We left the charming town of Veurne on Monday headed for Nieuwpoort, once again, to get our big repairs made on Tuesday.
Repairs were soon under way .. within minutes of arriving and safely tying off we were joined by the team and for the rest of the day and all day Tuesday they were busy taking away or returning our exhaust system, bringing in major welding and other equipment and tools, all by dinghy or by clinging to the sides of our boat and tiptoeing around the gunwale – an interesting sight when these large, overall-clad guys are holding onto some major spanner or similar.
They completely removed our silencer, reworked it so they could turn it around and replace it in a safer, more sensible position, and completely coated it in insulation cladding.
They also installed a fan to keep the engine hold cooler which meant cutting a hole through the steel stern (above water of course) and ‘making good’. This was all major work undertaken in tricky conditions (floating as we were in the harbour) and we have to say brilliantly done.
We could now leave Nieuwpoort with a completely new exhaust system, work that should never have been needed – it should have been designed this way just two years ago when the boat was built.
We decided not to return via the Dunkirk waterway to head into Paris (our destination for the winter) but go through Bruges, another route we were familiar with, to achieve the same goal. The thought of revisiting Leffinge (an old favourite) and mooring at Jabbeke (another) was more appealing than the busier waterway via Dunkirk. We were not disappointed with either of these places as we watched what looked like the Tour de Belgium as we were held up for it in Leffinge at the lift bridge, and we had a totally sumptuous meal at one of our favourite restaurants, at Jabbeke, in the sunshine.
That first day of travel after our big repair work was a delight .. unfortunately not quite what we had for the trip through Bruges the following day. We had 10 engine hours of travel, only made 70 kilometres (although a record distance for us in one day), 2 locks and 13 swing bridges.
We were ready to leave at 6.00am (it was recommended by Lock Keepers to get through Bruges early) but there wasn’t enough daylight until 7.15am.. we arrived at Waregem (above the lock of St Baafs-Vijve) and finally moored securely at 8.05pm.
We wouldn’t have felt so exhausted at the end of this if it wasn’t for a few big issues along the way. One being passing through the huge round lock at Bruges .. a very unusual lock .. holding off (no bollards available) before the lock was difficult in a narrow piece of canal just after a bend and close to the lock but sitting there, waiting to come out, was one of the biggest commercials on the waterway around here. She had difficulty getting out of the lock, passing us and negotiating the bend. That was very difficult for Stewart controlling the boat while the huge wash of this commercial barge pushed and pulled us in such a tiny amount of water. The good news was, once we were clear of traffic coming out of the lock, we had it to ourselves .. we didn’t have to negotiate space with other boats .. but it was a very difficult lock having only the bow and stern touching a solid wall, very turbulent water as it filled, and the commercial barge (only) bollards were placed well above us, widely spaced, on the quay.
Even that challenge, the round lock, was not quite such an issue as the Open Lock at Beernam where we had green lights and so proceeded (it’s a lock, it can be closed to control water flow) but just as we were at the narrow entrance we could see a huge commercial barge on the other side, not many meters away, in the same position, ie, just entering the Open Lock. How can we both have green lights – I asked myself and Stewart.
The commercial must be on a red light .. either way, Stewart threw Endellion into reverse and I’ve never seen such action from our boat, luckily. The crew member on board the commercial’s bow was staring me in the eye with his hands telling me to reverse as they also threw on some reverse engine .. but only enough to slow slightly and as we backed off they missed our bow by a few meters. They knew exactly what they were doing and weren’t going to slow a moment more than essential.
That experience was extremely scary .. but as I’ve said before, we are very resilient, and on we crawled again. Getting near dusk and we couldn’t find a suitable mooring yet we were passing, being overtaken or stalked by huge commercial barges – we have never seen a waterway this busy. In desperation we decided we could probably moor on the top side of the lock of St Baafs but first we had to get through it. We were moored off at the crowded entrance to the lock and thought maybe we could just stay there .. but no, we were, in no uncertain terms, told to enter and position behind one of these monsters.
All OK except he had his engines running to hold his barge against the wall rather than use a stern rope – this meant every time I got into position to place the rope over the bollard he would give an engine blast to reposition his barge and we would go roaring backwards on his wash! It took us probably 10 minutes (an age when all these commercials are waiting to come in with us) to finally be secured on bow and stern. I asked if I could moor elsewhere in the lock, where it was calmer, but was told NO – and realised this was because as soon as we were secured in flew an enormously long and slim barge so that we were crammed in literally as neatly as sardines in a can .. those Lock Keepers are amazing, they knew the length and width of everyone and packed us in perfectly. Although this of course meant no room for movement or we would end bumping into someone, not good form.
Finally through and getting seriously near dark we found we couldn’t moor on the top side of the lock but not much further on we found the marina with a few bollards and a cleat we could use to make sure we didn’t get thrown around by these passing commercials .. they continued to flow thick and fast right up and past the lock closing time of 10.00pm well past dark. Phew .. we had a big sigh of relief at 8.05 when finally we could relax.
Friday was another busy day .. 51.5 kilometers, 4 locks and one fuel barge mooring to top up our supplies – and into France. But this was a breeze after yesterday – hopefully we’ll never have quite such a long and challenging day for some time.
We’re now in what we consider one of our home towns, Wambrechies, only seven kilometres from Lille. We had an interesting time here in 2008 and met the loveliest people who we consider our friends. As we came under the bridge and looked to see if our friends on their converted (to a home) peniche (or commercial barge) were there, I could see Catherine who did a double take and must have thought .. that’s the boat of Stewart of Lesley, the one that was stuck on the mud here in 2008! She waved and called out “you can moor alongside of us if you like.. but be careful turning”. This was our mistake last year .. as we turned in this wide canal our flat bottom became stuck on the shallow sides. We didn’t need Catherine’s offer because Alain (the Capitaine here) earlier confirmed over the phone he would have a mooring for us which would be accessible for Stewart.
So here we are and happy to stay all week as we love this place.
We’re only just back to internet connection for France – hence this update – but no Skype so we can’t telephone until we find a wi-find connection.
We hope all our friends and families are in excellent form .. as we are ..
Lesley and Stewart