Stranded – Waiting for a green light for France: 28/6-4/7

Diksmuide to Kortrijk via Stilhallebrug and Deinze

Getting Back

It seemed like a longer journey back to Belgium this year and it probably was. Two plane flights, and a bit of a delay leaving China which put us behind. Getting out of Charles de Gaulle was slow but we were very thankful for having UK/Euro passports because the queue for others was huge. Still, we missed the train we had booked before we left Australia, so had to pay a little more to get new tickets. Two train journeys later we were Diksmuide when we had to drag the suitcases all through town. Lisette generally loves cobblestone streets, but not so much when dragging a heavy suitcase. Just keeps expecting the wheels to come off.

Arrived! Right at the far end next to the railway bridge.

Still, there she was, Catharina Elisabeth our other home, at the far end of the port but in contrast to last year when she was filthy from decaying leaves, she looked much tidier.

Sunday and the shops closed, but fortunately, we were not without sustenance – a goodly supply of Belgian beers which had been stored in the bilges over winter, and Tim Tams from Australia for sharing.

After getting the main systems running and a bit of unpacking, now late in the afternoon, and some 44 hours since we had left home in Melbourne, we staggered over to the nearby restaurant for a delicious meal.

Much better than aeroplane food.

The main issue facing us was how to get away. Diksmuide is on the river Yser, and there are only two ways out: to the west, via Veurne; or to the east, via Nieuwpoort and Bruges. All the waterways that would take us out of Diksmuide were closed to pleasure craft because of lack of water. Emptying a lock means a lot of water heads downstream and cannot be replaced. With no forecast of any significant rains, our only option was to ‘tag along’ with a commercial vessel, for whom the authorities would still allow passage.

We found out that a big yacht in the marina was planning to leave the next day and as the captain has a commercial licence and the boat is a charter vessel, it would be able to get through the locks. It wasn’t heading in the direction we wanted but getting out was the priority.

So on Monday, our first full day, we rushed to get the necessities on board – water, fuel, food, beer etc. The yacht was leaving in the afternoon but was going to stay downstream for a couple of days before traversing the lock. As we were waiting for some friends to arrive who would be camping nearby, we decided to chance it, wait and catch up with the yacht the next day. We had a nice time with Gina and Geoff, who had cruised with us last year. This time, they cooked for us at their caravan.

We decided to make a move, as there was no guarantee the yacht should feel obliged to let us know when he was going out. Turns out, he didn’t, because we arrived in Nieuwpoort to find he was long gone.

The view from our stern deck. The baleful glare of the red lights to remind us of our predicament every day.

We got permission to tie up, with Ian neatly manoeuvering Catharina into a spot reserved for locals. But the two boats that would normally occupy this pontoon were stuck on the other side of the lock! They had gone out to get some painting done (you can’t usually do any sanding in a marina) and had not been able to get back in.

The closed lock gates are just off the picture, on the left.

We took the opportunity to also get hold of some paint and other supplies, and did some of the interior work – there is always something to do. We were still catching up on groceries, some boating items and also some touristing. We went down to the basin where all the waterways join. You can see it is a big junction.

Only three of the arms carry boating traffic (unless you count the route out to the North Sea). The second (at the top) goes to Bruges; the third goes to where we were moored and on to Diksmuide; and the last at the bottom, to Veurne. We wanted to go out of the third and into the bottom one, taking us by a short canal to Dunkirk and thus into France. No chance. The lock beside us at our mooring was a ‘short cut’ between the top two channels directly connecting Diksmuide with Bruges.

First (12 o’clock) canal is on the left – the exit to the sea on the right.

The most impressive of the features in Nieuwpoort is the King Albert Memorial. Inaugurated in 1938, it commemorates the preservation of the small piece of Belgium that remained in allied hands during WWI. King Albert played a significant role in marshalling the defence of this piece of his homeland and is remembered fondly for this.

The memorial is placed in Nieuwpoort because this was the place where the gates were opened to flood this part of Flanders and stop the German advance.

“Not long ago, here, the King gathered his regiments and as soon as he spoke to them, gone to ground on the plain, feet in water, covered in mud and out of breath, they changed the Yser into a rampart.”

There is also a memorial to British soldiers and sailors who were lost in the defence of Antwerp and the battle to retake Nieuwpoort in 1917 for whom no graves are known.

The havenmeester was fabulous – after one aborted attempt to get a number of boats through the lock, on Sunday morning we were told the lock would open at 2 pm. Yay! Seven boats left the marina, and a similar number came back in. Very happy.

Green to go – one cruiser already inside.

By the time we got to the next lock, Plassendale, there were two cruisers still with us, and we were all able to get through without any trouble. Authorities had allowed some water from the big Ghent-Oostende Kanaal to come through the lock, and that gave us free passage out. One of the cruisers stayed in touch with us on the radio, and we all stopped for the night at Stilhallebrug. We knew there was a great restaurant there, and many friends have tied up for the night just to eat there. It was a lovely sunny evening, we were moored right outside the restaurant, so it was a perfect time for us to try it for ourselves. We were not disappointed.

The following morning we all set off in convoy to see if/when a commercial would show up so we could all get through the Dammepoortsluis at Bruges. As luck would have it, a commercial was entering our canal just as we passed a major intersection.

The commercial exits the side lock behind us.

He indicated he was going through the lock, so the three of us all went in and tied off on the curved wall. The commercial then came in along the straight wall, and we were all set. We asked if we could follow him through Bruges, as the bridges will open for a commercial but if you are on your own, you might have to wait an hour or two for the bridges to open for pleasure craft. We had such a good run that we were able to get as far as Deinze, where we moored beneath the church for the night and Ian could enjoy the peal of the carillon bells once more.

We wanted to keep moving, so we pushed on the next morning, accompanied by a delightful boat, who came with us to Kortrijk.

As soon as we had both tied off, they invited us on board for a drink. The Dutch couple are both classically trained musicians, Silvia composes classical music, sings and plays double bass in several groups touring Europe. His instrument is the bassoon. They share the boat with his family, each taking her for a few weeks each summer, the next family arrives by car, they swap over the boat and the car, and the first group take the car, then head home. They told a great story of one summer the boat was in Paris, with a dozen family on board, the children sleeping in a tent on the roof of the salon.

We wanted to keep up with the painting, so we spent our time in Kortrijk with a mix of work and cycling around. Last year we had set out the see the golden spurs hanging in the church (described in a previous post), so this time we wanted to find the monument to the spurs, which is located in a little park.

On our return to Catharina, we found another Dutch cruiser had arrived. Richard and Kia were very friendly, and we shared a drink on their boat while the rain eased, looking at maps. Later, we returned the favour on our boat. A humid night after the rain storms, and a fresh start the next morning for our journey into France.

In all, it would take about 160 km to reach France this way – about 20 km if we had been able to come through Veurne.

We had come the long way around, but the time had come to start Catharina Elisabeth’s travels in France.

3 thoughts on “Stranded – Waiting for a green light for France: 28/6-4/7

  1. How great you are through now to Kortrijk and France really beckons now. I have been wondering how you were getting on. Sounds as though new friends made along the way. Hope you have the painting behind and can focus on relaxing for a while. Again, much love and I hope you are both keeping very well xxxgina

    • Good to have escaped but we’re currently doing lots of stripping, sanding, staining and painting while waiting just out of Douai for a lift out to check on the underside of Catharina. No firm schedule of when that will happen but there is lots to do so the time is not being wasted.

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