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DIARY | Click here for the Blog of our canal cruiser Sirius.

France October 2015 As we left Epernay, well satisfied with our attempts to sample as much of the best champagne France has to offer, we felt that a long bike ride up into the vineyards may go some way to overcome the results of our over-indulgence. Alison is standing on the Dom Perignon road marker Heading east along the Marne we had initially planned to turn left and head south up the Seine. But Paris was only 2 hours away and it was a sunny day so we continued west right to the Eiffel Tower. We dodged lunch cruise boats and even waited for traffic lights - it was a real buzz. So much so that we opened one of our stash of champagne for a toast on our way past the Notre Dame.  Eiffel Tower behind Pont Alexandre III French champagne as Sirius motors past Notre Dame After such a high we needed some quiet cruising so the Nivernais canal was just the answer. Regarded as one of the nicest in France, it is narrow with many well-tended locks and low bridges. It is popular with hire companies and we met many Australians and Kiwis bent on having the best canal holiday experience.  Some bridges were a bit tight on air draft for Sirius Alison helps out by closing the lock gate as the narrow canal meanders away behind her Here a road bridge on the Nivernais has to be opened before we can pass The beautiful town of Auxerre is where we left Sirius for the Winter We had 3 days in Paris before heading home. One of our favourite places is the Louvre so we spent our last night amongst some of the the world's finest art treasures And goodnight from her too!

France August 2015 This is the first time the good ship Sirius has been in France under the helm of the Sirius-Europe syndicate. France is quite a change from cruising the Netherlands but it's been a slow, manageable transition. Headed for adventure Alison and I began our adventure on the river Maas in Maastricht close to the Netherlands/Belgium border. A few hours after leaving Maastricht it became the Meuse which rises in France. This meant we were locking upstream in Belgium for 16 days until our first French town of Givet. Our cruising permits were purchased here and we were given the first of a nifty little radio box for triggering each lock we came to. Covers down for the 3.5m bridges in a typical narrow french lock At this point the locks reduced to the diminutive Freycinet standard and were mostly complemented with neat gardens and joined by attractive tow paths, ideal for cycling. We transited tunnels too, the longest being 2.5Km. Easy does it, not much room on each side As we made our way further upstream the river wound its way through heavily wooded gorges, we were often surprised by charming villages. Sirius far below as we hike the hills of Montherme Most of the other cruisers we saw were Dutch or Belgium, making their way home to the north. There were no noisy Australians or Kiwis on holiday so we were always able to find a quiet tieup spot for the night! Our route lead us to a turn off at Pont-a-Bar from the Meuse into the Ardennes.  We must have been at the mountain top for soon after at Le Chesne we descended 26 locks in over just 9km, sure sharpens one's boat-handling skills. Lock to the right, spillway to the left Turning off the Ardennes led us into a joining canal to the Marne. The canal de l'Aisne a la Marne passes Reims where the champagne district begins. From here-on the surrounding hills are striped vertically with grape vines, chardonnay and pinot noir, sparkling in the sunshine. Reims is interesting in that it was here that the Germans signed the unconditional surrender signalling the cessation of WWII in Europe. The room has been preserved. Eisenhower was upstairs whilst his 2IC negotiated with his opposite number here. Basilica in Reims Epernay was just around the corner and on the Marne. A very attractive, well-to-do city all about champagne. Dom Perignon was an important founder and at the Mercier house we took an electric train ride through the underground tunnels, up to 80km in length, stacked with bottles quietly maturing at 10C before the lucky ones could sample the final product. This trip is through France at it's best and very easy to enjoy aboard Sirius. It's hard work at times

19 July 2014 Namur, Belgium They say troubles come in threes. Well, we've just had ours over the last few weeks. Gent was great, Alison and our friend Joanna had a week of delightful walking in the south of France while I stayed on board Sirius in a marina a few km south of the city centre. I did a few of the outstanding boat jobs until the weekend when my eldest grandson Nelson and his girlfriend Freya took the fast train from London to stay on board for the weekend. The weather was perfect and we motored the canals of the Gent Ringvart and spent time in the old city eating Belgian chocolate and testing the beer. We all had a ball... really cool Grandpa! On the way again With my crew back on deck we took off down the narrow and attractive River Leie, stopping at Deinze for a laundromat break, then on to Kuurne near Kortrijk overnight. Next day a side canal called Bossuit-Kortrijk took us to the Haut Escaut canal and into Wallonia.  Waiting our turn to enter the lock Although we had a cruising permit for Flanders we needed different papers for the southern part of Belgium where we began to hear only French spoken, an odd transition within the same country. Entering Tournai with Jo on lookout Our tieup at Tournai We found this great Wallonia French restaurant in a back lane in Tournai Tournai was a bit less clean and ordered like the towns to the north but we spent 2 nights here tied up on the central canal and exploring the city with our bikes. A long day then took us to Mons where things went downhill. It was a Friday night that we pulled alongside the dock there, a slight reverse then forward to kick the stern in …. but there was no forward gear. We tied up and I checked the cable and changed the oil, all to no avail. After a rash of phone calls all over belgium and Holland I found a Volvo dealer open next day. He was Pieter from Kant Marine in Niewpoort in the north of Belgium 160 Km away. His mechanic Murat drove the distance after work on Monday and together we lifted out the gearbox, tested it as far as we could in his truck before he drove with it back to Niewpoort. Parts had to be ordered from Sweden so we waited in Mons until the following Sunday to see Murat again. Not a really exciting place compared to towns we had seen before, but we gave it our best shot. The Yacht Club seemed to specialise in jetskis and water skiing with fancy, overpowered boats fitted with overpowered stereo systems. Their taste in sound differed from ours... somewhat! On the Saturday night the harbourmaster warned us that we should leave the harbour due to a booking for a very loud event so we booked a hotel some 5 Km away. We justified the $$ spent on the basis of the huge black amplifier boxes and fed by enormous power cables lined up under the rows of strobe lights, all just 20m from Sirius. We were glad we did as we had to close the windows in the hotel to keep out the noise. A day trip to Brussels brightened our spirits We were delighted when Murat the mechanic gave up his Sunday to instal the by now as-new gearbox and we were able to bid farewell to Mons around 1pm. At last we were away again after losing 10 days of cruising. At the first lock just 2 Km away the motor stopped as we were entering. We had wrapped something around the propellor!! We drifted back out and tied up so I could strip off and dive into the distinctly unhealthy canal. After an hour of gasping and gulping I had removed very little of the tough material caught around the shaft. We flagged down a passing cruiser who kindly towed us back to Mons...just the place we didn't need to be. The diver came next afternoon and after an hour of serious cutting for him, we were away again, this time around 5pm. A small part of the heavy wrap around the prop We were very happy to be away from Mons and hopefully our boat troubles and we motored through to the famed Strep-Thieu Ascension lift. We motored into a giant bucket with a large commercial barge and were silently lifted 118m into the air. Entering the lower level behind a barge Gates open at the top Looking back after exit at the top This was more like it we thought. Now for a reward by heading south for a short while towards France on the quiet River Sambre. .... but we had one more trouble to go... Around this time Alison developed a raging toothache. She dosed up on painkillers and antibiotics hoping it would wait until we flew home in 10 days. But it soon became an internet hunt for a local dentist along our proposed route until finally we tied up at the delightful Landelies on the Sambre and took a taxi to the local hopitale. Alison had exellent treatment there and was delighted to be able to use her Australian Medicare card. The  part of our journey looks just like France, green hills surrounding the canals, Freycinet style locks and friendly locals  Going up on the Sambre  Entering Thuin  Lovely riding along the towpath albeit in the rain  Abbay de Aulne, started in 673 AD Our mooring in Namur where we handed over to Chris and Margie

23 June 2014 Gent, Belgium The passage from Antwerp to Gent is a downhill run. It runs along the Boven Zeeschelde which flows from the North Sea. As such it is tidal with current running at up to 5 km/h upstream on the flood tide and downstream on the ebb. So it was with some trepidation that we arranged our transit under the Londenbrug at Willemdok and through the Kattendijk Lock in time to get us to Gent some 60km away before the lock there closed. Sure enough when the lock gates opened there were large commercial barges fairly flying along headed for Gent. When we joined them our riverside views were speeding past in a most satisfying way too. We arrived at the Merelbeke lock in Gent well before closing time and after our transit made our way through some very narrow canals and right into the centre of a very beautiful old city. Here we could absorb more European history in a more compact setting, not least visit the only castle in Europe in the city centre. Since Belgium is famous for beer and chocolates we continued our self-imposed task of working our way through as many of each as possible. An difficult job to complete but we gave it our best shot. Realising that culture doesn't always come in a glass, we headed for the Gent Opera to see "Don Giovanni". Sadly our seats weren't the best, the last available ones in the "Gods". I had a post obscuring my view, it was incredibly hot and the surtitles were all in Flemish so ...I have seen better productions of the Don! Our fuel tank was showing near empty so we were advised to head for Beernem, a little village to the West. It was a pleasant 4 hour run and brought us within a 10 minute train ride of Bruges. I've always wanted to see Bruges after seeing that rather dark humoured movie "In Bruges". It is a tourist drawcard with absolutely delightful walks and of course, more beer to sample, this time in a funny glass.  "The Monument Men", another movie I saw on the plane, featured the rescue of Michelangelo's Madonna and Child from a Nazi hideaway, stolen in WWII. It is now safely in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges behind bullet-proof glass - a stunning sculpture by the Master in 1504. It's marvellous summer weather now so we're heading south towards France to put some km under our keel before we meet Chris and Margie somewhere east of here.

7 June 2014 Antwerp, Belgium In a past life aboard illywhacker, travelling to a new country meant a long sea voyage where the motion of the swell slows mind and body to peaceful togetherness. One has time to contemplate the nature of things cultural, environmental and historical and to surmise the differences we are likely to face on our arrival. Motoring from the Netherlands to Belgium was not like that. In fact we were fully occupied navigating Sirius from the relatively quiet village of Tholen to the second largest port in Europe. Crossing the border involved no immigration or customs just the subtle change in language from Dutch to Flemish, and that went over our heads!  Thank goodness it was a Sunday and there was a minimum of commercial traffic.  Our passage took us across the Oosterschelde which opens to the North Sea. This would have been our first exposure in Sirius to saltwater except the shipping lanes are enclosed by a large dyke and we were effectively in a wide canal which brought us to the Kreekrassluizen, the largest set of locks we have seen to date. Designed for seagoing monsters each one was 100's of metres long. the lock-keeper told us to wait until 5 large commercial barges entered then signalled us in at the back end. Our route continued down a the Schelde Rijnkan, a long canal which soon became busier and busier with container ports, dry docks, grain silos, cement handlers and so on. We travelled at 12 km/h for several hours before we reached the 2 locks that took us into Willemdock, right in the centre of Antwerp. Willemdock was used by Napoleon and that was to be just the start of our history lesson here. There were boats tied up from all over Europe and we were surrounded by a city old and new, it was a real buzz just to be there. We spent our days in Antwerp admiring the 17th century architecture  as well as enjoying the newly opened MAS museum next to Willemdock.  One of the displays in the ultra modern MAS museum beside our dock We were fortunate to slip inside St Pauls Church to see paintings by Ruebens, the city's favourite son along with a Van Dyck above the original 14th century carvings lining the  walls. You can also see the Carravagio above the altar, well a copy actually as the original was purloined by greedy royalty. The main railway station is a magnificently restored building under which 5 levels of platforms were constructed in order to leave such history intact. "We'll never finish paying for it" observed one gloomy resident we spoke to. Yes, this is the inside of the Antwerp Centrum railway station  The railway service pleased us too by providing us with Seniors tickets to anywhere in Belgium for 6 Euros. We travelled for an hour and a half to visit Dave and Penny on Anja - the couple that got us started wandering the canals of Europe.

31 May 2014 Tholen, Netherlands Sirius is sitting in her last port in the Netherlands before the crossing tomorrow into Belgium. We have 43Km of industrial strength canal to traverse to reach Antwerp, our entry point before tomorrow evening. That seems plenty of time but there's no accounting for the whims of the lock-keeper at Kreekraksliuzen who will favour commercial traffic and leave us pleasure craft until the numbers build up and it's worthwhile opening the side lock. One of the pleasures of this life is the daily bike ride. Some involve taking the bicycle ferry and this time we cycled to the attractive town of Breda. We left Sirius in the small town of Oudenbosch for a week's trip to Sidney BC in Canada to visit old friends. It has always been a great place that for me has wonderful memories. If it were possible I'd love to cruise the Alaska/Canada Inside Passage again, this time over several seasons, like we are doing here in Europe. Now this is a narrow canal! It runs 2Km to Dinteloord So far travelling the waterways in Holland has been largely on smaller canals through the domestic scenery afforded by the towns and villages that we pass. Some have been through rural landscape and some known by the Dutch as "Nature" areas. But in this country everything is a construct, all built to reclaim land or to manage water and of course it is very flat,  hills are a rarity. So our nature tieups and walks are on very much man-made territory - all very ordered, clean and efficient. Sitting enjoying peace and quiet in Biesbosch Nature park We like these free tieups, there was a family of Coots feeding in the reeds  nearby. We did visit some larger cities to be amazed by man's creativity. In Oudenbosch we were awed by a replica of the Basilica in Rome. In Den Haag we took a trip the the Escher museum to bend our minds around illusory shapes. I'd wanted to see the real thing after seeing a replica museum in Huis Ten Bosch in Japan.

12 May 2014 Werkendam, Netherlands 13C Feels like 4C, says the weather app. I guess that's due to the 76 Km/h wind gusts that accelerate the rain squalls beating constantly at the saloon windows. So much for our Netherlands Summer in May! We are tied up in WSV Werkendam, a private club marina SW of Gorinchem hiding from the elements....again.  Our passage here from Amersfoort took us first to Weesp, one of our favourite stops that we first discovered on Burra Billa in 2011. Here we took the opportunity to travel by the excellent Dutch transport system to the world famous Keukenhof gardens. If you like colour and flowers, especially tulips, then this is your place!  The attractive little town of Weesp marks the northern end of the Vecht, a pretty river, narrow in places and on a clear day, sparkling with classical Dutch scenery. Sadly, during our passage this time it was dull and grey except for a brief respite during our evening stroll through the village of Maarsen where we'd tied up for the first night.  Along the Vecht Next morning was very wet and we opted to stay dry by keeping our dodger up and leave the Vecht for the commercial Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal. We had planned to continue along the Vecht passing under the 15 bridges leading into Utrecht. These bridges have an air-draft of 3.25m and with the covers down, Sirius has a height of 3.0m. It would have been close but fun, given the curvature of the bridges! Even in the smaller canals! The weather worsened and traversing the busy canal became harrowing as large ships appeared out of the rain ahead and the strong headwind kicked up a chop, so once we had locked out and into the quieter Merwedekanaal we pulled into Nieuwegein, enjoying the quayside location and company of a few other boats. We were here a few years back and it was packed! It is always a hard decision to leave a comfortable mooring but these are canals after all and one can't get into too much trouble if only cold rain is the deterrent. Wind gusts on the other hand are a bit more challenging and once we were underway, navigating in confined spaces waiting for bridges to open required the skipper's full concentration. When the free tieup at Arkel came into view it was thankfully in a protected stretch of canalside and soon Sirius was firmly attached, this time with her lines tied to pegs driven into the bank. We settled down to wait out the strong winds whipping the trees overhead but leaving us protected by the bank they stood on. Next day we were greeted with a patch of blue sky and less wind...time to go. After the wild night, Sirius was covered in leaves and assorted greenery as we headed out, past Gorinchem and through the large lock onto the Boven Merwerde kanaal. Suddenly we felt really exposed, we were motoring into a strong SW'ly on a wide open waterway crowded with grey monsters powering by in both directions. Rain sheeted down making visibility very poor but thanks to our iPad chart we found the entrance to the Steurgat kanaal and after transiting the Biesbochsluis, thankfully spun into Werkendam.  It's still very wet and windy but Tuesday or Wednesday looks a better forecast so this is where we'll stay until then.  

2 May 2014 Amersfoort, Netherlands Greetings from on board MV Sirius, our European Waterways magic carpet. Alison and I began our 3 month cruising holiday 12 days ago in Zwartsluis, Sirius's winter home, some 10 hours by canal to the north. The worst part of these annual sorties to Europe is the travelling and this time we decided to use the "get it over quickly" approach and travel by plane, train and bus for 35 hours from door to door. We had an excellent sleep the night of our arrival then became immersed in the business of preparing and launching Sirius, stocking up and planning our route.  A few quiet stops in the Dutch countryside has helped the recovery process and the weather is a bit Tasmanian so we seem to have adjusted to our new environment in many respects. Here in Amersfoort, we are enjoying the cityscape. It was granted a city charter in a medieval 1259 when the chief interests were pilgrims and brewing. Along with the idea of many fine restaurants, we can see our pilgrimage following the same lines.  Our plan this year is to head south to Belgium and do a loop to Namur then east and north back into Netherlands. Hopefully we'll have some nice photos to share on the way.

29 December 2013 - Sydney, Australia Visiting Sydney to catch up with family and friends for 2 weeks. It's been a long time since there have been any entries on this website and this reflects the changes in my life over the years since I lost Lyndall. I'm hoping to correct this soon with the thoughts and interests of an ageing cruising yachtsman. I hope 2014 is a great year for you.

25 September 2012, Schipol Airport, Holland How did that happen? Suddenly our time aboard Sirius is over and I am at the airport ready for the trip home. There are signs of winter here now so getting back to a potential Summer in Tasmania is perhaps a good thing. We did indeed have a successful 3 months. Sirius is now well set for cruising anywhere in the canals of Europe, we have learnt a lot about the boat and the benefits of cruising and wintering-over in this country and we have very much enjoyed the last 2 months aboard in Friesland in Holland's north.

Old yachtie with new boat.. and new crew! Alison and I beside Sirius, a 35' canal cruiser built for Summer cruising on the canals of Europe. Meanwhile illywhacker waits at home in a wintery Tasmania.

A climate contrast- Cordova, Alaska
Click for a tour of Cordova

Sakura time in Japan - Click for story

Early morning arrival at Dutch Harbour in the Aleutians - read more

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