Owners Article, Ascension, The scenic route to Bruges

It started with an idea, to cross in March of 2020 to France for our 25th wedding anniversary and then spend a few months cruising around, then returning in the summer to the UK. It sounds strange you would only go over for a few months, but that’s all our visa would allow.  Sadly, COVID had other ideas and all plans were off.

So now we get to September and we start heading from our home mooring, on the Paddington arm of the Grand Union canal, up to the Piper Henley event, ever hopeful the event was to continue.  COVID strikes again, no Henley event, but we are on the water in our PIPER and loving the Thames.

Time to take a reality check, we have been in the UK now for 4.5 Years and next year we apply for the right to remain, It’s been incredibly fun and COVID has been an eye-opener as to how much life can change in an instant, so the thought was, why wait? How can we get our barge, Ascension to Bruges for the winter?  Well the VISA says we can’t stay out of the country for more than 180 days in any 365-day rolling period.

Option 1. Take the barge over and then in January ship it back on a lorry, circa cost £6000, including lifting in and out

Option 2. Don’t go and wait

Option 3. Go and leave the boat in Bruges as its staging point and find another way to live in the UK, most people have a house and a boat, maybe we could have a boat and a boat.

Well if you haven’t guessed, its boat and a boat, wide beam sail away with heating and electricity and something we can work on over the years as our UK accommodation, crazy right, well not the craziest thing Tracy & I have done so far.

Now how do we get to Bruges? Note – we are in Henley and after picking up the wide beam and getting it to T&K Marina for some works, we now have 4 days to get from Henley to Queenborough and the Hammersmith bridge is closed for any kind of traffic, marine or road.  Henley to Stains on day 1, check.  Wheelhouse comes down, Staines to Northolt (Paddington arm of the Grand Union – Brentford to Northolt takes about 6 hours in the barge, up the Hanwell Flight) Day 2, check.  Thought we would have a couple of days here to unload and get stuff off before the run to Limehouse, Wrong, unload and go, Our Skipper says we are leaving Queenborough to Calais in 3 days. Northolt to Limehouse (13 manual locks) the next day (Limehouse means we get the wheelhouse back up, and hopefully not come down again.  Having dismantled the wheelhouse a number of times, we’re now at a professional level, pulling the wheelhouse down in about 30 minutes, and back up even faster, quite easy when you get the hang of it.

This is where we consider the crossing starts. We head off from Limehouse to Queenborough on a day forecasted,  that is going to be a force 4 with the wind over tide.  There was only one moment where we second-guessed our choices when we slowed to 3kn against the tide, it seemed like we were going nowhere, but through the wind and waves, Ascension sliced like a hot knife through butter, it was a fantastic feeling to realise how strong the boat is and how easy she got us to Queenborough.

Next day was “the crossing”. David is telling us there will be quite a lot of roll. Having just completed the lumpy ride from Limehouse to QB run that was quite rough, we didn’t realise that the previous days of weather would have a huge effect on the water. We had little wind and waves under .8m but the swell was horrible, we had some 30-degree rolls but again the boat handled it easily.

We left Queenborough at 6:30 am and met some heavy fog that at one stage was set to derail us and send us to Ramsgate overnight but it cleared nicely.  We were in convoy behind another Piper, Julie and Paul Ashley’s “Pickled Pepper” – a 60M with David captaining that vessel and we had a third onboard, Phil from Alphi, another Piper owner, who was fantastic and very skilful with yacht master qualifications so, we knew, we were in good hands.

We completed the crossing, hit some great waves, waited for ships, couldn’t see in the fog, kept a lookout for crayfish pots, had bacon and egg sandwiches, lots of laughs and I will admit I had a lie down as Tracy took the helm through part of the Shipping channel.

We came into Calais and we felt a great rush of relief and gratification, not relief in the fact the crossing was over, but the relief in that we had made it this far in our lives to own a barge, live on it for 4.5 years and now sail it to Europe where there is even more adventure to be had.

In all it was an amazing journey and we are having a ball, as I write this, we are on our last day to Bruges another 48km, yes from Calais to Bruges we have been going at quite a pace, but that story will wait for another time.

Pipers make a boat that completes a dream that Tracy & I have had for over 25 years. We now get to have a barge in Europe and live in the UK! A Bus to Bruges from St Pancras station is £17 I’m told, the same time it takes to drive and nowhere near the cost, Christmas will be fantastic over here and next year we are looking forward to cruising in Europe.

With a lot of thanks to the other Piper owners that have had a hand in our trip through advice and support, Barge Anticus (just as crazy and very supportive), Deep Thought (technical help in words I can understand 🙂 ), Alphi (The Captain), Happy Chance (this one helps you keep your feet on the ground) and all the others that went before that we stalked to gain the knowledge to cross

If you’re wondering, can you do it or should you do it, my suggestion is yes and with a Piper you know many have gone before you and they are an exceptional boat and one of the great things I appreciate is that even 4.5 years on they still support us and look after our boat and answer my many strange questions.

Life is for living, not watching days go by.

Cheers everyone
Tracy & Shaun
Barge Ascension

PS, the first picture in the slide is from an art exhibition on the Regents canal in Shoreditch