Antwerp and beyond

Well Antwerp should be on everyone’s bucket list. This town, with a population of only 500,00 is vibrant , multicultural with a fabulous history. Old monuments are being renovated, the riverside is being developed, it’s really a town going all out to attract the tourist dollar.

We left Temse with the ebbing tide and were in the port of Antwerp in about 1 1/2 hours. To enter the port you must have an FD number, which Peter applied for a few days before our arrival. The cruising guide advised to radio the port on entry with the number, however you only have to do this if you are entering from the sea. But you do need to radio through the number to enter the lock. To get into the haven there are 2 bridges after the lock. We were really playing with the big boys now, with lots of commercial traffic.

This is a video of 2 commercial barges crossing in front of us before we got to the first bridge.

Margaret and I were busy keeping our eyes looking out for traffic, but we couldn’t get the bridge opened until we came across the traffic and closer!

That’s one way to moor a yacht
On the Shelde, commercial barges

We were welcomed at Willemdoc with power, water and internet. Within a 10 minute walk to the old town and 5 minutes to a great supermarket we enjoyed our 4 nights and 3 days.

A visit to the cathedral to light candles and view the Rubens

Modern art representing the plight of refugees
Great mooring in Antwerp

Well we really did Antwerp, with a 2 hour Segway tour including a ride through the 3 streets of the red light district, a visit to the Rubens house, the Brugel museum and diamond museum. Margaret and I hired bikes, and spent 4 hours riding through the different ethic areas of the city, from the wealthy area with the magnificent houses, to the Jewish quarter, Chinatown, and then Tibetian and Mongolian festivals.

Brugel winter
Tibetian festival

Mongolian festival

We love Segways, a great way to travel

So to summarise Antwerp a great city to visit, a challenging habour, so be prepared.

Next trip was to Brussels. We exited the marina as advised by the haven master, at 12.45pm. Back up the Shelde, this time against tide. We were in a convoy so navigation was a breeze. We turned left onto the Zeekanal. Next was 2 very big locks plus a number of lifting bridges, that had us arriving at the Royal Brussels Yacht Club about 7.30pm. The journey on the canal was seemless. Even though we radioed each bridge as we approached, we were advised each time that yes they were busy opening the bridge for us. What great service!

Sailing on the Shelde
Hold tight in the deep locks
Lifting bridge on the way to Brussels

Margaret leaves us on Friday so we plan to stay in Brussels for the week before travelling up (and I say up as there are a number of locks and an incline plane) to Charleroi.

Back to Ghent

We had a restful 2 weeks at our mooring in Brugge. This is where we are leaving our boat for the northern winter, so it was great to get to know our surroundings a little better and to do a few touristy things. We took the train to Ostend (only 15 minutes away), and then a tram to Niewport. The coastline facing the North Sea is like a giant Surfers Paradise, endless stretch of beach, with an endless stretch of high rise building and a population of retirees. Not the most joyful places in the world.

The 2 hour train trip to Ypes allowed us to see a little of the countryside, including some of the WW 1 graves beside the railway line. A lot of people had told me how moving the Menen gate was, but nothing can prepare you for the 3 story high list of names, for those who do not have a grave, over 56,000 young men whose lives were cruelly cut short.

On a lighter note, back in Brugge we did one of my all time favourite tours, on a segway. Just the best fun you can have standing up.

Bondi beach on the North Sea!
Beach at Ostend

Menen gate
Menen gate

At last Friday 28th arrived, and we were all spruced up for Margaret to join us. We spent an extra 2 nights in Brugge to show her the town, then as per arrangement with the haven master we left our mooring at 10 in the morning, through 4 bridges and we were on our way back to Ghent.

My duck family. Hope they find someone else to feed them
Welcoming me Margaret
A Belgium pastime, swimming in the canal, oh no😱

With Margaret in Brugge

A sunny warm Sunday was our travel day, which was more pleasant than the rainy travel day we had with Kathy and Alan, that was until we turned off the main Ostend to Ghent canal, onto the narrower Ghent ring canal. It was like Bourke St on a carnival day, with small boats assaulting us from all directions. So we have a new rule, never on a Sunday, or in fact on a Saturday!

We moored in the same digs as last time, and walked in to the town, where Margaret treated us to a plate of chips, the Belgium national dish, and yes they are as good as they are reported to be.

Yummy chips
Boat dinner, best restaurant in town!

Two nights in Ghent and we had done the town, so it was off to new pastures, down the Zeeschelde towards Antwerp. We were now on a river, with a strong tidal flow. We left at 7.30am to catch the ebbing tide, that gave us a lift. We were targeting Antwerp, but the tide turned, as it usually does, after 5 hours so we moored up at the village of Temse. Not much to the town, unless you want a chemist or a hairdresser. We did find a very good supermarket, half of which was devoted to selling wine!

Tomorrow it’s on to Antwerp again with an ebbing tide.

Our first weeks in Belgium

Well I’m so glad I took all those French lessons, now I need to learn a little Flemish!

Jo left us in Wambrechies in the rain, heading down to sunny, hot Province. We headed north to the cold and more rain, along the Canal de la Deule. We had planned to stop the night at Kortrijk, which has an old town centre according to the Michelin guide. There was 2 moorings in town, but one was full and the other under a low bridge so we soldiered on until we were stopped before the lock at Waregem. They were doing night works on the lock, so it closed early. Luckily there was a mooring just before the lock where we stayed the night. Although the scenery was rather industrial, Kathy and Alan found the town in the morning, but more importantly fresh bread and croissants.

Through the lock and a little way on we turned right at Deinze onto the River Leie. It was almost as though we were back on the Thames, a meandering river, skirted with palatial masons. And joy, the sun came out!

The lifting bridge at the entrance to the Leie from the Grensleie

Along the Leie

Occasionally and I’m must emphasis the ‘occasionally’ I’m allowed to drive!

Our mooring in Ghent and oh I forgot to mention a new courtesy flag.

We secured a great mooring in Ghent, close to the town centre and well worth the 4 nights we spent there.

Ghent, breathtakingly beautiful medieval city with a modern artist twist.

Is that my new bike?

From Ghent it was onto Brugge, and again in the rain. I am despairing about this summer weather in Europe. Maybe we are better off braving the winter in Melbourne! Well, that was until I heard about the 7 degree day😮

We moored in the haven where we have booked our winter mooring (Coupure) and I am very happy with our choice. It is close to the city centre with good facilities near by, a bakery, post office, butcher and laundromat (with dryers!). The supermarket is a bit of a disappointment but not a catastrophe.

Kathy and Alan left us in Bruges for Sicily and although we debated pulling up stumps and motoring to Ypes, we decided to stay in Brugge and wait for our next visitor to join us. Instead we took day trips to Ostend and Ypes on the train.

Images of Bruges

Our track so far, from Oxford in the UK to Brugge in Belgium

And at last the weather is on the improve. In fact we are blessing the wisdom of the second air conditioner. It’s now getting a bit of a work out!

Joie de Vivre waterstepping through France

Although we planned our departure from Dunkerque in the morning true to form, we were delayed again. The sea lock to the canal didn’t open until 4.00pm, so we filled our time with a stroll to the city centre followed by a thorough wash for the boat. The wind was strengthening throughout the day, and more than once I thanked the wind gods that we were not out there crossing the channel in that weather.

A great welcome to France, a mooring reserved for Joie de Vivre at the yacht club

That’s us, in France at last

Some new friends????

Once we were through the sea lock, we entered a small basin and then into the next lock, which was smaller than some of the locks on the Thames. With a stiff breeze it was quite a difficult manoeuvre to enter! This lock was deathly slow and we didn’t exit until nearly 5.00pm. Finally another lock this time with a locker keeper, who interrogated us on our proposed navigation. Peter had spent time making sure all our papers were in order, but once we handed over our Australian ship registration documents it all became too hard and he waved us through.

We were now on the the Liason de Grand Garbarit, which is a fairway for commercial barges to access northern France and Begium from either Calais, Gravelines or Dunkerque. No charming villages to visit along the route.. …instead the view was of barges the size of a block of flats, recycling plants, cement works and soulless dwellings.

Our destination was Lille, where we planned to meet Kathy and Alan, and Jo. We set a cracking pace arriving on Tuesday afternoon, with our visitors due on Thursday. On arriving, we found a great mooring not far from the city centre, in a park opposite the citidal.

Lille is the 4th largest city in France and is probably not on everyone’s bucket list and if you have been there it was perhaps on the high speed Eurostar crossing from Europe to Britain or visa versa. The cobbled streets of the restored old quarter are lined with delightful 17 and 18C Flemish houses, a lovely square and old market place. With a great array of shops, jo and I spent an exhausting but fun afternoon partaking in a little retail therapy. Lille also has a fine museum, but unfortunately this we didn’t have time to visit. Apart from the shopping there was boat work, a new gas bottle and new SIM cards for the modem and phones.

Friday morning broke with repairs required for the spare bed which collapsed during the night! (Kathy and Alan swore they we not putting under any undue stress!) On well that’s boats for you. After an unscheduled delay we made it down the canal to the charming village of Wambrechies. Tomorrow we start our journey into Belgium towards Gent.

That’s a big lock with floating bollards that screeched like banshees all the way to the top.

The red tinge in the recycling plant shows how much coke is drunk!

A great mooring in Lille


Navigator and pilot hard at work

Mooring up in Wambrechies

Chateau in Wambrechies, now a school

Lighting a candle for a safe passage

Third time lucky

At last we have completed the journey across the channel to France. Yes it has been a long time coming but all the better for the wait.

After spending a few days in Chatham, visiting the maritime museum, which were the naval docks yards established over 400 years ago and the gin distillery, established 4 years ago, we left on Friday for Queenborough to wait for an early morning get away across the channel. Our day started a 4am and we cast off our lines in perfect weather at 4,45.

The benefit of doing a tour of a gin distillery is sampling the product!

Making rope the old way in the mile long rope shed in Chatham.

It’s dawn in Queensborough and we are on our way to France.

We had spent time the previous night plotting our course on the iPad and the charts, just to double check. It was an ease journey from waypoint to waypoint. Luckily not much traffic but the great joy was not much wind and a slight sea.

With an average speed of 6 knots we completed the trip in just over 12 hours. A long day but we did it, no pilot just yachties in a barge. What more could you want!

Tomorrow we are heading inland to discover the seemingly endless European canals and rivers.

The wreck of the Montgomery apparently still full of bombs. We steered clear!

In the distance I thought we were being invaded by Star Wars drones! But no, these are old ww2 anti aircraft guns.

The Margate channel marker, farewell to the UK

That’s a BIG ship. Luckily it was travelling slowly so there was not much wash.

In the distance are the white cliffs of Dover

With our French courtesy flag hoisted we are ready to enter France.

This tug threw up a huge wash that we took bow on.

At last the port of Dunkerque and our bed for the night.

A Farewell to the Thames

It was with great excitement that we approached Monday 27th and our planned departure from the UK. This journey had been a long time in the making and at last we hoped we would be fulfilling our dreams of cruising the European canals on our own boat.

Andy Soper from the Dutch Barge Association, who agreed to accompany us arrived at Teddington Lock on the Sunday night and we were through the lock and on our way by 7.15am the next morning.

Waiting above Teddington lock.

The barge cruises at 6 knots, but with the push of the ebbing tide we made about 8 knots all the way down the tidal Thames. As we approached London the riverside scenery changed from palatial homes with acres of manicured lawns and gardens to soulless high rises. It was a bank holiday so the river was dotted with rowers who seemed intent on play cat and mouse with a large barge barring down on them.

The Harrods furniture depot is now luxury apartments

Peter and Andy intent on river traffic

One of the Dunkirk little ships returning up the Thames after a reunion held at St. Cathrines Dock in London

The first view of London

The city of London passed by in a flash and as it was early morning so we didn’t need to duel with the passing tourist boats.

Brexit in reverse. The Aussies are leaving the UK!

Goodbye London

As we approached Greenwich the tourists boat appeared racing up and down the river throwing up wash.

Queens House Greenwich

The scenery on the river from Greenwich down is reminiscent of any deserted dockyards along any port in the world and of course the river widens and it approached the sea. The wind and the waves were starting to get up a bit and the approaching sky across the channel was looking threatening, so we made a dive into Queenborough to seek shelter for the night.

The plan was to rise at 4am the next morning and set off to Dunkirk at 5am. The forecast showed an improving weather pattern, which unfortunately didn’t come to fruition. In the morning we had rain with wind in the channel at 15knots, so we erred on the side of caution and motored further down the Medway to Chatham and into a marina to wait for the next window of opportunity.

Our last few weeks on the Thames

We have enjoyed our boating experiences on the Thames but as the saying goes all good things must come to an end, and new adventures await across the Channel.

We travelled up to Oxford with Helen stopping at our favourite moorings, in Sonning, (this is where George Cluney lives, but he wasn’t home), Wallingford and Abingdon. We have had typical spring weather, sun one day hail and sleet the next. The joy has been spotting the newly hatched chicks closely watched by doting parents.

Our few warranty issues have been addressed, and both the generator and motor serviced and we have a date for our crossing. We are slowly now heading to Teddington lock and plan to exit the lock on Monday 27th at 7.00am and, weather permitting, make the 140 mile dash to Dunkirk. And yes, in case you are enquiring, all the safety equipment is on board and checked, including a life raft!

Great to be back on board

Dinner on board

Lots of new families

Feeding the wildlife

After Helen left I had to pick up the gauntlet!

Returning to our home on the water

After spending the six months of summer in Melbourne we are returning to Joie de Vivre and the Thames. Plans are to cruise the Thames for a few weeks before crossing the Channel to Europe.

On the way we stopped off in Sri Lanka for a fabulous birthday party on the beach at Galle, narrowly missing the terrible bombings of the churches and hotels on the 21st. While the carnage was erupting we were on the way to the airport. Our only inconvenience was a kilometre walk to the terminals and a number of bag and body searches. It was not until later that we discovered a pipe bomb had been found and diffused at the airport. We felt very lucky, but it was not our time. Next stop was Delhi and Jaipur for a little shopping. We had never visited India at this time of the year, very few tourists and VERY hot. 40 degrees plus every day.

Arriving at Shepperton Marina early on the 28th we immediately started work reorganising the boat. She had survived the winter well, no moisture or mildew, a bit dirty on the outside and a little swan shit. Nothing a little elbow grease couldn’t fix!

All systems working except the gas but with an electric oven and thermomix we will not starve. We were greeted by Martyn and Nicola from Aticus who kindly rehydrated us (tea only!) and took me shopping to stock up the fridge.Our first visitors for the season arrived, Helen Ward who will be with us for a few weeks and Elisabeth who stopped off for a few nights on the way to America.

Sailing in Australis
The Elephants in Sri Lanka



Amber fort in Jaipur
Finally drinks on the back deck



Wind in the willows, Three Men in a Boat

Joie de Vivre parked outside the gates at Hampton Court Palace
Joie de Vivre moored on the river outside the gates of Hampton Court Palace

So many classic stories that involve the Thames as a backdrop. I hope my merger offerings do not offend!

We stayed on the river below Henley for a few days,. This stay gave me an opportunity to wander through Hampton Court Palace and Windsor castle. Early September in the UK sees alot less tourists so the sites are more accessible. Windsor castle was worth the wait and I was lucky enough to join the last group tour of the day to climb the tower and enjoy the scenic vista.

The change over for the generator was done seemlessly. We dropped the boat off at Harlingford marina on the Tuesday, and took the train to London returning on the Friday. The new generator was in but the Tec deck floor was not installed. Oh no! We had arranged to be at Henley on Friday afternoon, to show off our boat at the Piper Regatta. Would the deck be installed in time for us to make it up the river, a journey of about 5 miles and 3 locks. Our luck had run out (I need to starting visiting the churches and lighting candles again). The floor was not finished at 6pm, when the tradie called it a day arranging to meet us in Henley on Monday to finish the job.

It was still light and although the lock keepers go off duty at 6pm we decided to set off up the river, hoping to be in time for the pre regatta dinner and of course drinks.

We made the mooring just as the twilight disappeared and settled in with the other 13 Piper boat owners for a busy weekend.

Peter enjoying the sun and scenery at the Piper regatta

The Regatta Wrap Up

It was busy! We showed our boat to over 100 people over the 2 days. The biggest success was the draw frig under the seat in the wheel house. Yes,just confirms that boaties are certainly members of the drinking classes. We were probably the most visited boat, given we were the newest launch with a number of special modifications. I inspected all of the other boats including the 67ft, and decided we had the best of both worlds, compact but with all the facilities that we required.

It was great to catch up with the other barge owners, sort of like joining a club with a large entrance fee, but no annual subscription.

From all acccounts it was a successful regatta, with Pipers signing up 3 new builds. On the Sunday night one of the boats hosted a farewell barbecue, and the event was over. Next stop Henley and the finishing off of our floor.

Farewell barbecue

Although Kathy and Alan were our first visitors, it was David and Joan Hutchings who really tested out the the systems when they came and stayed for a week. We picked them up at Windsor and cruised up the river to Abingdon. Our fist stop was Marlow, in the pouring rain, so it suited all to stay snuggled up in the boat, instead of venturing into town. Such a pity as Marlow hosts a number of fine restaurants including one and two Michelin stars. We had previously sampled the fare at the Coach which is owned by the celebrity chef, Tom Keeridge, and found it excellent. Instead it was a meal on the boat provided by the deckie/cook.

Back to Henley and the sun came out. We are almost classed as locals in this town, so we were able to guide the Hutchings to all the worthwhile sites including a great italian restaurant for dinner.

Each day after breakfast we cruised in the morning to the next town usually arriving around lunchtime. In the afternoon Joan and I would set out to discover the local area while Peter and David rested. Drinks followed by dinner and more drinks saw the end of each day. Life on the river is very relaxing!

Now that’s a lot of hungry swans
Morning Mist and spider webs
Enjoying the autumn suns
Out for lunch at Goring

We farewelled the Hutchings on Friday and continued up the river to Oxford to explore the museums and the bookshops again.

The trees are cloaking themselves in their autumn colours and the temperatures are on the decline. Almost time to come home!

Through the lock on the way to Oxfords
Monsters in the natural history museum


When good plans go astray


I was going to title my next blog entry ‘From Oxford to the Sea’, but…..I will start this saga from the beginning. We made it up to Oxford and moored below Follys Bridge for two nights. Then we turned around and meandered down the river, stopping for two nights at Wallingford, then Henley and Marlow and onto Windsor.

On leaving Marlow the generator failed, but luckily we were able to contact the company, who agreed to meet us in Windsor to correct the problem. But that was not the end of the generator story. Then we discovered a leak in the engine coolant and that combined with our Wi-Fi on board not connecting was leaving our crossing in doubt. Black Thursday turned into lucky Friday. The generator was fixed (the man drove all the way from Portsmouth, a 4 hour journey). The coolant leak was fixed and pressure tested and much to my delight our Wi-Fi problem was sorted.

BUT, and yes this is a very big but. When fixing the generator we were informed it was not the 7kva generator that had been specked, but 5kva. Pipers had told us we needed the bigger generator as we had put in an additional air conditioner in the saloon. Disaster, would the 5 but enough to run the larger air conditioner. We were able to contact Simon Piper who assured us the smaller generator would cope, and offered not only to refund the difference but give a monetary compensation. But the question was, why during the build were we told we needed the bigger generator. The outcome is we have decided to stay in the UK to sort this issue out. France will have to wait until next year. And honestly the Thames is not too shabby to linger on.

A view of Oxford
A celebration for the fleet of small boats that in 1940 crossed the channel to Dunkirk to resume the British army
One of the Dunkirk boats
Celebration at the lock, along with music from the war era
Lots of varnished wood!