contentedsouls

Join us on our travels around Europe aboard our Dutch Tjalk Francoise

  • Jill Budd

    After 6 years aboard our Narrowboat Matilda Rose in the UK, we took the plunge and shipped her across to Europe. After 2 years in Europe we knew we didn't want to return to the UK so took the plunge and purchased a 1902 20 mtr Dutch Tjalk called Francoise and are now continuing our travels of the waterways of Europe in a buxom wench

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Archive for June, 2017

24th May Weert to Helmond

Posted by contentedsouls on 29/06/2017

28 kms, 2 lift bridges, 6 locks, 6 hours

We left our industrial site/lorry park mooring in search of greener, quieter and less populated moorings but, inevitably, inferior dog walking.

We soon entered a more residential area with smart, modern, housing but all is long, straight and dull. I trust my Holland and Friesland cruising friends enough to know that this will get better, if not downright gorgeous, and all would be simple if we didn’t have animals on board. There are a lot of high quays (hopeless for poor old doddery Baxter and not too good for my poor old knees either) and moorings adjacent to roads (impossible to let Daisy out). Easy to keep Daisy shut in; but only with doors and windows closed and it’s getting too hot now to make that comfortable.

The first two obstacles of the day were lift bridges; we called on the radio, they opened, we went through. Not a fast procedure, but it all happened with due diligence and no grief. I’m trying to limit the number of brug (see; I’m getting the lingo) pictures because there are soooooooo many. Pretty much every lock has one (or two) too.

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Informed the first lock of our presence, to which he responded and gabbled lots back to us. Told him we were English and couldn’t speak Dutch. Silence; the lock lights stayed on red but then there was a great deal of chatter over the radio in Dutch. Eventually our system picked up upcoming AIS (picks up about 2/3 kms away – depending on bends, hills, etc.) so knew he was holding the lock. We could also see that the commercial behind us was now catching up and would, therefore, take the downstream lock. We were clearly in for a long wait so pulled over, mooring behind the fuel bunker and turned off the engine. This one came up and the one behind went in.

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About 50 minutes had passed in total and we were well thumbs up bums when we realised that the lights had stayed green after the orange boat had gone in – unbeknown to us there was a sort of cut out in the lock making it much wider than it appeared so there was room for us too! Panic stations; start engines, where’s the cat, get the ropes off!

At the second lock they wouldn’t even acknowledge our presence although, again, there was a lot of chatter on the radio that didn’t include us. So again we lurked whilst, eventually, they loaded the lock with a million cruisers. When they came to the top, the gates opened and nobody moved – probably because there was no hurry (subsequent experience) to turn the lock lights from red to green!. So there this myriad of cruisers sat; all washing their fenders – ‘tis a very different world from barging (no offence to my cruiser friends – it’s just different). The third lock spewed a lock full of cruisers too and, by then, Baxter and I were losing the will to live – he needed the loo desperately and there was nowhere we could get him off – thank goodness for the incontinence sheets on the rear deck but he hates it and barks his protest for more than half an hour before he gives up and gives in. He hates it and we hate to see him so stressed so, lesson learnt; shorten our days’ cruising here as the locks take for ever compared to what we are used to. Locks 4, 5 and 6 were without opposing traffic but still very slow. The filled and empty locks sit there with gates open so you move forward ready to enter (by then you are caught in the weir side stream), but the lights are still red, still red, still red. Super hero says,”I’m going in” galley slave says, “you are not” he says “I am”. I say, “no, they’re remote and if you go in on red they’ll shut down”. He tried the radio again and no response but, hey ho, the light went green. Wherever did my obedient ex-serviceman disappear to that he is now prepared to jump red lights – I rather like that he is now joining my rebel camp, but not if he’s going to bugger up the locks in the process. This day had already been too long for all of us; thoroughly tedious rather than actual duration.

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Eventually we found a nice little spot amongst the trees – which we tied to – and threw out a gangplank. The mooring filled two of our three criteria and beggars can’t be choosers, mooring wise, in either Belgium or South NL. The criteria that wasn’t filled was ‘quiet’, but not too bad; there is a very busy road across the wide canal from us. On the plus side, not one single soul has walked passed our boat and if Daisy doesn’t come home with a mouse here; either mice have become extinct in NL or she has hung up her paws and claws.

It had been a stressful and not very pleasant day, but these things happen and the sun shone and we found somewhere nice for Daisy in the end. The good thing about a cruise overrun is that, by the time we sorted out ropes, animals and satellites; the sun was well and truly over the yard arm so legitimately beer o’clock time.

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Bree into Holland, mooring at Weert

Posted by contentedsouls on 26/06/2017

There you go – we’ve caught up a bit now and you have joined me in the Netherlands.

Leaving Bree we had two more locks to clear in Flanders before crossing the border into Holland. At the first of the two, the lockie came and took our details and then disappeared into his control box. After some time he came back again and asked for our licence – G pointed to the wheelhouse window where it was displayed (as per our instructions). Mr Grumpy lockie said it should be displayed on our stern and we weren’t on the system; fed up I replied that they had taken our money. He stomped off and down we went. I think the following lock, just down river, was controlled by him remotely. The boat wasn’t even through the gates when they started to close and I jumped off to get a rope on as quickly as possible but he was emptying the lock so fast that I only just managed to get back on the boat – no time to get a rope on let alone use the rubbish skip there as I had hoped. Not a pleasant end to our short visit, but no harm done other than to my mood.

The sidestream coming out of the lock was heavy – that’ll make for an interesting lock entry going up

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Very undramatically, G changed the flag, and we crossed into Holland – the only indication being a barely glimpsed road sign

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Our first two observations were that there was bankside fuel available and that the fuel price had dropped again to 1.14 euros. No idea what the signs say and this is a considerable problem. Guillotine lock didn’t chop Francoise in half so that all went well.

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Moored on a concrete car park opposite a car sales yard (with car boot sale going on) which turned into a lorry park at night; the drivers were as good as gold and we never even heard them leave in the wee small hours.

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Now you may think this is not your idea of a first night’s mooring in Holland (not a windmill in sight) but it had many pluses. The biggest of which was this dirty great Nature Park and we we were joined the next day by Janita so Lisa, Bilbo, Muttley and I had a ball. Bilbo is gorgeous but very strong and he walks her several times a day – here they could play happily off the lead together with any canine additions we collected along the way. Even the deer were up for playtime had there not been a fence in the way.

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In fact it was here that Lisa trained Bilbo to be a speedboat so that she could water ski behind him – here she is perfecting a beached landing.

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Rekem to Bree

Posted by contentedsouls on 25/06/2017

We had decided that we would probably stop at the first nice mooring we saw and we did see several – the peace and quiet was astounding after recent days – but all of the landing stages consisted of that metal gridwork which the animals hate and we only have so many mats to cover it with. We did stop for an hour or so at one of them when G noticed a huge retail outlet called Maasmechelen Village. Very designer village and very ‘pruned’. I was rubbish and didn’t see anything I fancied despite there being a Desigual shop. The place was pretty much deserted.

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Continuing on to Bree we had to moor on the metal grids as the mooring on a proper low concrete bank was marked as being for commercials only. We were, however, thrilled to discover Mr & Mrs Coot with baby Coot in their nest alongside and also Mr & Mrs Grebe busily hatching; they were right next to us and only 5 feet from each other.

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We cycled into Bree on a wet and miserable day and I was staggered that cars parted like the Red Sea if we even looked like we might want to cross. Bree sported a brilliant Lidl and another supermarket but it was quite a way out on foot, so we lunched and then shopped using the trolley on the back of G’s bike. Not a clue what was on the menu so I just picked something under the picture of a fish! It was very nice, but criminal that there was no bread to mop up the sauce with – I wonder if they’d be offended if I took my own bread next time? The local harbourmaster turned up and said we could move onto the quay (although we discovered later that Muttley had already hurt his paw on the grid).

I don’t seem to have found anything much to take photos of although we were there a couple of extra days waiting for Jantina arrive so that we could share Lisa’s birthday with her on Saturday. She nobly offered to cook and we took around a cake – I was so busy watching that I didn’t lose the cake (the candles made the lid precarious) that I didn’t see the step off of their gunwale and crashed dramatically into their boat, taking their metal chair with me. Fortunately I landed on my right hand side; not the left which I recently damaged and I saved the cake! Talk about a dramatic entry. Those of you of a nervous disposition look away now!!!!!!!!!! Too late Ethel!

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Yep. That lady is walking into town with a parrot on her shoulder.

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Wallonie into Flanders

Posted by contentedsouls on 23/06/2017

We had planned on staying on the Meuse into Holland but, the previous night, we changed our plans (again) and hung a left onto the Albert canal which took us into Flanders and cost us an hour in paperwork and 80 euros for a waterways licence. Immediately, everybody spoke a foreign language and I had no idea what anyone was saying; I couldn’t read any menus or signposts. The self same bottle of dry white cooking wine which cost me 1.18 euros in France now cost 3.79 and asparagus rose in price from 5 euros a kilo to 8. Encouragingly I dropped a dress size but, strangely, my feet dropped a shoe size. Lunch no longer came with bread and the standard 3 courses for around 14 euros, rose to one course for 18 euros. No boulangeries anymore and no-one says, ‘bonjour madame’ (except me; who automatically continues in French for lack of anything else to speak). A shock to the system – you bet!!!!!

The Albert Canal was guarded by Albert and very, very choppy – I went and had a lay down! Jantina ploughed through the swell behind us before we entered the lock and life calmed down. Quite an impressive cill on that lock and, no, we’re not on fire!

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We moored at Rekem overnight (on adequate moorings) where I was delighted to find good walking for Muttley. Muttley doesn’t like ‘choppy’ and after a choppy day he needs to get off the boat for a good while, eat lots of grass and be sick before he will settle down again – perhaps I should feed him ginger biscuits. A small example of the words I was confronted with on signs

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We set off towards Bree the next morning, leaving Jantina taking a day off.

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I’m back–I think himself has sorted the internet problems

Posted by contentedsouls on 23/06/2017

A lot of catching up to do. We are now happily ensconced in Holland and actually very glad because many friends are stuck in Belgium and Northern France due to low water levels and, subsequent, restricted lock movements; a problem for boaters in Ireland too apparently. Being below sea level we are not having a problem; just a matter of keeping the snorkel and periscopes clear and clean. I’ll publish quite a lot of blogs in a row now now to catch up

Liege was to be our last stop before crossing into ‘foreign’ Belgium (i.e. Flanders), although we didn’t know it at the time.

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Big, big, River Meuse means big, big, ships and big, big locks which means quite a lot of concentration and, I find, quite tiring. Very grateful for the communication that the hands free, Bluetooth, headsets provide – certainly reduces my stress levels.

Arriving at Liege, we moored in front of Jantina to get away from the fountain that frequently showered you and your boat (whether you wanted it to or not) when the wind was in a certain direction. The quay led straight into acres of parkland with it’s own stately home providing Muttley with a vast private paddling pool – probably wasn’t allowed, but there were no signs telling you to keep out and  nobody seemed to care.

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I was feeling ridiculously tired and was more than happy playing with Muttley on our island parkland and, probably, for the first time ever since I became a continuous cruiser, I couldn’t summon the energy to drag my way into the city of Liege to explore. Maybe another time. So this is all I saw. Amazing watching the crane arm come out and swing around a cradle to allow window cleaners access – a bit like the exterminator arm on a giant Dalek.

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That evening we had a discussion with Lisa and Geoff regarding continuing down the Meuse and the scarcity of moorings and a change of plan was hatched. We decided to turn off The Meuse and cruise through Flanders.

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YESTERDAY, a real time blog and a taste of Holland

Posted by contentedsouls on 06/06/2017

5th June. Race track out of Arkel to Vianen

18 kms, 0 locks, 6 lift bridges, 3 hours

I thought you might be wondering about how things are going in Holland – so here’s an account of yesterday’s cruise.

Arkel itself may have been dull, but our departure certainly wasn’t! With no boats behind or in front of us G hovered the boat in the stop lock whilst I clambered up the steep steps to reach the rubbish skip – the first we’d seen in Holland – and jump back on (the bin is up here and Francoise was down there).

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By the time we reached the first lift bridge we had been caught up by a large cruiser and we hovered together outside the pretty canalside gardens while we waited for the bridge to lift after a request on the radio for passage.

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The next obstacle was a rail bridge and we, unusually, weren’t answered on the radio. The cruiser behind came passed us and said something I couldn’t catch followed by “……. in 20 minutes” before tying up in front of us. Later we found out this bridge was controlled by the rail company and they had to be called on an intercom on the waiting mooring, marked by a tiny sign; how we were meant to know this I don’t know. I took this on zoom and then enlarged it! If they hadn’t been there I don’t know how we would have found out, because it was so close to the bridge we would have been unlikely to pull up alongside.

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By the time this train crossed over (only about 10 minutes) our two boats had become 15; by the time the second train crossed and the bridge lifted I counted up to 21 before losing count. All cruisers, bar one, and they were milling about all over the place like horses at the starting line.

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As soon as the bridge was swinging they straightened up and were off as the green light came on – they started over taking us within a minute (G likened it to the start of a Grand Prix). They were right across the Kanaal. In the 2nd pic these 2 roared up to us whilst we were already being overtaken and, in the 3rd pic, the boat on the far side was overtaking the boat that was overtaking us, whilst the nearside boat undercut him to overtake all of us up through the middle. Crazy.

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The inevitable then happened …. a commercial came round the corner towards us. They scuttled back like ants to the right hand side, cutting each other up in the process. This gave the back runners a gap and an opportunity to make up some lost ground.

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Of course, all this jostling and posturing didn’t get them very far as they all piled up in a heap at the next lift bridge on a red light. We continued sedately behind them as if we were following the safety car (to use the Grand Prix analogy again); no such thing as forming an orderly queue. We were first to the train bridge; at the lift bridge 1.5 kms on we were 16th – within minutes of leaving that one, another 10 overtook us. At this point G had a chronic attack of cramp which gave me a chance to play dodgems – terrific fun. So now we’re last (because any newcomers from behind would be detained waiting for the next opening of the train bridge) and all we need to do is trundle along at our old girl’s sensible speed in time to sail straight under the bridges without any delays or mucking about. The knack, of course, is not to let them get so far ahead of you that they close the bridge again. I have no idea, yet, if this is normal behaviour or if it’s just a bank holiday thing, but it was the most pure fun and excitement I’ve had in ages.

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Once they’d all gone by, we had a chance to enjoy the scenery and, in particular, a towpath tractor parade – there must have been at least 30, plus the (by now) obligatory windmill and thatched cottage (sometimes 2 out of 3 in the same pic).

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The icing on the cake in all this madness was the beautiful little fully rigged Tjalk waiting to come the other way through the bridge as the race pack charged out passing him at high speed on both sides and very close. He tried to flag them down but they took no notice and we exchanged polite faces of agreed despair as we slowly passed him whilst admiring each other’s boats. Look at this beauty.

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Seilles lock and Huy

Posted by contentedsouls on 04/06/2017

Travelling on to moor at Seilles lock (the previous blog pics were taken at and around the lock) then Huy, we encountered a number of different locks and weirs and had been caught up with by Lisa and Geoff on tjalk Jantina; we travelled together to Huy, but they didn’t fancy the moorings so carried on and we managed to moor with a means of getting the dogs off onto the quay and a TV signal on our 3rd attempt  (finals of a TV series we were following was on that night, so we wanted a sat signal). I liked Huy a lot although was disappointed that the aerial cable car to the old fortifications has been closed down. My understanding is that it was closed in 2015 after a fatality but then re-opened. It’s not open now, so maybe they killed someone else and closed it again – who knows, perhaps one of my esteemed followers could find out and let me know; although I guess it will be awhile before you get to read this!

Jantina’s crew also consists of a massive (and I mean massive) gorgeous Welsh Foxhound – or is it a Foxterrier – called Bilbao and their sloppy three legged cat called Matilda so, they too, have specific mooring requirements. Belgium is living up to my memories of ‘difficult’ moorings for low level boats – particularly those with four legged crews but, other than that, we were still (much to my relief) well within our comfort zones. If you are only a baby size boat you are expected to move to the front of the locks so that they can raise a lock gate up from below water behind you and, rightly, save reservoirs full of water. I don’t know how you are meant to know this though – you just sort of do

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Round and about town I did a bit of food shopping, a bit of dog walking and even managed to drag G away from his maps and get him out for a beer to see the old town square.

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Namur to Seilles lock

Posted by contentedsouls on 03/06/2017

Lots of engineering pictures and commercials. The idea of blogging off line and then posting when I have Wifi is not working out overly well; particularly when I fall behind!!!! My elderly brain can’t hang onto these weird names and this batch of photos went missing and I can’t remember which photos I’ve used, which events I’ve written up and which I’ve posted.

Photo 1 depicts a two car family. No 2 is our friend’s tjalk. No 3 shows where we are and where we’re heading for.

This is a highly engineered lock and weir management system. Another of those locks where they can shorten it to save water by sliding a gate across half way along if they only have small fry in as per photo 12. No. 17 shows where it pops in and out of. I’m hoping one of you lot can tell me what that last photo is about because I don’t have a clue and I am intrigued!

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