We have been mooring in the deep countryside of Friesland, a province of the Netherlands. Reeds, still used for making thatched roofs, line the canals. Among the wildlife are storks, who nest on the tops of trees. Their black tails help make them more visible from a distance. They have even made some special nesting spots for these large birds.
After a day of travel canceled by high winds, we departed Stadskanaal at 9 am in the company of another boat and the bridge keepers who would be opening the bridges and operating the locks. There were some 35 opening bridges ahead. By the time we’d moved 50 meters I knew there was something wrong with the steering. We got through the bridge there and pulled over. We had no rudder control at all.
After attempting to add hydraulic oil failed, we knew we would be staying here for days- the steering pump had failed. Fortunately there was electricity and water on the dock. Had we been in the middle of nowhere we would be a more vulnerable position. Although we have solar panels and 450 liters of water, we can last as much as 10 days without access to electricity and water.
To get close enough to the electrical outlet we had to move the boat. We pulled it by hand after maneuvering it to the nearby dock with the bow thruster and engine. Moving the boat in a straight line this way is easy enough to do, but we had to get around two boats, which is not so easy. Our 13 year old visitor climbed on the boats to fend us off. It was a bit nerve wracking as the ropes tended to hang up on the boats we passed, as we had to loop the lines over the low sailboats. It took about 20 minutes.
While awaiting a solution to our steering problem we took a trip on the old and mighty steam locomotive to Vaandam, about 20 kilometers along the canal. It’s cars are all from the same era and in great condition as well, judging by appearances. A single engineer operates the locomotive, with little need for assistance in stoking the fire. Their tracks are exclusive to the steam locomotive. There are no traffic barriers so they have two employees standing guard at the crossings. Other employees check tickets or serve in the restaurant car, where we sat eating an appelgebak (apple pie, the national dessert) and drinking coffee or lemonade made from a syrup.
Eventually we founds a new steering pump, then moved on through all 20 plus bridges and the three ancient hand operated locks, accompanied by bridge keepers operating in teams to facilitate the movement, arriving at last in Groningen. We had already been there by bus, visiting the famous Groninger Museum. There is a good albeit small collection of women artists from the city, dating from the mid 19th century and an extensive permanent ceramics collection. The building sits in water with a brightly colored exterior. In the evening we climbed the 10 story super modern Forum, with multiple floors dedicated to the public library but including a Disney exhibition and a cinema.
The next day we made our way through the bridges of downtown Groningen, a charming way to see the old town. Soon we found ourselves in the countryside, with the occasional bridge and a few locks. Then we crossed the Lauwersmeer (meer is sea, like ‘mar’ in Spanish, coming from the Latin) to the mighty dike and flood gates at Lauwersoog, part of the Zuiderzee Works keeping the seas from flooding the entire country, as it did in the early 1950’s. The dike and its huge flood gates were completed in 1969.
A mighty wind often batters the mighty barrier. We were treated to a strong wind as we walked along the dike. On our ferry ride to the nearby barrier island the transport vessel was unbothered neither by the wind nor the chop that would have made our boat bounce around quite a bit, though posing no danger.
The tide was out, perhaps exacerbated by the wind. At one point past mid-journey there was a sandbar exposed to view. Any captain new to this voyage would be especially sure to remain in the winding channel through the shallow sea.
Just north of Zwolle there are several small lakes. We spent several days there before painting the hull in Hasselt just up the river and again after a cruise up the Ijsselvecht River. Moored on the lake just a few meters from the river we were treated to a stream of water craft of all types, from canoes to river cruise ships. Families came by water and land to swim, picnic and sun bathe.
Other boaters occupied similar moorings, picnicking, swimming and playing traditional Dutch music, polkas that sound a lot like German polkas.
Rhenen, like Wijk bij Duurstede, is located on a branch of the Rhine called the Nederrhine (Lower Rhine). The town’s mooring is on the river just about a leisurely ten minute walk from the center. From the river you can not miss the large church tower.
Cunerakerk is a Late Gothic, stone-roofed hall church with a transept and single choir. The first church on this site, circa 11th century, was dedicated to Peter. The current church is dedicated to Cunera who, according to legend, survived a massacre of virgins by the Huns, then brought by King Radboud to his seat in Rhenen. She was beloved by the locals and then murdered by the jealous Queen. The church served as a center of pilgrimages for centuries, with Cunera’s relics as a major draw.
With the proceeds from the pilgrimages they built the current structure with its large tower from 1492 to 1531. Fires in 1897 and 1934 and then the bombardment 1945 severely damaged the church and tower, since restored.
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.
After Woerden we were two weeks off the grid. We entered the Amstel River, the river that gave Amsterdam (dam on the Amstel) its name many centuries ago. For several days we were in Oudekerk (Old Church), moored in front of several restaurants that had just been permitted to reopen outdoors. The weather did not cooperate so few chose to brave the cold winds and rains that plagued so much of May. We ordered borrels (appetizers). They delivered to the boat, quite the treat, and on ceramic plates with silverware, not plastic. When we were done all we had to do was call and they came with the bill.
Across the river you are in Oudekerk proper, a town of a few streets. As the weather cleared the bars and restaurants filled, which h we noted as we biked past looking for the grocery store and the Gamma, a large chain selling paint and lumber. Their paint machine broke as they prepared our boat’s dark dark blue paint but at least we saw all the outdoor activity on a lovely day, at last.
We are not far from the larger town of Amstelveen about 15 minutes on our bikes, and about 20 kilometers from Amsterdam. Amstelveen has a large immigrant population. We learned this as we searched for grocery stores in the area. Many were Indian and other southeast Asian shops. In one Indian shop we found red chili flakes, a must for Indian as well as Italian cooking, at least as far as I am concerned. We stocked up on wine from another shop, racing home against the forming clouds.
We turned back on the Amstel, as we can go no farther towards Amsterdam due to low bridge clearances. We are again in Uithoorn, south of town. We were here the other day, moored while the bridge was repaired. Two hours turned into three, but no matter, as we had shopping to do. With these small refrigerators, found in many apartments in European cities as well as boats, you must go out often for fresh items. From our mooring we are just about 10 mGoogle maps. I went looking, The locations marked on Google maps no longer exist. I went several kilometers several times to find nothing. I headed back to the boat through the tiny downtown to check there, just in case. I saw no Post NL and was about to give up when I saw a postman. He pointed just a few meters towards the Bruna. You can get what you need there, he said. It was only then that I saw the small sign sitting rather high off the ground. This was before I learned that the Bruna was one possible outlet.
Then came Tolensluis. I think this translates as Toll Lock. ‘Sluis,’ is the English ‘sluice’ but a sluice in English is generally used for small locks, in Dutch for all however. You can see many shared words between English and Dutch, although often the meaning is different if somehow related. The movement of peoples is embedded in their languages, something I always find fascinating, these verbal artifacts just sprinkled about.
The sluis is tiny, of course, operated by the man who lives in the adjacent house. After a few minutes he comes out. I was happy to see him as the winds were pushing us about quite a bit.
Oude Weettering was next, after a night in a marina to charge the batteries. Friends again came by to our mooring in the long stretch of houses and a few shops that line the water. Cuckoos live here too, not just in deeper countryside. Youngsters squeal and giggle as they play in the water. Girls in their early teens sing pop, wearing two piece suits for the most part. Everyone stops at a fast food shop called The Family for ice cream, fries, burgers. It sounds so American, I know, but the presentation and atmosphere is not, and besides, where can you get chicken with a peanut sauce in a fast food restaurant in the US?
Boaters are out in force, sloshing the moored boats, up to a dozen or so tied to the docks. The majority are day boats, meaning they have no cabin. Most are completely open, others offer some cover from the rain, not necessary in this week of perfect weather.
In the meantime we are waiting for our final covid vaccination and the Belgian border to open. As of July 1 the EU covid app is due, which you use at border crossings where necessary. Spain is now allowing visitors without testing, Italy with. Concerts and large venues can operate. Europe is gradually coming out of the long, dark winter of confinement. Spring has arrived. We all hope that there will be no repeat come next winter.
May 14, 2021
We entered the Oude Rijn (Old Rhine), a small winding river that moves lazily through the countryside, passing through small villages. It is lined with many older charming houses whose patios face the river. Often there are tables and comfortable chairs. Sometimes residents read as they glance at the passing boats.
We stopped for the night at a marked mooring on the river’s bank. A couple had just moored and helped us in. He even pounded in the mooring stakes, as here there is no other option. Our takes are neatly stored inside one of the two large boxes that sit on the back deck, hanging along with the heavy hammer. Half in English and three quarters in Dutch he told us about some nice places to visit along the way. They left early the next morning, before we were out on our bikes.
The road running along the river leads to Zammerdam, just a few minutes by bike. You pass old but prosperous looking farms with huge slanting roofs and smaller buildings with stilts on four sides so the roof can rise as the structure fills with hay or straw, whatever they are storing for the long damp winter. I suppose they cover the sides to keep the goods dry.
Off to the left is the Ziendevaart Canal, leading to the entrance to a national park. There is a lovely view from the bridge, memorialized by the watercolor below. Follow the canal all the way through you get to Nieuwkoop, near where we are now a few days later but on the Grecht River. We biked down to the canal’s tiny lock. We could make this journey on the boat, we were told, but it looks very close to the margins.
On the way back to the boat we stopped at the dairy that offers its own cheese for sale. There you can see the 100 cows that produce the cheese I am trying to get out of the vending machine using my credit card. I finally find a card that works but in the meantime we had found the owner, who then went to put her shoes on. She came out, tall as the roof over the barn, speaking English quite well despite living well off the tourist track. That tells you how well they teach English here and are exposed to it regularly via American and British media offerings.
She told us they produce 1 million liters a year, that’s 1000 per head, more than a calf would consume. The output is enhanced by breeding. The cows live 8 years, and they are trying to breed the longest living lines to extend that to 10. They sell their milk to an organic cheese maker. She says that the Dutch government does not favor raw milk, for fear of infections, and apparently does not have a certification process. We bought a pretty old version of the cheese, thanked each cow separately, and will check it out when the real old one in the frig is history.
We moved on to Bodegraven, mooring outside town. You get a great view of the harbor. See the drawing. Friends came by to bring us the window he worked on. The glass was cracked by a rock last year. We’d bought a new one so he could try removing the old acrylic glass. He’d never done it before, and the manufacturer, Gebo, said it was difficult to do. It just took persistence, he said.
Bodegraven is tiny, with just one main street bisecting the other at the lock, with a few dozen shops. One of the shops is a Polish grocer. In we went, as we like the cuisine. They had some dill pickles and jars of bigos. Bigos is a sauerkraut dish with bits of pork. It’s very Old World. We enjoyed a jar for dinner and the rest for lunch the next day, all for about 5 euros. We went back for a few more jars.
We went through the lock to moor in town center. We should have done this yesterday. Unlike the other, here there is electricity and water that you pay for via an app. There is no mooring fee, amazingly. So there you are with some great old houses as neighbors. Our friends came by again, bringing some lumber so we can replace the wood damaged by the leaking windows in the after cabin. Their granddaughter is working at a hotel nearby, as an apprentice, so its not so far for them to have come, as they transport her. We stayed three quiet nights as permitted.
The windmill is part of the small brewery in town. It was closed the Monday and Tuesday we were there. Their website says that they are open on Wednesday but as of noon they were still closed and as we left shortly after we never got to try it. A Peace Corps friend saw my Facebook post on the topic and said she was there several times while staying in the village. She said the beer was excellent and there were several varieties to try. I was looking forward to it and the food trailer they have near the door, offering kip sate, fries and other common goodies.
It’s several hours on the river to Woerden. There is an old castle, but it looks new somehow. The old town is surrounded by an octagonal moat of which the castle is a part. There is an old mill on a mound, so the wings tower above. The harbor is fairly large but in need of modernization, as we could not fit in between the posts. We snugged in between two barges.
It was around 1730 that the bridge opened so we headed out of town, back the way we came as there is no other choice, and made the hard right onto the Grecht after slowly, slowly winding our way through the abandoned factories outside town. At the entrance there is barely room for one boat. The wind was picking up so it was hard to hold it in place even in that sheltered spot. At 1900 or so we saw a mooring with two boats already tied up. I tried to get between them but the wind was too strong so we moved on. At 1930 we found a lovely spot that was easy to get into, by the box windmill, just like the people at the 1900 effort said.
The wind blew like crazy all night and all the next day at this spot, outside Nieuwkoop. Nonetheless we were able to remove one of the leaking windows, cut the wood and filler, then reinstall the window.
We continue on the Grecht in the next blog.
April 16, 2021
From Zwartsluice we navigated to Genmuiden for a short visit and a trip to the supermarkets, then we made our way to Grafhorst. This is a tiny town, so tiny it does not even have a grocer. Instead a large van drives into town, beeps the horn, and waits for people to climb in to shop for fruit, veg, meat, cheese and the like. This is now predominantly a bedroom community. Each house has a car.
There is a plaque in the park next to the river. It commemorates the deaths of Australian airmen whose plane crashed into the river during WWII. Viking is moored nearby. We stayed the night alone at the dock other than the unoccupied work boat qft. It was a quiet night under a few stars, the long cold sunset lasting well past 8 P.M.
In the morning, again with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, we set off for Kampen. Kampen sits on the Ijssel River, which flows into the Ijsselmeer, the inland sea that is closed off from the North Sea by locks and dikes. Kampen was a member of the former Hanseatic League, population of 37,000.
Kampen has a well preserved old town center. There are three lovely gates and many chaurches. Three modern bridges cross the IJssel. There is a local variation of the Sallands dialect, termed Kampers.
The friendly and Bible quoting harbor master makes coffee for visitors. It’s a lonely job in the winter but the boating season is quite busy, especially on weekends. There is a fries shop across from it so we ordered two small fries which somehow turned into a humongous order. It’d been a good while since we had crispy fries like this.
The next morning, after another cup of coffee and some comments about the Gospel of Mathew having everything you could possibly want to know, we were off to Almere, where we will meet some old friends and a representative from Gebo, the manufacturer of the windows on our boat. The factory is in the town and the rep lives one minute from the town’s free moorings, and the friends just two minutes more. It’s another gorgeous day with very cold mornings. You emerge from the mouth of the river into some fairly open water before entering the Ketelhaven locks. Here you drop about 6.5 meters onto the polder. We did not have to wait long for the red-green light to come on, indicating they were preparing to open the gates. The first lock drops 5.5 meters so they have ropes that descend along the walls. You just loop a line around it and down you go. It is quite easy. The second lock is not manned. You have to push a button to get things going. We saw it on the right side after we had docked on the port side.
The 52 kilometer voyage from Kampen to Almere took about 7 hours in lovely sunshine. Slowly on.