It’s party time!

I don’t need to tell anyone that Peter and I love a soirée, whether it’s drinks at the yacht club on Friday night, a dinner party or even a catch up for coffee. For the past 6 weeks our social interaction has been limited to short conversations with lock keepers, harbour masters , sales personal or the occasional passerby that wants to know how we sailed a barge from Melbourne to Europe. But I shouldn’t complain, at least we are out and about, unlike our lockdown colleagues in Melbourne.

With no visitors from Australia to look forward to it was time we searched out some of the people we had made acquaintances with in 2018 and 2019.

So we left Zelzate and headed south to the town of Oudanaard to meet up with Claire and Jeremy on Happy Chance, which is the same model Piper as Joie de Vivre.

This was a 6 hour journey through some very heavy traffic

2 Pipers in Oudanaard

In the 16th century Oudenaarde was a world famous tapestry production centre. The gothic town hall is now home to a museum devoted to a display of this art.

We happily spent 2 nights catching up on 2 years of news with Claire and Jeremy before we made the long 8 hour trek back to Brugge.

On arriving at what we now consider to be our home port in Coupure, surprise, surprise we were greeted by James and Julie from Mimosa. Their boat is their primary residence and James had generously watched over our precious Joie de Vivre for the past 22 months. Over dinner and drinks we decided to travel to Verne and the Dutch Barge rally in convoy

Mimosa leaving Coupure
On leaving Coupure we lost one of our fenders. Well that’s my man overboard practice done for another 12 months!
Joie de Vivre under the spectacular lifting bridge out of Brugge

It was a long trip to Veurne, through the sea lock at Nieuwpoort, made famous during the First World War when the locks were opened flooding the Ijzer stopping the advancing German army, then we travelled up a narrow weed covered canal.

The 5 sea locks at Nieuwpoort, which are now only 3
The view from the back deck of Joie de Vivre toward the Albert memorial
The canal to Veurne looked more like a green road than a waterway

Joie de Vivre dressed up with the signal flags originally from Frances. Instead of being a mishmash of letters and numbers I sent a signal. Reading left to right can you work it out?

Hint, there is only one letter and number in a set of signal flags and I didn’t have a V.

Mmmm, don’t know what happened to the formatting but the image is below, for those who accept the challenge

The city of Veurne was founded as a defensive fort in 890 as a response to Viking raids. You can still see the remains of the defensive hill created when digging a moat around the town, in the gardens behind the church.

It flourished in the 13th century with trade from the UK, but this did not last. Subsequently the unemployed citizens were called the Veurne Sleepers, as they sat around doing nothing all day. I wonder if they eventually staved to death!

A Veurne Sleeper on the window sill

During the First World War Veurne lay behind the battle lines so was not destroyed like so many nearby towns.

Karen in Veurne
Julie our chief photographer

The party was over all too soon and we were off down the canal to Diksmuide.

Our holiday in Zeeland

The trip from Vlissingen to Middelburg was through 4 lifting bridges and although we were ready to go at 10.30 we were informed by bridge control that the next opening was at 12.45. Oh well should have checked before we left the harbour. Our trip to Middleburg was part of a flotilla of 4 yachts and 3 smaller boats. This is the start of the traditional mast up route through the Netherlands With this amount of traffic would we find a mooring in Middleburg or be forced to motor on?

The first bridge at Vlissingen

Arriving in the harbour at Middleburg we were directed to squeeze into a tight spot between a luxury motor boat and an 1876 iron swing bridge. But as the picture indicates this mission was successfully achieved. (Please note at this point Peter is expecting a round of applause!)

Middelburg was established around the 8th to 9th century as a fortified town, in response to Viking attacks. By the 17th century it became the second most important centre for the Dutch East India Company, the first being Amsterdam.

The street scape is very similar to Amsterdam with the original warehouses being converted to luxury apartments.

We arrived on market day with the city boasting lots of visitors and as we are gradually getting used to, no indication of the effects of the raging worldwide pandemic, which has plunged our home town into another endless lockdown.

Busy market place

We spent 2 nights in Middelburg before heading north on the canal to the picturesque town of Veere, which is situated on the Veerse Meer. Veere translates into ferry, and as such it was established as a ferry crossing. Later, in the 18th century it was an important trading port for Scotland

The Veerse Meer, until 1960, was a tributary of the Shelde with direct access to the North Sea. As part of the flood control program this access was closed off to create a large lagoon and is now a popular sailing destination for Dutch holiday makers.

On arriving in Veere we found the small harbour full. With no room at the inn, so to speak, we were directed the moor on a pontoon outside the city walls, but with a great view across the lake.

This picturesque town offered a delight around every corner, ancient buildings, overgrown gardens with an abundance of flowers, artistic surprises and the remains of a star fortification.

Lunch was freshly shucked oysters accompanied with a glass of wine. A great way to celebrate the day before Peter’s birthday.

We confidently departed the next morning under grey skies and a light breeze, and as we were cruising eastward in a sheltered waterway this was not going to be a problem.

Oh l wished we had of checked the chart more throughly. At the most eastily point of the Veerse Meer, we had to go through a lock out onto the East Schelde. And yes you guessed it, but the time we exited the lock we had 20 knots blowing across this wide waterway and a 1 meter sea.

Not a problem for seasoned sailors? Not in a 50 ft yacht, but a barge that sits happily on an inland canal, well that’s a different story.

The stormy East Shelde.

We endured 1/2 an hours battering before we reached a bolt hole, into a canal that lead to the town of Goes.

We were not the only sailors who sought refuge. The harbour master informed me that the cruiser that came in before us fled from the East Schelde, with all aboard, including the dog suffering from seasickness.

Although an unexpected stop over, Goes offered a traditional Dutch harbour surrounded by houses.

We spent the next few days checking the weather and tides for our onward journey back to the East Schelde and down the commercial channel to the West Schelde.

In perfect weather we made the crossing then onward to my most unfavourite harbour at Zelzate to consult our engineer on the hydraulic steering (still not working) and to replace some rusted parts on the bow fender.

On the move at last

I left the last story with Joie de Vivre moored up in a marina at Zelzate. What was planned to be a 2 day sojourn ended up 8 days while we waited for the part for the hydraulic steering to be delivered. In desperation we caught the bus and train back to Brugge to pick up the part which had been sent there in error

Our mooring in Zelzate, off the Ghent to Terneuzen canal

The trip to Brugge was in itself a truely terrifying experience. As I boarded the bus I was comforted on seeing a sign designating the seating plan. With social distancing the bus could safely accomodate 9 people. Well that’s okay. And of course everyone was required to wear a mask. We commenced the journey with 5 hearty souls. First stop another 3 stepped on board, next stop 4 then to my horror next stop 6! This pattern continued for the next hour with no policing of the number of people on the bus. Standing room only and jammed in like sardines.Then of course the mask rule was slack, with masks worn on chins, one guy even had it on his arm. The train was a welcome relief, with first class tickets purchased and only 4 in the compartment.

So other than risking life and limb on the corona express, what other delights did Zelzate offer?

No Twinset here, but I was able to purchase Covid self testing. A great idea, especially after running the gauntlet on our trip to Brugge

As the marina was just off the canal we passed the time ship watching.

A large supermarket similar to Costco offered a great selection of french wines to stock up the cellar

Pre dinner drinks on the back deck

No it’s not a restaurant but dinner at Chez Joie de Vivre

Our next drama was some information obtained from some local boat owners. Apparently the harbour had been infected by a steel eating bacteria after an explosion in February at a nearby factory. We were advised to leave the marina as soon as we could. Thankfully the hydraulic steering had been fixed so we scuttled north up the canal to the port city of Terneuzen

Traffic on the Ghent Terneuzen canal
Now that’s a big ship!
A large barge racing past us

Through the lock and onto Terneuzen on the West Schelde

The West Schelde is in the province of Zeeland and is the only estuary of the Schelde offering direct access to the sea. It is an important shipping route to the port of Antwerp and Belgium. Our mission, planned for the following day, was to cross the West Schelde to the seaport of Vlissingen.

The harbour at Terneuzen was an arms length from the shipping channel, which made for a very rocky night onboard.

We also had a visit from the local police to check our passports and our vaccination certificates. This was the first time since we arrived in Europe that we had been asked to provide any information.

With the wind at 5 to 7 knots we were off across the estuary in the morning for our 22km journey. Luckily we were running with an ebbing tide, that quicken the pace. And I do mean luckily as we didn’t consult the tide table before leaving or notify the port authorities!

Our track across the West Schelde

There was a lot of traffic!
More traffic than we had encountered crossing the channel in 2019

The crew was very busy calling the direction of the ships
Luckily we were running with the ebbing tide

In through the sea lock to the port of Vlissingen

Vlissingen is historically known in English as Flushing, and is the third most important port in the Netherlands. Because of its strategic position over the centuries it has been marked by invasion, oppression and bombardment. Today it is a popular tourist destination for the boating fraternity and marks the entrance of the Walcheren canal.

The port is also home to Amels the famous Dutch boat builder who specialise in building luxury yachats. This is one of their newest offerings.

The harbour at Vlissingen
Looking from the sea wall into town
Statue looking out to the North Sea

One night in Vlissingen, then we were up the canal to Middleburg. But that’s a story for another day

And it rained!

Firstly I’m not complaining, it’s more a weather update from Belgium. But it has rained everyday, bar 3, since we arrived, making the most important accessory, an umbrella.

Boating in the rain

So now to an update on our journey. We are still in the grips of marine services. The engine instrument panel, which was shorting out has been replaced. We had an enforced wait to have the engine cooling system checked, but as it is too close to the water line, no repairs could be done. We were advised it was safe until next year, when we will slip the boat.

As I write we are in Zelzate, waiting for parts to fix the steering hydrolic oil reservoir, which was not correctly installed during the build. Oh well it’s only a boat

But back to our journey. We spent 4 days in Ghent. The crowds had not diminished so we steered clear of the tourist sites. There was a visit to the best chip shop in the world, dinner out one night, a walk around the flower market and of course a little shopping

Best chips in the world
Dinner at Domestica in Ghent
The flower market

I found the Twinset shop. Plenty to choose from here!

Leaving the old city of Ghent, we travelled north along the Ghent Temeuzen canal and into the industrial area.

And of course the big commercial barges

We diverted off the main canal to the smaller Moer canal and the picturesque mooring at Spanjeveer marina. Although we were just an arms length from the commercial port, this canal wound by meadows and farms and the well provisioned town was only a 15 minute bike ride away.

Relaxing at Spanjeveer marina

Our current mooring at Zelzate marina is just off the main canal and though it is a forced stop to wait for the marine engineers I am happy we are safely locked away. The rain has come again and it is blowing 15 to 20 knots. Not a good day to navigate!

A view from the wheelhouse.

The marina was originally part of the old canal, which was abandoned when the new commercial canal was built. This was the old customs house, which is now an empty B&B, obviously a victim of the pandemic

On the move at last and insights into the European Covid summer

I crowed a little early in boasting that all the systems on Joie de Vivre were shipshape and tickety boo. On the contrary into our third morning the sensor in the grey water tank fused resulting in a backup in the showers and sinks and a flood in the bilge. But don’t despair dear reader, the crew was on hand to deal with the clean up and after consultation with the captain the failure was diagnosed and the replacement spare part was on its way.

This enforced layover allowed for a few trips into the old centre of Brugge. As Australians trained to be crowd adverse for the past 18 months we were horrified. The town was packed with tourists, admitably non of our oriental brethren who usually pack the streets, but Europeans from each corner of the continent.

Busy street walking towards the main square
Best to mask up when approaching a crowd who don’t respect social distancing
Queues waiting to go on the tourist boats. A Covid hot spot??
Yes Nick I kept my mask on!

With our new sensor installed and the boat cleaned (I’m still chasing away spiders), a week since our arrival and we were finally ready to depart Coupure and adventures further afield. With a fond farewell to our harbour master Steve and his wife Nell, we headed to Ghent to have some repairs done on the heat exchanger system and the instrument panel, which was meant to be fixed a few months ago.

Leaving the port
It may look as though Peter steered the whole 5 hours to Ghent, but the crew took over, as part of the training program

The great escape

After missing the European boating season for 2020 we were hopefully optimistic that we would return to our Joie de Vivre in 2021. However to achieve this end a number of hurdles had to be successfully navigated.

1. Vaccinations with documented proof of the required 2 jabs.

2. Permission from the Australia border force to leave the country

3. The purchase of airfares(not too difficult thanks to Julie Avery)

4. A documented negative Covid test 72 hours before departire

5. Health declarations for all the countries we were transiting through

With all these documents in our hot little hands we finally departed on Wednesday 28th to our first stop, Hong Kong. All I can say is international Covid travel is e very different experience. To my dismay with the lounges closed there was no pre boarding glass of champagne. And the flight, only 25 people on board and no walking around the plane while in the air.

The next shock was on arriving at Hong Kong airport. This previously vibrant shopping hub was deserted , with the shops not only closed but empty. Again no lounges opened and to add insult to injury our flight to Zurich was delayed which pushed back our connecting time time from Zurich to Amsterdam from 1 hour to 6 hours. But I’m not complaining, we had escaped!

Never seen that before, an empty plane
Hong Kong shopping hub closed

After the Armageddon like experience of both Melbourne and Hong Kong we felt as though, instead of arriving in Europe, we had been diverted to another planet. The airports were packed with people enjoying the luxury of travel. Admittedly everyone is required to wear a mask, but you can forget about contact tracing and social distancing. It is even difficult to find complimentary hand sanitiser.

We finally arrived at Joie de Vivre at 6.30 pm on the Thursday after a mammoth 40 hours from door to door. We were warmly welcomed by the harbour master. I even had the lady who lives in the house opposite our mooring come and say hello promising a catch up when we return for the winter mooring in October.

The joyful news is that all the systems on the boat kicked over on the first try. The downside is after 2 days on board I still have miles of cleaning and thousands of spiders to chase away.

Need I say more
Even the bikes were fired up for the first trip to the shops

Joie de Vivre patiently waiting for our return

Rain, rain go away

We are now in Coupure, our winter mooring in Bruges. It has been rather a wet trip south, with rain everyday. I wish I could stuff a few storm clouds in my bag to bring back to the drought effected areas in Australia.

But all the rain did not impact on our journey. The wheelhouse is snug and as there are not many locks in this part of the world, so the crew did not have to step out very often to throw the lines. And the purchase of a new warm jacket at Willemstad offered protection when I did have to brave the elements.

Rugged up

The last part of our journey took us from Rotterdam, back to Dortrecht, then onto Willemstad and Tholen, down the Scheldt Ring Canal through Antwerp harbour to Dendermonde and Ghent, then the 4 hour trip on the Ostend Ghent canal to Brugge. Not bad for our final 2 weeks on the waterways.

In summary our 2019 year on Joie de Vivre saw us cruise the Thames, cross the Channel into Europe, explore parts of the Belgium, French and Dutch waterways, covering approximately a total of 2628kms, visiting 51 ports and welcoming aboard 9 staying guests and a number of new friends.

We said goodbye to our boat, packed up and winterise on the 22nd October, with plans to return in April with new adventures waiting.

Navigating on a rainy day

Time to return to Australia when the weather looks like this

Retracing our steps through South Holland

Our trip through the highlights of South Holland

In 2016 we had a fabulous trip through South Holland with friends on a hire boat. So it was time to revisit, again with friends, on our own boat. Our starting point was Utrecht where we meet Robin and Phil Mellet. Peter did not brave the bridges of Utrecht in our boat , as he did in the hire boat, so we came off the Amsterdam Ring Canal on a sunny Sunday afternoon, turned right onto the Vecht, and were lucky enough to find the last mooring through the lock at Utrecht.

2016 through the 15 bridges at Utrecht

Joie de Vivre in Utrecht surrounded by hire boats

We thought we had a lucky mooring until I woke the next morning to find my beautifully cleaned boat covered in bird shit! Uck, a warning to the unwary, don’t park under trees. The first day in Utrecht with the Mellets saw us walk our feet off with not only a city walking tour, but an underground tour as well.

In Utrecht with Robin and Phil

we were now off on our adventure, with our trip down the Vecht taking us pass luxury houses to Loenen and dinner at the 1 star restaurant t’Amsterdammertje, which was as tasty as I remembered it from 2016.

Then it was onto Amsterdam with a mooring at Six Haven. And that was a long day, as we sat waiting for bridges to open. We eventually found out after a lot of phoning and radioing that they were having problems with the system, that left us waiting at a few bridges for over an hour.

The Vecht with its luxury houses

At least the open lock in Amsterdam didn’t hold us up

For those familiar with Amsterdam, Six haven is across the Noord sea Canal from the city, with easy access via the free ferry. So it was Amsterdam, with a segway tour in order, a visit to the Rijks Museum (my third) and a little bit of shopping (while Peter and Phil visited the Maratime museum).

Wizzing past the Bull Dog (the first marijuana selling coffee shop in Amsterdam

And yes we would venture back again to Amsterdam, but now we headed north to Haarlem, arriving on market day. This is perhaps one of the best markets that I have visited in the Netherlands, the other being in Maastricht. The market gave us the opportunity to introduce the Mellets to a speciality of the Netherlands, the fish truck with not only fresh delights, but fried prawns with a dipping sauce, which have now become one of my go to dishes.

Lunch in the market

We had our last spurt of the European summer in Haarlem and although we were now heading south the weather worsened.

This could be the last time we use our back deck this year

Feeding the swan family

Stormy skies

Arriving in Leiden

But it’s snug inside

With a change in the weather we didn’t linger in Leiden or Delft but made a dash to Rotterdam and the historic harbour of Veerhaven. The museum in Rotterdam closed in May, for renovations that are estimated to take 5 years. With no museum to visit, Robin, Phil and I took a day trip on the train to Den Haag to see the Mauritius Haus and Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

I love this painting

And then onto the Peace Palace

Sadly the day came too quickly and we farewelled our last visitors for this season. As I sit writing my blog, with the rain tinkling on the cabin roof, I think, like the swallows we should be heading southto Australia and a warmer climate. The start of this journey has been delayed by storm warnings, but hopefully we can throw off our lines tomorrow and commence our trip to our winter mooring in Coupure.

Around in circles in the Netherlands

There is only one thing I can say about these last 2 weeks, and that is, ‘how do you pronounce the name of that city’!! However, the haven master at Leerdam gave me a good hint, if you see a ‘g’ pronounce it as an ‘h’ as in hospital, but then he confided that most English speaking people don’t even try.

So we left Nijmegen (pronounced nighmaygan), for Tiel, then up the Amsterdam Ring Canal to Wageningen (the ‘w’ is pronounced as a ‘v’), to Arnhem. This is on the Nederrijn, which is a tributary of the Rhine. Then back to Culemborg. From there we left the major rivers for a trip down the Merwedekade to the Linge and the town of Leerdam and Gorinchem. (There’s that ‘g’). We rejoined the commercial route of the Bowen Merwede to Dortretch, then up the Noord to the Lek, stopping at Kinderdyke, then Schoonhoven. Sounds confusing? Well don’t run off to find a map, I have included one below. And if it looks as though we have been travelling around in circles, well yes we have!

Map of travels

Each town or village has its own unique character. Arnhem was the site of a major battle in the Second World War. The town was heavily bombed, but the church was in its final stage of rebuild, with the reopening scheduled to coincide with a 75 year commemoration of the battle at the end of September. We went to the top of the tower by lift, to admire the view and stand on the projecting glass floors.

Glass floored outcrop from the church tower. A bit more like Disneyland than a church!

No I’m not going out there

Gorinchem gave us the opportunity to unpack the bikes, to ride along the top of the dikes and take a ferry to the other side of the river to explore further a field. Who said bikes weren’t a good investment?

Windmills and cannons

Windmills and defensive walls

The historic harbour of Woudrichem

The church in Dortrecht boasts beautiful stained glass windows, from past centuries and from present time, and of course an opportunity to light a candle.

Modern stain glass windows in the church at Dortrecht

We planned a visit to Kinderdijk and and the world heritage listed windmills. The nearest harbour to the windmills was across the river, so it was out with the bikes again, and onto the ferry. After the peaceful seclusion of the towns along the rivers and canals, it was a bit of a shock to be back in the land of the tourists and even though we are late in the season, there was still plenty of them.

The windmills are not only a museum, but still operate dragging the water from the land below sea level, and pumping it out into the river. You really have to admire the Dutch ability to manage water. Perhaps some should go to France to educate the VNF.

The Kinderdijk windmills

We have admired windmills, ancient fortification, (this part of the world has been fought over for years), lovingly maintained listed buildings, harbours full of historic barges and of course the river traffic, both the monsterous barges that dwarf our Joie de Vivre and our fellow pleasure boats.

With the auto pilot on Peter spends his time taking photos of the commercial barges

Still a little sail

And finally, it was fun discovering the small statues hidden in obscure places in some of the towns.

The medieval lady in Woudrichem

These fellows guard the town gates at Gorinchem

And this in Culumbourg

From Kinderdijk we cruised up the Lek stopping at Schoonhoven for a sleepless night on the town wall, suffering from the seemingly continuous wash from the commercials, who still ply the river at night. This wash surged into the harbour and threw us against the wall. This combined with about a 1 metre tide, saw us up and off early to dive off the Lek and back into the quieter environs of the Mederweder canal and our journey to Utrecht to meet the Mellets on Tuesday.

Big rivers and big boats

I really can’t be more blunt about this part of our journey. The Meuse in the Netherlands becomes the Maas, and of course as with any rivers, it becomes wider as it meanders to the sea. It is also a busy commercial route with 2 very deep locks. A lot of people asked about the traffic on the channel, but that was a walk in the park compared to the barge traffic on the rivers.

In one lock, we were called in as the second boat, wedged between 2 110 meter barges. As in all locks, once the lines are secured, it is important to control the movement of the boat as the water is let out or in as the case maybe. The next challenge is to hold the boat secure and not to be thrown around, as the boat in front motors off. As the big commercials throw out a lot of wash this can sometimes be quite a task.

Philip Island in front of us

The barge behind us

And Karen still has to smile for the camera!

But big rivers and boats aside, back to a commentary on our visits along the river Maas and Waal.

We had a lovely 4 days in Maastricht moored in the historic harbour (the Bassin), close to the city centre. Wednesday and Friday were market days, and the best thing in the market, the cooked fish stands!

Our new bikes also got a bit of a work out, as we travelled further afield than the historic centre. Not that the suburbs were exciting, but we did find a watchmaker to fix my broken watch, at a very Christian price, €0!

The next European heat wave was starting to kick in as we headed from Maastricht to Maasbrecht. Fortunately all the marinas along the river are equiped with power, so once moored up, we kept cool in air conditioned comfort.

The 2 day stop in Maasbrecht was to accomodate a visit to Linnson boat builders, which only confirmed that we preferred our Piper boat, not only for the cost, but also the detailed fit out and finish.

From the Maas we turned onto the Waal, which is the Rhine in the Netherlands and travels to Rotterdam. We motored upstream a few kms to the port of Nijmegen. Even at this time of the year, with a reported drought, the river was flowing at 2.5 to 3 knots, that slowed our uphill passage quite considerably. Just as well it was only a few kms! Nijmegen sits on a bend in the river, so the commercial barges were indicting to pass on the starboard side, instead of port. Quite a challenging traffic situation.

The interesting town of Nijmegen is the oldest town in the Netherlands, being settled by the romans and boasts the ruins of a castle built by Charlemagne. It was also the home of the medieval painters, the Limbourg brothers, who produced 2 book of hours, and are considered to be the fathers of Flemish art.

Spotted our first windmill

Black swans, where did they come from?

Barge traffic

And if you asked what Peter did on his birthday, it was navigating from the Maas to the Waal, dodging the commercial barges and battling a strong current.

Happy birthday Peter

The port in Nijmegen