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Ideas and opinions

You will find here ideas and comments about the Blue Links project received by email from the visitors or expressed elsewhere.




Titre et auteur

19 March 2009
All we need is ... a slipway !
Jean-Pierre Billiet.
18 January 2009
50 boats for the grand rally !
Xavier Cleenewerck.
4 January 2008
Differentiate canalside spaces... taking into account anglers
M. Cattez.
23 July 2007
Information and moorings
Roger Edgar.
1 December 2006
Roots in the canal
Rogère Duquesne.
25 April 2006
Emilienne, the child and the water
Emilienne Vandekerkove.
8 April 2006
Make urban moorings safer with rings instead of bollards!
Roger Edgar.
3 March 2006
Another possible Blue Link?
Philippe Monsieur.
11 February 2006
What about freight ...?
Annemarie Van Oers.

All we need is ... a slipway !

Jean-Pierre Billiet (Leers, France) - 19 March 2009.

It is a great pity, if not a grave error, not to have provided for a slipway when the large-scale works were carried out to build the new Grimonpont lift bridge in my commune of Leers. There are pontoons for mooring, but there is nowhere for us to launch small craft! I have a small open boat - a Quicksilver 450dlx - and thought the canal would give me the opportunity to enjoy the canal in my commune. I could enjoy cruising (with my electric outboard) and angling in this environment which has been so completely transformed. This facility could promote the canal, inviting others to invest in this activity and thus contribute to making use of the considerable investment that has been made to restore the canal. I have ideas on where a slipway could ideally be installed, and I am available to the waterway managers and local council to discuss them.

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50 boats for the grand rally !

Xavier Cleenewerck - 18 January 2009.

We, members of the Yacht Club de la Lys at Halluin, are keen to take part in the inaugural event with our boats. During the event (on 19-20 September), I'm sure it will be an additional attraction for visitors and walkers on the towpath to see as many boats as possible.By experience, I know that we can amass almost 50 boats from Wambrechies, ArmentiËres, Quesnoy, DešlČmont, Warneton, Halluin, Wervicq, Kurnes, Deinze,...
On 3 May, 2008, we succeeded in mobilising 45 boats of all kinds, for a three-hour cruise organised for 86 handicapped people from three institutes in Belgium. We cruised from Menin through Courtrai to Kurnes and back. The Belgian authorities exceptionally granted us free use of the waterways exclusively for this event. Thanks to the long week-end, the boats located furthest from Menin had time to reach the starting point. Regarding use of the towpaths, we should adopt the same regulation as in Belgium, by strictly forbidding the use of all motorised vehicles and cycles, with the exception of wheelchairs for the handicapped. It is also an attraction for us as boaters to see people walking on the banks!

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Differentiate canalside spaces... taking into account anglers.

M. Cattez - 4 January 2008.

I fully agree with Francis Fauvergue regarding the towpaths, and the essential peaceful cohabitation of joggers, cyclists and walkers of all kinds who use these paths.

It would be advantageous, I feel, to provide at least a few spaces dedicated to anglers. This would give a better chance to the gear which the lovers of this sport are obliged to spread out around them (and not unreasonably, it must be said) in order to practise their favourite sport. This is because the telescopic rods, often up to 9 or even 13 m long, are regularly laid out behind the angler, thus encroaching on the space devoted to common uses. It is even quite a frequent occurrence that fishing rods are broken by people moving on the towpath, who clearly do not expect to find this kind of equipment laid out on the towpath. One broken section means the rod is completely out of use, and its replacement generally costs around €80.
My point is not to give any single use priority over the others, but considering that the canal generally has a path on each side, could we not provide occasional spaces devoted to fishermen, the "rois de la gaule"? This would surely not be extravagant. It is also worth noting that anglers are usually keen observers, and by developing these angler-friendly spaces the authority would effectively be creating "observation posts", particularly useful in case of pollution.
In any event, the way things are shaping up on our Roubaix Canal really makes us want to reuse this corridor, and I now visit it very regularly to walk, jog or simply to look around!Here's to the inauguration.......... I'll be there by hook or by crook, that's for sure!

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Information and moorings

Roger Edgar - 23 July 2007

Some comments after a recent inspection of both ends of the Roubaix/Espierres link, during a cruise in northern France and Belgium.

The Belgian entry from the Scheldt is very attractive - that from the French end in Lille could generously be described as 'unprepossessing'. I was surprised to see that so far there are no signs or other information at either end to publicise the planned re-opening.
A further observation, in relation to the future use of the route, is the availability of mooring places reasonably close to its ends on both the Scheldt and the Lys. On the Scheldt, there is Bossuit, about 6 km and one lock downstream, at the junction with the Bossuit-Kortrijk Canal. The recently published guide to Belgium (by Jacqueline Jones, published by Imray) claims pontoons with water and electricity.  In reality there is about 100m of quayside well provided with cleats to moor to, and a good depth, but no sign of water, and a single vandalised electricity pillar. The quayside is overgrown to the point of being hardly usable. Upstream there is nothing until Antoing and Péronnes, upstream of the one-way stretch through Tournai.
On the French side there is a nice little harbour at Wambrechies, a couple of km downstream, which provides depth, water and electricity, but it is silted up (1.2m at entrance, much less than 1m half way up), so for most boats only the outside moorings would be usable. In Lille, the quayside moorings above the lock in the disused arm by the Citadelle are in a pleasant location, but there is nothing to tie to, and no water or electricity (though there is a drinking fountain that demonstrates that there is a potable water supply to the quayside.)
If the re-opening could be used as a lever to make modest improvements to all or any of these mooring places, I am sure that it would enhance the use of the new link.

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Roots in the canal.

Interview with Rogère Duquesne - 1 December 2006

Listening to Rogère Duquesne talk about her attachment to the canal de Roubaix is like opening an illustrated history book, containing an inspiring lesson in life.

Rogère should have been born on a boat like her sisters, but in 1944 World War II changed her destiny, so she was born on land, in a house. As daughter and grand-daughter of boatmen, she nonetheless spent the first 11 years of her life on the canals.
“These are really my roots”, she says, commenting one by one the precious black-and-white photographs in her album: wooden boats in the early days, carrying only coal or sand, because they weren't affected by the humidity. Later, when barges were built with steel hulls, it was possible to carry a greater variety of cargoes, which her parents carried through France and Belgium, occasionally unloading in Wattrelos or Roubaix.
“It was on the canals that I learned my geography”, she recalls, and it was a shock when, like the other boatmen's children, she had to go to boarding school. After a few weeks at school, where she says she would have fallen ill, she returned to the boat and continued her schooling by correspondence.
“We lived on the boat and we were happy”
This was not a very comfortable home at that time, with very little living space, “but we were together as a family, my father, mother and sisters. And there was the sense of freedom, not being hemmed in! On short pounds we followed on the towpath, we were surrounded by nature”.
The freedom enjoyed by Rogère and her sisters was not at the expense of safety, and they had to follow the rules of the cut. “It may have shocked the people on land, but when we were little we were tied to the boat so we wouldn't fall into the water or risk being strangled by the tiller, the famous ‘guillotine’ which was later replaced by the wheel.
“This was where our parents taught us respect, sharing and mutual assistance”.
“When we stopped for the night we got together, all the boatmen's families who knew each other, we met friends, cousins, uncles,... the children played together on the bank; there was never any aggressiveness.”
But conviviality here rhymes with solidarity: when there was a strong wind they would help the following boat to moor up. “Then there are the rules which we learned when very young: it was out of the question for children to run along the side of the barge moored alongside, it was just not on.” Nor was it permitted to pass round the stern of the neighbouring boat because these were the living quarters for the family. “It was not a problem, we were all used to it”.
Rogère recalls with barely disguised emotion passing through locks with their perfectly-kept flower gardens, the children waiting on the bridges to watch the boats pass by, her pride when she was allowed by her father to help tar the hold covers, the weddings for which barges would be completely decked out with flags, choosing the next trip at the freight exchange office.

Rogère also remembers the hard times, the winters when black ice on the sides would make them dangerous for all the family, the barely sufficient earnings, and above all her father's illness when he had to go to hospital and all the family had to live ‘on the land’.
“In those days, a woman was not allowed to handle a barge on her own”.
“A canal is a priceless asset!”
Settled in Roubaix since she began her new life on land, Rogère Duquesne has never been far from the canal, which she has defended with all her connviction and vigour in her district association.
“When a canal is closed, the banks deteriorate, the locks too, a canal is a place to live on or beside.” Among the numerous projects currently being designed around the canal, Rogère mentions the new urban development areas where the preference is given to terrace houses with their small gardens, and she ardently hopes that the new inhabitants will rediscover “that sense of sharing, the friendliness and willingness to help each other”.

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Emilienne, the child and the water

Emilienne Vandekerkove - 25 April 2006

Once upon a time a 2,5-year old little girl moved in the canal farm called « l'cense Casaque », for those who know the place, with her parents, brother and maternal grand-mother. Very soon, my brother and I have made friends with Chantal the little girl of the near-by café place: « Estaminet-boutique » run by Jérôme and his daughters.
We were like 3 musketeers. All for one and one for all. When we were walking, riding horses and above all riding bicycle. From the Deûle to the Escaut, we were the heroes.
I was 8 or 10 when the canal became my friend, my playground and my cosy nest. Under the supervision of my parents, we would play alongside the canal, never far away, almost within sight, mummy was always very vigilant. They were, as fas as I remember, magical holiday, idyllic moments. Our favorit place was the lock and the barges, the house of Jeanne and Victoire. Let me tell you the story about the newspaper kiosk and the customs officers: there were Claudy, Serge, Jean and many others still but I can only remember their faces. And Michel, the lock-keeper, I would stare at him as he opened and closed his locks. I wished I could help him but I was so shy that I did not dare asking him. When the barge was in the lock chamber, we were allowed to go on board. Exceptionally of course! What an enjoyment it was!... I was fascinated by the loading of these huge floating vessels. Sometimes gravel, sometimes coal or corn.
Sometimes we would fish... A well cut branch, a match to serve as cork, nothing dangerous for the fish and that was it. We were fishermen from Iceland, boatmen on the Volga river. We were just happy. So many walks, gigglings, grass smashed by our picnics.

The canal, 50 years later, remains more than never the lullaby of my child years; the memory of a beloved brother and of still loved girl friend . A bit of its water flows into my veins and I am proud of it. The majesty of its poplars reassures me and makes me look towards the summits.
It is and shall remain a part of me.

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Make urban moorings safer with rings instead of bollards!

Roger Edgar - 8 April 2006

I have read the plans for future operation of the canal with interest. To start with, just one observation about quayside waiting moorings. Presumably the 'convoys' working through the flights of locks will quite frequently be of 3 boats in the 8 to 12m length range. Therefore 3 bollards over the péniche length of 38m is hardly adequate - at least 4, and preferably one or two more, would be better.
A related point is the design of bollards/mooring rings where boats may overnight or be left unattended. To minimise the casual untying of boats, it is preferable that there are rings (or the type of cleat used in maritime marinas) through which rope ends can be fed and taken back on board to be made off. I have been untied circa 5 times over the last decade, always in urban areas and always in situations where the rope could easily be lifted off the bollard by a casual passer by.

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Another possible Blue Link?

Philippe Monsieur, President of NautiV, Federation of Flemish Nautical Industries - 3 mars 2006

Photo of Houtemsluis, © NautiV

There is another, almost forgotten, cross-border canal, called the Bergenvaart in Flanders, leading to the Canal de la Basse Colme in France. From Bergues this continues as the Canal de la Haute Colme.
As far as I know, nothing is happening at present on this small waterway on the Flemish side (the lock at Houtem is 26.65m long and 3.50m wide). The Canal de la Basse Colme is much larger and only a few bridges would have to be made movable to make it usable for pleasure craft.
A navigable link for pleasure boats between Veurne (Furnes) and Bergues (and on towards Saint-Omer) could be a wonderful project and technically feasible. It runs through a marvellous polder-landscape, currently known only by bicycle tourists.
In the same area, a few kilometres south, the W&Z made last year some improvements for small yachts on the river IJzer (Iser) from Fintele (near Lo) to Roesbrugge at the French Border, with attractive mooring facilities in Roesbrugge.

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What about freight ...?

Annemarie Van Oers - 11 February 2006

The owners of the 38.50m barge Picaro ( are also interested in the Blue Links project. :

1/40th sistership of the 'Picaro'

We support all initiatives drawing attention to the possibilities of transport on smaller waterways, but we're afraid that a draught of 1.60 m is not profitable any more for commercial shipping (180 tonnes maximum instead of 250 tonnes).
For the opening festivities, we will do our best to participate ourselves or to find a colleague who is ready to do this, but it is always difficult (and, indirectly, quite expensive) for skippers to participate in this kind of event. We can plan our freight hauls a little, but we could only give confirmation a few days in advance.

Passing the canal empty would probably be easier and cheaper than 3/4 loaded, unless local representatives can arrange for a haul and everything that comes with it. But we must be absolutely sure that there is sufficient draught (and that there are no cars and bicycles left on the bottom!), clearance under the bridges, and also width: it quite often happens that the tops of the lock walls sag if out of use for a long time, and many locks appear to be a little narrower when VNF has restored them...
Most skippers don't even like to be the first to pass a regular French canal after a stoppage (chômage) of three weeks, so to be the first in 23 years...

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