Sunday, December 10, 2017

Barge Date:  06-09-2017

Namur to Diksmuide

Have been back home for over a month and have neglected to do the final chapter of this year’s travels.  So here it goes. 

For this last stage of the travel I have a crew from Australia. Tony and Robin have been thinking about barges for some time. Perhaps it all stems from Tony's time growing up in Holland where he was able as a young boy to be a mate on a ferry. He learned a few things and still remembers how to handle the lines. I can see I will be learning from him. 

Tony and Robin have done many things during their adult life including living in the outback doing church work with the aboriginals. Tony is also a pilot and holds a multi engine rating and at one time owned his own plane. He is also handy in thinking about and doing a lot of things on the boat that I will welcome.

For a shake-out cruise we decide to go up river to Dinant. This is further than what I traveled when Marianne and the kids were on board. It will give Robin and Tony at chance to use those confounded bollards that someone installed at each lock along the way. It does not take long to get to Dinant and as we arrive we see that there is considerable construction taking place right at the riverfront. When the work is complete, I hope it is good not only for the riverfront businesses but for boaters, including those of us with larger boats.


We are able to make fast at a public dock along the right bank of the river. In order to get electricity and to pay for our stay, we make a trip to the tourism office in town.  Part of our welcome package includes two cans of Leffe beer which is a big name and brand here in Belgium and Dinant is its hometown.

 One of the first things you notice walking around town are large replicas of saxophones. This is Belgium and one of her sons, Adolphe Sax, called Dinant home. For some reason the saxophones along the street are associated with member countries in the EU. Each piece of art is totally different but I was not able to find all of them. Hey, good excuse to return next spring as this will be our route into northern France.

I go with Robin and Tony up to the citadel which is perched precariously above the river. To make the ascent we use a cable car from the town below up to the fortress. Not only is this a great fortified location, it gives one a nice view up and down the valley. We take a self-guided tour through the citadel and enjoy some refreshments.

One of the stories you learn from the tour has to do with the tragic opening days of World War I. After a good bit of resistance from the Belgians, the Germans took over the town. At some point a German soldier was shot and as retribution the Germans gathered about 612 residents - men, women and children as young as 3 years old - and executed them. That is not something that is easily forgotten.

On my own I go by bike to the left bank to view an exhibition of paintings by Marc Chagall. It is a range of his art from his early beginnings to some of his last works. There is some that I like and some that I don't care for at all.  

I also go by bike along the river’s path until it is just a narrow rut and ends. I could go to the other side to go further but choose to return.

From Namur I wrote about Bayard and the 4 brothers out for a ride. Look at the picture to see the notch they all made in this rock. Today the road goes on either side of this outcropping.

From Dinant we head downstream and make the turn at Namur to head west on the Sambre. The weather changes each day and sometimes we end up traveling further than we expected since there is not much to do in case of bad weather.

Some of the next few days will be over territory I covered with either Bruce or with Marianne. But I want to show the Aussies a good time so we look for things to do. Up ahead we will be meeting up with the Silk Purse at a marina that has a small dry dock. Don't know what happened but the Silk Purse has sprung a small leak and needs to make repairs.  Barrie and Carole will use the dry dock and they have workmen coming in to weld some steel onto the front portion of their barge.

Of course Barrie suggests I bring Lionel into the Marina but, having seen this location previously, I am not convinced that this is something I want to do. However, with a bit of coaxing we pull in behind the Silk Purse and tie up.  The dry dock does not seem to have been used a lot as we see quite a bit of grass growing in the lagoon that will be flooded to first accept the floating Silk Purse and then to have the water drain so the barge will sit on supports. Tony and I offer our assistance and by carefully navigating the narrow channel to the dry dock we are able to back the barge in to the flooded lagoon. The boat is precisely located above supports and the water in the lagoon is emptied. A perfect job by Barrie, and the following day welders will come to make the repairs.

To add excitement to our stay, I plan on giving Barrie several books in the Jack Reacher series that we have been reading all summer and as I walk to his boat I trip on a line and make a five point landing on the metal dock. Of course I quickly get up and look around to see who witnessed this magnificent event. I climb on board the Silk Purse and drip blood in their wheelhouse from a small wound on my cheek. My palms are a bit red and my knees hurt like hell. Tough it out. But I sense that some of this pain will only go away slowly.

We say goodbye to the Silk Purse but we expect to see them again in Diksmuide. Next on our agenda is the big vertical lift that I used previously going east and up so this time we are going west and down. It is an experience, but I think the next time I pass this way I will use the older lifts that only operate on weekends. It is a recline lift where the boats in a big bathtub travel on  rails.  This will happen next year.

We spend a day in Mons then head again west to Peronnes and then Antoing, both towns where I have been before. We take time in Antoing to do some laundry in town. From this location, I contact our young Belgian teacher friend whom you have met previously, Sihame.  We arrange to meet her in the center of Tournai the following day for lunch.

We catch a bus just up the street from our barge and are taken to the center city in about 15 minutes. There is a market going on in the center of town and we do some sightseeing and some shopping. I scout out a location to have lunch and pick a restaurant right on the square. Sihame arrives with a gentleman friend and the five of us sit down for lunch in a restaurant with a lot of white tablecloths and napkins. Sihame updates us on her teaching work and introduces us to her friend who is a fireman in the area. The menu looks wonderful and we make our selection with the help of the owner/ maître de.  Sihame is her usual bubbly self and we learn a lot about her summer in Italy and Greece. And if I remember correctly, her position at the school is now full-time. Good news.

As I am paying for the meal, I strike up a conversation with the owners who also include the chef. Just the two of them operate this business. They are French and came to Tournai a number of years ago and from the looks of it have a successful operation. The two of them join us at the table and our conversations continue as we are the only table remaining from the lunch crowd.

Perhaps I should not mention this, but the chef has told us that he runs an illegal kitchen. What does he mean by this? It seems that the ever present health department does not want chefs to make their own sources  (from things like fish heads). You have got to be kidding me; this is Belgium and almost France. We are told that the sauces should be made from some powdered mix. So to make sure that his supply of mix is constantly decreasing, he throws away some of it each week. He does not use it. Having spent a good number of years at the best restaurants in Paris, he knows all the best food suppliers there and if he places an order prior to midnight, the best fish and meat and other supplies will be at the restaurant first thing the following morning.  Health department be damned.

After the meal, we are taken by Sihame and her friend to a location above Tournai for a spectacular view of the area and we are treated to a snack.  Hope to see Sihame next year and have another meal at our favorite restaurant in Tournai.

The next several days have us moving at a good clip. We are held up at the Bossuit lock as it is the weekend and we did not realize that their schedule has them closed. We soon press on to Kortrijk/Courtrai which is now a new area for me. But it is raining so we decide to push on to see how far we can go. Passing through Kortrijk we have the help of a lockman that follows us from one lock to the next through the center of town. In the rain we saw a very wet rat who must make its home at the lock. Perhaps this is the same rodent the Silk Purse saw here in town.

Our next stop is the town of Deinze which I visited in the spring when I had my friend Rich on board. We stay several days there then head north on the Leie River so that I can show Tony and Robin this small waterway with lots of twists and turns and beautiful surroundings. See my earlier post about this waterway.

We tied up for the night along a commercial Canal and did not realize that some of these large barges can operate during the night. We are occasionally shaking and if a large pusher barge comes along, we are shaking even more. The next day will bring us to Bruges where we will be stopping for several days.  

Along the way, Tony and I take some time to install 4 stainless steel fold-out steps that we attach to the sides of the main section of the cabin. This will make it easier for someone who needs to step up on top of the boat for whatever reason. The supplies and tools brought from the US by my son-in-law Trevor have worked out perfectly. We were also able to attach two gold stars at the bow of the boat. These stars, made of cast steel, were provided to us by the Silk Purse. The gold stars, I am told, signify that the boat is owned free and clear of any encumberments. It adds a nice touch to the look of the boat.

Also with Tony's help we have rearranged the items that sit on the top deck. Previously, the dinghy and gangplank were arranged from starboard to the port side. With some finagling with the items we have, we arranged it so that most everything now runs from bow to stern. This allows for easy walking from in front of the wheelhouse to the fore deck. Also makes the boat look more streamlined. Next year I will add a red coat of paint to the hull of the dinghy.

Into the city of Bruges we find a nice tie-up at the first bridge. The sign says that we may stay for 24 hours but no one else has asked us to move on so we stay. Unfortunately, there is no electricity at this location so we rely on some good sunny days to keep the power on.

Tony and Robin are new to the city so I send them into town to explore. I, in turn, take to my bike to do some circumnavigation of the town. It is so easy to get lost in the constantly curving and turning of the roads. But this is a great town to sit at a café with a coffee and a book.

One day, while I was on board by myself, a hire boat tied up behind us with some difficulty so I helped. The two couples on board were American, the first I have met this summer. They were waiting for the lift bridge and had some time and interest so I invited them on board to see what a barge looks like. I believe they were from Utah.  A nice visit.

On one of my bike excursions, I came across a flea market in town. It seems to specialize in brass items and as I have been looking all summer for something for the top of the mast I looked and got lucky. A good size brass dolphin was found and I have since mounted it to the top of the mast. Because of its shape, it looks good whether the mast is up or down. I think it looks great.

 As I noted earlier in this blog when I passed through Bruges in the spring, there are working windmills along the canal that you use to pass the city. Out on my bike one day, I saw that one windmill was open for visits and so I went. The woodworking of the mechanics inside is rather special.  Note the date painted on a part inside the mill.

To navigate around Bruges, a barge must pass through a number of lift bridges and one round lock. This round lock presented a big problem for me in the spring but this pass-through I was able to demonstrate some degree of competence in handling the boat. I just wish those people with smaller boats that are much more maneuverable would take positions on the curved part of this lock and leave the straight wall for bigger boats.

On the home stretch now and have no particular schedule to keep. But we are making good time and think we can make it to Diksmuide by the evening. At the turn south along the Belgian coast I again handled the boat quite well in a difficult turning situation. Hey, when you can do it right after a summer of travel you have to talk about it. I try not to mention when I have problems.

Arrived in Diksmuide to see some confusion. The marina was updating the docks and we understood that the work would be done by the time we returned. But whole sections of the wall have no floating pontoons and many boats have been squirreled away in unusual ways. We tie up to the wall which is the public dock. The weather is cool and damp and over the next several days we work to get Lionel d’Antan ready for winter.

As a surprise I get a visit from Barrie and Carole.  They could not get here fast enough by boat so they took a train to town to wish me a goodbye.  A nice gesture and I appreciate it.  They have been a good resource when something new happened on my boat.  At times I could even help them. They have decided to sell the Silk Purse and hope to find a smaller boat to continue their life afloat.

My departure is one day before Tony and Robin leave for a trip to Holland to meet family that he has not seen since he was 14 years old.  I leave them to do some final things and lock up.

My brother-in-law offers to come to pick me up for the return to Brussels. The Belgian family has been very supportive of our barge adventure and we thank them.  I spend one night with them, we have a farewell dinner, and I am dropped at the airport for the return home. I can tell you that I am already planning for next year’s outing.

Will gather some thoughts about this summer and will make one final post at some point. I think a summary is in order.

1 comment:

  1. Those new moorings at Dinant look to be a disaster for even our modest length barges. Doesn't look like there would be any possibility of fitting between the landings - even assuming it was allowed. I hope your Aussie friends make good use of the excellent start you've given them. Great work!