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.