Friday, August 23, 2013

Good-bye Belgium

Before I joined Michael on Yacht Sequitur, I was crewing on other boats. Through crewing I met Isabelle, a French-Canadian girl who lives in Montreal. While we were crewing on a catamaran in the Caribean for three months, she received a new crew position on a Dutch boat in Trinidad. Since I spoke Dutch she asked me to join her on the journey from Trinidad to Curacao. 

I had returned to my home on Vancouver Island and Isabelle had returned to hers in Montreal, when we were making arrangements to join the Dutch boat. In her emails she wrote, that for me to meet her in Montreal would be an asshole. In my email reply to her I suggested the correct word was "hassle" not "asshole". 

Since then Michael and I have used the word "hasshole" for dealing with an extremed difficult situation or a difficult person.

Currently, on the canals, we have been handling about nine locks a day. It is time consuming work and can take the entire day. The locks vary in sizes and conditions with the older ones having poorly spaced cleats and bollards and it can become a challenge to secure the barge. Safety seems to be an issue and there are alarms that are sounded when the doors close, when the sluices are opened and when we have reached our water level. The lock master ensures that you are safely secured before turning on the turbulence of water. 

On our second last lock just outside of Dinant Belgium we met our Belgian "hasshole", in fact a pair of them.

We entered the lock on low water side and as Michael steered the barge into the lock, the doors started closing on us as while we were still beside them. We needed to hurry. Once inside the lock we saw missing cleats and no ladders to reach the top bollards, which were too high to reach from the barge. To make matters worse they had installed safety railing very close to the bollards, making it impossible to toss the lines around them. Michael was trying to do this by standing on the cabin roof, but didn't make it. In the meantime, without any warning, the water was turned on full blast causing turbulence. We were still not secured as I was trying to get the line over the bollard with a boathook but keep on missing it. I finally hooked on the bollard itself with the boathook and hoped to keep steady this way. The boat hook slipped off and I went flying backwards. 

Leaning on the safety rail and looking down on us, were the two lock keepers watching our dilemma with cold drinks in hand. Neither one acknowledging us nor making a move to help us. After I made my spill, one of them actually moved, only to get another cold drink. We finally made it to the top of the lock and were totally confused by their lack of professionalism and concern. I can only think that it was Walloon, French Belgium, where they dislike the Flemish and the Dutch and they made their point.

We bypassed Dinard to our last lock in Belgium  which was uneventful, passersby grabbed our lines effortlessly and placed it around the bollards. 

Then we entered France. The lock master met us with a long pole with a hook on its end, to take our lines, place them safely around the bollards and helped us secure. He was courteous and helpful, we had finally arrived in France.

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