Often in the winter I go north to check on our boat. I look for leaks, make sure the batteries are being charged properly and the like. This year I flew into Eindhoven, a mid-sized airport in the southern part of the Netherlands. After completing the car rental paperwork and the steeple-chase effort to find the car lot, I put the phone on the seat with the route entered and set off. In about 90 minutes and an equal number of roundabouts I came to the marina, along the way piercing through the sub-freezing clouds. Once on the boat I switched on the diesel heater as well as the small electric one, and set about the few tasks I had in mind.
That night I slept under the duvet. The Dutch generally turn their heat way down at night as these duvets are more than adequate. I left the small electric heater on and woke up nearly sweating, getting up to move the heater to the cold salon. It was just 10c/50f inside the boat when I awoke, but it warms up quickly with the gas burners used to make breakfast.
So there I was, standing on the dock looking in disbelief. Then I realized I was in a jam. I was way out of sight of the office. They knew I was there as I had emailed them weeks before and the day before I talked to the woman in the office about getting water. It was she who told water valves on the dock are always removed in the cold weather.
There was a dinghy tied to the dock but there was no paddle. I called the office- luckily I had a signal. The woman I spoke to in English the day before was not in. The man on the other end spoke no English, just Dutch and German! I sent him an email so he could translate it, then thought of calling Kees in Haarlem. He roared with laughter when I told him what happened, then he called the office. Within about twenty minutes I was shoving off towards land, just 10 meters away, retrieving the paddle the man heaved to me. My only problem was the water in the dinghy. It had been hidden below the folds. Once I slid into the boat, staying low to avoid capsizing, so I was quite surprised when the icy water rushed out from the sides, covering my legs to the knees.
Before getting drinking water I went back to the boat to change into my sloppy old sweat pants and the inexpensive but terribly comfortable clogs. You’d think that the clogs were from the Netherlands. No. I bought them in Spain, after looking for them all over Netherlands without success. I made my way to land in the dinghy and filled the jugs.
After another day doing a few additional chores I drove to Haarlem to visit with our friends. It took about three hours. I wasted a good part of one hour as I’d put in the right street and number but the wrong city into Google maps.
Their daughter came for dinner that night. I met her and her husband in 2000 when we had our first Dutch boat. A few months before we met Kees and Ada on the River Eem near Amersfoort. We arranged then to meet them all in their home harbor in July to see the fireworks in Amsterdam harbor in connection with the Tall Ships. This is an annual event where large 3-5 mast sailing vessels travel to various ports in Europe. In the Netherlands during this event there are thousands of boats on the huge North Sea Canal that the ships use to get to Amsterdam.
Ada put on a fine meal that night and I slept in a warm house. The next day came the news. A big snow storm was coming, to be particularly heavy in the area where the boat is. I would not only be driving in the snow on Friday to return to the boat, where I had to prepare the boat for the rest of winter, I would be getting up on Saturday morning with snow on the docks in the pitch black, to slide on the docks to get into a small dinghy with my luggage and row to shore, hoping then to get out of the boat without stepping into the water, soaking my shoes. I had to make an early flight.
Friday dawned. It began to snow on the way to Almere, where I had to drop off some canvases for repair. These I had removed in the frigid weather, which makes canvas stiff and hard to handle. Then I had to carry the large stiff pieces down the dock and into the dingy. By the time I arrived at at the sail maker’s shop the snow flakes were huge, coming down in quantity, and building up on the roads. I did not have snow tires on this car. I grew up in New York and lived for 12 years in Colorado so I do know how to drive in the snow, but that was years ago now.
After another stop in Almere Poort (as it is spelled in Dutch) for a solar panel, I started south. Almere and the Poort are near Amsterdam so I found a fair amount of traffic on the highway. There was a slushy build up on the road, especially between the lanes. I crossed two bridges before leaving the area, leaving extra room between cars as bridges ice up sooner. The snow abated and within an hour disappeared. I was not yet out of the woods, of course. The worse was yet to come, per the forecasts.
I had lunch in a roadside Eet Cafe. Eet means Eat. These are home cooking places. They offer basic cooking and normally are very good. I ordered a kip sate. Kip is chicken, sate is a peanut sauce. This is a typical Dutch menu item, coming from its one time colonial occupation of Indonesia. The offering in this charming place was mediocre, with just ordinary grocery store bread and without the excellent fries that accompany most Dutch meals.
I stopped by the office to let them know I was leaving in the unlikely event they’d worry about me. The man who does not speak English told me in English I could drive the car to the far end, much nearer the boat, a big help since the canvases are both heavy and bulky, and there are two of them, so I would have to make two trips. Then he asked me if I would be taking the dingy back to the boat for the rest of the winter. Apparently he thought the dinghy was mine! So someone left a dinghy there. It was just a matter of my good luck, not planning by the marina.
As I drove towards the boats I came to the small road along the water. It had been underwater but was now open. The river level had dropped. I was able to walk onto the dock as the land end was no longer submerged. I cleaned and winterized the boat, then headed for a small town close to Eindhoven. I’d booked one night in a hotel to avoid the risk of getting off the boat in the dark, in the snow, and then rowing to shore.
The hotel is located in the middle of a pedestrian zone in a small town so I had one more hoop to jump through- parking. It is a hassle in this country. I learned from one of the locals where I stopped to try to pay for a space with my US credit card that there are parking spots everywhere but they require special cards which only locals can buy. Each town has its own card or set of cards you can use in the machines. So if you can not find the rare free spot, probably on the far edge of town, then you have to find the rare and expensive parking lot or garage. This is what I ended up doing, at a hotel, not mine, but another about a dozen blocks away. I did not know it was a hotel when I pulled in. As I parked I realized that there might be just a pay station that won’t accept cash or my American credit cards. I wondered how I would be able to get through the gate. Seeing then that I seemed to be in a hotel’s parking lot, I went into the lobby to find out how to pay, assuming the machine they had outdoors would not work. The clerk assured me I could pay there in the morning.
I spent the night wondering if this was true. I allowed extra time in the morning just in case. It went smoothly, fortunately. I walked out to the car and drove through the gate. Surprisingly it was wide open so I needn’t have worried. I would not even have had to pay. But at least I was not drowning in the icy waters of the Maas, and in a few hours I was back in sunny Spain, happy to leave the stressful journey behind.