When things go wrong!

Boat Lift at Pont-a-Bar

Boat Lift at Pont-a-Bar

I’d just left Namur and it was raining. Eva, my mother and Chester were accompanying me for the short trip to Dinant which was the last leg of my trip through the Belgian canals.

For no good reason (but certainly a bad hair day!) my mood was even darker than the prevailing weather. I wanted to get moving and everything was conspiring to thwart my plans.

A slipping drive belt was not helping to calm my nerves. After struggling through the first lock I made the impulsive and in hindsight, rash decision to stop at a deserted but newly constructed marina featuring several finger pontoons.

I didn’t give much thought to why it was empty but I’d have no peace ‘till I put an end to the infernal drive belt squeaking. It continued to rain as I edged closer to the jetty. The strong current made my approach difficult and a miscalculation on my part had me positioned too close to a pontoon to abort the attempt and try again.



I did not come to a complete stop as Eva leapt to shore with the forward warp but we still risked being taken by the current, taking hold of the stern line I jumped out onto the narrow pontoon to assist. Slipping on the wet surface I fell flat on my back and while Eva made valiant attempts to hold the boat, Eileen drifted forward to touch the solid sounding quay.

The result? Just a smallest chip to the gelcoat well above the waterline, which I immediately covered with electrical tape, but this being my first little mishap, I was in agony. I imagine I now know what it’s like to be a parent witnessing their only child fall off a bicycle and break an arm.

Workshop at Pont-a-Bar

Workshop at Pont-a-Bar

This would not do, I’d have to have Eileen looking good as new as soon as possible, but there are very few places on the Meuese to do repairs. The only yard where I could take Eileen out of the water was a good three days away at Pont a Bar in France!

Adamant that I would keep Eileen in nothing other than the immaculate condition (how naive) I resolved to make the necessary detour and visit the nearest maintenance yard. On to Pont a Bar.

Inevitably things go wrong while passage making, but other than the above-mentioned cosmetic bruise my only real challenge came in the form of a faulty fuse.
I make a habit of taking a peek at the engine while underway and during one such survey I observed the water intake tube was somewhat flattened. It was obvious that the filter was blocked and I thought to stop the engine and clean out the sieve at the first opportunity.

What a surprise when I found that the kill switch did absolutely nothing! Tracing the wiring I found the solenoid and the lever that allowed me to manually cut the ignition but it took quite a while to find the little fuse by the alternator that was the cause of my problem.

Carpe Diem follows!

Carpe Diem follows!

A week later, our regular traveling companions in Carpe Diem (pictured here) suffered the same fate (though it was a loose wire to the same fuse in their case).

Naturally I astounded them with my brilliant electrical troubleshooting skills and silenced their runaway Volvo Penta Diesel in minutes.

I guess I was lucky, other boats had much bigger problems to deal with.

As I left Charmes in France I was amazed to see a hole large enough to put my head through at the bow of a rental cruiser. I’m sure someone could write a book on the misadventures witnessed as these white hazards bump their way through the canal system reeking havoc. On occasion horrified spectators would desperately climb aboard in order to stave off an imminent mooring catastrophe and take the controls away from panicked wide-eyed holiday-makers.

You can’t pay for this kind of entertainment! 🙂

A farraginous collection of thoughts while traveling through the Belgian and French canals

canal crew

canal crew

Having had very little experience with traveling though canals and locks, it was with considerable trepidation that I first entered the Belgian canal system at Nieuwpoort.

Reading several guidebooks did little to instill a sense of confidence. In fact it had just the opposite effect. I am now convinced that good “lockmanship”  is not something that can be attained through theoretical study.

Judging by the number of bruised pleasure craft making their way through the inland waterways (and I confess to having had my share of bumps), passing “applied locks 101” is no trivial matter.

Belgium provides a forgiving environment for the inexperienced because relatively few locks partition a days cruise. Moreover, help is always close at hand if things go “pear-shaped” because every lock has an operator.

This proved to be an ideal training ground. The experience fortified me for what was to come in the French waterways, where I traversed as many as 32 locks (near Epinal) in a single day.



My route took me through Bruge, Gent, and the outskirts of Antwerp, Turnhout (my registered home port), Hasselt, Liege, Namur and Dinant before reaching France.

There are no official entries in my journal because my original detailed log now resides on a deceased hard drive that despite heroic efforts, has resisted all attempts at resuscitation.

I could still use a professional recovery service but at this point I just can’t justify the expense.