Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

For All Daves

For all Daves out there - and there are a lot of you....

Chateau Dave, on the River Meuse, near Namur, Wallonia, Belgium

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Out of Holland

Doesn't have quite the same ring as out of Africa but it seems to have taken us so long to make the break and voyage into another country that now we're actually in Belgium I feel we're somewhere slightly exotic. (I bet that's the first time Belgium and exotic have appeared together in the same sentence.)
We spent a few days in Maastricht, the most southerly city in the Netherlands. Lovely city with many, many beautiful, old buildings. Some of the narrow, cobbled streets even have the added attraction of being on a slight slope! There was a free, summer dance party/rave on in the market square (the through route to everywhere) over the weekend with, so I am told, some famous DJs but as we had unfortunately omitted to pack our phat pants and glow sticks we felt we should stick to the outside edges. The high volume music could be enjoyed all over the city though and as with most Dutch cities the centre is entirely pedestrianised so if you felt like dancing in the streets then you could go ahead.

And so into Belgium. The first inkling we might be somewhere different was when we arrived at yet another enormous and busy lock. There were 3 commercial barges ahead of us slowly squeezing themselves in. Pleasure boats always wait until after the commercials. We were half listening on the VHF and noticed that they were speaking sometimes in Dutch and sometimes in French. Unsure if there was going to be room for us, I called up on the VHF and asked if they spoke English, the answer to which, in Holland, is always, 'of course!' The answer this time was a resounding 'Non!' Quick change of brain gear and in garbled French I managed to ask if we could come in. The answer was not a straight 'oui' or 'non' so I had to struggle on with a bit more embarrassing gibberish before we established that 'oui' we could, in fact, enter. The commercial bargees were all out on deck smiling as we did so, so I suspect I sounded even more hilarious than I had feared. Next time I'll be more prepared.
So, here we are in Vise only a couple of kilometres but big changes. Langauge, topography, net curtains and blinds (instead of perfect,symmetrical displays on windowsills beloved of the Dutch), no bikes, plenty of potholes, the letter e with an acute or grave accent (which I don't yet know how to do on the computer) different shops......Great! Vive la difference!

Sharing a big lock with a big commercial barge. This lock is the deepest in Holland with a drop of almost 12m


I thought this was a church.....

...and it was until Napoleon threw out the monks. Since then it's been a stable and a hospital during the war. Now it's a magnificent bookshop. I remarked to the assistant that it was a magnificent place to work and she told me that the Guardian newspaper had descibed it as 'the most beautiful bookshop in the world'. It may well be. The murals on the ceiling date back to the 13th century.

Out of the lock and into Belgium

Road sign in Vise, Belgium. There are a lot of geese here!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

World Cup Holland

The Dutch absolutely love their football. Streets are decorated, shops have whole departments full of orange merchandise. When the games are on people gather together in the bars and cafes to watch. Here are a few images. You'll have to imagine the singing.

Bare Boating

As the River Maas winds its way through the south east Netherlands province of Limburg it passes through an area used for gravel extraction. Many of these gravel pits have now been turned into lakes popular with recreational boaters. For us they were great stopping off points as you normally can't stop for the night on the river. The lakes can be shallow though so not all are suitable. Passing the entrance to one of these lakes Rob asked, "How about that one?" "Looks a bit shallow," I replied noticing several people wading knee deep. Then I did a double take. They were all completely naked.
This area is right on the border of Germany and Belgium and getting your gear off is popular. Particularly with men it seems. We stopped in a lake called Oolerplaas which we soon discovered had a Naakstrand ( you can work it out) at one end where the best moorings were. I wasn't game to stop there so we moored a little way further round but in order to cycle to the village we had to take the path right through.

Even after a few days of getting used to seeing unclothed people strolling around - and naturists do a lot of strolling, perhaps it's something to do with creepy crawly insects - the sight of a completely nude boater (except for shoes and perhaps a hat)  standing up in his boat, sails and everything else, flapping in the wind never failed to cause a slight gasp of surprise. I'll say this though, naturists seem a tough lot. It may have been sunny but there was the usual dutch gale blowing.

What I want to know is, why the worry about the sun on your head and nowhere else?

'Meusing' on the Maas

After leaving Dordrecht we spent a peaceful few days in the Biesbosch, a large, tidal wetland area of creeks, reeds and willows. It is a national park but recreational boating is permitted and there are lovely, free mooring places provided along the channels and on the islands. We had been warned that it is very shallow in places so we took great care and didn't have any problems. The weather was great and being spring there was lots of birdsong all day; cuckoos first thing in the morning and what I'm sure must have been a nightingale which sang all night.

 Leaving Dordrectht


Then it was onto the River Maas (Meuse in France and Belgium). The Maas is one of Europe's major rivers being over 900km long and running from France through Belgium and the Netherlands to the North Sea. I had viewed this part of the trip with some trepidation. Firstly it is included on the navigation chart called The Great Rivers and great rivers generally means great big ships. Secondly rivers have currents. Thirdly it is tidal. Fourthly it is winding and winding and big ships/barges combined conjure up one of my biggest worries (yes I know, I do seem to have a lot) and that is Blue Boarding. Simply explained, when a ship shows a blue board with a flashing light it means you need to cross to the other (wrong) side of the waterway quick smart so it can use your side. This normally happens on bends where the large vessel needs to take the outside of the bend. Rob kindly (or perhaps fed up with my worrying) worked out an alternative route which I was happy with and then we were told that to miss the Maas would be a shame as it's pretty. So, once again, I took a deep breath, and agreed to give it a go and so far, so good. And yes we have been blue boarded twice so another fear overcome!

Not only have my fears lessened in size the boat seems to have as well! L'Avenir at Heusden.

The Old Harbour at Heusden. This harbour was drained and filled in 1908 but after much of the town was destroyed by the retreating Germans in 1944 it was decided that instead of re building a modern town they would authentically reconstruct the old. The harbour was re excavated in 1965 at the same time as the moated star shaped fortifications.

Market Sqaure Heusden - a 600 year old town.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

How To Bow To

Cruising the River Maas. Mooring overnight on the river is generally not possible but at convenient locations just off the river there are large, former gravel pits which have been turned into picturesque nature/recreation reserves. There is usually a marina – can be expensive - but elsewhere you can moor either more cheaply or sometimes even free of charge (although there’s always a cost of sorts). These manmade lakes are very shallow around the edges which call for ‘Bow To Moorings’. This would be our first effort.

How To Bow To
1. Select suitable mooring spot depending on proclivities – easiness of mooring, isolation, wind conditions, convenience to bar/cafĂ©, cycle track etc etc
2. Prepare anchor and mooring lines
3. Deploy crew at bow
4. Head for bank
5. Drop anchor
6. Stop boat at bank
7. Crew steps off
8. Crew secures lines
9. Reboard, relaxing evening on deck with glasses of chilled wine and beer

Idyllic Mooring at Leukermeer
(It may not look very high from the bow to the bank but it is in fact 2m +. I measured it.)

And now….

How Not To
1. Select suitable mooring. Main criterion no observers.
2. Find anchor and attach line and marker buoy
3. Deploy crew at bow
4. Head for bank
5. Drop anchor
6. Discover anchor line is too short and buoy is attached at wrong spot
7. Stop heading for bank, shout at crew and go back to step 2
8. Miss out steps 6&7 (hopefully) stop at bank
9. Resume shouting at crew for not attaching correct lines midships
10. Crew mutters mutinously (unlike skipper, doesn’t have pretty certificate to prove she’s rounded Cape Horn and may therefore be considered incompetent)
11. Crew enquires of skipper how to get ashore – reply, ‘Jump!’
12. Crew clambers over bow rail and valiantly leaps from great height across to bank.
13. Check for broken limbs, nettle stings, thistle barbs
14. Secure lines any way and to any thing handy – skipper to redo as per usual
15. Reboard. (there should be a whole heap of other steps here involving improvised rope ladders and so on but enough is enough!) Consume whole bottle of wine in sulky silence.

Resolve to buy bow ladder at first opportunity

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A Steamy Weekend in Dordrecht

Sorry, not what you think. Every second year Dordrecht hosts a huge steam festival; the biggest in Europe in fact. 350,000 visitors arrive by road, train and river and book out all the hotels, camp sites and importantly for us, the marinas. We had no idea it was on. The first sign of something unusual was when we were passed by this old steam tug.

Finding the marina entrance in Dordrecht was our first challenge and we did a few laps up and down the river until we eventually spotted the small entrance into the Nieuwe Haven (which is, in fact, not at all new but in the heart of the historic city). We had to wait for a bridge to be lifted in order to enter and the harbour master greeted us with words you don't want to hear when there's nowhere else to stay- 'we're full' (in Dutch but it was absolutely clear what he meant). We just looked uncomprehending - not hard - and he glanced at our flag, kindly took pity on us and told us to raft up to another couple of very expensive boats. Not as nerve wracking as it might have been as they were naturally most keen to help us. We discovered later that berths had been booked weeks in advance and some boats had been there a week in order to guarantee a spot. We were last in and extremely lucky to get a spot.
The festival began that night with a naval sail past on the river which lasted a couple of hours. In amongst all the historic ships and small boats the commercials kept working.

The weekend continued with all types of gleaming historic machines and engines on display throughout the harbour area. A lot of the fun of owning a steam engine seems to be making as big a display as possible - so lots of bursts of steam accompanied by hooting and once one starts everyone else has to join in. Very musical it was too.

 Nothing like a good sing along

The weather was great  all weekend until the closing moments on Sunday afternoon when everyone ran for cover as a huge hail storm come over.