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Back on Skookum – it was the best of times – it was the scariest of times.

We left Hull on April 19th and caught the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge in Germany . We arrived around 9:30 am and took Kerry for run and set off across Europe in little car.  The drive was a bit disjointed as we need to stop on the way for a variety of reasons, not least of which was that April 21st was a Sunday and everything ( yes everything in Europe other than restaurants is closed). We drove across Belgium and stopped in Luxemburg for a coffee. The motor way stop in Luxemberg was interesting as was selling cheap tobacco (by the bucket), cheaper wine, and 5 liter jars of Nuttella (don’t ask). I have never seen so much tobacco and Nutella in one room like this before.
luxemburg 1


We passed a milestone – or rather kilometer stone,  on the road – our odometer clicked over to 250,000 kms near Metz in France.

We arrived back in Saverne and Skookum around 7:00 pm with just enough light and time to have a quick bite to eat and curl up in our sleeping bags to stay warm. The next day was our first day for cleaning, and getting ready to leave. We decided to go to Berlin rather than head south through the Rhine to Rhone Canal. Martin had some serious work getting the water systems working: filling water tanks and flushing the hot water system, as well as all kinds of different parts of the boat so the shower, toilet and kitchen sink all drained. He spent quite a bit of time making a template to have a custom windshield made so we can travel in a bit more comfort in the rain. I just cleaned everything I could find, the fridge, cupboards, sinks, toilets, made beds, sorted clothing, did laundry etc (you know – the girlie household stuff) as well as provisioning the boat our voyage. Our German wine had survived the winter as had the boat, and everything was reasonably dry and mould free. (The electric radiator in the engine compartment did its job admirably despite cold weather and non-stop rain).


saverne neighbour

The neighbours place!

Even after all our work I was still a little concerned about our decision to go down the Rhine and making a turn right at Dusseldorf to Berlin. It was over 1000kms in a boat and we essentially had no information, maps charts or anything. So we took Pew on a last trip to Strasbourg –specifically to the Koejac Marina to get some information about boating in Germany. We had lots of other questions and the owner of Koejac was a font of information and he sold us a couple of books called “Guide fur die Sportschiffahrt – Der Rhein” volumes 1 & 2 by Wolfgang Banzhaf. These guide books are very well organized and very detailed in the information they provided on the river, marinas and general information we would need for our 500 km trip down the Rhine. Armed with information I felt a bit more confident on starting our voyage down the Rhine river because once on it, we were committed for at least 350kms to Koblenz.

We then decided to sell Pew – it was a wrench but needs must. I will leave story to Martin, but our stalwart little car took us everywhere we wanted to go. A car is also a bit of a safety net, and certainly very useful for moving Kerry around. After our last trip to Strasbourg I cleaned the car inside and out and removed any vestiges of us and left the rest to Martin. Needless to say it sold and quickly (which makes me think it was too cheap) but it was 17 years old and had a quarter of a million kilometers on the clock, so we were just thrilled to sell it. While we were in Saverne we visited with our pal Brian _ he is the Aussie who owns a lovely old barge but is required to have a second person on board to move his boat anywhere. We also had two glorious sunny (even hot) days in Saverne so we felt optimistic about the summer. After a week in Saverne we set sail for Strasbourg – a two day – ten lock journey by canal.

On the way to Strasbourg we met a bunch of Kiwis (New Zealanders) who had purchased a used rental boat from ‘Le boat’ and planned to cruise the French canals for the European summers then return to New Zealand for their summer (talk about endless summer  – they have it made!!). We met them again when we arrived at the Koejac marina and parked beside them. Our Kiwi neighbours , Ian and Cynthia and their quiet but highly accomplished sailor shipmate called Keith. were very well traveled people. They bought a 15 meter used rental canal boat with three state rooms (with en-suite bathrooms), nice living and cooking space and lots of room on deck. They had purchased this fairly new looking fibre-glass boat at St John de Losne boatyard in central France.  Their boat is called Wine Down – so you can imagine we had a lot in common!

 birthday lunch

Martin took me out present shopping on April 30 because May 1 is also my birthday. I had a great day – coffee and apple pie for breakfast, cleaning the outside of the boat for three hours to keep me humble, mussels and wine for lunch, then drinks with our Kiwi neighbours, then my friends Brigitte and Peter drove up from Freiburg and we all went out for a swanky brasserie dinner. Brigitte also has a birthday in the near future so we celebrated together. I had asked Brigitte (who lives near the Freiburg IKEA) to bring me a replacement IKEA chair for the one we had stolen in Verdun – she did and made it my birthday gift – so sweet.

May 1 is an international holiday: Labour Day in Europe, in France almost everything shuts down  – there is no public transportation, no services and no shopping. Strasbourg is the location of the European Parliament and yes we floated passed it on our way into town, there were notices celebrating the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize award to the European Union. As I mentioned before the EU experiment has replaced war with commerce (thank goodness).

EU parl

European Parliament Building

We spent a couple more days in Strasbourg (in which we purchase a VHF radio and had to wait for it to arrive) and on a dreadfully grey day we set sail on our sojourn down the mighty Rhine river. There are two driving stations on our boat – one inside and one outside. We fitted a mirror in the boat so we could see behind the back of the boat when we were driving inside the main cabin. Given the pouring rain and cool temperatures this was a luxury. After going through the river lock at Strasbourg we set off down the Rhine – with a 6km current and 10km of engine speed. We headed for Karlsruhe about 65kms downstream from Strasbourg at 16 – 18 kms per hour (light speed for boats).

lock 1

The river was well marked and there was not much traffic as it was Saturday. We went through two large locks, and feeling comfortable driving the big river with its large meanders and some blind corners. One corner was so blind that I drove around to only to come face to face with a very large ship. Of course I shouted for Martin just before we were going to collide, he took control and we veered into the side of the river between this juggernaut and the riverbank. I was thoroughly shaken by the incident as the outcome could have been very nasty for us.

Container rhine

It was the first time that I was ready to give up and go home. However we had no choice but to continue – no anchorages in a river now flowing at 10 kph. All the rain had filled the river and there was a crest wave flowing down from the feeder lake – Lake Constance (Boden See). The river is dangerous because it is narrow, fast flowing, busy, meandering and one side or the other is underpinned with long flat concrete bollards  (called coins) to slow the flow and reduce bank erosion.

We learned a couple of important lessons from our near miss.

Firstly we learned that we require two pairs of eyes when traveling at 19 kph down a rushing river to look out for other very large boats.

blue flag 2

Secondly we learned that the ‘blue flag’ on the side of the large barges means that they are on the wrong side of the river and we also need to cross over in order to avoid them. The ships are huge (70 metres long 13000 tonnes ++). Actually we knew about the blue flag in theory, but it was the first time we had come across it on the water.

blue flag2

The blue flag (which is a white square with blue reflective material inside and often also lit) means that instead of traveling on the right (which are the normal rules of the road in Europe) a larger ship (more than 15 meters) has moved to the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Larger barges do this as the fast flowing river means that going upstream is very inefficient in terms of fuel consumption, and they want reduce fuel use. The narrowness of the useable waterway also means large ships need to cut across the waterway just to get round some of the big bends.

The hardest manoeuver was dealing with two boats coming upstream (as we were going downstream) one flying a blue flag and on the wrong side river and the other not flying a blue flag – so on the right side of the stream. We just had to go right up the middle – a little intimidating to say the least.

So we survived our first blue flag experience and went on down the river to our destination for the day – Karlsruhe Motorbootklub. Turning into this safe haven required a sharp right turn and gunning it across the current. The river police arrived just as started this little manoeuver. Martin said he was happy to see them – just in case we did not make it. So they followed us into the harbour and asked to see our ID, boat licences, ownership papers etc, but not our passports. The police were very helpful, and I think, quite impressed – we had really good documentation and we were wearing life jackets (even Kerry) and they weren’t. Next time we saw the river police (a couple do days later) they too were wearing life jackets 🙂

So after braving disgusting weather, a near death experience and being checked by the police I was ready to go home (really to Canada), but I couldn’t as my son Tim was arriving in Karlsruhe the next day and I had promised him a trip on the Rhine. So we calmed down, had a nice gin and tonic and took the dog for a walk along the banks of the swollen River Rhine (about 2 meters higher than normal). Next instalment – travels with Tim




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