Belgium – Travel Blog (EN)

This is a recap of all the blogs posted on our Polarsteps account during our journey in Belgium. For more accurate updates of our sailing trip please go to Polarsteps directly.


Antwerp
12 October 2022

We have arrived in Antwerp, the place where our big adventure began 2,5 months ago!
No, this isn’t the end of our journey yet but rather a new phase of our live-aboard life. Here we will prepare for our next big adventure where we will venture through the inland waterways of France to go to the Mediterranean.

It was a strange feeling sailing back to Antwerp but also a good one as everything feels so familiar. My heart made a jump as soon as I saw the cathedral in the distance. After all, this is the city I fell in love with 15 years ago and where I’ve collected many great memories. As soon as we moored our boat to the jetty, we visited our dear boatyard neighbours.
It’s so great to see the progress they made on their boat. We’ve already seen other familiar faces in the meantime. The harbour of Linkeroever often feels like a small village where everyone knows each other.

So what needs to be done before we leave Antwerp:

– As our mast is 11 meters long and France means a lot of bridges and even tunnels, we need to unstep the mast of our boat. Sails and rigging will be stored aboard. The mast will be carried on deck.
– We will hang fender boards to absorb friction of the walls and protect the fenders when doing locks.
– We need to buy an additional big fender just in case our bow hits any locks walls.
– Nelly (our cat) needs to go to the vet to do a rabies antibody test.
– Meeting up with family and friends (very important !)
– Strolling through Antwerp (for old-time sakes).

Those are basically the main to-do’s while we are here in Antwerp. Quite excited as we’ve never unstepped our mast before. 😬

We are planning to stay two to three weeks here before we continue our journey through Belgium 🇧🇪 and eventually France. 🇫🇷

Antwerp
25 October 2022

We are almost ready to leave Antwerp. To be honest, we were a little reluctant to go back here but the days have flown by.

We are no longer a sailboat or at least for the time being. Our mast is off and installed on deck so we can brave the many bridges and tunnels in France. It is a strange sight, our boat somehow looks even tougher.

These were busy but very fun days. We got to see all our loved ones again and even got great news from someone that a baby is on the way. The goodbye feels different now because we know it is for longer, more indeterminate.

It was wonderful to walk through Antwerp again, a familiar feeling. The schedule of the ferry taking us to the right bank of the city we now know by heart.

We haven’t cooked much on board but mostly ate out with friends. We were also invited a couple of times to have dinner together with someone who lives here on his boat in the marina. The sailing community is really one of a kind, one big family.

It is the last week in Antwerp before we continue our journey and it will take a while before we are back here. We are very much looking forward to continuing our adventure and discovering new places.

Klein-Willebroek
31 October 2022

It was still dark outside when we untied the mooring ropes and left the city of Antwerp behind us. ‘The lock gates will open in a few minutes,’ it sounded over the VHF radio. Along with 5 other boats, we sailed out of the lock. While everyone else went left, we went right. The Antwerp skyline was beautifully lit and it was a nice moment to say goodbye to this city (for now?). The refrain of ‘Coldplay – God put a smile upon your face’ haunted my head. What a blissful feeling to REALLY start our adventure during sunrise.

We maneuvered among the water buses, the ferry boats, the sleeping gulls and the many branches making the Scheldt unsafe. As we continued sailing southwest, the sun rose behind us over Antwerp.

At Rupelmonde, we turned left toward Boom and found ourselves in a beautiful natural scene. Fog and dew gave a fairy-like effect to the beautiful nature. The water was almost a mirror.

We got closer to the bridge and saw from the bearing that there was just under 3 meters clearance. Our boat was higher so we had to wait half an hour until the water dropped further and the current turned. Finally we were able to pass the bridge with a 20 cm margin.

Past the bridge, the Klein-Willebroek lock soon came into view. Over the VHF radio the lock keeper informed us that we could pass through immediately. Because of the current we were drifting sideways when we entered the lock. During the lock we were welcomed by the friendly harbor master who informed us where we could moor.

And so that’s how we arrived at Klein-Willebroek. Now we are really enjoying quality time with my mom and my step-dad. Soon we will leave Klein-Willebroek behind and continue our journey to Ghent.

Ghent
07 November 2022

We are in Ghent, although there was some doubt whether we would make it…

But first, back to Klein-Willebroek. With our sailing suits on and everything set up, it was still a 10-minute wait before there was enough water to sail through the lock. Just before leaving, we saw Dirk (Julie’s stepfather) walking down the dock with a bag of fresh croissants. Delicious! We start the engine, say goodbye and cast off the mooring ropes.
In and after the lock the harbor master, Dirk (who followed us for a while) and the captain of the ferry waves us goodbye.

We sailed against the current towards Rupelmonde and then onto the Scheldt. We arrived at the Buitenland jetty after 2 hours of sailing. We dock and rest a bit. Greg makes a stew and we have a quiet night. There is virtually no shipping so we hardly move at all.

Sunday, the next day, we leave for Merelbeke. The rain stays away for now and we marvel at the beautiful nature beside the Scheldt. As the trip progresses, the banks get closer and the turns become sharper and more frequent. There is no commercial traffic on the way so we have the Scheldt all to ourselves. In the afternoon it does begin to rain heavily and we have to maneuver among the many logs floating on the water. We hear a dull bang under the boat and realize that we have hit one. Fortunately, there is no damage!
After 5 hours of sailing, we pass the Merelbeke lock and get a nice berth under the trees. We look again at the various options for entering Ghent. With our draught of 1.60 meters, it was apparently not so feasible to reach Portus Ganda in Ghent via the center. We decided to take a detour.

We moored quietly in Merelbeke, our deck strewn with tree leaves of all colors. I rinse off the deck and we untie the mooring ropes to head for Ghent. We decided to sail via the Ringvaart canal and the Ghent-Terneuzen canal. The peace and quiet on the water is a great contrast to the hectic traffic around us. Unfortunately, it was now Monday so there was commercial traffic so we were in the lock at Evergem with several large container boats. Afterwards we passed through the industry on the canal but then we sailed into Ghent. We were immediately welcomed by several beautiful houseboats moored along the side. The waterway became narrower, shallower and the bridges lower. At the end, we only had just enough room, but we successfully sailed into our box. We made it! It’s cheaper to have our house in the center of Ghent than to park your car here.

Ghent + Merelbeke
17 November 2022

We were moored in the center of Ghent in the harbor of Portus Ganda, the nautical gateway to this city. From the harbor master we were able to get a map and a city guide. We also took a look at https://visit.gent.be to see what the city had to offer. Actually, we didn’t know Ghent that well. After living in and around Antwerp for so many years it was nice to get to know another city.
The first evening we explored the beautifully lit streets of Ghent. The many monuments are shown off to their best advantage thanks to the clever lighting and have a magical atmosphere.

We alternated the days with absolutely doing nothing, boat chores or visiting the city with or without family. Saying goodbye to loved ones becomes more concrete the further we sail, we intensely enjoy everyone we still see. ❤️

Ghent pleasantly surprised us. There are many local, cozy stores (tip: the Fallen Angels, a real trinket paradise), nice restaurants (tips: Bicho Malo for tasty Mexican dishes and Judy’s Lobster Shack for delicious lobster rolls) and many authentic cafes (tip: The Trollekelder where you can discover more than 300 special beers). But also a visit to the botanical garden with over 10000 plant species and several greenhouses you can visit and the Citadel Park, an oasis of green in the heart of Ghent, are definitely worth a walk.

We were only going to spend 7 days in Ghent but it became 10. Due to a non-operating bridge we were forced to stay longer. It’s part of our new life, taking things as they come and just go with the flow. And so traveling by boat is always a bit of an adventure. As we left Ghent, we heard a strange noise in our engine. We decided to be on the safe side and pulled over to fix the problem. Greg had loosened the propeller shaft in Ghent to align it and pulled it in too far upon tightening. So now while sailing everything came a bit forward causing the anode around the shaft to rub against the hull.
He loosened it and then tightened it a little further back and the strange noise was gone. Thank goodness!
At the lock at Evergem we were stuck in the silt at the waiting pier and once at the Merelbeke marina we were told that the lock that gives us access to the port would be closed for 4 days so we decided to moor at the Merelbeke lock at a high quay between the cargo ships.
It’s part of the adventure we often hear ourselves say and fortunately the setbacks succeed each other quickly with beautiful, special moments. Every day is unique and sometimes challenging, but we love it.
On to the next adventure.

Antoing
26 November 2022

Over the past few days we have moved further south. Via Merelbeke, Oudenaarde, Avelgem-Kerkhove and Bossuit, we crossed the border into Wallonia.

In Oudenaarde we met up with Greg’s aunt. It was a pleasant reunion and a great opportunity for her to see our boat “in real life”. Oudenaarde is a hospitable town. As soon as we moored at the waiting dock, some school children came out to wave at us enthusiastically. The friendly harbor master immediately informed us that we had to wait about 10 minutes because the drawbridge to the harbor was broken. A technician was already on his way to solve the problem.
We were given a nice spot among the trees. Agreed, the marina was somewhat outdated but the harbor master showed me the plans of how the marina will modernize in a few months and that we are certainly always welcome if we ever come back. Who knows…

From Oudenaarde we continued our trip to the Kloron marina in Avelgem-Kerkhove. Again we were alone at the dock, there are not many pleasure boats out of the boating season. The marina is located in an arm of the Scheldt that flows into the Upper Scheldt so all the trash floating on the Scheldt unfortunately enters this marina. With my grabber tool, dirt bag and gloves on from the River Cleanup (www.river-cleanup.org), I spent an afternoon fishing trash out of the water. Lots of Capri-Sun containers, Kinder Surprise eggs and bottle caps of all kinds of colors. When it got dark, I disposed of everything I gathered on the dock in the marina’s dumpster. The Scheldt was 14.2 kg of trash lighter. A meager catch when you saw how much was left in the end.

The next morning we left for Bossuit. According to the map, you can moor at a “wild jetty” there after the lock. Mooring on the Scheldt is a challenge if you want to avoid a marina. It is possible to moor at the waiting jetties of the locks, but it is not really pleasant to sleep when a large freighter passes.
The lock towards the jetty we had our eye on was impressive. Very high walls, as we saw immediately when we were moored at the waiting dock. We looked at each other with worrying faces. We are used to locks that drop or descend no more than 2 meters, but this was of a different magnitude.
The lock gates opened, we sailed in very slowly and were relieved to see a bollard that goes up or down automatically. This too was new because we normally tie ourselves to two bollards in a lock so it was quite a puzzle how to keep our boat straight on one bollard. In the end we succeeded and rose no less than 11 meters (!). After the lock there was indeed a jetty where there was just one spot left. The other boats that were moored at this jetty were either abandoned or packed up for winter.
For three days we didn’t do much. It was raining outside so it was time to do a thorough job inside our boat (chores and cleaning).

After Bossuit, we passed the border with Wallonia. Communication with the locks is now in French. Something to get used to but fortunately we had already practiced the most important terms. The first formality also happened, at the first lock in Wallonia we had to fill out a sheet with our boat data and our itinerary.
The initial idea was to spend a few days in Tournai but after a phone call to the tourist office it was clear that this was not possible. You can moor at the visitors’ pier only from sunrise to sunset, staying overnight is prohibited. Too bad… so we sailed on to Antoing where there is a Halte Nautique where you can spend the night. We visited Tournai while sailing, the Scheldt runs through the center so we saw some landmarks anyway. There were also many people who stared at us or waved enthusiastically. A strange feeling sometimes.
The Halte Nautique in Antoing was empty, no other boat to be seen so we picked the best spot. We visited the charming village, took a walk in the Forestier des 5 Rocs, a beautiful forest, and visited Les passeurs de mémoire fondation Famawiwi, old lime kilns that can now be used for exhibitions or cultural events. We also saw our first wild boar.

As we entered Wallonia, the landscape we were cruising in really began to change. Lots of hills, farms and picturesque villages. Within a week we are sailing into France. A new country and new discoveries awaiting us.

Péronnes-lez-Antoing
02 December 2022

We spent our last week in Belgium at the Péronnes Yacht Club. This marina is located on Le Grand Large, a 45-acre lake. In summer, this place is probably swarming with people in kayaks and small boats who are enjoying some good weather. Now we were the only boat at the visitor’s dock and the lake looked serene but deserted. Only at night it was very crowded, hundreds of black-headed gulls slept on the lake and the jetty next to us. One night they found our mast the ideal sleeping place with all its consequences. We are lucky to have a good deck wash pump….

It was cold and foggy in Péronnes. After two days of cocooning on our boat, we thought it was time to get outside. The weather had now cleared up so Greg mapped out a 14 kilometer long bike ride. It was lovely to ride through beautiful autumn scenes next to an old canal that was now out of use. The streets were covered with tree leaves in various shades of red, orange and green.

After three months, our gas bottle that we cook with was almost empty. Every country has different bottles so in Belgium we wanted to quickly exchange the empty bottle for a full one. That gives us a few more weeks of flexibility in France to find a suitable bottle. Transporting a full gas bottle by bike or on foot is not ideal so the harbor master suggested he wanted to drive around with us to get a new one. We are still amazed at how helpful the people we meet on our trip are. Thank you to everyone who makes this adventure just a little bit better.

In France, you need a boating vignette. You can buy such a vignette for a day, a week, a month (= 30 calendar days) or a year. We couldn’t buy one yet for 2023, so we bought one for December 2022. This meant that we could only enter France from 02 December so our vignette is valid until 31 December.
So on Friday, 02 December, we quickly filled up with diesel just before the border with France to officially cross the border the next day. A very special moment for us. Bienvenue en France! 🇫🇷

And now… now the next part of our adventure begins. We have to cross 7 canals and 2 rivers (hope the depth is in our favour), brave more than 230 locks and pass through 6 tunnels. On to the south!

Curious to read how our sailing journey continued? Go to Polarsteps ;).

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