27th and 28th of April, 2009

 

Now we’re in Belgium!

 

In two days we have seen (and experienced!) some vivid evidence of the different ways things are done in different sectors of what is termed the “EC”.

 

It’s raining on Monday morning at Thames and Kennet Marina near Reading in the UK .  As I will not be able to get off from where Mike Bullock and his travel crane are going to lift Endellion out of the water and pop her on the CPL lorry, Nigel from the marina has kindly volunteered to come on board to take her down for us - Lesley will crew.

 

CPL Transport ready for action

CPL’s Bas and Seb commiserate about the rain

 

My plan was to wait in the marina office.  But it’s early.  The office is still closed, though there is always the Men’s loo to wait in out of the rain it’s been suggested.  Not an option.  I set off down the road from the marina in the amazing TDX SR power chair about a kilometre to Mike’s craning base. It isn't until we get the short ramp from Endellion that I can take shelter in the now open office. Basil and Seb from CPL (our truck company) are all ready, but Mike is having trouble with his crane.  “She’s too heavy – the boat must weigh more than 50 tonnes”. 

 

Mike remotely attempting a lift

Finally up.  Seb backs under the crane

 

We know she weighed 36.7 tonnes when she was lifted last time in Shepperton.  She can hardly have put on 12 tonnes or more over Christmas as she doesn’t eat turkey or pudding.  So Mike scratches his head and finally notices the crane has a flat tyre.  An hour later the chap from a company called something like “Sure-fix” arrives with a pump.  Basil comments that he never has any confidence in companies with names like that!  Nevertheless, the tyre is eventually inflated and Endellion is finally up and safely on the truck to head for the ferry from Roscommon to Ostend in Belgium .  We will go by wheelchair-taxi to the Reading railway station, then by Great Western train to London to overnight and then by Euro Star to Lille in France and another accessible taxi to Nieuwpoort where Endellion should be waiting for us.  That’s the plan.

 

Right on schedule Abid the taxi driver and a great cricket supporter, arrives.  There is a lot of banter along the way into town as Australia and Pakistan presently have one win each in the One Day series. 

 

Great Western proves not to be so “great”, as it can’t find any reference of the booking we made, though as well as a booking code; we are able to tell them the actual seats we were allocated when we booked the train on the phone.  Nevertheless they find room for us.  On the platform four Great Western employees of profoundly contrasting girth and height seemed to have all been fitted with the same size of outdated uniforms.  But they happily chat amongst themselves on the platform awaiting our train’s arrival.

 

Our hotel can find our booking, but no mention of the bed-bar we went to a lot of trouble to order to assist me get into and out of bed.   “But the operator assured us three times that she knew what we were talking about and that the hotel had one”, we say.  There is no record on the booking and none in the hotel.  We do get a “disabled” bathroom fitted with six different grab rails, but only one of them is located in a position of any use. 

 

The dinner we share with my cousin Joy and her daughter Lauren was great, though little recompense for the trials which not enough of the right grab rails and too many of the wrong ones can cause.  The experience reaffirms our decision to build Endellion so that I can independently get into and out of bed or have a shower as we travel.  Simple parts of everyday life which are impossible in almost every hotel room we have stayed in over the last eight years, just because of elementary faults in design and layout.

 

Tuesday the 28th saw us in one of the most spectacular railway stations in the world; St Pancras, a Victorian building given new life in glass and stainless steel as the UK base of the mighty Euro Star trains.

 

  Everything is a wonderful statement to what great architecture, great design and great staff training can achieve.  A charming girl in an elegant uniform of charcoal grey with lemon yellow spots on some of the accessories locates our booking in moments and radios to other staff to ensure the ramps will be on hand here, and in Lille to get on and off the train. 

 

 

 

 

Euro Star’s Lille ramp about to experience a minor technical problem

Eric about to take off for Nieuwpoort

 

An hour and a half and excellent breakfast later we are suddenly back in Lille .  There's a small technical glitch with the ramp machine there, but the next job is to find Eric from the wheelchair accessible taxi company who has come from Nieuwpoort to collect us. 

 

Eric must have set his sights on a career driving a train for Euro Star as it feels like we are going just as fast in his taxi.  No-one over-takes us on the 60k trip.   We zoom past plenty of sleek Mercedes and the occasional Range Rover as if they are travelling in reverse. Eric speaks excellent English, honed he says by watching “At Home and Away”. 

 

He drops us off at the Nieuwpoort Marina, the second largest we learn, in northern Europe.  Over 2,000 yachts are moored here.  A vast forest of masts stretches out below us and even more vessels are on hard stands where-ever we look. 

 

The fork lift arrives to assist

Ronnie is there to ensure nothing too untoward occurs on the lift

 

Dirk the manager has been expecting us and immediately takes us to where Endellion sits in a travel lift like Mike’s, but in a car-park, at least 50 metres from the water.  He tells us we both need to get onboard as quickly as we can, then his team will put her back in the water.  Our stern deck is about two metres above the ground, so how will I get up there we all wonder.  Ronnie, one of Dirk’s team gives Lesley a quick leg up there.  He reckons he also knows how to help me up, but for a moment, can’t think of the English word for a fork lift.  A couple of minutes later a very large one with a sheet of ply across its forks rumbles up.  I drive onto it and make sure the wheels are positioned over the forks in case the ply breaks.. and with Ronnie up we go onto Endellion’s stern deck.

 

Where we and Endellion are about to go on the travel crane!

Finally safe and secure at Nieuwpoort

 

The boatyard team starts their travel crane, picks up the boat with us inside and heads for the edge of the dock.  The tide is now low and the water is five metres below they quay.  Using remote controls they drive the crane out over the water along two narrow tracks.  Luckily as we are inside we can’t look down!  Once in position, they give us the thumbs up and gently lower us onto the water, where we start the engine and head off to our birth at the end of “A” Wharf . 

 

There is no messing around in Belgium, just very friendly people with creative solutions and few Health and Safety rules to complicate things!

 

And few we met that day were friendlier than the two local police who came onboard to process our immigration papers.  After signing the forms they gave us a potted history of the region during WWI, and tour and mooring suggestions, even ringing to get the latest phone numbers we might need to contact the lock keepers.  “And if they do not speak English, just call us and we will translate for you”.  .  They readily admitted they had the best job in the Belgian Police, but are all the others as helpful?  One of them even came back the following day to explain about getting wheelchairs onto the tram which runs along the coast.  Amazing stuff, as were the trams.

 

 

 

 

 

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