Fading Memories

Legends from our own lunchtimes

Sunday, May 26, 2019

In Bergues
Monday 20th May - Bergues

Not terribly many kilometres from the beach at Dunkirk at the end of an ancient canal, we found the ancient fortified township of Bergues, exactly where it was supposed to be.  

Perhaps we could be forgiven for presuming that this would be a town with a lot of stories to tell, but not much in the way of structure that’s been around long enough to tell them. As it turns out, since eighty percent of the town was flattened in the second World War, and rebuilding after the First hadn’t actually been finished when that happened, we were pretty much on point.  To the untrained eye It’s a bit difficult to discern which bits of it are old and which bits are Disneyland, but the neat little tour map did a great job of filling in the patches, as we followed its trail through the town.

The destruction of Winroc Abbey, or what’s left of it took place a little earlier though.  Having survived being “burned in 1083 and 1123, in 1566 the beggars ransacked it”, it was the angry mob during the Revolution which finally did for it.   This turned out to be a bit of a mistake though, as the Abbey and the imaginatively named “Pointed Tower” served as navigation markers to allow vessels to stay in the correct channel through the marshlands from Dunkirk, so presumably the revolutionaries went hungry for a time until they could rebuild the important bits.  They’ve been rebuilt a few times since too thankfully, or we might never have found the place.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Sunday 19th May - Veurne to Bergues

It turns out that the Kayak-Polo championships of Belgium are indeed a two day event, and that either the club didn’t read its permit, or the waterways people didn’t read the application.   Whatever the case, when we rounded the second corner this morning after being smartly waved through the opening bridge, the barge leading our little convoy of three found itself in one of those “full speed astern Mr Bosun” moments.

This led to a bit of consternation ashore as well, as visions of a pair of polo courts wrapping themselves around the propeller of a large barge flashed before the eyes of the officials.  A shouting match followed, one of those where gesticulation and calling into question the quality of the other chap’s mother’s breeding seemed to come into play.   A small conference between the two following boats concluded that we’d rather be snugged up for the day, warm in the port we’d just left anyway, but by then it was too late.  Some sort of war had been declared between them and us apparently, and we’d been victorious.

It took no more than a few minutes for half a dozen fit young men in kayaks to move their apparatus, and a few minutes more for us to pass the honour guard of disgruntled officials, but both our worlds soon returned to some sort of equilibrium.  The next bridge-keeper seemed to take the news that “perhaps half an hour later would be better after all” square on the chin, and it was probably just coincidence that this turned out to be exactly half the time the lock keeper at the following obstruction delayed us.  Yes it was wet and it was windy and it was cold, but here we are once again in France in the shadow of some ancient fortress wall, or we think we are, it will take slightly more sunshine than we have seen today to tell.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

It’s complicated.
Saturday 18th May - Veurne

With our dues paid, and the card we use to access water and power safely tucked into the harbour masters wallet, we settled down over a coffee to await Dr Jacob’s arrival.   He must have smelled the brew, because he arrived well before the expected time and in due course was delighted to pronounce our Mr Perkins to be in a fine bill of health.

We were delighted of course, and immediately set about things from where we left off yesterday.   First, we thought we’d make an appointment with the bridge-keeper to get us out of the port.   “Not today”, he said, “There is a kayak competition on the canal so no boats are allowed, you can come at nine tomorrow”.   Armed with that information, we thought we’d stay a little longer, but we would arrange an appointment with the next bridge (in France) some eleven kilometres away.    

That conversation went reasonably well, until the nice man on the telephone decided we should be there at ten.  We did try to explain that the speed limit is seven kilometres per hour, and that if seven was to go into eleven and the answer was to be one, quite possibly some physics involving anti-matter and black holes would be necessary for that to occur.  Either the bridge chap didn’t know too much about physics, or couldn’t understand my halting French, so ten it is.   

Perhaps we will be leaving tomorrow after all, but perhaps there is a possibility that we won’t be arriving.  Only time will tell.


A Photo from Tomorrow.
Friday 17th May - Veurne

In the cold hard light of dawn, the grey sky promised change.  At least that’s what we imagine it would have promised had we been up to see it, but somewhat later when we did peer out, the wind had disappeared, the blue sky replaced by a slightly cooler grey and the pollen was being laid gently to rest under a blanket of the lightest rain we’ve seen since the last time we’ve seen very light rain.

It looked like a perfect day to get underway in fact, so we disconnected our shore power, and generally began to make things ship-shape.  At precisely the moment we were thinking about  maybe possibly casting off, we received a message from Jacob, Mr Perkins’ Witch Doctor, suggesting that if we’d like to stay put for a day he could come to check on how the dear old thing was reacting to his winter medications.

This had the happily deflating effect of requiring us to cancel all previous engagements and sending us back to bed for the day, metaphorically speaking at least.  I am sure that were we living in a cell of the same size, a day spent locked inside would send us nuts. On a boat though, there are always things to pull apart, pumps to fix, charts to pore over, books to read and not to mention snoozes to be had.   With our brains engaged firmly in “we’re moving on” mode, at no time during the day did it occur to either of us that we might go ashore.  Thus, with the benefit of hindsight, today’s photo will be taken tomorrow.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Veurne Sunset.
Thursday 16th May - Veurne

We didn’t go out this morning. It was supposed to be a “nasty job” day, but just as one of us was midway through those involuntary shallow breathing exercises one does while summoning the courage to take the shorts and bare feet bravely into the outdoors to clean the icy decks, a gentle knock could be heard on our cabin door.  

It’s very possible that the Waterways Authority compliance officer had never been greeted with such relief, nor with such hospitality.  For an hour or so we plied him with coffee as we swapped notes and he ticked boxes and gave us friendly advice.  Had he been prompted he might have suggested that it was far too chilly outdoors to even contemplate pulling out the pressure washer, but there was no need. By the time he finished it was almost lunchtime, and one of us had come to his senses of his own accord.

It warmed up a little late in the day, thankfully far too late to start getting wet, but it’s surprising how tropical fourteen degrees can feel in the absence of a breeze. We permitted ourselves one brief farewell circuit of the town in the warmth of the sunset, as once again, having almost studiously left plenty of things to see at some future time, we have decided it's time to move on.

Angry Bird.
Wednesday 15th May - Veurne

There is a waterhen brooding over her clutch on a nest she has carefully built on the erroneously named “duckboard” of an adjoining boat.  Another had been entertaining us all morning as she happily showed her two chicks the ins and outs of life in a port which was as still as the sky was blue.

Our morning tranquility was broken by one of the sounds we abhor the most, that of an over-used bow thruster.  We watched for tens of minutes while the accompanying boat was tied, untied, moved, unmoved and retied, all the while accompanied by that awful grinding noise that thruster propellers make as they cavitate, struggling to take a grasp of the water.

When it was over, the former tranquility in the port was replaced by the distressed calling of the mother hen, her chicks floating motionless and dishevelled, apparently after having discovered the inner workings of the thruster tube.   Sad though this was to witness, it did explain the reason  the angry bird which sits on the roof of the city hall glares at people from boats as they pass.

Under A Clear Blue Sky.
Tuesday 14th May - Fintele to Veurne

We’ve were particularly grateful today that ours is the kind of boat that can be operated almost entirely without venturing outdoors.  It’s the wind you see, chilled and flogging leaves off trees, spreading pollen and dust, making eyes watery, noses red and generally blowing everything that isn’t blue out of the the sky with the exception of the sun, which happily shines directly into our warm little greenhouse-saloon.  Admittedly we are not quite so happy about that when summer comes around, but for now we are delighted.

There is quite a lot of concentration required on days like today, to actually steer a course in which contact with the land is entirely avoided apart from the bit at the beginning and end of the voyage, but concentrate we did until we had bumped safely and warmly against the dock in Veurne.

Thankfully here we are only a few kilometres by Tesla from Dave and Ria’s place.  Just before the sun breathed its last for the day they arrived (not entirely unannounced) with their friend Mar, their presence filling our little ship with an entirely different and even nicer, longer lasting kind of warmth.
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