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Our return from around the world and 47 different beds in six months was to a UK basking in glorious sunny weather. But then it was back to the reality of cold spring days in Kortrijk. Harmonie was in good fettle, if a little grimy after six months neglect, but she was soon spring cleaned and prepared for cruising again. Our plans this year go only as far as the DBA rally at Paris, the first weekend in June. We met with Peter and Jan Harris up in Brugge who we will cruise to Paris with and arranged to meet up with them at Waulsort early in May.
We had intended to stay on our winter mooring in Kortrijk and find someone to replace some of our double glazing that has lost its vacuum. Our harbourmaster Daniel then explained to us that the local Tourist Office who look after the port had introduced new rules; no stay of more that 10 days after April 1st and no barges over 17 metres, even for the winter! That meant we will have to leave on the 11th April, the replacement windows are put on the back burner and we have to find ourselves a new winter mooring.
I managed to remember to buy the French vignette before the end of April as you get a 10% reduction then. This year it cost €516 for 12 months. The VNF cunningly arrange cruising periods and prices so that it is more economical to buy a 12 months permit, even though we only intend to be in France for 4 months! We will travel down to Paris following a well known route from Kortrijk across to the Escaut and down to Antoing then across Belgium, up the Strepy lift and back down to Charleroi following the Sambre down to Namur and the beautiful River Meuse.
Pausing at Waulsort to await Peter and Jan who should arrive early in May, we will then travel upstream on the Meuse through the impressive Ardennes scenery until Pont-à-Bar where the picturesque Canal des Ardennes takes us over the hill and down to join the River Aisne. This river joins the Oise at Compiègne which we follow down to the Seine at Conflans-Ste-Honaire. The final stretch is through the middle of Paris, a trip most ordinary mortals pay a fortune for on a Bateau Mouche but, given the weather on 29th May, we will glide under the bridges of Paris sipping our Shampoo before locking up into the Arsenal basin and thence up the Canal St Martin to La Villette basin where the DBA rally is being held.
About 40 barges will be present and the authorities are concerned that the frequent trip boats are not delayed with so many barges coming and going. Every barge has therefore been allocated a slot for arrival and departure and if we go in via the Canal St Martin we must exit via the Canal St Denis, this completing an anti-clockwise circuit back to the River Seine.
From this point we made no further cruising plans. The reason was that we suspected that Central France had suffered the same low rainfall as the UK during the winter months and that only certain waterways might be navigable due to low water levels. Of course we thought the heavens may open by then but we did intend some prolonged cruising somewhere before returning to Belgium in September.
Since writing the above we have of course experienced the wettest May and June weather ever and there was too much water around. Our plan then which we followed was to make a slow return to Belgium via the Marne up to Conde then over the canal de l'Aisne á la Marne to join the canal des Ardennes and back the way we came. We then continued on down the Maas and Zuid Willelmsvaart into Holland and to Arkel where we stopped to fit some new navigation equipment, arriving there mid August.
In September we now plan to cruise around central Holland and back to Bruges covering a total distance of about 420km. Leaving Arkel we will travel north to Vianen on the Merwede canal, up past Utrecht on the busy Rhine Amsterdam canal, turning onto the river Vecht at Maarssen. We then travel up the Vecht to it's junction with The Hilversum canal. Unfortunately our Netherlands waterways guide tells us we can not go to Hilversum which is restricted to vessels of 12m length by 3.75m beam, even if the PC-Navigo program and the ANWB chart tells us we can? As PC-Navigo once planned a non navigable route through Amsterdam I think we will trust the waterways guide this time. So we will continue up the Vecht, out onto the Rhine canal again just as far as the Weesper Trekvaart which will take us to the river Amstel just south of Amsterdam where we might venture in to the Amstelsluis for a few nights charge our batteries, the human kind! Then it will be back south down the Amstel, turning left onto the Kromme Mijdrecht to join the Oude Rijn at Woerden which we will follow to Harmonies birthplace at Alphen-an-de-Rijn. Next stop will be Gouda for a bite of cheese then back along the Hollands Ijssel to join the Merwede canal again which complete the circuit. The route back takes us back through Arkel and Dordrecht then wandering back through Zeeland, crossing the Schelde to Terneuzen then Gent and finally Brugge for our winter mooring.