After leaving Gravelines we have now arrived to Arques.
This passage in the Nord Pas de Calais was a journey over the first French River, in alphabetical order: The Aa. And the first obstacle was overcome thanks to the help of David, Maurice and all the friends from the Jean Binard nautical base in Gravelines.
Due to a misunderstanding with the lock-keeper, I thought that the lock dividing Gravelines from the Aa river would open with the hight tide. Inspections, words, gestures: It all seemed to be OK. Then, just before leaving, we get to know that the tide isn’t high enough to get past the lock, and the wait could be as long as a week. All of that for just a handful of metres!
Lots of mucking around, requests for help, phone calls by Linda from the harbour, Mathieu ready to lend us a dolly (but we don’t have a car): Eventually we get sent to the Jean Binard nautical base where, as true seafarers do, we quickly devise a plan with David and Brigitte, arranging to meet the next day. A great example of solidarity and kindness.
They help us without asking for anything in return or spending useless words, gentleman to gentleman. The morning after we sail for a couple of km, up to the end of the canal: Maurice, a big man with a smiling face, is waiting for us with his farm tractor. He tows Clodia out of the water for a few metres and then in the slipway beyond the lock. We’re even escorted by the police (thanks to Stefan and Jean Claude) but free once again!
A new lesson learned: Tides are always so important.
Paolo films the wonderful landyachts running in the huge Fort Philippe’s beach. David tells us that, in competitive races, the landyachts reach an average speed of 110 km per hour and the speed record is currently of 237 km/h!! Without a drop of fuel. They seem so graceful from far, like butterflies playing to chase each other.
Thanks to David and to all the guys from the nautical base. We get going with Paolo as third sailor: He’s now in charge of filming and holding the tiller. The first passage under the bridge is very close to the edge: However we keep passing this way to avoid having to open the bridges. Putting off and on the mast on Clodia is a matter of seconds.
We sail and row through a sweet landscape, very rich in birdlife af many species, especially ducks with their offsprings that run away at our passage, often leaving behind a lone duckling that cries fearfully. The land is very neat, the water seems clean with many water lilies along the rivers. A fisherman has just caught his fish: It could be a Sander.
Crossing the canal from Dunkerque to Watten, we get to meet the first Peniches, local big barges running at considerable speed. Thaey raise waves that can’t be dangerous but are a little annoying, so we slow down.
After eight hours we reach Arques, where the support boat is moored. The little port is lovely, nestled in the bend of a secondary canal and surrounded by nature. Silence and peace.
We’re welcomed by Pierre and Jannique, very kind people. Pierre is 60 years old (but looking 40), a teacher of Qi Gong. He crossed the English Channel aboard a pedal boat and sailed the canals from Arques to Paris with a Velo Surf, a sort of water bike. We feel very well here.
The culture of water is awsome. Boats and canals leading everywhere: We could head to Denmark, Moskow, Germany aboard our boat, with no need to touch land.
In Saint Omer, we look for help: I have to get back to Venice for my health check-up and we pay visit to a few travel agencies to get tickets with our scarce resources (Paolo will get back to Bologna too). In the Aquatour agency we have the luck of meeting two angels, Edwige and Fatima: Beside finding cheap tickets, they give us a lift to the train station, since we’re overloaded by filmmaking equipment and bags. The Saint Omer train station is beautiful, surrounded by lakes and canals.
Three days after, Edwige and Fatima will also come with a wonderful gift: Free return ticket from Venice to Saint Omer! Thanks!
On the way back, we arranged a meeting in Lille (very nice city of the Flanders) to see the kind representatives of the VNF, the mighty company managing all the fluvial navigation network in France.
A very important issue here, boosting the economy. I’ll get back to that very soon.
Bruno feels well, strong and happy.
Francesco Cappelletti, our first guest (booking through this website), will join us shortly. For a while we’ll be four “Men on the River”, since Josephine too is on her way to Arques to take control of Serena, the support boat.
A special thanks to Malcolm from Gravelines for his wonderful and very tasty gifts, especially the Jean Bart beer, named like the vessel under construction.
Just a few days for my health check-up, then we’re off to Bethune.
See you soon. Navigare necesse est