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Having obtained an acceptable offer to buy Harmonie, a contract of deposit drawn up by our broker and the 10% deposit from the prospective owners placed in an escrow account, the only thing remaining was to slip Harmonie for a hull inspection of her underwater.
The cost of slipping the vessel, pressure washing the hull, survey costs including ultrasonic measurement of steel thickness, replacement of sacrificial anodes and repainting was to the new owners account while any repairs found necessary would be to our account.
We travelled over to Belgium at the end of March to spend a few days removing the rest of our personal possessions, painting and getting everything cleaned after the winter, then the fun started! We had previously removed all the ships papers as the new owners wanted to see the bill of sale then had left them at home in Bridgnorth. We could not complete the sale as agreed without those documents so had to travel back to retrieve them.
The owner had chosen Carron Marine at Zelzate as the shipyard and we cruised down there from Eeklo on the first Saturday in April in very windy weather and tied up at the shipyard. On the Monday we were due up on the slip it blew a gale such that the barge "De Vollendammer" was driven aground while trying to moor up opposite us and had to be towed off by "Martens 8". You can see the steel poles attached to the cradle under water on which we had tried to position ourselves earlier but the wind kept blowing us off.
We eventually attached a long rope to the barge abreast of us which held our stern in position while our bow thruster kept the bow in and we made it up the slip but lost a full days work. The next day saw us jacked up on blocks and the hull pressure washed while the following day the surveyor gave us the bad news.
Our rudder skeg was bent between 3 and 5 degrees and the stock was also bent. It had somehow received a knock from the stern as it projects aft of the hull so is vulnerable in any collision astern. I could not remember any such collision and it could have happened when Harmonie was moored and we were not on board but, whatever the reason, the damage must have been accidental and when I examined our insurance policy we seemed to be covered for such events.
A phone call to our insurers GJW Direct confirmed that we were covered for this mishap and they emailed me a claims form. The shipyard provided a quotation and within a few days GJW had accepted my claim in full and transferred the money to our Belgian bank account. Wonderful service as 7,000 Euros would have put my credit card under severe pressure!
More good news was that the ultrasonics showed all the hull plating to be more than the requisite 4mm thickness but the surveyor found corrosion in the exhaust tail pipe of the generator engine which was close to the waterline in the bow section so asked for its replacement and also thought that there was excessive wear in the propeller tailshaft bearing. The propeller was removed and the wear checked accurately and found to be only 0.7mm, well within tolerance thank goodness. The propeller pitch was checked and some small indentations dressed.
The surveyor was I thought excessively thorough which was good for the buyer but not for the seller who had to pay for all this work. He also wanted the grids removed on the box coolers as he said he wanted to check for corrosion. The main engine cooler anodes had gone and the tube stacks had to be removed to replace them which were at the buyers cost but all the hull anodes had plenty of life left so saving the buyer a lot of money.
With so much work to do it was going to be several days before we could go back into the water so we decided to take a few days away from the yard and go somewhere we had not been before. When we consulted a map of Europe we could not find anywhere of interest nearby where we had not been already so we decided to go to Germany and to Dresden in particular.
We checked out of our hotel in Gent and caught the train to Eeklo to retrieve our car then drove halfway to Kassel where we stayed two nights. This is where the Brothers Grimm wrote many of their fairy tales and it has many museums and parks. The first public museum in Europe was the Fridericianum which is in the centre of town and dates from 1779 and after wandering around the Orangery and park beside the river Fulda we found ourselves in the New Gallery art museum to escape the unseasonably cold weather. There was snow on them thar hills but it was nice and sunny.
In the afternoon we caught the tram up to the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe. This is a beautiful park on the side of a high hill crowned with the Hercules monument and a series of artificial waterfalls which tumble down the hill that are used for water displays during the summer.
There are numerous restaurants, a huge palace, now a museum and a hot house full of camellias. Beside one of the artificial lakes I photographed a very pretty duck. It is often the case in the duck world that the male is the pretty one!
Kassel suffered during WW2 as it was a military city and some 90% of the old city was destroyed with 10,000 killed and 150,000 made homeless. We discovered in the museum that the first raid was by the RAF shortly after Coventry was bombed. The first time the RAF dropped only rubble from Coventry and the second night they dropped bombs but missed the industrial area completely.
The following day we drove to Dresden. Our satnav, who we call "Daphne", is German and the software was recently upgraded but she did not seem to know Germany very well. Several times we found roads she didn't know about and once she informed us a road was closed but gave us no assistance to find an alternative route so Sue was reinstated as navigator. As Sue has absolutely no sense of direction that is not her favourite task! We eventually found our hotel in the middle of Dresden where, as it was Easter, we parked for nothing.
The photo below is the Dresden old city skyline from our hotel room. When the modern bridge in the foreground was built it was opposed by the city council who lost the fight to stop it being built and, as a result, Dresden lost its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the wilful breach of the convention becoming the first ever European location to do so and only the second in the world.
Dresden straddles the Danube but it was not blue when we arrived due to the grey skies. It was bitterly cold and we had a blizzard on the first day there while the West Europeans were experiencing lovely sunny weather. Most will know that the city was controversially bombed towards the end of WW2 when the city centre was completely destroyed in a firestorm and 25,000 people were killed.
Most of the important buildings have now been rebuilt after German reunification in 1990 including the glorious Baroque masterpiece the Dresden Frauenkirche. The golden ball on the top of the dome was donated by the City of Edinburgh.
We attended a Bach organ recital in the church. We were sat next to a young boy who was obviously there under sufferance with his parents and spent the whole time playing with his mobile phone!
We visited the famous Zwimmer museum and thought that Londons equivalent was better and free.
The castle was still under construction and what was finished was suitably impressive but the city museum was the more interesting where we were interviewed by two students conducting a survey on what sort of people visited museums. We were beginning to get quite museum'd out!
Our final visit was to the military museum which was the most interesting of the lot and told the story of war and why it happens in a factual and unbiased way, particularly the brutal way their own countrymen had behaved during WW2, surprising considering Dresdens experiences of war at its most brutal from their enemy.
We found a really good Tapas bar as we had forgotten how dreary German cuisine is and it was packed with Germans enjoying a bit of Spanish flavour. Likewise all the Italian restaurants were equally popular. On our return we broke the journey at Siegen, the birthplace of Peter Paul Rubens. This city was an important railway junction so was heavily bombed by the allies during WW2 and lost 12,000 (30%) of its inhabitants.
On our return to Belgium we checked into an Hotel just across the border in Holland at Sass-van-Gent. Here we indulged in pan fried Sole and chips on several evenings after long hard days spent watching the progress of the shipyard in completing our rudder repairs. Alongside us on the slip now was the barge "De Vollendammer" whose owners had discovered that she was built in the same shipyard as Harmonie and in the same year so we were sister ships.
The alignment of the rudder stock caused the longest delay until it was realised that the aft deck was sloping and a new seating was fabricated so the stock could be properly aligned with the top bearing. The fitter/turner did a good enough job in the end but I nicknamed him "the muttering one" as he spent half his time muttering "merde" and "shit"!
Inevitably Sods Law reigned supreme and the new owners had to return home due to prior commitments the day after we were launched back into the water but did record the event on video and here it is.
The final hold up was trying to repair a damaged rudder indicator sender with super glue! On the way back to Eeklo the rudder indicator was displaying erratically so the repair had not been a success. Then as we emerged from Evergem lock the Belgian radio police were waiting for us.
Apparently they were monitoring our conversation with the lock keeper and said we were transmitting the wrong ATIS number. This is the number programmed into your radio which identifies the ship. We were using the original fixed radio that came with the ship 10 years ago and we were unaware that it had ATIS. The radio policeman said we had to have it re-programmed or replace it. We took the radio to a firm in Zeebrugge who proclaimed it could not be reprogrammed so we had to buy a new one.
We had tried to put the immersion heaters on when we were on the slip but each time we tripped the electricity supply. Then when we returned to Eeklo we blew the whole port when we turned them on again. Turned out we had a partial short circuit in them which did not affect our on board generators but on shore power such a short circuit is detected and trips everything. So that meant new heater elements from Rheinstrom in Germany and a shipyard job to get the old ones out. Once again Carron Marine came to our rescue, ordered the parts and sent Patrick to Eeklo to fit the new elements while I replaced the rudder indicator sender with a new one.
Removal of the old elements proved impossible on his first visit so Patrick went back to Zelzate for more tools. He returned the next day with huge box and ring spanners plus a long pipe and a big hammer so managed to complete the job on St Georges day. In gratitude we named him Saint Patrick and Sue knighted him as he left. I collected the new radio from Gent, paid the huge bill at Carron Marine and returned to install the new radio. The next day we returned home after 25 days away and finally completed the sale at the new owners house a few days later.
The motto of this tale: Caveat venditor - let the seller beware!
We now needed a holiday.