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.
|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|