One of the good things about packrafting in Flanders, is that natural scenery, physical exercise, a little bit of adventure and especially also culture often go hand in hand. This again becomes apparent during a 28 km packrafting / hiking trip with Tom between Damme (Belgium) and Sluis (Netherlands), on a gloriously sunny mid-July Sunday.
We put in around 10 am in Damme and follow a canal named Zuidervaartje along the ramparts of the historic town. This section has fairly low water levels, but we don’t encounter problems. The canal subsequently heads north and a while later we have to take out at the intersection with the Leopold and Schipdonk canals. A portage of 2.5 km follows, which takes us via De Siphon, the Oostkerke castle and the village of Oostkerke to the Zwinnevaart canal. Tom prefers to deflate his raft to carry it more easily during the portage, while I just carry the inflated raft on my back, which obviously generates some interest from passers-by.
Zwinnevaart is a quiet canal that probably only very seldom sees paddlers. After a couple of kilometers, we veer east onto the Hoekevaart canal. Also this canal is extremely quiet. We pass the windmill of Hoeke and then go ashore for lunch at a scenic location.
After lunch, we continue on Hoekevaart until it meets the larger Damse Vaart canal. Taking out is not so easy here as the water’s edge is steep and full of nettles. Anyway, we manage and then put in to Damse Vaart for the final stretch to Sluis, at the other side of the border. After having enjoyed Sluis from the water, we take out, deflate our boats and take on the return hike.
The return hike partly follows Damse Vaart and also partly goes through fields and meadows. Around 5:30 pm we arrive back in Damme, after a pleasant trip with quite a bit of variation.
One little side note: as this trip goes through flat and open country, wind can be an important factor. Luckily, winds were in our favor, as most of the time we could benefit from a gentle tail wind.