Monday, 29 July 2013

Watten to Bethune to Basin Rond to Cambrai

Saturday 26th July
Watten to Bethune 7 hours engine running time 48km

In the morning after a big thunderstorm had passed we set off for our next adventure.

We get past St Omer and we have two locks to get through.  Kev amused the first lock keeper over the VHF with his unique French pronunciation, a bit like Del Boys’ “Mange Tout’ language skills.  All went well at this lock, the second lock was a rise of 13m, huge!  For both locks we just used a stern rope and used the engine to control the boat.  The locks are very gentle so far.  We’ve hardly had any traffic, possibly as it’s the weekend.  We arrive at Bethune at around 3pm, we moored up by the side of the canal, again using our thick, 25m ropes to reach to large but extremely well spaced apart bollards.  The barges have to slow down for a narrow section so we don’t get too much movement, but we can tell when a barge is coming around the corner the boat starts to move on its ropes.  

We walked into Bethune town centre about a 2 kilometers away, have a quick look around the centre of town and then shop at the Carrefor supermarket, we bought some wine among other stuff, and we were amazed at how cheap it is.  We bought some very nice Muscadet for under 3 euros, and some bubbly wine for under 2 euros!  We luckily decided to eat on the boat that evening as there was a terrific thunderstorm, really heavy rain and very very windy.  We would have got soaked if we’d walked into town.
A new view from the galley window at Bethune

Sunday 28th July
A long day 9 ½ hours engine running time 70km 4 locks

We were aiming for Douai today but we couldn’t find a good mooring so as we found nowhere else to moor we continued onto Basin Rond, another 3 hours!  We were glad to stop, Basin Rond at Estrun/Paillencourt is a beautiful place, a real quiet haven after the large canals.

We easily moored up and then went for a stroll around part of the basin in the evening sunshine. When we returned to the boat, an elderly gentleman dressed in grey shorts and a white sleeveless vest very purposely walked over to us from the house we were moored outside……we immediately assumed maybe we had moored up in the wrong place….he then gabbled some French at us and I understood a couple of words one of which was ‘collection’ so we got our money out and offered some to him but he said non, gabbled a little more then disappeared back to his house.  He came back with a folder with his coin collection and then we understood.  He wanted samples of the British currency, he had all sorts of nationalities so we gave him the complete set of Sterling and he was very happy!!  He then disappeared back to his house and came back with lettuce and a huge marrow from his garden!!

Les Fontinettes Lock, over 13 metres

Floating Bollards make life easier

Large commercial on a large canal

Small canal into Basin Rond our refuge for the night

Our neighbour at Basin Rond taking back his coin collection under his arm

Monday 29th July

A short day today 3 ½ hours, 5 locks

We got up to another lovely sunny morning, our friend from last night dropped by and gave us some hydrangea flowers from his garden.

The canal to Cambrai was lovely, but quite weedy and not that deep, the handling of the boat felt quite different.  We tackled 5 locks, all very easy, so much smaller than what have been in since we arrived in France.  We were met by the VNF lock keepers at the first lock and they gave us a hand held controller that we used to operate the locks.  The hand held controller prepares the lock, opens the gate etc all very easy.  We arrived at Cumbrai around 12.30 and we have found a lovely spot at the port du Plaisance.  Plenty of room for us, which is great.  We are out tonight for dinner, looks like there is a good choice of restaurants.   We have found a Boulangerie for our baguettes tomorrow morning.  We are going to stay tomorrow night as well and have a chill out time.

Cambrai a lovely spot

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Entry into the French Canal System

We have had a very successful day and we are now moored up at Watten. 
4 locks negotiated

After the sleep of the dead, at 9.40am we contacted Trystam (sea) Lock on VHF 73 and we were told that the lock was ready and we could enter.  Even though we were a little nervous as to what sort of boat we would share this massive lock with we only had two small boats in there with us, so that was ok.  There were wires to put your rope around and we pushed away from the slimy, mollusk covered walls with our boat hook and broom pole, to stop our fenders getting caught up and our back awning from touching the ledge that over hangs.  The flow of water into the lock was extremely gentle, so no dramas. 

Trystram Sea Lock

Image of the marina and sea lock 
We then went onto Darse 1, a lock that is automatic, luckily another cruiser led the way.  It was a very, deep lock - 4 meters, very slow emptying until the last few minutes.  The next lock was Ecluse (Lock) Jeu Mail, this is the beginning of the Canal system and you can purchase your VNF license from there. We had already purchased ours on line, but the other cruiser that was doing the locks with us bought theirs there and then and were able to lock in with us, so very quick to do.

After travelling until 4pm we decided to look for a mooring and we were very lucky to find a nice spot at Watten.  It is still on the main canal, which we were concerned about but it is at a junction with traffic going to Calais and Gravelines and just after the lock at Watten so the massive barges are going much slower.  We were also lucky enough to find two free bollards to moor up to.  We have seen a lot of traffic on the canal but nothing massive, we were thinking this isn’t so bad but we have now seen enormous barges pass by since we moored up, and we are now going to reset the ropes, they are holding but to sleep tonight we’d rather be safe than sorry.  Our two thick 25 m ropes are coming in handy already.

We have ben told there is a market tomorrow morning at Watten so we will go and get our bread/bagette and have a look around.  Its BBQ for us tonight.  At Dunkerque yesterday when we walked around the town we came across a lovely fish shop where we bought some large prawns and fresh sardines.  We had the sardines last night and they we delicious, looking forward to garlic gambas tonight! 

Our Place for the night at Watten, notice the large Peniche (commercial barge) passing us?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Au Revoir Angleterre Bon Jour France

A couple of weeks later than we had planned but we have finally arrived in France. We entered Teddington Lock at midday and travelled down the tidal Thames to pick up our pilot Mark at Eel Pie Island.   It was beautifully gentle which was a relief, as we haven’t ever been on the tidal section of The Thames before.  We slowed down to moor up at the island but Mark just jumped aboard and we were off with the outgoing tide.  We swept through London at over eight knots and managed to miss all the bridges and other river traffic. A really great way travel through London.

Once we were past the Thames barrier the river traffic gets much bigger.  We were overtaken by a very large ship as we passed under the QE2 Bridge.  The bridge had its customary traffic queue to the tollbooths, no queues for us! Once we cleared the Thames we lost the benefit of the outgoing tide and the going became much harder. Marks plan was for us to overnight at a pontoon (Old rusty barge) at Queensbrough off the Medway. By the time we got to the estuary it was past 10pm and dark, Mark expertly navigated Kevin upstream and to a pontoon, Kev could hardly see what he was mooring up to. We tied up and spent the night there our total journey time was 10.3 hours, our longest trip ever.

Tuesday 23Rd July
Thunderstorms during the night.  Next morning the weather forecast was good, slight wind and poor visibility and possible fog so we set off at 9am to cross the channel hoping all would be well.  As we were waiting for the benefit on the tide Mark decided to take us the scenic route around the Isle of Sheppey along The Swale, which was a narrow channel due to the low tide. It was a nice gentle meander and we saw basking seals.  We then hugged the coastline until Margate, which gave us something to look at and then turned the corner to head out in to open water. Our route took us across 3 shipping lanes, this section of the journey took us 2 hours.

The weather was great, sunshine, no wind and the sea was calm, ‘almost’ millpond so we were very lucky with this situation. But the visibility was not brilliant.  Mark told us that he had been keeping an eye on the visibility and would have turned back before we got to the shipping lanes if it had deteriorated too much. 

As we got to the first shipping lane there were 2 large ships that appeared out of the mist, quite a way away.  But although they were no danger to us at all, it was daunting to see how fast they were moving and their wake gave us a bit of a roller coaster ride.

The Dover coast guard had been issuing warnings of a ship being towed in one of the lanes. You can imagine how glad we were to find that we were on a collision course with it when we got to the second lane.  Mark suggested to Kev to give it some welly to ensure we could pass in front of it with complete safety, which we did. So not at all bad, we only saw 3 ships in what is the busiest shipping in the world. 

It was dark as we approached Dunkerque but Mark again expertly guided Rangali into the harbour.  He even managed to find us a mooring as it was past 11pm when we got there and it is holiday time in France. 14.3 hours total journey time and we were absolutely worn out.

It is with much relief that our journey is over and we are safe in France but we owe a big thanks to two people – MARK our pilot who was fantastic and SIMON PIPER for building such a great boat. We motored for 24.6 hours in total over two days and the boat never missed a beat. Mark commented on how well the boat handled which was nice to know.

Wednesday 24th July

Rest Day, phew we needed it.  Mark had to leave very early in the morning to get back to London, and we were up early too as we had moored on the pontoon very close to the fuel pump, and we were in the way of a boat trying to fill up.  Once they had gone we filled up too,  448 euros worth and we then moved the boat to the vacant the visitors mooring.

Once we had got the boat back to normal, unpacking everything, un-taping doors and drawers (nothing was broken), checked our French MyFi worked (bought on internet in UK) we went for an early lunch at the local marina restaurant and chilled.  We noticed that we both felt odd, felt like we were still on the boat, so we had a couple of beer!

We walked to see the sea lock we have to go through and we have a time of 10.20am for tomorrow, it will be the biggest lock we have ever been through.  We will then be in the French canal system.  Wish us luck!

ps the visitors mooring is packed again, we are surrounded by sailing boats, we are the odd one out

Captain Kev concentrating

Leaving the mooring at Queensborough the next morning
The boat on the right is now at Dunkirk,  two boats from us and one guy from that boat came
and asked if we were the barge that arrived in the dark and moored up.

France in sight but still a few hours to go yet!