Douai - Dunkerque

Being moored close to the centre of Douai (Dowaai in Flemish/Dutch) was enjoyable to such an extent that we did not leave earlier than Tuesday the 27th of May. Departure time was 9:35AM and although we had to negotiate only one lock on the way it was already 4:07PM when we moored at Bethune. Distance covered: some 45 kilometers (28 miles). Sometimes we almost behave like real professionals! This is the mooring-spot. Unattractive, to be honest, all facilities are occupied by boats that never move (their occupants tend to look at you as if you are an alien) and someone even got away with the idea to build a new bridge overhead the mooring spaces! It would be very convenient, though, if you have a leaking roof and are able to moor underneath the bridge.

Next morning, Wednesday the 28th of May, departure time 7:47AM, bye, bye Bethune! (The town itself, on a distance of around 1½ kilometer -1 mile- is nice, no doubt about that.) Again only one lock, an exceptional one this time, ‘only’ 13,13 meters (43 feet) difference in level. We remember entering it from below, in September 2012, and that is absolutely a lot more impressive than from the top-level. Going down offers the opportunity to slowly getting used to its depth. The picture shows what it looks like on the way down, although not yet at bottom level.

The lock replaces a boat-lift that was there from 1888 until 1967. (Before 1888 there were 5 locks in situ. A simple example here of what is described as ‘progress’.) The nowadays disused boat-lift is still there to be visited. As is visible on this picture (thanks, Wikipedia) the lift consisted of two large bath-tubs, the one serving as a counter-balance to the other.

At 1:21PM we moored just a kilometer (0,6 miles) downstream of the deep lock at a place called Arques. On the main channel, which means to tie the ship as firm as possible because the passing commercials will make life a bit rough. As the bollards are on a distance just too far away apart for the length of our ship we choose for a sturdy looking fence and tied two breast lines and two spring lines. There was absolutely no possibility to attach head- and stern lines, simply because bollards are lacking or too far away. We can assure you that pins are absolutely insufficient most of the time, certainly here. We absolutely wanted this spot, as there was electricity. The ropes proved strong enough, we can reveal. Sometimes the force, created by the passing boats (70 to 90 meters long, fully laden) was overwhelming. The owner of the two connected boats visible behind us, each around 39 meters -130 feet- long (a ‘pousseur’), walked his dog and as usual we said ‘bonjour’ to him. He answered in Dutch and, though locally born and a French citizen, he appeared to be one of the few –the older generation- that still speaks French as well as Dutch. After all, we are here in French-Flanders, historically a Flemish/Dutch speaking area.

This is what we mean, two giants passing each other underneath a bridge on a distance of just 150 meters of our overnight mooring-spot. (For the insiders: we were moored in front of PK-sign 107 on the Canal de Neufossé (liaison au grand gabarit).) The water-displacement they cause made us feel like a cockle-shell when they passed us.

On Thursday the 29th of May we left Arques at 9:52AM, still in one piece. After having descended 3 locks we arrived at Dunkerque (Duinkerke in Flemish/Dutch). We hoped to be able to moor in a basin with electricity. In vain, as too often happens all terminals were occupied by boats that are there for eternity. So we were forced to contact the harbour-authorities to ask for permission to use one of the locks that offer the possibility to enter Dunkerques very harbour. We got the permission, negotiated another lock (ascending) and reached ‘Darse 1’ (Dock 1). Much to our delight we discovered a post from which to get electricity and water by using the electronic key as described by the final picture of last week. (The ‘hundredthousand key’, because of the 100kW of electricity and 1.000 liters of water its allows the owner to use.) As is clearly visible the quay is not originally designed to accommodate ships of our size. Well, we step on the roof and from there on the quay – no problem. So we attached the ropes, installed a chain (safety!), connected the electricity and were very pleased with ourselves. It was just around 4:00PM, time for a drink. Alas, a harbour-official approached us, telling us that this very quay would accommodate a large vessel within hours (that’s what we understood) and that we had to leave more or less immediately. Our only comment: :-(.

The harbour-authorities had told us to wait for a certain period at the quay and that we would be informed when to start moving. They did after some 30 minutes and, after passing two drawbridges (we are now prisoners of the city) we ended up in a large basin for pleasure-boats – virtually all being see-going sailing boats. Their pontoons are too short for us, so we moored against the quay opposite of the sailing-boats-marina. With a view, as you see. The picture might suggest that we are of the same length as the three-master on the opposite side. To be honest we are slightly shorter. That ship was built in Germany and first in the water in 1901, named ‘Großherzogin Elisabeth’. It served as a training ship for the German merchant navy and was handed over to France in 1946 after the second world war ‘as part of war reparations’ (sic). She was renamed ‘Duchesse Anne’ and bought by the city of Dunkerque in 1981. She now serves as a historic monument and can be visited.

Next to ‘Duchesse Anne’ –just visible on the former picture- is the light-ship ‘Sandettie’ moored, most likely for the rest of her life. For 40 years she has marked the presence of dangerous sand-banks in The Channel (‘Pas de Calais’). There were 8 sailors on board to maintain her and to keep her systems going. She was taken out of service in 1989 and is now another historic monument, open to visitors.

Dunkerque’s harbour, ‘our’ part that is, after dark. We think this illumination lasted until midnight, but never stayed awake long enough to check it out. The flashing light of the light-ship is still in perfect working order.

There’s a tourist-boat as well, of course. That in itself is not all that special. What is special is its name. Any Dutchman –and hopefully a lot of people of different nationality- will know why.

Dunkerque is France’s third sea-port, after Marseille and Le Havre. Among many other activities this sea-port has to do with fishing too. A bunch of different sort of fish is staring at us, spectators, in amazement, acquiescence, anger, agony, you name it. They’re all dead, still fresh and ready to be eaten by us privileged humans.

Believe it or not this is our third, repeat third, mooring space in Dunkerque within a few days. On Friday we visited Le Capitainerie for making inquiries about a possibility to occupy a space inside one of the two available marinas and the price for it to pay. An uninterested, almost rude, man, Le Capitain, informed us about some spaces with 8 amps of electricity and an eye-watering price of € 24,50 per day. During the conversation he informed us about him ‘wanting to make money’ and ‘boat-owners always being rich’. Not our type, to put it mildly. We decided not to accept his offer and to move just outside ‘his’ area to a place that is allegedly for free. Up till now, Sunday the 1st of June, no-one came to collect any money…

Dive or pay

There’s a hype going on at present in (and around?) Dunkerque initiated by, what else?, Facebook. Someone, anyone, is told on Facebook that he/she owes a dinner or something similar at a restaurant to the sender of the message, unless… the addressed person jumps into the harbour in funny clothing. If your brain stops working for a moment, don’t worry, ours did. Anyway, we have seen a lot of people, imaginatively dressed, jump into one of the vast parts of deep water that this port is created of. Lucky them, the sometimes high quays have emergency ladders to climb out – installed for the unfortunate one that falls in unwillingly. The ladders now serve the willingly as well. Friday night there was this couple, a mother and her daughter, passing our ship to be part of this hype. Unexpectedly the mother was the jumper! And the daughter the one that taped it – because obviously there has to be a sort of ‘prove’ one did it. Permission was granted to us to co-tape it.

One of France’s sea-heroes of the past is named Jean Bart (also known as Jan Baert or Jan Bart) (Dunkerque 1650 – Dunkerque 1702). It’s too elaborate to go deeply into his life; let it be said that he was a famous ‘privateer’, or ‘corsair’ – authorized to attack foreign vessels during wartime. There was a period during his life that he was employed by Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter, the most famous admiral in Dutch history. Read about both men, it’s most interesting indeed! This is Jean Bart’s statue in Dunkirque at, naturally, the Place Jean Bart.

The sixth picture showed us at a spot we were send away from, because a huge vessel was supposed to moor there later on. We didn’t see any vessel the next day and felt a bit deceived. Not the next day, the Saturday, however when we photographed this impressive frigate, named… ‘Jean Bart’. When comparing this picture to the 6th one of this blog the harbour authorities’ point is made. Or could the frigate have breasted up to ours? No, no, that’s a bit over-optimistic. We were told the frigate’s length was thought to be 200 meters (666 feet). It turned out to be ‘only’ 135 meters (450 feet). We were impressed all the same. That was it for this week, folks!