Nationalism, war and peace on 23 floors

Turning left at Oostende from the Kanal Gent-Oostende onto the River Ijzer we left the large commercial barges behind (some of which are 100m long 9m wide and around 2000 tonnes in weight), to ply there trade in northern Belgium and the Netherlands.

As we passed through pretty villages and towns heading towards Diksmuide we occasionally met other pleasure cruisers, and, more regularly, small commercial barges from the river Authorities moving sand and other aggregate along the river. Amazingly, one of these small barges (only around 1800 tonnes) was fully automatic. There was no skipper! No engineer! No one, except a youth presumably acting as a safety lookout, sitting at the bows. However when we spotted him he seemed to be looking for threat and danger on his iPhone! We came across the skipper-less barge on a few occasions and it was fascinating to watch as you could almost see its computerised brain working out the images from its plethora of cameras, radar, and sensors to work out its speed and course and avoid denting us on the way past.

From a few miles away, across the flat landscape of this part of Belgium we could see a huge tower which seemed to be near our destination.

The Yser tower can be seen for miles around.

The Yser tower which is also know as the Peace Tower dominates Diksmuide. It is monument containing a 27 floor museum! Amazing. Fascinating. Eye-opening. The tower and the contents of the museum are a monument to the victims and soldiers of WWI designed to remind all that peace should prevail over conflict. After taking the lift to the top of the tower and taking a few snapshots of the amazing views I started the decent down spiralling stairs through the many floors of exhibits. The first few floors explore national identity and nationalism – both at the core of the reasons for the outbreak of the Great War, as you defend through the floors the exhibits change theme subtly to pictures and artefacts of the local population and military around the start of the war, eventually quite literally decending into a mock-up of a trench complex and a field hospital complete with sound and lighting effects, discarded munitions and very realistic dummies. The whole thing is immensely moving, hugely interesting, and truly a lighthouse for peace.

A short walk outside the town is the “Trench of Death” a preserved complex of fighting trenches along the banks of the Ijzer where many allied soldiers met their deaths. The complex acts as a site of remembrance to the Battle of Yser, and was the first such memorial in Belgium.

These monuments are certainly a poignant reminder of our end goal on this trip, a visit to Iepers and the Menin Gate. For now though we are staying in Diksmuide for a couple of days to see the more retail and leisure attractions of the city.

To Jabekke, Leffingbrug and beyond…

What a fabulous cruise we are having! After leaving you on tenterhooks last post with a promise to take you to Jabekke, not only have we been there but we have ended up in Iepers (Ypres), or indeed Wipers as the brave Tommy’s in WWI christened this charming, sad and poignant town in northern Belgium.

Our plans have had to change slightly. We were hoping to get to Veurne having heard good reports from fellow boaters, but unfortunately someone in charge of some bits of machinery and a group of workers has decided to order repairs and the consequent closure of a bridge in the middle of Veurne until January, which means that we can no longer get to the city. However Plan B is now in operation – Bruges-Iepers-Bruges with a few stops on the way.

After visiting Jabekke for a short overnight stay where we sampled a beer or two and did some essential shopping (cheese and cake), we made our way steadily to Diksmuide.

I had never heard of Diksmuide before planning our trip even though it was an area of huge importance during the Great War and also, on a lighter note, recognised for it’s superb butter and cheese!

I took us 3 days easy (3 hours) cruising to reach the moorings at Diksmuide, with stops at Jabbeke and Leffingbruge on the way. We ended up mooring for 2 nights at Leffingbrug as we managed to get on a lovely new pontoon next to the lift bridge with easy access to the village. In there was a very pretty church and a bar which we visited on the second night for a beer and a lovely steak followed by Damme Blanch – which is basically 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream, loads of whipped cream and hot chocolate sauce – what’s not to like?

It looks like a bit of a habit is developing, because at Jabekke, our previous mooring, a visit to the bar next to our boat also resulted in ice cream, cream and chocolate sauce, this time though, preceded by an exceptional Flemish beef stew. Nicola exhibited little will power and also succumbed to dessert after here fish pie.

On the 3rd September we upped sticks and made our way to Diksmuide, calling the moorings in the city centre to book two slots as we left. Diksmuide had lots going for it, as you will find out next post.

Engine on. Cast off for’ard and aft!

Well here we go, after a winter moored up in Flandria, and then most of the summer in the same situation as a result of the pandemic that dare not speak it’s name, we are actually going out for a couple of weeks cruise around north Belgium, principally before we forget what to do !

The Red Ensign getting ready for another trip

Our friends Cath and Alan on their Piper barge, Plan B, are also moored in at Flandria, having sailed across the channel on her a few weeks ago. Alan enjoys fishing and telling a tale so we have lots in common, Cath loves a gin and tonic so has everything in common with Nicola! So, it seemed a sensible move to work out a route together for our late summer cruise. Hopefully over a couple of week we will visit Ypres (and pay our respects at Menin Gate), visit a few bars and bistros and have a decent look at some Belgian canals and villages.

We pulled out of the marina in a break in the weather which soon closed in again with the rain bouncing off the water as we headed to our first overnight stop at nearby Moerbrugge. As we were paying up to €20 to fill up our fresh water tank in the marina, Alan and I had been looking at alternatives. Our preferred option was to travel under 1 bridge and for about 5 miles to the afore mentioned Moerbrugge. Here there is free potable water, generally used by the huge freighters that plied their trade in these parts, but freely available to us pleasure bargees. We duly topped up our water just before being joined by a 85m long, 1850 tonne behemoth.

Manacor 85m x 9m x 1850t.

Speaking to the skipper, he was planning to leave just after 9am the following day so we decided to follow him the the lift bridges on the canal around Bruges, this is good etiquette really as when the bridges lift they cut off major routes into the city centre, so if we go through the at the same time as a commercial it helps everyone. So the plan for tomorrow is a couple of hours cruising to Jabbeke – let’s see how to works out.

We gave Alfie a walk around a nature reserve right next to our mooring and then to the small village close by. Here we found a spectacular memorial, made from the parts of a destroyed WW2 tank, to the fallen of the Canadian Armed forces who lost their lives here in September 1944 in the Battle of Moerbrugge.

Tomorrow it’s off the Jabbeke, see you there!

A place for everything ….

And everything in its place. The engine room is not the biggest space on our boat. All boat purchases are a balance of compromises, one of mine was sacrificing a walk around engine room / workshop for a boat that wouldn’t be the size of a SAGA river cruise ship.

The engine room sits under the rear deck and the wheelhouse so is about 4m x 4m by about 1.4m high so getting around down there means a stoop from the waist with bended knees (getting more difficult with age), a crawl on hands and knees or a shuffle on your back-side. Once you are in position it is though easy to find a comfortable seating position to carry out checks and maintenance or retrive an item or tool from the various storage boxes.

The engine itself is a 4 cylinder 3769cc marinised turbocharged Diesel engine made by Beta Marine here in the UK. It pushes out around 100hp but has tremendous torque. Our cruising speed of about 6mph is reached under normal conditions with the rev counter nudging 1300rpm. It is keel cooled with a dry exhaust.

Half a tonne of marine diesel engine

Also in the engine room are our domestic central heating a water heating systems and their related pumps. We have central heating through the boat, a power shower, a couple of bathrooms and galley with water passing through these pumps and systems from the 1000l fresh water tank to the taps.

Central heating and water boiler on the left next to the blue immersion tank, above these wrapped in silver heatproof material is the engine exhaust.

As you can see most of the domestic systems on board are the same, or a marine equivalent of those found in a house on dry land.

We have quite a hungry boat power wise with a normal sized fridge freezer, a 36 bottle wine fridge, draft beer chiller and pump (you have to get your priorities right), and lighting, air-conditioning and at various times, water heating. The engine has a bank of batteries which keep us in light and chilled alcohol when away from mains power, these are topped up by a 65Amp alternator on the engine, a 5kw generator and 8 solar panels on the roof.

Kohler 5kw whisper generator, keeps us in power wherever we roam.
Part of the Mastervolt electrical control system – this bit regulates the solar panels
Mastervolt electrical control hardware

I usually visit the engine room daily, either performing checks or doing routine maintenance on filters, belts, oil levels etc, and also because this is where most of the tools, pressure washer, light bulbs and such like are stored.

Anyway, there we have it. A brief tour of Anticus’ engine room. And welcome news I am sure for those readers who haven’t got a clue what all this was about, this was the last ‘technical’ post for a while !

Where are we?

Apologies for those readers who want pictures of flowers and historic buildings, but the next couple of blogs are about gadgets and the engine room!

It is quite important, even on rivers and canals to know where you are and where you are going, even if only so you know how long before your next beer! Now I know some of you reading this (yes, I’m thinking of our Australian friends Peter and Karen, and our extended family in Canada, the McAloons and the Pannells) have a fair bit of ocean going and large lake sailing experience, and are understandably thinking that you can only go upstream or downstream on a river, so how difficult can it be, and a paper map would surely do as the prime navigational aid. But you are missing the point if you think this!

There are a couple of things worth mentioning here – first; because we generally choose not to cruise very far every day (3 hours maximum) and I like a plan, it is quite useful to know where we intend to moor up and have a couple of alternatives available if our preferred mooring is full or out of use. Secondly; I can’t resist a gadget, especially an electrical one!

Therefore we (I) spent a fair (too high) proportion of our build budget on electronic, navigational gadgetry that could quite feasibly get us around the world calling at all ports and quite possibly in alphabetical order.

Firstly we have a SIMRAD GO9 plotter on the dashboard, this has Navionics software covering the whole planet, so probably would help us to navigate 10 miles from one restaurant to the next!

Simrad GO9 plotter

As you can see, this shows our position on the map, as well as latitude and longitude, Universal Standard Time / Greenwich meantime, speed, depth of water, rudder angle, heading, arrival time, water temperature and a multitude of other readings, as well as allowing us to input a location and let it navigate us there. I’m sure Buzz, Neil and Michael didn’t have so much information at their fingertips navigating to the Sea of Tranquility on Apollo 11.

Not satisfied with this (well, what right minded red blooded male would be?), we also have an Apple iPad (other makes are available) which has Google Earth displayed, overlaid with rivers and canals of Europe and mooring points accessed from a database provided by the Barge Association to it’s members.

Google Earth, highlighting our position on the IPad

Now you may be thinking that the above mentioned equipment and software covers the navigation requirements of a modern day Christopher Columbus or Captain Cook. But, sorry to burst your bubble, you’d be wrong.

We (I) also have another toy (vital piece of marine navigation technology). On a dedicated laptop is PCNavigo, a wonderful bit of software that (also) allows us to navigate through the rivers and canals of Europe. But, and here’s the thing that like minded people (blokes probably) will understand – it has a myriad of bells, whistles and features that I have yet to find (or need, I should think), so adding to the capability of the 2 previously mentioned bits of kit!

PCNavigo on its own laptop!

This brings us really to the whole point of the blog.

With all this technology, and assisted by another value for money (expensive) bit of kit – the Simrad AIS 500 transmitter / receiver – which is just a magic black box, so no pictures, you can now pinpoint our location and follow our travels from your armchair (other seating positions are available) on your laptop, iPad, smartphone or other internet enabled device!

To do this just go to marinetraffic.com and type “Anticus” into the vessel search box, and lo and behold our location will appear before your very eyes.

Marinetraffic.com showing our position

Well, I hope you’ve kept up – I’ll send questions round to check later!

Next time – the engine room – bigger, more expensive gadgetry !!

You’re living on a what??

It occurred to us that we have only really posted pictures of the outside of Anticus and most of you have no idea of what lies inside. Indeed more than a few of our friends have asked – how do you cook?, do you have to use public toilets?, isn’t it a pain making the bed up every day?, and other such questions. So we thought you might like to see inside:

Starting from the left of the picture (the front or the bow), behind the first window is the bedroom, second window is the en-suite bathroom, then the next three are the lounge and kitchen (galley). The large square structure is the wheelhouse where we steer the boat from, and also eat our meals and relax watching the world go bye. Underneath the wheelhouse is the engine room.
Main bedroom, King size bed, plenty of cupboards and wardrobe, air conditioning and central heating

I hope this has given you a bit of an insight and assured you that we are ok and not having to use public toilets, live on sandwiches and wrap up in multiple layers when it gets chilly!

Anticus is actually one of the smaller barges in the marina at 50 ft (15m) long and 14ft (4.2m) wide. Some boats here are 30m long and have 3 or 4 bedrooms, we are happy with one bedroom, one bathroom, and two toilets, but we chose it to suite the two of us and our dog. The settee in the lounge is a bed-settee, and the dining area converts to a double bed, so if any of you fancy a visit, let us know.

For those whose interests are not purely domestic, I’ll publish a post on the engine room and the engineering that goes into the boat soon.

Cleaning, tidying, and a bit of DIY

As I continue to clean the boat from all the grime that has gathered over the 10 months since it last sailed, I made note of a few areas that needed attention. Mostly this was just above the waterline where we had dinked and scraped our way through locks and moved back and forth against our moorings.

Wear and tear on the hull ! (Must drive more carefully)
Nothing that a bit of touch-up paint can’t hide
Some flakey deck paint, sanded and re-painted. That looks better!

In my head, the boat is still in a ‘new’ condition although it was launched in 2018 and we have spent 2 summer cruising on the Thames and sailed it from the centre of London, across the English Channel and through northern France into Belgium and on to our winter moorings in Bruges.

Because I think of it as new, I have been reluctant to do anything at all that might involve drilling, hammering, cutting or altering anything unless I ruined her nearly pristine condition.

Well yesterday I proved the old adage that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ or in this case intervention! Let me explain. To aid getting on and off the boat when we are moored we have a passarelle, this is like a posh gang-plank, but Nicola gets nervous and a little touchy when I tell her to walk the plank and much prefers to disembark using a passarelle! Anyway, as you can see from the picture below the passarelle bridged the gap from the shore to the boat, resting nicely on the gunnels.

Yesterday I stepped on the ‘plank’ pushed it off the boat and ended up sprawled across the mooring, with Alfie, the Border Terrier, looking bewildered, and Nicola desperately trying to suppress laughter. As I lay there doing an impression of a floundering seal, formed the impression that I might need to do something to secure the passarelle to the boat ! Definitely a case of ‘pride after the fall’! Yes. It was time to loose my boat tampering virginity.

In the engine room I have a stock of spares and various parts, this includes a bracket for holding the passarelle to the side of the boat. It was time to get the drill out and fix it in place. Drilling through the immaculate paintwork, through 10mm of steel and bolting it in place. If I had 24 hrs to think about it I probably would have shied away from hurting the hull, but lying in a crumpled heap put everything in perspective and out came my nearly unused tools.

I’m not sure this will herald the dawning if a new era of adding to and altering the boat, but the mould has definitely been broken !

Back aboard – at last

Well it seems an eternity since I’ve written on here, or indeed been on the boat. The pandemic that we dare not speak it’s name put paid to not only visiting the boat in late winter / early spring but also scuppered our summer cruising plans.

Before C***d we were looking at returning to Anticus around the end of March and casting off in the general direction of the Netherlands at the beginning of April when our winter mooring agreement ran out at Yachtcub Flandria.

However a week before the off we were in lockdown at home in West London, and so we remained for 12 weeks. And as luck would have it just as we were about to set off to Bruges, I had to visit hospital a bit urgently after showing the signs of a stroke! Great care from London Ambulance Service and the stroke team at Charing Cross Hospital meant than just 4 weeks later we were loading the car and heading for le Shuttle heading for Belgium.

Boat and car safely reunited in Bruges!

And here we are, safely back aboard. Chris our marina neighbour, an ex-firefighter like myself had gone above and beyond the call of duty by giving Anticus a clean, which made our return and even happier time.

Variety of boats waiting for the sky to clear at the marina

Prior to the delays earlier in the year we had been making plans to cruise into the Netherlands this summer taking in the sights and experiences of Nijmegen, Arnhem, Deventner and Harderwijk before coming back to Bruges to sit the winter out. Unfortunately, we have had to change our itinerary this year, so I think that the Netherlands will wait till next summer and this year we will concentrate on the delights of the Belgian waterways and canals. The marina, Flandria, have been exceptionally good to the winter moorers and not raised our mooring fees up to the summer rates. This usually happens on 1 April and lasts until the end of September when the winter rate of around £100 per month rises to £350 per month.

The management have agreed preferential rates for us for the rest of the summer and right now we are looking at basing ourselves here in Bruges and cruising out for a few days here and there to explore Belgium. In the mean-time there is plenty of cleaning and sorting to do to get Anticus ship-shape and Bristol-fashion for the remainder of the summer.