Saturday, 24 September 2022

Windmill land

 Since entering the Netherlands we have been able to slow down and stop for a day or two when we felt like it. We arrived at the old fortified port of Willemstad in the midst of a yachting weekend and Sea shanty festival. a kind of song fest where shanty groups from across the Netherlands performed on different stages through the town on the Sunday afternoon.

Regatta day Willemstad

Traditional 'English' Sea shanties sung with a strong Dutch accent.

Willemstad flour mill, still grinds flour once or twice each year.

Willemstad, from the top of the Church tower, a very pretty old town.

Underway again we took the incoming tide up through Rotterdam. Arguably the busiest network of commercial waterways in Europe.

A full load aboard. in the Hollandsch Deep

Dordrecht rail bridge carries 4 main line tracks, high enough for us, 
but can be a long wait for yachts.

These flood defences were built following the 1953 floods

In Gouda where we were in time to see the last open air cheese market of the year. While most of the trading is now done online the traditional market is put on for the tourists combined with the annual best Gouda cheese awards.

Lotsa Gouda, the final open air cheese market of the year.

The 'fairyland' town hall Gouda.

Gouda is as far inland as the big cruise boats can navigate. From here we were able to take the more gentle non-tidal Vecht river, meanering through towns and villages, each with their own type of traditional lift bridges and seldom having to wait more than a few minutes to pass. 

Peaceful cruising off the big commercial waterways.

We had planned to cruise through Utrecht but couldn't due to closed bridge which was too low for us. So it was out onto the Barge motoway, the Amsterdam -Rhine canal again for a few kms. 

Weesp town lock, firmly closed, for the first time in 40 years. 

While we thought we had dodged the drought conditions of France and Flanders, there was the unexpected issue in the low lying Holland provinces of too much water, of the salty kind. These Delta regions normally rely on the fresh waters of the Rhine to irrigate and keep the water table 'sweet' as much of the region is below sea level. In Weesp they had closed the lock gates leading into town to help balance the salinity. We were told this was the first time in 40 years.

Muiden castle 

As I write we are in Muiden, where the Vecht river finally runs into the Ijsselmeer. We are sitting out a day or two of wind and rain before tackling the last leg of our voyage up from France. Autumn has arrived. Across the channel I can see the old castle, unchanged since we were here back in1966 aboard Jacandor our small open boat on our way home from Copenhagen.


Tuesday, 13 September 2022

Mixing it with the big ships

 I was about to post this episode when we received news of the Queen's death on the day we arrived into the Netherlands. It is a sobering thought that I can remember her coronation. It was in the same year that I first visited the Netherlands aboard my parents' boat 'Bonita'.


'Bonita'  as she looked in 1953

Aboard Antiope we had reached Zeeland and could relax the pace a little. The worry of water shortages now behind us, we were now only a week's cruising away from our winter base in Sheerwolde which is a day or so beyond Amsterdam.   

Not much spare room to pass here

These lifting bridges don't give you much time once a commercial arrives

In some the big locks the bollards are 'floating'  
and they move up or down with you. 

Our passage from the Sambre took us North through Brussels to the Scheldt river where we had to share the waterway with seagoing ships and massive barges. Restrictions applied to pleasure craft meant that we frequently had to wait for commercial craft to pass low bridges and share locks when and if there was room for us. 

We did take time out in Brussels for a bit of sightseeing. 

The Brussels Royal Yacht Club, 
a tram ride from the city centre

The 'Atomium', a "temporary" survivor of the 1958 Brussels world fair

'Manneken Pis' on the tourist trail and this model dates from 1618.

The central square hosting the annual 'Beer Fest' on the weekend we visit !!!

We find an axe throwing beer bar. What could possibly go wrong?  

On our way out of town we pass mountains of scrap 
waiting to be barged away 

On a clear calm day we lock out onto the Scheldt river to bypass the Antwerp docks, which are currently off limits to any vessels without AIS. Yep, it's on the shopping list for next year.

A perfect day for motorboats on the Scheldt

A crane museum on the Antwerp waterfront

Antwerp docks stretch for 15 kms along the river
Shall we follow that one ?

Windmills, this must be the Netherlands


Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Netherlands via Brussels !

 With concerns that the Canal du Nord and the routes through Flanders may be restricted, we choose to take the Sambre canal into Belgium. A bit of a gamble wondering if there would be enough depth of water for us at the top of the hill. It turned out to be a great experience. 

The Sambre all to ourselves

Only another 50 locks to go!

This 187 km long waterway with 65 locks had only just been reopened in 2021 after being closed to navigation since 2006 due to a collapsed aquaduct. 

We cross the repaired aquaduct.

Not many boats have passed this way.

A quiet overnight mooring on the Sambre canal.

The drought has caused many boaters to abandon travelling too far so we had the waterway almost to ourselves. The lockkeepers were delighted to see us and were taking great trouble to manage the water levels along the route. 

A celebratory BBQ at Etreux, the summit lock on the Sambre.

The fine weather stays with us as we descend lock by lock

Our plan once past the summit was to join the Meuse and enter the Netherlands at Maastricht. That plan was shattered when we learned that one of the locks at Auvelais on our route to the Meuse had failed and was to be closed for two weeks.    

 Ittre lock, the 14M drop is one of the deepest in Belgium. A commercial barge is descending. 

We had a plan B, which was to turn left at Charleroi and head north through Brussels, Antwerp and into the Netherlands that way. We then learn that the most direct route through the port of Antwerp was to be closed to all non commercial vessels. Our only remaining option would be the tidal Schelte river route down to Zeeland where we could finally lock into the Netherlands.
Too late to turn back, we continue and have the experience of riding the Ronquieres incline plane boat lift, and take a visit to the Waterloo battlefield.  

Antiope takes a ride on the rails down the hill for 1.5 kms, a descent of 70 m.

At Waterloo, a short distance from the waterway, stands a massive Lion cast from the battlefield cannons on top of a hill created by the labours of the widows of the battle.

It is sad to reflect that right now over 200 years later on the fringe of Europe, war is being raged and with no end in sight.   

Sunday, 21 August 2022

Which way to go ?

 We have reached Compiegne on our cruise Northwards. It was here that in 1431 Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) a very passionate woman, was captured, tried and later 'burnt at the stake'. In 1918 L'Armistice was signed here, hopefully to end the 'War to end all wars'! Have we learned nothing? 

Compiegne, the 'Marie' and a defiant Jeane d'Arc.  
The bell which strikes every 1/4 hr dates from 1303 

We are making our way slowly towards Flanders and Holland where Antiope will spend her winter tucked up in a big warm shed. Reluctantly we are leaving France for a season or two, to revisit Belgium and the Netherlands where we started our European cruising back in 2011. This move has been prompted also by successive seasons of increasingly severe droughts in France which have repeatedly curtailed our cruising plans. Two Covid interupted years under tarpaulins in a dusty boatyard have also taken its toll on Antiope's paintwork, and while my patchwork painting may look ok from a distance, it is time to get a professional job done, especially under our lovely rope fender, at a recommended boatyard.

Fire drill at Vermenton on the day we departed on our way North

Auxerre, the 'Horlorge'

Sens, a balmy evening in the square. 
The Cathedral has stood here since 1160 

Still waters on the Yonne river.

A day out by bus to Fontainebleau, a palace larger than Versailles

France has experienced four successive heatwaves this Summer with temperatures aboard often topping 40C. Any activity in the heat of the day has been challenging, We are certainly not complaining but getting alongside early in the day and in the shade of trees has been a priority. The almost total lack of rain for many months has severely impacted the waterway system. 

                         Then there is Paris, of course.

Les Bateaux Mouches

Got to see it at night

The Haussmann Paris architecture 

Antiope in her favourite mooring, 'La Bastille'

Underway, we pass Notra Dame,  restoration well on its way and official
re-opening set for 15th April 2024.

Yes, clouds and a spot of rain later

A quiet mooring on the Oise
We have come North via Compiegne as all of our preferred routes eastwards from Migennes had become impassable due to lack of water or thick weed growth during the lockdown periods. Staying on the more reliable river navigations has taken us down the Yonne river to the junction with the Seine through Paris and up the Oise river thus far. Here we must choose which way to navigate through Belgium. Our preferred choices, the pretty Aisne canal through the Ardennes to Maastricht is already closed due to lack of water and the recently re-opened Sambre canal may close at any time for the same reason. The old but busy Canal du Nord remains our safest option through to the 'low countries' where the lack of water is seldom a problem. However, we are currently getting notices that they are closing a lot of the popular, non-commercial waterways in Belgium,

Reluctantly we go left

Plenty of water for us on the Oise

The Oise river to ourselves, 

well almost to ourselves

Antiope feels happy to be cruising again, her twin engines purring along at a very economical 4.2 litres per hour, which certainly helps when fuel is currently over 2 euros per litre.

And another thing -

Then there are the 'Conges Annuals'
The August French shopkeeper exodus

We will post an update when we get over or through the hill !!

Cheers Charles and Annie