We arrived from Rotterdam to Zeebrugge at nine o’clock in the evening. On arrival we were informed that the next upstream lockage will be at 23:30 and again our plans changed. We stayed in Zeebrugge for the night. We were making her fast to the pontoon of the Royal Belgium Sailing Club marina when already so familiar a rain shower got us well watered. Continuous loading sounds from a neighbouring Zeebrugge container port were reaching the docks of yacht club and thus we wanted to continue towards Bruges first thing in the morning.
Two locks lead from Zeebrugge to canals. The western lock is smaller and older. The old lock is operated only at weekdays between 8am and 4pm, We were directed to the new lock on the eastern end of the port. Pleasure boats can enter both the locks only together with commercial traffic.
This lock was the biggest we’ve ever been. The lock of Vandamme is 500 m long, 57 m wide and 18.5 m deep. Its volume is 527000 cubic metres of water which is the same amount as 211 olympic pools all together. Fortunately the skipper of the dredger Hydra invited Suwena to moor alongside them because the walls of the lock are made for ships.
An hour long lockage passed quickly by chatting with the skipper of Hydra. He told that Hydra can carry 1800 tons of sand and that she can be filled in about an hour. If the waves reach two metres they can lose up to few hundred tons of sand on a way back to port. There we were, floating with 20 ton Suwena alongside the fully loaded dredger. The skipper also helped us with the route to Bruges and on how to get the bridges open. Greetings to the skipper of Hydra!
After passing three bridges we arrived in Bruges. Unfortunately the wind was from the west side of the canal and shocking industrial smell hit our faces. We were stunned and were already thinking about returning immediately to Zeebrugge. Nobody opened the lock to us for entering the city of Bruges so we could moor on the canals of this beautiful city and thus it was a decision time again.
There is the marina of Brugse Zeil- en Yachtclub just before the lock on the east side of the canal where we decided to stop for a moment in order to visit quickly the center of Bruges. The yachtclub itself is welcoming even if it is situated close to the industrial areas. The club members told that they plan to purchase some bicyces, enabling sailing visitors to make trips into the town. By walking it takes about half an hour to reach the town centre.
The city of Bruges is unbelievably well preserved in its medieval outfit. Bruges or Brugge in Dutch is the biggest tourist attraction in Belgium and this is no wonder. There are chocolate, diamond, lace, beer and other more traditional art museums to explore. We visited the Historium museum that must have been the most memorable museum for us ever. In Historium everybody gets an audio device with headphones. When walking from one room to another the multimedia presentation follows and tells about the hey day of Bruges. It is a love story around Jacob, the apprentice of painter Jan van Eyck, the painting’s young lady Anna and green parrot happening in 1535. The setting for multimedia was done very well, there were sound effects, scents and medieval structures for making the story alive. Historium was opened in the summer of 2012 but for sure it will be a great success. It was a nice 45 minute time jump to the past.
Bruges is famous for chocolate and beer. We definetely had to buy some hand made sweets from Chocolatier shops. There were cookies filled with various berries and vast amount of chocolate available. Also the beer shop was worth its name. As a friend of dark beer Brugse Zot tasted especially good and took the first place in our Belgium beer ranking from Leffe Brune. Previously we have bought Leffe from our Belgium trips back home.
It was exciting to explore the old map of Bruges that showed clearly why the medieval Bruges was called Europe’s New York. At that time the bottom of the sea was not at current level and that’s why Bruges was located much more close to the sea. The heavy ship traffic had raised Bruges to be an active trade city. It is also told that the modern stock market has been started in Bruges when the merchant family van der Burse started developing the commodity exchange activities in his house in 1309. The seal of their family had three purses (bourse in French) for identification.
Andrus also spent some time with the sailors from BZYC yacht club when they invited him to have a beer on the patio of their clubhouse. It seemed that Belgian did not believe that there are no tide on the Baltic Sea. They were wondering, does the sea freeze during the winter and what happens to the ice at sea when the tide changes. They nodded a little suspiciously when Andrus confirmed that “there isn’t any tide at the Baltic and the sea really freezes up completely”.
When Andrus called to the lock keeper of Vandamme for checking the lockage time he heard that the next lockage is at 2pm on Saturday and there wasn’t yet any information available about Sunday. This meant that it was time to continue to Oostende.
We travelled together with two ships passing the bridges and arrived to the lock just on time. This time we moored her to the bollard on the lock’s wall. The problem in such a huge lock is that the rubber posts are positioned sparsely on the walls. With only one fender in the bow and another in the stern we managed to position Suwena. Our fenders have a loopholes on both ends and by adding a second line we can hang the fender horizontally and this way it protects the boat better. After an hour long lockage we passed the Zeebrugge port to the North Sea and turned Suwena’s bow towards Oostende.
Bruges was one of the main destinations for our summer voyage this year. If you want to stop there for only a day then we recommend to leave the boat in Oostende and make a daytrip to Bruges. Also the Zeebrugge is not the most beautiful harbour. If however you have time to stay in Bruges for a couple of days then the trip with locks and bridges is worth the trouble. There are so much to see in Bruges that one day might not be enough.