"Oy!" from Huy, Belgium

  Friday, August 21, 2015 / Stephanie / Sailing  

From Dinant, we traveled 14.4 nm of the Meuse River and were lowered through six locks to end our second day in Belgium at the city quayside of Namur.  The scenery en-route reminded us of a storybook; quaint towns, cascading willows, half-timbered houses, and castles scattered here and there between.  The citadel overlooking Namur was free of charge for our roaming pleasure.  After a hearty discussion with the young, English-speaking harbormaster at the quay, we set out wandering up the hillside toward the citadel.  The harbormaster was as surprised to be speaking with Americans as we were surprised to be speaking with anybody, having heard nothing but French for so long!  He repeatedly asked us to join he and his colleague for the party at the marina across the river; the marina manages the quayside and is double the price for a slip versus 7-Euros on the quay.  "In Belgium," he said as a runner ran past along the bike path, "you are either sportif or drunk!"  The party was not until Thursday, it was a Tuesday...not likely we'd attend but were flattered for the invite. The storybook landscape faded as we departed Namur and Belgium's Meuse River became primarily industrial.  We stopped at the Royal Yacht Club de Huy for the next night with a fabulous view of a nuclear power plant across the river.  We were thrilled, however, to find a Brico neighboring the yacht club and set out to finally purchase two items from our very simple list; siphon pump (to ease the emptying of jerry cans into the diesel tank, now 1/2 full) and cabinet hinge (to replace one, corroded cupboard door hinge that finally met it's fate).  We were interrupted when the woman from a neighboring boat inquired whether we thought their boat could fit in front of ours; she and her husband wanted to relocate their already docked boat in order to access the electric.  Brian paced out the empty space in front of Detour and, indeed, the Belgian boat would fit with room to spare.  We offered to stay behind while they docked to assist as needed.  The woman was grateful; she shared they'd had a difficult day during an already difficult trip overall.  She explained they needed the electric because their batteries were not working properly and that very morning they were unable to start the engine as a result.  Ok, no problem, just wanted to make it to the Brico before it closes.  The woman returned to her boat and we heard the boat leave the dock with a "SNAP!"  Hmmm...we walked down the dock to see the man driving very distractedly, apparently they'd forgotten to let loose a dock line?  He regrouped and we relocated to the end of the dock at the empty space just in front of Detour.  The man brought the boat's port side slowly toward the dock and the woman tossed me the dock line for their bow.  The bow line was tangled 'round the bow rail and it took a bit of flipping on my part to release the line; meanwhile the woman had tossed Brian a stern line, which he promptly secured to the cleat on the dock.  And then, as I watched the stern of the boat get dangerously close to the bow of Detour I hear Brian shout, "You're in reverse!"  I'm still holding an unsecured bow line not realizing that Brian's stern line is secure to the dock and assuming that Brian is going to fend by simply pushing the stern to settle the docking boat when, rather than shift the boat into neutral the man driving shifts into forward - HARD!  The boat is too close to Detour's bow already, and now in forward, a fender-holder on the stern of the boat snaggs Detour's starboard lifeline.  The man driving is flustered, the boat untangles itself from our lifeline as he shifts not into neutral but back into reverse - HARD!  Oh SHIT!!  The stern, thankfully still off Detour's starboard side and not directly in front of our bow (and overhanging mast), pushes hard against the lifeline once again, this time with the dinghy davit and this time is HOOKED!  Brian is yelling, "NEUTRAL!!  NEUTRAL!!" and a man we haven't yet seen is now running down the dock toward us to assist.  The driver puts the boat into forward pulling Detour's lifeline along with him, before the dinghy davit unhooked itself and the driver finally put the boat into neutral.  This was a most incompetent display of docking!  I loosely tied off the bow line, heart pounding.  The driver was gasping for breath and waving his arms in the air, "It's a CATASTROPHE, a CATASTROPHE!"  I asked the driver if he was OK, he shook his head yes and covered his face with his hand.  Then, I hopped aboard Detour to investigate the damage.  Brian was breathing deeply, looking for any reassurance from the unknown man who had raced down the dock to our rescue and was the one who did actually fend off the docking boat; that man rolled his eyes, turned, and walked back to his boat.  We'd completed over 200 locks, countless dockings, several shore-side moorings with only a few scrapes of paint and now...it could have been infinitely worse and for that we are still thankful.  The foremost, starboard side stanchion had bent.  The Belgian couple responsible were very kind given the circumstances.  The man, utterly embarrassed, we did not see for the duration of that evening; the woman, disappointed and probably wishing they'd never taken this trip wanted to make things right as efficiently as possible.  I exchanged contact information with the woman while Brian assessed the damage.  He disassembled the stanchion, inspected the lifeline, and then priced what new materials for replacement would cost.  This was not a project he was happy about adding to the 'to-do' list.  The couple offered to pay us cash for the damage.  We wrote up a parts list; including prices and the sources from which the parts were found (no, did not include potential shipping or the harbor fees associated with waiting for the items to arrive if/when we obtained them). The woman had to walk nearly 2-miles to get to the bank for enough cash but within a few hours everything had been settled and we were finally making our way to the Brico with only minutes to spare before closing.  Next morning, we chatted quite a bit with the woman and reassured her that boating is not as bad as it may seem.  We reiterated, of course, that bad days are excruciatingly bad and that good days are, well, amazing. Then, we headed on our way.  If you think we are zooming through Belgium, we totally are!  There are few ports of interest to pleasure boats through Wallonia, but this through-route will soon result in yet another country and soon thereafter a raised mast.  Our very first lock that morning upon departing Huy looked like this (view looking back after weaving through the awaiting commercial vessels).