Saturday, September 2, 2017

Barge Date: 15-08-2017
Oil Spills, a 73-meter Lift, 3 Misfits, and Boating Friendships

After Marianne and Max departed, I had time on my hand waiting for the arrival of the Australian, Bruce.

Although it was not time to change the oil just yet, I thought it might be a good idea to go ahead and tackle this job. This DAF engine has an old style of oil filter; in place of the modern spin on/ spin off all-in-one oil filters, this engine has a replaceable filter that is housed inside a metal cylinder. This is identical to what I had on an old tractor.

Normally, you unscrew a drain plug to allow the oil in the filter to escape and be captured cleanly. This drain plug, however, was on pretty tight and I had a fear of damaging this outer housing and being in a real pickle. So, with oil still in the container, I unscrewed it from its housing. Planning ahead, I had a small plastic bag around the container but these things never really work the way you want them to. So I spilled a good bit of oil which went into the bilge and elsewhere.

I keep two oil filters in stock and I had the replacement ready to be installed. The kit includes a large O-ring that is seated in the upper housing where the top of the container is screwed in. In addition to being this old style of filter, the location is terrible. Just not much space to get everything in and out without adding to the mess. But with a little bit of finesse I assembled everything and just had to test to make sure everything was seated properly. Of course, I am now on the boat by myself, so I must be out of the engine room to start the engine. This I do and then immediately jump down into the engine room to take a look. It was leaking.

Nothing to do other than to take it apart again but now filled with new oil. It did not come apart well, and more mess accumulated. I checked the O-ring to see that it was still properly seated and worked the container back into its housing. Now for the second test. Drum roll.

This time an even bigger leak. What am I doing wrong? I know how the parts go together and although the work space is limited, I thought I had done everything correctly. What to do?

Bruce will be arriving in several days and I must be ready to move the boat. Not wanting to push my luck, I rode my bike to a Renault truck dealership. I took my DAF manuals with me and was able to get across that I was in a sinking ship and needed their help. They agreed to send a man with me back to the boat and have him install the filter. This truck garage also had another filter for this type of system and I purchased that.

It must have been the first time the mechanic had been into an boat engine room. There is not a lot of work space. He got himself situated on the floor and took apart the filter and installed a new one with a new O-ring. Everything seemed to be going well and we started the engine to test. At first, he said looks good but a short time later he said stop the engine. It was leaking for him too. I did not want this to happen, but I have to say that I felt a little vindicated.

He checked everything again and reinstalled and thankfully it held. Well, mostly. I'm still getting a few drips of oil when I run the engine, but you would not know by reading the dip stick. Now all I have is the job of cleaning up the engine room.

There is a part that can be had that would update this engine with the typical spin-on filters but I believe I have heard that there are none to be purchased. But I am looking.

Since I was staying longer in the marina in Cambrai, I had to pay an additional amount and commented to the captain that I had no electric. No problem, he said, a boat left this morning and, if you will run about 200 feet of cord, you can plug in. Well, I have that much cord so I did that immediately.

I agreed to meet Bruce in front of the city hall just a short walk from the train station. In the square in

front of the Hotel de Ville people were setting up a very large carnival. They had taken over the square and many of the intersecting streets. So while I waited for Bruce, I watched the people putting rides together. Thankfully, we will be leaving before the show begins.

Bruce arrives and we look for a place to eat and over dinner we exchange histories. Bruce is living in the endless summer: summer down south in Australia, then a trip to Europe for the summer in the north. He is working on an idea to buy a barge to be able to rent it out. He has a number of years of experience with canal barges and he just needs to find the right boat.

Our route will take us further north along the Saint Quentin Canal up towards Belgium where we will turn east to travel to Namur. We have no time table other than his return tickets to the UK. Along these canals we seem to move quickly.

With Bruce at the helm, I am able to be forward to work the ropes for the first time when we actually enter the locks. This has been something that I had to demonstrate to others but have never done so myself. I found the work interesting and it varied from lock to lock.

One of the problems canal people have is anticipating what they will find in the next lock. You hope for a repeat of the lock you were just in so you know where the bollards will be found, the spacing, and what you have to do to secure the boat. Sometimes you are lucky and everything is the same for three or four locks but then the next lock or two or three are all different. But once you have done certain lock types, you are ready for most anything that comes your way.

The gate for this lock slides in from the side suspended by cables.

Since I am late in doing these blogs, I can't remember which day things happened so I may have to make up some things. I do know that when we arrived at the first lock in Belgium, we were told we would have to wait till morning. This is a big commercial lock and the big guys have to stop too. So we are tied up with boats that are much bigger than ours. And in the morning, because they are commercial, they get to go through the lock first. So we waited perhaps two or three hours to get our chance to enter.

We make good time. Our plan is to stop in Mons at the marina overnight. The reason for the stop is that IKEA is just a short walk away and I want to finally purchase a new mattress for the single berth room. What is on it is terrible, and I know from experience. At Mons, the marina is located in a large basin. We scout the area and don't see much to our liking but pull up gently to a floating dock. Tying up and walking to the office, we see that many of the pontoons are in disrepair. Looking to find the office, we find that we are in fact locked in. We are not able to get onto land. You need a card to swipe and luckily a member lets us out. We are then told that they do not rent space to outsiders. So we head back to the boat, but of course we are stopped by the gate that now will not let us back in on the pontoons. We wait a short time and someone lets us pass.

It is a large basin and we choose to tie up on a wall that is a bit further from IKEA. We head off immediately for the store and make our purchases. Since it is late in the day, we decide to take an adult beverage and we soon milk this into a dinner. We arrive back at the boat when it is dark.

The next day is a Sunday and it is raining. We decide to find the downtown area and see what there might be there. Because it is Sunday and because it is raining a bit, there is not much activity so we look for a coffee shop. We find it – Texas. Yes, that is what it is called. Texas coffee, I guess. It turns out that the owner, who might be 50, came to Europe as a student and has found it difficult to leave. So here he is in town with what looks like a successful enterprise. But he still has his Texas drawl. We did not hear him speak French, but I'm sure it must be interesting.

Sculpture made with 2x4s.  Finger is not part of art.

After Mons, I am looking forward to a great engineering experience. This is the Grand Ascenseur de Strepy-Thieu, or just the “Strepy lift.” Canal locks can raise or lower your boat a small amount but there is a limit probably based on cost. If you have to overcome large elevation changes, it means you have to have multiple locks. Cost again. So at this location, the Belgians have built a vertical lift. Think of a bathtub hung by cables. You drive your boat into the end of the bathtub which is filled with water, of course, and they close the end. Then the bathtub is raised up. The vertical lift is 73 meters. While I took a good number of pictures, I was not terribly excited by the experience. You move so slowly that you have no feeling of being moved. When I return through this canal in September, I will take a slightly different route to use multiple incline lifts that are on the old part of the canal. Here are a lot of pictures. Need an engineer to explain.

An air shock at the top to soften the stop.

Further along this canal, we are able to join up with a flotilla of small boats which makes lock passage easier. There are a number of Belgian boats and we assume they are talking to the lock operator, so we just need to follow along.

There has been some rain today and as we approach a large canal that goes up to Brussels we begin looking for a place to tie up for the night. Nothing seems easy so we decide to stake out again.  The problem will be the sloop of the canal wall.  They are not vertical walls so our boat has nowhere to bump up against.  I tell Bruce we have 2 tires on rope in the forward hold and I pull them out. We situate them under the curve of the hull so when lines are pulled in, the boat is on the tires not the grinding sloping wall.

A Danish sailboat has been part of our travel group and he has a problem too.  He has a keel and needs deeper water when he ties up.  We suggest they tie to our boat and this gives him the depth he needs. We invite them over as they allow their dinner to cook.

About this time, a young man on a bike stops and asks about the route to Brussels.  He is wet from head to tail.  Normally he pitches a tent and hopes for the best.  I suggest he stay the night on the boat and try to dry off and warm up.  He is Dutch and starting his second year of university.  He started the trip with his brother but he was injured somehow and had to drop out. So Oliver joins us and the Danes for refreshments and good talk as we get to know everyone.

The Danes have been in the Mediterranean for the past year and we hear their stories. Oliver is a very good cyclist and races for a Spanish sponsored team but had an accident several weeks ago and has had to recover and retrain to get back in condition.

I told Oliver I would take him out to dinner since we were low on supplies.  Two very nice restaurants are noted as being nearby.  I lend him some dry clothes, socks and shoes and we head out.  Maybe it was the busy weekend, maybe all the rich boaters on hand, maybe they were stuffy high-end places or maybe it was the way we were dressed (assorted looks and mismatches) but both places said there was no room for the 3 misfits. We made the best of it back on the boat with pasta and sauce.

Oliver departed warm and dry the next morning.  We had talked late into the night and enjoyed his youthful views (did you know there is a Bible belt in Holland?). Might ask him and his brother to come on board next year for a trip.

We will be passing through the large city of Charleroi and I have been told that it is an ugly, industrial city that has seen its better days. So I am curious as to what we will see. It certainly is not the Midi Canal in France, but I have to say that I found the passage interesting and certainly not the horror stories that others like to tell. True, you are looking at the backside of this city where all the manufacturing takes place. But it was interesting to see what was going on. A lot of steel was being produced, and we could see both ends of the process. Scrap steel arriving on barges to be unloaded by huge cranes with either big claws or magnets. We also saw rolled steel and coiled steel being loaded back onto barges ready for shipment. Perhaps it is the little boy in me, but I could have watched this work for many hours.

As we left the manufacturing area, we were on a serpentine route out of town. On each side were suspended "tow paths" along the canal. Interesting. I would also note that these tow paths allow people on foot or on bikes to pass by the industrial sites that we saw. Nowhere in America would this be allowed. Too dangerous, I guess, but I didn't see a lot of dead Belgians on the towpath either.

Our flotilla continued along. In all the locks, we saw a Belgian couple having great difficulty handling their small boat. They also had the habit of entering the lock and tying on too soon thus not allowing any other boat to have easy access forward. At one point the gentleman had to leave the boat to show his papers and he exited the boat with great difficulty. We came to learn that they have only had this boat for one week. OK, give them a little slack.

Further along, one of the Belgian cruisers signaled that he had a problem. Something was wrong with his propulsion system. I don't know exactly how it works, but he thought there was something in the tunnel that leads to the propellers. Being the only large boat in the flotilla, we came alongside and tied him to our boat. He had his engine off and together we proceeded down the canal. We agreed to overnight at the next lock and once we were tied up (with stakes), the Belgian began to look for the problem. Facing engine problems can’t be fun. The problem turned out to be a large, heavy duty plastic bag being sucked into his system. He was able to extract it from inside his boat. I don't know how all that works, but he was happy that it was not something mechanical.

He and his wife were very grateful for the tow, and we developed a boating friendship. He is now retired, but was a career Belgian military man. He has been on boats for most of his life. His wife likes boating and would like to live full-time on a larger barge, but he is not yet “on board”. They insisted that once we got to Namur they wanted to take us out for a meal, which they did. It's this type of experience that I find interesting.

We traveled on with this small flotilla and arrived at the junction of the Sambre with the Meuse River. Now both of these waterways are big commercial waterways and when you come to an intersection, there are certain rights of ways to be obeyed. In this case, the Meuse River has the right of way. I asked Bruce to go forward so that we might see what could be coming. And, of course, there was a big barge moving from our port to starboard on the river and, as it turns out, was also slowing down so they could tie up on the approaching wall to our right. So you slam on the brakes and give him the right-of-way. But to our left approaches the one-week skipper and his boat. He seems to slow down and hesitate but then makes the judgment that if “I just put on full power, I can scoot in front of this huge boat”. We hold our breath. There is nothing the large barge can do. If the small boat would lose power, he might be directly in the barge's path. I am sure that the barge skipper saw this small boat, and we were all happy to see that it escaped total destruction.

The tie-up at the Namur marina is easy, and there is electric and water. The location is opposite the shore where the office is located and where smaller boats moor. This looks like a good location to stay for the next several weeks.

Bruce and I have some time to begin exploring the town and we find it quite interesting. Lots of small shops and restaurants in the downtown area. The entire town is shadowed by the towering citadel that is at the juncture of these two large waterways. What a good place to build a fort. Looking forward to climbing to the top.

1 comment:

  1. Great stories. We agree it is those chance boating friendships that are one of the best things about barging. We have the same oil filter and problems with changing the element. Touch wood, I've always been able to get the O ring to seal. It's all in the wrist action!