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France/Belgium Cruise 2004

Articles > France/Belgium Cruise 2004

July 24th-August 12th 2004

 Broom     Broom     Broom

 Alouette (Chris and Su)

China Rose (John & Wendy ,Mike & Ann)  Searrach (Bill and Angie)

We started out in the afternoon Friday 23rd July and after picking up Mike and Ann at Shepperton made for Kingston. Su was not with us at this stage, joining us later at Ramsgate. Went out for a pizza and Wendy decided to improve Mike's ice-cream by adding some Parmesan cheese to it.

Saturday 24th July

Beautiful day Fantastic trip through London arriving at Queenborough at 5.30 pm and we moored up on the concrete lighter. 

Sunday 25th July 

Alouette and China Rose left Queenborough during the morning with Searrach following later. Mike went with Chris on Alouette. During the trip the RNLI  asked if they could  team up with China Rose and spent time practising various manoeuvres connected with rescue at sea. We arrived at Ramsgate during afternoon. Charles Worby there with Grahame and Tommy on Co-Cap We had an evening meal of fish and chips.

Monday 26th July 

Left early to cross channel. Searrach went direct route whilst Alouette and China Rose crossed via Goodwin Sands crossing in about 4.5 hours. Conditions were good making the crossing most enjoyable.  We all met up before Calais and were joined by Co-Cap. 

We entered Calais and Co-Cap went direct to the marina. The three Brooms, after some delay, went through the sea lock to Bassin Carnot  in order to pass through Ecluse de Batellerie to be able to enter second basin where offices for obtaining licences are located. Because we had not entered quickly enough, we had to spend a couple of hours moored opposite an extremely noisy cargo vessel which was unloading gravel. We were now in the hands of the French for whom time has a different meaning.  Eventually at approx 8.00 pm we went through the lock and into the basin where the office for the licences was situated. 

Tuesday 27th July

We obtained the licences and did some shopping. Searrach had developed a serious problem with the electrics to such an extent that Bill and Angie were considering turning back. Chris Knight came to the rescue and managed to trace and fix the problem. Set off at approx 3.00 pm. and entered canal system (Canal de Calais).

We were soon amongst thick concentrations of weed and passed through several opened road bridges and the children on the bankside were singing "Alouette".  There  were four lifting bridges to pass through. They were controlled by a lock-keeper travelling in a car from one to the other. We made good progress until 6 o' clock when the bridge keeper stopped work. We stopped in front of a lift bridge. A few phone calls were made to see if the bridge could be opened but that was it! Here we were in front of a lift bridge with absolutely no safe bankside moorings so we did the only thing we could do and moored three boats up against bridge. The locals were amused and quite helpful. It was not safe to climb up and get off the boats so we stayed put ( except John who just happened to find himself in two French bars!).  

Food was prepared and the drinks flowed a good time was had by all. 

So that we all could get experience of planning the routes etc we took turns in being "skipper of the day".  

Wednesday 28th July

We all had to make a quick getaway at 8.45 am, when a large double peniche came up behind us to pass through the bridge which was now opening.  Peniches are cargo barges. There are about 120 feet long with the living accommodation at the back. They are homes in their own right complete with the family car. They were sometimes doubled up and when motoring quite awesome. You don't argue with them as they don't take prisoners!  

We first went on the river Aa through two locks and by  11.30 we had entered a large canal (canal de Neufosse) and were on our way to Dunkerque. To get into Dunkerque we had to pass through an automatic lock into a large and very windy basin and Mike lost his hat.

Then through a lift bridge we arrived in marina at Dunkerque and  radioed for moorings. We could not find the allocated moorings as somehow we were in wrong basin. No problem, there were plenty of spare  moorings. We had no key to get in and out  so it was fortunate that we met Kevin and Barbara who lent us their key (They had boat named "Merchant" and were going to Eastern Europe).  Later we enjoyed an excellent meal in town.

Thursday 29th July

Spent morning in Dunkerque and left at 2.15 pm to go along Canal de Furness. At 5.15 we crossed into Belgium and what a difference. Everything was more organised and appeared cleaner.  We finally arrived at Veurne (Furness) at 7.15 pm. Well organised marina. It was here that we met Bernard with his splendid boat (Our Spirit of Europe). Bernard gave us some helpful information and joined us for a meal. He did not sit with us for long as he had a cigar permanently on the go!

Friday 30th July

Left Veurne at 9.10 am having first obtained all the necessary licences for the Belgium canals. We cruised down to Nieuwpoort arriving midday to some excellent moorings in the marina.  During the afternoon we hired bikes and cycled around the local area finishing up on the beach. The day was not without incident as when we stopped  for an ice-cream Wendy stopped in front of a departing tram without realising, much to the amusement of the driver. Bill went swimming in a red flag area and caused the lifeguard to jump up and down. That evening we had a lovely meal on China Rose and spent much of the evening singing. (now available on CD).

Saturday 31st July

Left at 11 o' clock.  China Rose run aground at the first Bridge. She was soon free then we went right through to lock before Brugge ( a large round lock) where we had long wait before arriving at final marina (Jachtclub Flandria) The evening was spent walking around the town after having  a rather splendid meal.

Sunday 1st August

Spent day in Brugge.

Brugge  is a fascinating place very compact and full of history. There is plenty to do including tours by horse and carriage and boat tours on the city's old canal system. 

Monday 2nd August 

We left at 8.15 am en route for Gent following a large pleasure boat named Vincent Van Gough. This boat was our passport through the various swing and lift bridges around Brugge as we continued on Canal Gent-Ostende.

This canal was like the M25, boats of all shapes and sizes including some very large peniches. It was our intention to get diesel as China Rose was showing empty on the gauge.  Bad news no diesel and so after being given directions we set off  to find a diesel lighter. It was a long way and we went through some large locks and ended up on Canal Gent Terneuzen going towards Langerbrugge. At about 3.30 pm we found the diesel lighter  moored opposite a very large mountain of scrap iron.

The bad news was that he was going to have a break and would not be back until after 7.00 pm. We moored up on opposite bank which was industrial and foul smelling.

Bill decided to go off in his dingy to find out where the marina at Langerbrugge was to be found. Of course nothing is straightforward and after a long radio silence we heard that Bill had run out of petrol. China Rose to the rescue to find and tow Bill back!  These little diversions helped to pass the time and soon it was 6.30 pm and our fuel lighter turned up. We found our a marina and were safely moored up by 7.15 pm.  An excellent meal was had at the club house followed by John doing strange things with his spoon (the mind boggles).           

A little note concerning the weather which so far had been unbroken sunshine. Very hot.

Tuesday 3rd August

Hired a taxi and spent day exploring  Gent.  Gent was very interesting but not quite on the scale of Brugge .

Later we went to a  supermarket. Chris was feeling deflated but was quickly back up again when he visited this special shop.

During the evening we had a bankside Barbeque complete with outdoor games Boules, Quiots and Darts. This marina was a haven in the middle of a very heavily industrialised part of Gent. 

Wednesday 4th August

Off at 9.00 through a large lock and on to the River Lys. We cruised down the Lys and stopped for refreshments at Drogen. The River Lys was very like being on the Thames it was quite uncanny. The only difference was that the Thames was cleaner  although the Lys was pretty clean by continental standards.   We ended up at Deinze with some cheap moorings (no showers) opposite a park and in the evening went into town and enjoyed a meal at Five Legged Sheep. 

Thursday 5th August

 Set off at 9.00 en route to Kortrijk. For some of the journey we appeared to have been chased by a sinister looking peniche (it was a bit like the film Duel) however we arrived at Kortrijk at 2.00 pm after passing under a low bridge to get at the moorings. This was a beautiful town with lots of shops. That night the weather broke and we had a severe storm thunder lightning and very heavy rain. Still we had not done badly as until now it had been unbroken sunshine!     

Friday 6th August 

The water had risen during the night so there was a problem getting under the bridge but we all managed  after removing windscreens etc. We made our way to Armentieres arriving at 2.00 pm. We explored the town and went back to our tradition of eating out.

Saturday 7th August 

Left at 10.30 am. At the first lock we were issued with a remote control to open the  locks. The next lock was a piece of cake. Point at board and the gates opened. In we went, point at board lock fills and out we go. That was the first and last time we used the remote control. At the next lock we were let in by a lady lock-keeper or that is what we thought. However she was not a lock-keeper, only being helpful and had cranked the windlass to open the gates for us. As the windlass was a fixed item and there was not lock-keeper we had to improvise and make a windlass out of an adjustable spanner. This worked a treat. However  not all the locals who were watching were impressed and one of them was on his mobile telling tales about the "naughty English". The next lock was a problem we arrived at 2.00 pm and were told that the lock keeper was not available until 4.00 pm. However a helpful young man who happened to have a windlass said he would let us through. We gave him some wine and beers for his trouble and it then we realised that he was the lock keeper! The "naughty English" had been had!

The river was a mass of green weed and before long Alouette was clogged up and had to be towed by China Rose. Chris fixed problem and we ended up in front of lock at 6.00pm. Too late!  We moored on the side had a meal on board followed by drinks games and a sing song. Mon Dieu you "naughty English"  know how to live! 

Sunday 8th August

Today we made for Arques we passed through several locks including one we called  Killer Lock.  We went in then had to come out again. The second time we went in all looked fine. It was a long wide lock similar to others that we passed through. Then the fun began.  The water went down and down and down again.

The lock was very deep. We left through the far wall were the gate had been hauled up into the side of the wall amid a torrent of falling water.

We found the marina at approx 2.00 pm and met the owner Pierre and his wife and were treated to an excellent lunch of spare ribs.

We left at 4.00 pm and went along to Watten arriving at 6.00pm. The water was shallow and great care was needed when mooring up.    

Monday 9th August

Left Watten at 10.00 am.  We had hoped to go to Gravelines and the across the Channel. However we met with a great deal of resistance from the French who strongly advised against this.  So it was back to Calais. 

We arrived back at the basin where we originally obtained our licences and had to wait for some time before going through the lock into the next basin. We were joined by a British yacht that had been following us along the canal. The lock opened and to our amazement the yacht rushed in first the result being that Alouette was left behind. The lock keeper assured us that he would let Alouette  through straightaway  which he did otherwise I suspect we would have ejected the renegade yacht. We eventually arrived in the Calais marina at 7.30 pm.  Where we had our last French meal in town which as usual was excellent. 

Tuesday 10th August 

To  get out of the marina we had to wait for the bridge to open. The first one was scheduled for 7.00am but opened at 6.45am by the time we got our act together it had closed again!  We made it at about 7.30 and had to get out quickly. The weather was damp and overcast. Once out Alouette started to overheat and we all turned back and tied up on the buoys outside the marina.  Chris sorted out the problem with Alouette ( polythene in the water in take) and we made our second attempt at 10.15 am. The weather was still damp and overcast. Searrach went the direct route and Alouette and China Rose as before.          

The sea condition was good but very overcast. Soon the heavens opened and the visibility dropped to almost zero. Alouette had radar so kept China Rose informed of what was going on. The situation improved and we arrived at Ramsgate at approx 3.40 pm. 

Wednesday 11th August

The plan was to go more or less directly to Limehouse with only a short stop at Queenborough to obtain tidal advantage.

 Because of a worsening weather situation Alouette and China Rose  left at 5.15 am and arrived at Queenborough at 11.30 am. They stayed on the concrete lighter until 1.00pm.  Searrach left later and went directly to Limehouse. Alouette and China Rose were due to arrive at 8.00 pm.  At 7.45 pm Alouette  lost all power to the propeller. China Rose towed her up to Limehouse. 

Unfortunately due to the flow of the tide it became difficult to control both boats at low speed and they ended up the wrong way round to enter the lock. John on China Rose kept his cool and with the guidance of the lock keeper both boats entered the lock safely at 8.05 pm. A well deserved drink and meal was had by all . 

Thursday 12th August

China Rose and Searrach left in the morning and after dropping off Mike and Ann arrived in Staines mid afternoon.

Chris remained with Alouette and Steve from 4 All Marine came to fix the problem. Nothing  is ever simple and after a week with problems with the wrong parts and after much discussion and planning with the lock-keeper at Limehouse, Allouette was towed out on Sunday 22nd August.  It was essential that the boats left at 3.00 pm as arrangements had been made to "slow  down" the various commercial operators as wash could have been a serious problem.

China Rose ( John Wendy and Ann) towed Allouette (Chris and Mike) in style as we had a Police escort up to and past Tower Bridge and  Parliament. The commercial operators did indeed slow down and all went well. 

Mike Fowler. October 2004.  


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