Monday, September 08, 2014

Wonderful World Harbour Days

I mentioned in my last post that I had to vacate the helling early this time round because the harbour management wanted to use the slipway as part of the World Harbour Days celebrations. I am happy to report they did just that…and it was truly amazing. In fact, I think I can honestly say this year's event in the Oude Haven was one of the best ever…and we've had a few!

Normally at this event, Koos and I, together with members of the family, take the Vereeniging on a lap of honour of the five harbours that make up our outdoor museum complex. But this year, even though we fixed the engine problem (see last post), we found our departure was blocked by a row of barges and tugboats right across the entrances (or exits) on both sides, so we couldn't leave our mooring. We didn't mind though. We just climbed in my little rowing boat with an electric outboard motor instead, and wove our way between the other vessels to see what was going on.

Our exit was blocked by boats 
I've published many of these photos elsewhere, but to really explain what was going on needs a few words as well. For that, you can't beat a blog!

Sunday's event was what was called a toeterconcert. Apparently, these are not unusual in Holland, probably because there are so many boats with horns, but what happened was this: a collection of brass bands gathered on a huge pontoon barge which was set halfway up the slipway (which I'd vacated last Friday). They were directed by a conductor from one of the boats in the harbour by means of a microphone and loudspeaker. They played a number of pieces with great enthusiasm if not much finesse, and at intervals they were joined by the barges and boats hooting their horns.

A collection of brass bands gathered on a pontoon
halfway up the slipway
It was a marvellous cacophony. I just loved it. Small boats were filled with people just hovering in the harbour listening to this vivid, slightly out of tune, but crazily vibrant music. The jetties, bridges and terraces were packed. Everyone was spellbound. And smiling broadly.

Small boats filled with onlookers

People watched from the bridges and terraces

Harbour families watching from their rowing boats

Then at one point, a trumpeter standing high on the platform of a fire-fighting tugboat, played a magnificent solo. It was quite breathtaking. The whole show ended with the same boat creating a huge fountain of spray with its high pressure hose. What a fitting end!

A trumpeter plays on the fire-extinguisher platform of
a fire boat/tugboat

The tug's fire extinguishers create a fountain of spray
Throughout the event, we wove our way through the pontoons and barges in my little plastic rowing boat taking photos and enjoying the atmosphere.

All in all it was a great day and another fabulous World Harbour Days celebration to add to the memory collection. In fact, I haven't missed one now for several years as the event marks the end of summer for most of us here. Isn't it great it always does so with so much aplomb?

I describe other, former World Habour Days in my book, Harbour Ways. If you would like to read a sample of the book, you can find it here

Friday, September 05, 2014

A helling of a week

Since Monday, I have been in zombie mode. For those who know me and my barge, the Vereeniging, this means I've just had my lovely old girl on the slipway and it has, as always, been very intense. However, this hellingbeurt has been more so than usual as in effect, I've had three days less than the full week I would normally have. The reason for this is that this weekend, it is World Harbour Days, the annual port of Rotterdam festival, and the harbour authorities wanted to use the slipway for other festival activities…as a result, I had to be off today instead of next Monday, which would normally be the case.

Jodie giving the previous incumbent a stern eye…get thee

Koos enjoying the morning air

Waiting to go on the slipway

So it was that last Monday morning, we went on the helling and by the evening, we were already prepared for the big hull painting marathon that took place over Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Four layers of bottom coat (below the water line) and two layers of top coat (above the water line) later, plus a new layer on the back cabin (roef)  and the engine room roof, we were ready to slip back down again today.

First coats first on the bows

There can't be many barges with a more beautiful stern

Looking good in her newly blacked skirts!

Unluckily for us, we had a bit of trouble with the engine as we pulled out into the current. It decided to behave very erratically and caused us some unnerving moments by cutting out mid-stream. On the lucky side, however, there was a tugboat in the harbour just lying in wait ready to give use a nudge in the right direction. The engine started again, and we chugged very very slowly back to my mooring. The motor clearly needs some TLC too as it was still very uneven all the way back. It seems likely there's a fuel feed problem, which may or may not be the dreaded diesel bug. I hope not!

So that was the helling week that was.

I've been at it twelve hours a day for the last few and now feel ready for a relaxing weekend. But there is still plenty to do, and before that, I am off to Amsterdam with Jodie to meet the fascinating Trish Nicholson, who is giving a couple of talks at the ABC Tree House on character development in writing. On Sunday, though, I shan't risk dodgy engines, but I shall spuddle around Rotterdam in my rowing boat and see what World Harbour Days has to offer by way of entertainment this year….no doubt I'll have my camera with me!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Only in Wallonia

Today, I decided to have an away day. Owing to all the commitments and deadlines I have this summer, there's been no time for a holiday as such, so I felt that having drafted several sections of my dissertation and done a heap of boat work, I deserved some hours off. So, with Koos in Poland and too much rain for painting, I went south to seek the company of those wonderful Wandering Snails of note, Anne and Oll.

Their narrowboat, generally referred to simply as Snail, was moored at Pommeroeul which is a lovely village in the far south of Belgium. However, as is often the case, the canal is a good stretch from the village itself and the Snail was moored at the junction between the busy and much used Canal Nimy Blaton-Peronnes and the Canal Hensies-Pommeroeul, which is no longer accessible to boaters owing to serious silting at the French border through which it passes (a long story for perhaps another post). As a result, there is a large lock at the junction with the canal from Blaton to Peronnes that is no longer in use.

Canal junction with the lock being the thin blue line between
the two basins

It is a lovely spot, even when the weather is bad (as it was today). I have been there a couple of times before but hadn't matched the name to the place until I arrived. There is a wide basin just before the lock and the sense of space and even solitude is marvellous (see aerial photo here). I'd had what might be called an 'interesting' drive down given that I got lost three times on route; endured Sindy shouting at me every time I slowed down to find out where I was; it poured with rain for most of the journey; and I was an hour and a half later than I said I'd be. As a result, my sense of humour had taken quite a hammering by the time I pulled up next to the jetty. Even so, it was lovely to step out of the car (in the drizzle) and breathe in the fresh (damp) air and take in the space and tranquillity of the place again. It was also wonderful to see Anne and Oll again and we spent some good catch-up hours together.

But there is one thing about the lock at Pommeroeul makes it particularly special. In fact, it empitomises what makes Belgium, and particularly Wallonia, such a fascinating country. This ├ęcluse hasn't been used for twenty years, yet it is still manned and the lock keeper is there in his office on a daily basis. About the only work he has to do as far as operating the lock itself goes is to open the gates occasionally to let a boat in so the crew can fill up with water; other than this, he has no other locking duties to perform. Twenty years. To have a job that is no job. Almost unbelievable isn't it?

The rather grand and business-like lock keepers office

The lock from the end closest to the Blaton-Peronnes Canal

When I heard this I could only shake my head in wonder and laugh. Belgium is always full of surprises. It is the home of surrealism and somehow this disused, but permanently manned lock sums it up for me.

There is something very gallic about it too - and it reminds me in a way of the automated locks in France that don't operate at lunchtime (true). A quirk that fits in well with the French reputation for their love of lunch.

But this is even more mystifying. Perhaps it is because the Belgians take the quirks just one step further, and the Wallonians, (being French-speaking) go another step beyond that too. So what can I say except what my title says? Where else could this happen? Nowhere else of course. Only in Wallonia.