The Journey -
Apologies for the long delay. I feel very foolish, about the lack of these voyage updates, just when the voyage was getting interesting. New computers, change of operating system and change of mobile phone service provider have all conspired to stop my computer communicating with the computers of my ISP. All MOST frustrating. Even now, I am only able to e-mail from an internet caff.
We are, actually, at Eisenhuttenstadt - east Germany, about 2 km west of the River Oder which forms the border with Poland. Fanny and I are fine. Over the next two or three weeks, I hope to bring folk up to date with what has been happening. This first instalment takes us up to the Belgian/Dutch border.
The last news from the great adventure was way back in March, when we were leaving St Quentin, in France, heading north(ish).
In fact, we only just got away from St Quentin. I started the engine, and then happened to see flashes and sparks emanating from the rear of the main electrical fuse and control panel. Things like that frighten me rigid, but are the spice of life for Mike. It took him about two and a half minutes to diagnose an ammeter with its insulation shot and disintegrated, and another two and a half minutes to bypass it and whip it out. Two days later a new one was acquired and was in place.
One of the worries (for me) of a trip like this is the boat maintenance side of things. I can do the easy bits, but as for the rest !!!! It is not only a problem of diagnosis, but of where to get spare bits from, and where to find an expert, and how to get the expert to the boat (or vice-versa) without having to take out a new mortgage on the house!! Luckily, Mike can diagnose and repair, but even with his car, it is far from easy to locate spares.
Anyway, we were only delayed by about 15 minutes, and then we were ready to continue along the Canal de St Quentin (which featured heavily in WW1) to a comfortable, free (but electricityless) mooring at Le Bassin Ronde. It was here that Fanny-the-woof met up with rabbits for the first time, and spent many happy (but fruitless) hours chasing after them.
The weather had been very changeable. Often it was uncomfortably chilly, and other times nastily wet. But it was still, unmistakably, spring. Of course, the greens of ivy and mistletoe show up starkly in amongst the bare trees, but, in places, the catkins dance in the breeze. Some branches are tipped with the white fluffs of pussy willow, others with the matt black buds of ash.
We stayed a few days at Le Bassin Rond, as we had made good going, and were a bit ahead of our schedule. Our dry-dock was only a couple of days away, and we were not due into it for several more days. We eventually left, and then learned that a damaged working peniche nicked our slot in the dry dock!
We called in at the boat yard at Peronnes, and I discovered that it wasn't a dry dock at all, but a sideways slip. We arranged return in a weeks time. What to do for a week? We decided to continue along the Canal Nimy-Blaton-Peronnes to Le Grand Large de Pommeroeul. This big basin leads to a newish, biggish, disused, but well maintained lock. This lock, if in use, could save boats half a day (at least) on their journeys. However, this short-cut is now not in use as navigation works on the longer route lowered the levels, and the short-cut is now too shallow!! There is talk of dredging it, but long arguments as to where to put the dredgings are delaying matters.
Anyway, the mooring was extremely comfortable. Lots of open ground for Fanny-the-woof, no noise, bread shop not too far away. Pretty perfect.
Even, on the sky line, a twisted church spire - twisted in the same way that the spire of the Chesterfield Church of St Mary and All Saints twisted - by being built with green wood. Apparently, very few weddings are performed in Chesterfield, as rumour has it that if a virgin is married in the church, then the spire will straighten out. I tried to explain this to the lady in the bread-shop, but she didn't seem to be able to grasp the concept of virginity.
It was whilst we were moored in Le Grand Large that we tweaked the engine. As with the Kelvin, the Perkins was still, occasionally, erupting coolant out through the header tank. We (or at least Mike) reasoned that these eruptions were being caused by the coolant boiling. The thermostat does not allow coolant to circulate until the engine has heated up to 82ºC. Then the thermostat opens, allowing the coolant to pass through the exhaust manifold and hence back to the cooling tanks. We considered that it was most likely that the hot exhaust could quite easily heat 80+ºC coolant up to boiling point. Solution? Remove the exhaust manifold.
Taking the water-cooled exhaust manifold off was easy, but what to replace it with? The 3 cylinders of the engine exhaust through only 2 ports. Our first thought was to buy a 'normal' exhaust. So off we went to a Massey-Ferguson agent (Rosy's model of the Perkins engine is extensively used in building site dumper trucks and Massey-Ferguson tractors). He showed us an old one - basically a bit of rusty bent pipe about 18" long, sealed at one end, the other terminating in a flange (to mate with the exhaust pipe) and two, short, side, flanged stubs to mate with the engine exhaust ports. Yes, no problem, he could get it in a week. Fine, we'll have one. How much? HOW MUCH!!!!! €250!!!! (Obviously, EU farmers must be getting pretty hefty subsidies if they can afford prices like that (he said, provocatively, but jokingly!))
Which is why we spent the next two days using standard galvanised steel pipe fittings (for the tubing), some 10mm steel plate (for the flanges), an electric drill on a portable stand and a hole cutter (to make the holes in the flanges) and an electric arc welding kit (instead of sellotape!) (Mike on Temujin comes fully prepared!!) to make an exhaust system. This mated nicely with the silencer. Subsequently, in use, the new exhaust has worked well. No boiling coolant, the engine room doesn't seem to overheat, and I can still afford to eat.
Our wait passed quickly with all this work, and it was soon time to return to the slip at Peronnes. Hauling out was interesting. Several sets of railway lines lead down into the water. On each line there is a little trolley, with a wire leading (eventually) to a motorised winch. In theory, the trolleys descend into the water (by their own weight) and the boat(s) position themselves over the trolleys. The winch then pulls the trolleys plus boats sideways out of the water. Of course
Anyway, we were eventually ashore, and spent a most unpleasant (but necessary) few days cleaning our bottoms (our boats' bottoms, that is) and slapping on some bitumen. I also had the propeller off, and skimmed down a bit, which has made a lot of difference.
I also instituted a change I had long promised myself. At Rosy's stern, there is a rubbing strake at water level. The red band of colour used this strake as its bottom boundary. I took the bitumen paint an inch or so above the strake, which, I think, gives the stern a very much cleaner look, as the odd bit of fouling, which is highly visible on red, fades to nothingness on black.
After all this work, Jean-Marie came over to do a hull survey on our boats. Mike needed one for insurance purposes, and it was almost as cheap to get both boats surveyed as it was to get one done. Both boats got reasonably clean bills of health. Jean-Marie is a bit of an Anglophile, and seems to like country music and rock'n'roll. He pitched up in his cowboy boots. He is very much au fait with narrow boats, and the names of many UK canal characters trip off his tongue (David Blagrove for example). Indeed, Jean-Marie was profiled in the March 2004 edition of Waterways World.
We took time off from work to spend a relaxing day during the visit of Helen (of George and Helen, ex-narrow boaters who now run the commercial, carrying peniche "Floan" in France) and Jeff Mason (ex-narrow boater (of the camping-boat variety), ex-Cox's Mill (on the River Wey) run and ex-peniche) who now runs the English Book Shop in Ghent.
In the meantime, Fanny-the-woof was having problems. She had a soft lump growing under her jaw. We had determined that it was an enlarged salivatory gland, which had responded to a homeopathic remedy (acquired in France, but unknown in Belgium). Hence, without the remedy, the lump had re-appeared.
We went to see a delightful vet, who gave us more medicine. She thought that an operation would be needed if the condition continues. It did. More about this later.
Once the boats were ready for a few more years in the water, we set off for our appointment with the mighty Strepy-Thieu boat lift - a new structure that replaces a series of 3 'Anderton Lift' type structures. Strepy-Thieu lifts boats up through 75 metres. It is so big and solid that, during the ride up, disorientation set in, and I started believing that rather than us AScending, it was the rest of the world that was DEScending.
Last year, an accident at the top lift of the three (I believe that the lifting gate to the caisson fell down onto a descending, exiting barge) put it out of action, and repairs are likely to take a couple of years. However, it is still possible to ride up at least the lower of the old lifts - though having gone up, all you can do is to turn round and go back down - which a trip boat does several times a day.
A short cruise after Strepy-Thieu, we arrived at Seneffe, where there is a short arm on which mooring is possible. The guardian chased us off our first choice position as it belonged to someone else. 'But we are here for only one night, and he is not here' we said. 'But it is HIS' he replied, and put us on a much more comfortable mooring on which was a 'Strictly no Mooring Here' notice!! Anyway, the reason for mooring at Seneffe was to meet up with Michael Clarke whose R.W Davis 'Norwich Trader' style narrowboat shell is moored there. Michael is busy fitting the boat out, though in the last year or so he has spent a lot of time lobbying the EU on behalf of us inland boaters. He has been particularly successful in limiting the effects of the Recreational Craft Directive on self-build boats and on the use of old engines. We met up with Michael in the evening and discussed our watery worlds over a drink or five.
Opposite Mike's boat were a couple of berrichons - a French style barge, built for the Canal du Berry. They are slightly wider and a bit longer than a narrow boat. Some were man-hauled, others pulled by donkeys or horses. Many had a mid-ships shelter for the animal, but no accommodation for the steerer!
Also at Seneffe there is a dry dock which is available for use at a very good price.
A couple of days later we had more visitors. David (Let's save the Sankey Canal) Long and his brother-in-law Bob came for the night. They were on their way to "Falcon" (David's narrow boat, that is permanently in Europe, and is used throughout the summer by David's extended family) to prepare her for another busy summer.
Dark Satanic Mills
After all this socialising, we continued along the Brussels-Charleroi canal to Charleroi, and then had to pass through one of the most depressing bits of canal in the entire universe. It was a not very warm, rather wet day. Industrial Charleroi crowds in on the canal, almost cutting off the any view of the sky. Huge bunkers on either side filled with scrap metal; barges moored alongside, with grabs and massive electro-magnets moving the scrap from the barges to the bunkers; the crashing and shrieking of the twisted metal as it is dropped into its allotted place; the whole thing hugely inhuman in scale; and the surroundings blackened with dirt and rubbish.
Things were made worse by an off-shore breeze making mooring at the lock waiting area particularly difficult, especially when, in the midst of trying to restore order, a massive barge emerged from the lock chamber, expecting a clear onward passage. Beyond the lock, the canal was in a cutting, with the side walls besmirched by ghastly graffiti.
I didn't like Charleroi. Not a bit. Not at all. Not a sausage.
Fortunately, a couple of days later we arrived at Namur on the River Meuse. We only spent one night there, moored next to "Merchant", a home-produced boat closely modelled on a Scots 'Zulu' fishing boat. We had met before. Merchant is another boat that is exploring the further reaches of Europe, but 'cheats' by going to sea!!
Cruising along the Meuse was remarkably pleasant. It's a big river, but (at least when we were on it) with a gentle flow. The scenery varies, with some especially fine cliffs in places where rock climbing classes were in progress.
I had a problemette in one lock. It was quite full, and I was at the back. My stern was about level with the wheel-house of a big unladen barge. I thought that the etiquette would be, as in France, that the little boats would go out first, so was half untied, when Monsieur le Skipper whacked his barge in gear and wellied the engine to get some forward momentum. His prop-wash bounced off the mitre top-gate on his side, hit the wall on my side, and swept down the wall, moving Rosy's rear end sharply outwards, such that there was a coming together of stern ends. Sir came out of his wheel-house and glowered and gesticulated, and I smiled sweetly with a shrug that I hoped indicated that I thought that he was a plonker.
Liege is one of the prettiest cities I have boated through. The river is clean and quite wide. Wide enough, indeed, to cope with the 10-storey flats/apartments that, in places, line the banks, though they are interspersed with very much older buildings. We passed:
Several of the bridges had massive statues on their cutwaters, generally in the art-deco/Nazi style.
We motored on up to Neptunia - a bunker boat, and our last chance to top up with duty-free red diesel (or is it merely heating oil?) before the 'white diesel only' countries of the Netherlands and Germany.
All this was on a Friday, and it was here that we made a misjudgement. Instead of going straight along the Meuse, we decided to take the prettier back route. Arriving late in the afternoon at Vise, we discovered that this little used lock is closed from just before we arrived on Friday until Monday morning. Hence we had an enforced weekend rest.
I had been having problems with the single lever Morse engine control. At certain engine revs it needed to be held in position, otherwise it slipped back, slowing the engine down. So, on the Saturday afternoon we - or rather Mike - took it apart, and popped an extra washer in, to increase the effect of the vital spring washer.
One of the reasons for the slipping Morse control is that the engine vibrates a bit. I thought that this is normal, but Mike thinks otherwise. As an experiment, we loosened the flexible engine bearers, jacked the engine up a bit, wedged a support under the bell housing, and lowered the engine onto this support. The reduction in vibration was immediate!!
Unfortunately, in doing this, we found a problem. Supplied with the engine was a threaded aluminium flange, used to connect the exhaust/silencer system to the exhaust manifold. We had made use of this flange when we replaced the original water-cooled manifold. Closer inspection revealed the source of some silvery dust that was decorating the engine room floor - the threads in the aluminium flange were no longer there!! The engine vibrations had worn them away.
Hence we spent Sunday with some 10mm steel plate, a drill, a hacksaw, a welder etc. etc. We clamped two square 10mm steel flanges together, and drilled an (approx) 1¾ inch hole in the centre of them, and a 10mm hole in each of the four corners. Then, after carefully marking everything up, welded one flange to the manifold and the other to the exhaust system, and bolted them together (with a heat proof gasket between them).
I was pretty impressed by all this, especially as we had all the tools and materials to hand without having to go and buy things.
So, early on Monday morning, we set off, went up through the lock, and headed along the Meuse until we crossed over into Holland