Sunday, July 15, 2018

Faring in Belgium again!

The faring has begun and today we’ve arrived in Geraardsbergen on the Dender river in Belgium. It’s the last town in Flanders and tomorrow we will be in Wallonia, the French speaking area of Belgium so I will be able to stop struggling with the Flemish accent and switch to struggling with French...haha. It’s been a lovely trip so far. We had a bit of excitement when we left Gent. We’d noticed the cooling system on the Hennie Ha had been acting up, so when we were in the first lock taking us onto the tidal Schelde river on Friday morning, Koos decided to investigate the water pump impeller, a part with a known limited life. Luckily we had a spare, because it transpired the old one was in a bad way, a VERY bad way. Still replacing it in the lock was a bit nerve wracking and he didn’t finish in time, so we had to pull ourselves out of the lock and tie up to the wall until The job was done. That also meant we missed much of our advantage on the ebb tide. We’d wanted to leave at 7:30, but the lock in Gent didn’t open until 8:30 (owing to the Gent festival) and then we had to sit in the big lock onto the river until 10:30 while a huge passenger boat filled with water; hence Koos’ decision to change the impeller. High tide was at 8:30 and we only got going at 11:00. Luckily, the current helped us do the 33kms to Dendermonde in 2,5 hours (normally, it would take us about 4hours to do that on a canal) and we arrived at the lowest of low water). I was fascinated to see the mud flats and banks. They looked as if they’s been sculpted into shape by a huge pallet knife. It was also interesting to see there were no ducks or coots on this tidal section; only seagulls. How do they know? I shall have to look this up!

Geraardsbergen Square, where I’m drinking coffee as I post this blog

The first lock on the Dender is massive. It’s 168m long and very wide. We were the only ones going through. I expected to see huge 2000 tonne barges on the other side, but there was nothing — not a thing anywhere. It was also interesting to see the different water lines on the lock wall. If the tide is very high, the farer will go down to the Dender on the other side; there is a distinct high water mark on the lock wall, but it was quite dry. Normal tide is visibly at the normal level of the river and then there is the low tide mark. Because of the dry weather, we did not rise very high even though we were there at low water, but at high tide on the Schelde, we would probably have gone down to the Dender a bit, even though we were heading upstream. We spent our first night at Aalst at a gorgeous free mooring that announced ‘For a chat and a smile, you can stay for a while’. It was lovely and very peaceful. The river is too beautiful, and is picturesque in a typically Flemish pastoral way. There are reeds, bushes, wild flowers and trees along the banks, and the coots and ducks were back. The baby coots were just adorable scooting along after their mums. They haven’t yet got the hang of walking on water, so seeing them hurry after their mothers was both funny and sweet. The next day, we headed further upstream through Aalst to Ninove. We did all the locks and several low bridges with an English couple and a German couple on their cruisers. It wasn’t very comfortable in the locks as it was a tight fit for the three of us. The German man was a really boys’ own type and while he was cheerfully yelling commands to his long suffering wife, Koos was yelling at me too. What with the noise from the lock gates, the pouring water and the general cacophony, neither of us could really hear what our respective skippers were saying, so we just turned to each other and shrugged. A nice bit of cross cultural connection.

At Ninove, there was nowhere for Koos and I to moor up, so we had to find a shady bank with some trees to fasten our lines to. There really was nothing else to be done. Sadly this also meant there was nowhere to go. Ninove is not the most appealing place in Belgium, so we stayed on board. I read while Koos played his guitar with his brand new birthday amp. On reflection, it was probably as well that we weren’t at a real mooring. This morning, we started late. The cooling still leaks and there are another few leaks that are niggling, but even after trying to fix those, we still left before anyone else. We suspected they might have been nursing hangovers celebrating or commiserating over the football. I’m sad England lost the game, but happy for Belgium that they won. 

The river to Geraardsbergen is, if anything, even more beautiful. It winds its way theough stunning scenery and we saw real hills for the first time too. What a gorgeous stretch of country this is. We’ve done three locks and a bridge with delightful lockkeepers to help us and are now moored up at an informal spot...once again, no room for us at the inn. Still we are in the shade of some trees; there is a path nearby; we are comfortable and at rest. Have a great week, allemaal!

Our informal mooring today in Geraardsbergen

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Interim musings

What a strange week this has been with all the furore over the World Cup. Then there's Wimbledon and the Formula 1 as well. I don't know about you but I am not much of a sports fan although I've always enjoyed motor racing and I just love cricket (of course). Despite this, I haven't been able to avoid being caught up in the tension over the football and also the F1 championships which I used to follow quite closely, but less so these days.

The thing I don't get is how so many people are critics first. People can be so mean about their own sides and the sportsmen and women they follow. If they could do better, why aren't they out there doing it themselves? How about being an encourager and not a destroyer?

I was so pleased for Belgium that they got to the WC semi-finals. What a great achievement for a small country. They played so bravely, and it's such a shame they lost to big brother next door, France, but they did an amazing job. And as for England, I am listening to the match now and it doesn't sound hopeful for the land of my birth, but heck, they made it this far which is further than they've done in close on thirty years. Well done guys!! I, like thousands of others, am thrilled for what you have done even if you don't make it any further.

All the same, the whole competition has seen some major upsets, which has made it quite interesting for a non football fan like me.

Then when it comes to motor racing, it seems that the top drivers can never do anything right. Lewis Hamilton is either 'too nice to be real' or a 'bad loser'; the press have a go at him whatever he does. The same goes for Max Verstappen, the young Dutch driver. He's a real go-getter for sure, but isn't that what you're supposed to be at that level? The media never seem to give him a break and I find that a real shame.

Lastly, there's Wimbledon, which has been a bit submerged by all this World Cup fever, but even there I hear some upsets have occurred and Roger Federer lost to a South African player I've never heard of before. Who would have expected that? Still, Mr Federer's had an amazingly good innings (sorry for mixing my sporting metaphors) and it's great to see someone else coming up.

Well it will all be over soon and we can get back to normal life again; in other words, I can go back to my boats and my cricket again, but I'm going to hold on to that 'encouragement' idea. I think there's far too little of it about these days. Whatever makes people smile and gives them a lift is surely more rewarding for all concerned, isn't it?

On a more local note, we've had quite a busy week socially too. Last weekend was my elder daughter's birthday celebration. We had a great family gathering at her house and a delicious vegan meal. Of course, the 'boys' had to watch the football.

Here they are watching whatever match it was on a smart
phone...modern life!
Meanwhile, we girls made our own fun. My younger daughter took photos of the birthday girl and me making silly faces....well, what else can you do when everyone else is glued to a tiny screen?

I might be a bit more rare in my blogging appearances than usual in the coming weeks; it's fair weather, so it's faring weather, but whatever you all are doing, have a great summer/winter allemaal. I will be here, but just a little more sporadically.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Oily bits are best and I now officially have an OM

My view from the crumbly cottage. I'm missing it1
It's been a strange seven days. Yes, I know that's a week, but I always think of a week as being Monday to Sunday. You'll notice, though, that this post is a bit late and my seven days have run from Wednesday to Wednesday...oh dear, why am I rabbiting on about this? Well, the thing is, our routine is all upside down. Normally, I spend the week days in Rotterdam on the Vereeniging and the weekends in the crumbly cottage, but last week, Koos was also in Rotterdam and we stayed for the weekend as it was his birthday...the big seven oh.

A happy Koos with his birthday gift
A small amplifier for making a big noise!
Rock on Koos!

But to back track, while he was here, we did a very good deed that turned out to be a very dirty job. I don't know if I've mentioned before that the Vereeniging had the dreaded diesel bug? Well, for anyone who doesn't know what this is, it's a bacterial infection that the modern bio-diesels get if they've been sitting a long time and condensation has occurred in the tank. It seems this creates an ideal breeding ground for the most horrible fungal growth and it gets into the systems and ultimately stops the engine from running. It can be quite catastrophic.

Well having solved this problem and had the engine running again, we still noticed that it smoked too much, so I'd asked our favourite diesel man to look at it. His first suggestion was that we take it out, get it to his workshop and let him overhaul it. As you might imagine, I was not so eager, mentally seeing the euros skyrocketing at just the process of removing and replacing the motor, let alone the costs of overhauling it. He must have heard my alarm bells clanging (or else saw the look of frozen horror on my face) because he then relented and suggested we first change the oil and use V-Power diesel (a sort of super fuel that apparently burns more cleanly) and just go faring to see what happened.

A not very clear photo, but you can get an idea

Now, owing to the fact we haven't really been anywhere in the Vereeniging since this engine was installed, I confess we've never changed the oil. I know, I know, but with only a few hours running time, why should it have needed it? But oh my! Was it ever necessary! For those not interested in oily bits, you might want to skip this bit; I actually found it fascinating.

My engine doesn't have a sump plug for draining the oil; it has its own hand pump which unfortunately wasn't working as the rubber gasket that creates the suction had perished. After spending a morning trying to find one, we ended up making our own, and that was the first major achievement. A real thumbs up woohoo feeling that we'd creatively overcome such an obstacle.

With the oil out, Koos then opened up the side cover on the engine to remove the filter. That was our second shock. The gauze of the filter was completely blocked with muck and the only reason it had worked at all was down to the holes in it. Awful. There was also a thick layer of black sludge at the bottom of the block. What a horrible mess! I was amazed the motor had run at all and very glad we hadn't tried faring anywhere. No wonder it smoked so much.

Koos, bless him, cleaned out all the ghastly gunk from the bottom while I cleaned the filter with turps. We then bought some new steel gauze to replace the old and put everything back in place. With about six litres of fresh new oil, we got the engine running again, and were delighted to see the amount of smoke was massively reduced. Now we just have to try the super V-Power diesel on a trip out and see if that eliminates it altogether. Go us...or something like that! We are at least significantly closer to that dream trip to Utrecht.

Anyway, that was before the weekend, and then on Saturday, we celebrated Koos' other achievement (that of reaching 70, which is quite something) with family and friends at our favourite Rotterdam pub. I can now officially call him my old man, or OM as social media would have it. It was a lovely, cheerful and happy occasion.

Some guests found it all too tiring
Our intention was to head down to the crumbly cottage on Sunday, but when we arrived home after the party, the car refused to start. On Sunday morning, it still refused, so we called the ANWB (the Dutch road rescue service) who obligingly came and diagnosed a fuel pump problem. They towed the poor old Opel to the garage for us, but of course it meant we couldn't leave and we've been in Rotterdam since. I must admit, it feels like ages, even though it's only Wednesday. I'm so used to my weekends in the country, this has upset my body clock as effectively as jet lag. What's more, this coming Saturday is my daughter's birthday celebration, so we will be here another weekend to compound the strangeness.

Missing my garden too

Never mind, it will all get back to normal again soon, I suppose, but then of course, we'll be off faring to France...

Here we are on the Vereeniging, though. From the inside looking out

Have a good week allemaal. Enjoy this glorious weather we're having...long may it last!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Time out

I find life is so hectic these days I really need to take just a little special down time now and then; not the usual sitting on the sofa with a book down time, but getting away from everything routine and doing something indulgent just for the love of it. For me, it's 'boat watching', but of a different sort from our normal harbour comings and goings.

I took the photos below on Saturday when we were on the way from Rotterdam to the crumbly cottage, We went by way of Antwerp docks; not an unusual route for us by any means, but not one we follow as a rule. It was a beautiful bright day, which made it even more appealing, so first we stopped by the Schelde river at the start of the estuary and on the Belgian border. If you look at the first photo below, you'll see a typical Belgian border 'post'. You'll notice it has a number on it. These border markers are at intervals all along the grens as they call it and it's fun to come across them (and even stumble into them) when out walking. I believe someone has even taken a photo of every single post and published a book of them, but so far I haven't found it.

The post marking the Belgian border. Note the number!
After sitting on the bank and gazing a while, we moved on into the dockland area. At one of the huge locks into the inner harbours, we saw they were preparing for this massive container ship (below) to come in, so we decided we had to just sit and watch it. Now I don't know about you, but I find this one of the most absorbing and peaceful pastimes I can think of. To sit on the wall and just watch these giants proceed at a very gentle and smooth snail's pace is a positively meditative experience.

This one took a good ten minutes to reach the lock and then even longer to inch its way in and moor up. When it finally reached the spot where we were sitting, we noticed the tugboat behind it, guiding it in and keeping it straight. Behind these two, we saw other ships leaving other harbours along the river at what seemed like a much greater speed; they were going downstream with the tide, so comparatively, at quite a lick!

Slowly does it

Closer and closer

And finally past us into lock

....which was when we saw the tug boat guiding it from the rear

For the record

Nearly moored up

And there goes another biggy

...heading out to the tiny yacht next to about scale!

Fare forth and fare well!
We must have spent an hour sitting there just soaking up the peace of seeing these behemoths navigating their way in and out of the huge Antwerp harbours. For me, it is soul food and nothing gives me more peace and tranquillity. I love it, and it was with almost a sigh of regret that we decided it was time to move on. What a way to waste time – although for me, it was very well wasted.

What does that for you? What is your way of taking time to 'stop and smell the roses'?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Chasing my own tail

It's been pretty hectic this week in the Flatlands. Being the end of the academic year, there are exams to mark and courses to finish up before everyone knocks off, or goes down for the summer. To be truthful, I feel as if I'm racing to the finish of far too many deadlines and am in danger of overshooting all of them.

I've also been wearing my Cambridge speaking examiner hat quite intensively this week. The British Council, the largest of the organisations that runs these English as a Second Language exams, was a bit short of examiners for this round and sent out a plea to anyone examining for the other centres to see if we could help. I am attached to a centre in Rotterdam and do the job for them three times a year. They have first call on my time and I am committed to examining for them when required. However, as a freelancer, I can do sessions for other people if need be, so I offered my services to the urgently seeking British Council and found myself at a school in Goes, Zeeland bright and early on Monday morning.

The harbour in central Goes 2016

Goes is a lovely place although I didn't see much of it. I spent the whole day working at the school, which was pretty intense. It was great experience, though, and I met some other examiners who gave me some useful tips from their much longer experience. After that it was put foot to the pedal (as we used to say in South Africa) back to Rotterdam as I was adjudicating a university speaking exam on Tuesday for a group of staff. Wednesday was a normal work day, but I had more Cambridge examining on Thursday in Rotterdam and all day on Friday at a school in the suburbs. It got to the point that I couldn't remember who I'd been with, where or when, or even where I was supposed to be. Predictably, I was totally shattered by the time I arrived back at the crumbly cottage on Friday evening.

One of the classic Goes houses

Meanwhile, I still had all my academic writing assignments to mark for the Amsterdam students I teach. peace until today, when I managed to get out and paint a wall. You have no idea how therapeutic and rewarding that was! A plain, white, simple wall.

Next week, things will begin to wind down again. I still have some Cambridge work, but just for one day; otherwise, life reverts to normal and at the end of the month, it will all be over for the students...and largely speaking for me too! Maybe, just maybe, I'll have time to write again. I've been looking at the outline of my WIP longingly, so I'm keeping everything crossed. But with boat maintenance calling...well...we shall see!

On a sad note, I have lost my little Panasonic compact camera that I have taken everywhere with me for the last few years. I cannot believe I've left it somewhere, but it seems that's what I must have's just vanished. I am quite bereft because I was really fond of it. What's worse is I've lost the photos that were on it too; not that many, but there were some pictures of the poppies around here which have been quite spectacular this year. I'll just have to rootle around in my archives to see if I've got any older poppy pics to relieve the empty spaces in this post.

A few years ago, friends of ours taking poppy pics

The delicate vividness of the poppies. I've always loved them
but this year, they've been phenomenal

Well, that's me done for blogdom this week. If the WC is your bag, enjoy the games and if not, I guess there's tennis or athletics or even just enjoying summer days outside.

I'll the the one wielding a paintbrush and sander...ooh, and yes! I've got a diesel man coming to service the Vereeniging's engine this week. Woohoo! I can hardly wait!

Have a great week allemaal.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Meandering on terra firma

It's been a busy few weeks, but there's not much to write about really. I've been wrapping up courses and this coming week, I'm in for a spate of examining with my Cambridge ESL hat on. I do the speaking tests, and not all the written parts, for which I'm grateful.

My course with the Syrian refugees is also over. They were a truly lovely bunch and I became very fond of many of them. The only problem was that halfway through the course, it became apparent that many of them would not be studying in English at all, so there seemed little point in their continuing. As a result, I lost a number of them in quick succession. I just hope they get to study what they want in future and all go on to do well. It was a privilege to get to know them.

On Thursday, I had a full day's painting on the Vereeniging, which was wise as it rained during the night and also on Friday. I'm very glad I've made a good start and painted all the red trim round the roef, and the engine room. I also managed to freshen up the red stripe round the whole barge. It's called the boeisel in Dutch, but I don't know what it is in English. Does anyone know?

The red strip, the boeisel in Dutch, but in English?

This weekend, though, I've been taking it a bit easier as a result of having less marking to do and being a bit tired after my activities during the week, so it's been time for some good walks. We are so lucky at the crumbly cottage; it is a beautiful area with plenty of nature reserves, so walks are easy to find and there is rarely anyone else about.

Below is a selection of a few photos I took with my phone of this weekend's rambles. Koos took the top two of the enchanting piglets we saw today when we walked through an area of forestry smallholdings just across the border in Belgium. It was such a lovely discovery I'm sure we'll go back there again.

Tiny tiny piglets, no bigger than a handful. So cute!

Mummy pigs, still pretty small, aren't they? 
Below the dyke along the great sea canal

For the birds: a nature reserve dedicated to water birds not far from
the crumbly cottage

A working harbour on the sea canal

Not such a good photo, but I loved the sunlight dappled on the road

A misty morning on another nature reserve nearby

Stark contrasts across the polders. I love this landscape
See how empty it is? In other parts of the country, the lanes would be teeming with walkers and cyclists, so we are doubly fortunate that we have so many natural areas but so few people to share them with. I'm becoming quite the misanthropist as I get older, but then maybe that's because I see so many people during the week. For me, this is bliss!!

Have a good week allemaal! Where are your favourite spots to take a walk?