The long Covid winter

Well it is now nine months and six days since we left our lovely Calliope secured for the winter in Kortrijk on the river Leie. We had expected it to be for six months and nine days, not the other way round! However the various twists and turns of Covid-19 have made it difficult to return, either because of UK restrictions or Belgium restrictions.

So here is a little short bloggette about Calliope’s last 278 days of isolation.

Preparing to leave last October – down come the flags.

Captan and crew went through the normal cleaning and de-cluttering procedures ready to put our barge to bed for the winter – expecting to return in a couple of months to check on her before Christmas and again in February.

Little did we know!

October 22nd – goodbye Calliope, goodbye Kortrijk ducks and coots – our friends on the river Leie.

Then home by Eurostar to the UK and 10 days quarantine – not too bad when you have a pleasant view of the water out towards Portsmouth Harbour. We were all set up with home deliveries of food, jigsaws to complete, books to read and Dutch to learn; the time sped by and we were sort of free, within the Covid restrictions of the time.

It was soon apparent that we could not go back before Christmas, but our friends on nearby barge Pavot were keeping an eye on Calliope, as was Wim, the harbourmaster, so no real concerns. We began to plan for an unknown Christmas; would it be full throttle with 12 of the family, or just two households, or no gathering at all?

In the end it was rather a quiet affair for everyone on the UK!

Calliope in Kortrijk on December 31st 2020 – taken by our friends on Pavot

We had been alerted of the need to have evidence that Calliope was in Europe before Brexit, to avoid potential tax implications, so asked our friends on a barge 100 yards away to take evidential photos on New Years Eve. There she lay, in the great light of a Belgian winter, awaiting our return.

January 2021 – waving to boats from Haslar seawall, Gosport

We bowled on into the New Year, certain that by the time we planned to go back to the boat in April the pandemic would have calmed down and it would be travel as usual. In fact our bigger concern was how to get 6 months in Belgium and The Netherlands following Brexit, than any worry about Covid. France was offering long stay visas for tourists, but not either of the two countries we were planning to be in.

There are always boats to enjoy here at home as well as when we are on Calliope. The two new super carriers, RO8 and RO9, made various entrances and exits of Portsmouth Harbour; we have a good view of their berths from the bridge at the end of the road.

In February Stewart fixed up two of the things I had been missing most in a house with no garden – plants to care for and an outdoor washing line. These were both erected on our little balcony and both gave me great joy and a feeling of outdoor living again – while we waited for Coronavirus to pass. And even with this you will detect a background of water – we don’t ever seem to get too far away from sea, river or canal!

We were please and excited to have our two Covid vaccinations during the Spring, and felt fully covered for our trip – except that the countries of the world were winding through a series of red, amber and green states, testing regimes and quarantine periods that were making planning almost impossible.

April arrived and we were still in the UK. Then mid month an interesting email arrived from Wim, the harbour master at Kortrijk – with the subject Omgevallen boom – or fallen tree!

A tree had fallen in the night and partially landed on our barge! You feel so far away and powerless when something like this happens and you are not permitted to travel.

Luckily Wim had things well under control and soon the fire brigade arrived to remove the tree – and our friends on Pavot came along to inspect for damage. There seemed to be nothing more than twigs and leaves – although we still need to check that the PV panels have not been affected. (fingers crossed!)

A further email informed us that in cutting up the fallen tree our electricity connection was broken – but once more the friendliness and resourcefulness of other boatsman came to our rescue and we were sent a photo of the repaired connector.

A new one was ordered on line and put into the box marked ‘boat’ which we hoped would one day accompany us back to Kortrijk.

‘Naughty Talk’

Another purchase for the boat while we were in the UK was the so called ‘marriage savers’. I was reluctant to buy them, knowing that my marriage was safe, but finally understood that for the Captain’s sanity it would be a good idea of he could talk to me from the wheelhouse to the bow, through the magic of radio. We tried out the Nautic-talk (or naughty talk as I prefer to call it) in the lounge of our house, getting as far apart as we could and trying to replicate the feeling of a 20m long barge going into a 20m deep lock with a gusty crosswind! I think it’s going to work.

The arrival of June still found us in the UK, watching the Covid figures go up and down both at home and across Europe, waiting for rules, tests, vaccinations and the planets all to align in our favour so that we could travel legally and safely to Calliope.

The silver lining of the Covid cloud was being able to see more of the family now that we were permitted to meet inside in groups of 6 and outside in larger numbers. We had a lovely day out at Churt Sculpture Park with youngest grand daughter and family. It gave the Captain a chance to introduce her to navigation!

I watched both grandsons play their last match of the season – and both teams won! Incredibly the friendly matches for the next season began before we managed to get back to Belgium – there no longer seems to be a summer break for football – especially with the Euros being played this summer as well.

June also brought flowers. These ox-eye daisies grow wild in front of our house, partly camouflaging the RN fuel depot the other side of Forton Lake! I began to realise that I would see my agapanthus bloom this year too.

June also took us north – first to the Lake District and the very moving, calm, spreading of our boatman friend’s ashes on Windermere. Then over to the North East coast, Scarborough to visit Stewart’s uncle and aunt.

The wife of our Lakeland Admiral came to stay with us for a few days. She found new waters – those of the Solent – and, I hope, some solace from being with us.

She and her husband had spent several holidays aboard Calliope with us – always good times.

June merged into July; full moons waxed and waned. Still we watched as boating friends went back to France, and as a few others sneaked into Belgium, never feeling confident enough ourselves that everything could legally be put in place.

Then, finally, everything seemed right. Various medical check-ups were complete, Belgium would let us in (with a few caveats such as quarantine and PCR tests), and a ferry booking was available. So that was it. We booked for the next day, went for a final curry, packed the car and were Belgium bound.

The drive to Dover was probably the best we have ever had, and it was just so good to see the harbour below us as we came down the hill to the port.

The crossing was a little choppy, but nor enough to cause any issues, and certainly not to stop us enjoying the complementary meal on offer from DFDS! Stewart saw a seal playing around in Dover harbour before we left. but other than that the crossing was uneventful.

It is strange how delighted and excited we were at each stage of the drive from Calais, past Dunkirk, down to Ypres, and finally to Kortrijk. It did feel like coming home.

And then, there she was – a bit grubby but in every other way shipshape – our Calliope!

The long Covid winter was over – October to July – we were back.