Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Barge Date: 06-06-2017

The Blaton-Ath Canal and learning the ropes

Our next stop is the town of Beloeil. Marianne visited this small town and its castle when she was just a young girl. The owners of this castle are cousins of the owners of the castle in Antoing. I guess money runs in the family. In order to get to this town, we will travel down the large commercial waterway and turn north into the Blaton-Ath canal. This is a small canal that has a good number of locks and today we will be passing through 10 of them. Quite the introduction to canal travel for Marianne.

As we make our turn into the canal, Marianne uses the radio to contact the canal workers. For this canal we get 2 employees that will follow us through most of today's locks and bridges. For the most part, these locks are manually operated. This means that the workers are cranking and turning to get the doors of the lock open and to operate the flow of water. I am told that there are up to three teams working this canal. As they finish with one lock they race ahead (or catch up) on a motorbike and a car to prepare for our entry into the next lock. Seems to work very well.

As we approach the first lock, we note that there is a rental boat already in and forward of us. My job

is to enter safely and not to crush the other boat. We do this just fine with the help of the lock workers. But as we leave the lock we are instructed to pull ahead so that we are the first boat to enter the following locks. This is fine with me as I think it is safer.

We successfully handle the following locks and at about 12:30 we are told it is lunchtime and the workers will be absent for 30 to 45 minutes. So we use this time to eat our lunch as well.

The workers return and we proceed up through the canal locks. All the locks are lift locks till we get to number 11 where the next 10 locks will lower us off the hill to Ath. We want to tie up in the town of Beloeil but we are not sure what facilities will be there. A new team of workers are now with us (they are slower than the first team and not as helpful) and as we pass through a lift bridge and Marianne asks where we can moor, we are told that we can tie up anywhere but that most boats moor on the starboard side where it is shady; however it is totally brush and trees on that side, and nowhere to get off, so we decide to use the port side, the towpath side.

As we proceed forward and get closer to the next lock, we realize there is nothing to tie the boat to on this side either, although our book indicated a pontoon. We were not ready for this as we need to have stakes ready to pound in the ground and they are forward in the hold and not quickly available. We are getting close to the lock with the rental boat right behind us. We do some

scrambling, Tim jumping off the boat and asking Marianne to quickly go to the back, coil the ropes and throw them to him. Marianne finds that the ropes are heavier than she thought and they end up in the water; she retrieves them and tries again with the same results (note from Marianne: wet ropes are even heavier). At this point the boat is drifting further away from shore. Tim rushes back to the front and manages to jump aboard. Fortunately at this point, the lock keepers are walking on the path to open the lock for the rental boat (hovering behind our drifting boat) and with their help we get the boat secure and pound in 5 stakes. We tie up and take a breather.

We review the trip and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. This size of canal will be very
typical of the waters we will see in France which we hope to visit very soon. But for now we walk off to the town in search of ice cream. The castle has a nice restaurant and we go there and get a little refreshment.

We return to the boat, check that the lines are still secure, and have a slow evening meal and rest up.

There is no boat traffic at all on this canal. Other than the rental boat, we have seen no one else. Tomorrow while we are at the castle, the Silk Purse will pass by and they intend to moor several kilometers north. I wonder if there is more traffic during the summer months.

The next day, the sun comes out early and we are off to visit the castle. Just a short note about Belgian weather: The last week and a half has been nearly perfect. Might I say just a bit too hot. This is very unusual for this portion of Europe but we are not complaining. There has been very little rain this spring in Europe and we are hearing reports that some canals do not have enough water. For the time being, this is not a concern for us.

The castle is quite impressive. There are moats around the buildings, and green gardens

extending out into the countryside. Quite large. In the castle, there are many large rooms adorned with many portraits. Not all are family members of the owners but rather people they have met over the hundreds of years of occupation in this castle. We see a good number of fancy gifts that the czar of Russia or Marie Antoinette has given family members, for example.

The library in the castle is quite exquisite. Thousands of books, many with gold leaf and leather covers. I wonder if these have been with the family for hundreds of years or rather if they have been
purchased to line the shelves. We see a lot of the classics and other rather mundane titles as well.

We are taken out onto the grounds of the castle on a wagon pulled by a diesel tractor. At the far end of the lake we jump off and walk back examining the various plantings along the way. Not a lot of flower gardens but rather sections done up with trees, border plants, and ponds. A lot to take care of and a lot of trimming to be done but we saw no one at these tasks.

On exiting the castle we had to stop once again for some ice cream.

At the entrance to the castle grounds, there is a small business selling oil paintings. We make a visit and Marianne asks if the man has any paintings by her family members. At this time no, he says, but he has sold some in the past and certainly knows the name.

Back at the boat we see that the Silk Purse has stopped for a brief visit and has left her calling card. I take my bike and travel down the towpath to their boat for a visit. Tomorrow we will travel to this location as the Silk Purse makes its way to the town of Ath.

But the next morning we learn that the Silk Purse does not want to travel because of higher winds. So we move up the canal and moor just in front of them. Later in the day, a smaller cruiser, Le Marron,  comes through the lock and ties up for the evening. It is flying the Dutch flag. So as is the custom we meet with them and invite them on board in the evening for some Belgian chocolate mousse that Marianne makes. We are joined by the Silk Purse and we spent the evening talking about many different things. Very enjoyable. Robert and Coby are off to France so we may see them again.

However the next day brings very strong gusts of winds and rain and no one wants to travel so we all remain at this location with water and electric and will depart when the weather permits, hopefully tomorrow.

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