Thursday, June 29, 2017

Barge Date: 25-06-2017

Moving on

All this waiting for the residence permit makes me forget to do the blog. So let me catch up as fast as I can.

I have been able to work on the mast, it has a number of coats of varnish and I was anxious to get it vertical. So I attached the hardware, got the flags out and we're looking really good.

In the early hours of a previous evening, a Dutch boat approached us at the Ath marina, looked to be passing by and then slowed down and called out "Is this Rouge Corsair?". Our barge has distinctive colors and it is not easy to forget so we think this is someone that knew the previous owners. As it turns out, the Dutch couple on this boat had looked and almost purchased our barge last year, just before we did. "Oh, so you are the 'Dutch couple' we had heard of", we say. Small world. They choose to tie up with us and in fact we spend the next several days with them or traveling with them. They are Guust and Ria from Holland in their new steel cruiser.

We finally see the captain of the marina and he arranges to turn the water on for us. There was good pressure so I used the opportunity to hose down the boat. We then filled the new water tanks underneath our bed for the first time. Everything is looking good and dry. This was not the case when I attempted to install and add water a number of weeks ago.

We have been out walking the town any number of times and I think we have seen everything but spied a two wheeled cart for groceries in a store and purchased same. We saw that Barrie had a cart  and with that you are able to load up heavy items that you would not want to carry. A useful addition to the boat. We are going to be leaving Ath and Silk Purse so invite Barry to dinner at a nice restaurant on the Square. He and Carol have been a great help to us and getting our project off the ground. They will be staying mostly in Belgium this year while we are headed south to France.

We leave Ath with Guust and Ria and share the same locks going up the hill to Ladeuze. We both tie up and get settled in. The next day we all want to do the remaining 14 locks back down the other side of the hill. We both agree to moor at the marina in Peruwelz. But when we arrive there is disappointment. The restaurant is closed and the space for the Dutch boat is not as promised. They moor at a different marina just a short walk west.

The following day, Guust and Ria want to be bold and make a long run to the next town south into France, Valenciennes. We tell them that we will go a little slower and will take 2 days. We both leave the following morning with them ahead of us by about an hour. But we quickly catch up because the next lock on this waterway is for some reason closed this Sunday (Guust let us know by phone). Some say it is low-water but we really don't know. We have to tie up in a precarious location at this lock and receive some good assistance from Guust and Ria. They host us for an afternoon snack in the shade.

The Dutch want to stay a full day at the lock but we elect to pass through Monday morning, wanting to head into France for the first time. We have no destination in mind for today but in fact we end up quite a ways into France, all the way to Valenciennes.

And of course along the way we had some excitement. Two times we nearly were hung up. The first is at a lock. We are hovering to wait our turn in the lock and the boat is about 12 feet from a steel wall. Nothing to indicate that this should be a problem as it is very near the lock and where you would typically tie up to wait. But, as I am leaving to enter the lock I can hear what is most likely stones hitting the bottom of the boat. From here on out it is my mistake; instead of adding thrust I should have just coasted off this area. When you accelerate, the stern drops into the water and in this case, I drop the rear end into junk and when I hear the noise, I add further thrust thinking I need to get the boat off whatever it is on. I should've just coasted.

The second near grounding occurred further up the canal. We saw an interesting church steeple and it happened that there was a nicely painted ladder at the canal so I turned the boat around and was preparing to bring it alongside the ladder. As I approach parallel with the wall, the boat begins to tip to port. This shouldn't be happening. There is no noise so I think I am on dirt but I don't want to stay here any more so I am able to drive it forward and off the dirt and bank. So much for an interesting church steeple. And I may be gun shy now for what lies under the water near a nicely painted ladder

We stop for the night in Valenciennes, a nice French city but with a lot of car traffic. We were hoping for a good mooring site but finding none, we finally pulled alongside a wall and I drive in long spikes to secure the boat. We are, unfortunately, on a busy waterway and when commercial barges pass, we move quite a bit but are secure to the wall and have good fenders on the boat. We passed through many locks today and traveled for nearly 10 hours. Not what we intended to do this morning.

We take a short walk this evening which turns out to be a long walk. We started out in a direction where we thought we would find stores but that was not the case. So using the phone and Google Maps we navigate to the center of town. It has been damn hot here in Europe for the last two weeks and the only thing that is saving us is ice cream.

From Marianne: In Valenciennes we eat our first buckwheat crepes in a small restaurant near the tourism office. We find the one church (Notre Dame) which has a beautiful steeple but the church itself is not accessible, completely fenced in and surrounded by scaffolding. We walk to the parc de Rhonelle, a nice peaceful area where you can watch ducks swimming in a pond. A mother duck is constantly calling to her ducklings who follow her, more or less, some from quite a distance. Large fish are seen lurking just below the surface.

When we return to the boat we quickly discover that both toilets are on the fritz. They will not take in water from the canal. Since they both share the same intake line, I assume that I have something in the line where it enters the boat. So with tools in hand, I remove the wall to get access to the inlet and with the use of a heavy wire, I am able to clear the inlet pipe. The culprit, just a lot of seed pods accumulating on the water between the boat and the wall. I think I am ready for the next toilet escapade. I am an expert now.

We are moving along and our next segment of travel will take us to Cambrai. This segment of the trip allows us to begin using some canal technology. We come to the first (dual) lock that is automated. Here's how it works: We are given a clicker (actually vended out of a machine) that we will use to tell the lock that we approach what to do. Basically, you announce your arrival at the lock by pushing a
button on the clicker; it knows which side of the lock you are on and whether you need to go up or down. You know you have the system's attention when the lights at the lock change from red to red and green, meaning get ready. Sometimes this takes several clickings on our part. We are going uphill in this segment and we can see the water in the lock being dumped so we can enter. One must be prepared in these locks because there is no human intervention. The water can come in quickly and you must be securely tied. In our case, we choose to tie just the bow of the boat and will use the engine and prop to push the boat against the line which will cause the boat to be parallel with the lock wall. It works real well. Once you are tied up, you push another button, the doors behind you close,  and the water is released into the lock, you rise up, and when the system senses that you are at the correct level, the water stops and the exit doors open.

We arrive in Cambrai and tie up to stakes just beyond the lock and just at the entrance to the marina. We have gotten into the habit of keeping some stakes and sledge hammer on deck for when you need to make excursions ashore.  You never want to enter something like this marina without knowing if you can get out. So with some quick stake driving and rope tying we jump off the boat to examine the marina. We are able to flag down a gentleman who has a boat there and, as it turns out, John and Carol are from the UK and happy to help us. The two of them actually live on their boat here in the marina and have been doing so for many years. So we get back on our barge, enter the marina, and with their help we  secure the boat to a stone wall. There should be no trouble exiting when we want to.

We immediately begin to explore the city and will be doing so for the next three days. Again, it is hot and ice cream comes to the rescue (if you get sick of me talking about ice cream, let me know). The walk to the center of town is a push and we will be doing this maybe five times. The town is nice but
Another gun store in, ah yea, France.
nothing special in my mind. There are things to do and we do them and get a sense of the lay of the town. The city has long deep roots and is mentioned already in the 3rd century.

During our stay, we are joined on the boat by a new Belgian friend that we spoke about in a previous post. Sihame has traveled from Belgium to Cambrai to spend a day or two on the boat with us. She is full of energy and stories and she enjoys speaking English as this helps her in her work as a teacher for young students in an immersion program. We have some things planned and we take her into town to explore the fortified caves underneath the old citadel. The program was interesting but all you saw was an arched walkway underground. The citadel and these tunnels were part of the work of Charles V, a local land baron (emperor, actually, of Spain, the Netherlands and a few other holdings), circa 1540. He imported Italians to do all the stonework as they were experts in building fortified tunnels at that time. This allowed the town to hold off 4 out of 5 invaders but finally Louis XIV made a siege on the town and for some reason was able to force a surrender after just two weeks. There is about 13 km worth of tunnels to explore; they hope to open up more of this area for people to see how the citadel was defended.

Marianne has found a store that sells used DVDs and she purchases 10 for the boat. Always looking for a bargain. In the evening, we take Sihame to dinner but first we look over a nearby festival being held by the local Portuguese community. They have a big party once a year and are barbecuing, among other things, sardines. It smells really good. But we choose to go to a nearby French restaurant, Le Petit Chef, which we are told is very good and that is in fact true.

The next day, after checking out a market held next to the marina, Sihame departs around lunchtime
and we prepare the boat to travel further south. Our goal is to pass eight locks and tie up somewhere. And we do. We are still using the clicker and it is working well with all the locks we have come to today. So here we are, tied up, in a remote area with just bikers and walkers using the towpath. Using this time to catch up on this blog. Going forward, I hope to stay more current with my postings.

Soon to come:  a 5km long tunnel.  Should be fun.

Don't forget Marianne's Facebook page about this trip. Search Facebook for Barge Adventure.

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