that highlighted Vereeniging's hopeless reverse gear rather painfully and tested poor Koos's patience severely, we managed to back out of the narrow cutting near the Brusselsepoort lock, turn around and head back to the ringvaart. You can see the detour we had to take in the map below. The blue line was as far as we got. Had we been able to continue straight on (more or less), we'd have joined the red line where it says Evergem. Instead, we had to take the red circuit line (the ringvaart) around the city, adding yet more kilometres to our journey.

The day became progressively grey, cold and blustery as we headed round the Gent's watery ring road to Evergem lock, and by the time we approached the home straight north to Zelzate, it had deteriorated still further with a strong wind blowing. I'd looked forward to this final stretch; after all, it was Vereeniging's first time along our great Gent-Terneuzen sea canal. But the weather gods had decided we'd had enough fine weather the day before so our arrival at the historic harbour, her new home in Sas van Gent, was dramatic for all the wrong reasons. 

The wind gusts were so strong as we entered the harbour, we couldn't even reach our official mooring and after being blown across the water to an alarming degree, we had to 'park up' in another spot, sanctioned by the harbour master's deputy. It wasn't quite the arrival we'd hoped for, but we had at least arrived, 8 days and 370 kilometres after we'd left Oudenbosch. Despite the disappointments the day had brought, we felt more than a little triumphant to have accomplished it.

The photos below were taken the day after our arrival. Of course, the weather was beautiful again, but it was a few days before the wind had dropped sufficiently for us to move to our official mooring.

We did it, though, and here she is, in place, in her new home and ready for some new life and adventures.

All it remains for me to say is a huge thank you to Koos for steering us so stoically and skilfully through the Netherlands and Belgium on our week-long marathon. My steering contribution was limited by my wrist because Vereeniging's somewhat stiff horizontal wheel needs two hands, but at least I could still manage the ropes, check oily, greasy bits, make coffee, cook and generally provide first mate support. Koos, however, never flagged and dealt with the old girl's old-fashioned quirks like the experienced skipper he is. On my wishlist for the future? A better reverse gear and (in my dreams) a bow thruster. Maybe one day...

I should also thank all of you who've read and followed our travels on this blog. I hope you've enjoyed the journey with us, allemaal. This is the last of these posts, so next time, I'll update you on everything that's been happening since we got home. Have a good week!