Early May 2007 saw us heading away from our winter mooring in Kerkhoven, down the River Meuse to Andenne in Belgium and one of the shipyards of S.A. Meuse et Sambre Chantier Naval. The last time they updated their web site was in 2001 which is an indication of the laid back management of this yard! The day we went up onto the slipway the glorious spring weather (more like a hot summer) we had experienced all through April ended. It poured with rain and the wind blew really hard. The first attempt was abandoned due to a problem with the cradle as we were hauled up so we tied up while they modified it to fit us. The next attempt the wind blew us aground. On the third attempt a barge skipper of a 1500 tonne monster, who didn't look old enough to drive a car, volunteered his services and put us on the slipway cradle at his first attempt!
We had previously driven down with our car, left it parked at the shipyard and returned to Kerkhoven by train to collect Harmonie. We booked ourselves into a local hotel as using the shipyard toilets and showers were not exactly our bag! The next day the hull was pressure washed ready for our surveyor, Ydo Heijsman www.heijsmanscheepsexpertise.nl who arrived early the next morning from Den Bosch. Apart from some minor repairs the hull was given a clean bill of health. We tested the sterntube greaser and could not get any grease to leak from the tailshaft stern seal. This combined with a 1.5mm clearance indicating slight wear in the bearing decide us to draw the tailshaft. Ydo also suspected that the wrong anodes had been used in the propulsion engine keel cooler. Aluminium anodes were working fine all round the ship but the anodes in the cooler were confirmed by the manufacturers to be of Zinc and showed no corrosion. After 15 years in service it was time anyway to remove the tubestack and clean the internals so the correct anodes could then be fitted.
The large generator set on Harmonie is rated at 58kva which is needed for powering the bow thruster and Hiab deck crane but most of the time is 6 times too big for our day to day requirements. We had purchased a new 10kva generator set from St. Antonius Houben of Maasbracht in Holland. Anthony Houben gave us really good service and everything was delivered ex stock to the shipyard who would install it. The set consists of a 3 cylinder keel cooled Mitsubishi S3L2-63SG close coupled to a 3 phase Stamford alternator on flexible mountings and contained in a soundproofed housing. The exhaust system consists of a baffled dry silencer in series with an absorption type. The keel cooler was checked with the manufacturers, Blokland in Holland, who confirmed the correct aluminium anodes were fitted. The new set will be installed beside the old one in the generator room forward.
Sacrificial anodes are placed around the hull in strategic places close to the propeller, the bow thruster and the keel cooler in addition to around the hull. Harmonie has some 22 anodes and all will be replaced. When dissimilar metals exist under the water line it creates a large battery with a small electrical current flowing between the propellers/cooler tubestacks (cathodes) to the hull (anode) through the water (electrolyte). The steel, copper and bronze metals will corrode over time just like a batteries plates when subjected to these small electrical currents so the aluminium anodes are sacrificed instead. Zinc anodes are used if the ship is normally in sea water but aluminium anodes work best when the electrolyte is brackish water and magnesium in fresh water. Aluminium anodes are therefore a good compromise solution for us.
The shipyard were very busy and getting them to allocate the manpower to our jobs was difficult. At last we received the message that work was about to begin so all our batteries were disconnected and welding began. A patch being welded to cover an old log impellor under the hull caused some anxious moments. It was right under the oily bilge and the ship quickly filled with smoke from the oil on the hot plates. Standing by with an extinguisher did nothing for my confidence should the engine room have suddenly burst into flames!
Following that burst of activity, nothing else happened for over a week, then there were two Belgian holidays so we amused ourselves painting the hull on the days it did not rain.
We did manage to do a few trips into the Ardennes, revisiting Bastoigne and the American museum devoted to the Battle of the Bulge which was closed on our previous visit. A visit to Spa included a 130km drive around the surrounding countryside when we discovered a delightful covered walk of Hornbeam trees called a Charmille. This one is the longest in Europe being 530 metres long and composed of 4,500 trees pruned and trained into the shape of an arch. It was originally planted in 1885 by one, Michel Nys, a gentleman who bought an adjoining manor house and laid out the park.
Finally it was time to read the riot act to the shipyard management when it became obvious that we were going to miss yet another deadline for going back down the slip. Alexandre, the young manager, tells me "you are not 'appy so I am not 'appy you are not 'appy" and things do speed up a bit but we have to spend yet another weekend and another Belgian holiday on the slip. After getting the sterntube greaser working again with grease pouring reassuringly out of the sternseal, we decide, in consultation with the surveyor, not to draw the tailshaft. The new alternator is finally in place with exhaust, cooling water and diesel pipework systems progressing. Our diesel tanks have to be segregated for red and white diesel due to recent EU legislation forbidding the use of red diesel for propulsion. This will have the effect of nearly doubling our propulsion cost depending on which country we are in. Our leaking steering gear seals are still not replaced so I tell Alexander to get it back on board and I will change the seals myself! He "'opes" that the new anodes will be here on the day we go into the water again, otherwise further delay and I will definitely not be 'appy!
The first coat of 'goudron' was applied to the underwater hull. We know it as bitumen or tar and it is banned in most countries, other than in Belgium, due to its toxicity to marine life which is exactly the reason it is applied to our hull, we don't want mussels et al clinging to our bottom and causing us to require more propulsive power. I will let the environmentalists decide which is better, less carbon emissions or a few more molluscs in the world?
Here is Harmonie on the blocks. After we were hauled up on a cradle, blocks were placed at intervals beneath the hull and the cradle then moved back down the slip. Two more ships were hauled up in the following days so work on these had to be completed and relaunched before we could be refloated, therefore we were last in the queue for the available labour.
Over the holiday weekend we decide to visit the Alsace region, staying a couple of nights in the lovely city of Colmar. We broke the journey at Saverne where the Marne au Rhin canal passes through the centre of the city then on to Colmar where we ate local fare beside the river in the Little Venice quarter of the city. The following day saw us up on the tops of the Vosges mountains at 1,500 metres along the Route des Cretes in thick mist and pouring rain so we descended into the Munster valley for coffee. The sun came out so we climbed to the ridge again. This area was the scene of vicious fighting during WW1 and there are many cemeteries and memorials where thousands of French and Germans are buried or commemorated.
We dropped down into Turkheim and indulged in a little wine tasting at the local grand cru cave, purchasing a case of Pinot Noir Rosé, Baron de Turkheim Gewurtztraminer Reserve and an excellent dry Riesling on promotion at €27 a case! Walking around the village later you could understand why this area has been fought over for centuries. Romans, Austrians, Spanish, Germans and Franks have all coveted Alsace at one time or another and after the Franco-Prussian war of 1871 was part of Germany until the French regained it in 1918.
Back at the shipyard it became cold and wet and work progressed slowly. The temperature dropped to single figures and was more like January than June!
I had removed a radiator in the saloon to facilitate access for running through new pipes and cables so we had no heating.
Observing river traffic from our vantage point up on the slip, I noticed the negative freeboard of this pusher tug with the wide open door just above the waterline and wondered about the Plimpsoll line!
We are cutting 400mm off each side of our wheelhouse roof and lowering it 100mm at the same time. I pondered this action for some time, worried that such radical action might spoil the ships appearance. The reasons for this are threefold:-
On the last day in May, Alexandre announced that the steering gear seals were lost in the post so we were stuck on the slip for yet another weekend, our fourth! The mechanical installation of the new generator was finally completed and we began to get our accommodation back into shape, many of the internal panels having been removed to facilitate new pipes and cables being run from engine room to generator room.
On 1st June the tubestack on the main engine cooler was replaced and the ship made watertight. At last we were winched down the slipway and towed to a mooring by the next barge to take our place. The next day, steam was emerging from our domestic hot water boiler when I went for a shower. I relieved the pressure by opening taps and returned to bed to let things cool down. The hydrophore seemed to be running intermittently and I assumed this was the boiler refilling but after several minutes I grew concerned and investigated. The tap in the galley was leaking water onto the deck and down into the engine room. You need a science degree to fathom these fancy German taps but I discovered one of the plastic internals had split. Spares were unobtainable locally so a new tap was purchased and plumbed in.
We spent Sunday driving the car to Leopoldsberg and travelling back on the train via Brussels where we celebrated our release from the shipyard with mussels and frites washed down with a cold Belgian beer on a sunny pavement restaurant in the old city. On Monday the welders returned, completed the wheelhouse, the steering gear was installed and recommissioned and the electrician finished wiring up the new generator finally at about 9pm. Earlier in the day we had agreed the final price and paid the shipyard so the next day, bright and early, we dipped our ensign and headed down river back to towards Kerkhoven. At the last lock in Wallonia we were required to present our ships papers and while I was doing this the lock keeper decided to empty the lock leaving Harmonie tied up astern on the lock wall. I sprinted the 200 metres back as the rope broke with a sound like a pistol crack and Harmonie crashed back into the water. How such idiots obtain such positions of responsibility is beyond me!
On through Liege and into the Albert Canal the main engine stopped. I started the big generator and used the bow thruster to steer into the side with just enough way on the ship to reach the bank where we moored up to an old foundry wharf. I had noticed that the fuel gauge was reading empty, knew we had half a tank of diesel and had wrongly concluded that the gauge was on the bum. I had also noticed that the fuel gauge on the other tank was showing full but still the penny hadn't dropped. The shipyard had separated the fuel tanks for red and white diesel but the excess fuel return pipe from the main engine only went to the red diesel tank. So we pumped all the diesel from the white diesel tank into the red diesel tank until it was empty and the engine was starved of fuel!! I rigged up a temporary supply pipe from the red diesel tank and we were soon on our way again. When we refuelled we also discovered that the 1400 litre tank is is in fact only 1000 litres capacity.
Back at Kerkhoven the next day I cycled into Leopoldsberg to retrieve our car from the railway station car park and the day after we drove to Oostend and the ferry to Ramsgate, a 4.5 hour sea voyage for the princely sum of 64 Euroles.