30th April, 2009: Nieuwpoort to Diksmuide

 

Timing is often critical when travelling from tidal waters to an inland waterway or vice-versa.  Tide levels at locks on the Trent at Keadby and on the Thames at Limehouse had led to several very early starts.  Transitioning form the seaport of Nieuwpoort to the Belgian canals was just the same.  If the tide wasn’t high enough, there would be no way we could get through the locks.  When we visited in advance, the lock keeper here said we had to be at the Graven Sluice at 7:00 the next morning.  The alarm was set for 5:00 and we woke to a beautiful sunrise and glassy flat water.  We radioed the harbour master to ask permission to leave the marina.  “Yes of course and have a great trip” came the cheery response from VHF channel 9. 

 

Just a small section of this massive marina

Into the morning sun

 

Off we headed up the harbour and through the town of Nieuwpoort , glowing in the early morning sun.  The lock keeper is on VHF 20.  We let him know we are approaching and soon the lock light turned green and the lock gates swing open.  Once inside we give him 50 Euros for a one month pass on Belgian waterways – 5 times less than it cost for a month on the Thames .  He also asks for our ships papers - our ICC certificate, VHF radio licenses, insurance, and a number of other documents, we have assembled in a folder.

 

Our first Belgian lock, with a lift bridge to follow and a wind turbine behind

The guillotine rising

 

We passed smoothly through the lock and tied up a hundred metres further on as instructed by the lock keeper.  Lesley has only just started to head back to collect the papers when the lock keeper arrived on his push bike – very Belgian!

 

You might have expected that the Graven Sluice would have taken us up – after all we entered from sea level, but it lowered us down below sea level, as the land we are to travel through, as in Holland, is reclaimed from the sea. 

 

The next lock – not easy to find around a turn in the mist with the sun in our eyes, was a mighty guillotine lock.  Water cascaded down when it was raised.  The lock keeper high up in the control tower waved as we moved off.  Now we’re on the Ijzer River

 

So, where to now?

The Ijzer- more like a canal than a river.

 

The green banks we pass between are dikes as the land on either side is even lower than the river.  All we can see are rooves of farm houses, spires of churches and the tops of trees. 

 

The journey goes well ‘til we meet a closed lift bridge not shown on the maps or Navigo, our canal navigation software – a bit like a Tom-Tom Sat-Nav system, but running on our laptop. A sign has a phone number to call and the man at the other end says he can see us – though we can’t see anyone in the tower.  Obviously he’s monitoring us on his screen from somewhere else (closed circuit TV)! Soon the lights flash and the bridge swings up.

 

Four and a half hours and 18ks after leaving Nieuwpoort, we’re tying up on a Bezoeker (visitor’s) mooring in Diksmuide, thanks to the very helpful and amicable John, who moves another boat along the wharf to give us the space we need.  Its time to get off and explore Diksmuide, our first Belgian town.

 

Ready for a hard long weekend’s fishing – a tent, rubber dinghy, deck chair and a pool to keep the catch from spoiling til its time to pack up

 

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