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We arrived back on board Harmonie very late at night and in sub zero temperatures. We found the wheelhouse door had not been properly locked for the whole winter but there had been no unwelcome visitors. It had been such a cold and prolonged winter that, even with the central heating thermostat on minimum, we were very low on heating fuel so Mr Decock was called first thing next morning to order more.
During our absence the Niewendorpe Yacht Club members had been busy finishing off the moorings, installing tall steel posts so that boats could be tied to them in times of flooding and there would be no need to adjust mooring ropes. They had also installed a new electricity point and dredged the canal to a depth of 1.6 metres and cut down a tree, moving us onto our proper mooring.
Mr Decock called us back late that afternoon and delivered 700 litres of heating fuel as the temperature hovered around freezing, then we motored into Bruges to deliver spares we had brought over for Graham and Bardy on Effort. The Gin Pennant was flying and most of the Bruges "Mafia" was on board. We were treated to Kangaroo Balls for supper which were delicious!!
Back on Harmonie the TV screen went blank. They don't repair them nowadays so off we went to Ostend and bought a new one! Then the Kabola central heating boiler stopped working late at night. I changed the burner nozzle and gave it a general service which did the trick but in my haste to retire to bed I neglected to secure the ladder down to the guest cabin which collapsed as I reached the top step resulting in a painful collision between my shin and the deck! They say trouble comes in three's so that should be it for the time being!
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"I have the body of an eighteen year old. I keep it in the fridge".
Spike Milligan 1918 - 2002
I developed a "Man Cold" which laid me low for several days. Graham had already taken to his bed so delayed his departure from Bruges but finally recovered enough to navigate Effort to Eeklo and then promptly took to his bed again after the exertion, as did Bardy who had by now contracted the bug. Of course it is never as bad when a woman gets it! The sun finally shone and the weather became warmer and we were all in bed with a wog! (Australian expression which has no sexual or racial connotations).
Eventually Bardy and I went to a local doctor. Whatever it was the doctor gave me seemed to clear up the cold but left me still coughing, feeling nauseous and a complete loss of appetite so back to the doctor who prescribed more pills for the nausea but nothing for the cough until I had a blood test which he organised the next day.
Effort sailed away south to Kortrijk and the beautiful Bath boys managed to beat Leicester at the Rec 27-26 in the last home game of the season putting them into 6th place in the premiership, then Exeter beat Wasps the next day reversing the situation. Bath are also talking about signing Gavin Henson from London Welsh who are going down. I think Bath may have lost the plot?
We are now experiencing beautiful warm spring weather so have visited the local garden centre to buy plants for our flower tubs and all have been planted out. I expect we will get frosts again shortly!
My blood tests indicated that I am in almost perfect nick in every department with the exception that my liver is ever so slightly pickled! No surprise considering the piss heads we fraternise with!! Doctors advice was to reduce alcohol intake but that I could keep coughing with impunity now?!
When we first bought Harmonie there were two single beds in the master cabin so we bought a new double frame to accommodate both single beds. This resulted in a huge bed that was really too wide for the cabin space which we lived with for seven years despite continual moans from Sue about the difficulties of making it and getting in and out! Finally we decided to fix the problem by purchasing a new king size bed from the lovely Ikea and donating the old one to a local charity. We love our new bed and the extra space it has provided and wonder why we didn't do it sooner!
The rain arrived again and the temperature dropped back to single figures the day we visited Graham and Bardy who had arrived in Kortrijk and were stuck with an exhaust leak. We had an enjoyable lunch at a little Italian we knew before waving them off to France which they did not quite make as they pulled in to Wervik with a leaking water pump. Oh the joys of barging!!
The first weekend in May saw dozens of cruisers sailing past us up to the Eeklo Yacht Club at the end of the canal for a rally. We wandered up to have a look at them and found ourselves in the clubhouse with Pete and Jan drinking Jupiler draught beer at only €1.50. They serve inexpensive food as well so this could well become our local! There must have been a Brit amongst the cruisers as the club were flying the Union Jack...upside down...considered to be a distress signal or even a deliberate insult!? In this case it was probably an inadvertent mistake.
It was also the weekend final club games of the season for the premiership Rugby Union. Bath needed to beat top club Saracens to move into 6th place and qualify for European competition. It was a big ask at Sarries home ground and they were not up to the task, finishing 27-14. They also needed Exeter to loose to Gloucester but the Chiefs managed to beat them 40-39 so finished 6th and Bath stayed down at 7th in the premiership. The four top teams, Sarries will play Northampton and Leicester play Harlequins for a place in the final at Twickers on May 25th. I reckon a Sarries v Leicester final is on the cards.
You can see some strange things on Belgian canals. We had a couple of pre prandial stiff gin and tonics one sunny evening with the Harris's and shortly after dinner, two people in wet suits came swimming past. It was full strength Bombay Saphire gin so we might have been dreaming but who in his right mind would want to swim in a dead end canal with over a hundred boats depositing their effluent at regular intervals. I took a photograph to be sure!
The boats were four abreast up at the end of the canal and boats continued to navigate past us including a large naval patrol boat with uniformed officers towing a broken down cruiser. We learnt it was a rally organised by the VVW which is one of two boating federations in Belgium and that these visitors will be there for a week. The club to which we belong is in the VPF which is the other federation.
The Rugby Union Premiership semi-finals did not go as predicted. Leicester did beat Quins 33 - 16 but Sarries had a bad day at the office losing to Northampton 13 - 27 so it is a Tigers v Saints final on 25th May.
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"Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.".
Bertrand Russell 1872 - 1970
We did plan to cruise Harmonie down to Strasbourg in June but have decided instead to drive down to our favourite country, Italy, for an extended holiday and perhaps find an apartment to rent for winter hibernation. After a cold and rainy Northern winter in Bristol, our old bones need a little more warmth. We have booked an apartment for a week in Assisi and plan to continue down to Sicily unless we have any reason to return earlier.
Potential buyers of Harmonie can more easily visit us if we stay put on our permanent mooring here in Eeklo within easy reach of Belgian and Dutch international airports. They can even reach us quickly from Southern England by car/ferry/train and Eurotunnel have a £70 day return on offer at the moment.
While listening to the radio commentary of the England v New Zealand first test cricket match at Lords, the commentators were reminiscing about a trip to New Zealand during a quiet period of play. Sue's home town of Palmerston North was mentioned which is not renowned as a very lively place. They said that John Cleese had once visited the town and announced that if you were contemplating suicide and could not decide one way or the other then a night in Palmerston North would decide you! In retaliation the Barmy Palmies named their rubbish dump Mount Cleese!!
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"I tend to think that cricket is the greatest thing that God ever created on earth - certainly greater than sex, although sex isn't too bad either".
Harold Pinter 1930 - 2008
What was a close game of cricket turned into a rout when the Kiwi's were bowled out for 68 with Stuart Broad on fire taking 7 wickets for 44.
The barge Esme has been in port and we gave Chris a lift into Bruges to collect a hire van, then he and Diana drove to Scarborough, Yorkshire, there and back in a day to pick up 10 solar panels which will eventually provide him with 2.5kw on sunny days of which we have seen very little so far this year. We helped him lift the panels onto his wheelhouse roof and they sailed away with Chris trying to pluck up the courage to make the scary 500 volts DC of potental difference final connection to his Victron inverter. With some changes to the software the Victron will control the current from the solar panels as the primary input so that the panels are not simply charging batteries but are the primary power supply or supplement the shore power or generator supply just like a domestic land based system.
Chris had purchased a spare central heating pump from Screwfix in the UK as his existing pump had been making a noise and may be on it's last legs. Our 220v pump had also been making noises so I was interested in making a similar purchase. In checking that the pump would fit our pipework I noticed that on it's lowest speed setting the old pump consumed 75 watts while the new class A low energy pump consumed only 15 watts. I calculated that over the five winter months when we leave the pump running continuously with the thermostat on the frost setting to avoid freezing, the electricity cost was over 80 Euros while the new pump running cost would be about 16 Euros. As the new pump would cost only 70 Euros (190 Euros in Stock America, Bruges!) it was a no brainer and an order was put in to be delivered to Peter Harris who will be back here at the end of the month. I now have to find a couple of 1.5 inch BSP 25mm long male/female spacer connectors as the new pump is 50 mm narrower which Chris said were like hens teeth!
A local couple we met, Andy and Elizabeth, have promised to try and locate a couple of "hens teeth" for us. Elizabeth is a Chinese/American so we asked her where the best Chinese restaurant was in the area which she named as the Oceaan in Zomergen. We arranged to meet there for lunch with them and Andy's Mum and Dad plus Karen from Manchester but now living with her Belgian husband and six year old son near Eeklo, so it was a nice big table to share a Chinese meal. The restaurant does a special daily lunch for €8.50 consisting of a choice of starter, several choices of a main course and coffee or ice cream to follow. Portions were large and delicious so we will make this a regular event and Zomergem is a delightful well heeled little town, situated a couple of miles down the canal from our mooring so is easily cyclable should the weather allow which continues to be wet and cold.
The second test was another win for England but the weather almost beat us after a determined effort to save the match by the New Zealand batsmen.
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"I'm pretty sure most Welsh and Kiwi people want to kill him now. He's such a dick".
James Dobson about Wayne Barnes
The Lions Rugby tour to Australia begins in Hong Kong against the Ba-Ba's which should be a non-event. Rory Best has replaced Dylan Hartley who received a red card for swearing at referee Wayne Barnes resulting in an eleven match ban. Hartley was born in New Zealand who are well known haters of Barnsie after they were knocked out of the 2007 world cup by France in Cardiff following some dubious refereeing decisions. Barnsie received death threats and personal abuse which were condemned by the NZRU and even the Kiwi Prime Minister of the time. Rugby Union is more important than religion in New Zealand and they still have a urinal in Dunedin with Barnsie's photograph that you can urinate over! Anyway, Rory Best is arguably a better hooker than Hartley.
As expected the Lions beat the Ba-Ba's 8-59 which was not any real preparation for the Wallabies. Now they fly down to Perth to play Western Force on 5th June which will be a far sterner test. The Kiwis managed a consolation prize by winning the one day cricket series.
The Lions game against Western Force was not the test that it could have been due to them not playing their best side as they had a super rugby game against the Waratahs at the weekend. The Lions romped home 17-69 and 2 tries to 9 but it was more of a test than the Ba-Ba's game.
Next we meet Queensland Reds in Brisbane but with their own super rugby in full swing it will always take precedence in team selection so maybe the first real test will be the first real test against the Wallabies. Could be a cunning plan to lull us into a false sense of security, like their cricket team has just done in India, getting themselves skittled out for 65!
Summer began on June 4th and with Peter and Jan we drove under (the Schelde) to Holland and Middleburg to the ship chandlers. Pete wanted some Ship Clean and I had run out of grey deck paint plus I replaced the man overboard ladder we lost years ago on the Nivernais canal. We had lunch in the square then drove to Goes where we did some shopping then joined the Dutch cafe society sitting in the sun in the Grote Markt. We all sat out on deck with G & T's on our return and toasted the swimmers practising for a race later in the year. That's if they havn't caught some nasty disease swimming in the canal. Lurgies you can get from swimming in canals include Leptospirosis and a variant called Weils disease, carried in the urine of rats with a fatality rate of 15%, Typhoid and Cholera!
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"Not only is there no God, but try finding a plumber on Sunday".
Woody Allen 1935 -
We are fortunate to have a resident Brit plumber on a broad beamed boat here in Eeklo. Dennis pops back and forth to England whenever a plumbing job comes up and on his last trip managed to find me a couple of the connectors mentioned above which are like hens teeth. He found them at a plumbers merchant in Ilford called GMS who called them Pump adaptors.
Our AIS (Automatic Identification System) would not work on our return after the winter and I traced the problem to the power cable where there was no continuity on one of the wires. A new cable was sent from Holland which cured the problem and I have now put a link on the home page where you can visit vesselfinder.com. If you search for "Harmonie II" or our MMSI number "235068834" you can see exactly where we are, always subject to the AIS being switched on or there being no more faults! The Vesselfinder web site keeps the data from the last reported position of the ship so that if there was a fault or the AIS was not switched on, we could have moved and the location would be shown incorrectly. Look at the date of the last report which, if not recent means the AIS is not reporting. There is also a new menu item which takes you directly to a Google map of where we are and you do not have to search for Harmonie.
A new page will start in a few days as we begin our Italian holiday. We first drive to the German/Austrian border where we break the journey then down to Assisi where we have booked an apartment for a week. Our next destination is Pontone in the mountains above Amalfi close to Ravello where we have booked a B & B for a further week then down to Sicily and the hilltop village of Castelmolo above the town of Taormina in a little hotel. After a week here we break our journey home at Casserta, near Naples then up to the Odle mountains in the Dolomites for a few days walking before heading back to Belgium via the Black Forest.
Ebenhaezer sailed off to Bruges and intend cruising as far as Veurne on the Belgian French border before returning to Eeklo.
It is many years since our last visit but Italy here we come!