Sunday, October 31, 2021

Pastures new and an irresistible cue

The past couple of weeks have been busy (what's new?) and as usual, I'm playing catch up with myself. I should mention that aside from all the activity around our Great Move, I've been combining teaching work with work on the Hennie H, which both Koos and I felt shouldn't be neglected, especially with winter approaching. As a result, moments to relax have been limited.

All the same, we've taken time out to explore some our new surroundings in Oudenbosch, and I'm pleased to report we've been charmed by much of what we've seen. Being on the Mark-Dintel river means there are several other towns that lie on this beautiful waterway, but the first we come to when heading west along the Dintel is the pretty village of Stampersgat. What a delightful surprise to find such a quaint waterside settlement complete with a fine church, water tower, visitor moorings, and (even more appealing) water picnic tables. These were principally set up for rowers and paddlers but can be used by anyone should they choose. We spent a very pleasant hour or so wandering around the village and cooking up plans to spend a night on the moorings there.

The quaint village main street

A beautifully maintained water tower

The water picnic tables

Very appealing visitor moorings

Of course, one of the things we like, which others might not, is the industry that keeps the river alive with commercial barges (see the backdrop of the picnic tables). It isn't overwhelming and most of the factories and warehouses are quiet, but we love seeing the barges at the loading quays and passing slowly by when we drive along the river. We can also feel them at our mooring. Despite being a kilometre from the main river course, the waves from the commercial vessels travel up the arm and cause the Vereeniging to rock and sway quite substantially. I have mixed feelings about this: while I love knowing we have real traffic passing, I sometimes end up feeling quite queasy!

Another great find has been a boatyard a few kilometres downstream from Oudenbosch. I was having a few concerns about how we would manage my lift out next year (hellingbeurt as we call it here), as I didn't relish two three-day trips to the Oude Haven and back. I'd seen a small yard from the bridge on the Dintel river while on my way to my daughter's house, but dismissed it as being too small. Imagine my excitement when a neighbour told us they could probably take the Vereeniging. 

A visit last Saturday confirmed it was just the place for us. The yard has a single track slipway on which the boat ascends bow first, instead of sideways as it does in the Oude Haven, but it can take boats up to twenty metres and fifty tonnes. Perfect for us. What sealed the deal even more was that the yard manager is the uncle of one of our Oude Haven neighbours. He ticked all the boxes in so many ways I made a provisional booking there and then for next May. 

The only uncertainty will be how much water there is in the river at the time. If we have a long, dry spring, it might not be deep enough for us get completely onto the slipway tracks, meaning the date can only be fixed closer to the time. Whatever the case, I am thrilled and relieved to have found a yard so close by, and one that fits in with our own approach as well.

In other news, we still have our Hennie H to attend to and are lining up the indoor jobs we need to do in the coming months. But we're not done with faring just yet. The other evening, we popped over to do a couple of small jobs and the light was so beautiful it was a perfect and irresistible cue. I couldn't help but pop the question. 

"Shall we go for a spuddle?"
Koos looked at me in surprise.
"Okay. Yes! Why not?"
And so we did...just a short one, but enough to bring broad smiles to our faces. These are the little things that make our days.

I could ramble on more, but I think this is enough for now. Next time I'll take you on more of a tour of Brabant's pretty towns and villages.

For the time being, have a great week, allemaal. The days are now an hour shorter, but we'll take to the water and explore the country as long as we can. Wishing you all sunshine and peace wherever you are.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

From Moerdijk to Oudenbosch with Leaky Lou

It's already nearly a week since I posted about the start of our journey to Oudenbosch. In the meantime, we've spent several enjoyable days at our mooring, but of course I need to get all of you there before I start on what it's like in our new environs.

You may be wondering at the title, though. What and who is Leaky Lou? Well, having sung the Samofa's praises in my last blog post (fully justified, I might add), I didn't mention the engine's own special technique of 'self-lubricating'. In other words, it likes to distribute oil to parts that I'm sure aren't mentioned in the manual – and in a somewhat undisciplined fashion. Before we'd travelled many kilometres, there were traces of oil sneaking out from practically every possible joint. Not in any quantity, I should add, but enough to make a mess of my bilges and nice, clean engine room floor. So, it wasn't long before I nicknamed the Samofa 'Leaky Lou' and 'it' became a 'she' in her own right. She continued to ooze quietly throughout the trip, but since I didn't even need to add more than half a litre of precious 30 grade motor oil throughout the whole three days, we didn't find it too alarming. It's something that will need attention, though.

Anyway, getting back to the journey, Saturday morning in Moerdijk dawned misty again, but not with the heavy fog we'd had the previous day. It was much lighter and by nine o'clock the sky was a hazy, pearly hue that was clear enough for us to get going. 

Once again, my stomach was doing summersaults of the high vaulting variety. I knew the next part of our journey would take us along the Hollandsch Diep for some thirteen kilometres before we reached our turn off at Drimmelen. They were kilometres of finger-crossing, nail-biting and teeth-clenching for me, even more so than the previous day. After all, to pass under the great Moerdijk Bridge, we had to move towards the middle of the estuary to comply with the rules of passage. Gulp factor ten in my ratings, while my 'what if' gauge went off the scale completely.

Heading for the Moerdijk Bridge

Oh my's like the sea!

Moving into the Maas, Koos in full skipper mode

But we did it and Leaky Lou kept up the steady, regular beat for this two-hour stretch, a rhythm for which she's become well known. What we didn't know was that my daughter had been following our progress and took photos us as we passed the quay at Drimmelen, just before we slipped into the blissful safety of the Wilhelmina canal to Oosterhout. She then caught up with us on the towpath of the canal; it made my day to see her waving to us from the dyke, accompanied by my grandpup, Charlie.

Her photos of the Vereeniging on the water are really lovely, so I hope she doesn't mind my sharing a couple here.

After all that excitement, we settled down to a peaceful cruise along this fine stretch of commercial waterway. I have to say it felt very much like the Belgian canals: wide, tree-lined and interspersed with industry. It was great to see the barges at the loading quays being fed by the brightly painted cranes. This kind of canal is my favourite because there's both beauty and business, the latter providing life of the most interesting kind for a dockyard girl like me.

Eventually, we reached a junction where we turned to the right to enter the massive lock that would take us into the Mark Canal. The lock is what protects the farmlands of Brabant from flooding or being inundated by tidal waters at this end of the province. Just as a reminder, here's the map of our approximate route. The red circle shows where the junction is.

I was surprised to find we were the only occupants on our short (ca 50cm) descent to the polders. To be honest, I have no idea whether we arrived at high water on the river or not; our experience on the first day confused us completely. Add to that, the Hollandsch Diep, which becomes the Haringvliet further west is controlled to some extent by a dam wall whose 17 sluices are only partially closed, except in emergencies. As a result, the tide could be said to be hindered but not completely stopped. If you're interested in learning about it, here's a link. It's in Dutch but if you use Google Chrome, it offers you the chance to translate the page. Oh and here's a photo of the lock.

Following a short coffee and rest break past the lock, we continued on the lovely tree-lined Mark canal, a ten-kilometre stretch where there really is nothing but trees on each side. Koos handed over the steering to me and settled down beside me for a snooze. No photos were taken as a result and even when we turned right into the Mark river towards Oudenbosch, my other half continued to nap, much to the amusement of passing Sunday boaters. 

As for me, steering was a matter of a nudge here or there. The Vereeniging is so stable, unlike our dancing queen, Hennie H, I hardly had to do anything as we chugged along at a peaceful 6km/h. This was heaven. The sun was warm, the landscape calm and restful on the eyes. I found myself fully relaxed for the first time in weeks.

When Koos awoke, it was clear he was still tired, so we decided not to push on to Oudenbosch. We still had more than 25 kms to go and we risked arriving at sunset, unable to see properly to moor up.  Ships that go bump in the night we are not, so after a few minutes, we found a riverside mooring just made for us: two wooden poles connected by a horizontal bar. There was no access to land (normally a sticking point with me), but this time it was fine. I wanted to do some cleaning up so we'd arrive looking good. You know what they say about first impressions—they're the ones that last!

It was a great decision as the mooring proved to be quite magical. We were separated from the bank by thick reeds that were populated by families of ducks and coots. The view over the other bank was equally rural and the only disturbance was from passing boaters and numerous rowers. In the distance we could see the outskirts of a village, but there was no towpath on our side, so no one could reach us. The tranquillity was almost tangible, the sun felt deliciously warm and the light had that golden cast that evokes dreamy nostalgia.

After doing our best to wash the old lady down, we settled down for an evening's reading, strangely aware of the silence outside. Indoors, my Vereeniging looked as she always does, but our ears have long been accustomed to the city sounds and the noise from revellers on the terraces in Rotterdam. The absence of traffic, people and sirens seemed almost surreal. There was just nothing to hear at all. Sleep was deep that night.

Sunday morning brought another surprise. After the clear skies of the previous evening, we awoke to find thick fog over the river again. 

"Never mind," I said. "Now we're here, even if we leave at eleven o'clock, we'll still be in Oudenbosch by three." Koos agreed.

And so we waited, meanwhile watching rowers practising their skills as they emerged from and disappeared into the mist. I must say I did wonder how they could see where they were going. I envisaged collisions at worst and close encounters with the reeds at best, but they all returned intact without anyone sporting leafy crowns or bleeding noses.

Eventually, the fog lifted enough for us to see a couple of hundred metres, so we set off at 11.30 and proceeded along the Mark. I was pleased to see that this too was an active, living waterway with commercial quays and factories that ensure its importance in the area. I do love a combination of rural and functional scenery and am not a great fan of endless unadulterated beauty. This river had commercial barges as well as pleasure craft and I fell in love with it immediately. 

I should mention that Leaky Lou did give us one minor alarm. When I was doing one of my usual 'obsessing' checks, I noticed water dripping down the side of the engine. Puzzled I traced it up to the hose leading to the expansion vessel (the same thing you would have on a boiler; it gives hot water a place to escape to). A quick look was all it needed to tell me the jubilee clip holding the hose had come loose and slid off. Thinking it was just a matter of loosening the clip further to push it back on, I tried but only succeeded in moving the hose as well, which made it leak more. 

"Koos," I called after sticking my head out of the engine room hatch. "Help!"

On hearing my cry, he steered the barge into the reeds and came down to help. With two of us, it was easy, and the hose was soon secured more convincingly. And, I'm pleased to say that was the only problem we had throughout the entire trip. Leaky Lou performed beautifully despite her tendency to weep oil and we were delighted she'd come through for us.

Soon after two o'clock, we'd reached the turning to Oudenbosch. For anyone who's interested, the town is where the river Mark ends. Beyond our turning, the river becomes the Dintel and continues all the way to Dintelmond. It opens out into the Volkerak, a large body of water separated from the Hollandsch Diep by huge, commercial locks that protect this side of Brabant from flooding.

Once we'd steered into the narrow arm leading to our mooring, we slowed down to a snail's pace. A message I'd sent to my daughters earlier needed to be revised. Even going at a crawl, we'd still be there before three and Jodie, my eldest, was coming from the Hague. She knew we'd be early, but we still wanted to give her the chance to reach us on time. As it happened, this short stretch was the delight of the day, and the film Koos made of our final stage says far more than any words I can produce, so here it is. Listen and watch. I think you'll be as charmed as I was.

At 2.45 we'd arrived. We pulled into our designated spot and I'd just got a rope through the first mooring ring when a car roared up the dyke, stopped, and my daughter hopped out ready to take photos of us tying up.  Spot the moving Val.

And so that was it. The end of our adventure and a new home for my Vereeniging. Isn't it lovely? I'll admit to mixed feelings as I was both happy and sad to arrive. We'd had such an emotional three days and so much new experience it was almost a shame it was already over. That said, the relief was huge and the reward was in having both daughters there to greet us. It wasn't long after our arrival that Mo and her boyfriend also rolled up on their little motor bike, so the family was complete. A happy conclusion to a fabulous journey.

Thank you so much for following our trip allemaal, and I'll fill you in with our early impressions of our new home next time.  We'll miss our Oude Haven friends and community, but we're both looking forward to all the new opportunities for faring in future. This, I feel, is the beginning of a new era!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The great move

 So it finally happened.

After the months of planning, the weeks of preparation and the days of waiting for the right weather window, we have done it. But what an emotional move it was.

I'd been watching the weather forecast closely to find a day when the wind would drop and it would be dry. Always unpredictable, the weather in the Netherlands is never something we can completely rely on but the prospects for last weekend remained looking good. Added to that, Koos had almost completed his rest period following his pacemaker op, so we made the decision to leave on Friday morning. 

The previous weekend, with the help of my daughter and her boyfriend, I'd made everything ready for an easy departure: the gangplank was on board, the ropes arranged for quick removal and my little green boat donated to a friend and neighbour. By Thursday evening, all we had to do was leave with the low tide the following morning, at 10:30.

Well, the morning had other ideas. We awoke to thick mist, which was even thicker over the river. We couldn't even see across to the other side. 

"Never mind. It'll lift by the time we want to leave, I'm sure," I said with optimism. 

Koos agreed. "I only need to be able to see the opposite bank," he said.

I wasn't sure about that, but kept my counsel. I wanted to at least be able to see a couple of hundred metres with ease. Anyway, we got ourselves ready, double-checked the oil, topped up the coolant and greased the stern gland for the umpteenth time (I'm a bit OCD about that). Finally, we disconnected the electricity. We were ready. 

"Ooh! The wet weather gear is still in the car," I said. "I'll fetch it now."

I trudged round to where we'd parked the car, a bit dubious about the mist that was still refusing to disperse, and collected our rain suits. As I was stepping back on board, I noticed some balloons strung across the harbour. Curious, I stopped and peered into the mist. There was a sign hanging from between them, but I could only see one word on it: my name.

My throat and eyes filled. Oh my. Was this for us? I'd told our neighbours we were going but never expected them to make any kind of event of it. I imagined we'd just slip quietly out with a wave or two. I was hugely touched by this gesture.

But there was more to come. 

Koos and I decided we'd head out towards the river exit at the end of the Haringvliet harbour and see whether we could cross. We untied the last ropes and reversed out into the harbour. As we did so, I saw our neighbours standing at the back of their barges, waving to us. 

We turned and headed towards the string of balloons, and that was when I saw what the sign said: "Vaarwell, Valerie," a touching acknowledgment of my combination life and language here in the harbour and in the Netherlands. In Dutch, there would only be one 'l' on vaarwel. 

And then the horns started. I get a lump in my throat just writing this; it was so moving and so beautiful. Several of the barges used their horns to send us on our way, a sound both mournful and joyous—if that makes sense. I was openly in tears by now and hard put not to tell Koos to stop. It was all a mistake; we shouldn't go. 

I don't think I've ever been given such a wonderful gift as this acknowledgment of our place in the harbour and I'll never forget it. Here's the video our harbour master made of our departure. I'm sure you'll agree it would tug at anyone's heartstrings.

There was still more to come, though. When we reached the bridge that would take us out onto the river, the fog was still very thick. Koos thought we could go on, but to my huge relief he made a VHF call to the river traffic controller who, on hearing we had no radar, advised us quite firmly against proceeding. Actually, what he said was, "That doesn't sound like a good idea," (in other words, don't do it!). And so we tied up to the quay wall and waited.

Meanwhile, another friend who has a mooring further along the harbour called Koos. He said he'd heard we were leaving and wanted to say goodbye. Would we wait? Well, of course we would, and we did.

Fifteen minutes later a figure appeared on the quay opposite; it was our friend. He pulled something out of a bag, and then we heard it. Another deeply moving farewell played especially for us, but even the apartment dwellers and passing boat traffic appreciated this unique performance. Koos made a video of that too. 

I still can't quite get over how special they all made us feel and I hope this blog is a testament to how grateful we are to have been part of such a wonderful community for so long.

Still, we had a mission to accomplish and the first was to cross the river without bashing into any barges emerging unexpectedly from the fog. Eventually, the murk lifted enough for us to proceed. It was 11.45 a.m., more than an hour later than we'd expected to be able to leave, but (with my heart beating a wild tattoo) we were finally across and on our way.

Now, I would like to say the tide was with us all the way to Dordrecht, but despite what the tide tables indicated, that wasn't the case at all. We seemed to be going against the current the whole day. At first, it didn't make too much difference, and the 25 horses in our old Samofa managed it perfectly. Koos steered while I obsessed (as usual) over the stern gland and the cooling water. 

Mind you, it was Koos who noticed the coolant was running low and some frantic topping up was needed. After being drained and refilled a couple of times, some air had got into the system which, after being allowed to escape, meant it had fallen to dangerously low levels. Luckily, no harm was done and we didn't need to fill it up again.

Over the course of the next few kilometres, my stomach knots unwound and my heart resumed an almost normal beat. We were treated to the company of the stunning historic sailing barge, Helena, for a short time as well, which made my hour if not my day. The weather brightened slowly and by the time we gave the Samofa a short rest from fighting the current on the Noord just before Dordrecht, the sun was out and warming us up nicely. (Incidentally, we were down to about 4 km/h on the Noord.)

Early for some :)

Farewell, lovely neighbours

The Helena emerges from the mist

Good company with the Helena and the Majesteit
in the background

Nearing the Van Brienenoord bridge

The side branch where we had our rest stop

It was about 4.30 p.m. when we set off again for the next nail-biter: traversing the mighty Merwede at Dordrecht, and (apparently) the busiest shipping junction in the Netherlands, and maybe even in Europe. We needed to cross it and head south along the Dortse Kil to the Hollands Diep; the Merwede continues west to become the Oude Maas. So a little way beyond the entrance to the city's own historic harbour, Koos increased the Samofa's revs to warp-factor speed (okay, about 9 km/h instead of its normal 6), I crossed my fingers once more and we powered over to the Dortse Kil in the wake of a massive sea-going ship that was heading westwards. 

Heart failure averted, we ploughed our way south towards my real nemesis: the Hollands Diep (or Hollandsch Diep for the purists). 

It was 5.15 when we reached the estuary. I should mention here that back in 2004, when the Vereeniging still had its single-cylinder hot-bulb engine, we broke down on this waterway. On an earlier occasion, a storm on the Hollands Diep came close to driving us onto the rocks near Willemstad. I am not a Hollands Diep fan. As a result, when Koos suggested we take advantage of the remaining daylight and cross over to moor up at Moerdijk on the other side, I gulped down my fear, crossed my fingers yet again and nodded. 

In the end, it only took us ten minutes to make the crossing and the only incident was a misunderstanding with a very large barge whose skipper didn't realise we were heading for Moerdijk's Insteek Haven. Clearly thinking we were deliberately being obstructive, he blasted his horn at us, so Koos slowed down immediately. As the barge passed us at speed, a crewman shook his fists and shouted insults at us. In response, Koos got straight onto the VHF and apologised to the skipper for the confusion, instantly defusing the situation. He's good at that.

As we entered the Insteek Haven, I prised my fingers apart and rubbed the blood back into my knuckles. We'd made it!! Our first day of travelling was over and we could relax in an unbelievably peaceful harbour. The sun was dimming rapidly as we moored up to the jetty below the lock leading to the Rode Vaart. Technically, we weren't supposed to be there. The voice at the end of the VHF had told us to seek permission from the lock keeper, but there was no one in the lock's office to ask. 

We settled down, had coffee and went for a short walk as the sun disappeared over the horizon. What a day! So full of emotion, tension and exhilaration, but throughout it all, despite the strong currents, the Samofa never missed a beat. I was more pleased than I can ever say. What a trooper of an engine!

And so allemaal, this is where I'll finish this blog post. I'll do another post with the rest of the trip very soon, but I think this is enough for now. I hope you've enjoyed travelling with us so far, and I'll leave you with a photo of our lovely first night's view. Isn't it magic?


Sunday, October 03, 2021

A nondescript week

Well, here it is. Sunday evening and I've been trying to fathom where this last week has gone. Nothing of any note has happened and a lot hasn't happened that should have.

The main event I was hoping to report on was the Great Move (i.e. moving Vereeniging from Rotterdam to Oudenbosch), which we'd planned to start on Friday or Saturday. Unfortunately, two quite major obstacles prevented us from leaving: the first was that poor Koos caught a cold, the first one he's had since before Covid started. He got it via via via (as you do), but I suppose because we haven't been exposed to them much in the last 18 months, it's hit him quite hard. Luckily for me, I haven't caught it from him; otherwise we'd both be a sorry pair. Anyway, it’s only a head cold and hopefully, he'll be on the mend soon. The second obstacle was the weather, which has been quite foul these last few days.

I drove up to Rotterdam last Friday to do some more preparations and it took me four hours to get there. The rain poured, the thunder roared and the traffic crawled. I've never had quite such a dreadful drive up.  It continued to tip down most of the night, but fortunately stopped by Saturday morning. I was very thankful as my daughter and her boyfriend came to help me lift my gangplank onto the boat and arrange the mooring ready for departure, the idea being that when the weather's right we can just cast off and go. Being a strategic manoeuvre requiring military precision (haha), It wouldn't have been fun in the rain at all. I also handed my little green rowing boat over to a neighbour. I'm not taking it with me for a number of reasons, but it was definitely a bit sad to say goodbye to my trusty little spuddle and painting friend.

Other jobs were topping up the oil and coolant and charging the battery so that's all ready. I was relieved to see Koos's brilliant repair of the leaky cooling water pump has remained a success so far (the repair involved wrapping the joint with thin jute string and smothering it all in grease: a sort of homemade caulking – I think). Just to be sure, though, I laid a disposable nappy down next to it. I always have a supply of them because I use them to soak up any water that seeps into the bilges, a tip I got from my narrowboating friend and fellow author Roger Distill, whose blog is here. (By the way, his books on narrowboat life are really great. Highly recommended.)

Anyway, by the end of the morning, it was clouding over once more and the first drops fell as I drove out of Rotterdam. By evening, it was chucking it down again. I was so glad we'd decided not to make the move, and even Koos, who claims to be an all-weather stoic, confessed it would have made him miserable as well, especially with his cold. Still, we're ready to go as and when the weather and my nerves permit! It'll be the longest trip we've done on the Vereeniging under our own steam and the longest with the current engine ever. Gulp. But that's still in our future.

As for now, that's about it really. Nothing new in this zoo. I don't even have any photos this week, so I'll have to dive into the archives to pretty up this post. 

These three photos and my new header photo show what we'll be leaving behind. It's been a wonderful twenty years in the Oude Haven, and I'll miss the harbour with its gorgeous barges and lovely folk... But to be without the increasing noise from the bars; to sleep uninterrupted by shouting drunks and night-time incursions on board; to come and go without worrying about tides, dodgy gangplanks and rearranged ropes, all this will make life much easier and infinitely more peaceful. Bliss, in fact. It's the beginning of a new era and I’m looking forward to it.

Have a good week allemaal and hopefully, I'll have more to show you next time!