Monday, April 30, 2018

A week of highs and lows (or Smoke on the Water)

I've just looked at that title and smiled. It sounds a bit dramatic, doesn't it? But actually every week is like that to some extent. Anyway, I'll get rid of the low bits first so we can move on to the highs, which are much more fun.

The main low is my ongoing frustration over workmen who don't pitch up to do a job. I won't bore you with the details, but it's becoming a pattern that's beginning to feel like a burden as it stops us moving on with things. Enough said, I think.

The main high was much more exciting. We finally got the Vereeniging's engine going after more than a year of puzzling over the fact that it wouldn't run. This is a massive thrill and a huge relief as it suddenly makes that dream trip to Utrecht all the more possible.

As far as we can tell, there were two problems: the first being that it had the dreaded diesel bug, a recent phenomenon caused by the use of plant based oils mixed with mineral diesel oil (normal practice these days). Plant oils are vulnerable and since we are no longer allowed to use marine red diesel, which is purer, we constantly run the risk of getting bacteria in our fuel. This is especially risky when it condensates over the winter (if the tank is not completely full). It seems this happened and we weren't aware of it. A nice fungus develops in the fuel and once it gets into the engine, it causes havoc – well, it makes it stop running, anyway, which is havoc of a sort. We only actually found the contaminated diesel in the filter, but drained the tank to be sure. Then Koos flushed it through, changed the filter and put more diesel in again with some anti-bacteria additive.

The second problem was a bit odd, and I'm not sure if Koos actually believes it either, but the diesel wasn't reaching the engine inlet. It seems possible (to me, anyway) that we simply didn't have enough in the tank to push it through the fuel line system, which works on gravity and communicating vessels. I won't go into too much explanation, but once we put an extra twenty litres in, the diesel finally reached the inlet to the engine and we were all systems go again. The thrill of hearing it burst into life again after so long was just magic; the smoke that filled the harbour as it started running like the clappers was not, but that was soon dealt with. It was a glorious moment that we both needed and the feeling that my lovely barge has woken up again is just amazing.

Lastly, it shouldn't go without mention that Friday was King's Day here in the Netherlands, it being his majesty's birthday and a public holiday. As tradition demands, the Dutch deck themselves out in Orange gear and do daft things. The harbour was not exempt from these displays and this was what I saw when looking out of the engine room on the Vereeniging.

I should say that the weather was not particularly conducive to stripping off, but the tub is full of hot water, so I suppose at least their lower halves were toasty warm! There was definitely a fairly brisk wind and a maximum temperature of about 14 degrees. Not something I would do, but it takes all sorts and they appeared to be having fun.

Have a good week, allemaal!

PS: If you'd like to read my first memoir about my life in the Oude Haven, it is currently selling for 99p/c on Amazon's UK and US sites as an e-book. Here is the link

Sunday, April 22, 2018

From vineyards to boatyards: springing into spring

Spring has finally arrived and we can shed those heavy layers of clothing. It’s such a relief, isn’t it? I am not one to bare all, but I love being able to go outside in just jeans and a tee-shirt. It’s what I think of  when I hear the title of that film (and book) ‘The Incredible Lightness of Being’. Silly, I know.

To make it even better, I spent a few days in Spain last week. One of the upsides of living in Europe is the ease of access to other countries, so I took advantage of a week’s break in my courses, to hop on a flight to Alicante and a bus ride later, I was in rural Valencia with a fellow former South African  friend. It was just lovely and the hills were sprouting young vines in great profusion. The geometry of the patterns they form really caught my eye and I took loads of photos.

There were also some fiestas going on (when aren’t there?) but these children we came across performing in the streets of Dénia were just captivating.

Then it was back to the Netherlands where the temperatures were even warmer than they were in Spain (true!), so yesterday we took the Hennie Ha for its first spuddle of the year. We always like to do this to make sure everything is working properly before we do any serious faring. It was the most glorious day for it and it has inspired us no end. We went as far as the shipyard just over the border to have a look as we want to have a quick lift out to clean the bottom and paint it to the waterline before we set off for the summer. The winter has been hard on the paint work!

Today has been equally lovely, but I’m afraid rain is coming soon. We cannot have more than a few days of sunshine in this part of the world without the obligatory storm to prevent us getting too used to it. It is also guaranteed to rain when I want to work on the Vereeniging, which I’m planning to do in my free time this week.

Oh and we have a spell of holidays coming up starting with King’s day this coming week...have a good one alllemaal. Do you have any holidays coming up soon?

Monday, April 16, 2018

The way forward

It was two and a half years ago that I wrote what has become my most popular post about my barge, the Vereeniging. As I wrote at the time, I bought it “as an empty shell complete with several not so optional extras, these being rust holes, a rotten axle and rather too obvious ventilation in all the wrong places. I had to forgive her though. She was a hundred and three years old and had survived serious abuse and neglect, somehow managing to stay afloat while the weeds grew out of the rust in her hull. It was a match made for the tenacious; both her and me.”

The blog post I wrote described what I needed to do keep my dream boat alive; how it became my passion and my goal; how even when I moved out of it to give my daughters a home when they needed bolt holes, it still occupied my thoughts, my life and my time.

Now we are a bit further on in time and I haven’t changed my feelings of affection for my lovely barge. She is 120 years old this year. The trouble is that even though I am still only just over half her age, my energies are not quite as resilient as they used to be. I’m beginning to notice the, shall we say, limitations of my advancing years even if she isn’t. Frozen shoulders, locked up ankles, spasmodic (is there such a word?) muscles; yes, these are all rather potent reminders that I am sixty something and I can kiss goodbye to my ideas (note that word) of lissome, lithe agility. Not that I ever have been that, but the idea of it, you understand, is what has kept me going.

So I am pondering on our future – my barge’s and mine – and maybe rethinking the plans. The Vereeniging has been part of my life and my heart for so long I still find it hard to think of a future without my damesschip, but before even contemplating that, there is the dream trip to be done; the one that in all the seventeen years I’ve had her has not yet been done. We, that is Koos, the Vereeniging and I, have a journey to undertake and that is a non- negotiable. We have to take my old lady home. We have to take her to Utrecht and then along the Vecht and Oude Rijn to revisit the route she travelled as a working barge so many years ago. After that, well, we’ll see. Maybe it will be time to pass her over to some younger hands, but before then, she will be smooshed, smartened and shined as never before. We, the Vereeniging and I, have plenty to do together and with Koos’ help on her oily bits, we will prepare for that day, whenever it may be.

Watercolourisations of two of my photos

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A late blog is better than a late blog

I love blogging as most of you know, and I love reading blogs. I try to post a blog every week at the weekend, but sometimes life gets in the way and I don't get round to it. That has happened this week for a number of reasons, some of which I will elaborate on, because after all, that's what a blog is for, isn't it? Well, sort of. We write about life, its meaning and everything, among other tales of nonsense and irrelevance. I do, anyway.

So why is my post late this week? Some reasons are good and one rather sucks a bit.

But taking the good first. Now the weather is at last cheering up (hooray, I hear you say; Val will stop moaning) and we've had some real sunshiny and warm days, there is the opportunity to go outside and work on the barge, or in the garden. I spent several hours doing both at the weekend and there is plenty left to be done, so this could mean more late blogs. But as my heading says, better a late blog than a late (or deceased) blog.

Former spot

Firstly, though, last Thursday, we had to move the Vereeniging from one spot to another (all of about six metres) because a neighbour was returning after several months absence and wanted his place back. I'd been occupying it since last October after my hellingbeurt as it is lighter and brighter than being next to a large clipper that dwarfs me. Still, I was instructed to move and so we did. Now you'd think this would be a ten minute job, wouldn't you? So would I except for the fact I know there's no such thing as a ten minute job when it comes to boats. A mere shift like this means untying numerous ropes, adjusting electric cables and moving gangplanks. Then everything has to be retied again to the new neighbour and to other bollards on the quay, a process usually accompanied by much head scratching as a certain Koos decides what is the 'proper' way to secure the barge (if it were down to me it would be a much more random affair, but I know he's right).

New Spot

Next up, I attacked the green layer that has grown on almost everything over the winter. This includes the the Vereeniging, the Hennie H and areas of the crumbly cottage, especially the white stripe of rendering all round the bottom of the house; a stripe that gets larger as we go down the side path of the neighbour's house. Following my meanness to the greenness, I repainted said white stripe, so that took me the best part of a nice long afternoon. Very satisfying, especially now we've got clean fascia boards (and gutters too). The crumbly cottage is looking slightly less crumbly.

A de-greened Hennie H

The last reason for my postponed post was less pleasant. We arrived back in Rotterdam on Monday to find we'd had a break-in sometime over the weekend. No one had heard or seen anything (city life, I guess), but as always, the inconvenience and indignation at the invasion of personal space outweighs everything else. There was nothing taken as we have nothing to take, but dealing with the police and the aftermath took time and emotional energy.

And there I was thinking we were immune to such things here. I now realise I've been the victim of more thefts since I've lived in Europe than I ever was in South Africa.

We live and learn. Have a good week, allemaal