Monday, April 23, 2018

Barge Date:  04-014-2018

From Diksmuide to Maastricht

OK. Back on the boat and everything is progressing nicely. The solar system looks awesome and we are not presently plugged in to the shore power. The installer, Davy, thinks I should never have to use the plug again even during the gray overcast days Belgium. 

There are a bunch of software things that will allow me to monitor the state of the batteries. This was something that was lacking in the previous system. In addition we now have huge solar panels and brand-new house batteries in which to store our surplus energy. I will keep you posted on how well this is working out and how well I am learning how to monitor the system to perhaps optimize performance. Davy says go out and buy electric products, even the microwave. They all should work and as a test, perhaps, I plugged in the toaster for the first time ever and made toast. Nothing pop or clicked or turned off.

The glass man has come and gone and we have replaced three troubled glass panes in the wheelhouse. Would have done the installation a little different myself as I believe he used the wrong color of silicone to seal the windows I think I can overcome this with a sharp razor.

I did a thorough examination of the engine room and all the tools and little parts that I had noted last year and never used. That is key. If I don’t know what it is for and didn’t need it last year I tossed. I purchased a new toolbox for some of the things that I use most frequently. This keeps them at hand and I am having to do less digging into some of the limited storage spots on the boat to get a tool.

I ordered LED lights for the boat as I want to conserve energy along with the new solar capabilities. Twenty four volt lights in LED are not inexpensive. But I have nearly all the bulbs I need and these should last a long time. We will see.

I did not have much free time after my arrival being kept busy with boat duties. When all was prepared we planned our first trip. I am traveling with the owners of the Silk Purse.  They will be crew on the boat and will be helping me to travel to my destination, Maastricht. The original plan was to go through Brugge, Ghent and then on to Antwerp. But somewhere along the line we were convinced to take a different route.

Unlike last year, we bypassed Brugge. It was a rainy day and we could use the extra travel day to make sure we arrived at our destination in time. I will be meeting up with a diesel mechanic that was recommended to me last year by new friends Rob and Sandra. They say their mechanic, Wim, is just the perfect guy to look after our engines. His regular day job is looking after the engines on other rather large boats.

So having skipped Brugge we are on to Ghent. The destination is a downtown harbor for small boats, Portus Ganda. Getting to this harbor had us going through the city on our own particular street of water. Most of the way we were surrounded by businesses and apartments.  We arrived in the harbor and tied up between other barges. Just a great setting and easy access to the town. My crew is excited to meet some other barge owners who were very gracious and invited us onto their barge for some refreshment. They are also active in a residential committee that has access to a meeting hall where various programs are presented during the week. One night it may be singers, another night some presentation about a book or some topic in the news. Maybe four or five times a week some program is being presented. They serve refreshments and have a good time. The night we attended there was a concert by an Irish folk singer.

We did spend some time visiting the city and found it enjoyable. Ghent is an old ancient city with a lot of history.

This is the 100th year since the end of WWI. Here in Ghent this bell will toll once every second for the hundreds of thousands of people who died anonymously.

It was in Ghent that we decided to skip Antwerp and take a different route over to Maastricht. To get there we must go down the Scheldt River. From Ghent on to Antwerp this is tidal water, meaning that the flow of water in the river changes four times each day. Although Antwerp is a good distance inland from Ghent there is a high tide time in the city and one tries to time departures to have the tide working for them. In our case we wanted the tide to be going out. This means we are using the speed of the downhill water to assist us as we make our trip. Also, at low tide the amount of water that is in the river is substantially less. If you make a mistake and leave at the wrong time you might end up being stuck in the mud.

With the tides running you all still have to be careful with the current of the water. There will be slow moving shallow water and fast-moving deep water and of course you want to stay where the water is deep. We made it down to the small town of Rupelmonde where we turned off the Scheldt to the Rupel River, On this river we were working against the tide, meaning our engine was working harder but our speed was slower until we passed through a lock.  I had been warned to be careful on these rivers but did not find them terribly difficult provided we made a correct departure time.

You never know what is around the next turn.

Although we skipped going to Antwerp, I was able to drive there after arriving in Belgium to purchase the new rope that I hope will make it easier for the crew to handle passage through locks or in mooring to a dock or wall. The rope feels good in your hands and is easy to work with. Because it is braided rather than simply twisted rope it drapes very easily and is easy to throw.

I now have on the boat several new boat books which I hope will make using the new rope easier. The boat hooks can be extended and have metal clips to hold the rope securely while the hook is used to place the rope on a bollard. Had to make some adjustments to the concept but I think it will be a great new addition to the boat. Thanks to the Brussels crew the 2 new extendable poles will be great.

With the crew we made a successful trip to Maastricht and moored in a downtown harbor that is very close to the downtown area of this fine city. A perfect setting.

We were off the boat and soon exploring the downtown area. I had been told that it was very nice and it was just that. Many, many stores for shopping for eating for taking a coffee. There must be at least 10,000 outdoor chairs in front of restaurants and cafés and they had good crowd sitting and enjoying the afternoon and evenings

My Here is a picture to "Book God".  Large book store in an old church.

My crew at this point needed to return to their boat and we parted on market day with them going off to take a train to their destination. I stayed and had laundry done in the town and then prepared the boat for departure. At this point I would be on the boat by myself. But I have been training myself all winter and did not have too much concern about how well I could handle the boat.

While visiting a boat store on the river this working barge stopped to take on water. Some guys trick out their cars, this old mariner has done it to his boat. The cleanest barge to be seen.

I informed the harbormaster that I would leave at 2 o’clock and he prepared the lock that would allow me to escape the harbor to the Maas River (This river in Holland is called the Mass; in Belgium and France it is the Meuse). Everything went very well as I headed up river towards the lock that would give me access to the Albert Canal. At this location I leave Holland and enter Belgium again.

The lift in the lock was about 36 feet and I was the only boat to be carried up. The Belgians wanted to see my documents but with this completed I entered the Albert for a short trip westward to meet up with folks that I met last year in Namur. Rob and Sandra had given me the name of their engine mechanic and now I was to tired up to their barge so that Wim could visit the following day to have a look at my engine.

Wim has been on board the boat and will return again in several days with some parts that he has to make in his regular shop. He took time to explain some aspects of the engine and I learned a number of preventative actions that should allow this engine to continue for many years (it is now 50 years old). He had to do very little in terms of adjustments.

Rob and Sandra invited me on board their barge for dinner. We had interesting discussions and it is always fun to learn about other boat people. Sandra is a social worker and Rob works at a prison where he helps inmates think about their life and what they might do when they are released. He is not a guard so he has somewhat regular hours which I am sure is nice.

Their barge is very nice as it is a live on barge for 12 months of the year. They do move it around some each year so you might find them in downtown, at their current location or perhaps somewhere out on canals when they take a month of vacation. I was also introduced to other friends along the quai and always learn something important.

As I wait for Wim to return with the parts he needs I am taking time to give the boat a good cleaning. This will be the year when painting must begin again and the boat must be spotless with little or no rust showing. Painting is not one of my favorite activities but it might be fun to put new luster on the boa.

When I move again it will be to the city of Liege in Belgium, 22.5km upstream. This is Marianne‘s hometown and at one time I knew it very well so it will be fun once again return to rediscover the various parts of the city. When Marianne was living here her family's apartment was right on the Meuse River. I intend to tie up out front and to go off by foot or on bike to see what there is to see.

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