Profondeville - Thieu

‘Our’ technician visited us on Monday the 24th of August and discovered the electrical system giving the wrong signals to the fuel feeding system, causing the engine to run, as he put it, ‘square’ and even leading to a full stop. The latter happened some five times now, for the last time –we hoped - the day before. This electrical problem has to be fixed by an electrician from the same company later on. For the time being the problem is solved by re-routing the cables towards the fuel feeding system. We eagerly left Profondeville at 3:14PM and enjoyed equally a smooth running engine (at last!!!) and the Meuse, as is shown by this picture.

Namur was reached 5:02PM after less than 2 hours cruising, 2 locks included. We felt absolutely happy as the engine ran flawlessly the entire cruise – which hadn’t happened for, really, over three months. We moored upstream of the river Sambre, our next stretch of river. The circumstances had been rainy for a change; we just were able to catch a rainbow on top of the Pont de Jambes. Behind us are ‘De Ka’ and ‘Shell V’ visible, both from a village called Meerkerk, The Netherlands. Just for the record: we know the owners of ‘Shell V’ and have lived for around ten years in a hamlet called Leerbroek, adjacent to Meerkerk.

The next morning, on Tuesday the 25th of August, we left our mooring at 11:02AM and turned left 5 minutes later to enter the river Sambre. One of the first thing we saw after having left Namur was this text on a bridge ‘Stop Het Nederlandse Schip’ (Stop The Dutch Ship). Ouch! Why? We continued all the same. Of course. Come on folks, we are mutually important for each other’s economy! Full stop – no, full exclamation mark.

The Sambre turned out to be a disappointment after the almost seductive Meuse. There’s a lot of professional traffic –really huge ones!- and the river, comprehensively canalized, is hardly recognizable as such and dirty too. We moored at 4:16PM at Auvelais (Sambreville), after 26,5 kilometers (16,5 miles) and ascending 3 locks.

Auvelais was left at 11:20AM the next day, Wednesday the 26th of August, just minutes after a large commercial ship, ‘Admiralengracht’ (would you have guessed Admiralscanal?) from Amsterdam. We shared four locks with this ship of around 70 meters (233 feet). The locks on this part of the Sambre are all 111,90 meters (373 feet). There was, therefore, room enough for the both of us. The commercial boat was the entire day faster than us but we catched up at every lock.

Between 3:30 and 5:00PM we crossed Charleroi. Apart from the fact that this city does not offer anything like a proper possibility to moor it is close to depressing dirty and industrialized. Especially the activities connected to handling scrap metal catched our attention. It’s everywhere to be seen and it takes some time before the ‘scrap metal area’ is left again. This picture is just an example of what is to be seen in and around Charleroi – from the waterways that is.

The river (if there hadn’t been weirs one would not have known it is one) was left at 4:20PM and swapped for the Canal Bruxelles-Charleroi. That did not improve the view for a start; still loads of scrap metal. There must be some profit in it! As we were fed up for the day and devoid of any information about a possible attractive mooring place we asked the keeper of the last lock for that day (the first one on the canal, 7 meters going up) permission to be next to his lock for one night. He agreed, so here we are –facing the lock, so we had to turn the next day- moored at 6:15AM, having climbed four locks on the river and one on the canal, the last one without our companion from Amsterdam who continued following the Sambre.

A view of the other side. It was really gloomy that evening and the power station added greatly to the feeling ‘it’s only for one night’.

This is not gloomy at all we’d say – on the contrary. It is a branch of the canal, named ‘Branche de Bellecourt’, at Seneffe. We ended up there on Thursday the 27th of August already at 12:45PM, after just two locks and 4 hours of cruising because we thought it to be possible to use our washing-machine again while cruising as the electric system did not seem to give any more problems – and we could always do it before, in the good old days when life was easy. Alas, our electric system proved to be still very vulnerable because the entire 24-volt-system stopped working. Pffff. We found refuge at Seneffe and felt lucky that the electricity did work as normal after connecting to the mains on the shore. Yes, we know, it could simply be some fuse. We could not find anything wrong, so the electrician that would visit us anyway will come at an earlier time. (The picture was taken the next day before leaving. The Thursday was a day of continuous rain which did not positively contribute to our mood.)

When moored in Seneffe’s harbour we arranged for a mooring place at Mons – Canal du Centre. So we left on the 28th, a Friday, at 09:05AM for a cruise of between 4 and 6 hours. We were told that Mons’ harbour (Port de Plaicance du Royal Club Nautique Mons-Borinage, that’s a mouthful!) could be entered between 2:00 and 4:00PM, so we wanted to be on the safe side. The Canal Bruxelles-Charleroi was exchanged for the Canal du Centre at 9:30AM and we decided to skip the historic canal with 4 lifts and a lock, all descending, so we would go down using the huge boatlift named ‘Ascenseur de Strepy-Thieu’. Before reaching this lift one passes the barrier ‘Blanc Pain’ (White Bread). A necessity really, imagine the lift to fail!!!

In between the barrier and the lift the canal becomes higher than the surrounding landscape, resulting in an aqueduct of half a kilometer, or maybe half a mile. Not a small one anyway. That offers some rare views like this one. Mind you, the canal has a guaranteed depth of 2,5 meters (over 8 feet) and its width is substantial too.

L’ascenseur de Strépy-Thieu (The Strépy-Thieu boat lift) becomes visible after having passed the aqueduct. It bridges the difference in height of the Hainaut Plain (like the Ronquières Inclined Plane about which later on, when we use it).

It’s a genuine impressive feature when approaching it, seemingly a dead end and capable of swallowing up all cruising traffic.

We were told to wait for 5 quarters of an hour, so there was time to have a walk towards the edge of the higher part of Hainaut. This is the rewarding view. Wow!

The 5 quarters waiting time proved to be only half an hour. We were the only boat in a tank of 118 x 12 meters (390 x 40 feet). Well, compared to a lock a lift-tank does not spill a lot of water when operated – or do we make a logical error?

Descending L’ascenseur de Strépy-Thieu

Descending (and ascending, one imagines) takes only about 7 minutes. By a difference in height of 73,15 meters (244 feet) that’s over 1 meter in 6 seconds. One hardly notices this, but look at the wall and the video will give you a good impression of how it works. We were unable to see more, because the boat was attached on the inside of the tank and we had to fill in some forms for identifying our ship, based upon a dedicated number – which should have happened already when entering Belgium(!). From now on we only have to inform lock keepers about our number and their system will tell them all about us – apart from our pin-code that is.

All of a sudden it’s over – land comes in sight again. It is really miraculous – and we do not even have to pay for the ride! Thanks Wallonia, that will be different when we enter Flanders!

A look up before leaving the lift-structure. We were really impressed. There’s a lot of money spent in the past –and there will be in the future- on projects that were, say, controversial or perhaps even silly. We all know probably examples from where we live or have lived. In French they are called ‘Grands travaux inutiles’, sometimes abbreviated to GTI. ‘Huge unnecessary works’ one could say in English. This structure was built in the period 1982-2002, just when the mining-era ended and, subsequently, transport by boat declined too. Therefore a number of people would call this boat-lift a GTI. But it’s there and the 4 boatlifts (still in working order) in the old canal are now industrial monuments designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1998.

To end with the lift here’s the view when looking back after having left it. Two tanks perform the required jobs of a- and descending, irrespective of each other’s position. The counter-weights are visible on either side of the structure, leading to the conclusion that both tanks must be in the low position here.

The arrangement, as made the day before with the Port de Plaisance at Mons was harshly crushed when it became clear that the first lock of the two we had to negotiate before reaching the port was ‘en panne’. It was 1:00PM, the lock was out of order since 6:00Am, the lock keeper had no idea when it would be back to working order again and we were desperately in need of electricity. Now what? We contacted the Port de Plaisance at Thieu, just below the lift. They were more than happy to offer us shelter, electricity, water and wifi included. In case one wonders no, it’s not for free. We had to enter the old Canal du Centre by ascending a lock of only 6 meters to reach the port. Even after the lift we think this is impressive in its own way.

The view after having ascended the lock. One of the old lifts, number 4 out of 4, is visible in the background. This picture proves, see the 5th picture, that la capitaine’s husband as a matter of fact sometimes changes his t-shirt…

On the left hand side: new. On the right hand side: old. The tanks of the old lifts are used to counterbalance each other, unlike the ones of the new lift.

We found a place in Thieu’s harbour at 1:45PM. Period of activity: 4 hours and 40 minutes, 1 lift and 1 lock being part of it. We’ll not leave before Tuesday, because the electrician will visit us on Monday. So we booked for four nights, time to calm down a bit! À bientôt.