Finally, we’re under way.

 
This is Roy’s table on his stern deck, at Veurne, where he often sat with various items looking like they will slide off at any moment – but never did.

Sunday outing around Veurne countryside.

 

We left the charming town of Veurne on Monday headed for Nieuwpoort, once again, to get our big repairs made on Tuesday.      

Kate and Luke from the BBC joined us to do a reccie for a story on Stewart – doing interesting things with his wheelchair – for their OUCH! website. We had a leisurely journey along the canal stretch we were now so very familiar with and arrived on the sea side of the locks at Nieuwpoort to be told, by Ship Support (our boat repair company), to moor alongside a big sloop. We knew there would be no access for Stewart during this repair work .. but ‘rafting off’ against a yacht in this busy port wasn’t what we had expected.

Endellion 'rafted on' to the side of the two-masted yacht in the Nieuwpoort harbour.

 

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.      

Jacob and Tam in the dinghy bringing in our silencer and tools.

 

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.      

Our reworked silencer ready to be repositioned in the engine hold below.

 

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.      

Always flying around us is modern farming 'kit'- plouging and muck spreading (the nose says) in particular.

 

Tour de Belgium perhaps, a serious bike race at Leffinge, Belgium.

 

Intriguing mechanism of the lift bridge at Jabbeke in Belgium.

 

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.    

Leaving Jabbeke in the early hours.

 

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.      

The stern end of the massive commercial barge exiting the round lock at Bruges.

 

The bow end of the massive commercial barge exiting the round lock at Bruges.

 

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.      

There are clear signs of trouble along the way .. but the trouble has generally been around locks.

 

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.      

Stewart at the controls, our new central window finally fitted (third one) so it can be opened to cool things down!

 

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.      

End of the day, still frantically busy at the St Baafs-Vijve lock on the Leie in Belgium.

 

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.      

A huge floating barge with three men keeping lookout along the Leie in Belgium.

 

Being stalked by a huge peniche who can't quite overtake us.

 

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.      

The worrying sight of weed/algae on the Canal de la Deule coming into Wambrechies - winter will kill it apparently.

 

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 ..      

Happy days.      

Lesley and Stewart

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About Lesley and Stewart

Loving great waterways of the world.
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3 Responses to Finally, we’re under way.

  1. Gavin Partridge says:

    Hi guys, love the update. I particularly like the photo of the traffic signs; congrats on being able to decipher them!

    “Bon courage” and enjoy the rest…Gavin.

  2. Margaret Moxon says:

    Hi Stewart and Lesley
    I’m tired just reading your blog. What an exhausting few days you’ve had. So pleased you now have a week to do a bit of relaxing. Sounds lovely meeting up with “old” friends from 2008.
    Brilliant weather for the past few days here in Sydney and finally into summer clothes. Marg

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