Sept 15

Verdun

an 11th century church, hidden away in a ravine that has protected it from the ravages of many wars

idyllic French waterways cruising

We travelled further upstream on the Meuse, with many of the river meanders cut-off by canalized sections. The river flow is very slow at this time, so going upstream is not an issue. The river valley alternates between high banks and wide flood plains, intensely farmed, but often with hay or grazing along the river, to prevent serious erosion in the (reportedly) frequent winter and spring floods. That remains the single biggest obstacle to wintering anywhere except at Pont-a-Bar, where I will be.

Verdun waterfront, with the queue of boats awaiting the reopening of the canal south. I think it will be a long wait…

one of the monuments to the fallen of WW1

soldiers of France, with the names of all of Verdun’s fallen inscribed below

The moorings at Verdun do have pontoons that look like the tidal ones: huge pylons to allow the pontoons to float in high water, but they would be very uncomfortable moorings in high water, and very public as well. So, I am heading back downstream, past Sedan, for my winter bolt-hole.

a replica of some of the fighting areas around Verdun (WW1)

bread stores in the tunnels of the citadel

rebuilt streets of Verdun, with very typical window shutters

Verdun’s psyche is permeated by the scars of Works War 1. The site of one of the longest and bloodiest battles, the area around Verdun survived (barely), mostly by digging tunnels. The Citadel here is really just a network of tunnels, where the Verdun Garrison survived in horrendous conditions. The city was 85% destroyed, but was rebuilt. There is a superb exposition on automatic train cars, through some of the tunnels, that really explains the situation, conditions, and effects on the city. Unfortunately, is is very dark, and flash photos are not permitted, so sharing that isn’t easy.

We’ve had continuing great weather, with cool nights and mostly bright, sunny, warm days.

I’m looking forward to having yet more time to deal with boat issues: the last was a jammed engine control, which (of course), occurred while in a lock, and resulted in our colliding with a lock gate. It shook things, and there is some damage, but all repairable. We are proceeding…

an innovative river-side fishing perch…

the boat in typical Halte moorings, in Consenvoye.

The canal vistas are spectacular. With the great weather, crops are mostly harvested, and the fruit trees along the canal are laden. We’ve been stuffing ourselves with pears, prune plums and every sort of apple.

Along the way, we stopped in Consenvoye. Here is a German military cemetary, where more than 11,000 are buried, all from WW1. Well kept, and certainly respected, with a very different layout than cemetaries of France or Britain, each cross represents 4 soldiers.

 

 

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Sept 9

Belgium and then France

outside the Sax museum where the inventor of the saxophone lived

the citadel at Dinant

the citadel and Cathedral from the water, at Dinant

The Meuse. An historic route from eastern France to the sea, the Meuse is a most interesting waterway. We traveled south, up the Meuse to a spectacular mooring in Dinant, sandwiched in a narrow valley, overlooked by an impressive fortress, the Citadel. The distinctive cathedral, with it’s restored bulbous spire, and carillon, was between ius and the citadel. We explored both, and ended the day with traditional moules et frites (mussels and French fries), all memorable.

Then, further up the Meuse, to France and Givet. Despite mooring issues initially, we found a place and all was well. Then next evening, in an especially tranquil village, we moored in a natural amphitheatre, where the echo of dogs barking lasted for seconds, yet strangely super peaceful and restful.

chateau de Freyer

roches de Freyer

Fortress Charlemont, near Givet

the natural amphitheatre of river cliffs at the tranquil mooring in Laifour

natural tree sculture

supervising billy goat gruff at a lock

The river provides all sorts of interesting things to see: chateaux all along the sides, cliffs (and climbers!), and lots of fortifications. We also met some new friends, (Diana and Chris on Esme) as well as Rita and Alex, and spent a shared evening of learning Farkle ( a dice game).

 

 

Then, on to Charleville-Meziers, where we were joined by our friend Nick Seager (needing a boat fix after selling his boat of 19 years..).

We left the very posh moorings there, and made our way to the confluence of the Meuse and the Canal des Ardennes. This was the only alternate route for me, and would have led towards Paris. However, this canal suffered extensive flood damage early in the year and is now closed. Hmmm. We also discovered that the upper end of the Meuse (now called the Canal d’Est) is also closed due to lack of water. This has made a significant challenge, as the only alternatives are to stop for the winter, or to retreat to, either Dunkerque, or towards Belgium or Holland to search for a mooring. Neither is a great option, so I am staying in Pont-`a-Bar for the winter. Quite remote, and there will be winterizing issues, but such is a boater’s life.

horses on show

another of the fairy-tale book figures carved in the competition

We moved on to Sedan, where we discovered that it was fair weekend. The moorings are attached to the fairgrounds, so we were able to explore this very traditional agricultural fair. Show bunnies, chickens, sheep, all sorts of cattle, and horses (including the heavy draught horses of the Ardennes). Really quite amazing, as they also were showing the forestry skills of the horses, and some sophisticated forestry equipment. We also were entertained by the French national chainsaw

the third of 10 different sculptures we watched emerge from the tree trunks

sculpture competition- amazingly chewing up tree trunks into artwork!

 

fortified castle at Sedan

upper ramparts of the castle at Sedan

We also had a chance to tour the largest old fortification in Europe. This huge castle has evolved (as most have), through many centuries. The contrasts are evident, as the castle was never demolished to make way for new things; they simply added more. Part of huge defensive works around the main castle, it helped make Sedan an independent principality at one time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 31

Belgium

the crew! Thanks Pat and Kerry

We have toured from our entry at Antoing (Perrones), across the southern part of the province of Wallonie. After the huge locks at Perrones, we moored for the night beside another huge lock on a disused side canal, the Pommeroeul. This would have been a short cut that would have saved 2 days cruising, but, alas, is now closed.

13.5m lock gates at the entrance to the Pommeroeul Canal

We went through Mons, which was anti-climactic, until we met the huge lift at Strepy-Thieu, which has replaced 4 smaller lifts and a lock on the old canal through Mons. A spectacular experience!.

Strepy-Thieu boat lift approach from below

view of the Sambre valley from the lift

 

 

 

exit at the top of the boat lift 73.15m rise!

We moved along, and have seen abbeys, vast heavy industry, culminating in the seriously huge works, mostly derelict, in Charlerois.

However, unlike Britain, where there is very little commercial traffic on the waterways, and few of the heavy industrial sites are working, in Belgium, the canal-sides are lined with many heavy industrial places, from metal recycling, steel fabrication and aggregate manufacturing, through several container transfer ports. Interesting, and economically very important (and why the waterways are full of the large ships), if not entirely appealing to look at.

flood prevention gate near the boat lift

heavy industry at Charlerois

dismantling the works!

Abbey at Floreffe, from the river

We made the transition from smaller canalized river (the Sambre) to the much larger Meuse at Namur, the capital of Wallonie. There is a huge citadel fortress, begun about 1000 AD, and added to in stages through the 19th century. Not significant at all in the 20th century, both world wars passed it by. However, Namur, at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers, was a pivotal place, and suffered much damage.

Sambre River side in Namur

the citadel above the major old bridge across the Meuse, in Namur

Namur citadel at night

Searching for Utopia

confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers, from the citadel in Namur

We have seen all sorts of lock designs, from the traditional V-gates, to lift gates, and a first for us, cable-suspended slide gates. The locks continue to be much larger than in the UK.

 

 

 

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Aug 26

West front of Amiens Cathedral. It is huge, tall, and impressive, but would be better with a peal of change ringing bells!

nave and sanctuary of this vast building

Yeah! I am now officially on the way to wandering about the continent. My friends, Pat and Kerry joined me in Douai, and we spent a day going to Amiens and exploring there. The cathedral was awesome, and we also visited the Jules Verne house and museum. We had planned travel by train, but the train was cancelled, so we rented a car and drove. Visiting the cemeteries, and memorials to the Battle of the Somme, and Canada’s last 100 days offensive that helped bring about the armistice of Nov. 11, 1914, I learned a significant amount about that part of the war history. I expect to learn a great deal more as we continue exploring northern France and southern Belgium.

We are now in Belgium, and the intersection of the L’Escaut and Nimy-Blaton-Perrones canals, in the Perrones Yacht Club, which is a delightful mooring in their marina. The lock tomorrow is another monster of over 12m lift. We will fuel, get propane, and supplies from the fuel barge in Antoing, and then to Mons.

Castle in Antoing, adjacent to the canal L’Escaut

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Aug 19

Hi,

After a completely frustrating month and ($$$), I am back being a wandering Canuck!. I’ve left Dunkerque, where they replaced a bunch of stuff in the drive train (stern gland, main thrust bearing) , and am now, hopefully, really beginning my exploration of France. I’m on the Grand Liason canal, from Dunkerque, through to Arleaux and Pont Malin. This is a major French ‘business’ route, and there are many barges (huge) up to 2500 tonnes using this route. I try to stay out of their way. Today, for example, I was using the large (HUGE) lock called Fontinerres. I made my way in, and the lock keeper kept moving me forward. This is generally not good when going up, as the turbulence of the water entering can make things awkward and challenging in terms of keeping the boat under control. However, I was placed within 1m of a 13m concrete wall ( and expected to make sure I didn’t hit the wall when the vast torrent of water entered!). Then a wee barge of some 2500 tonnes entered after me. 15cm of clearance on each side, and ready to crush me like an eggshell if i got in the way… He was under perfect control, and I managed to avoid disaster.

Then, on to Aire Sur la Lys, which was the turn-around point for the mechanical issues. Now I am on new exploration grounds. Lots of heavy¬† industry beside the canal: recycling, hydrocarbon stuff, and likely a metal smelter (not sure). Lots going on. I’m stopped in Givenchy for the night, looking to go on towards Douai so I can meet friends for their cruise expedition.

Arrived in Douai, and made my up the river Scarpe, to the Douai Halte. A delightful mooring almost in the city center, but getting here was interesting. The river is about 10m wide (which means i cannot turn around), and full of weed. Also not very deep- the depth sounder was howling at me most of the way. And then, i came to a low bridge, that meant I had to lower the canopy and radar arch. No big deal, except if you are facing a river current, in a narrow channel with questions as to whether you will run aground! There are times when being singlehanded provides real challenges! However, made it, with only a few scrapes on the new paint, and I’m happily moored, with water and power, awaiting the arrival of my boating companions Pat and Kerry. I am quite excited in anticipation of their arrival, and the fun in exploration ahead.

 

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Aug 4

Well, July has been lovely weather, and France has lots to offer, but my world has been rather smaller than anticipated. I have another mechanical problem, this time with the stern gland (for non-boating people, this is where the drive shaft, which connects the engine with the propellor, exits the boat. It is important that the gland seals against water entering, yet remains lubricated- and that is my problem). I am also facing trying to communicate about the issues and understand what those that are trying to tell me. A crash course in technical French! So, I am back in Dunkerque, out of the water. I have had time to address other boat projects, but also found that the underwater painting I had done in Hartlepool, has failed, and I am now sanding and painting that, so not so much exploring the wonderful historic town of Dunkerque. I do hope to be on my way soon…

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July 6

The official end of my British explorations by boat. I arrived in Shotley Marina, on a peninsula between Felixstowe’s container port, and Harwich’s ferry terminal, which is the site of the former boy sailor’s training school, called HMS Ganges. More than 100,000 boys attended this establishment over the years, providing the Royal Navy with many trained sailors. Now disestablished, the marina is the site of a wonderful museum about the school.

The passage from Lowestoft to Shotley was one of the roughest I have experienced, ending in force 6 winds. Not a pleasant trip, but I at least had the tide with me to hasten the voyage.

yellow 2016, purple 2017, dark green 2018 to complete journey at Harwich

Nick and Chris arrived, and after re-provisioning, we set off on July 5, five years to the day from when I started my British explorations by boat. Harwich was the last stop on my circumnavigation of Britain (except for northern Scotland, where I crossed by the Great Glen and the Caledonian Canal). A wonderful experience and I have learned a great deal about the history, people, and places. Thanks.

Crossing the channel was absolutely easy with calm seas, and a beautiful day. My crew were less enthused, finding the gently rolling swells providing discomfort! However, ever wanting to give me a challenge, we made the last 90 minutes in fog, thick at times, and especially as I was entering Dunkirk harbour. Navigating by chartplotter is an experience! Encountering a tacking sailboat within the fog obscured entrance added even more to the tension. However, we arrived, safe and secure without sinking either ourselves nor the sailboat, to moor, breasted up, in Dunkirk (now Dunkerque!)

Nick harvesting mussels from the huge lock wall

moules (mussels, fresh and done in garlic and white wine, with creme fraiche) Delicious!

Now, on to explore the continent, starting with France.,

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July 1 Canada Day

Made the trek to Lowestoft, and all seems now to be well with the boat. Dealt with visa issues with the very helpful Border Force patrol boat, and contacts within British Immigration who helped solve a problem with common sense and goodwill. Much appreciated (and unusual, I think!).

Good ringing in Lowestoft, with a ground-floor 8. Likely the last ringing I will get to do for a long time, and how I will miss the many friends I have made ringing around the country.

Awaiting good weather (at sea: the weather in land is wonderfully warm and sunny, but this brings an on-shore sea breeze and very uncomfortable swells in the direction I have to go). Then on to Harwich and await arrival of Nick and Chris to take me across the Channel.

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June 26

Onward south on the English coast. Engine cooling problems behind me, things are looking good. I enjoyed a magnificent day in Wells Next the Sea with Daniel in idyllic weather, that I hadn’t seen since last year in Wales. It has been a while since short and t0shirts were the dress of the day outside. We explored the vast beaches of Wells, and walked more that 10km in the sand (my feet are a little tender…). The sand also makes for a most interesting entrance to the harbour, and Wells arranged a pilot boat to lead me in so that I didn’t embarrass myself by going aground. Even so, there were a few moments when the depth alarm was going off! No touches, though, and the harbour itself is dredged to accommodate boats.

Daniel then had to return to Germany, and I made my way further south, around the Norfolk coast, to Lowestoft. A good day, though the length of the journey meant that I had to fight the tidal current for several hours.

Now, to deal with visa and immigration to make sure things are proper, before I set off for France.

 

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June 21

Howdy!

I’m on the move again after the protracted repair of the cooling system while marooned in Scarborough. All is well, and I’m presently in the major fishing port of Grimsby. Things are a bit grim here in terms of the town: lots of abandoned buildings and decaying infrastructure, but the Humber Cruising Association, who operate the marina, are the most welcoming and accommodating people I’ve met in a long time. Thanks to them, mooring here has been great, while I made a quick trip back to Vancouver for my daughter’s graduation as a nurse.

I will now be making a much more hasty passage down the eastern English coast than I had intended. No longer going to visit Hull, Boston or King’s Lynn, I’m going on to Wells Next The Sea. I will have to give all of the Wash, a miss on this trip.

I have my first visitor for cruising this season, as I welcome a former student, Daniel Rothballer. From Germany, Daniel joined me briefly on the canal boat near Burnley. Now for some ocean cruising!

Bull Sands fort in the Humber estuary. I know where Star Wars gets their inspiration!

I continue to try and visit each bell tower along the route, and was welcomed in Whitby, Scarborough and in Grimsby, all with rings of 10.

Scarborough south bay and sands at low tide

Scarborough Harbour. Wandering Canuck Too is just at the tip of the orange tiled building.

Scarborough Harbour at low tide. Not much water, nor room to maneuver!

Proud father and newly graduated nurse

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