After exactly one year we did it again, Sweden, what a country for kayaking. This time we went to the archipelago around Karlskrona. A wonderful area, lots of small islands and a possibility to spot Sea eagles. This time we traveled by car and ferry, more expensive then sleeping in a Danish forest, but zero barking deers spotted during our crossing.
After a good night sleep we disembarked and drove to Sjuhalla. Being such good weather we had to kayak the first day, a short trip around the center of Karslkrona. You can see our kayaktrips on the Swedish fanpage here.
The unexpected discovery of a beautiful kayak site is always a special event and one of the reasons why we get ourselves out there, rain or shine. This time we were on our way for a short kayak in a crossroad of the Albert channel. Not extremely boring, but not extremely adventurous either. Driving your bike to work through ever increasing traffic may be more adventurous on a bad day. But, sometimes you just gotta do the work to keep advancing in style and technique. Hence, a short kayak on a channel. Even writing about it, I am getting a bit bored. What an exciting blog post this is, I hear you thinking. But wait, there is more.
Parking a rear-driven van in the mud is always a tricky matter, there is always the possibility of getting stuck, but we took our chances and parked the van, in the mud, are you sitting on the edge of your seat yet? Probably not, I guess. What we had 'discovered' was the Straalmolen in Balen, a watermill which is still using the power of water to grind various resources. This is one of the oldest mills in Western Europe who is still in production. The first mention of the mill in ancient logs dates from as early as 1374. That is more than a century before the discovery of America. Although it's been destroyed by fire three times, it's still here grinding away.
But as fascinating as it may be, we are not here for the mill. We want to slide our vessels into the brown murky stream that has powered all the grinding for centuries. First, we had to park our car somewhere else, the parking lot is solely for paying customers. Something to remember if you want to start a kayak journey here.
Despite the lack of anything resembling a current, it didn't take us long to get to our first stop. The Zuidlede is blocked of by a dam here, so naturally we had to take a closer look. After the obligatory foto session we continued our journey. Despite the not so great weather forecasts we enjoyed the windless, rater sunny autumn day on the calm waters of the Durme. Because we had a lot of stamina and daylight to burn, we chose to explore the Stekene channel to.
The only downside is the 14 hour drive, but creative as always, we pitched our tent in a Denmark forest. Here we got our very first 'scare' since we started camping. A barking deer made our presence known shortly after we closed up our tent for the night. If you have never heard a barking deer, I can assure you, it is not a sound meant as a lullaby. Immediately forgotten the moment we launched our kayaks in the not so salty waters of the Kattegat. A beautiful first paddle on the first day in Sweden of what would prove to be the best kayak vacation since we started with this incredible hobby that is kayakking.
There are a lot of articles out there about this subject but I find the 'best of lists' usually contain a weird pick of kayaks and I suspect these lists mostly reflect whichever manufacturer wants to advertise its models the most.
That being said, I want to offer my two cents for whomever that is lost in the big world of kayak models. Before you arrive at the seakayak model being best for you there are already some questions you need have answered, like which kind of kayaking you want to do. But if all your answers point to the seakayak, meaning you want to kayak on flat water then maybe I can help you with some pointers. First lets take a look at hull design, I found this article by Joseph @ Austin Kayaks very helpfull.
Second the choice between PE or fiberglass. I prefer a decent PE-kayak over fiberglass because of the higher durability and lower price of a PE-kayak. Naturally fiberglass has benefits over PE but the advances in manufacturing technology in recent years has closed the gap between PE-models and fiberglass models significantly.
One of the reasons I see to still buy a fiberglass model for touring, is because it's more beautiful then a PE kayak. But when you hit a rock or scrape it against a concrete wall of a channel or if you drop it while you are putting it on your car it won't look beautiful much longer.
Another benefit of a composite kayak is the stiffness of the frame making it more responsive and less prone to drag then a PE boat. But while touring and during camping trips it won't be that big of a difference.
Lastly you get a lot of talk about the possible speed difference between a composite kayak and a PE model making it easier to get more miles out of a gallon of muscle power in a composite boat. While this is undoubtedly true, I find it isn't that big of a difference, after a day of paddling you are tired no matter what boat you spend it in.
That being said, you are welcome to buy a glassfiber model by all means, keep in mind that you are going to have to be a bit more careful to keep it in good condition.
Okay, no more about that, I don't think it's possible to find a boat who does it all. There are always some compromises you got to make. Do you want to make relaxing multi day camping trips in comfort on bigger rivers, lakes or the sea? Best choice is a comfortable, stable, bigger expedition kayak like the Scorpio MV or HV depending on youre size and how much bagage you want to take with you.
I wanted a kayak that is fast and fun to handle even when it's empty so I chose the scorpio LV. However, I find it a bit small for multi day trips and not agile enough when playsurfing is required. It can do it all, but you need to work a bit harder then sitting in a Delphin LV for example. When the Scorpio LV is completely loaded for a camping trip it sits rather deep in the water and you will be wanting to use your spray skirt to keep your cockpit dry.
So compromises are needed as you can see. If you got the money, I would by a big kayak to go camping(scorpio HV) a small crossover playboat/creeker (pyranha Z-one) to explore small rivers and whitewater, an agile, faster kayak (P&h Delphin) to play in the surf and the P&h Valkyrie for training and daytrips. Although you can go camping with the Valkyrie and the Delphin too. So I would say, buy a kayak that is best suited for what you want to do the most and compromise when you get out of its comfortzone. Most of the time however you will see that the boats comfortzone is larger then yours. Happy Kayaking everybody!
Starting in Pelt at probably the strangest looking public toilets I've ever seen, the descend of the Dommel is a very rustic event. There is a commercial kayak outfit where you can rent kayaks but the best time to kayak is when the Dommel is closed off for commercial use. Meaning when waterlevels are to low or high, but like always act responsibly, if it's impossible to kayak, please don't.
Pretty soon you paddle through the Plateaux-Hageven, a very pretty nature reserve, here the river is back in its old meanders and given a free reign to mold the landscape as it flows. Being very quiet here pays off,maybe you can spot the kingfisher who is lurking in the bushes. A beautiful, small and agile bird you got to be fast with your camera. A flash of blue and orange, accompanied by a high, shrill tweet is usually what you see and hear.
Cows are freely wandering about, dipping their tummies in the refreshing water on this glorious summer day. The river slips quietly out of the nature reserve and into The Netherlands. It keeps its natural flow and meanders throught its lush green mini valley until it's been used to power the Venbergse molen. Now it is a restaurant with a nice terras but it's been one of the oldest known watermills in western Europe, dating back to 1227 AD.
Being the end of the commercial kayak route, it is a nice place to conclude this first impression of this beautiful river.
A few years ago I started my kayak journey on the Little Nete. I took my first involuntary dive in its murky but clean water. Which I then followed all the way to the Northsea. Now I think the time is right to find out where all this water comes from and why this river is amongst the cleanest of the Belgian rivers.
Paddling upstream from the Kastelse Kayak club to the watermill of Retie about halfway up, you pass the first of the many Netes who provide the Nete with is clean water. The Looiendse Neet is a very small river, not much wider then a brook. Straightened like most of the small rivers here to accommodate the agriculture which is a very important business in the Kempen. Following this sidetrack upstream it splits in the small Neet, the Metsenneet and the Plasnete. Basically a lot of the small brooks in Retie, Arendonk and Mol and its townships have been given a name ending on Neet or Nete.
Turning back to the main river passing the watermill in Retie it changes its name to White Nete. Half a kilometer further upstream the Black Nete splits of the White Nete. These two rivers differ like night and day.
The White Nete has been straightened and is at some places wider then the little Nete. There are no meanders to speak of, only reed patches and fallen trees block the river passage. There is a water purification station located on this river but the strangest thing you have to see to believe. On google maps you can still see the old riverbed, now it has been moved to the north and it has new, small meanders while on the banks is enough room for a bit of wildlife. I am guessing it's been done to accomodate the excavation of white sand, the reason why there are so many lakes in and around Mol. I think it's good that they have made meanders and nature gets a bit of breathing room, but on the other hand, removing a river from its original banks for commercial purposes? Then again, in the old days it just would have been excavated and nature would have to find its own way. There is a case to make for both sides I guess.
The Black Nete meanders like crazy, isn't much wider then a small brook, flows through a tiny nature reserve, a patch of forest and dips under a busy road. Paddling on it is a fun experience, providing if the water level is high enough. A few turns beyond the road there is a small island where the Werbeekse Neet joins the Black Nete. This is the penultimate split of the black Nete, only the Nonnennete branches of once it passes the centre of Retie. There are a lot of small concrete bridges, most of them are to low to paddle under.
So, how many netes did you count? I know there are used to be seven, because Retie is called the town with 7 Netes, However, after merging some townships with Retie, that number kept climbing. Officially we keep speaking about 7 because of its magic connotations but as I said, there are at least 11. I keep searching for the remaining ones and will add them in the map embedded above. I've paddled on four of them and got to make haste to find and paddle the rest. They are so small that it's only possible to paddle on them during the winter.Of course, there's always next year...
So I sit pondering the fate of the beaver while floating downstream under a little iron bridge in the middle of a small forest. I've paddled maybe 50 times under this bridge but this is the first time I decided to stop here. Like most rivers in Belgium it too has been straightened in the past but it is still trying to be a proper piece of nature. Hopefully the coming of the beaver is a start of a new natural chapter. I am enthusiastically awaiting my first glimps of these big rodents. Hopefully I can show you a picture one of these days.
We started our journey under the bridge of the D947 next to the hamlet called Kruystraete. With a creative mind every 'problem' gets turned around in an enjoyable challenge, so crossing a field of nettles before we could get into our kayaks was just a matter of finding the right downslope and with some help from our trusty 'mooring' rope we went down with just a smitch of nettle fire on our legs. Great, we were ready for our adventure, the kayaks are full of gear and ready to go, sorry about all the mud in my cockpit though. Well, nothing we could do about that and the least of our worries at the time. After a few minutes of paddling the river was getting smaller and smaller and to top it all off, we disturbed a couple of swans with their young. If we just knew of a way to show these majestic birds they had nothing to fear of these two, I guess I must say it, strapping young men, we would implement it immediately. We closed down our yapping traps and gave the birds time to vacate the area as their young dove under the nearest bush.
After a few 100 meters the river opened up, the change was drastic, but welcome. Closing on Roesbrugge-Haringe it meanders a short distance parallel with the French-Belgian border. At Roesbrugge-Haringe, there is the first jetty of many yet to come, but this one we were very glad to see. We could get out and clean the mud out of the kayaks. After a bite to eat we embarked in our sparkling clean boats, they looked as good as new. Because we had no more nettlefields to cross, we could ditch the long pants and start to enjoy the beautiful weather in our 'stylish' shorts.
The trip hasn’t really started and we are already at the halfwaypoint. We found a great spot to put up our tent, right at the edge of a nature reserve. Where this beautiful spot is located is easy to find, look for clues at the coat of arms on the bridge. Immediately after disembarking we spot some storks, a Brown hen-harrier is hunting for his dinner while we are preparing ours. We have the luxury of a real table, my brother in arms gets way to excited about that then is healthy, but while we take a stroll next to the Ieperlee channel, we forget all about that.
The Westhoek is a very beautiful area in Belgium, but if you take a closer look, there are a lot of grisly reminders of a dark period in our nations history. I am talking about the First World War or The Great War. You can’t travel in the Westhoek and ignore this gruesome historic event. So even as we are walking under a canope of greenery next to a picturesque channel, our eyes are drawn to the biggest landmark for miles around, the Iron Tower.
This monument was build to remember world war II. There is a big and a small Iron tower, The smaller one was build after WWI and was destroyed during WWII. After the war when they were building the new, big tower, they must have thought, well, we are building anyway, lets restore the small one to.
We made a short stop at the only Trenches we still have in Belgium from the great war, These trenches are silent reminders of terrible times and human suffering and bear the gruesome name Boyau de la Mort. After some silent contemplating we turn our backs at history for now and turn towards the goose paw. An exciting place to paddle, albeit a bit dangerous I guess.
However first things first, after two short days on a small river we were surprised to find a big water reservoir collecting all the water of the IJzer before releasing it in the goosepaw. On a day like this without any wind a rather dull affaire I'm afraid. Traversing the locks of the goosepaw was a bit of a challenge because of the high walls surrounding the complex, but we made it.
During our short dash through the harbor we had the company of a big drone. In the end it got chased away by a flock of wood sandpipers, way to go nature!
Sometimes there are seals sunbathing on the right bank of the IJzer. Unfortunately we only had the pleasure of trying to rescue the dog statues on the pillars flanking the fairway. Before we knew it we were at sea again,surfing on gentle waves towards the beach, another wonderful kayak experience under our belts.
The first time we went to the Maas, we explored a couple of big lakes near Stevensweert and Kessenich. Big lakes according to Belgian standards, made by the gravel industry. I've wanted to post a small bit about it in the blog before, but in the end I didn't get quite to it. Beautiful locations, a bit of wind and some nice waves is in a nutshell what made it a great trip, but it was cold and wet. Luckily we had great accomodations.
But...! We heard stories about an interesting piece of the Maas a few km's upstream from our location at the time. Near the city of Maasmechelen there is a meander where the river almost makes a 180° turn. But, I'll get back to that after the following facts.
One of the interesting things about the Maas is that the rivers flow is largely made up out of rainwater, so the height of the water level is very dependent of the seasons. During the summer months almost all the water is used to feed the Juliana channel. Consequently it happens that in some places you can cross the riverbed without almost wetting your feet.
On the flipside of the coin, after winter, when there is a lot of melting snow and an occasional big spring storm you get a rather fast flowing river. In some places, like in the picture above, there are some nice rapids to test your skills.
Click on the picture above if you will, need I say more? We could not believe the amount of plastic nor the height it was lodged in the trees. This must mean that the water level could vary more then two meters.
We always fish at least two pieces of plastic out of the water, no matter where we are. Faced with these huge amounts it seemed a bit futile. But, if everyone who enjoys the great outdoors, took two pieces of plastic home and recycled them, there would be quite a different view the next time we went out.
Ok, back to the meander of the Maas. Much to our surprise we were faced with a rather fast flowing river, in some places we even needed a bit of legwork to get back to our starting point. Combining this with some creative use of the water flow we managed to get back on the right side of the river..
I simply love this piece of the river, it is a great place to buff up your skills. You can paddle all day long and never move an inch forward, kinda like a treadmill for kayaks. Or go with the flow, cross the rapids, improving your balance, best don't forget your spraydeck.
A beautiful winter day, cold, grey but dry after a few days of heavy rains. The perfect day to get re-acquainted with the Nete, sort of our alma mater. Just a short dash downstream today, to the Ark of Noë, not the real ark, but a very nice watering hole on the banks of the Nete and also home of the annual pumpkin regatta.
A few downed trees make the paddle a tat more adventurous. Nothing fancy, but every tiny slalom you can make or small increase in the flow of the river you feel under your kayak is a welcome diversion. We zip down to the ark and back. Before we know it, we are back at the 'rapid' under the old road. We dig down deep and come up with an extra burst of speed. Still reveling about our skills, prowess and power we are passing the kayak klub again. The small rapid has aroused our hunger for more. This time we are heading to the fish 'stairs' next to the barrage. A spot were you can try and increase your balancing skills in swift flowing water. Nothing fancy, but a nice spot to have some fun.
The circumstances are perfect, the waterlevel is just high enough to pass the different steps of the fish stairs, which consist of small boulders piled to form low walls. In the middle of the wall is a gap to let the fish, or in this case, the Scorpio through. Normally the waterlevel is too high to pass under the bridge or too low to get over the walls. This time, everything works out perfectly and after a demanding bit of paddling I reach the top of the stairs. Woohoo! I did it! Where are the flower girls?
Not that it needs saying, but of course we have done this wonderful feat with the utmost respect for the infrastructure and without damaging the fish stairs.
A memorable summer, this summer, but not because we finally completed 'The great escape'. Who would have thought that there would be something more important in my life than completing that journey. Well, it turns out, there is.
We have created life, No, not De kozze and MTTWIM but my beautiful wife and me. A wonderful baby boy. So, mea culpa, I didn't get out on the water nearly as much as I would have liked, but it was for the greater good as they say. Although, who 'they' must be, I do not know.
I will be completing the posts about the great escape in the near future, so check them out, they will be in july 2017 and june 2018.
After a very wet and not so cold december and january, I found a bit of spare time to look back on our last paddle trip under a blue sky. It was the end of summer, a busy time for most people. because everybody is getting ready for old man winter, quickly making some leftover repairs to the house, trimming the hedges, harvesting the last vegetables out of the rapidly diminishing garden. But like the busy and responsible ants we worked (not that) hard all summer long so now we can enjoy a bit of indian summer.
Always special is the entrance to Lake Channel. A mighty big hole in the channel wall which opens out into one of the biggest lakes of Belgium thats free to enjoy for everyone. As it is a frequent playground for bigger yachts and speedboats, it's better to keep to the sides. Sometimes we get lucky and it's possible to catch a bit of tailsurf from these bigger boats. A lot of fun when seated in the playful Scorpio, but surprising enough is that the broad eagle is also playful in the waves, easy to turn whilst all the time being as stable as a house. You would think that a broad kayak like that would be a lot harder to turn. In fact, it is so easy to turn or to keep on a straight line that the first thing I did when we got back was removing the rudder from the boat. The second thing was securing the all weather tarp and start dreaming of next year and all the great times we will have in the sun in 2018.
A wonderful time, sea, sun and beach, surfing great waves, spending a late summer day at the beach, that was the plan. Except what happened was this:
One of the first times in my life I was drinking seawater while remaining in an upright position. As people who have taken a look around our website may know, we don't have that much experience in traversing big swells. Sure, we spend a lot of time on big waters but, the Northsea @ Domburg with a NW wind of around 4 Beaufort was a bit more then we could chew. I can hear you thinking, that wave doesn't look that big. Well that's exactly what I was thinking while standing on the beach watching the foam of the waves blowing past us. Apparently there is a big difference in standing in front of a wave and sitting on your bottom in a very small vessel.
The first try with my Scorpio failed miserably, I could not stay upright even with a lot of praying. Maybe to the wrong guardian angel, who knows? After being swept out of the sea like a piece of driftwood I asked my friend, who was trying to take some action pictures of me before I drowned, if it would be smart to change boats. The answer was, stay out of the sea you crazy bugger. Normally I am the most prudent and careful guy that is out there but this time, I chose a different approach. Probably tumbling around like a washcloth in a 1950's dryer only moments before was clouding my judgement a bit. So instead of packing in my gear and drying of my Scorpio I went for the smaller, more agile Pyranha, an easier boat to handle in big swells. Or so I thought...
So again into the swell, hi ho Silver! Away! My head still a tumbling mess, my brain unable to comprehend why its body wanted back into these waters. Secretely I wasn't all that chippy about it anymore, but I had to try with the smaller boat, otherwise I would never be able to look in the mirror again... that day. But after paddling like mad, taking the first wave like a pro, the second, the third, feeling exhilarated about my paddling skills and my ability to remain upright even though at that time I had not a full grasp of the meaning of the word upright because I was gobling up large quantities of seawater. Suddenly after the fourth and biggest wave I saw my friend standing next to me, in the middle of the sea,...?
Is Riot kayaks polarity 16.5 tandem kayak the tandem kayak for us? A question we wanted answered, so we set out to kayak heaven in Wormerveer, Holland. The specs of the boat sure are promising. Easy to manoeuvre, not to long, not to wide, lots of storage capacity for short day trips or a two day camp trip. Neoprene covers and a hard shell cover provide dry storage compartments. A standard included ruther ensures the boat is easy to keep on a straight line. And last but not least, I like its looks, sturdy but not bulky.
There is a lot of room in the cockpit, comfortable seats and lots of legroom if you are build like I am, about 1m80, stocky but not bulky. The downside of all that room is that your seat is pretty low, combine that with the high and square top deck and putting your paddle in the water without hitting the side of the boat is quite the task. Because of the high sides you loose a lot of power, a high end paddle stroke is only possible if you keep moving your upper body. Seated in front there is not a problem in the world. Except a bit of splash water when there are some waves. The tip of the boat isn't that far away so that's to be expected. The rudder works like a dream but even without it, the boat is easy to keep on a straight line. It tracks very nicely and it is possible to keep up with faster single boats with ease. Turning it around is never a problem, even without banking or using the ruther it is possible to follow a challenging route down river. The bottom of the boat has a bit of a catamaran shape, so it's not flat on the inside, which can make stepping in and out of the boat a bit harder. Thanks to its excellent stability this 'problem' is easily solved.
Downside of all that sportiness, there isn't room to take lots of bagage, so multi-day trips aren't a possibility. That's not our intent so for us the fact that is was a used boat and the ruther needed fixing never made us change our mind. These 'sloppy seconds' were for us a great way to save some money. Does this mean that the polarity isn't a good boat? No, it is a great boat, I would have bought it if not for the presence of the lighter and easier to handle fiberglass eagle. If you want to make short camp trips or day trips in a tandem kayak, I would also recommend the polarity. When your main focus are sea trips, I think there are better alternatives.
Let me start off with a conclusion, if you plan a camping trip for the first time, were you will be sleeping a couple of times in the ‘wild’, try to at least camp 1 or 2 times before you start with your big adventure. Naturally, we did not do that. So, our very first night under the stars felt good as we slept quite good. So far the good news.
I had a defcon 5 bivi tent but no sleeping bag, thinking that a thin sleeping bag liner was enough, keeping the boat a bit lighter. Despite day temperatures of +30°C, in the early morning it dropped as low as 10°C, so I used a towel to try and keep myself moderately warm. My kayak buddy sleeping only with a sleeping bag and no tent, had a good night sleep. But as we were slow grinding our fresh coffee beans in the morning, the sun was there to warm our hearts and limbs.
After a hearty breakfast we repacked all our stuff but it still proved to be a bit of a challenge, although I had scoured the internet for months before this trip, checking out ways to pack gear into a kayak. We needed a bit of practice, but in the end, we got everything in the boats. During the portaging we thought it quite possible that the boats would break, but they made it in one piece.
It felt great to be on our way again, the sun in our back paddling on the Rupel, seeing the sights, rejoicing when we saw landmarks we recognized from our youth. Being both born and raised in the Rupel area before we relocated to the Kempen we had a nostalgic vibe going on. It took us longer then expected getting to the bridge of Boom, were our family had gathered to cheer us on.
Meanwhile the tide has turned, so we embarked again. The rupel is only a short river so in no time at all we were paddling on the Schelde. What the tide lacked in strength the north wind more than made up for it, unfortunately it was a head wind. So after a brutal paddle to Antwerp and a bit beyond, the only thing we had to do was get out of the water. This proved to be one of the worst decisions of our trip. Because of the low tide we could not get out of the kayak on the mud banks. Our feed, ankles and lower legs completely got sucked down, this was route was to dangerous, so we decided to get out on a rock wall. On top of this wall we sought higher ground thus more solid. Also completely overgrown with high reeds and weeds. After a grueling climb, a lot of scratched limbs and what later proved to be a tick bite we reached the camp site.
Here I got a sleeping bag delivered by my lovely sister and her son, after this delightful intermezzo, we had to content ourselves with a lot of noise from the petrochemical plant across the river also they never turn of the lights apparently. At two o’clock in the morning an Antwerp police patrol came to check on us. They must have concluded it was to much of a hassle to get our asses out of there as it is not legal camping in the ‘wild’ in Belgium. Recently the law has changed about bivaking meaning staying somewhere for just 12 hours, a sleepover kinda. Strictly speaking only at places were a bivaksign is posted, but these prove slow to produce. If you clean your campsite, have respect for nature and don’t use an open fire many people turn a blind eye about it.
So we had a good night sleep, sweet, warm dreams and contrary to the weather report two days of beautiful sunshine. Although that was about to change. See you tomorrow.
Finally, the day of our departure has arrived! After months of dreaming and weeks of preparation, the days of wondering how we will overcome the real and possibly a few imagined dangers and what will happen after debarking on this mighty journey are over. Over the next few days we are gonna find out if we are mice or men
We embark at the Wamp, our boats light as a feather because we only have water and food for the first day with us. Our camping gear will be brought to us at the first camp site by our lovely support team. Immediately after we push of we are badgered by a swarm of pesky horseflys. Luckely once we are in the open on the small Nete the swarm loses its focus and the few straglers are quickly taken care of. We try to start at a modest pace, we keep reminding ourselves that we are going to navigate this river like we did a few times before, but this time we aren't going to stop before we are at the Northsea. It looks like an impossible feat.
After the barge at Herentals we are confronted with the lowest water level we ever saw on this river. After more then a month of dry weather, there have been a few thunderstorms and rainy days. But the waterlevel is dangerously low, sometimes we have to navigate around old bikes or strange indefinable objects which probably have been stuck in the mud for decades. We are happy that there have been a few rainy days otherwise the whole project would have to be cancelled. Ironically it looks like there will be a lot of rain in the coming days. Whereas we don't have any bad weather gear in our packing list, because it's high summer... And to top it all of, we have zero camping experience. An interesting cocktail for sure.
We stop at the watermill in Grobbendonk to have a spot of lunch, there is a small table and a peculiar chicken. With a full belly we get a little help from the river but the amount of it isn't like we imagened. Getting out of the water at the underpassage of the Albert Channel would have been an unsurmountable task without man/monkey MTTWIM. A strong headwind is whipping up the waves in the channel, combined with the low waterlevel it makes dis - and embarking a wonderful new experience. We cross safely to the other side where we meet our first 'supporter' on a bridge. The man ask us where we are going, normally the answer should be Lier or something like that, I don't think he believed us when we said: 'The Northsea'.
It is hard to believe that we had to stop a few km's before we reached our camping site. The upflowing tide proved to strong to paddle against. We managed, but rather then draining ourselves, we decided to wait until the strongest current passed. While waiting, we rested a bit while our supportteam brought all our gear. So after a relaxing rest and some frantic last minute decisions what to take and what to leave behind, we started with the heaviest laden boats we ever paddled. After hauling them twice out of the water and carrying them to our camp site we could enjoy a first night under the stars. Looking back on our succesfull first day we decided that the portaging is the worst at the start of a camping trip as all that fresh bottled water is very heavy. The quote of day 1 is either: 'Ik moet niet onder water hangen om te broebelen' or 'I am here for stating the obvious.' Goodnight!
In no time we were at the old lock of Wintam. This used to connect the Rupel to the Seachannel Brussels. Only at higher water levels is it still possible to loiter about directly next to the old lock. Only on the side of the Rupel, the other side has been filled up. A funny fact is that the lock still exists on google maps but when you select satellite view, half of the lock and its access channel disappears. The only use this old lock still has now is purely of sentimental nature for us 'old' folks.
The wind blew our kayaks to the shore but they were already drifting towards the next bend in the river. Luckily the Gods were with us that day and our little mistake, born out of inexperience with the tides, only bought us a short rush down the riverbank over some boulders before we had the boats again in our care. So we discovered that it's a good hard paddle against the tide for the last few kilometers. After our adrenaline shot it would be a walk in the park? Think again, we had to cross the riverlane and when the tide is coming in, it flows with a steady pace. But in the end we reached our destination for today, the Hobokense Polder. A small peace of green pasture between all the ugly industry. A job well done and another part of the great escape checked and approved. Until next time!
At the time, it seemed like a good idea :-) As you can see on the pictures, there was quite a storm raging over Belgium. I was keeping a close watch at the waterlevels of a small river that is very close to my home. A river that you are only able to kayak on when there is a lot of water flowing. As it happened to be on that rather windy 7th of march. I told my boss I needed to be somewhere, dropped everything I needed in the new and improved Kayak van and drove to the starting point.
Meanwhile it had stopped raining and the wind was laying low, I felt like a million bucks and launched myself into the 'rapid' flowing river. What was the most exciting part of it? That I had to cross one little dam and I was determined to do this without portaging. A first and a rather enjoyable experience I will be repeating in the near future. What I hadn't counted on was the second, slightly bigger dam that came next. Luckily our summertraining paid off and I stayed upright, barely. Yes I told myself, you are king of the world, a feeling that I lost quite soon when the river turned right into the wind. That day there were windspeeds up to 100kph and I can tell you, it is impossible to move ahead if you get caught by one. But after an hour of praying, pleading and a bit of blasphemy I reached the safe compounds of my home. Which I could not enter because my keys where still in the van. So, after some breaking and entering I had secured an old bike with a leaky back tire to drive back to my van, still in my kayak getup. After two kilometers of battling the blasting wind, I came to the conclusion that I left the key of the van lying next to my garage. Lets just say that when eventually I got to the van I was quite proud of my achievement. In the great scheme of things a rather small one but it felt as if I had just obtained a great personal victory!!. :-)