Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, June 24, 2019

Life in a Gunkhole
Sunday 16th June - Long

The dictionary defines gunkhole, a term used in the language of cruising yachts, as “a shallow inlet or cove that is dangerous or difficult to navigate”.   The attraction of such places should be obvious, they afford some measure of tranquility shall we say,  and the silted-up little branch off the river that has been our home for the past few nights meets all of those criteria. It is so shallow that it’s barely deeper than wet grass, which is exactly how much water we need to float, although even for us, progress across it was impeded by the soft mud and weed.

One would think that when one finds said gunkhole, one would tend to enjoy it in solitude, but the opposite always seems to be the case.  The first boat in acts as a decoy to others who appear to lose all caution at the site of another boat all snug calm, and come charging in oblivious to the differences in their hull shapes.  Some listened to our warning shouts and went on, but one gave it a try, running out of momentum before they could reach the dock.  We caught their ropes to pull them through the ooze  as best we could  to somewhere approaching proximity to shore.

They seemed embarrassed, perhaps wondering how they will get out in the morning, then no doubt deciding that problem can wait till tomorrow, quietly disappeared on their bicycles into the green, and things returned to the way they were.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Saturday 15th June - Long

Inspired by what we think is perhaps the smallest boat we have ever seen manned by a large person and his dog, and perhaps the shortest voyage we have ever seen as well: approximately one metre from the place their boat is kept to the fishing grounds we thought we’d stay on for another day, or perhaps two.

We could quite rightly be accused of being confused about our plan, but with just two days of travel left till we reach our notional half-way point, and with the sun shining brightly we figured that a bit more time out from relentless journeying would do us no harm at all. 

With bright sunshine in abundance we couldn’t have ordered a better day to wet a line, so in no time flat we had the line out and a couple of loads of washing and even some sheets hanging over it, while we sat in the shade quietly watching it all dry.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Swanning around.
Friday 14th June - Ailly-sur-Somme to Long

On the face of it, swans have a lovely time of it, floating around doing not much at all except making the place look pretty.  In that respect they are a bit like us really.  The only problem with their life as far as we can tell, is that they have to hold their breath to eat.

Well we have to hold our breath too, every morning as we turn the “start” key waiting to see what Mr Perkins’ attitude will be to the coming day.  It’s not as if he’s misbehaved for a long, long time but old habits do die hard.

It was hardly his fault this morning as he once again instantly burst into life, but none the less it was apparent that all was not well with the world.   Perhaps the gear cable had broken, the control lever was impotent, unable to select reverse or even neutral.  Our first emotion was actually one of relief that it had happened while we were still safely tethered to the shore.   While the while the lock keeper stood happily by, things aboard were being dismantled at a rate of knots, the cause of the problem a deepening mystery until at about the time a nice collection of cotter pins, screws, ball bearings and springs had been assembled and the culprit found.  A loose screw deep in the works, was quickly tightened, things put back into place, bandaids applied and in no time flat we were swanning around once more, breathing normally again, enjoying another perfect day.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Or we could just stay here for a bit.
Thursday 13th June - Ailly-sur-Somme

It’s been five days now since we decided that we’d move downstream every day.  We’d go straight down to the river’s mouth we thought, and then make our way back upstream at our leisure.    

Having failed to do that for the first three days of the plan, we left yesterday refreshed,  bright eyed, bushy tailed and eager to get on with it.  That resolve stayed with us overnight as well, and we woke this morning determined to move on "first thing".

Then we looked outside at the rain swollen water and at the lashing rain and the wind, and looked back at our small heater and the coffee pot, and thought….. nooo.

A rip in the fabric of the universe.
Wednesday 12th June - Amiens to Ailly-sur-Somme

There’s a disconcerting thread lying beneath the story of our travels so far this year.  

For reasons that are completely unclear we always seem to be in a place where a bakery is not.   This situation that goes far far beyond the usual “well of course we are closed today”, they are either completely closed or in the case of most of the villages we have scoured, in hiding.  What makes it even more disturbing is that we are going to be returning along the same famine-strewn path.

Amiens is not a small place and it was with some determination that we set out to find some proper sustenance to see us through a long day of travel even if that mean delaying our departure.  Determination breeds success it would seem and while we did resist the temptation to gorge, a simple “Paris-Brest” for him, and some kind of custard on a bit of cardboard for her, reinforced our energy levels with an adequate sufficiency.  We were so well fortified that our nine and a half kilometre voyage for the day seemed like nothing.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Tuesday 11th June - Amiens

Language is a curious thing, body language is curiouser.  A simple nod of the head for instance as one is passing another person, in our culture means something like: “Hello my friend, how are you going, I hope you are having a great time”.   It took quite some time for us to realise that those same sentiments are expressed here by a quick upwards jerk of the chin, the sort of movement that in our custom would tend in be saying something very impolite indeed.

We have become students of late of the body language of novice rowers, as they complete their evening laps beside our mooring.  Their concentration is intense.  They, none of them, appear to be having a good time.   We do our best to lift their spirits by giving them a cheery wave as they splash and wobble by.  On their first circuit, they instinctively want to reciprocate in kind.  Confusion reigns for a moment as they smile back, simulaneously realising that waving with an oar in the hand is not such a practical idea while powerless to overcome the urge.  A sea of conflicting emotions overwhelms them, muscle memories not yet set.  On subsequent circuits they tend to avoid a recurrence by studiously averting our gaze.    

Experienced rowers simply glide by, happy to lift that chin and nose high in the air as they pass which, while we like to think that we understand the intended sentiment, still leaves us with that lingering doubt that they just might be signalling in our own language, perhaps expressing certain sentiments their less experienced colleagues have thus far left unsaid.

Prone to exaggeration.
Monday 10th June - Amiens

From time to time I will admit, I have been quite fairly accused of, if not making things up, then perhaps taking liberties with the actual statistics in order to effect a certain emphasis, as though that is some sort of bad thing.  When other people do that they are sometimes hailed as visionaries, indeed some of them are.

Take Jules Verne’s for instance.  If he had actually been twenty thousand leagues under the sea technically he’d be through the other side of the planet and a third of the way to the moon. Presumably he persevered with that number because a league is a curious measure of distance over time, a curious indeterminate.  He is of course best known in the English speaking world at least for making up lots of unbelievable stuff which over the course of the following century would become part of our lives.  If you had read his novels a century or so ago you would not have been aware that electric submarines, skywriting, helicopters, stun guns, news broadcasts, solar sails and much more were already on their way as indeed were helicopters and even floating cities, although we now call them cruise ships.  Truth has become stranger than science fiction.

We dropped in to his house today but he wasn’t home.  Presumably he’s off time travelling at the moment, so we poked around among some of his things for a bit, and promised ourselves we’d reacquaint ourselves with his tales next time we have a rainy day.  Tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A taste of what’s to come.
Sunday 8th June - Corbie to Amiens

It looks very much as though June is going to turn out to be one of those May kind of months, where if it doesn’t look as though it’s going to be raining shortly, it’s because it already is.   That is not a bad thing although it does add a certain air of determination for want of a better word, to the process of moving, as we try to time our arrival at the locks between showers.

We had glimpses of what might be as we drifted more quickly than usual on the now rain-swollen current today.  When the sunny patches appeared they were like sparkling little advertisements for places crying out for further exploration, and explore them we will.  In due course.

For now though we’ve decided we’ll move every day while the weather is indifferent, making miles until we reach the river’s mouth.  Then we’ll cruise back at our leisure, playing the odds that the sun has to come out eventually, stopping and poking around in every hidy-hole we can find all the way back, sunny or not.   The logic of that is inarguable, so that’s definitely what we’ll do.  Starting in a day or two, because we like it here.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Scattered Sunshine.
Saturday 7th June - Corbie

 On the one hand, the prospect of perhaps having a big enough window of sunshine to get to the shops and back was a tempting one.  On the other, if we weren’t quick enough there was a fair chance that we’d arrive back at the boat looking as though we’d swum across the river dragging our groceries, or worse, we’d be blown far, far away perhaps never to find our way back at all in the gloom.

This time there was no romance in the forecast as a great storm lashed the coast further south, fishing boats and even parts of buildings were swept away.  Even on our own short leash the buffeting was sufficient to make life aboard tea-spilling jerky from time to time.

We did set out for a bit of a forage, barely making it back into the building gale as the first signs of precipitation were upon us, thinking perhaps we should make up a new plan that did not involve a visit to the outdoor folk festival after lunch.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

During wind and rain.
Friday 6th June - Corbie

We knew the weather forecast meant “best not go outside today”, but we didn’t quite understand the nuances in the way it was written so we asked that great translation oracle in the sky to expand if it would, and we are so glad we did:

“In the morning for the weather in Corbie, the sun will try rare appearances under a sky yet overcast. In the afternoon the cloudy sky may generate some rain. The wind speed should oscillate around thirty-eight km/h.”

It’s possible that we’ve never seen a more accurate, nor more beautifully written weather forecast, although while the sun may well have been trying rare appearances it was not until late afternoon that it actually managed to squeeze out the merest hint of a rainbow, and certainly as the cloudy sky had been generating some rain pretty much all day, it behove us to stay aboard, except for one tiny excursion when one of us managed to tip toe in attempt to keep his slippers dry, over to the power box to put a coin in the machine.

It does get worse before it gets better.
Thursday 5th June - Cappy to Corbie

Most of the way today was a proper delight.  As we drifted past nesting aquatic birds, musk rats, floating duck enclosures and caught glimpses of flowering market gardens we felt a bit sorry for those who’d turned back too soon.  For the first hour though, we may have considered joining them.

“Just 200 metres more” said the friendly lock keeper, “and then the weed is no longer a problem.”   Well the friendly lock keeper quite possibly has never owned a measuring tape and if he did he must have failed elementary surveying, although technically he may have been correct.  After his “few hundred metres” lay a minefield, for there, all the stray bits of weed uprooted in the eradication process had collected for a kilometre or so, floating thirty centimetres deep with vast swathes of string algae growing amongst it.

Ten metres into the quagmire our propellor was doing a fair impersonation of a rotating stick of green fairy floss, and progress was negligible.   For a time one of us was seriously contemplating carrying out a reenactment of the good old days, when proper canal boats were pulled along the tow path by women in harness.  The other of us it has to be said was less enthusiastic regarding that particular solution, so we persevered, eventually popping out into the wonderland previously described, hoping that in the few months until our return, the council will have completed its cleanup or at worse, a few more boats will have passed, creating a clearer path!

The Demon Weed.
Wednesday 4th June - Peronne to Cappy

Barely three kilometres into the Canal du Somme we were in the thick of it.   We’d heard about it from various folk we’d met who’d heard about it too and decided to go somewhere else, some had started out and turned around defeated, but we are made of sterner stuff.  Besides, others who had told us of the delights of the Somme and had only casually mentioned the problem in passing.

So we ploughed on.   Here and in many other French waterways the water is now too clean for its own good, and for ours too.  The absence of commercial ships stirring up the silt has resulted in crystal clear water which in turn allows enormous amounts of light below the surface which encourages escaped exotic aquarium plants to thrive.   The local authority is doing its best, working to clear the channels, and one can but hope that it wins the battle before the pest infests the vast areas of lake and bog beside the river.   

As we battled through it at crawling pace with our tiny propellor almost completely clogged, there were still some very bright spots in our day.  Thanks to the modifications we made over winter, we can now clear the propellor a little without having to stop the motor, at least sufficiently well to resume some forward progress.  Even better,  the water is so clear that it’s like travelling over a enormous aquarium filled with huge lumbering fish and tiny flitting ones as well as all manner of other aquatic life.  Our lack of speed helps us enjoy the show all the more and we are assured it's just for a few more kilometres.


Friday, June 07, 2019

The smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd.
Tuesday 3rd June - Marquion to Peronne

It was seven before the gap in traffic was sufficient to fit in two small boats (behind a larger one none the less) and at first René and Elsbeth in the boat ahead were concerned that a loose ship in a lock can be a dangerous thing, and while they had a ladder they could tie to, in our position there was little in the way of bollards for us to use as the water level rose.  We assured them we would just throw a rope over the recessed bollards and René looked at us as if we were crazy.

Not everyone, which is code for “almost no-one” is adept at the throwing technique we use, so when we cast the first loop over the recessed bollard (degree of difficulty 6.5) somewhat to our bemusement they went nuts in a polite Dutch way.   The bollard above was on the quay, perhaps set back a metre and out of our view, but there’s a paint mark on the edge to indicate its presence.  When the next throw of the line secured that one, they thought there was some sort of evil sorcery at play.

In the next lock and indeed for the six after that, they watched our every move as we repeated the process, gradually breaking down into fits of near hysterical laughter, in the absence of any other emotion which help them deal with what they were watching.  Thankfully, most of our “misses” happened when they were distracted, so perhaps our performance looked better than it was.  None the less, René has promised to send a copy of his video recording (shaking with a constant background of laughter) convinced that we were raised in a circus.

We cannot be sure which of us was having the most fun watching the other, but it did give rise to a very pleasant evening together after what might otherwise have been a very long day.


There’s room in our lock for two.
Monday 3rd June -Douai to Marquion

A deafening silence descended just before lunch time as we left Penny and Bob at the station.  As we finished our goodbye hugs, they asked if we would move on today, and at that point we really had no answer.

As we walked almost aimlessly back to the boat into the echoes of the past two days, we decided we would not, which is why three hours later, we did.

Progress was steady bordering on rapid for the first few hours, as we travelled in company with a “baby” ninety metre ship with a bare five metre width in the ten metre wide locks, but as the evening began to close in we arrived at the first of the narrower gauge locks, and could no longer share.  Even though pleasure boats quite rightly have an obligation to give way to commercial craft, perhaps not all do, judging by the heartfelt thanks we received from both skippers and lock keeper each time we moved to the back of the queue as a new monster arrived.   Almost two hours later and not long before our bedtime, the lock was ours, and we wasted no time in snugging down for the night, ready to start again first thing in the morning (the real first thing, not Joyeux time!).

A Sunny Day in Douai
Sunday 2nd June - Douai

Penny and Bob always seem to bring the weather with them.  Admittedly last time they stayed with us gales lashed the boat mercilessly for four days, making venturing outside folly, but never the less the sunshine that accompanies them kept us all rosy cheeked and toasty warm inside the boat while the storm raged beyond.   This despite the fact that we’d all intended to cruise a for a bit, but not for the first time in their company had our plans thwarted.

Therefore, when they enquired as to our whereabouts in the hope of spending the last hours of their European adventure with us, it didn’t take very long at all for us to decide that travelling later in the week with the big ships might be fun after all, rather than leaving today when there were none, and we should once again delay our departure.

This time when we met them at the station the weather was already matching their dispositions, and while we did our best to catch up on all of the news as we made our way back from the station, even taking the more circuitous scenic route, we couldn’t help but get the feeling that the one night they could spare was not going to be enough to say all that had to be said, let alone to hear all that had to be heard. 

Avoiding traffic
Saturday 1st June -Douai

The Canal du Nord is famous or perhaps notorious for being busy.  It’s a motorway on which large ships travel for twelve hours or more per day, interrupted only by large locks and an even larger tunnel.  Even if we were capable of travelling at the speed of the ships, and if there was room in the locks for us, which we mostly are not and there sometimes is not, it would take us a couple or at worst several days to travel from here to where we want to be.

We therefore timed our stay in Douai terribly carefully, so that we could leave today, Saturday, travelling over the weekend when the number of ships would be reduced and perhaps our progress and  our overnight stay on the canal might be as smooth as it possibly could.    

Then we heard that Mike and Jude were arriving today from the opposite direction and it was not a difficult decision to trade a day of commuting for one of late night, food, laughter and the sort of rapid fire conversation that only people who haven’t spoken with others of the same accent  for a time can know.  Anyway, it’s going to be sunny and warm tomorrow, apparently.


Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Our last day in the sun?
Friday 31st May -Douai

Summer is heading our way very much in the same manner that Mr Perkins bursts into life on a cold morning.   

It too seems to cough and splutter and belch out a bit of fog as though someone has been trying to start it for just a bit too long, and then it chugs along for a bit not knowing if its going to run for the rest of the day or not, a bit of sunshine here, a bit of chilly cloud and wind there, as though trying to make its mind up whether it just wants to call the whole thing off or not.  

By morning tea, had we been out of bed in time, we’d have noted that the temperature had begun to race towards the twenties.  It was doing so with such alacrity that by almost lunch time as we were walking towards the centre of the town, we had to shed our outer layer an by the time we were on our way home we found ourselves seeking out the shady side of the street for the first time this year.

We had better see if we can find our short pants, just in case summer has begun.

Making our own fun.
Thursday 30th May - Douai

Ascension Day is one of those surprise holidays for those of us from another land and culture.   We sort of knew it was going to happen but it didn’t really sink in that it’s an actual proper holiday until we were out of bed and had stuck our head out for a bit.  Even then, in the middle of the morning, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.    

The silence was almost deafening.  Despite repeatedly checking our calendars to reassure ourselves that wasn’t Sunday, we decided we’d better get into the spirit of things and take the day off as well.  As responsible travellers we do try to respect local customs as best we can.

Well after lunchtime, with the added warmth provided by the merest trickle of sunlight finally filtering through the dense cloud cover, it seemed as though the world had started waking from its slumber, so we thought there’d be no harm in discovering a little more of our surroundings.   In the mood for undertaking a little riparian discovery game we set out along the river for a bit of an amble,  There we saw a couple of ducks (1 point for each), some fish (2 points) and a turtle (10 points), and we stumbled across a Kiwi (bonus - game over), who kindly invited us onto his boat for coffee, (Thanks Craig).

Monday, June 03, 2019

Wanted Man.
Wednesday 29th May -Douai

To be perfectly frank, there is a certain time that should elapse between flying half way around the world and hopping behind the wheel of a car and twelve hours is probably not it. We have managed to do that a dozen or more times without incident of any kind other than suffering from inordinate fatigue as a result of the total concentration required.

The French government, no doubt aware that we were getting pretty good at this game, decided last year to take it up a level.  It dropped the blanket speed limit outside of towns by ten kilometres per hour, which in itself is easy enough to understand, except that it also decreed in its own inimitable fashion, that if they hadn’t gotten around to changing the “90” signs, the speed limit would still be 80 unless the signs said otherwise(!).

Therefore, on that fateful day on a piece of road clearly marked “90” but which really meant “80”, with a radar trap a hundred metres before an overtaking lane (which maybe should have been a clue) also signed “90” but which meant “90” and with the cruise control locked on “86” we were photographed while carrying out an act in contravention of the law.   

The government told the hire car company, which kindly provided it with our address.  An infringement notice was duly posted to Australia, which was then redirected to the keeper of our mail, who scanned it and sent it via e-message to us.  Quite logically tobacconists are agents for the speeding fines people, so it shouldn’t have been difficult to finalise our due.  The tobacconist (who had a neat little bar at the back of his shop) wanted to see the original, apparently to ensure we hadn’t forged the ticket.  After a little argument about the logic of that accompanied by the sound of the late payment fee ticking over, he agreed to scan the barcode and accept our credit card with moments  to spare before the “wanted” posters went up.
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