Saturday, 6 October 2012

Into France

Our time cruising through Belgium had been a delightful surprise. while in the Netherlands we found boating very ordered and efficient, it needed to be, due to the sheer number of craft on the move.  Belgium we found was more relaxed and casual. waterways less travelled.

The Dendre river, our own secret waterway in Belgium
Deep lock on the Canal du Centre
No room for error, negotiating the ancient bridge at Tournai
Lock sharing on the Canal du Nord
 Busy day at Compienne
Canal du Nord, in the 4km tunnel at Ruyaulcourt
Crossing the border into France gave us yet another perspective. First impressions were of a waterway network in need of attention, our attempts to obtain the 'Vignette' or licence to cruise were frustrating, we were never asked if we had one, and in the end were told to get it in Paris, but then the outdated locks still work and by the time we reached Paris we had fallen in love with France, possibly helped by a spell of proper summer weather.

                               Antiope, Canopy down, ready for the low btidges of the Somme

Our route from Belgium took us along the Dendre river and the Arth canal, The canal du centre, the Escaut, and the great Canal du Nord.
We had been told that a visit to the Somme was a must do. we were not dissapointed.

The tranquil 'Somme'
A Picardie rose in one of many WW1 cemeteries
The Somme, the scene of carnage in WW1, could not have been more tranquil. We cruised as far as Amiens and tarried a few days there, visiting the huge Cathedral by day and by night.

Arriving in Amiens, on the Somme river

Amiens cathedral, an evening light show is a must to see 

The days were beginning to shorten and the trees beginning to turn as we rejoined the Canal du Nord and headed further South towards Paris. we joined the Oise river near Compienne, where I visited the scene of the 1918 armistice, Standing by the rail track where in a railway carriage the conflict was ended, I wondered what had been learnt.

Another milestone, Paris.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Flanders to The Somme, a Cruise !

Without intending or planning to trace this route, from Flanders to Pickardie, Our summer cruise has criss crossed the battle lines of the Great war. Grey skies gave way to blue as we headed inland.
We have passed through gentle rolling country in its summer mantle. The 90 years plus since, have healed the wounds on the land, but countless cemeteries and battle scarred towns tell a different story.

Classic Ghent, remains largely unscarred by war

The old classiic Belgian towns of Brugges and Ghent survived largely untouched having been quickly overun in 1914. To moor up to stone wharves in these towns where merchants have brought their goods by water since before 1200, does set the imagination racing.

Backwater waterways in Brugges

A few photographs cannot do justice to the architecture, but perhaps I can shed some insight into the Flemmish passion for ringing bells. The 'Belfort' tower in Brugge houses a massive carillion of bells rung either by a manual keyboard or by a huge rotating bronze drum studded with triggers.
All this atop a 75m tower!

The 'Belfrie' and carillion tower, Brugge.
This drum rotates slowly, setting the bells ringing on the hour.
The town hall at Oudenaarde

Along the waterway we encountered very different architecture often in the forms of lifting bridges, including those that just rolled up into the air.

The road just lifted in front of us!

For those readers interested enough to follow our route, we cruised for a week on a ring route first down the Leie river, a delightfull winding waterway to Dienze, Kortrijk, along a little used canal to Bossuit, returning to Ghent via Oudenaarde, the scene of another but much older battle. It was finally time to get on our way towards France, This we did by heading east out of Ghent taking the tide down the Schelte river to Grembergen, and the junction with the Dendre river.

Antiope shares a small lock at Kortrijk
At Bossuit- Flanders, Wallonia on the far bank

For four days we met only three other boats along this old and little known navigation, that meanders out of Flanders and into Wallonia, the French speaking soutern province of Belgium. Mobile lock keepers would shepperd us through 36 locks over the summit and down to Blaton, wher we joined the main east west commercial waterway 'the Canal du Centre'. time to sit up and take notice. A water stop and crew change in Tournai and next stop France.       

Saturday, 4 August 2012

I just have to show you these two pictures
                                                        The Colloseum, Is just huge!

           The Pantheon, is also huge, and a marvel of construction for its age, over 1600 years

                                                              IN FLANDERS

We cruise through a tranquil landscape, alone on a treelined canal. The wide flat land slowly rises ahead, we see tall church spires ahead between the trees, we are coming to a town.
Two deep locks lift us out of the coastal plains. the waterway ends In a very old looking stone lined basin, a friendly habourmaster greets us, wecome to Leper, (Ypres)
Antiope is one of only three visiting boats, not many come this way by water.

We had just rejoined Antiope in Dixmuide, after travelling by train from Rome, What way to see some country! Hot dry and dusty through to snowy Alps then steep vinyard clad slopes of the Rhine gorge, however the temperature dropped as we came North and changed trains many times.
What did I know about Flanders and the 'War to end all wars' clearly not enough, We were moored only metres from the trenches where over 4 years, thousands of Belgians died holding on to the last remaining corner of their country.

'The Trench of Death' the last line of defense for Belgium

And so to Ypres. We walk up a slight hill from the basin, newish houses give way to the now familiar flemish architechture, we arrive at the market square in all its'a 14th century grandeur, when it rivalled London for wealth and population.
What is inspiring, as the war was devastating is how thw Belgian people have rebuilt their town. In 1917 not a building remained standing, now, you would believe that within the walls all is as it was centuries ago. but for one of the ancient gateways, the Menin gate, Rebuilt as a Memorial,
which I can only describe as massive and haunting bearing the names of the nearly 500,000 commonwealth soldiers who died here.

                                         A Belgian 'honour guard', at the Mennin Gate

We attended 'the last post' the daily 8pm ceremony, when quietly 1500 to 2000 people gather. The traffic stops, the town falls quiet, and the bugles call us all to remember.          

                                                         Ypres 1918, the Town Hall on the right

                                                           Ypres 2012, The same Town Hall.

We slip away from Ypres, back down the waterway that was the 'Front line' for four devastating years.  We reach the North Sea coast and take a day trip off Antiope, a tram ride along 30 Kms of coast. The Summer has finally arrived in Europe and it seems that the entire population of Belgium has hit the beach.

                                                          The Beach at Oostende

This will be the closest we get to the sea until we reach the Med in a season or two. for now Antiope heads inland to Brugge and Ghent. Towns that deserve a chapter of their own, watch this space.

Cheers Charles and Annie,  aboard Antiope in Sunny Ghent

Friday, 8 June 2012

2012 A busy year

An Author at last

                                          ' Swatchway Magic',   the book, finally in print

There is a saying, that there is a book in all of us. Well finally I can claim my place, with my name on a pubished work. Nothing grand, a modest paperback, however, the book 'Swatchway Magic' has been in the pipeline for over 10 years now. So, what is it all about? A boating tale of course, but also a nostalgic photographic journey along the Essex and Suffolk coast of England where I learned to sail.
The original Idea was hatched back in 2000 when co author Paul Antrobus was staying with us in Auckland. We had both sailed this coast and experienced the magic back then.
So What has this got to do with Antiope? Well she features in the text and her passage down the Thames and eventually to the Netherlands forms a thread through the book. 
Spare a moment while browsing and google 'Swatchway Magic' to learn more. The book is now available through some london bookstores, Amazon, Kindle, or drop me a line for an Authors copy.

An Atlantic adventure

The writer was invited last month to help crew a yacht from the Carribean to Newport, Rhode island.
The opportunity was too good to refuse, It has been many a year since I last sailed into English Harbour Antigua, at the end of my first Transatlantic crossing, so I was keen to see how much things had changed. Yes there are now rows of mega yachts being preened by their professional crews, but Nelsons dockyard has survived and been restored much as I remembered it.
A rum in the Admirals Inn was mandatory.
our passage, Due north by compass was very comfortable, not difficult aboard the 68ft Swan, 'Toucan'. That was until we reached the Gulf stream. This uncannily warm flow of water was being pushed up against the eastery wind the resulting lumpy seas caused our staysail stay to let go high up the mast, of course this happened in the dead of night. Taming a 75 ft steel serpent encased in a heavy wet sail does focus the mind.
The coast of America was heralded by rain squalls and grey mist, The moan of a foghorn from Brenton reef light was all we heard as we crossed the infamous waters where Americas cup battles had been fought over in decades past.
My first visit to Newport left me with the impression that The Americas Cup was still around somewhere perhaps in a clubhouse nearby, A deightfull time warp new England town just waking up for the season. Alongside us at the boatyard, the legendary 12 metres American Eagle and Intrepid were being rigged for the charter season.

                                        'Toucan'  A swan 68, a very comfortable ride.

New York was close enough for a visit by train, so in an all too short couple of days I saw the sights, Watched the world pass by in Times Square, rode the Staten Is ferry, and paid my respects at 'Ground Zero'

                                          'Ground Zero'  New York, a vrey fitting memorial.

On then to London. Meet up with my long suffering wife Annie, and start planning for our cruise aboard Antiope.

                                                  Antiope wakes after her winter sleep.
Our partners Roger and Robyn, are first aboard this season to commission Antiope. Relaunching in Enkhuizen they have cruised to Hoorn, Edam, and at last report were in the Hague. The general plan this year is to head south to warmer latitudes.  

Cheers Charles