One month afloat

El Burro at anchor

We have been living aboard for one month now. At times it feels like we have just started our adventure while on other days our previous life seems so far away.

Sometimes I have the feeling that I can go back to our apartment in Belgium, that we still have a job waiting for us, that this is only a vacation. But whenever I think back to the month of July realisation kicks in. Saying goodbye to dear family, friends and colleagues, emptying our apartment, selling or giving away almost all our stuff, arranging the administration for our departure,.. Discovering the world by sailboat was something we fantasised about for years. Slowly and with every little step we completed on our to do list it became a reality.

We have been sailing in the Netherlands for a month now, visiting places we know so well from our weekend trips and our annual vacations. Anchorages, uninhabited islands and locks that are so familiar (mainly in Zeeland). This is also one of the reasons why we first stay in the Netherlands, to get used to sailing again and everything related to it and to get used to our new life.

I have to be honest, it was not easy to adapt and leave my restless mindset behind. The first week we moved our boat daily to a different place until we both said that this is not what we had in mind. The month of July was so busy that all we wanted was relax but on the contrary we gave ourselves unnecessary obligations. So we listen more to our body and mind and anchor for a couple of days to just relax and reflect.

Happy to say that our little floating house is doing well and the more days pass by, the easier it goes. We really created a routine in the meantime. Getting the boat ready for departure, anchoring, doing locks, hoisting the sails,… Even stupid things like cleaning our boat after dinner (a small space gets messy quite quickly). Doing the dishes, putting away things we don’t need anymore, vacuuming, … having a routine makes it so much easier to live aboard.

Somewhere on my cell phone there is still a refit to do list that is not 100% finished but for now I try to ignore it. The biggest things are installed and ready to use, the rest will come by itself. And we have time, nothing has to be in order right away. That may be the best part of the whole story, the ability to schedule that time how we want it to be. Every day I am so grateful that we get to experience this.

Our inland journey through France pt.3

Additional information

The canals & rivers

We followed the Scheldt river all the way from Belgium to France and actually almost reached its source. Fun fact: In French, the Scheldt river is called l’Escaut (in Dutch we call it de Schelde).

From Mortagne-du-Nord to Cambrai (junction with the Saint-Quentin canal), we followed the canalised section of the Scheldt river for 63 kilometers. The minimum depth is 3.50 meters up to the junction of Hordain; and 2.20 meters afterwards.
The first lock you’ll encounter is at Fresnes where the lock keeper will check if you’ve already bought the French toll sticker. On the canalised Scheldt river or l’Escaut canalisé you will pass through 11 large locks.

After Cambrai, you are on the Saint-Quentin canal with a minimum depth of 2.30 meters and a total of 35 locks (the locks are now smaller, 40 meters long and 5.5 meters wide). In France, the location of a canal is indicated by PK or “point kilométrique”. For example, the start of the Saint-Quentin canal at Cambrai is marked by PK 0. This canal is 92.5 kilometers long and ends at Chauny. It also passes through 2 tunnels (the Riqueval tunnel and the Tronquoy tunnel).

Three kilometers after Chauny (PK 3 on the Canal lateral à l’Oise) there is a junction where we turned left to enter the Canal de l’Oise à L’Aisne in the Hauts-de-France region (Northern France). The minimum depth of this canal is 2 meters and the canal itself is 47 kilometers long. There are 13 locks and 1 tunnel (Braye-en-Laonnois).

The next canal you enter is the Canal latéral à l’Aisne with only 1 lock to pass at Berry-au-Bac (this is a control lock where you are asked for your name, boat registration number and destination). At Bourg-et-Comin; turn left and follow the canal for about 20 kilometers until you reach the lock. The minimum depth of this canal is 1.80 meters.

You then go on the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne. This canal runs from Berry-au-Bac to Condé-sur-Marne (visit the beautiful city of Reims when you are on this canal) and has 24 locks + 1 tunnel (Mont-de-Billy). The canal is 58 kilometers long with a minimum depth of 1.80 meters.

After l’Aisne à la Marne, you enter the Canal latéral à la Marne with 11 locks going from Condé to Vitry-le-François covering about 48 kilometers of this 66 kilometer long canal. The minimum depth is 1.80 meters.

And before you know it, you are on the last canal of your journey through France, the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne with a minimum depth of 1.80 meters. This is the longest canal of your journey with 114 locks, 17 movable bridges and 2 tunnels (Condes + Balesmes). The canal links the towns of Vitry-le-François and Maxily-sur-Saône and is 224 kilometers long.

Be aware that some of the canals have a lot of aquatic vegetation. Be sure to check your engine regularly and empty your boat’s strainer (which filters out the debris from the water) if the engine coolant is not flowing as it should.

The first river you enter is the Saône. You first have the Petit Saône where you have 3 smaller locks before you get to the Saône where you now have to go through 6 big locks again. The only difference between the Petit Saône and the Saône is the size of the locks, it’s basically the same river. The river is 473 kilometers long as it starts at Vioménil in the Vosges. From the end of the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne, we only had to travel 223 kilometers on the Saône. Bear in mind that this river can be subject to flooding.

The Rhône is notorious for its currents, mistral winds and risk of flooding. The river is 325 kilometers long and has 13 locks with floating bollards. The locks are operated from a control center at Châteauneuf. The Rhône flows from Lyon to the sea at Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône and is still a trade and transport route where you will see large commercial vessels.

The Saône and Rhône rivers have a minimum depth of 3 meters.

Sailing through the canals of France.

The tunnels

The first tunnel at Riqueval (on the Saint-Quentin canal) is a special one. You are towed through the tunnel by an electric tug, which you have to book 48 hours in advance by calling a telephone number. This may change in the near future as the tunnel is currently being worked on. The installation of a mechanical ventilation system would allow boats to use their engines in the tunnel
The Riqueval tunnel is 5,670 metres long.

The other tunnels use a red/green light to indicate when you can go through. To give you an idea of the length:

  • Tronquoy – 1.098 meters long
  • Braye-en-Laennois – 2.365 meters long
  • Mont-de-Billy – 2.302 meters long
  • Condes – looks more like going under a bridge than an actual tunnel, let’s say it’s maybe 300 meters long
  • Balesmes – almost 5.000 meters long

Tip: Make a playlist and enjoy some good music, the acoustics in the tunnels are great!

How the tunnels look like in France.

The locks

We had different ways of operating the locks:

  1. Locks operated by a lock-keeper. Either with fixed or floating bollards (on the Rhône). These are mainly larger locks.
  2. Locks that are operated by a remote control that you receive; either from a lock-keeper or via a distributor. There’s a sign in front of the lock telling you when to press the button to go up or down. When you press the button, the lights change to red/green to indicate that the lock is being prepared. We have received two different remote controls:
    • One with four buttons: Alarme (in case something goes wrong in the lock – emergency button), Bassinée (to start the lock operation), Avalant (to open the doors when you go downstream), Montant (to open the doors when you go upstream).
    • One with three buttons: Alarme (in case something goes wrong in the lock – emergency button), Avalant (to open the doors when you go downstream), Montant (to open the doors when you go upstream). You have to pull up a blue lever to start the lock operation.
  3. The blue and red lever: Some locks are operated by pulling up a blue lever. You need to make sure that your boat is positioned correctly next to the lever. The position of the lever is not the same in all locks, sometimes it’s on the port side, sometimes on the starboard side. The red lever is only used in emergencies or when the lock is not working (to alert the VNF).
  4. The pole: You have to manoeuvre your boat next to a pole suspended over the water and then turn the pole. This starts the lock operation.
  5. The chain: No, not the Fleetwood Mac song but a term for when locks open automatically one after the other. Some locks in France register when you leave and prepare the next lock already for you.
The remote control you receive from VNF to control the locks.

The lights in front of the lock indicate its status:

  • Orange: The signal is correctly received when pressing the remote control.
  • Red/green: the lock is being prepared.
  • Green: You can enter the lock.
  • Red: You are not allowed to enter, someone from the other side will go through the lock first.
  • Red/red: The lock is not working/something is wrong.

It can happens that the locks break. Either you get stuck before the lock (the doors won’t open) or you get stuck inside the lock (the doors won’t close, the lock process won’t start or the exit doors won’t open). Unfortunately, this does happen. In this case you must either call VNF (via telephone or via the intercom) or the problem has already been reported to VNF automatically (if the alarm light on the red lever is flashing). It usually doesn’t take long for them to come and help you out.

The weather

We sailed through autumn and winter and saw almost every weather scenario. Rain, snow, ice, hail, sun, strong winds and a even a double rainbow.

There are two things to bear in mind when sailing at this time of year:

  • The canals freeze when it’s very cold outside. We had a night of -7°C and woke up to a frozen canal. We heard from the VNF that they sometimes add warm water to the canal to make sure it doesn’t freeze. However, if it is frozen, the locks may not work properly and your boat will have to plough through the ice, limiting your speed (+ the noise is deafening!). Also note that water taps are often closed when frost is expected.
  • Sailing in winter means condensation problems in the boat due to the low water temperature and the difference with the temperature inside the boat if your boat isn’t insulated properly. We have had mould and even pools of water in some of our lockers.
You can expect all kinds of weather in France.

The ports and ‘halte nautiques’

Harbours are usually closed in winter, which means you won’t have any facilities (showers, washing machines, toilets). Often there is space to moor (free of charge), but this can mean you’re stuck in the harbour if it’s fenced off and you don’t have a code or badge to re-enter.

The ‘halte nautiques’ where we moored were always very nice and some even had free water and electricity. There are many on the canals and even on the Saône. The Rhône is much more limited and mainly harbours are the only possibility to moor your boat for the night.

A mooring place in France.

The surroundings

France is a beautiful country. Although there is still a lot of industry in the north, the further south you go, the more you are surrounded by nature. Plains, fields of flowers, hills, mountains, forests, vineyards… Entering a canal often means a different landscape. Sit back, relax and enjoy the slow pace of your journey! You won’t regret sailing in France.

Sunset on the canals of France.

* Read the first part of this blog (part 1) to find out how we prepared.
* To find out how we experienced this trip, read part 2.
* Follow sailingelburro on Instagram for travel pictures.

Our inland journey through France pt.2

The diary

69 days through France… We had snow, been stuck in ice and sailed on rainy and very windy days. OK…I do admit, it sounds a bit dramatic. Yes, it was often cold as we were traveling in autumn and winter but luckily we also had very sunny days, especially on the Saône and Rhône river. These notorious rivers were actually very kind to us when we traveled on them.

We absolutely loved our trip through inland France. Would we do it again? No, but that’s because of all the locks we had to pass through and the condensation our boat had to deal with on those cold days.
The nature, however, was amazing. Very varied and surprising. Forests, hills, snow-capped mountains, snow-covered fields, plains, fields of flowers, vineyards, … We saw so many beautiful places along the way.
And let’s not forget the many birds (kingfishers, herons, birds of prey, European cranes, …) that flew alongside our boat. They accompanied us, amazed us and somehow gave us a reassuring feeling.

Below is an excerpt from my daily diary and the adventure of our journey through France. Enjoy reading it.

Before entering France

To give a short summary of how we started this sailing adventure and how we ended up in France, let me take you back to August 2022. We had just moved to our boat and up until October, we sailed through Zeeland and South Holland in The Netherlands to get used to the feeling of living aboard full-time our 10 meters vessel.

In October we sailed back to Antwerp, unstepped the mast and built a construction to place it on our deck. We then left Antwerp at the end of October and first traveled through Belgium (via the Scheldt river). In Flanders, we passed Willebroek, Ghent, Oudenaarde, Avelgem-Kerkhove, Bossuit before crossing the border into Wallonia. We then stopped in Antoing and Péronnes-lez-Antoing, communication was now already in French so we had a good practice on how to communicate in ‘boat language’. Écluse (lock), en aval (downstream), en amont (upstream), amarrer (to moor), la courante (the current), bâbord (starboard side), tribord (port side). To name but a few.

Happy faces when we entered France.

Entering France via l’Escaut

Our first stop was at Mortagne-du-Nord. We found a long quay wall, tied up and immediately took off our sailing clothes and lifejackets to go for a walk. Whenever we moor, we always like to explore the surrounding area. Although it’s a rather small town, there are some very nice hiking opportunities. We stayed here for two nights before continuing our journey.

Our next stop was Fresnes. We saw in our guide that they had a halte nautique there just after the lock. It looked like a great place to spend the night. Unfortunately, we are still a sailboat and this means that an insufficient depth is an issue. Giving up is not an option in my opinion so we tried mooring at the jetty from all directions without any luck. We decided to keep going and hopefully find a place along the way.
Well, that was a disappointment… We just couldn’t find a place to stop. I called ValEscaut, the marina in Valenciennes where I had made a reservation and told them that we would be arriving earlier. It was getting dark and we were getting tired and a bit frustrated that we couldn’t find any other place to moor our boat.
We were quite happy when we saw the harbour. Finally, we could stop and get a rest or so we thought, but luck was not on our side that day. We just couldn’t get into Valenciennes harbour, the entrance was too shallow and we got stuck several times. We tried again from all directions. I called the harbour master and told her that we had run aground several times and that she should cancel the reservation. By this time we were really annoyed, it was dark, we were hungry and cold. Our only option now was to call the lock keeper and ask if we could stay at the waiting pier of the lock. He gave us his permission so we slept at the pier where large commercial vessels passed by. Let’s just say it wasn’t that very comfortable.

Sometimes you have to have a bad day to appreciate the good ones. We didn’t see Valenciennes, but the next day we found a good halte nautique in Denain. It wasn’t the prettiest, but it was safe and there was a good swimming pool and spa nearby. We also visited a huge Carrefour where you could spend half a day just wandering around the aisles.

The halte nautique in Denain.

After Denain, we passed the last big lock on l’Escaut and were given our first remote control. I stared at the little device in my hand and thought it was so cool that we were allowed to press a button to operate the locks ourselves. I’d read about them in the guides we’d bought and now I had one in my hand. So cool! 🙂
You press a button to open the lock, sail into the lock, press another button to start the whole locking process and then the doors open automatically. At least, they should open automatically, we waited and waited at the third lock but the doors remained closed. Fortunately, VNF is just a phone call away to help you out. Locks are prone to breaking and we experienced this many times during our canal adventure but we had a great service from VNF.

El Burro in one of the many locks we passed.

The first major town we visited was Cambrai. We moored in the port of Cantimpré. It was actually closed (as most ports are in winter) but there was space and we had free electricity and water (but no access to the sanitary building). We enjoyed a weekend with good friends in Cambrai, had good conversations and ate good food.

Cold nights on the canal of Saint-Quentin

The weather got much colder. Our mooring lines felt stiff and a layer of ice formed on our deck. Our fenders felt rock hard and one of them even exploded when it hit the lock wall. In the locks, we could hear the ice cracking under our bow. Winter was just around the corner.

After a night of -7°C, we woke up to find the Saint-Quentin canal covered in a 2.5 cm layer of ice. We had an appointment to go through the Riqueval tunnel so we had to keep going. Our speed was limited to 1.5 knots as our boat had to plough through the hard ice. We were moving so slowly and the noise was deafening. Everything inside was vibrating from the pressure our boat was putting on the ice. Nelly, our cat, was so frightened because she couldn’t place where the loud noise was coming from.

Not only did the ice on the canal bother us (although we have to admit that the ice-covered landscape was quite magical), but there was a tangle of underwater vegetation under our boat. After every lock, we had to check our engine and the operation of our propeller and empty our strainer.

We made it to the waiting pier before the Riqueval tunnel and stayed there overnight. The next morning, we heard a chain rattle. Our tug had arrived to pull us through the tunnel. We attached ourselves to the tug with Y-shaped mooring ropes and before we knew it we were sailing into the tunnel.
The history of this tunnel is quite amazing. It was opened in 1810 by order of Napoleon Bonaparte. In the beginning, the boats were towed by manpower, with 7 to 8 men pulling a ship through the tunnel in 12 to 14 hours. Later it was done by horses, which reduced the time to 6 to 7 hours. Afterwards they tried it with a steam-powered tug but the smoke caused suffocation problems, so the electric tugboat was introduced in 1910. The passage through the 5670 meter long tunnel took about 2 hours.

Getting towed through the Riqueval tunnel.

The locks on the Saint-Quentin canal worked differently. We still had a remote control which we used to open the doors but now we had to pull a blue lever to start the locking process.

As the temperature remained -5°C degrees, we decided to stop, moor our boat and wait for the temperature to rise above freezing-point. Our boat was stuck in a thick layer of ice for 3 days and we just relaxed and chilled on the boat. As soon as the temperature rose above 0°C degrees, we untied the mooring ropes. We soon realized that the ice was even thicker than we had expected and our boat had to pass through 5 cm thick layers of ice. Fortunately the ice melted over the next few days.

Stuck in ice on the Saint-Quentin canal.

The many dead animals in the canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne

As we entered the canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne, we saw more hills and open plains alternating with dense forests. We also noticed a lot of dead animals floating in the water. Drowned and unable to climb out of the canals because of the high walls. This became a constant throughout our trip. Deer, wild boar, foxes and even a single cat was floating lifelessly in the canals.

Easy-going canal lateral à l’Aisne

A canal without difficulties. No locks, no ice, no water plants and no branches in the water. Finally, we came across living mammals again, two beaver rats (or coypus; did you know that they are not native to France but come from South America?).

Each canal comes with another landscape.

Celebrating Christmas on the canal de l’Aisne à la Marne

Another new lock system. Still a big question mark as to why the way locks are operated is not the same on every canal. We now had to manoeuvre our boat next to a pole suspended over the water and then turn the pole. It took us a while to figure out what to do from the vague instructions on the sign.
I remember that the locks on this canal were quite tricky as we had to go up with a difference of almost 3 meters. It was a real challenge to throw ropes from our boat around the bollards which were at the very top of the lock wall and then position our boat correctly to push the blue lever up.

We visited the beautiful city of Reims, the city where many French kings have been crowned and famous for its rich history and huge Christmas market.
The best example of Gothic art in the city is the Notre-Dame Cathedral. It had been badly damaged over the years but has undergone extensive restoration. We were overwhelmed by all the detail on the façade and the interior was also beautiful with the colourful stained glass windows and the imposing vaults.
We strolled through the streets, admiring the architectural splendour of some of the buildings and visited the Christmas market with over 150 stalls.

The impressive Notre-Dame Cathedral in Reims.

As our mooring spot in Reims was located next to a busy road, we decided to spend Christmas Eve in Sillery in peace and quiet. Close to the port of Sillery, you have a store, gas station, gas outlet and a national park. Very handy for us liveaboards to stock-up. My eldest brother came to visit for a day which was a pleasant surprise.

Celebrating our first Christmas Eve on our El Burro.

Family quality time on the canal latéral à la Marne

Just after New Year, my sister came to visit us in Châlons-en-Champagne. The harbour was full but we managed to find a place on a long quay with a few bollards, just opposite a small island, L’île aux oiseaux. Châlons-en-Champagne was quite charming, thanks to the many half-timbered houses that give the town its authenticity. We really enjoyed the family time before moving on to the next and last canal of our trip.

Moored in Châlons-en-Champagne.

Too many locks on the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne

The longest canal of our trip with a total of 114 (rather slow-opening) locks, 2 tunnels, 10 aqueducts and 17 moveable bridges.

Not long after entering this canal we saw these strange looking creatures in a field nearby. At first we really thought they were emus but why the hell would there be wild emus in France? After a thorough search, we realized they were actually European Cranes. When they flew over, they made a funny trumpeting sound.
We had other things fly by as we sailed along this canal. Jet fighters! Boy, are they noisy, but it was quite impressive to see them take off.

We moored at a rather special halte nautique at a beautiful looking hotel. At first we thought we’d tied up in someone’s garden by mistake. We were able to take a shower (the staff shower so not the most fancy one), had electricity and water and did our laundry at a very reasonable price.
This halte was located in Joinville where we explored the quaint little streets, walked up to the viewpoint for an amazing view over the town and tried a pizza machine for the first time. As we were not allowed to sail on this canal at weekends, we enjoyed a few days here. Other towns we visited during our trip on the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne were Chaumont and Langres. In Langres friends came to visit and we enjoyed playing board games together.

Enjoying the viewpoint and the sunny weather in Joinville.

The locks were sometimes a real struggle, especially the ascending ones. Getting the rope around the bollard was a challenge and the many aquatic plants in the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne didn’t help. At the beginning of our trip through France we were very excited about entering the locks. Now we were a bit tired of them. Too many locks on the way.

As well as the locks, the weather also took us by surprise. Storm Gérard came through…That day we were soaked and cold, strong winds blew our boat against the lock walls. The next day, a white carpet of snow slowly covered the landscape. Our fingers were frozen as we grasped the mooring ropes in each lock. Luckily, we had a good heater on board to warm the boat up quickly. And to be honest, it was quite magical to be cycling through a beautiful snowy landscape, with deer frolicking in a nearby field, in the middle of France. By now we had seen almost every weather scenario.


Going fast on the Saône

At least it felt that way. With the current we were going a good 2-3 knots faster than on the canals. The water was wider, the occasional tree floated by and we came across commercial shipping again.

Our first port of call was Auxonne’s Port Royal. It was a strange feeling to be back in a real harbour with 150 berths. Auxonne is a fortified town and has a rich heritage of military buildings still in use today. Even Napoleon Bonaparte attended the artillery school here from 1788 to 1791.

A white heron looking for fish in Auxonne.

The next larger town we visited was Chalon-sur-Saône. The harbour is very well located, close to a commercial centre and within walking distance of the city centre and L’île Saint-Laurent with its many restaurants. The city is renowned for its rich history and cultural attractions. It is also the birthplace of Nicéphore Niépce, the inventor of photography. The Niépce Photographic Museum, where you can discover the history of photography, is free to visit, as is the Vivant-Denon museum, which houses archaeological and ethnographic objects, sculptures and graphic works.

Our next stop after Chalon-en-Saône was Macon. Here, we met up with other boaters. Two Dutch people on a motorboat (our adventure together ended quite surprisingly. I won’t go into detail here but you can read more about it on Polarsteps) and a fellow sailor.

The Saône is quite beautiful although we preferred the Rhône. When we were on the Saône, the river was calm and peaceful and for the first time we saw snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance.

A peaceful Saône.

Amazing nature on the Rhône

The nature around us was breathtaking. We finally saw the many vineyards for which the region is famous and were almost on a daily level surrounded by hills and snow-capped mountains. We loved the halte nautique at Ampuis. No facilities, but the spectacular view took our breath away.

The view in Ampuis.
The stunning Rhône.

The cities we visited on this river were Valence and Avignon. The port of Valence is tricky if you have a keel. We ran aground trying to berth in our box which was quite a challenge knowing that the harbinger of the mistral was blowing hard. At least Valence was quite a nice city with a spacious feel.
Avignon is definitely a must. Made famous by the children’s song ‘Sur le pont d’Avignon’, the city is much more than just the bridge. The sun was shining brightly and the atmosphere was convivial. People were enjoying the beautiful weather on a terrace or a bench, as if it were summer already.
We strolled through the streets, visited the beautiful Rocher des Doms park, looked at the Italian paintings in the Musée du Petit Palais and chatted with some travelers from Brussels in front of the Palais des Papes while a street musician echoed her angelic songs in the background. You can get lost in the narrow streets, discover the many cosy shops, enjoy a coffee on a sunny terrace or take in the scents and colours of the market hall. We thoroughly enjoyed Avignon!

Charming streets in Valence.
Enjoying Avignon.

We were lucky with the weather when we sailed on the Rhône. The Mistral only blew for one weekend so we made good progress. Before we knew it, we were at the end of the river, ready to enter the lock at Port-Saint-Louis. As soon as we entered the port, we immediately got that Mediterranean holiday feeling and were very proud to have made it this far with our boat, El Burro.

* Read the first part of this blog (part 1) to find out how we prepared.
* More insights on traveling through France by boat in part 3.
* Follow sailingelburro on Instagram for travel pictures.

Our inland journey through France pt.1

The preparation

Unfortunately there is not much to be found about the route we took and given the problems with water levels in summer on various canals, I hope we can make someone happy with our findings. Note that we sailed in France in autumn/winter 2022-2023.

Good sources to get prepared

1. The websites that give the most information are VNF (Voies Navigables de France – www.vnf.fr) and French Waterways (www.french-waterways.com). The VNF website also has a handy route planner that takes into account the draught, length and width of your boat. You can also see here when annual lock maintenance work is scheduled. 

2. Get a good map. Our map, which shows all the canals including depth, length, number of locks, etc., is from Fluvia.

3. We bought several cruising guides for the regions we wanted to travel through. The cruising guides give a step-by-step overview of the route you are going to take and even go much further. Bridges, locks, facilities, tourist information … everything is well documented in these books. If you follow our route along the Scheldt you will need these guides: 20. PICARDIE + 19. MARNE + 18. RHONE. For sale at www.carte-fluviale.com (éditions du Briel).

The guides and map that were the main source to prepare our trip through France.

4. The NAVI application, where you can see in real time which locks are in operation, but the application also shows various warnings about certain navigation stops, planned maintenance work on certain locks, where you are not allowed to moor, etc. You can also consult a map where you can see all this information and follow other boats that have AIS.

5. A limited number of free digital ENC charts are also available online.

Our planned route through France

Note that the depth I am referring to is the one mentioned on the Fluvia map.

1. Escaut canalisé (depth 3.50 meters up to the junction of Hordain, thereafter the depth is 2.20 meters)

2. Canal de Saint-Quentin (depth 2.30 meters)

3. Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne (depth 2 meters)

4. Canal latéral à l’Aisne (depth 1.80 meters – 2 meters)

5. Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne (depth 1.80 meters)

6. Canal latéral à la Marne (depth 1.80 meters)

7. Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne (depth 1.80 metres)

8. Petite Saône (depth 1.80 meters)

9. Saône (depth 3.50 meters)

10. Rhône (depth 3 meters).

Final destination: Mediterranean Sea

We entered France on December 03th, 2022 and left the Rhône on February 09th, 2023 so we traveled a total of 69 days inland through France.

Our boat specifications

We successfully made it to the south with our draft. The canals and rivers were even deeper than indicated on the Fluvia map (at least in autumn/winter). Sometimes we had problems that we couldn’t enter a certain port or mooring.

* Length 10 meters (the length of the locks on the canals is max. 40 meters)

* Width 3.40 meters (the width of the locks on the canals is max. 5.20 meters)

* Depth 1.60 meters (the depth on the canals varies)

* Height – the maximum clearance for the bridges in France is 3.40 meters. Be sure to keep this in mind.

Good to know

* Indispensable on this trip are having AIS and a VHF radio.

* It is also important to note that you will need a canal toll sticker to cross France (Péage Plaisance – you can buy this on the VNF website, at a VNF shop or at the first lock).

* You will pass through 230 locks and 6 tunnels. Quite an adventure at times 🙂 The Riqueval tunnel must be requested 48 hours in advance as you will be towed through the tunnel. Apparently you get a bill for the towing service afterwards (we haven’t seen ours yet). Note that in 2023 they are going to work on the tunnel – more info here.

* Sometimes the locks don’t work, but VNF is just a phone call away.

* Take into consideration that you might get frozen in on the canals in winter when it gets really cold.

* For the Rhône, we also used consulted the websites Vigicrues and InfoRhone to check on the water flow level, any mistral warning etc.

* Check our POI map to find out where we moored, did some grocery shopping etc.

* On our Instagram page you can see several pictures of our adventure through France.

Et voila, have a safe trip through France, it sure is beautiful and one of a kind!

* To find out how we experienced this trip, read part 2.
* More insights on traveling through France by boat in part 3.


El Burro’s Electricity System

The heart of El Burro’s electricity system is an Electrodacus Battery Management System (BMS), this piece of electronics manages all connected components and ensures that the battery can function optimally. For this purpose, two shunts are connected to the positive bus so that the system can measure input and output current.
The 12V battery with a capacity of about 3.5KWh consists of four 280Ah LiFePO4 3.2V cells connected in series.
Solar panels on the deck charge this battery, they are connected via DDSR20 switches (also from Electrodacus) these can handle up to 20A charging current and several panels can be connected in parallel. When the battery is full, they can divert the charging current to an alternative circuit, e.g. to heat water or charge an outboard electric motor battery.

All low voltage consumers on board are switched on or off via a Victron Battery Protect, the BMS will automatically switch them off when the voltage of one or more cells becomes too low (read: the battery is empty).

The shore power connection is via a Victron Multiplus, which combines a battery charger and inverter in 1 unit. The charger is automatically switched off by the BMS when the battery is full and the inverter allows us to use our 220V devices on board even without shore power.

A second, classic battery is only used to start the engine, this is an Optima blue top AGM battery and in an emergency it could serve as a small house battery.
In day-to-day use, this battery is charged via the alternator. The BMS switches a Victron Orion DC-DC converter on and off which directs some of the charging current to the house battery. A direct connection between the alternator and our LiFePO4 battery is not possible because the battery ‘demands’ more current than the alternator can supply and the latter would therefore die very quickly.

Het hart van El Burro’s elektriciteit-systeem is een Electrodacus Battery Management System (BMS), dit stukje electronica beheert alle aangesloten componenten en zorgt ervoor dat de batterij optimaal kan functioneren. Hiervoor zijn er twee shunts aan de positieve bus gekoppeld zodat het systeem in- en uitgaande stroom kan meten.

De 12V batterij met een capaciteit van ongeveer 3.5KWu bestaat uit 4 in serie gekoppelde LiFePO4 3.2V cellen van 280Ah.

Zonnepanelen op het dek laden deze batterij bij, ze zijn verbonden via DDSR20 schakelaars (ook van Electrodacus) deze kunnen tot 20A laadstroom aan en verschillende panelen kunnen parallel aangesloten worden. Bij een volle batterij kunnen ze de laadstroom naar een alternatief circuit omleiden, hiermee kan je bv water verwarmen of een batterij van een elektrische buitenboord motor opladen.

Alle laagspanning verbruikers aan boord worden via een Victron Battery Protect aan of uit geschakeld, het BMS zal deze automatisch uitschakelen wanneer de spanning van 1 of meerdere cellen te laag wordt (lees : de batterij leeg is).

De walstroom aansluiting loopt via een Victron multiplus, deze combineert een batterij lader en omvormer in 1 toestel. De lader wordt automatisch uitgeschakeld door het BMS wanneer de batterij vol is en met de omvormer kunnen we zelfs zonder walstroom onze 220V toestellen aan boord gebruiken.

Een tweede, klassieke batterij wordt enkel gebruikt om de motor te starten, dit is een Optima blue top AGM batterij en in een noodgeval zou deze als kleine huis batterij kunnen dienstdoen.

Bij dagdagelijks gebruik wordt deze batterij opgeladen via de alternator. Het BMS schakelt een Victron Orion DC-DC converter aan en uit waarmee een deel van de laadstroom naar de huis batterij wordt geleid. Een rechtstreekse verbinding tussen de alternator en onze LiFePO4 batterij is niet mogelijk omdat de batterij meer stroom ‘vraagt’ dan de alternator kan leveren en deze laatste daardoor heel snel de geest zou geven.

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.

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. 🇫🇷

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ;).

Belgium – Travel Blog (NL)

Dit is een samenvatting van alle blogs die tijdens onze reis in België op onze Polarsteps account zijn geplaatst. Voor meer nauwkeurige updates van onze zeiltocht kunt u rechtstreeks naar Polarsteps gaan.

12 oktober 2022

We zijn aangekomen in Antwerpen, de plaats waar ons groot avontuur 2,5 maand geleden begon!
Nee, dit is nog niet het einde van onze reis maar eerder een nieuwe fase van ons live-aboard leven. Hier zullen we ons voorbereiden op ons volgend groot avontuur waar we ons via de binnenwateren van Frankrijk naar de Middellandse Zee zullen begeven.

Het was een vreemd gevoel om terug te varen naar Antwerpen, maar ook een goed gevoel omdat alles zo vertrouwd aanvoelt. Mijn hart maakte een sprongetje zodra ik in de verte de kathedraal zag. Dit is tenslotte de stad waar ik 15 jaar geleden verliefd op werd en waar ik veel mooie herinneringen heb opgehaald. Zodra we onze boot hadden aangemeerd aan de steiger, bezochten we onze lieve werfburen.
Het is zo geweldig om te zien welke vooruitgang ze hebben geboekt met hun boot. Ondertussen hebben we al andere bekende gezichten gezien. De haven van Linkeroever voelt vaak aan als een klein dorp waar iedereen elkaar kent.

Dus wat moet er gebeuren voordat we Antwerpen verlaten:

– Aangezien onze mast 11 meter lang is en Frankrijk veel bruggen en zelfs tunnels kent, moet de mast van onze boot worden losgemaakt. Zeilen en tuigage worden aan boord opgeslagen. De mast wordt aan dek gedragen.
– We zullen fenderplanken ophangen om de wrijving van de wanden op te vangen en de fenders te beschermen bij sluizen.
– We moeten een extra grote fender kopen voor het geval onze boeg de wanden van de sluizen raakt.
– Nelly (onze kat) moet naar de dierenarts voor een antilichaamtest tegen hondsdolheid.
– Familie en vrienden ontmoeten (heel belangrijk!)
– Wandelen door Antwerpen (net zoals vroeger).

Dat zijn eigenlijk de belangrijkste to-do’s terwijl we hier in Antwerpen zijn. Best spannend want we hebben nog nooit eerder onze mast verwijderd. 😬

We zijn van plan om hier twee tot drie weken te blijven voordat we onze reis door België 🇧🇪 en uiteindelijk Frankrijk voortzetten. 🇫🇷

25 oktober 2022

We zijn bijna klaar om Antwerpen te verlaten. Om eerlijk te zijn zagen we er een beetje tegenop om hier terug te keren, maar de dagen zijn voorbij gevlogen.

We zijn niet langer een zeilboot, althans voorlopig niet. Onze mast is eraf en op het dek geïnstalleerd zodat we de vele bruggen en tunnels in Frankrijk kunnen trotseren. Het is een vreemd zicht, onze boot ziet er op de een of andere manier nog stoerder uit.

Het waren drukke maar erg leuke dagen. We hebben al onze dierbaren weer gezien en kregen zelfs van iemand het geweldige nieuws dat er een baby op komst is. Het afscheid voelt nu anders omdat we weten dat het voor langere tijd is, meer onbepaald.

Het was heerlijk om weer door Antwerpen te lopen, een vertrouwd gevoel. Het schema van de veerboot die ons naar de rechteroever van de stad brengt kennen we inmiddels uit ons hoofd.

We hebben niet veel gekookt aan boord, maar meestal uit eten gegaan met vrienden. We werden ook een paar keer uitgenodigd om samen te eten met iemand die hier woont op zijn boot in de jachthaven. De zeilgemeenschap is echt uniek, één grote familie.

Het is de laatste week in Antwerpen voordat we onze reis voortzetten en het zal nog wel even duren voordat we hier terug zijn. We kijken er erg naar uit om ons avontuur voort te zetten en nieuwe plaatsen te ontdekken.

31 oktober 2022

Het was nog donker buiten toen we de landvasten losmaakten en de stad Antwerpen achter ons lieten. ‘De sluisdeuren openen binnen enkele minuten’ klonk het over de marifoon. Samen met nog 5 andere boten vaarden we de sluis uit. Terwijl iedereen naar links ging, gingen wij naar rechts. De Antwerpse skyline was prachtig verlicht en het was een mooi moment om (voorlopig?) afscheid te nemen van deze stad. Het refrein van Coldplay – God put a smile upon your face spookte door mijn hoofd. Wat een zalig gevoel om tijdens zonsopgang ons avontuur ECHT te starten.

We manoeuvreerden tussen de waterbussen, de overzetboten, de slapende meeuwen en de vele takken die de Schelde onveilig maken. Terwijl we verder naar het zuidwesten vaarden, kwam de zon achter ons op boven Antwerpen.

Aan Rupelmonde draaiden we naar links richting Boom en kwamen we in een mooi natuurtafereel terecht. Mist en dauw gaven een feeëriek effect aan de prachtige natuur. Het water was bijna een spiegel.

We kwamen dichter bij de brug en zagen aan de peiling dat er net geen 3 meter doorvaarthoogte was. Onze boot was hoger dus moesten we een half uur wachten totdat het water verder zakte en de stroming keerde. Uiteindelijk konden we de brug door met nog 20 cm marge.

Voorbij de brug kwam de sluis van Klein-Willebroek al snel in zicht. Via de marifoon liet de sluiswachter ons weten dat we meteen konden schutten. Door de zijstroom gingen we al driftend de sluis binnen. Tijdens het schutten werden we verwelkomd door de vriendelijke havenmeester die ons liet weten waar we konden aanmeren.

En zo zijn we dus aangekomen in Klein-Willebroek. Nu is het echt genieten van quality time met de mama en mijn stiefpapa. Binnenkort laten we Klein-Willebroek achter ons en gaan we richting Gent.

07 november 2022

We zijn in Gent, al was er wel wat twijfel of we er zouden geraken…

Maar eerst terug naar Klein-Willebroek. Met onze zeilpakken aan en alles in gereedheid gebracht was het nog 10 minuten wachten voor er genoeg water was om door de sluis te varen. Vlak voor vertrek zien we Dirk (Julie’s stiefvader) met een zakje verse croissants over de steiger wandelen. Heerlijk! We starten de motor, nemen afscheid en gooien de landvasten los.
In en na de sluis worden we nog uitgezwaaid door de havenmeester, Dirk die ons nog een tijdje gevolgd is en de kapitein van de overzetboot.

We varen met tegenstroom richting Rupelmonde en nadien de Schelde op en komen na 2 uur varen aan bij de steiger van Buitenland. We leggen ons aan en rusten wat uit. Greg maakt een stoofpotje en we gaan een rustig nacht tegemoet. Er is zo goed als geen scheepvaart dus we bewegen haast niet.

Zondag, de dag nadien, vertrekken we richting Merelbeke. De regen blijft voorlopig uit en we verbazen ons over de prachtige natuur naast de Schelde. Naarmate de tocht vordert komen de oevers dichterbij en worden de bochten scherper en frequenter. Er is geen beroepsvaart onderweg dus we hebben de Schelde helemaal voor ons alleen. In de namiddag begint het toch zwaar te regenen en moeten we manoeuvreren tussen de vele boomstammen die op het water drijven. We horen een doffe knal onder de boot en realiseren dat we er één geraakt hebben. Gelukkig is er geen schade!
Na 5 uur varen passeren we de sluis van Merelbeke en krijgen we een mooie ligplaats onder de bomen. We bekijken nogmaals de verschillende opties om Gent binnen te varen. Met onze diepgang van 1.60 meter is het blijkbaar toch niet zo haalbaar om via het centrum Portus Ganda in Gent te bereiken. We besluiten dan ook om het via een omweg te doen.

We liggen rustig in Merelbeke, ons dek is bezaaid met boomblaadjes in allerlei kleuren. Ik spoel het dek af en we maken de landvasten los om richting Gent te gaan. We hebben besloten om via de Ringvaart en het kanaal Gent-Terneuzen te varen. De rust op het water is een groot contrast met het hectische verkeer rondom ons. Helaas is het nu maandag dus er is beroepsvaart, we liggen dan ook in de sluis van Evergem met verschillende grote containerboten. Nadien nog even door de industrie op het kanaal maar dan varen we Gent binnen. We worden meteen verwelkomd door de verschillende mooie woonboten die langs de kant liggen. Het vaarwater wordt steeds smaller, ondieper en de bruggen worden lager. Op het einde hebben we maar net genoeg plek maar we varen toch succesvol onze box binnen. We zijn er geraakt! Het is goedkoper om met ons huis in centrum Gent te liggen dan hier je auto te parkeren.

Gent + Merelbeke
17 november 2022

We lagen in het centrum van Gent, in de haven van Portus Ganda, de nautische toegangspoort tot deze stad.
Via de havenmeester konden we een plattegrond en een stadsgids bemachtigen. Ook namen we een kijkje op https://visit.gent.be om te zien wat er allemaal te doen is. Eigenlijk kenden we Gent helemaal niet zo goed. Na zoveel jaar in en rond Antwerpen gewoond te hebben is het leuk om eens een andere stad beter te leren kennen.
De eerste avond gingen we dan we ook op ontdekking door de mooi verlichte straten van Gent. De vele monumenten komen door de slimme verlichting extra tot hun recht en hebben een feeërieke uitstraling.

We wisselden de dagen af met heerlijk niets doen, bootklusjes of de stad bezoeken met of zonder familie. Het afscheid nemen van dierbaren wordt concreter naarmate we verder varen, we genieten dan ook intens van iedereen die we nog zien. ❤️

Gent heeft ons aangenaam verrast. Zo zijn er veel lokale, gezellige winkeltjes (tip: the Fallen Angels, een echt snuisterparadijs), leuke restaurants (tips: Bicho Malo voor smaakvolle Mexicaanse gerechtjes en Judy’s Lobster Shack voor overheerlijke lobster rolls) en de vele authentieke café’s die Gent rijk is (tip: De Trollekelder waar je meer dan 300 speciale bieren kan ontdekken). Maar ook een bezoekje aan de botanische tuin met ruim 10000 plantensoorten en verschillende serres die je kan bezoeken en het Citadelpark, een oase van groen in hartje Gent, zijn zeker de moeite waard om eens door te wandelen.

Eigenlijk gingen we maar 7 dagen in Gent liggen maar het werden er 10. Door werken aan een brug waren we genoodzaakt om nog langer te blijven. Het hoort bij ons leven, de dingen nemen zoals ze komen, go with the flow. En zo is reizen met een boot altijd een beetje avontuur. Bij vertrek uit Gent hoorden we een raar geluid in onze motor. We besluiten het zekere voor het onzekere te nemen en ons even aan de kant te leggen om het probleem op te lossen. Greg had in Gent de schroefas losgemaakt om die uit te lijnen en bij het vastzetten die te ver naar binnen getrokken. Dus nu kwam bij het varen alles wat naar voor waardoor de anode die rond de as zit tegen de romp schuurde. Alles terug losgemaakt en iets verder naar achteren terug vastgezet en het raar geluid was verdwenen.
Gelukkig maar!
Bij de sluis van Evergem varen we ons nog even vast in het slib aan de wachtsteiger en eenmaal aan de jachthaven van Merelbeke krijgen we te horen dat de sluis, die ons toegang verleent tot de haven, voor 4 dagen dichtgaat dus besluiten we maar om ons aan de sluis van Merelbeke te leggen aan een hoge kade tussen de vrachtschepen.
Het hoort bij het avontuur horen we ons dikwijls zeggen en de tegenslagen volgen elkaar gelukkig snel op met mooie, bijzonder momenten. Elke dag is uniek en soms een uitdaging maar we houden ervan.
Op naar het volgende avontuur.

26 november 2022

De voorbije dagen zijn we verder zuidwaarts getrokken. Via Merelbeke, Oudenaarde, Avelgem-Kerkhove en Bossuit zijn we de grens met Wallonië overgestoken.

In Oudenaarde hadden we afgesproken met de tante van Greg. Het was een gezellig weerzien en zo kon ze onze boot toch eens ‘in het echt’ zien.
Oudenaarde is een gastvrije stad. Van zodra we aan de wachtsteiger aanmeerden kwamen er al enkele schoolkindjes enthousiast naar ons zwaaien. De vriendelijke havenmeester liet ons ook meteen weten dat we een tiental minuten moesten wachten omdat de ophaalbrug naar de haven defect was. Een technieker was al onderweg om het probleem op te lossen.
We kregen een mooi plekje tussen de bomen. Akkoord, de haven was al wat verouderd maar de havenmeester liet me de plannen zien hoe de haven binnen een paar maanden zal moderniseren en dat we zeker altijd welkom zijn als we ooit terugkomen. Wie weet…

Vanuit Oudenaarde vervolgden we onze tocht naar de Kloron jachthaven in Avelgem-Kerkhove. Wederom lagen we alleen aan de steiger, er zijn niet veel plezierboten buiten het vaarseizoen. De jachthaven is gelegen in een Scheldearm die uitmondt in de Bovenschelde dus al het afval dat drijft op de Schelde komt helaas deze jachthaven binnen. Met mijn grijper, vuilzak en handschoenen aan van de River Cleanup (www.river-cleanup.org) heb ik me een namiddag bezig gehouden met het vissen van afval uit het water. Veel Capri-Sun verpakkingen, Kinder Surprise eitjes en flessendoppen in allerlei kleuren. Toen het donker werd heb ik alles wat ik op de steiger bijeengeraapt heb weggegooid in de afvalcontainer van de jachthaven. De Schelde is 14,2 kg afval armer. Een magere vangst als je zag hoeveel er uiteindelijk nog lag.

De volgende ochtend vertrokken we naar Bossuit. Volgens de kaart kan je daar aan een ‘wildsteiger’ liggen na de sluis. Aanmeren op de Schelde is een uitdaging als je eens een jachthaven wil vermijden. Je kan eventueel aan de wachtsteigers van de sluizen liggen maar echt aangenaam slapen is dat toch niet als er een groot vrachtschip passeert.
De sluis richting de steiger die we op het oog hadden was indrukwekkend. Heel hoge muren, dat zagen we al meteen toen we aan de wachtsteiger lagen. Al vragend en een beetje bezorgd keken we elkaar aan. We zijn sluizen die zakken of dalen van maximum twee meter gewoon maar dit was van een andere omvang.
De sluisdeuren gingen open, we vaarden er heel langzaam in en waren opgelucht toen we een bolder zagen die automatisch naar boven of beneden gaat. Ook dit was nieuw omdat we ons normaal vastleggen aan twee bolders in een sluis dus het was nogal zoeken hoe we onze boot recht konden houden aan één bolder. Uiteindelijk is het toch gelukt en zijn we maar liefst 11 meter (!) gestegen. Na de sluis lag inderdaad een steiger waar er nog net één plekje vrij was. Niet dat er voor de rest veel leven was, de boten die mee aan deze steiger lagen waren verlaten of ingepakt voor de winter. Drie dagen lang hebben we niet veel gedaan. Het regende buiten dus het was tijd om binnen onze boot eens grondig onder handen te nemen (klusjes en kuisen).

Na Bossuit passeerden we de grens met Wallonië. De communicatie met de sluizen verloopt nu in het frans. Een beetje wennen maar gelukkig hadden we al geoefend op de belangrijkste termen. De eerste formaliteit is ook een feit, aan de eerste sluis in Wallonië moesten we een blad invullen met onze bootgegevens en onze vaarroute.
Het initieel idee was om een paar dagen in Tournai te liggen maar na een telefoontje naar de toeristische dienst was het duidelijk dat dit niet mogelijk was. Je mag aan de bezoekerssteiger enkel liggen van zonsopgang tot zonsondergang, overnachten is verboden. Jammer…dus vaarden we verder naar Antoing waar er een Halte Nautique is waar je wel mag overnachten. We bezochten Tournai al varend, de Schelde loopt door het centrum dus we zagen toch enkele bezienswaardigheden. Ook waren er veel mensen die naar ons staarden of enthousiast zwaaiden. Een raar gevoel soms.
De Halte Nautique in Antoing was leeg, geen enkele andere boot te zien dus kozen we het beste plekje uit.
We bezochten het charmante dorpje, maakten een wandeling in de Forestier des 5 Rocs, een prachtig bos en namen een kijkje in Les passeurs de mémoire fondation Famawiwi, oude kalkovens die nu gebruikt kunnen worden voor tentoonstellingen of culturele evenementen. Ook hebben we onze eerste wilde everzwijn gezien.

Het landschap waar we in varen begon bij het binnentreden van Wallonië nu echt te veranderen. Veel heuvels, boerderijen en pittoreske dorpjes. Binnen een week varen we Frankrijk binnen. Een nieuw land en nieuwe ontdekkingen staan ons al op te wachten.

02 december 2022

Onze laatste week in België brachten we door in de jachtclub van Péronnes. Deze jachthaven ligt aan Le Grand Large, een meer van 45 hectare groot. In de zomer krioelt het hier waarschijnlijk van mensen in kajaks en kleine bootjes die komen genieten van het goede weer. Nu lagen we als enige boot aan de bezoekerssteiger en lag het meer er sereen maar verlaten bij. Enkel ‘s nachts was het er heel druk, honderden kokmeeuwen sliepen op het meer en de steiger naast ons. Één nacht vonden ze onze mast de ideale slaapplaats met alle gevolgen van dien. Een geluk dat we een goede dekwaspomp hebben…

Het was koud en mistig in Péronnes. Na twee dagen van cocoonen op onze boot vonden we het hoognodig om eens buiten te komen. Het weer was inmiddels opgeklaard dus Greg had een fietstocht uitgestippeld van 14 kilometer lang. Het was heerlijk om te rijden door prachtige herfsttaferelen naast een oud kanaal dat nu niet meer in gebruik was. De straten lagen bezaaid met boombladeren in verschillende tinten rood, oranje en groen.

Na drie maand was onze gasfles waar we mee koken bijna leeg. Elk land heeft andere flessen dus willen we in België de lege fles nog gauw omruilen voor een volle. Dat geeft ons in Frankrijk nog enkele weken flexibiliteit om een passende fles te vinden. Een volle gasfles vervoeren per fiets of te voet is niet ideaal dus stelde de havenmeester voor dat hij met ons wou rondrijden om een nieuwe te gaan halen. We zijn nog steeds verbaasd van hoe behulpzaam de mensen zijn die we ontmoeten tijdens onze reis. Bedankt aan iedereen die dit avontuur net iets mooier maakt.

In Frankrijk heb je een vaarvignet nodig. Je kan zo’n vignet kopen voor een dag, een week, een maand (= 30 kalenderdagen) of een jaar. We konden er nog geen kopen voor 2023, dus hebben we er eentje aangeschaft voor december 2022. We konden dus Frankrijk pas binnenvaren vanaf 02 december zodat ons vignet geldig is tot 31 december.
Dus vrijdag 02 december zijn we nog snel diesel gaan tanken vlak voor de grens met Frankrijk om de dag nadien officieel de grens over te varen. Toch wel een heel speciaal moment voor ons. Bienvenue en France! 🇫🇷

En nu… nu begint het volgende deel van ons avontuur. We moeten 7 kanalen en 2 rivieren doorkruisen (hopen dat de diepte overal wat meevalt), meer dan 230 sluizen trotseren en 6 tunnels passeren. Op naar het zuiden!

Benieuwd hoe onze zeilreis verder verliep? Ga naar Polarsteps ;).

The Netherlands – Travel Blog (EN)

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

03 August 2022

We left Antwerp around 08.30 AM along with my brother and cousin who sailed with us on the first day. The plan was to anchor at the Grevelingenmeer, our boat’s previous home base, but the bridge at Hansweert was blocked so we had to divert to the marina at Terneuzen. No punishment either and you anyway have to be flexible when travelling by sailing boat.

We sailed 35 nautical miles in 6 hours. The sun was burning heavily today. It was a beautiful trip through the Antwerp industry (well… beautiful… let’s just say it’s quite an experience). Along the way we passed giant container ships and saw a total of three seals. I mostly enjoyed having my family aboard and sharing the sailing life with them.

In Terneuzen, my brother treated us to pizza (thanks!) and we mostly let it sink in that our nomadic existence has now really begun.

Veerse Meer
04 August 2022

We’ve left Terneuzen early morning and went via the Westerschelde to Vlissingen. Along the way the drift almost made us hit a buoy (anticipated on time so no worries) and a bit tugboat wasn’t paying attention as they had their autopilot on and almost hit us (luckily we paid attention and changed our course on time).

In the lock from Vlissingen to Middelburg a French sailor who mentioned to us it’s his first time doing locks hit our boat when he tried to leave the lock. Luckily no damage but we were not happy as this is our home now and we worked really hard the last year to get her in shape.

So let’s say it was quite an eventful morning. 😅

Afterwards we stopped at Jos Boone to get some boat supplies and continued our way to Veerse Meer via the canal (Kanaal door Walcheren).

Now we’re at anchor on the Veerse Meer. It’s quite busy during the summer season and many boats our anchored to go for a swim or to have diner later today.

18,5 miles travelled today!

Veerse Meer
05 August 2022

We’re still at anchor at the Veerse Meer.

Quite a lazy day today, for me (Julie) at least. I slept in, read a bit, done a routine check of all bolts and seals on deck and that’s basically it. Greg finished some boat chores. He installed the deck wash pump, our extra bilge pump, bilge alarm and the SSB antenna.

There was quite some wind but we have a lot of trust in our anchor (we anchored in worse conditions in the past).

Tomorrow I think we’re going to visit Veere, a fishing village nearby. I remember it from the small cosy streets and historic houses. But all depends on how busy it’s going to be during the weekend else we’ll visit it another time. We can already see Veere from our anchor spot. Every hour the church bell rings a beautiful sound. They also have a small beach which we want to explore with our dinghy tomorrow.

06 August 2022

What a great morning! We both slept in and Julie went for a morning swim. The water was 23 degrees but full of moon jellies or ‘oorkwallen’. So you have to accept the feeling that something touches your leg every second 😬. Luckily they are not poisonous.

We afterwards went for an attempt to go grocery shopping. We searched for our shopping bags, made a shopping list and jumped in our dingy. After a couple of days our fresh food ran out. All we have left are lemons, leftovers and dry food. We sailed our dingy to Veere only to find out they don’t have any grocery shops nearby. Bummer… but happy that we found a little market stall with strawberries and red berries so we bought loads of them.

Back on our El Burro we hoisted our sails and sailed to Wolphaartsdijk. They have a shop that is (according to the internet) open tomorrow. We’re also going to meet the family of our boat’s previous owner so looking forward to that.

8 miles travelled today.

07 August 2022

This morning we received a visit from the son of the previous owner of our boat along with his wife. Very special to hear how the previous owner carpentered everything himself in our boat making our El Burro quite unique. I can imagine that it must be quite emotional for his son to see what the boat looks like now and to think back to all the sailing memories he had with his father.

I myself was quite emotional today as well. The memories I had with Noodle on our El Burro also came up. The moments when she came to me are now unanswered and this sometimes gives an empty feeling. I also miss Noortje very much. I wanted to give her this unique adventure and it sometimes seems like I am only now in the grieving process. The past few weeks were so busy that I pushed the sadness away. They were both full of love and I miss that love so much. Blessed that we still have Nelly. Every day she becomes more self-confident. She sits on deck in the morning, sleeps when we sail and plays on deck in the evening.

Today we sailed from Wolphaartsdijk via the Zandkreeksluis to the concrete harbor on the Oosterschelde. Here we are at anchor and I am doing the laundry in the evening sun. In the background I can hear the whooshing sound of the windturbines. Tomorrow we will go out to sea in the direction of Vlissingen. Our trip may look strange but if you have time it doesn’t really matter where you go.

Today we sailed 20 miles. 81,5 miles in total since we left Antwerp!

08 August 2022

En route to Vlissingen and the first time at sea since we started our sailing journey.

Also the first time we saw the compass jellyfish with its long, thin tentacles. The name is given due to the fact that its drawing resembles a compass rose.

After noon we pulled up anchor. We remembered that at the Betonhaven this is always accompanied by dirty, black sludge so we had the deck wash pump ready. As the chain goes into our windlass and in our anchor locker we wanted to avoid that our forecabin where we sleep smells nasty.

Afterwards we went through the lock and we were finally sailing at sea. What a beautiful, sunny trip with an average speed of 7.5 knots. The weather conditions were favorable and so it was a quiet, not too bumpy sail towards Vlissingen.

We sailed along the coast of the island of Walcheren past Westkapelle, Zoutelande etc. and were charmed by the many colorful beach cabins.

Around 7PM we arrived at Vlissingen. Vlissingen was an important historical harbour and in the 17th century a main harbour for ships of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). We are moored in the Michiel de Ruyterhaven (Michiel de Ruyter was a Dutch Admiral) and went for a bite to eat nearby and had a nice evening walk next to the water at sunset.

23,1 nautical miles sailed today.

09 August 2022

A real vacation day.

Getting up. Morning stroll to the bakery. Doing laundry in the marina’s washing machine. Having a nice lunch in our cockpit. Stocking up on food at the supermarket. Long walk on the beach with our feet in the water. Seen a sanderling (a small wading bird). Read some more in the cockpit, ate dinner, filled the water tank, showered and went to bed early.

Veerse Meer
10 August 2022

The morning started with a rescue operation. A pigeon fell off the jetty and was drowning. I came to the rescue with my fishing net and saved the poor thing. People who know me well know that I’m like a pigeon queen. I’ve already saved/helped numerous pigeons in my life. Somehow they always know where to find me.

It was time to depart at the Michiel de Ruyter harbor in Vlissingen. Greg puts himself in reverse to sail out of the box and suddenly I feel the slight panic. ‘The boat isn’t doing anything, I think we’ve lost the propeller!’ A second try… nothing. Until the man from the boat next to us says that we are still tied up at the front with a line and is kind enough to untie us. Fortunately, we are now going backwards. Lessons learned: always check that all our lines have been untied properly. 😅

We left the harbour and headed for the lock in Vlissingen. Commercial shipping has priority so we have waited for quite a long time. After the lock we have to take five bridges . When we could finally enter and leave the lock, we see that the first bridge is already closing. That means we have to wait for two hours at the jetty. We make something to eat for lunch, Greg chats with our German neighbor and I lie on the bed cuddling Nelly until Greg calls out that I have to get out quickly. Behind our boat swims a grey seal who is just devouring an eel. He continues to provide entertainment while we wait. As the bridge opens, we see him swimming toward the canal we need to go too.

Five bridges later and a brief stop in Middelburg (we had run out of sunscreen) we were on the canal towards Veere. We had to go through one more lock before we get to the Veerse Meer. Once we arrived at the lock, I see something big lying there. Something is swimming in the lock! Apparently this grey seal has taken the same trip as us and we are in the lock at the same time. He goes under and the lock doors close. Several times we ask ourselves if he is already on the Veerse Meer or if he is still in the lock. After a few minutes he comes up in a corner of the lock and impatiently swims at the lock doors to get out. Once the doors open we see him swimming towards the Veerse Meer.

We anchor on the Veerse Meer and Greg lights the barbecue. The next few days will be fairly sunny, so we will stay here until the weekend to swim and to explore land using our dinghy. This weekend Greg would like to participate in the mussel race in Yerseke with his old crew so only then we will lift our anchor again.

7 miles sailed today.

Veerse Meer
11 August 2022

I wake up with the sun on my head and a light breeze through the shutter of our bedroom. Nelly greets me with her typical grunt. My mind feels peacefully and happy.

It is above 30 degrees today but thanks to our DIY sun protection curtains it stays reasonably cool inside.

We eat our breakfast, put on our swimsuits and apply sunscreen (very important on a boat – make sure it’s ocean-life friendly!). While I brush my teeth, Greg moves our dinghy from the deck to the water. Today, we are going to explore the many outlets of the Veerse Meer. It is already quite busy on the water. Windsurfers, people on a SUP, small motorboats, dinghies, canoes, kayaks, sailing boats, large motorboats … everyone clearly wants to enjoy the good weather. Also the many camper vans are already parked along the waterfront.

In our dinghy we regularly get the salty spray over us as we pound into the waves. Cold! But the water itself doesn’t feel cold, it’s even very tempting to take a dip later. But first we set out to explore. With our dinghy and outboard motor, we explore several outlets on the Veerse Meer. The trees along the water’s edge are beautifully green and I enjoy moving my feet through the water. Everything looks so idyllic and everyone looks so relaxed. Underneath our dinghy we see small fish swimming and even shrimp. In front of us, two kingfishers pass by and an egret is fishing along the shore. I feel intensely happy.

Once we get back to our boat, I can’t resist jumping into the salt water. From the swimming ladder we jump into the water several times. Very refreshing! We then immediately rinse ourselves with a bucket of fresh water. Since we have to be fairly economical with our fresh water and we can’t shower every day, we sometimes have to be creative.

We light the barbecue again and while I do the dishes (washing with salt water, rinsing with a little fresh water) Greg relaxes in the hammock.

What a beautiful day!

12 August 2022

Greg is going to skip the mussel race in Yerseke so today we are sailing to the Grevelingenmeer to anchor there for a few days. The Grevelingenmeer, where I fell in love with sailing and where our former home port was, Herkingen. Also the many memories we share here with friends and family make this place something special.

It feels a bit strange to be back here. Because normally after a weekend we would sail into our box, clean up and drive the car back home. But we don’t have a house or an apartment anymore, this is our house. There is no car waiting, this is our means of transportation. Sometimes it all still feels like vacation but this is our life now. The realization is not quite there yet.

We both feel tired today and after anchoring after 5 hours of sailing, we crawl into our bed and lay down next to Nelly for a nap. After dinner we enjoy the beautiful summer evening and we even spotted several shooting stars at night.

We are now on our way for 10 days and sailed 139,1 nautical miles in total.

13 August 2022

We just enjoy what the water and nature has to offer us. Swimming, SUPPING, observing birds, jellyfish and fish, spotting seals, reading in the hanging chair above the water,… Even our trip to the marina of Herkingen with our dinghy to take a shower and stock up on water feels like an adventure. We really enjoy every moment together and are blessed our days are filled with these unique moments.

14 August 2022

Despite several requests for quotations and even two suppliers who came to take measurements (and then didn’t let us know anything), we still don’t have a new spray hood and bimini. As a result, our old spray hood gave up yesterday. The seams came loose from the ten year old thing. Sun and salt water are not a good combination and stuff gets a lot of wear and tear. So today I was mainly busy with sewing the hood back on. We don’t have a sewing machine on board so everything had to be done manually with the speedy stitcher. The spray hood can hold out for a while now but we will have to contact other suppliers.

We also miss a bimini (sunshade). It is sometimes difficult to find a shady spot on our boat. Fortunately we have beach umbrellas that help us out. ⛱

This afternoon I spent an hour on the SUP. Some floating around and watching the sea life below me. Meanwhile, a curious seal was watching me from the water.

The days pass more slowly and I enjoy everything I see, experience and feel. Boat life feeds my soul.

16 August 2022

We lift our anchor. Time to move to another place. We hoist the headsail and slowly move forward. It is gray and cloudy outside.

We make a stop at the Veermansplaat, an uninhabited island on the Grevelingenmeer. Only dozens of horses and some cows live on the island.

Time to stretch our legs. We walk down the waterfront and collect washed-up garbage along the way. Fishing nets, caps, a ball, glasses and some smaller plastic. Under our feet a crunching sound of oyster shells and crab carcasses.

After 7 km of walking we decide to go back to our boat. We put the harness on Nelly and let her discover the island on a leash. After ten minutes she has had enough.

We detach ourselves from the jetty and decide to anchor a little further away. It’s starting to rain outside. Lovely to cool down after all those hot days.

18 August 2022

Yesterday we did some chores inside while it was raining outside almost all day.

Today we have been more active. Under a bright sun we sailed in our dinghy to Hompelvoet, one of the many islands on the Grevelingenmeer. Fjord horses stay there almost all year round and cows can also be found there during a certain period. We moor our dinghy and step ashore. We enjoy a nice walk between the just-cut grassy plains and along the wildlife trail. Traveling with a sailboat is not only on the water, we like to discover islands and new villages or towns and therefore we like to go ashore.

It’s a lazy afternoon. I make a blanket fort on the deck and lay sprawled out together with Nelly under the patch of shade this creates. Greg prepares lunch and does some chores and afterwards relaxes with a book.

At sunset, the water is like a mirror and I grab the dinghy to do some rowing. A few seals accompany me and I get a very serene feeling. The days are slower, the evenings more magical. I can’t get enough of it.

Den Osse
19 August 2022

Busy day today.

If we dock in a marina it is only because we have run out of fresh food and the dirty laundry is piling up. Today we are moored in WSV Den Osse, a cozy marina on the Grevelingenmeer with all the necessary amenities. They have a large supermarket nearby in Scharendijke and fortunately they have bicycles that we can borrow here so we can easily do our shopping. It was also nice to cycle again after almost three weeks. You should have seen us carrying all our stuff on the bicycles. People even wished us good luck. Once back aboard (yes, we made it. Even the eggs were still intact 🥚), it’s always a challenge to store everything in a proper way.

Doing the laundry is another thing, we really have to plan this now. Nothing beats the feeling of having freshly washed clothes 😌. Shopping and doing the laundry takes almost half a day but luckily we have time now.

The advantage of a marina is that we have WiFi and I make eager use of that to video call with my beloved friends or family. I can get intensely happy to see my godchild, brother and sister-in-law again. Even though we are only three weeks away, my family is very dear to me and I always look forward to spending time with them, whether it is virtual or in real life.

20 August 2022

Our first visit since we live aboard. Our ex-colleagues and good friends Isabelle and Daan are coming to join us on board for the day. It is nice to see familiar faces again after three weeks.

Unfortunately, the promised swimming weather does not materialize, but after a nice cup of coffee, we hoist the sails and sail around. We anchor in the lee of the Stampersplaat and enjoy a nice lunch. Afterwards we sit in the cockpit and chat while the seals entertain us from the water. We drop our friends off at the jetty in Den Osse marina and sail a little further towards the setting sun to anchor behind an ‘island’ which on closer inspection is nothing more than a couple of rocks.

22 August 2022

Today we hoisted anchor to have a bite at our favourite surf and beach club Natural High and to stretch our legs once more.It is busy at the jetty but luckily we find an empty spot and tie up.

We walk for a while past the many campervans parked here to windsurf, SUP or just to soak up the sun. Good weather brings good vibes.

At Natural High, Greg takes the kibbeling with fries and I enjoy tasty sashimi and a poké bowl. It does good to get out among civilisation sometimes.

In the evening, I video call my family. It’s good to see everyone together again, my mom, two brothers and my awesome sister.

Quiet evening aboard El Burro until we found the rotten carrots under our floorboard…

25 August 2022

We haven’t done much the last few days, which is why it’s been a bit quieter here on Polarsteps.

The day before yesterday we took Nelly for a walk on Dwars door de Weg, one of the many uninhabited islands on the Grevelingenmeer. Nelly has had a garden for years, which she fully enjoyed every day, so she was very happy to feel grass under her paws again. She looked for a shady spot and lay down next to a bush from which all kinds of noises came (I think she heard mice). We sat down for about an hour with bees, butterflies and birds all around us. Afterwards we sailed for two hours at 2 knots to our anchorage at the Schelpenhoek.

And there we were until today. Yesterday it was very sunny and warm so we went snorkeling. Fish, snails, crabs, jellyfish, oysters, mussels… always fascinating to see the underwater world up close. Afterwards, Greg explained to me how to drive the dinghy’s outboard motor. Also important to master this myself.

And so today we moved to an anchorage close to Herkingen. Now we are lying here being bumped by a front passing by with 20 knots of wind. Tomorrow we go back on the more active tour as we have visitors this weekend! That means two locks and the Oosterschelde and Volkerak. Our El Burro was almost associated with the Grevelingenmeer so it’s good to discover other places. That is the advantage of a floating home. Our home is where the anchor drops.

26 August 2022

The wind has been blowing quite heavy all night and even now there is a 15 knot wind with gusts to 20 knots. We raise the anchor and soon see green, large spots in the water. With every meter of anchor I raise, I see that plants have established themselves around the chain. I try to make our chain plant-free by hand but it just keeps coming so I quickly connect the deck pump and rinse the chain and anchor clean. Lesson learned for next time: always ensure the deck pump is ready before we lift the anchor.

Afterwards we sail towards the lock but it takes longer than expected. For an hour or so we do a dance with other boats in front of the lock gates. Once the gates open, many boats gather quickly in the lock with a strong wind coming from behind. People often get stressed in a lock so also this time I hear the shouting around me. We always try to keep calm, stress is needed for nothing and the calmer you are the better. So we secretly laugh at the shouting around us. 😁

The second lock (Oosterschelde to Volkerak) is a smooth passage and we soon hoist our mainsail. This is rather difficult because it is a new sail and we still have to learn how to adjust it correctly. Soon our headsail follows and at 5-6 knots we sail directly towards the anchorage. The conditions are great and it’s a wonderful sail. ⛵️

After anchor Greg makes fresh pizza 🍕and we make it a quiet evening for the rest. Tomorrow we will have visitors!

Dinteloord, Willemstad, de Heen (+ Hollands Diep) 
28 August 2022

We are walking back to our boat after checking in at the Dinteloord harbor office until suddenly someone calls our name. Our good friends Gwenny and Jorn have arrived and we are spending a weekend together. We on our boat in Jachthaven de Waterkant in Dinteloord and they in a hotel a little further away. Gwenny quickly let us know that she wants to go sailing today. After an overcast morning, the sun has come through so it is the ideal time. We detach the boat, sail through the lock and make a trip on the Volkerak. There is no wind at first so we almost float on the spot. Jorn is behind the steering wheel and enjoys it to the fullest. The wind gradually increases so we finally reach 3 knots. On the way back to the harbor we have to tack frequently and Captain Greg takes over the wheel.

Once in the harbor, we leave the boat behind to take the car to Willemstad. First we go shopping (thank you Gwenny, that saves us a lot of time and dragging with groceries 😉 ) and afterwards we walk and eat in the beautiful establishment city Willemstad. In Cuarto Ocho we enjoy Spanish cuisine (highly recommended!) and then back in the boat we play a board game together.

We get up early to go for a walk in the Vlietpolder at De Heen. We had found a brochure in the harbor office which sounded promising but the walk is somewhat monotonous. That’s why we finally decide to shorten this walk and to go for a walk in the Dintelse Gorzen at Benedensas. This nature reserve and unique piece of nature pleases us more because of the variety of forests, meadows, open plains and water features. Also the numerous presence of horses, Scottish highlanders and various birds and insects make us feel completely at one with nature after this walk. We reward ourselves after almost 19000 steps with a pancake in the pancake farm De Uitwijk where you can choose from more than 100 different kinds.

It was great to have our friends so close for the weekend. Gwenny and I go way back (almost 15 years of friendship) so we’ve already made many great memories together. Forever grateful to have met her. ❤️

Now we are moored at a mooring buoy just after the Volkerak lock.

29 August 2022

It is half past ten. In half an hour the Haringvliet Bridge will open and we can sail through with the dozens of other boats. We float around on the spot until we suddenly see the many cars and trucks stop. The bridge opens and we sail through as quickly as possible. We then hoist the mainsail. The wind is difficult, alternating between no wind and gusts of 15 knots. We pass the nature island of Tiengemeten, which we have visited in the past because of the harvest festivals. Nelly decides to sit on the spray hood and enjoy the view. Just after noon the wind increases, we roll out the headsail and we reach a nice speed of 5.5 knots.

After a 5-hour trip, we arrive at our final destination for today at the Hellevoetsluis. We have arranged to meet someone who has a storm jib for sale. With our dinghy we pick it up just before sunset. We spend the rest of the evening at anchor.

30 August 2022

Today we visited Hellevoetsluis during noon. Mainly looking for a store to stock up on fresh fruit as we were running out.

After an hour of walking and shopping, we hoist both sails to sail to the Haringvliet Bridge with a 15-20 knots North East wind. We sail close-hauled so our boat heels heavily to starboard. We even achieve a speed record with our El Burro of 7.5 knots. Nelly jumps out of bed, comes to me and utters her panic meow. Because of the heeling boat, she has trouble walking straight. I pick her up and put her in a safe place. There she eventually falls asleep.

We speed up quickly and end up having to wait another 3 hours at anchor until the bridge opens. As soon as it opens, we go through as quickly as possible in a traffic jam with other boats.

In the Volkerak lock after the bridge we are the first to arrive, but we have to wait a while for a large ship that also wants to go through the lock. After the lock we immediately drop anchor.

This weekend we have to be in Middelburg because my wonderful sister, brother-in-law and niece are coming to visit us, so we sail all the way back. As we have no destination and a lot of time on our hands, sailing back and forth doesn’t really matter.

Veerse Meer
01 September 2022

We woke up with a queasy Nelly yesterday. Some fresh air fortunately did her good and soon she began to be more active again. The whole day I felt a little worried and kept a close eye on her. In the evening she had to throw up again but the boat was moving heavily at anchor so I cannot blame her.

Today it is fortunately better. Nelly is feeling as usual and is her happy self. Phew! The weather is calmer, so we sail for 7 hours from the Volkerak to the Veerse Meer. Nelly lies stretched out on the bed sleeping during the whole trip. We test our Aries windvane gear. It still needs some adjustment but it does its job and is already steering the boat. On the Oosterschelde we pass a sandbank full of seals and in the evening we anchor close to an island full of grazing deer (Haringvreter). Everyday I’m so grateful for being so close to nature 🙏🏻.

02 September 2022

This weekend I was reunited with my sister. ❤️ She, my brother-in-law and my niece stayed in a hotel in Middelburg so we moored our boat for two days in the WV Arne marina. It felt so great to see them and to spend some quality time together.

Middelburg is the capital city of the province of Zeeland and it’s known for its pretty old buildings and small alleyways. The buildings look like they have just been painted and we were really impressed with how clean the city was (even the windows of each house were spotless!). Middelburg has a very cultural background with beautiful monuments which are absolutely stunning. You can easily spend a day just wandering through the city.

And that’s basically what we did on Saturday, exploring Middelburg while the sun was shining brightly. From the shopping streets to the city hall, just walking, talking and spending time together. In the late evening after we had some dinner and while we were strolling through the city, we stumbled upon a festival in the abbey. What a cool place to organise a festivity here!

On Sunday we decided to sail a bit on the Veerse Meer. We picked up my family at the jetty just before the lock and headed straight to the Haringvreter, the island where we saw so many deers earlier this week. We moored at the jetty and in less than five minutes of walking we already saw several deers with large antlers. You could walk really close to them, they are probably used of the many people visiting the island by boat. Afterwards my little niece enjoyed catching crabs 🦀 and seeing the many jellyfish float by. It melted my heart to see how happy she was being here.

It was difficult saying goodbye. My sister and my niece have a very special place in my heart and I love them so much. I cannot wait to show them more of boatlife in other places and to explore the many beautiful countries on earth together when they visit us again in future. Now it’s just the three of us again for a while. 👫🏻🐈⛵️

Veerse Meer – through the eye of the storm 
05 September 2022

Slowly the colours of the sky changed. It was becoming darker, big clouds were forming and coming towards us. It started raining and the wind was picking up quickly. Not long after, we saw the first flash. Thunder! Seconds later we heard the rumble, it was still far away. I opened my weather app and saw that the thunder was still 10 kms away from us. Nothing to worry about.

It was getting darker and darker, Nelly was staring with big scary eyes at the windows. The strikes followed by the loud sound scared her. She started to become nervous but eventually found a perfect hiding spot that gave her shelter and a safe feeling.

Suddenly the rain stopped and the sky turned pink. A double rainbow popped-up. We went outside and were amazed by how peaceful and quiet it is. The thunder was still there, looking at the many lightning strikes we see around us, but it didn’t bother us. The sky was beautiful and mesmerising!

Not long after this interim beautiful scene, the rainbow disappeared and lightning strikes were hitting closer to us. I opened my weather app again and it mentioned that the closest strike in the last 30 minutes was 0.6 km away from us. I was starting to become nervous, what if it hits us? To add to the drama, our dinghy was smashing loudly to our windvane. Greg went outside to have a look and to make sure everything was secured safely. Big raindrops poured out of the sky. The combination of all the different sounds was really impressive.

After 10 minutes the rain stopped. We survived the storm! Nelly returned from her hiding space and greeted us happily. How things can change fast. 😅

Steenbergsche Vliet 
11 September 2022

Rain pours down while the scent of freshly baked apple cake is spreading in our boat. Coots, grebes, ducks, geese and many other marsh birds are in the meantime singing, calling, chattering and screeching. By now we are able to easily identify the unique sound of each bird.

The last couple of days we were moored at the Steenbergsche Vliet, a small river that flows into the Volkerak. To get there we had to enter a small lock, dated from 1824 and built to protect the land behind in case the water rises. The pittoresque little village called Benedensas never stops to amaze me. We were already here two weeks ago with our friends to have a walk in the Dintelse Gorzen but really wanted to stay here for a while with our boat. As it was quite rainy outside it was the perfect moment to read, watch a serie, bake a cake and do some boat chores inside while we were surrounded by beautiful nature and quietness.

When the sun came through we took Nelly for a walk. The first time she actually joined us in our dinghy. We rowed to the side, had a short walk until Nelly insisted that it was enough for today and that she wanted to go back. We are so proud of her, everyday she’s getting braver and becoming more confident. When I see her laying on deck, enjoying the sun, it really melts my heart. We have the feeling she is quite happy aboard except when there’s a storm or if the boat is heeling too much to one side but I must admit that these are also my least favourite moments.

So that’s how the days pass by on our El Burro. When the sun is out and the sailing conditions are good, we move our tiny house to another location. If not, we just anchor or moor somewhere and do some boat chores or relax. On a sailing boat it’s important to live close to nature, understand the weather elements and plan accordingly. As we don’t know what life might bring us, we try to enjoy each day to the fullest and appreciate the beauty we see around us.

15 September 2022

We’ve spend the last two days in Dordrecht, one of the oldest cities in The Netherlands. We stayed in one of the historic ports (K.D.R. & Z.V.) with several old warehouses that are located along the docks. Many of those old warehouses have been there since the 17th century and were used to store wine, sugar, grain and many other goods.The big church in Dordrecht welcomed us as soon as we sailed closer to the city but there are actually more than 1000 monuments located here. You can always follow the ‘Rondje Dordt’ signs if you want to see the highlights. Dordrecht also has a lot of art- and antique shops (you even have a ‘Kunstrondje Dordt’ walk) charming facades, music stores and good places to eat or drink.

The first day we had to look for a doctor as I was suffering from a UTI. I wasn’t sure how much it would cost as I didn’t have any health insurance in The Netherlands. Luckily they are working with a fixed rate for foreign visitors so I only had to pay 30 euros and was redirected to a pharmacy nearby to get my medication. The rest of the day we just strolled through the city exploring the small alleyways and visiting the beautiful Merwestein Parc with large grassy areas, many trees and some water features. In the afternoon we drank coffee at cat café Stripe where eight cute cats were ruling the place.

On the second day we went to the store to restock our food supply and discovered some of the local shops with authentic products. We ate poffertjes at Visser’s poffertjes. Poffertjes are a traditional Dutch sweet snack. You can compare them with mini pancakes but fluffier with a slight crunch on the outside and served with butter and a lot of powder sugar. If you are in The Netherlands, you definitely have to try these! For dinner we ate pizza at Otto e Mezzo. They have a beautiful terrace under an old fish market and serve authentic Italian pizza’s and pasta.

We enjoyed staying here in Dordrecht. If you want to visit a big, charming city without getting overwhelmed by tourists then Dordrecht is the place to be!

20 September 2022

We visited Tiengemeten for a day. Tiengemeten is a nature island on the Haringvliet. The name of the island refers to an ancient area measurement. According to Wikipedia one gemet is comparable with one acre. The island is actually more or less 7 kms long and 2 kms wide. Ten habitants are still living here.

We already visited the island twice in the past when the harvest festival took place and even tried a goose burger then which was quite tasty. So we wanted to visit the island again and have a walk in nature.

We weren’t sure if our depth allowed us to moor at the recreational port. We’ve read that the maximum draft was 1.5 meters but we didn’t have any issue lying there with our 1.65 meters draft. There are no facilities at the jetty and you have to walk approximately 2 kilometers to get to the visitor centre. You can also take a ferry to get to the island.

We were here on a Monday so everything is basically closed on the island. But next to the visitor centre you can find two museums here. Rien Poortvliet (a painter known for its gnomes) and an agricultural museum. They also have a place to eat something, an inn where you can sleep and a nature play area for kids.

Flowers fields, open plains, marshy reedlands,… this used to be an agricultural area but is now a nature island. It’s so quiet and peaceful on Tiengemeten. It often felt like being on a deserted island. We followed a marked trail but you can easily just wander of and walk around freely. Along the way we were surrounded by birds, we even spotted the sea eagle with its impressive wingspan. You can also spot beavers here (we unfortunately didn’t see any) and Scottish Highlanders (we actually did see them from up real close!). The clouds were starting to become grey and drops were already pouring from the sky so it was time to end our walk and return to the boat.

Back at our boat, the sun was shining again so we took Nelly for a walk before the next rain showers arrived. It was quite exciting to leave the small recreational port as the exit was surrounded by rocks, there were of gusts of 20 knots and we had to manoeuvre backwards (our El Burro hates doing this). But Captain Greg did it! We left the port safely and continued our way.

02 October 2022

It’s our final week in the Netherlands before we go back to Belgium to have the mast removed and to continue our journey. The last two months were great to get back into sailing and to adjust to our new life but it’s time to move on. Meanwhile autumn has arrived and we traded in our swimwear, t-shirts and shorts for hats, sweaters and long pants.

Although we only travelled in Zeeland and South Holland, we’ve already seen so many beautiful things. Kingfishers, cormorants, sea eagles, deer, porpoises, seals, hundreds of moon jellies, sea buckthorn berries growing here wildly along the riverbanks and dunes, the most beautiful sunsets, impressive lightning strikes, mesmerising rainbows and charming cities like Dordrecht and Middelburg. Just to list a few things that immediately come to my mind… I honestly cannot wait to discover more places throughout the world!

In the last two months we have really found our routine on board, been able to test our new sails and get used to living on the water in general with all its limitations. One of the biggest challenges is waste management. Everything you buy is packaged so waste soon piles up. We already try to throw away as much packaging as possible when we put away our groceries but we still need to find a better system for this. Furthermore, we are still figuring out how long exactly we can be self-sufficient with our 300 liter water supply. But we really love living aboard. The freedom to move our house where we want it, the amount of time we have to do whatever we want and the deep connection with nature we encounter daily. We are really blessed that we are able to live this life. Boat life will not always be sunshine and rainbows but it’s the challenges we face together as a couple that makes this life so interesting.

So what’s next? Well, we are spending the last week on the Grevelingenmeer as good friends are visiting us this weekend. Next week we’ll go to Antwerp if weather allows and we intend to stay there for two weeks. From there on we’ll travel through Belgium (with some stops to visit our family) to end up in France somewhere in December. And so the adventure continues…

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

Awaiting Freedom

It wasn’t before I saw my first humpback whale in Iceland that I became (let’s say) ‘obsessed’ with marine mammals. How those big creatures move around in that enormous pool of water is quite mesmerizing.

After Iceland, my first encounter with orcas happened in Canada. Those three big fins sticking out, a family swimming freely together, made me even more mad of the fact that we, humans, keep those animals in captivity. The so called stars at sea parks and aquariums throughout the world. Our own short-time entertainment resulting in a lifetime suffering of a beautiful creature.

Why should we, humans , even have the right to tear families apart? It’s know that orcas are highly intelligent, social animals with strong family bonds. They also need a great distance in the ocean to live, migrate and feed. In small tanks (even smaller than the parks parking lot) they just cannot thrive.

Most of us saw Blackfish, a documentary film, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, that tells the story of Tilikum. After three decades of misery and spending most of his live at SeaWorld Orlando, he died. He was involved in the deaths of three people mainly caused by stress of living in an unnatural condition. Some people say Tilikum was a murderer but let’s be honest, how would you act if you have no freedom at all?

The Covid-19 lockdown brought up a lot of mental issues for some people and that’s not even a life sentence. Wether it’s a bird locked in a cage, a gorilla staring behind glass in the zoo or a human not able to meet with his/her friends and family, we all want our freedom and make our own choice in our movements. It must be strange… swimming freely in the ocean until one day you are taken away from your family and home and kept in a small tank hoping that one day you’ll be taken back to that big endless salty pool.

So what can we actually do?

In my opinion it all starts with education. Don’t take your kids to those shows but make them aware it’s not OK for humans to steal marine mammals from their habitat. As a kid I too saw these shows and didn’t see any harm in it. Only by getting older and wiser you realize this is wrong in all ways.

Spread the message. Whether it’s via your Instagram page, a YouTube channel, word of mouth communication or any other way. MAKE PEOPLE AWARE!

Support organizations. Sea Shepherd, The International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP), WWF and many more of those wonderful organization are bravely fighting for marine conservation. In below video, Sir David Attenborough will explain you why this is so important:

Be a responsible tourist. Don’t go swimming with dolphins or attend orca shows. Just don’t participate in anything that involves the exploitation of marine mammals.

So as you can see, YOU can make an example. Unfortunately, the reason why those parks still exist is profit and not education. So if you want to see a humpback whale, orca or dolphin, book a whale watching expedition with a responsible company or simply take your binoculars and spot whales from shore.

The El Burro Crew