Back to the Australian summer

I always feel a little sad leaving our Joie de Vivre to face the winter months alone, however with the cooler weather starting to bite it is time for these sallows to fly south.

After our little jaunt on some of the canals in central Belgium we returned to our winter mooring at Coupure in Brugge. Apart from the few last maintenance job, engine and generator service, a touch of painting and cleaning, when it wasn’t raining we explored the city and its surroundings a little further.

Our winter mooring in Coupure

Travelling a little further afield we rode our bikes to the medieval village of Damme. Yes after spending quite a fair part of our escape in Brugge I have become a bit of a local expert. Market days are Wednesday and Saturday. There is a great selection of unusual restaurants in the back streets, ( we only ever transverse the main square, never stopping at its tourist restaurants) and there is lots to discover in the local environs.

A stork nesting in Damme

More views of Damme

Smedenport defensive gate. The gate was breached when opened by a traitor. The traitor was beheaded and his head was nailed to the gate wall. Today there is a replica bronze skull, Look for the small dot on the left.
The tractors skull at Smedenport

But the days rushed past and all too quickly it was time to leave our water home and our friends, until next year.

I am writing my last entry of the year in the Cathay lounge in a deserted Hong Kong airport. The tourists have not returned and given a mandatory 21 days hotel quarantine Hong Kong is not the place to visit anytime soon.

2 weeks in Brugge then a short trip around central Belgium

The beauty of our aqueous home is that you can choose to stay in port or venture to new harbours further afield.

After a few days of cleaning and maintenance (varnishing and painting), then visits with our friendly Brugge bargees group the weather turned wintery, so we stayed put for a few weeks.

Meeting up with some of the Brugge Bargees.

But then we were off. Our first stop on our sojourn was back to Ghent. Yes we have been there before, once this year and 3 times in 2019, but we still made new discoveries.

The harbour is on the boundary between central Ghent, which boasts a plethora of medieval buildings, and the Bijloke quarter, best described as a centre for arts. The Bijloke, in begone centuries was a hospital run by nuns. The buildings including the church are now the home of ballet, theatre and opera schools in Ghent. It also houses the museum of history, which tells the story of Ghent through the ages. One room is devoted to a huge aerial map of Ghent and the surrounding area. Very impressive.

The map of Ghent
We enjoyed lunch sitting in the sun. Peter was greeted by on of the local residents

Our second discovery was hidden in the shopping streets. There are 2 rather unimpressive entrances opposite one another that the shoppers rush by with barely a glance. Each entrance takes you into an 18th century house, both owned by wealthy families and now opened for our inspection.

Hand painted Chinese silk wall paper, what every house needs.
Along the quay on Sunday there was a book market. The offerings were mainly Dutch with a smattering of English prose. Peter did manage to finder a 1950s travel guide to india to keep him amused.
A view of Ghent from the port hole.

After a few days enjoying this beautiful city, we headed south down the Shelde river towards the french border and the city of Tournai. We had now crossed from the Dutch speaking Belgium region of Flanders into the French speaking region of Wallonia. But language is not the only difference between these two regions. Wallonia is like the poor cousin of Flanders, a bit down at heel and needing considerable attention to its shabby inferstructure. Here you find street beggars and pavements littered with dog refuse, as though there is no care or pride in their historical cities.

As with many river cities, Tournai was established by the Romans due to its strategic location on the Schelde, over the centuries it passed from French to Dutch and even English rule, under Henry VIII. There is even the remains of Henry’s citadel in the city.

Most of the pleasure boats are safely in there winter moorings so we had the dock to ourselves
Our only company was the commercial barges rushing past our mooring

Tournai is home to 11 churches and a large Gothic cathedral, which could explain the impoverishment of its citizens over the centuries

The beau arts museum was designed by art nouveau architect Horta and is home to a couple of very nice Manets
The medieval bridge is being renovated to allow the passage of larger commercial barges

Leaving Tournai we travelled back up the Schelde , turning left onto the Bossuit Kortrijk canal, which connects the Schelde River and the Lexie River. This trip was through some rather large locks as we travelled up to the plateau, then down the other side.

A 9 meter lock. Luckily there are floating bollards

On our previous journeys we had bypassed Kortrijk as there is a very low bridge leading into the harbour. However we had been assured by many of our fellow bargees that we would make it. Yes we did clear the bridge with about a foot to spare and so we were able to discover a new town.

The harbour in Kortrijk

Although still close to the French boarder we were now back in Flanders. Kortrijk has 3 UNESCO world heritage sites, that are beautifully renovated and maintained. They were also hosting an exhibition of outdoor art with a rainbow theme, so there was plenty to see

By the river
In the main square

In the centre of the city, not far from the main square we discovered the Beguinage. This is a 13th century architectural complex built to house beguines. And a beguines is…… a lay woman who was not bound by strict religious vows or came under the control of the church , but choose community service over the shackles of marriage. The Beguinage in Kortrijk has been renovated and the houses can be rented but only to residents over the age of 50. It also includes a small museum, cafe and a beautiful chapel around a small peaceful courtyard.

One of the 14th century Boel towers built to control traffic on the Leie

Leaving Kortrijk we headed north and had planned to stay at the next town down the river. However it was Sunday, and we discovered later that from 1st October the bridges into the city were closed blocking our passage through. Oh well there’s always another day. Instead we continued back to Ghent for a few nights.

Statue of the Van Eyck brothers who created the Ghent alter piece.
I found a bear waiting for a hug

As I write we are now back in our winter mooring in Brugge, with only 2 weeks until we make our journey home.

An Indian summer in Flanders

After a pretty ordinary summer, with more days of rain than sunshine, with the arrival of autumn the sun decided to grace us with its presence.

Our first stop down the canal fron Verne, was Diksmuide, which being located in a pastoral area, is famous for its butter.

This town was totally destroyed in WW1. This is a view across the town square in 1919

In 1914 the Germans overran Belgium hurrying towards the North Sea and the seaports of Calais and Dunkerque. But the Belgiums opened the locks at Nieuwpoort flooding the Yser river and halting the advancing army, creating a front along the river and resulting in a stalemate for 4 long years.

The town was rebuilt in 1920 and a peace tower was constructed. This was demolished after WW2 and rebuilt in 1950 as it had been used for Nazi ceremonies and celebrations.

We spent 3 days in Diksmuide visiting both the Peace Tower and the Trench of Death.

View from the top of the Peace Tower. Can you spot Joie de Vivre?

Leaving Diksmuide we slowly made our way back to Nieuwpoort to pick up our barbecue, and then onto town of Oudenburg, which has nothing to recommend it other than it is reputedly the oldest town in Flanders, being settled by the Romans in the 4th century AD.

A beautiful early Autumn evening in Nieuwpoort

It was only a short trip to Oostende and a booked mooring at the Royal North Sea Yacht Club.

We loved this seaside town. Our mooring was tidal with a view over the port. Over the weekend the yacht club hosted a European laser championship and with the improvement in the weather it seemed as though the whole Belgium population had made a trip to the coast.

Joie de Vivre mixing in with the yachts!

Wide sandy beaches, a scenic boardwalk and a busy port, and a welcoming yacht club, what more can I say!

We unloaded the bikes and rode off to the Antlantic Wall museum, another of the world wars battle sites in this part of the world.

First constructed by the Germans in WW1 it was extended by the Nazis between 1942 and 1944 as part of their strategic fortifications along the coast of continental Europe and Scandinavia. It was easily overrun just hours after the allied invasion on D-Day.

Over the summer,from both north to south of Oostende a collection of sculptural displays were exhibited which meant other bike ride!

So much to see in this exuberant seaside town, but with the weather improving we decide to take to sea again and travel north to the port of Zeebrugge.

Out of the port of Oostende
Passing some big ships on the way
Entrance to the port of Zeebrugge

After the delights of Oostende Zeebrugge was quite a disappointment. Not much to the town, and at €41 for the night with no amenities it is not a port we will rush back to. Some clever yachtsmen arrived after the harbour master had clocked off for the night and left before he arrived the next day to avoid this outrageous cost.

But where to next?

Back to what we now consider to be our home port in Brugge for some cleaning, maintenance and to catch up with friends. Then we will decide.

Not a breath of air tonight

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 (second time around)

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