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Down River Cruise - 2010

Articles > Down River Cruise - 2010

WMC Down River Cruise To Dunkirk and Holland 2010

The Down River Cruise this year did not get off to a good start as Charles Worby our Rear Commodore (Tidal) had to pull out due to Janice having to go into hospital for a knee replacement.  Although this was cancelled at the last minute by the hospital it was too late for them to make the trip.   Since holidays had been booked by the others we decided to make the cruise on our own.

The trip was planned for initially going into Dunkirk as part of the Little Ships spectator fleet for the 70th Anniversary of Operation Dynamo commemorating the evacuation of our troops from the beaches in the Second World War.  We then planned to go round to Niewport in Belgium and on up into the Schelde to visit some of the towns of the Zeeland waters of Holland.

We started out on the 22nd May 2010 with all of us meeting up at Teddington.   There were 6 boats, Alouette (Chris and Su), China Rose (Wendy and  John with Jean and Roger Francis), Gorjess (Gordon and Jess), Kafena (Peter and Jean), Weather or Knot (Mike and Ann) and Wisecrack (Andrew and Celia).  Calypso had to pull out.   Gorjess was only doing the Dunkirk run and arrangements were made for her to be escorted on the return trip by Tacita from London River thanks to Jim Harkness.   At 9am the next day we all set off for Queenborough where we had booked the concrete lighter.  This is a long run for slow boats but we had been unable to get into Galleons Point Marina.  The weather was fine and the sea slight which gave us a pleasant run down.  We had several of the Dunkirk Little Ships  with us at the start but once clear of the rowers they gradually pulled ahead. By 1320 BST we had passed the Thames Barrier and we were finally tied up at Queenboro' just after 7pm.

The next morning (23rd May) the weather was calm with smooth seas.  We let go at 10am to take the tide down to Ramsgate and passed our TR to the Thames Coastguard.  Our route was across the Kentish Flats.  It was interesting to see the radar responses from the  windfarm south of Spaniard.   There would certainly be no difficulty identifying it in poor visibility.  We called up Ramsgate to make sure that we would all be able to get in as we were aware that there was likely to be a problem with all the workboats servicing the windfarms plus the arrival of the Dunkirk Little Ships.  We were all fine. We cleared down with Dover Coastguard and by 3.15pm were all tied up alongside in the Western Basin.

Wisecrack en route Ramsgate

 The next day the weather changed.  The forecast was NE 3-4 becoming 5-6.  This was too much for the Broom 30's!   However,  this enabled us to see some of the celebrations provided by the Ramsgate for Operation Dynamo.  An enjoyable evening was spent  at the Belgium Bar on the sea-front where a 1940's night of entertainment was provided with our meals.  We were joined by friends from Ramsgate including Tom Brown MBE who provided weather information that he received regularly as one of the co-ordinators working with the wind-farm workboats.  Tom also helped out yet again with resolving problems with a couple of the boats.   The extra time in Ramsgate due to the weather enabled us to get Mike's alternator on Weather or Knot fixed.  Tom ran us up to a local electrician but he did not have spares or a replacement.  He suggested a place in Dover.  We borrowed Tom's car and took the alternator to be tested.  It was found that the diode pack had a faulty diode.  These packs cannot be repaired but fortunately they had a spare pack.  It was agreed that we would leave the alternator and that they would bring it back to Ramsgate the next day.  Meanwhile, Peter Towerzey was sorting out another problem on Wisecrack. 

We finally were able to leave Ramsgate at 0840BST on the 27th May after the Little Ships had all cleared the harbour. Our route ran down the inside of  the Goodwins rather than the route used by the Little Ships as spectator vessels were requested to keep clear.   Since several of our boats were slow this was a preferred route using the current down to SW Goodwin. Besides being clear of shipping  this route was deemed safer should any of our vessels have a breakdown.  We were then able cross the Traffic Separation Scheme at 135 degs T at the narrow part of the Channel in slack water.  Once across we took the tide up the French coast from Dyke to DW29.  We reached Dunkirk just before 1700FST and cleared our TR with Dover coastguard.

We  missed the afternoon entry at Trystram Lock and had to wait a couple of hours outside before going through.  We then moved round to the Basson du Commerce only to be informed that there was no booking for us.  Instead we were to tie up in the Bassin de l'Arriere.   As Su aboard Alouette had just had 2 knee joint replacements and we had brought a wheelchair, the harbourmaster kindly allocated Alouette an alongside mooring in the adjacent Bassin de la Marine.


Alouette alongside in Bassin de la Marine Dunkirk

Our time in Dunkirk was very pleasant.  There was a full programme laid on for the commemorations running from the 28th May thru' to 30th May. Veterans, soldiers and dignitaries including Prince Michael of Kent were all there  Flags were flying everywhere,  there were marches, bands playing ,church services and wreath laying by the Little Ships. It was ;as usual; a highly emotional event with many tears. 

 The weather was not looking good for our return to sea.   Rather than get stuck in Dunkirk we decided to go into the French and Belgium canal system.  This meant getting licences from the local VNF Office before they closed for the weekend.

Part of Veterans Parade

As expected the weather on Sunday 30th May was not good.  The forecast was for WSW 6 gusting 7 in the morning with gusts up to 8 in the afternoon.  Instead, all of us, excluding Gorjess, which was to return after the events, moved into the canal system  to continue our holiday.  This severely curtailed our itinerary for Holland. Our vessels cleared the Darse1 Lock just after 9am FST with the exception of Kafena.   It was decided that Alouette would wait for Kafena in case they were unfamiliar with the initial route through to the Canal du Furnes whilst the others continued on.   It was then when we were travelling along the canal that Peter aboard Kafina called to say that he was having difficulty keeping up with Alouette.   This was highly amusing for us as Alouette is always being criticised  within the club for going too slowly.   Peter's problem was that Kafena, a Hardy 36, with her deep draft and large props just made a hole in the water and caused a massive wake.  We  then had some minor difficulties with one of the automatic lock controls which slowed us still further so we were well behind the other boats.  We eventually made it to the Belgium border where we had to get further licences to continue.  It was here whilst Peter and I were in the border control office at Furnes (Veurne) that we heard Don Walker, the Press Officer of the Broom Owners' Club, call from La Strega a Broom 33. Don and Marjorie had been with us in Dunkirk and had also decided to do the inland route through to Holland because of the weather.  I could tell from his voice that Don was puzzled when he was answered by me from the Furnes control radio station.

After paying for our licences we continued to catch up with China Rose, Weather or Knot and Wisecrack.  When we reached the Rattevallebrug  swing bridge on the Nieuport to Plassendale Canal we were unable to pass and tied up alongside only to find out that the other boats were moored only 50 yards ahead the other side of the bridge.   Later we all joined up to have an excellent  meal together in the Augustijn public house next to the canal. Everyone was in good spirits.

The next day ;31st May;  La Strega caught up with us again and tied onto Kafena while we waited for the bridge.   They had moored up further back overnight. When the bridge opened we  all continued for Bruges following La Strega.  Just after Leffingebrug we passed  a 'Le Boats' base marina.  This is the French hire company that now seems to be dominating the Thames market.  We left the Nieuport to Plassendale canal just after passing under the Oudenburg Motorway bridge.  We then entered the Ostend to Ghent canal.

When we got to Bruges,  those aboard  Kafena, Weather or Knot and Wisecrack decided to stay while Alouette and China Rose continued into Holland.  John, aboard China Rose, was particularly keen to make Holland as he was born there and  Holland was where we originally planned to visit.  After leaving the others at Bruges, Alouette and China Rose continued along the Ostend to Ghent canal.  We tied up for the evening at the canal-side BWSV marina where we took on fuel and water.

The next day (1st June)  the 2 of us moved off at 8.30LT and continued along the Ghent to Ostende canal.  We reached the Bierstalbrug just before 11am local time and turned into the ring canal system  to make for the Ghent to Terneuzen canal.   This is a main commercial peniche route and is very busy.  The main lock here is wide enough for 3 peniches alongside each other.   Whilst we were waiting La Strega arrived.  We all go through and La Strega moves off ahead of us as they were going out to sea at Terneuzen to continue further into South Holland.   We continued more slowly passing enormous bulk carriers discharging or loading just before the Dutch border at Zelzatebrug.   We had no problem at the border and continued down the canal passing more large vessels at anchor.  We reached our destination at Terneuzen which was the WSV Neusen Marina at 3.15pm LT. 

Roger and Jean had been to Terneuzen before and recommended a fabulous restaurant overlooking the Schelde.  We all made our way up to it for a drink and then returned to the town for some shopping.  John could not resist buying a vivid orange traditional costume (see picture at Armentieres).   By the time we had finished shopping and had a few more drinks we decided to eat locally in one of the bars before returning to our boats

It was by talking to another boat owner in the marina that I found out that we could get a number 20 bus under the Schelde which would enable us to visit a couple of the places in Zeeland. 

The next morning 2nd June we all walked up to the travel bureau/come post office to pick up travel brochures and to buy bus tickets.  A 6 euro ticket allowed us to use any bus anywhere for the day. I am not sure why but the postmaster presented me with an orange vuvuzela.  These were the (musical ?) instruments which were the rage in South Africa for the World Cup. We decided to take the bus to first to Goes and then to return via Middelburg.  Both of these towns were on our original itinerary as they were popular places visited on MBM cruises and recommended by Louise Busby of the Broom Owners' Club.  We found Goes to be a charming and picturesque town.  As we wandered along the marina we spotted La Strega again.  Don Walker could not understand how we had managed to get there before them as they had gone through the sea lock the previous evening but the harbourmaster had gone off duty and they had a difficult night.  We had to tell them that we had arrived by bus and that we would be continuing through to Middelburg.    

The next bus we took was the 47 to Middelburg.   This was a bigger town than Goes and had been greatly developed by the Dutch East India Company building warehouses along the canals.  Today, as in parts of the London waterside,  many have been converted into restaurants and apartments. Whilst in Middleburg we made a call through to Mike (Weather or Knot) to suggest that we all return via Armentieres and Calais.  They had been looking at the option of going out of Ostend but called  us back agreeing to meet up again at Armentieres. When we had finished site seeing in Middleburg we took the 50 bus back through the tunnel to Terneuzen.

We set off early the next morning (3rd June) for Ghent.  This was a return journey through the industrial area of South  Holland  back to the Ghent Ring and round to the River Lys.  The Belgium part of this winding river is quite delightful much akin to the Henley - Shiplake part of the Thames.   It was a few years since we were last on this river. There appeared to been  considerable development since we were last there.  The properties were estimated to be all  in the multi-million euro price bracket. We followed the River Lys down to Deinze and then on to the Old lock of St. Baafs-Vijve.   We tied up behind an English vessel called Lovely Jubbly who tell us that the lock is out of action and that we would need to turn back and go through the new lock.   They suggested  we stayed  there overnight as the mooring was free and there was a local Yacht Club where we could get a drink.    We had had a long day and Su was not up to turning back so we opted to stay and rest for a while whilst the others on China Rose took a walk along the canal part of the Lys.  Su and I later went up to the Wageren Yacht Club and found them to be very unfriendly immediately demanding 15 euros for mooring.  We told them we had been told by the English couple that we could stay there free.   Since we paid considerably less than that in Terneuzen including water and electricity we objected.   The young barman said that he would talk to his parents.   We left after our first drink.

The next morning (4th June) we walked along to the Yacht Club but were unable to find anyone to negotiate a price in view of the fact that we had not used any of their facilities.  We decided to leave and moved around to the other lock which we entered half an hour later. It took only 10 minutes to clear and then we were on our way to Courtrai which we reached by 9.30am LT.   We continued on past Menin and eventually reach Armentieres where the other Weybridge Mariner boats were moored on the riverside as Kafena  had had a problem entering the marina with her draft.  We suggested  that we had another go as both China Rose and Alouette had been in before in company with Echoes a Broom Crown owned by Bill and Angie Jenkins who used to belong to Weybridge Mariners.  We thought she had a similar draft to Kafena.   Weather or Knot led the way back in  taking the second entrance and this time Kafena was able to get in albeit with a little stirring of mud. We were all helped into berths by the skipper of 'Popeye' ;one of the local boats; who seemed to be in control.

The marina at Armentieres is sited within a wild life park.  There are numerous rabbits and wild birds plus many tourist attractions including a road train, boat trips and many sporting facilities.  It was nice to be back all together again and we exchanged reports of how we had got on.  We all decided to eat together at the marina.  John Mcphee donned his traditional Dutch costume and borrowed the vuvuzela.


  John in garb at Armentieres with China Rose in background

Saturday 5th June.  We all stayed in Armentieres.  The marina is within walking distance of the town but beyond the capability of Su and Jean Towerzey who was suffering with her legs swelling up.  A French lady from one of the boats moored in the marina offered to take us into the town by car so the 4 of us had a mini tour of Armentieres before being set down in the centre.  We picked up a  map of the town in the Tourist Bureau and took in some of the sights.  Later we met up with some of the others who had walked in.  

Although we all had good berths in the marina we were unable to take full advantage of the facilities.  This was because the Harbour Master was away for the weekend and we were unable to contact him by phone.  Frequently, the toilets and showers were locked and we could not plug into the electricity. 'Popeye'  and others at the marina didn't think it was right that we should be charged the full rate.  As a consequence we wrote a letter to the Harbour Master with the payment recommended and left the names of our boats.  

Sunday morning (7th June) we moved out at 8am LT as we were still concerned about possible delays due to the weather for the return trip across the Channel. Our attempts to get a good start were thwarted at the first lock.  A peniche called Aleconda Charsterbrug was blocking the entrance.  Actually, we were surprised to see peniches on this part of the river.  In the past we had known the river to have been almost impassable due to vegetation rather like irises growing in the river. Irrespective, it appeared that the remote lock control system was not working.  There was a lot of shouting  by the peniche skipper on his mobile trying to get the engineer out. It was nearly an hour before the peniche eventually got through and the first 3 of our boats  were able to enter. It took only 10 minutes for us to clear the lock after which we soon caught up with the peniche which was going very slowly. We were unable to pass. Our next problem was at Merville.  Here the peniche pulled over to a side cutting and we passed only to find that the bridge was closed.   It transpired that we should have given notice of our requirement to pass before 4pm on the Friday.   Since we did not receive the information before this time there was nothing we could have done.   Eventually, Wendy and I decided to enlist the help of one of the locals who came out of a nearby restaurant.  His English was better than our French and he made a telephone call through to the control to arrange for the bridge to be opened.  By now Kafena and Weather or Knot had caught up and we were all able to pass together.  Our day ended at the Fort Gassion Lock at Aire sur Lys where the river joins the Canal de Neuffosse.

We move off again at 9.30 LT in the morning.   Our plan was to have lunch at the marina at Arques which we reached by midday.   Unfortunately, the Harbour Master Pierre who remembered Alouette from previous trips, was unable to accommodate all the boats so we had to go back out.  We moved further down the canal and pulled in at Watten.  Peter on Kafena was again concerned with the depth and initially moored outside but the wash from the passing traffic was so uncomfortable that he joined us inside where we repositioned to give him the deepest mooring.  This Port de Fluvial has deteriorated since we were last there although they were cutting the grass down which was some 2 foot high over much of the area..  Possibly, we were there before the holiday season has really started.  The local village supermarket enabled us to top on provisions and Su was able to replenish some of her prescribed medication which had run out. We were also able to buy birthday cards for Celia on Wisecrack.  After a few drinks sitting outside the local bars we all returned to the boats.   We  brought out our chairs and table onto the pontoon to for the birthday celebration.  Andrew supplied champagne and birthday cake and we all had a very enjoyable evening.


Celia's pontoon birthday party

 Tuesday morning  8th June. Several of the boats were now concerned about their diesel levels.   Aboard Alouette I had 20 gallons of white diesel carried in containers for emergency.  We were able to put 5 gallons in each of the boats after which we moved out.  By midday we reached Attaques where we decided to wait as we would only be able to pass one bridge before the French lunchtime break. By waiting, we would be able to pass through all 4 of the lifting bridges as we arrived.   The bridge controller drives from each bridge to the next after we have passed. This gave us the opportunity to walk into Attaques  which has a very well cared for First World War memorial.  We also visited the graveyard which again was very  cared for with many Second World War tombs including those of British servicemen.  After some more shopping for bread we went back to the boats and eventually arrived at Batellerie Calais but decided to move back under the bridge to an adjacent pontoon as everyone was concerned about illegal immigrants around the Batellerie Basin.


Wednesday morning we went back in to Batellerie Basin and called the Calais port control to go through to the Carnot Lock.  We eventually cleared Calais and called up Dover coastguard with our TR and ETA  for Ramsgate for 1500LT.  It was a pleasant crossing and Weather or Knot and Kafena opened up their throttles to get pictures of each other at speed.


By early afternoon we were alongside in Ramsgate Harbour again.  However, once more we were held up by the weather.   The forecast on Fri 11th suggested  that once we got round North Foreland it would subside.   We decided to go for it but the conditions did not improve.   Kafena had gone ahead and reported that it was easing once round the Foreland.  There was some concern for Wisecrack the other Broom 30. We radioed back to check whether they wished to return into Ramsgate Harbour.  They agreed to follow Alouette in spite of the Force 4 chop. Once off Herne Bay with no decline in the sea state the decision was made to go for the Swale via Columbine.   Once inside, it was a smooth run round to the concrete lighter at Q’boro’ where Kafina was waiting for us.

The evening sunset at Queenboro' 

 Some of the ladies had not enjoyed this leg of our cruise. However, everyone recovered alongside the barge and we waited to see how the weather would fair in the morning.

We moved off the concrete lighter first thing in the morning on the 11th June.  The weather was fine and we took the flood Spring Tide up to Teddington but not without Alouette getting stuck for 2 or 3 minutes at West Nore Sand due to following the recommended small vessel route via the buoys without having the echo-sounder on. It was then Hampton Court and home.  



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