Sunday, September 22, 2013

A short but very quiet trip

Must have been something amusing!
 I have never seen the great canal near the little house so quiet as it was today. We had to fetch the Hennie H from the boatyard (a different story) and joining us this time were my daughter and her friend. The yard is not far from our mooring in Sas van Gent - probably five kilometres at most, but normally the canal has some traffic on it. Today, there was nothing. It was almost spookily still with the exception of the rows of fishermen along the side. All the same, it was lovely to be out there - as always. And this time I steered all the way (not always), but I still have to leave the really fiddly stuff to Koos. Next time...

A thoughtful moment

Maybe you can tell I like doing this!

Coming into the harbour

Friday, September 13, 2013

Locks or landscape - Two different approaches to boating books

Just recently, I mentioned I'd ordered a book by the name of Betty's Barge, which claimed to be a charming account of one couple's journeys through France on a historic Dutch barge.

I was very excited when the book arrived and started reading it almost immediately. In fairness, it kept me reading it to the end, but I have to say I was generally disappointed. On the plus side (let's start with the good stuff), Bill Hezlep writes in a friendly and accessible style. It is easy to read in that respect, and it reflects what the author was in his former life: a cartographer and engineer. His companion, Betty, is also an engineer, and the barge is hers. She is the skipper, she makes the decisions and she commissions the work. The book is very factual and if you're interested in technical information about barges, geographic information about canals, their routes and their history, and gastronomic information about the best restaurants and wines, then you will love it. The history accounts of the places they visit are very interesting and well researched.

The story begins with an outline of why Bill and Betty decided that the life of cruising in a historic (please, not antique) Dutch barge was what they wanted. They are both sailors and before buying the barge, they'd spent six years continuously sailing the coastal waters of the US. They wanted a change and a break from the sometimes risky and uncomfortable life of small boat ocean sailing. They spent some time investigating and viewing barges and when they chose the Nova Cura (Betty's barge), they had all the proper surveys done (unlike me) and paid quite a price for their dream boat. All the same, it seems to me they were, unlucky souls, totally ripped off as the barge proved to be a disaster from day one.

They had endless trouble with it and it needed far more work and money spent on it than they'd anticipated. Sadly, the book focuses quite a bit on these problems and the descriptions of their cruising are very much coloured by their disappointments in many areas. It has also left me with an impression of totalling up countless locks, enduring dreadful weather (either too wet or too hot) and an almost single minded mission to find the best food and wine France can offer. To my regret, there was little about the beauty of the countryside, the experience of boating for its own sake, or even about meeting any French people. In truth, it could have been a travel guide for a bus tour. The cruising takes us along certain canals in France, whose routes are described in great detail, and on which they stop at every town. We are regaled with a history of these towns and their attractions, which they explore by bike, and then we move on. The only descriptions of the cruising itself are the number of locks they go through and the amenities at each of the places where they moor up for the night. A pity when you are travelling through some of the loveliest scenery in France.

In contrast, then, a book I have enjoyed immensely is another boating travelogue, this one by Anne Husar, someone I met through my interest in boat blogs. I came across the Wandering Snails Wanderings through another narrowboat blogger who'd been to the Ostend boat festival and had seen their NB there. He'd given a link to their blog, and I started following it, being fascinated by the idea of a narrowboat cruising the Belgian canals. The story of how we met the Snails (as we call them) is documented in my blog archives, but I won't bore you with that again here. Suffice to say they have become friends and I was privileged to read Anne's book, A Cigar in Belgium, at the proofing stage.

This account really makes you feel you are travelling with the Snails and experiencing their cruising life with them. From the first shock of seeing the huge ships on the great sea canal from the Dutch coast to Ghent to the excitement of going up the seventy-three metre boat lift at Str├Ępy Thieu in Wallonia, you follow it with them, see the lovely country and meet some wonderful people. For me, A Cigar in Belgium is what a barging travelogue should be. Yes, they had their problems and breakdowns too, but these are part of the fun and experience rather than being a litany of disasters. The book has also been professionally edited (which I fear Betty's Barge hasn't) and is laid out with plenty of photos to add to the appeal and imagery of the stories.

For some, maybe many, the informative nature of Betty's Barge is what they are looking for in a watery travel book. But, for sheer reading pleasure, when you want to enjoy boat travel vicariously and dream about it from the comfort of your armchair (or moored up barge), I would personally rather read about the Wandering Snail's wanderings. The great thing about this book too is that it's just the first of what I know is going to be a series, and I'm already looking forward to the next one!

Both books are available on, and A Cigar in Belgium will also be available on Kindle at some juncture, but I don't think it is yet.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

A day to remember: From an International Pink Sofa to World Harbour Days

Today was something I think you could describe as a Red Letter Day, or should I rather call it a Pink Sofa Day. It started with a visit I have long anticipated with great excitement. I found myself at eight o'clock this morning on the famous and fabulous Pink Sofa that crowns Hedges Towers somewhere around the exalted heights of Harpenden, UK (I'm not sure if Harpenden is exalted or high, but it sounds good!). It was a huge thrill to be there and Carol welcomed me royally with lekker Dutch coffee and a divine strawberry cheesecake. We had a wonderful chat and I can't wait to go back and see her again.

But, duty called, cut short my visit, and I had to go haring back to Rotterdam to take part in our annual harbour festival, World Harbour Days.

On our way
We have a tradition that we always take the Vereeniging out and do a lap of honour round the harbours on WHD. As my lovely old barge is a monument in motion (een varend monument) we feel it is fitting that we should demonstrate our Dutch heritage in the manner it deserves - by manoeuvring it around the waterways network that comprises Rotterdam's historic harbours. This is a trip we have done every year (almost) since I have had the barge and I just love being part of the noisy chaotic water activity that is such a feature of these special days.

Looking back
It's a shame we are not allowed out on the river as that is where they main action takes place, but we went out to take a brief look. The photos below tell the story in one way, but in another, they don't show what fun it is to wave to neighbours, talk to passing boaters and laughingly avoid slightly inebriated paddlers in a variety of floating vehicles - on World Harbour Days anything goes. The photos also miss the roar of the helicopters, the blast of spray from the fire ships and the antics of the port vessels as they perform tricks of manoeuvring they would never normally be permitted to do. That said, they do give a glimpse of the colour and liveliness of this wonderful event. I hope you like them!

Loads of boats on the river

A marvellous old historic dredger

Tugboats galore

More boats than you can sort out

A beautiful historic steam tug

A floating hot tub filled with students. The chimney is real!

We only just caught the tide right.
Half an hour later, we wouldn't have made it.

Waiting to go back into the harbour
I took quite a bit of film as well, so I'll edit it as quickly as possible and upload a video of the main features soon. What a lovely day it's been!

Oh and not to forget! Last night, I guest posted on Jill Edmondson's book blog. Jill is a Canadian book blogger based in Toronto and I was lucky enough to be invited to expound on her page. If you're interested, I muse there about the advantages for me of being a hybrid author.