Thanks for joining us – Frank, Ruth, Bosun, Brody and our lovely barge Thirza!
It’s many a mile, love, with you I’ve travelled……………….Davy Spillane
We left Maassluis at 7:15am on Thursday 27th August, having had a relaxing and enjoyable time with our good friends, Michel and Nadja. We had planned to leave Monday but Storm Francis was making its presence felt across Ireland and the UK, with northern mainland Europe next in its sights. We had winds of over 50knts overnight on Tuesday into Wednesday, so staying tucked up in harbour was the only sensible thing to do.
Our intentions of leaving so early in the morning was to catch the rising Maas tide to carry us down into the Haringvliet and on to Willemstad. I don’t know how we got it wrong, but we were 2 hours into the journey, just entering the Spui before we started to pick up some additional and welcome knots of speed.
Once in Haringvliet, the current becomes neutral again and as it was a beautiful day we just enjoyed the journey, along with dozens of other pleasure boats and commercial barges.
Willemstad has a couple of mooring opportunities – in the fully serviced marina, which is a bit of a walk into town, or our chosen spot, along the quay in the town harbour where a bit of innovative fendering came into play to keep Thirza’s paintwork intact.
We came here once before with our first love, Armanda, and then Frank came here when he brought Thirza from Maassluis to Essex over 3 years ago. On that occasion he was with our friends, Colin and Gary and he said they had a fantastic meal in a restaurant called Het Wapen on the quay, so we booked a table then went off to do some shopping and buy some charts from the chandlers.
Willemstad is a lovely and interesting town with an old windmill on the quay which has been beautifully converted into a home. The star-shaped moat around the town cleverly conceals WWII bunkers and battlements, all now left abandoned for tourists and dog walkers to enjoy.
That evening, we got our glad rags on and walked 20 yards to the restaurant and our comfy 60’s booth-style table with a birds-eye view of the kitchen….love it!! Our drinks order was taken and delivered but then we waited and waited and waited for the menu. Whilst waiting I took in the surroundings and watched the food being plated up when it dawned on me that this was a seafood restaurant. Great. I had noticed the odd burger going out and Frank said he’d had a fab steak the last time he was here, but I love browsing menus and having lots to choose from. Oh well.
When the menu arrived my fears were confirmed and in addition to the burger and steak, the only other non-seafood choice was a vegan meal. We both chose the steak and were still
looking forward to our meal, as the plates coming out of the kitchen all looked beautifully presented.
Having ordered food, we realised we’d forgotten to order wine and asked for the wine list. Whilst still browsing through, our food arrived, looking fantastic. We explained we hadn’t yet ordered or received wine and in fairness the waiter got a bottle of Rioja organised and on the table in no time.
The wine was lovely – good job at £40 a bottle – but the meal was lacking. The meat was cold and chewy but full of flavour. The vegetables and sauce were very good but with cold chewy meat it lacked too much. It wasn’t long before I was cutting up the meat into doggy titbit sized pieces and wrapping it in one of the posh linen napkins. When one of the waiting staff asked the standard question ‘is everything ok?’ we didn’t lie.
Soon the manager came over and was very concerned about our feedback, offering a free desert and coffee. Trouble is, when the service and food aren’t up to scratch, you don’t want to spend time in the place, so we declined. The manger explained that the restaurant changed ownership about 18 months ago and he’d only become manager 2 weeks ago. We told him about the service and food – not complaining just being honest. He genuinely appeared to appreciate our views and opinions, which was backed up by the fact that when we went to pay he presented our €130 bill and immediately retracted it saying everything for us was on the house. Blimey, it wasn’t THAT bad!!!!!
Back on board Thirza, we enjoyed a liquor coffee up on deck, taking in the sights and sounds of a busy Willemstad evening.
The following morning we hiked round to the harbour masters office to pay our dues and were shocked to pay €36 for the night. Oh well, we weren’t planning on staying two nights anyway!
As soon as you leave Willemstad you swing round to the left and through the lock, which we had just missed so had to wait 30 minutes. We tied up on the lock entrance wall and passed the time admiring a Corvette trawler yacht moored nearby.
This section of canal is quite busy and in no time more pleasure boats had arrived and we all locked through together. Our stop for the night was the lovely town of Tholen where I spied and bought a souvenir – a clog shaped birdhouse and feeder. Cheap and cheerful rubbish really, but it just appealed to me.
The approach to Tholen is quite interesting because there are huge piers in the entrance of the harbour for commercial barges to lay up overnight, then beyond that there are flood gates to go through to the marina. A big sign announced the phone number for the Haven Master so I called up and spoke to a very friendly Ducth lady who, of course, spoke excellent English. “I have number 61 for you, in front of the large white Princess…..do you see it?” Yes, we could see it. I thanked her and said we’d come and see her as soon as we were settled. Number 61 was the left pontoon of the two-berth mooring, with number 59 as our immediate and empty neighbour. The wind was quite strong and although he did his best, Frank couldn’t get Thirza near enough for me to throw a line on 61. We ended up in berth 59 so I called our harbour master. “It’s me again. We were aiming for 61 but the wind blew us into 59. Are we ok to stay in 59?” She cracked up. She thought that was hilarious “yes, you can stay in 59”. She was still chuckling when we went to pay the bill and get the gate code.
Tholen is a lovely town with a couple of nice bars on the quay where we enjoyed a bevvy or two….in the pouring rain, as it turned out. There are plenty of shops, bars and restaurants – a perfect stop for us boaters.
Saturday morning we left Tholen and headed for Antwerp. Shortly into the journey you have to pass the double lock at Kreekrak – both locks measuring a colossal length 350m, width 24m, depth 50.5m. We went into our lock with 5 commercial barges, one that was 135m x 15m!
Now we just had to traverse through the docks at Antwerp to get into the city. Oh my god – what a nightmare. As the second largest European port, Antwerp is huge. Massive docks branch off from the main route through, which is constantly occupied by various sized barges and ships. You know you are in a big dock when 4500 tonnes barges look tiny in comparison to the ships around them.
It took us 2 hours to get through to Willemdok Marina – well 3 actually because we had to wait an hour for the lifting bridge.
Once in we had our pick of mooring spots. Large empty pontoons were everywhere and as we landed on the closest hammerhead to the exit gate, a man came up saying the marina was empty because of coronavirus and that Antwerp had been designated a Red Zone – in other words we wouldn’t be sightseeing or eating out as expected. It seemed sensible to stick to our own little bubble, eat on board and leave ASAP in the morning. It was a long way to go for an overnight stop!!
Then, we committed an error that we warn others against. We researched through blogs to see the best way to go from Antwerp to Gent and if it was possible to do in a day. The problem lies in the fact that the river is tidal all the way to Gent and although there are a few stopping places you can never be guaranteed a berth. Added to that, when the tide ebbs it runs at approximately 7kms so if it stops coming with you then you’re not going anywhere. It seemed most bloggers or forums were simply relaying what they’d heard from others but one guy had done it and wrote 2 pages worth of information about it – and it sounded terrifying! His calculations for getting the tide right where to the minute and we had no way of knowing how long it would take us to get through the Londenbrug and Siberiabrug leading out of the port back into the docks – or through the lock to get in to the main river – as you always have to give precedence to commercial vessels. It was a sleep disturbed night worrying about the journey and kicking ourselves a bit having gone to a lot of trouble to get to Antwerp only to find it was effectively closed due to Coronavirus.
In the morning we went to pay the harbour master and asked if he had any information on the tide times and possibilities of reaching Gent. He told us we could leave by the 10am or 11.30am bridge lifts and because the tide is 4 hours later in Gent than it is in Antwerp we would have about 7 hours of push all the way up – more than enough time to get there. Which we did – and we were glad we didn’t rely on stopping because the only sensible place to break the journey was packed full. Happily, at about 6.15pm we arrived at the lock but was told by the lock keeper the next lock would at 6am the following morning – but we didn’t care , we’d made it. The downside was we had to carry the dogs up the ladder for the night time pee walk. This is ok, until you consider the ladder is about 2 meters to the top of the lock when the tide is in – and about 6 meters when the tide is out. It was, quite frankly, dangerous, but we managed.
The following morning having purchased the Belgium waterway licence we proceeded on to Brugge. It is a pretty and straightforward route with enough commercial barges to give some interest but not so many that you have to be on guard the whole time. Eventually we came to the first of many lifting and twisting bridges that you have to negotiate around Brugge. Frank remembered from his last stop here with Thirza there was a harbour with, what he described as, a boom across that had to be lifted. Sure enough as we cleared Gentpoortbrug the boom came into view and immediately we could see the bridge operator was there and had already set the process of stopping the pedestrians and cyclists and lifting the bridge, so we didn’t have long to wait to enter the harbour. One thing that is always of interest (to us, anyway) is there number of different methods engineers come up with to move a bridge out of the way for waterway traffic. This particular one is suspended by a number of wires that are winched up around a large barrel bringing the bridge section with it to a clearence of 5m.
Once through we were met on the pontoon by a lady asking in a lovely English accent “Is that a lovely English accent I can hear?”. Yes, I replied, I’m an Essex Girl! It transpired that the lady, Helen, and her husband, the bridge operator, Steve, run the port. They gave us a very warm welcome and we immediately knew that it would be a nice place to stay. They gave us all sorts of useful information about the town, the facilities, the nearest bakers etc. and we spent some time swapping stories about how we all arrived in Coupure harbour.
Brugge has been on our list of places to see properly so it was great to be able to tie up and know we had no where to go for a few days. The harbour is close to the heart of the town, which has been referred to as the Venice of the North. I don’t know about that, but it is very beautiful in places and certainly reminicent of the Italian water wonderland.
We decided to eat out on our first night, and both were craving a proper Indian. The first Indian restaurant we came across was “Gesloten” so we continued our search. We soon came across Delaney’s Irish Pub and decided it was time for refreshments while we decided where our search for a Ruby would take us. One pint of Guinness for himself and a glass of wine for meself later, we checked out the menu and having established that the bangers in “bangers and mash” were from Galway we decided to abandon our search for a curry and put a few quid in Delaney’s pocket. We had a great night and enjoyed the Craic with the Irish bar staff.
On Wednesday 2nd September I decided to take the day off work so we could go sightseeing. We had a lovely day and ended up in a canal-side restaurant for a late lunch and a couple of bevvies – it was lovely.
Thursday we did washing, shopping and souvenir hunting so we were ready for the off on Friday morning. As we left the harbour both Helen and Steve gave us big waves and best wishes, which of course we returned. What a lovely couple and what a difference people can make to your stay anywhere. We would highly recommend the harbour at Coupure to anyone.
So here we are. In a small village called Leffinge in the region of Middelkerk. Tomorrow we will be back in France and just a couple of days from Calais, where Frank will leave to get the truck out of storage and then we wait for the weather to be kind enough for us to get back to Brightlingsea.
As I have mentioned, we have really good friends in Maassluis and the minute we arrived they set about spoiling us. Frank has known Michel since pre-me when they met in Greece, 30 years ago. They became firm and long-lasting friends and when Michel married the beautiful Nadja we were invited to celebrate with them.
Throughout our stay this time we have spent quite a few evenings with them and last weekend Michel and their 3 sons took their boat to Haringvliet for a weekend of fun and swimming. We, of course took Thirza, although it took us a little longer to get there, not coming close to the 22 knots cruising speed of Black Pearl. Nevertheless, late Saturday afternoon we anchored close to the harbour at Hellevoetsluis in the Haringvliet and after a snagged anchor and me getting the chain caught under the winch (don’t ask) we eventually rafted Black Pearl alongside Thirza and went ashore for some food – after the boys had a swim, of course!
We stayed at anchor for the night and the following morning after a very hearty “all you can eat” breakfast ashore, we headed back towards the Spui and picked up a mooring bouy for the day. It was lovely. The weather was perfect for being able to play, swim and jump from the boats. We all had a great time but I think young Frank (Michel and Nadja’s eldest) had the best time taking Brody out on the dinghy!
After Michel and the boys headed back home we let go of the mooring and made our way up the Spui with it in mind to find another anchorage for the night – it was just too nice to be in a harbour.
Not far into our journey we came across a lovely sandy beach and dropped the hook. The one thing lacking on Thirza is a depth sounder – you don’t usually need one in the canals. We didn’t know how deep the water was but after a short while the anchor was holding and we took the dogs for a walk on the beach. We contemplated a swim but decided to just head back to Thirza and fix a meal.
It is impossible to explain how quickly it went from idyllic to a nightmare in moments. One minute we were rowing the short distance from the beach to Thirza, the next the wind was blowing gale force and Thirza was dragging her anchor…..towards the rocky shore! We had no time at all to spare and as Frank started the engine I started hauling the anchor up. I have to say it was a herculean effort and took literally all my strength and breath to bring the anchor back on board – all the while Frank was keeping the boat off the rocks without putting additional pressure on me hauling the anchor.
Needless to say, we managed to not sustain any damage but within the few minutes it took to get the anchor up the wind continued it’s onslaught – and was now accompanied by hailstones so dense that we couldn’t see the banks of the narrow river Spui. Clearly we would need to find a harbour for the night but not being able to see and being in fierce winds doesn’t make anyone want to enter an unknown harbour unannounced.
Frank remembered we’d passed a harbour with a large entrance and a long fuel quay on the junction of the Spui and the Oude Maass, so we headed for it. Thankfully by the time we got there the wind had abated a little and the hail had turned to rain and we spotted a large space on a hammerhead not far into the harbour, so we took it. And relax!!
The following morning we headed off early to ensure we had the falling tide in our favour to get us back to Maassluis, with no more drama’s, thankfully!
The following morning, Tuesday 17th August, we made our way over to the de Haas boatyard where Thirza was lifted for a bottom scrub, antifoul and anode replacement, ready for our homeward journey back to Blighty.
A little about Maassluis. It is an old fishing village with a church that was built in the 17th century. The inside of the church tells of it’s maritime heritage with model boats and paintings of boats all around. They have a large harbour with 4 lifting bridges that get you round in a circle to the marina and de Haas boatyard. All around the harbour there are bollards for tying ships and tugs and some have been beautifully painted.
The town is full of lovely shops, bars and restaurants and we are really enjoying our stay but the time to leave is approaching………………..
We enjoyed a couple of days in Koln, arriving on 2nd August and leaving on 4th, but it is fair to say it’s not the most attractive or vibrant town. The harbour is large and very close to the centre with walls about 8 meters high. When we first arrived we considered getting to scooter off but quickly realised that although getting it off the boat would be simple, getting it out of the marina would be impossible. The steps up the wall are steep and numerous – and the walk from one end of the pontoon to the other is a workout in itself!
We stuck to using Shanks’s Pony for the duration of our stay, which wasn’t difficult – the only sight worth seeing is the Cathedral, about 10 minute walk – the supermarkets were a similar distance in the other direction and the marina bar/restaurant (before the long climb up the steps) was perfect for a nightcap or meal.
Having left Koln we planned on stopping in Dusseldorf, but there really wasn’t anywhere we could stay, so we continued on to a small but comfortable marina at Krefeld, it was late so this was just a stopover and apart from a walk the dogs we didn’t go anywhere else.
We left Krefeld and continued the helter skelter down the Rhein – averaging 13kms but sometimes hitting 14.5kms! There are times on the Rhein when you feel like you’re on the M25 but everyone is using whichever lane suits then, on either side of the carriageway! The blue-boarding sometimes makes sense and others none at all. One minute the board is up, then it comes down and the barge swings back to his own side of the river. We have been overtaken by 2 barges side by side and at the same time had 3 barges coming in the opposite direction, overtaking side by side, with a random one that has decided to just take whatever gap he can regardless of whether he is blue-boarding or on the right side of the river – so long as he didn’t have to slow down he was happy! I have to admit, when it was like this I was glad Frank was at the wheel rather than me!!
That night we found a gem of a mooring at a tiny place called Rees. You turn into an entrance channel, that is about 200 meters long and then arrive in a large lagoon, where several power boats were at anchor, the occupants swimming from the boats. The yacht harbour itself was at the far end of the lagoon and through the binoculars I could see a long, empty pontoon with a large sign announcing “GASTE”, or guest. Perfect!!
As we approached the visitor pontoon it became obvious it had been taped off. Nothing too substantial but a strip of hazard tape was strung from one end of the pontoon to the other. Sometimes when you are travelling and you have had a long day, the last thing you need is to find you have nowhere to stop when you’re tired. We ignored the tape and fixed our lines, waiting for someone to chase us away, but no one came. We always report our arrival to the harbour master but when we went to the club house it was completely shut with signs about no entry due to COVID19. We figured the tape on the pontoon was to discourage visitors but as there was no one around then we would be ok to stop here……..for free, as it turned out!
As I said, it was a tiny place in the middle of nowhere but perfect for the dogs to get a few swims and good walks. It was to be our last stop in Germany and on the Rhein. The following day we entered the Netherlands quickly followed by the Pannderdens Kanaal heading towards Arnhem.
We had intended to stop at Arnhem but there are very limited places to moor, those that are available are along a very high quay, meaning getting the dogs off would be tricky, and quite honestly, the town didn’t look like it had a lot to offer, so we continued on to the first lock at Driel.
A quick call on the VHF confirmed that we are indeed now in Holland and everyone not only speaks perfect English, they are more than happy to do so…….what a relief!! As soon as we got through the lock we spotted a 40 meter pontoon inviting visitors to moor up. It was, again, in the middle of nowhere, adjoining a cow field, but obviously somewhere for the locals to bring a picnic and have a swim. The boys loved it! By nightfall the few remaining locals headed off home and we had a wonderfully peaceful night.
7th August we were up early and after the boys had a walk and another swim we left for the next lock. The locks on this canal are HUGE! When we arrived there were 2 large commercial vessels waiting to go in and numerous smaller boats, including speed boats, sailing boats, a couple of cruisers and us. We figured we’d have to wait until the next lock but a quick call on the VHF and the lockkeeper confirmed that once the commercials were in we could follow them. We all got in, with plenty of room to spare!! Amazing.
Our next stop was the lovely little town of Culemborg. We needed to find a bank and, not so importantly, a supermarket and our search took us right through the middle of the town through the market square. There were one or two nice looking restaurants and bars but no sign of a bank and as the temperature was heading skywards the dogs were beginning to flag. I asked a couple of young waitresses at a brasserie if they knew where the bank was and they said it was a few minutes walk away so while Frank headed back to one of the nicer looking restaurants I got into my “get there quick” stride and found the bank in no time. As I turned away from the ATM having withdrawn enough cash for the next week or so, I saw a large supermarket on the other side of the street.
It was too hot to shop, I was dying of thirst and now I knew where it was, it would be easy enough to find tomorrow on the bike with a rucksack. I headed back to the square and spotted Frank still wandering around. It turned out that the nice restaurant was full – in a very uncharacteristic Dutch way the guy said something like “can’t you see I have no tables, we are fully booked”. A bit rude.
We decided to go the brasserie where the young waitresses had been so helpful and had a superb meal of filet steak, pepper sauce, seasonal veg and chips (with mayo, of course – this is Holland!).
We were so happy with our final choice of eatery that we couldn’t resist thanking the rude man in the “nice” restaurant for making us go somewhere else.
The following morning I headed off to the supermarket while Frank did his engine checks and topped up the water tanks before we headed back our onto the River Lek. The weather had turned incredibly hot and humid and the wheelhouse was reaching temperatures of 34oC whilst inside the boat it was hitting 30oC. It is hard to do anything in that heat but I have a job to do and between meetings and emails I am kept busy most days. It can be funny sometimes when I have been out in the heat doing locks with a big sunhat on then I go straight into a TEAMS meeting for work with the same hat on, but I think most of my colleagues are getting used to the unusual with me!
Later we pulled into the lovely marina of Schoonhoven where we decided to stay a couple of nights. It is one of these places that has a campsite and marina as part of the same complex and the people running it were really lovely. When we first arrived and went to see if we could stay for two nights the lady in the reception had just got back from the beach with a towel wrapped around her apologising for the “unusual wear” for a harbour master!
We decided this was the place to get the dinghy out of the bag, inflated and rigged with the outboard. There are a few small beaches dotted along each bank of this part of the river and the boys love the dinghy, knowing a dinghy ride is a precursor to a swimming session. It was nice arriving here on a Saturday because it meant I could completely switch off from boating and working…..bliss!
Monday morning (10th August) post dog walk, I got a few bits from the nearby supermarket and we made the short journey to Krimpen aan de Lek for our final night on this lovely river. We received a really nice welcome from the boat next to where we moored and spent much of the afternoon swimming and playing in the dingy with the dogs, trying to avoid the worst of the heat.
Tuesday we started the last leg of this part of the journey from Krimpen to Maasluis, via the fuel barge on the junction of the Lek and the Hollandse Ijssel. That was an experience. It is the only fuel barge for many miles around and when you walk through the interior to get to the chandlery at the upstream end of the barge you pass through huge stocks of paint, oil, antifreeze and many many other essentials for the big commercials – so it was all supersized 20 litre containers. The chandlery itself was a REAL chandlery, with useful things rather than just a few bits and pieces, as so many these days are.
We had intended to stop in Rotterdam but the City Marina is on the opposite bank to the town – although there is a bridge nearby, and really, the only thing we wanted to see was the Maritime Museum in Leuvehaven. We didn’t know if we could get moored near to the museum so entered the haven and slowly drove through the docks, lined with historic barges, tugs, pilot boats and all sorts of other wonderful boats of different shapes and sizes, all beautifully restored and maintained.
There was nowhere for visitors to moor but we had seen enough to know we wanted to come back and see it properly so decided to make the final 18kms to Maassluis where we have some very good friends and knew we could get the scooter off. We have been to Maassluis on 3 other occasions by boat (and several others without). The first 2 occasions were with our first love, Armanda. A beautiful Dutch steel cruiser made by the renowned maker Altena, she took us backwards and forward across the channel many times, visiting France, Belgium and Holland.
The last time we were here was with Thirza, having done the deal to purchase her and getting her lifted for a survey near Amsterdam. We brought her as far as Maassluis where we left her for a few weeks before Frank could get back with some friends to bring her to the UK in 2017. Coming back into the harbour now, having completed our trip of a lifetime, we both felt a bit emotional. Our hope is to get Thirza lifted here to have the undersides prepared ready for life back in the salt water on the East Coast of England.
Sunday 26th July. Shortly after the Dutch tugs passed by, we walked the dogs and headed off through the Serrig lock, which is soon followed by the Kanzem lock, then completed the final 5kms of the Sarre and entered the Moselle, or Mosel as it is known in Germany.
We picked up a bit more flow from the Mosel and were soon ticking along nicely at 8.5kms. Nearly every river and canal in Europe is marked by kilometre signs, and many have a mark every 100m, so you always know where you are. We entered the Mosel at 201km and the first lock at Trier is at 196km. We have a large blue navigation folder covering the Mosel, the Rhein, the Sarre and the Maas. It’s really good but doesn’t tell you the VHF number for each lock. I did a bit of research on navigation guides for the Mosel and one stood out as being the favourite, Maas, Mosel, Saar, by Manfred Fenzl. Thankfully I found an e-copy through Amazon and was able to download it to my kindle. It has more info on the yacht havens and also VHF channels for the locks, so between that and the blue book we had enough information for this leg of the journey. We thought.
At the Trier lock I established it was VHF79 and in my best English accent I called the lock and asked to go through towards Koblenz. The reply was a machine gun fire of German. Sorry, I don’t speak German, I said, helpfully. Rat tat tat tat came the reply. The lights on the lock were double red, meaning ‘you’re not coming through anytime soon’ so we tied up along the wall, well away from the lock and out of harms way but at least able to relax while we waited and walk the dogs.
After a while of still nothing happening Frank decided to go and speak to the lock keeper to see if he could get us underway. Apparently the guy refused to speak English, kept saying to Frank ‘Deutsch, Deutsch, Deutschland!!’ To which Frank was replying in gaelic that he was Irish and asking if the lock keeper could speak gaelic. This might sound odd but can sometimes have the effect that the person panics and reverts to English as the common language. But not this guy. He was determined that he would only speak German (fair enough, we are in Germany) and told Frank that he had to learn to ask to pass the lock and in which direction in German. He also said something about ‘hinter Gotcha’, which we later found out meant ‘behind Gotcha’, when a commercial barge called Gotcha passed us and entered the lock, immediately followed by the lights changing to 2 green, meaning ‘you can now enter’.
I immediately set about using Google Translate to learn how to say ‘I would like to pass the lock please, going in the direction of Koblenz’. Try it. It is so complicated that there was no way I would be able to get through this simple sentence for the remaining 9 locks we had to negotiate through to get to the Rhein. I settled on ‘pass das schloss bitte, richtung Koblenz’. Certainly not perfect but seemingly enough for the lock keepers to rattle off some reply (to which I always responded with ‘dankeschon’, regardless of the fact we had no idea what was being said!) and we passed all the locks with very little trouble after that.
Our first stop on the Mosel was a small yacht harbour at Schweich. It is also a camp site and shortly after we’d moored on the teeny tiny wooden staging (about 3m long) Frank took the boys for a walk and came back saying that we had stayed here before, with our first boat, Armanda. What convinced him was the fact they have 2 red telephone boxes situated near the clubhouse-cum-restaurant and a fuel quay on the river. My memory doesn’t stretch to such detail and to be fair, I was just glad to have found a spot to stay for the night.
The following morning I went to pay for the berth and having completed the information slip as best I could (I really don’t know any German) she wrote down that it would be €22.10. I offered a credit card and she shook her head and pointed to a sign which must have said something about not taking cards so I gave her cash, and in doing so realised we were now down to just €10 in the ships purse. I checked google maps and realised we were a couple of kms from a good sized town with 2 or 3 banks in the main street so while Frank did the engine checks I cycled into town to replenish our cash reserves and get some bread.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful but the scenery is very picturesque, with steep-sided hills covered with vineyards, often with a backdrop of forested hills rolling off into the distance. Because of the gradient many of the vineyards have shuttles on rails that carry tools up and grapes down as required.
We planned to stop at the port at Bernkastel but it wasn’t for us – a mile out of town with much smaller boats than Thirza – so we decided to keep going for a bit. Very soon we spotted a floating quay, similar to many others that we had seen so far, but whereas the others tended to have large locked security gates preventing anyone from getting ashore from the riverside (no good when you have dogs) this one had no gate at all, so we stopped at Bernkastel-Whelen. Almost immediately someone came to tell us this was a trip-boat stop and we would have to leave. ‘Dankeshon’, my stock reply now. We decided to risk it and when we checked out the times on the information board, the last boat for the day had left here at 5pm.
Frank did his usual dog walk and reccy of the place and came back to say there was a burger, kebab and pizza place in town. That’ll do! So, a couple of glasses of wine, a burger for Frank and half a pizza for me later we were very happy to have chosen this spot of the night.
The following morning we set off before we got kicked off and followed the river through the vineyards and hills. Only about 2 hours after we’d left, we spotted a town pontoon at Traben-Trarbach. We could see it was big enough to take us and also, if we moored in the right spot, we could get the scooter off. We knew there was a yacht haven about 4 kms on but our experience is beginning to tell us that these havens are really only designed for max 12m boats. We are a rare and unwelcome visitor to these parts but with an abundance of trip boat and town pontoons we seem to be managing to stop when we want to.
Tied up and with the scooter off, Frank went to see if he could find some stern packing, in an attempt to stop the rattle we were getting from the prop shaft. On his return he said there was somewhere to get the packing, but it was closed until tomorrow but there was an Aldi and Lidl in the town, along with an Edeka, which seems to be our Tesco equivalent. Before I set off to do the shopping and got properly stocked up with all sorts of goodies, Frank did 4 trips to the nearest fuel station to get enough diesel to fill the tanks and the 2 spare cans. At €1 per litre it was madness not to!
Frank had also sussed out the marina, and although we could have got in there, we both prefer to be on the river in amongst it all so stayed put. The only downside of this was there was no electric or water provided – no problem not having electric but we try to take on water wherever we can. Still, we knew we would be ok for a few more days (7, probably) so it was no problem.
The following morning (29th July) Frank got the packing, did the job and by 10am we were underway. We decided to stop for lunch today and at about 1pm we spotted two sets of town pontoons with one of them having the hammerhead free. We headed for it and had tied up before someone came to say it was reserved for someone else. ‘Eine stunde’ I replied. No problem, they will be arriving at 4pm, he said (I think). Ok, gut!!
Frank took the boys ashore and I followed him up the ramp, curious to see if there were any services provided…..and bingo, wasser!!! I got the hose out and filled the water tank while Frank walked and I prepped lunch.
We moved on after an hour or so and found our berth for the night on another trip boat pontoon in Belstein, a beautiful little village built out of the slate bedrock. Determined to have at least one night out in a proper restaurant on the Mosel I tried to book a table at the local hotel restaurant, overlooking the river (and Thirza, of course). Thankfully the waiter spoke English and he explained they didn’t take bookings, you just turn up and get seated or turned away.
At about 7:30pm we headed up to the terrace and was seated immediately, overlooking the river, and ordered a glass of local wein as our aperitif while we chose our meal. We were given an English menu (there is a god) and Frank chose the venison and blackcurrent stew, while I chose the beef and local beer stew – both served with sautéed potatoes. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meal – the first we’ve had in Germany.
We’d worked out from the information board that it seemed the first trip boat would be here at 9.20am so we were up and walking the dogs by 8am. At about 8.30am a man turned up and opened the ticket office. He wandered down the pontoon and we immediately started to say we were leaving now. He gestured that there was no hurry and said that the boat would be here at 9.20am, as we’d guessed. He and Frank had a bilingual chat (he spoke German, Frank spoke English) but somehow managed to ascertain what we were doing, where we had been, where we were going and that we thought the town was beautiful. He told us that some scenes from Schindler’s List were filmed here. He was a very nice man.
We finally let go of our ropes at about 8.50am and were quickly at the lock, where we passed the trip boat coming up from Cochem. What timing 😊
Only about an hour after the lock we started to see the grand castle on the hill above Cochem. It is an impressive sight and we looked for a mooring place. The harbour here is in behind a wall near the bridge. There are no pontoons, just the two walls – one to the shore and the other protecting the harbour from the river – with plenty of space for us. As we moored up we both remembered being here with Armanda. It is such an impressive town and we remember being behind the wall looking up at it all. We both even agreed exactly where we had moored with Armanda, on the river wall. This time we were on the shore wall – which mean the scooter could come off for a sight see and visit the castle on the hill, which we did.
We managed to find some stickers for the scooter and shared a ½ litre of local wein siting on the side of the river enjoying the glorious sunshine. Wonderful!
That evening, as I walked the boys, Bosun jumped up and then down a low wall (about 18 inches) but misjudged it. He landed badly and hurt his shoulder. The noise he made was awful – I wanted to weep! I carried him back to the boat and both Frank and I examined him. He was whimpering and licking his lips – classic signal of pain – but we didn’t believe anything was broken. I spoke to our UK vet and he advised to administer the anti-inflammatory and pain relief meds Bosun had for his cruciate ligament earlier in the year and to monitor whether there is any or no improvement.
Friday 31st July – we awake to a blistering hot day and after a very gentle morning walk for Bosun we set off for the last two locks to the Rhein, both of which were uneventful, with the last one actually speaking English! Wonders will never cease.
After you clear the lock at Koblenz you are only 2kms away from the Rhein – and I have to say I had butterflies as we approached the mighty river and turned upstream to make the 1/2km journey to the harbour. With the revs upped from the usual 1400 to 1800 we still only made 3kms against the flow. It was painfully slow but at least we weren’t standing still, or worse, going backwards!
Eventually we arrived at the Rhein Marina and headed for an empty spot. Immediately a man came along saying that we couldn’t moor there but we could raft against the big boat on the end…….which turned out to be his boat. He was very helpful and we gently lay Thirza alongside then fendered-up in anticipation of the effect of the huge commercials sucking and blowing water ahead and behind them. It is fascinating to watch water levels drop and then return to normal as the heavy commercials pass by.
Once tied up Frank did his usual reccy to get the gate code and see what was on offer in the town. When he came back he said there was a pizza place a bit further along but here was a hotel with a short walk along the bank where we could get a glass of wine in the garden. Although it was now about 6pm it was still blisteringly hot – the lock at Koblenz had a time, date and temperature digital display and it was reading 38.5oC!!
We weren’t in the mood to eat yet so a cold glass of wine in the shade seemed perfect, so off we went. It was better than perfect. The garden bar is a hole in the wall of the hotel and most of the seating is beanbags that you could move to a shady spot to suit yourself, along with a small portable table. The music was Ibiza-style chillout, not too loud but enough to create the right atmosphere. The lawn was perfectly cut and the waitress bought 2 large dog bowls of water when she brought our drinks over. The dogs rolled and lay on the cool grass while we sunk a few glasses of local white and we discovered we could get braised beef and char-grilled vegetable wraps…….HEAVEN!! With our evening rounded off with a final glass for the road we returned to the boat very happy and relaxed for our first night on the Rhein.
Saturday morning we woke up feeling refreshed and raring to go. The final section of the Rhein has no locks at all, and with the increased current we were soon underway at an average of 13kms and in amongst the BIG boys. There were barges, trip boats and privateers everywhere you looked. In front coming at you, behind coming at you, on the right over taking and on the left blue boarding…….for a while it seemed like chaos!
Blue boarding is where the vessels coming up stream want to take the line of least resistance – where the flow of the river is less so they get a better speed. Up next to the wheelhouse on the starboard side goes a blue square with a white flashing light in the middle. When you see this you cross to the other side, but only if safe to do so. If you have another vessel overtaking you at the same time it is sometimes more sensible to stay put and let them work it out. Mostly it works really well and it is interesting darting to and fro across the river to accommodate the poor souls going up stream.
We had wanted to stop in Bonn, but on arrival it was clear that the only ‘town quay’ was also home to all the local sea gulls (please don’t ask me why there are sea gulls in Bonn – but they were there) who had crapped every inch of the pontoon. In any case, having turned into the current to moor, we were approaching VERY slowly and it was clear that the swell, wakes and waves on the river would make it virtually impossible to stay there and feel safe. We spun around and headed for the harbour that was just a few more kms downstream.
We made our way into the little harbour and soon spotted the sign ‘Gaste’ or guest, and aimed into an empty berth. It looked tight but we thought it was worth trying when a guy on shore said no way could we get in there. Asked how wide we were (I didn’t understand a word he said but at the same time he opened his arms wide so I knew he meant what was our beam. I called out ‘vier’. He then shouted to another man on the next set of pontoons who indicated he would find us a spot, which he did. He was lovely and as we literally squeezed Thirza and fenders into the gap that must have only been 4.3 meters wide he was telling us to breathe in! Once in we wondered how we would ever be able to prize Thirza out but we figured we’d work that out when we leave. In the meantime the nice man, Reiner, told us there was a bbq later at the club, everyone was welcome and you just need to bring your own food. Don’t mind if we do!!
Having settled down and put the sunshades up we headed off for a walk with the boys. We’d spotted a beach area on the way into the harbour so went there for a cooling dip.
It was lovely and as we headed back to the boat we just had time to make the burgers and salad dressing for the bbq before joining Reiner and his wife Luff, along with Dieter, the club president and his wife Ingrid (no idea how to spell any of their names so just guessing!) We had a nice couple of hours in their company, spending just €6 for the 6 drinks we had, and bought one of their club burgees as a souvenir.
When we’d walked the dogs we sat on the deck for an hour enjoying the humdinger of a thunderstorm that passed to the west of us, before heading to bed.
Sunday 2nd August. We couldn’t believe it when we woke up at 9am. We must have needed to rest but we quickly got ourselves up and dressed, dogs walked and water tanks filled, managing to get underway by 10am. Destination, Koln.
I am happy to report that the gluing and fixing worked. Despite having a huge hole where the exhaust burnt through our small ball fender, the patch held and, although a little warped and out of shape following its ordeal, it is holding air and fully functional once again! The large ball had a much smaller and more conventional puncture, and that too seems to be holding. Phew!
Not long after leaving Xouaxange the canal branches off to the Canal de Houlliers – or what is now part of the Canal de la Sarre. At the confluence you can continue on the Marne au Rhine to Nancy or do what we did and set off towards the Moselle down the Sarre.
Our first stop was outside the VNF office in Mittersheim. Although badged as a small town with amenities, the only shop was a Proxi / Boulangerie, majoring on tin and frozen food with the only fresh items being those with a long shelf life. Thankfully we are well stocked with only the need for things like tomatoes and fresh milk, so we can wait.
The following day we continued on, passing a couple of potential stops that were full of boats and just as we were giving up hope of finding something suitable we passed through the lock at Sarrable and as the corner opened out, ahead of us was a quay about 250m long, with water and electric every 20m. It was beautifully landscaped and perfect for the dogs. We got the scooter off and Frank did a couple of fuel trips to top up the tank and the following morning we headed for the Super U to have a restock.
Around midday we continued along the canal, which is fairly non-descript at this point, and arrived at Sarreguemines late afternoon. There is plenty of room for visitors here, with two long quays provided for the transient community. Water and electric are available in abundance and we decided to stay for 2 nights so we could get some washing done. Early evening we took a walk into town and had a fab meal in a little Italian restaurant. The following day we moved from one quay to the other (the first being right next to a kiddies playground and the second being within the grounds of the private yacht club) so we could have a quieter stay and it was lovely all day.
That evening we had an even better meal in the Restaurant de la Casino, right next to the harbour, and settled down for what we thought would be a silent night. Unfortunately, at about 1am a group of youngsters turned up and sat on the slipway just behind the boat, playing music, shouting, laughing and generally making as much noise as they could, until 5am. Bang goes another theory!
I had a meeting at 9am, which I forgot until about 9:10 and it was only when I tuned in and saw my video image that I realised that not only did I feel like I hadn’t slept all night, I looked like I hadn’t too!!
After the meeting we moved on and entered a section of the canal where the German/French border runs down the middle. Not long, and you cross the German border once and for all. This is pretty rough area, with poverty hanging like a low mist. It is very industrial and the whole place has an air of menace about it. It is hard to describe, but you just feel uncomfortable. The only pleasure harbour we could see on the chart at Volklingen was full when we arrived so we had no choice but to carry on. On the other side of the river there was a public quay and we stopped there for another meeting I had a 4:30pm. By the time my meeting finished an hour later, Frank was decidedly unhappy about staying as he had watched one after the other local youngsters turn up and gather in groups. You definitely felt that if you turned your back on the boat they would strip it clean!
We moved on. Just before the large commercial lock at Lisdorf there is a long commercial quay, which looked pretty much abandoned. But its beauty for us lie in the fact it was completely secure. 250m of quay with massive security gates either end and security fencing all a round. At least we’ll get a good night’s sleep! We were also treated to a beautiful sunset, which enabled us to end the day on a high note.
The following day we continued down the Sarre and as each mile passed so the scenery became more picturesque. We started to see trip boats and hotel barges, which all helps you feel that you are back amongst civilisation! There is a particularly beautiful section near Dreisbach with steep forest covered hills lining the winding river.
Once through this section the vineyards begin and we know from our previous tip that they will continue to line the valley through the Moselle to Koblenz.
Our stop for the evening was just before the Serrig lock on another long bollarded quay at a place called Hamm. Again, a beautiful setting to enjoy a quiet evening.
This morning, as we were beginning our preparations to leave, two single stroke tugs boats flying huge Dutch flags emerged from the lock heading upstream. The sound of their engines as they passed by was just magical – what a start to the day!
Sorry for the gap between updates. Work has been busy for me and we had a few long days towards the end of the Rhône au Rhine canal and our arrival in Strasbourg. We thoroughly enjoyed the upper section of the Rhine with the big locks, floating bollards and more places to stop than we had anticipated.
We had also not anticipated the fact that the lock taking you from the Rhine into the Canal Du Rhone au Rhine Nord at Rhinau was closed due to siltation. It doesn’t look like they see it being open anytime soon as there is a large yellow bouy with a “No Entry” sign anchored right in front of the lock and strings of smaller bouys are stretched from one side to the other giving the distinct impression they’re a permanent feature. This meant we had to complete 2 more of the last 4 locks on the Rhine, entering the canals at Strasbourg Nord lock – which we did at about 7 o’clock Sunday evening.
The navicarte books are generally out of date, we’ve found, and the Hopital Port in Strasbourg, where we believed we would get a few days of rest, has been closed for some time. We had passed the new port on the way, but that seemed to be chocka block so we stayed at the lock for the night, it now being about 8pm.
The following morning we headed back to the other port and landed on the fuel quay – and were pleasantly surprised that their diesel was just €1.38 per litre! This is unheard of in marine circles with other places charging in excess of €1.55. Frank went off to speak to the boss and came back with the news that the fuel price was correct, we could get the scooter off where we sat and there was a berth available if we rafted outside a similar sized and uninhabited Piper barge. That’ll do nicely, thank you!
We had a very enjoyable stay in Strasbourg, using the scooter to zip round the sights and get some much needed shopping. The old town is just beautiful with an incredible cathedral towering over the good people of the town and so hemmed in that it is impossible to get a photograph that does it justice.
We found The Dubliners, an Irish bar, and had the BEST fish and chips we’ve ever had in France!
Opposite the port is a large park with places for kids to play, basketball courts, football shoot out places and outdoor gym equipment to test your muscles – plenty to keep young and old entertained. The only downside is there is a strict rule that dogs must be kept on a lead at all times. But still a great place to walk them.
We were pleased to be in Strasbourg with Bastille Day being on Tuesday 14th July, but alas due to COVID19 all celebrations had been cancelled so no fireworks to judge against the incredible display we saw in Reims in 2018.
Frank headed off to visit the European Parliament on Wednesday and as with many public places in France he had to wear a mask. He said security was interesting because his hip set off the metal detector and they wanted to know if he had a certificate to prove he had a false hip. Satisfied he wasn’t concealing a weapon they let him in and he spent a couple of hours doing the tour.
On Thursday we moved on into the Canal du Marne au Rhine, heading for the Plan Incliné de Saint-Louis Arzviller.
We had a couple of lovely night stops, the first being in a tiny village with a grand name of Waltenheim sur Zorn where we had a free berth with water and electric available. We met a lovely German couple and their family who had just picked up a hire boat for their holiday – all spoke perfect English of course and had spent several holidays in Ireland, so the craic was mighty!
The following night we planned to stay in Saverne but there was no room at the inn and we ended up in an idyllic setting amongst the wooded slopes climbing above us and on our walk with the dogs we found an enchanted nook, where you could imagine fairy folk and magic! It was so peaceful and quiet during the night that you almost felt like you had left the earth.
And so on Saturday we completed the last few locks and rounded the corner to find ourselves, at last, looking up at the Plan Incliné de Saint-Louis Arzviller – one of our bucket list events for this trip.
It wasn’t late, about 2pm, and as we set up camp and settled down for the afternoon the Gendamerie arrived to speak to the Dutch couple who we had moored in front of. Soon another police car arrived and after a while they got into the police car and off they went. It was hours later when they arrived back at their boat and came to tell us what had been going on. It transpired that they were plugged into one of two electrical supplies and a French boat arrived soon after. The French man plugged into the other socket but it wasn’t working so he unplugged the Dutch man’s electric. This is a real no no in the world of boating. You can ask but never just unplug as you have no idea what they might need the electric for and if, like us, their invertor doesn’t quite manage the washing machine, then unplugging the electric mid-cycle can be disastrous to your electrical systems.
Any way, it seems a bit of a tussle ensued and the French man went back to his boat to get tooled up and a Nerf de Boeuf (you’ll have to google it but a flexible strong baton used as punishment or as crowd control) and a very nasty looking knife. He hit the Dutch lady on the leg with the baton and when the Dutch man stepped in he got hit on the wrist and threatened with the knife. What a piece of work!! Anyway, thankfully the police caught up with the French man and he was arrested that night but the poor Dutch couple were understandably upset and dismayed that such a thing could happen on the same day that they fulfilled one of the dreams by descending the Arzviller incline. What a nightmare!
Sunday morning we did the lift! It is an incredible bit of engineering, relying on counter-balance weights to lift and drop 900 tonnes of water and boat combined at an angle of 41 degrees up and down a hill that had previously required 17 locks, each scaling 2.5 to 3 meters at a time. Now you can do the 44.55 meters in just 4 minutes!! As the lift started to rise I Facetimed my Dad and Fran so they could experience the lift with us while Frank took a video. It was a lovely experience enjoyed by us all and I’m so glad we were able to share it. Unfortunately Frank’s video didn’t work so we only have a couple of pictures as reminders. Never mind!
The Dutch couple who’d had the problem the day before were allowed to join us on the lift as an exception, due to the lady’s leg being injured and bruised, so they took lots of pics and a video so hopefully they will be able to send something to us.
Going in our direction the lift is immediately followed by a 2306 meter tunnel then a 475 meter tunnel, making it a tiring day, even though there are no locks for about 35 kms! Our stop for the night was a lovely little village called Xouaxange (can’t pronounce it!) and the only thing they have is a Taverna across the bridge. We decided to give it a try and the Madagascan woman who served us confirmed that her French husband was the chef – and boy what a fantastic meal we had! Meat samosas followed by faux-filet avec sauce au poivre rounded off with a crème brule, espresso and a snifter of Cointreau…….heaven!!
I have omitted to say that first thing in the morning we forgot to move the small ball fender that protects the port stern along with the dinghy engine and it suffered the same fate as many fenders that have gone before it – burnt through on the exhaust. As we landed on the wooden staging at Xouaxange the big ball fender protecting the port bow caught on a nice piece of metal that was helpfully sticking out and it too deflated in seconds. The first job when we stopped was to get the dinghy repair kit out and get gluing!!!
We left Besancon on Saturday 4th July feeling as though we hadn’t slept the night – oh, we hadn’t! As with these types of trips we didn’t know where we would stop next but quite honestly, the scenery is so breath-taking that you don’t really consider these things until you start to feel a little tired. Also, there really aren’t that many stopping places and as we approached the lock at Ougney-Les-Champs, in the most beautiful setting, we decided to try our luck at staying on the holding pontoon for the lock.
There seemed to be no problem with this, as although there were VNF vehicles parked nearby, no one came to say we couldn’t stay there so we hoisted the canopy, opened the chairs and got the BBQ underway. We had a lovely evening and didn’t even mind when car loads of well dressed youngsters turned up for a party at the lock house. The music they played was ok, not really our taste but never mind. When it was still booming at 5am we were feeling the effects of two sleepless nights and just hoped that the next stop would be a little more tranquil.
Sunday morning after the obligatory dog walk we continued through the scenic Doubs valley and came to rest on another holding pontoon, in another picturesque spot at Goulisse. This time there were no nearby houses and we settled down for what was to be a dead silent nights sleep!
Monday 6th we stopped after a couple of locks at L’Isle-Sur-Le-Doubs as there is an Intermarche and fuel station right next to a quay with bollards. We filled cupboards and tanks then moved on to the beautiful town of Montbeliard. They have a great harbour with 3 main pontoons holding approximately 10 boats each on 5 meter fingers. The standard sized boat in there was about 10-12 meters so we were the largest to occupy one of the fingers but with plenty of room to manoeuvre between them it was pretty straight forward (yes, bows in!).
The harbour is nothing too special but as soon as you go ashore you step into a world of landscape with winding pathways through the park to the left and into the town to the right, passing giant plant pots, brightly coloured and filled with all sorts of trees, plants and shrubs.
As you approach the town you go over the road bridge that has a blooming display of flowers every meter or so on both sides and this goes over the river where they have anchored several large bright yellow chicks floating in and amongst a huge area of real lily pads. The town itself is clean and tidy with a sense of pride amongst its residents. And why not!
The Capitanerie is a lovely young lady with perfect English who told us about the town then had the cheek to charge us €23 for a 2 night stay, with water and electric! I’m joking, of course, in total we have spent just over €50 for berth’s since leaving Auxonne last Sunday.
On Wednesday 8th July, we moved on to the summit of the Canal du Rhone au Rhine found between lock 2 and 3 at Montreux Chateau. It is a lovely stop, just on the right bank after lock 3 looking at the Vosges in the distance. It is well kept and we were next to a sitting area that enabled us to get the BBQ and chairs onto shore and we sat in the sun until it slipped behind the hills.
If only we’d known what Thursday would bring, we might not have got out of bed! The descent from the top of the canal to the Rhine is shorter than the ascent from the Saone to the summit but the locks come one after the other after the other. It took us all morning to get to a place called Dannemarie for the lunchtime lock closure, just 10kms along the canal – we could have walked it quicker!
After a snack and a nap we set off again at 1330 with our new lady lock keeper and continued the agonisingly slow descent in the scorching sun – 32oC no less!! 12locks and about 12kms later we stopped along a quay with bollards at Spechbach le Bas. The spectacular scenery we experienced at the beginning of the canal has gone but I couldn’t tell you where we lost it as I was head down catching bollards and feeding ropes through my hands most of the journey, without time to even make a cuppa!
Friday we made the final dash to Mulhouse with it in mind to have at least a couple of days rest but as we arrived the port captain directed us to a berth ‘Avec ombre’, but which was next to a busy road under trees full of some tiny bug that continuously dropped onto the decks and died leaving blacks smuts everywhere. A walk into the town did nothing to enamour us to the place and when we got back to the boat a fisherman on the other bank cast his line so close to Thirza that it not only hit her but managed to wind itself round the back handrail of the scooter platform. To say we were pissed off is an understatement. I grabbed the scissors and Frank used them to cut the line and then throw hook, line and sinker into the canal. It was enough to make us decide that anywhere would be better to stay than here. It doesn’t help that neither of us like big towns, much preferring the smaller villages or the wild countryside.
We set off for lock 41 to take us out of Mulhouse and fortunately the lock keeper was there bringing another boat up towards the town. We stopped on the bank and Frank went to speak to him and the people on the Swiss boat on its way up overheard Frank saying that we’d had trouble with a fisherman. They immediately said that they had stayed in that same spot and during the evening kids had thrown stones at their boat and they would never stay there again! So glad we moved.
The same lock keeper, a few locks back, had asked if we wanted to buy some of his home made honey – yes please! Off he went and came back with honey, homemade gooseberry and cherry gelee and freshly laid eggs ‘from the young poulet’ he said. It is great when you get all this lovely fresh stuff along the canal bank. The lock keeper asked if we wanted to go through the lock at Niffer but it was now about 1630 and we knew it would take us about 2 ½ hours to get there so we said no, we wanted to stay in the harbour before the lock. Sadly there was no room at the inn and at 1915 we laid alongside the lock wall, well back from the lock itself, and got away with staying there for the night. Thankfully it was a peaceful night and we woke in the morning feeling refreshed.
Good job as the next day we entered the mighty Rhine! It is always lovely when you leave the smaller canals and enter the rivers as the air suddenly feels fresher and, providing you’re heading downstream, you speed up. Our best so far is 13.2kms against our usual 6kms!
When we were in the UK we had a book of the Rhine delivered to us and neither of us had really picked it up to study it (typical of us – always seat of the pants!). As we headed towards the first lock I picked it up to find out which VHF channel they use – but the book didn’t say. Thankfully, the internet is a wealth of information and we soon discovered that they use VHF22 and VHF20 alternately. Being on the French German border the lock keepers speak both languages fluently, as well as English. I tried to stick to French as best I can but whenever I ask ‘repetez svp’ I am answered in English, which was reassuring.
The thing our book has proved useful for is the harbours and yacht clubs, whether they have visitor berths or not and where they are located along the banks – in either Germany or France. After the Chute de Vogelgrun there is a return up towards a barrage on the right and there were two harbours located there – we picked the first one as it had a big sign at the entrance saying ‘visitor pontoon’ and in the strengthening wind we landed safely for the night.
We had a great winter this year. Moored in Auxonne with several other barges, mainly occupied by Brits but also Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and Americans, we enjoyed the social scene which consisted of meeting at Charley’s bar each Friday at 5pm, gathering on one barge or another each Wednesday evening for a meal followed by a game of Articulate, Trivia or Cards Against Humanity (amongst others) and the occasional barbeque.
Whilst in the UK in November, we’d viewed and made an offer on a house in Essex and in late Feb we finally completed the deal. We visited our friends, Felix, Hedwig and Barbara, to enjoy a music night in the Café Merlette and collect our trailer full of belongings to take back to the UK.
By mid-March the coronavirus was creeping slowly around the world but we decided to continue with our plans to get the trailer back to the UK and did so on Friday 13th March. A few days later France went into lock down. We knew the UK would follow suit soon after and we had a decision to make – should we stay or should we go!
In some ways the decision was easy, we stayed. Nick might have regretted his generous offer of us staying with him for the week when it turned into 14 weeks, but to his credit he never showed it!
Our new house, which is actually 1950’s built, needed significant remodelling and modernisation so we set about finding local tradesmen who were happy to continue working throughout lock down, bearing in mind we were not living at the house and we ensured we took all necessary precautions with regard to hand washing and hygiene.
Over those 14 weeks we (Frank) knocked down walls, ripped up all the carpets, had a small extension built, stripped every piece of wallpaper off, created a lovely kitchen/diner, turned an old shed into a beach hut, created wardrobes in the main bedroom, re-plumbed and rewired the entire house and generally put our time to good use.
In late June the time came and we journeyed back to France to meet up with our port buddies and get Thirza ready for the final trip home, now condensed into 3 months instead of the 6 months we had originally planned. Hey ho, worse things happen at sea.
On Sunday 28th June we left Auxonne to start our next adventure with our first stop being St Jean de Losne, where we were joined by Bob and Nicola on Vagabond and Sally and Glenn from Boschplaat (sorry if I’ve spelt it wrong guys!). We stayed a couple of days and had lovely meals together in one of the riverside restaurants before heading for the Canal du Rhone a Rhine, entering via the lock at St Symphorien.
The first evening we stopped at Dole, having trekked up the first stretch of canal, with nothing to really write home about. Dole is a lovely town but limited in its mooring places for barges. There are plenty of short finger pontoons provided by the town, used mainly as storage for the Nicols hire boats, and we perched Thirza, bows-in, onto one of them without too much bother. Water and electric are available in abundance here and we tried 3 times to visit the Capitanerie to pay, but each time it was closed so we left at 9:30am the following morning with a full ships purse. Result!
That evening, just as we were about to abandon hope of finding a suitable berth, we exited lock number 58N and found a perfect spot on the right bank. With no cars or traffic to worry about the boys had their freedom to do their own thing and we cooked our first piri piri soaked spatchcock chicken on our new Weber BBQ . With a side of homemade tzatziki and fresh bread we dined like kings! It certainly felt like it as we ripped chunks of spicy meat off the carcass!
The following afternoon (Thursday 2nd July) We arrived at the lovely town of Besancon, wrapped around by the Doubs we followed it’s contour and exited through the manual St Paul Lock before settling for a couple of days on the long public pontoon, very close to the heart of the town. It was a welcome break, unlike the accident I had in one lock when Thirza suddenly surged forwards (unusual, you normally surge backwards) and despite me having 2 turns round the stanchion I was unable to hang on and as the bitter end of the rope slipped from my hand the pressure it was under as I let it go was immense and it whiplashed my leg. “Ouch” was not the word I cried out. Fortunately, apart from some grazing and a sizeable lump there was no real damage.
We had a lovely couple of days sightseeing and were glad to have seen the ruins of a sunken Roman Amphitheatre leading up to the 17th-century, 11 hectare Citadelle, designed by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban.
Having sampled the local cuisine the first night we decided the following night to have chicken piri piri wraps with salad, one of Nick’s culinary creations that he introduced us to (thanks Nick!), and set the BBQ up on the pontoon. It was delish! That night (last night) at about 3am we were woken by music and voices. Lots and lots and lots of voices. Literally hundreds of youngsters converged on the steps above the port for an all-night rave. There was shouting, screaming, fights broke out, the music blared, some people came onto the pontoon having climbed over the security gates, and we had no option but to stay quiet and vigilant. To ask them to leave would have made targets of ourselves – sometimes discretion is the better part of valour!
Today is Armistice Day and here in the military town of Auxonne the commemorations began with Mass in the Eglise Notre Dame. After, the local servicemen and women gathered outside the church in front of Napoleon’s statue to witness new recruits passing out and seasoned personnel receiving promotions and being presented with medals. A procession of various military and Pompier vehicles through the town ended at the memorial garden where a minute’s silence was observed.
In our group of barge owners, Ian wore his Naval medals with pride and Glen was adorned with his Father’s WWII campaign medals.
After, we were all invited to join the Mayor for a drink in the Mairie.
We were made to feel welcome and there was a funny exchange when the Mayor was asked his name and he answered it was L’anglois or in English, L’anglais. Really, his surname was English!
It was a lovely morning and a privilege to join the local military, emergency services and residents in remembering those who fought and those who fell for freedom.
On Monday 23rd September we left Trevoux – after a dog walk and visit to the boulangerie, of course – and made our way up the Saone to Montmerle. Again there was room on the fully equipped pontoon and when Frank did his reccy of the town he found a pizzeria, so after I’d finished work for the day we decided to have a take away. Unfortunately they didn’t do chips so while I waited for the pizza Frank nipped round the corner to the kebab shop and got a barquette de frites.
This remains a very pretty area, even though it may not have the stunning panoramic of the Rhone.
The following day we set off, not sure if we would stop at Macon or not. We have stayed there 3 times already (twice with our first boat Armanda and once at the beginning of the year with Thirza) and when we arrived we decided to keep going. Our stop for the night was several kilometres up river and close to Pont de Vaux, where we stayed last year. We had spotted it when driving out and walking the dogs during the winter and it was every bit as nice as we thought it would be. In the middle of nowhere near a hamlet called Asnieres sur Saone it provided a safe and peaceful stop for the night.
Wednesday morning we moved on to Tournus, where we had witnessed the fabulous starling murmurations at the end of last year.
It is strange but there are some moorings that seem to be more affected by the large commercial barges than others and Tournus is one of them. Whenever a barge passed, the pontoon, attached boats and water all around surged and pulled. With other moorings you never even notice them passing. We haven’t been able to work out why but at least it keeps you on your toes!
Thursday saw us arrive in Chalon sur Saone and we decided to have a small break by staying for 2 nights. We headed to the Indian restaurant “The Taj Mahal” on Ile St Laurent and had an excellent meal. Friday gave us a chance to shop and re-stock the fridge and cupboards so we felt fully refreshed when we moved on to Seurre on Saturday.
A lovely little town, Seurre has all the essential shops but more importantly a very good boulangerie. Having grabbed the obligatory baguette we made the short 17km and one lock trek to St Jean de Losne on Sunday. We stopped at the fuel jetty to top up the engine tank before settling on the stepped quay for the night.
When we got there we were greeted by 3 ex-Midi Brit owned barges and their combined assortment of dogs. Bosun and Brody were in their element! It turned out that, like us, they were heading for Auxonne for the winter. Better than that, they like to get together every Friday night for a couple of bevvies and a catch up. Already things are looking better than Pont de Vaux!
On Monday 30th September we cruised the last leg of this years journey to Auxonne and by Tuesday afternoon we were in our berth for the next 6 months trying to remember the names of all our neighbours and their 4-legged friends.
We managed to make contact with Michelle, the lady in Pont de Vaux who had stored our truck for the summer, and on Wednesday Frank took his bike and got the train from Auxonne to Dijon and then on to Fleurville to collect it. He was really impressed with the arrangement for taking bikes on the train.
The truck was in perfect condition thanks to the huge plastic covering we’d draped over it in April but the battery was dead. Luckily a friend of Michelle’s was on hand with a set of jump leads and Frank was soon underway and on his way back to Auxonne.
Now reunited with the truck we contacted Felix and Hedwig to confirm we would be with them for their first music night of the season at Café Merlette. We had a fabulous night and it was really lovely to catch up with everyone, particularly Felix, Hedwig and Barbara.
And so, here we are enjoying being in one place for a little while surrounded by barges and dogs for the winter. We have informally named our pontoon “The Village” because when you look down from the path at night all you can see are lights twinkling from every window. It looks cosy and inviting. We can’t wait to see how it will look at Christmas!