Day 9 Ooltgensplaat, Netherlands – Evergem, Belgium
Having turned the boat round using the bow thrusters and muscle power in a very tight space (this was Martin demonstrating his Seamanship skills) we were ready for an early start on what was to be a very long day (little did we know just how long!). We left Ooltgensplaat at 07.00 soon joining cruise ships and inland cargo ships. We decided that we would cut through the channels that separate the ‘finger like’ inlets of the Netherlands that take you to Ghent, rather than taking the longer route inland that goes to Antwerp. It should be noted at this point that this can be quite challenging, and is not recommended for novice boaters.
We lost half an hour taking a wrong turning, but thankfully realised our mistake before we had got too far to turn back, we seem to be making one mistake per day at the moment, but nothing too bad or that can’t be rectified so we are OK with that. We had to go through two large locks, both of which took over an hour to go through, which lost us more time. En route we saw a flight of half a dozen or so Storks, also about forty seals basking on a sandbank. By 15.00 it was obvious that we would not get to Dunkirk, so we sent a text to Keith to let him know. He decided to stay in Calais, and we agreed to contact him in the morning.
The ships at this point were colossal! One ship hooted its intention to pass upon our seaboard side, another, a container ship carrying what we thought was hundreds of containers sent us a six foot bow wave, that sent the talk rolling as badly as she did on the IJsselmere (thankfully we have learned our lesson though, don’t leave anything our on the counter top!).
We finally made it to Terneuzen-Ghent canal, and we crossed the border from the Netherlands into Belgium at 18.15. However, gone were the quaint Dutch houses and fields of tulips, this was a heavily industrialised area with factories and chimney’s belching out smoke and noxious smells, and had ships unloading sand and coal. We wanted to get through here as quickly as we could.
After travelling down the canal for some distance, we turned off for Bruges. We reached our first lock in Belgium, and Martin said “I think we have got all of this sorted now haven’t we”. Alas, a statement spoken all too soon. When we asked for permission to go through the lock (using the VHF radio) we were told first we had to buy a ticket from the ticket office, and to do this we had to produce the ‘papers of the boat’. We were not sure what ‘papers of the boat’ meant. As far as we knew we didn’t have any ‘papers’ as such. We went to the office and were met by a rather fierce Belgian man, who did not speak very much English. The conversation went much like this:
Belgian: You have papers of the boat?
Martin: No, we don’t have any papers for the boat
Belgian: No papers for the boat, no lock
Martin: What is it you need us to provide?
Belgian: You need papers for the boat, no papers, no lock!
Martin: What sort of papers are they?
Belgian: I have to see papers otherwise maybe boat is stolen!
After the conversation going round in a circle for about ten minutes, we ascertained that it was proof of ownership that he probably wanted. The man rang another man (presumably some sort of supervisor), we didn’t really understand any of the conversation, but we assume that the supervisor was asking the first man to find evidence of us owning the boat. I had my laptop with me with the sales agreement on it, and Martin also had this from the emails on his phone, together with the repair bills that we had just paid. Eventually this seemed to satisfy the both of the Belgian men, and a licence or vignette as it is called in Belgium was issued to us.
We probably lost about three hours driving today due to waiting around at locks, and the fiasco of trying to get a licence in Belgium. We finally went through the lock and moored a few minutes drive further on. It was 21.00. We planned our trip for the next day, and I wrote part of the blog. We finally got to bed at 23.00! The latest we have retired to bed so far on this trip.