Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Barge Date:  12-06-2017

Ath, Belgium

The morning, after our chocolate mousse affair, both the Dutch boat Le Marron and Lionel d'Antan are prepared to depart. We are going in opposite directions. Silk Purse is again confounded by the winds and chooses to stay moored. Their type of boat, a Dutch Tjalk, is very sensitive to the winds so Barrie, the captain, has to be cautious. They will come the next day, or perhaps not. Carole needs to catch a train in Ath and will have to get there one way or another.

This next section of the canal going to Ath will all be in locks that lower us. This means we can enter the lock, drop an end loop of rope over a bollard at both ends to secure ourselves and watch the water drop. When you are lowered in a lock, there is concern about ropes catching on the concrete or in a large crack. It is not unheard of for a boat to hang up on a rope and have to cut the rope in order to release the boat. This is why all boats have sharp cutting tools readily available to cut away the rope in this type of emergency. Because the drop in these locks is not great, we choose to put an end loop over the bollard so that there is just the one line to deal with both at the fore and aft of the boat. This method does not allow for a rope to be hung up.

In locks with drops greater than, let's say 3 meters, the method of securing the boat has one rope looped around the lock bollard with then 2 ends coming down from the bollard which you have to use to secure the boat. One end is locked to a boat bollard and the other end is let out as you drop. If all goes well and you get to the bottom of the drop you can simply pull one end of the rope and it will go around the lock bollard and drop down to you. But I think you can see what happens if one of those lines gets caught in a crack. With the end of the line secured to the boat bollard then you are going to be hung up. We hear stories about this but I think it does not happen often. Pay attention.

During our trip to Ath, we managed to upset several fishermen who objected to our loitering as we were waiting for a bridge to open, or perhaps it was the smoke of our diesel engine. Marianne tried to explain to them and apologized. She chose not to translate their swearing and irate replies.

From Marianne: Tim would like to say that our trip that morning was uneventful but that was not exactly the case. The weather as we approached each lock varied between sun and blue skies, and pelting rain, strong winds and threatening dark clouds. As we approach a lock, I have to walk to the front of the boat and be ready with hook and rope to reach for a bollard. I made sure to walk carefully
because it can get slippery in case of rain. We had 6 locks and quite a few bridges to get through. At one lock, the wind was strong and there was no protection from trees, only open fields. Pushed hard by the winds, Lionel d'Antan banged into the lock wall on the port side and then a little on the starboard side. Made me wonder whether we should have stayed one more day in Ladeuze. At one point, the wind picked up again and the arm on our hoist at the front of the boat pointed to starboard. Tim asked me to go and straighten it. I had done this once before with no problem. This time, it is raining again and, because of the wind, the arm on the hoist won't stay put. In fact, it starts rotating like a crazed windmill. It should have been secured with a rope before departure (I will reflect later) but neither one of us thought of it. I try to figure how to attach the arm to a rope but I cannot reach the metal loops at the top of the arm, so I hang onto the hoist arm as the wind tries to make it turn. And we are getting close to a lock.

Finally I have to let go of the hoist to concentrate on placing my loop onto a bollard in the lock, which is what needs to be done first before Tim can throw his loop at the back of the boat. Once Tim is done with this, he comes over and attaches a rope to one of the metal hoops high up on the renegade hoist. Finally! 

I have several opportunities to learn how to flip a rope loop off a bollard that is 6 to 9 feet above you. It takes some practice. I manage it once eventually, by standing further away on the boat but in a direct line, letting the rope slacken quite a bit, and then swinging it from the side.
Through the last bridge and we can see the wall that we need to tie up to. This was a piece of cake and we managed to be near an electric outlet as well.

The town of Ath has approximately 26,000 residents. The town has the typical layout that you expect
in Europe; streets going in all directions and a central square that serves as the nexus for what goes on in town. We frequent the square as it has a good number of eating establishments with chairs and tables outside in the sunny weather.

The city is one of several towns around the world that have a festival of giants. The characters, made of paper mache, wicker and fabric, cavort   in the streets during the festival. There are a number of other towns in southern Belgium and northern France that have giant festivals as well as towns in Portugal, Haiti, and Senegal. These festivals of giants go back many centuries and in the case of Ath, to 1481 and earlier. Originally, there was a religious connection but since 1819 it has been centered around tradition and Belgian nationalism.  We visit the museum for the Giants and see how the costumes are built and carried.

The weather has still been too windy for Silk Purse, so Barrie and Carole take a bus into Ath so Carole can catch a train to Brussels and then the Eurostar to the UK where she will house and dog sit for several days. The following day, after a stormy night, I bike up the hill to Silk Purse to help Barrie bring her down without Carole. This is my first opportunity to be at the front of a boat and be
responsible for setting the forward line. Silk Purse sits very high in the water and this makes the work easy. The only problem is the rain; I got very wet halfway through the bike ride and it is somewhat damp on the trip down to Ath.

Back in Antoing, we purchased wood for a mast. Now I have the time to get it ready. I first travel to a home supply store, something like Lowe's or Home Depot, and purchase needed supplies such as varnish, brushes and some hardware pieces that will be used to hang flags. I bike out of town to the store and it only takes about 15 minutes to get there. With the supplies on hand, I am able to route some edges on the mast and begin to put a number of coats of varnish on the wood. We should have it mounted and stepped in the next couple of days. Pictures to follow.

We have been in town for several days and it is not our want to stay here too long but we are loitering

Click to enlarge
in the hopes that the city people back in Brussels will move quickly regarding my permis de sejour (staying permit). It does not seem like they are in a hurry so we are making plans to leave at the end of this week. We don't have any specific destination in mind, so we are picking a city to head towards and are using our navigation system to select the best route to it. The town is Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, France, which is on the Atlantic Ocean. Here is
a picture of the route as presented by the navigation software as well as a summary of what we will be encountering. Of course every plan changes as soon as you leave the dock. We have no reason to rush during the trip and we don't have any ETA to be concerned with. It would be nice if we could wrap up this permit thing before we leave but I am not holding my breath.

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