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Our cruising season in 2014 was a rather disjointed affair as we have put our house in the UK up for sale as well as having Eleanor with the Vri-Jon Jachts brokerage. We elected to take a summer mooring in their Ossenzijl marina from which we made trips out to Friesland, Overijssel and one brief sojourn in Amsterdam to meet Diane’s cousin from Australia and her husband, Ann & Nick. In between we returned to the UK to keep the house and garden up to scratch for any potential buyers. But, by the beginning of August there had been no interest at all in our house so we decided to return to Eleanor for the remaining two months of the cruising season.
Guests Linda and Abi were to join us for a week from 8th August which focussed our minds on route planning. Fellow boaters at the marina were enthusiastic about a circular route which would take in Meppel, Hoogeveen, Coevorden, Almelo, Zutphen, Zwolle and Zwartsluis. Since Meppel was near and boasted good rail links, we arranged to meet Linda and Abi there. We had never visited Meppel before, despite its proximity to Ossenzijl. We made for Steenwijk then headed along the Kanaal Beulakerwijde – Steenwijk, passing Giethoorn before turning through a gap in the canal bank into Beulakerwijd lake. This is a new stop for us and we were pleased to find enough depth and a fixed pontoon to tie to in a bay sheltered by a breakwater. We were treated to a magnificent sunset across Beulakerwijde, viewed from inside to keep out of the way of the mosquitos!
Our onward route took us through the Beukerssluis onto Meppelerdiep where we turned left for waters new to us. Heavy traffic heading in the opposite direction spoke of a big turnout for the last of this summer’s outdoor music events known as ‘Meppel Thursdays’. We wanted to moor in the binnenhaven to be at the heart of things but had quite a wait for our turn to pass the Meppelersluis at the haven entrance. This gave us the chance to take on water and have a chat to another English couple on a Linssen. The lock and harbour crew were very well organised, making sure we knew when our turn for the lock came and that we had mooring information. Once through the lock we took a place at the low quay near the museum windmill. Paul went to meet our guests, who arrived on time at the station a short walk away, whilst I got in supplies for the night.
Although the weather was blustery and threatened rain, we started the next day with a wander around Meppel. It was windmill Saturday and we were drawn to Molen de Weert across the lock which had its sails turning by 10 am (although the museum mill pictured didn’t start turning until the afternoon). The volunteer millers were welcoming and showed us round, explaining that there wasn’t enough wind to use the sails to power grinding so were using an electric motor as they had pancake flour orders to fulfil. Abi bought a small bag of pancake flour, which apparently contains secret ingredients, complete with recipe in Dutch. She had been drawn to the pancake ship in the haven but we hadn’t included a visit there in our itinerary so had to settle for do-it-yourself! We then wandered back to cross the canal to the shopping streets, returning to Eleanor in time for lunch.
By half past two we were in the lock on our way out of Meppel in a westerly force 3-4. Fortunately this was at our backs as we turned onto the Hoogeveeschevaart so were sheltered by the hood. Abi had brought along a Met Office book of clouds so our log for the next few days features technical terms not normally found in its pages! The stunning photographs of clouds and the text detailing their classification captured everyone’s interest.
We passed up two locks on this wide waterway before taking one of the sport moorings above Ossensluis. A good meal followed by a stroll ashore and a pat of the ginger and white cat from the boat in front saw everyone relaxed and ready for an early night. Continuing in the morning we stopped for water at the Echten serviced moorings then passed up in Nieuwebrugsluis, where we were given a very helpful book of maps and information for boating and cycling in the province of Drenthe.
reading the guide, we came to the conclusion that Hoogeveen didn’t sound particularly interesting to visit so turned onto the Verleengde Hoogeveenschevaart instead of heading for the city’s moorings. But before that we had been held up the Fietsbrug Krakel during the lunchtime canal closure. This is a fascinating new bridge whose sculptural design symbolises the transition from the city (Hoogeveen) to the countryside beyond. The city side had snake-like lamp standards with curvaceous rails and barriers whilst the rural side featured irregular waves much closer together and a seat which resembled a toadstool.
Once more under way and having made the turn to starboard at the canal junction, we soon entered a much narrower channel with hand operated lift bridges through which progress could be slow. Thunder storms were forecast for later in the day so we were not sure how far we would get before it was time to tie up. As well as lift bridges, we had to negotiate the hand-operated Norderscheschutsluis where we were the third boat into the small chamber and had to slew across in order to keep the tender away from the downstream lock gates.
The mooring points were impossible to throw a line onto since they were a sort of four-legged affair set into the lock-side, but we escaped unscathed to see the other boats turn onto the serviced moorings just above the lock. We should have been part of a convoy but, as it turned out, continued alone through seven more lift bridges. Once clear of the suburbs of Hoogeveen, we cruised through a tranquil rural landscape, with many of the lift bridges simply giving road access to single farms so it made sense that these bridges were operated in pairs by local farmer’s wives on bicycles.
As we approached Ossterhessen bridge we noted boats moored beyond it so, as the skies were darkening dramatically, we elected to take a space among them. It was not a moment too soon as the wind got up making tying up tricky, especially as a ‘helper’ from another boat caused a minor panic by doing the wrong thing! Then the heaven’s opened! We were visited by the bridge operator, sheltering under a huge umbrella, who was going along the boats organising our morning departures. She told us that she lives in the bridge keeper’s cottage at the next bridge so would see us coming whenever we chose to depart. We then began to notice that there were named cottages in a standard style at intervals along this canal, although many now seemed to be private homes.
Luckily the next morning was pleasant in the weather department. A shore foray to a local produce stall for Reine Claude jam and sweet and sour pickled courgettes (both delicious!) ended just as a boat going our way passed the bridge affording us the opportunity to fall in behind it. The live-aboard barge turned out to be seventy years old with its original engine making a delightful sound. The crew indicated that we should pass and were going so slowly that we had time for a brief chat as we crept cautiously by. Not long after that we caught up with another cruiser who, instead of carrying on as the barge crew had intended us two small boats to do, insisted on waiting at every bridge for the slow boat to catch up. This tedious progress at least enabled us to admire the scenery before it came to an end when the bridge keepers at Nieuw Amsterdam operated the bridges with more alacrity electing to open the bridges again for the slow boat .
Although there were plenty of moorings at Nieuw Amsterdam, we had set our sights on Coevorden so we didn’t even stop for the handy supermarket.Iinstead of continuing straight on in the direction of Ter Apel and Germany, we turned south onto the Stieltjskanaal as midday approached. We just made it through the eponymous lock, with its bizarre art installation of a ceramic mythical beast atop a pole, before the lunch closure. Here we were provided with another useful map for our onward journey into the province of Overijssel and assured we would find a mooring to stop for our own lunch. We carried on but only found a fence beside a picnic area to tie to. We had also been instructed to ‘phone when we were ready to set off again in order for the next tranche of bridges to be opened for us. We didn’t do as we were told and, in consequence, found ourselves trying to hold station in a stiff breeze whilst we got in contact with the bridge keepers at Coevorden.
During the course of this complicated exercise in helming and negotiating phone numbers the wind took most of our voyage plan print-out overboard. Worse, the lists for our complicated game of I-Spy also ended up in the drink! We had adapted the usual rules to fit our ‘spots’ into a pre-ordained alphabetical list, wild life the first day and sights and objects spotted from the canal this day. This created two games: the first to think of wildlife or canal-side spots for each letter of the alphabet; the second was to actually spy them. We shall now never know who won!! Although we all appreciated the joys of participation and the fun of rule-bending such as ‘I for interesting bird’ being applied to one of the bridge keepers who sported a splendid crest of golden plumage, and ‘O for ”orse and cart’ actually being ticked off as, incredibly, Paul spotted a pair of Fjord horses pulling an omnibus along the tow path.
Once through the two lift bridges we easily found the moorings for Coevorden and, after filling up with water from the un-metered stand pipe at the entrance, we continued into the binnenhaven. Abi had made a reconnaissance and spotted a good place at a substantial quay and also inspected the harbour facilities block and given it the thumbs up. She had located the VVV housed in the old Arsenal by the inner harbour and popped in for a map. Postponing exploration until the next morning, Linda and Diane made a quick trip to the Albert Heijn and Lidl to set us up for Apple Snake Bite cocktails and a curry evening.
By the morning Linda was suffering a migraine after the punchy food and drink the previous evening but was functional so took part in the morning procession to the capacious, free shower followed by fresh croissants and coffee for breakfast. Clean and fed, we took the walking tour from the VVV, managing to follow the Dutch instructions well enough. The route took in the castle, then through the park beside the old star-shaped moat then back through the centre with its renaissance house and goose girl fountain. We all agreed that Coevorden was a good stop with well-appointed moorings, plenty to see in easy walking distance and a pleasant atmosphere.
We had arranged a 2 pm bridge appointment to leave Coevorden in the Almelo direction so cast off after lunch and topping up with water. We cruised for about an hour, skirting the German border and returning to the province of Overijssel just before crossing the Overijsslesche Vecht river just before the town of Gramsbergen Rather than pay for the harbour there, we continued on to a free bank-side mooring in the countryside near Loozen. Although a railway line a short distance away prompted cries of ‘Train! Train!’ on a regular basis, it was not intrusively noisy otherwise. The evening turned calmer and brighter after an afternoon squall so a shore party ventured forth on a circular walk around the lanes where we spotted storks in a field. A reprise of this walk next morning was rewarded with the sight of hares boxing.
Our next cruising day went according to plan as we had elected to take another bank-side mooring at Kloosterdijk on the grounds that a look at our new map suggested that this would be the last rural stop before the strip development running up to Almelo began. Not such good walking territory as the previous stop and we now had the odd commercial barge heading to and from the quays we had passed shortly before mooring. We didn’t linger next morning and found ourselves in a small convoy heading into Almelo. We passed through Vroomschoop, which seems to have re-invented itself as a shopping centre following the reduction in industry along the canal banks. Vrieswijk still evidenced a boatyard and some working factories then we were into the outskirts of Alemlo. The Overijssel lunch break times are different to those in Drenthe so we found ourselves tied up before the Aadorp bridge and lock. Electing to take our own lunch, we were caught somewhat on the hop as the bridge swung into action after only 30 minutes closure.
The lock keeper presented us with an Overijssel flag (we now have quite a collection of these!) and directed us to the passanten haven, ringing the haven master to cycle up to open the two bridges leading up to the moorings for us. We had a few misgivings as the approach to the moorings was somewhat less than charming so it came as a nice surprise to find that the harbour was a modern facility in a quiet location and was very reasonably priced. A bonus was the proximity of the station as Linda and Abi were to leave us the next day.
Provided with maps, we all went for a wander around and a look at the shops but the afternoon turned wet, curtailing our adventures. Fortunately the following morning was sunny and we took a walk round what remains of Almelo’s old town. This once vital textile producing town on the River Aa has little remaining to show for it and is still being re-developed. An old factory clock tower and a dock house with its tall chimney stand as isolated reminders of an industrial past. Even older is the Weaver’s House tucked up a narrow lane in what remains of the agricultural beginnings of Almelo. More substantial is Huize Almelo around whose moat we strolled, admiring the ‘castle’ inside as well as the deer and cattle in the fields beyond. We came to a city farm with a variety of domestic animals and water birds, including a black swan.
Back in the shopping heart of the city, Linda and Abi wanted to treat us to lunch so we sat under the full cover of the restaurant umbrellas outside ‘t Westhuys, another of Almelo’s remaining old buildings which has served as court, town hall and police station in the 300 and more years since it was built. We had a round of drinks whilst doing our best to translate the Dutch menu, which offered a good choice with something for everyone. Service was a bit slow but that didn’t matter as we were happily chatting away over more drinks and the lovely food. Our selection of place to sit was vindicated when a thunder storm hit but we were kept nice and dry and the sun had come out again by the time we were ready to leave.
It is always sad when guests depart so our habit has been to distract ourselves by moving on immediately. However, it was too late in the day to be able to get very far if we left when Linda and Abi did. When Paul went to pay for another night’s mooring he discovered a three nights for the price of two offer which he took advantage of (once again, we were treated to free showers and good services). The dip side of this bonus night was that we would need to be up for the 9 am bridge lift back to the main canal since there is only one havenmeester on duty on Sundays so bridge openings are limited.
That left us with all of a sunny Saturday to chill out as well as catch up on boat chores. We began to consider our options for the next stage of our cruise. So far we had been discovering new places but if we continued the round trip as originally envisaged we would be pass through Zutphen, Zwolle and Zwartsluis which are all places we have stopped at several times and on waterways we are familiar with. On the other hand, if we want to do something new then this would involve retracing our steps which is not something we do unless necessary as an adventurer’s point of principle. We had to admit that we had thoroughly enjoyed our cruise thus far, though, and would not mind a second pass. The pleasure boat traffic had been light compared to that of the busy holiday routes further to the west, and the mooring fees had been more modest with the facilities generally very good. The real incentive for heading back the way we had come was the opportunity to attempt the passage through to Germany which had recently been made possible by the new canal link near Emmen. Much pouring over maps and asking locals had failed to resolve the issue of whether there was enough depth for us to make it through to Ter Apel and the turning for Germany and the Ems, which we knew we could navigate. We would just have to suck it and see! If we could get through then it would be possible to pay a visit to the Linssen dealer at Papenburg in order to determine whether they could offer us a better prospect of selling Eleanor.
We had a plan! So were up and raring to go when the Sunday morning flotilla headed out of Almelo. We were the only boat heading north which made for a pleasant and quick run back to overnight halts at Kloosterdijk and Loozen, the same moorings we had used on the way south. The rustic architecture of the Twenteland community combined brick and clapboard in a variety of styles and is echoed in the facilities block at Almelo haven. Leaving the strip development to the north of Almelo behind we found a landscape of farms: meadows of all sorts of livestock and fields of maize all broken up by stands of trees to moderate the effects of the wind. The rail line which follows the canal seems to be a commuter link and thriving modern communities cluster around the stations.
Feeling that we had missed out by not visiting Gramsbergen on our way south, we hopped up to the bridge waiting spaces whilst the lunch break was on so that we could take a look around. Proximity to the German border resulted in Gramsbergen gaining a reputation as a smuggler’s haunt in days gone by. We didn’t have a map or walking tour to guide us, however, so simply wandered at will around the old village. Preparations were under way for the annual Festival of Light the following weekend with strings of fairy lights being put up and boxes of decorations featuring cows, cheeses and lots and lots of wooden tulips waiting in the narrow streets of cottages. It was quite charming, and also a very practical halt as the new Plus store enabled a re-stocking of the store cupboard.
Our departure was delayed as the canal man gathered together a convoy in preparation for the Vecht crossing. The river cuts across the canal at right angles with a lock and lift bridge at either side to prevent flooding on the canal. As water levels were normal, the two locks were not in operation but we did have to await the lifting of the bridges. We made our overnight halt at the sport moorings just beyond the Coevordersluis on the northern side of the crossing. We planned to walk back to the river bridge over the Overijsselsche Vecht to take a good look at the section of the river we cannot navigate, having ventured as far as Dalfzen from the Zwolle end, but this came to nought as uncertain weather turned into a downpour and the temperature plummeted. All we could do was snuggle up under the duvet to watch a film on satellite TV.
We made another easy run back to the harbour at Coevorden next morning, reprising the walk in the park in the afternoon as the sun had come out to warm us up. We chatted to the havenmeester on board as he recognised us from our previous visit and was keen to make friends. We made the most of the following day with Paul being able to acquire an engine filter he needed in order to do some maintenance ‘down below’. Diane went out early taking photographs, enjoying the morning sunshine and quiet streets and parks. We had booked the bridges for a 2 pm departure so took lunch and topped up with water in readiness. Of course, it rained just as we left Coevorden and was dull and miserable as we reached the ‘mythical beast’ lock. We contemplated stopping at the moorings above the lock but felt it was a bit early in the day, and there was a road alongside which might prove noisy at night.
At the junction with the Verlengde Hoogeveensche Vaart we turned to starboard to begin what we hoped would be a passage to Germany. The locks and bridges operated without us needing to use VHF or press the call buttons so we made good time to Ericasluis which boasted that it is the first lock on the Erica-Ter Apel Veenvart, which we presumed was the official designation of the through route we were taking. We had planned to overnight at the Erica moorings but found them to be noisy despite there being a space on a good, serviced quay. A rather depressing section followed as we passed through an uninspiring strip development before at last coming to more rural surroundings and hopes for a better place to overnight.
By now the day was wearing on towards the 5 pm lock and bridge closures although we got a green light at Oranjesluis after turning to port on the outskirts of Klazienaveen. We felt a bit guilty at spurning the lock operator’s efficiency but saw a place to stop on the quay below the lock so took it just as the rain came down again. Once the skies had cleared, Paul took a walk ashore and discovered a better spot nearer the lock where we could have power and water as well as line of sight for the satellite dish, so we moved up and made ourselves at home for the night. Further shore exploration found coin-op loos and showers in the lock hut and a quiet residential area above us.
We were spotted by the lock operator as soon as we appeared on deck the following morning and he set about preparing the chamber for us. We were soon through the lock and on our way easily passing along the section of canal where we had doubted the depth. Congratulating ourselves on this, we were brought to an abrupt halt as we came to the turn onto the new stretch of canal which was guarded by an unforgiving, fixed concrete bridge rated at 3.5 m height. We would have known about this had we not lost the voyage plan overboard! Much scurrying about ensued as we dropped the mast and hood so that a disaster was averted!
Just before the new lock , Spaarsluis, on the Koning Willem Alexander kanaal (named for the new Dutch King) we sighted a run of pleasant moorings in a side arm which we made a mental note of as a potential stop on our way back. The lock was manned and ready for us by the time we got to it. The shy keeper exchanged pleasantries then retreated to his hut leaving us to be watched over by a huge concrete giraffe! The lock experience was interesting since it had an unusual filling system with two sump cubes beside the chamber which fill it first from the back and then the middle. Finally, conventional sluices in the upstream gates complete the process. Each stage in this rather slow progression is signalled by a bell – what fun!
The stretch of new canal meanders through farmland, although the nearby motorway rather undermines the illusion of rurality. The banks are still rather denuded following construction with stone ‘sculptures’ beside the cycle-cum-tow path seeming more like abandoned boulders. Perhaps they look better from the land side? The crowning glory of this canal is the double lock, Koppelsluis, where we descended by the simple expedient of the top chamber emptying into the bottom one to equalise levels and allow us through. The bottom chamber then emptied into the canal below as usual. There was a slight hiccough as the keeper operating the controls got his sequencing out of kilter so we went down, then up again in the first chamber before going down and staying down!
There seemed to be a over-abundance of canal staff in and around the lock leaving plenty of spare time for socialzing and fishing. One did hop on his scooter and hurry off to open the Trambrug for us as we left the lock and passed by some pleasant moorings in the basin below, again noting them for the return trip.
The Trambrug lift bridge is immediately followed by a right angled turn to port onto the old, narrow and shallow Scholtens kanaal. We could see a convoy of boats heading towards us so moored up at the waiting places just beyond the turn to let them pass us where there was more width. It was entertaining to watch a Dutch barge negotiate the tight bend, which they accomplished with skill if not speed. The impatient cruiser immediately behind the barge almost got into difficulty by pressing them too hard and putting himself out of position for the turn as a result. The other three cruisers took a more patient and circumspect approach. Then we were off!
There was just about enough depth for our 1.2 meters to push through to the next right angled bend to starboard onto an upgraded section of the Sint Jozefvaart, where there was enough water under the keel for the depth gauge to give a reading again. Another sharp bend to port and we spied a quay mooring tucked back off the main channel as it turned sharply to starboard again. Since we had now shaken off the motorway and the outlook was rural we quickly elected to drop onto it for the night, even though it was not yet lunchtime. We put the hood back up just as a rain shower began, prompting us to retreat inside for a nice, hot lunch after a chilly cruise in the open.
In a brightening afternoon Diane took a stroll ashore and discovered information boards which located us in the Hondsrug Geopark. The geology of this area is complex with ice covering it during the first ice age which gave way to tundra before freezing again in the second ice age when sand storms also swept the area. The result is a layering of sand on top of peat and a current impressions of a blasted heath with a lake of drowning silver birches. Plenty of birds and wild flowers added interest to Diane’s shore-side wanderings. She also reported back that there were more low, fixed bridges ahead so we would be cruising in the open again next day.
We set off mid-morning on a thankfully dry and mostly sunny day. We had anticipated a lock after a short run but found the Veenparksluis standing open and is, in fact, used as part of the moorings for visitors to the Veenpark peat diggings museum in which it is located. Before reaching the lock we had noticed a peat digging site which was still using a steam-powered cutting machine, sadly not fired up at the time.
Beyond the lock we found an extensive open-air museum through which we cruised on tick-over, taking it all in. Old engines, sheds, boats and a row of restored houses, shops and workshops were all served by a narrow gauge railway. The canal beside all of this crossed by iron swing and lift bridges, all looking as if they had stood open for many a year. More distant from the canal was a new visitor centre making this working museum an attractive family day out. Of course, we got to see most of it for free as we passed through – and again on our return trip!
The canal wound its way to a sharp turn to port at the village of Barger Compascum. Although we could have turned to starboard for the serviced moorings there and explored this interesting sounding place, we elected to continue onto the Oosterdiep with our bridge keeper accompanying us on his scooter to open the many bridges in a timely manner. We also passed through Compascumersluis where the shy keeper was advertising eggs for sale and coped with Diane’s request to buy some in Dutch! Two pom-pom geese entertained us as we waited for the lock operation to complete.
By the time we reached the Jansenverlaat on the way into our intended destination, Emmer Compascum, it was lunchtime. However, the friendly keeper let us through to the free, serviced moorings just beyond. Whilst we were locking down he gave us a potted history of this restored lock. ‘Verlaat’ is the old Dutch name for ‘lock’ and this one dates from 1890. It has fluted, sloping brick-built sides in order to cope with the fragile ground of the sand and peat area it serves. Cast iron strapping is used to protect the angles of the brickwork. Not the easiest of chamber for a cruiser to use but fascinating because of its adaptation to the local context.
The lock keeper also told us that there was to be music in the centre of town that night, which explained a convoy of small craft sporting fairy lights and other decorations which passed us late in the day and moored up in the town basin taking pole position for a good view of the stage which had been erected in a small park beside the canal. There was quite a festive atmosphere as we strolled around whilst a band called ‘Normaal’ played their opening set. We were, however, thankful that the local lane passing the moorings was closed off so we were not bothered by noise or traffic. In fact, it was very peaceful with a field of horses beside us our nearest neighbours (if you’ll excuse the pun!).
Fascinated by the unusual names in this area, Paul quizzed Google to find out more. Compascum derives from the Latin word for ‘common grazing’. We are now travelling parallel to the nearby German border but historically this boundary was not as clear as it is today. As a result, disputes arose between the Dutch and Germans farmers over grazing rightes which sometimes degenerated into bog brawls! Barger Compascum, we think from the word for ‘sheep’, is unusual in being a compact village rather than a ribbon or strip development like most fen villages. It was an isolated and close-knit population which clung to the Roman Catholic faith. Emmer Compascum is named for its proximity to the large centre of Emmen. The whole area was populated in the mid 19th century by the re-located poor from the big cities, Amsterdam mainly, who were brought to dig peat to send back to those cities by boat with subsistence farming as an alternative occupation. It must have been a harsh life for these workers and something of a miracle that the area has survived as well as it has.
Another dry day followed for us to complete our hood-down cruise to the Ter Apel junction with the Haren-Rutenbrock kanal which would take us into Germany. Beyond Emmer Compascum we continued along the Stads-Compascumkanaal on the end of a convoy. The canal staff try to collect together a group of boats to make opening bridges more economical, but this doesn’t always work and, on our return journey, we were once held up for the best part of an hour awaiting a convoy which never materialised. More often than not we were passed through on our own if we turned up unaccompanied, however. On this particular day we found ourselves one of five boats being crammed into the 8e Verlaat lock at Ter Apel and, as we were last, Paul had the tightest space to squeeze into. We are now in the province of Groningen where the canal staff are more taciturn than in Drenthe, which didn’t make the locking experience any more relaxing. In the end, it was all for a minuscule drop in water level and almost not worth all the trouble!
We were the only boat taking the route to Germany as all the others headed for the marina at Ter Apel, most being locals. Rather annoyingly, there is a new canal-side fuel stop just onto the Haren-Rutenbrock kanaal which was cheaper for diesel than the bank-side garage we had canned fuel from in Emmer Compascum. Again, we noted this for our return trip! A boat pulled off this fuel berth and followed us all the way to Haren. The German couple on board were friendly and spoke good English, which came in handy when we rafted up to await the bridge opening on the way into Haren’s museum hafen. Here we waited … and waited … and waited … until our companions rang the central command post and discovered that we had somehow been left off the list of boats passed on by the Dutch! Boats on this route are usually logged on entry and routinely passed through bridges and locks until the last lock onto the Ems, which is manned so that tolls can also be collected (five Euros this year). Somewhere along the line we had got forgotten, but not when the tolls were collected!
Turning south on the Ems we soon turned to starboard for the Emshaven marina. Here we found another Linssen, which we moored beside, to be later joined by a third. An impromptu meeting of the Linssen Owner’s group took place on Eleanor’s aft deck: a Swiss crew and a German crew swapping notes with we English in a variety of languages! Both crews were acquainted with the Linssen dealer at Papenburg and gave us sage advice on the Ems run north and the agency itself.
Whilst Diane made a foray into Haren for victuals next morning Paul gave Eleanor a wash down so that she looked smart for the dealer’s inspection in Papenburg. Haren centre lies in the shadow of the imposing, white Dom but is otherwise unremarkable although a good stop for practical things. There is a pontoon on the canal which is far more handy for the shops than the marina but less inviting for a longer stay. Diane appreciated the exercise, however, and was ready for a coffee upon her return. Paul donated a crust of old bread to two inquisitive ducks and got a big surprise when he discovered that one of them had taught itself to take off by pushing off the water with its wings then catching bread in mid air. A good strategy as the second duck hardly got a look in!
This delayed our departure until 1130 but we did not anticipate any problems in making the 58 k run through five locks to the Papenburg sea lock, this being a commercial route and open all hours. The canalised section of the river winds through maize fields and wooded banks with the Netherlands close by on the left bank. We tagged onto the tail of a commercial vessel that we had the good fortune to join in the first lock north of Haren so had a smooth run until it turned off onto the Kustenkanal leaving us on our own. We were passed straight through the next lock and had high hopes of a similar quick pen down at the next and last one onto the tidal section of the River Ems. Approaching this final lock at Herbrum we came to double red lights just before a bridge. Painstakingly translating the accompanying sign we obeyed its instruction to wait here for a 30 minute minimum period. There was nowhere to tie up so we hung about in the river getting quite fed up at keeping station and using fuel to do so, despite having made ourselves known to the lock keeper by VHF more than once. Eventually a commercial hove into view and we were radioed the instruction to follow it. The commercial entered the lock area and promptly moored up for the night leaving us in limbo. Thankfully, we got green lights and locked down onto the River by ourselves but were mystified as to why we had been made to wait without the option to tie up, although we had been warned about this by the Linssen folk we met at Haren.
The tide was running out so we got a boost to our speed for the last 12 km, although the water was very muddy with silt and stone banks well exposed and attracting ducks and waders. As we approached Papenburg we were dumbstruck by the sight of an enormous cruise ship which dwarfed the surrounding landscape. We had been told that it was in dry dock and a sight to see but were unprepared by the enormity of it. It must have halted river traffic as it was brought in and put into its own dry dock. This yard seems to specialise in cruise ships and, we later found out, tours regularly take visitors through the Papenburg dock complex to see them.
We had been miserably unprepared for the run from Herbrum to the Papenburg sea lock so counted ourselves fortunate to have caught a favourable tide. We were, however, two hours late for the sea lock, which only opens at high water and two hours before and after. There is a waiting pontoon outside the gates which we could have taken for the night, it now being late afternoon. But, the kind lock keeper answered our radio call and operated the lock for us. The apparently routine delay at Herbrum must often result in boats arriving at unscheduled times. The Papenburg sea lock is a vast affair as it is the gateway to commercial docks for sea-going vessels as well as sport boats for the various clubs and marinas. We felt dwarfed by its size and humbled that the vast chamber was filled just for us.
Our lack of preparation also made for a perplexing tour around the docks looking for Hennings marina. Eventually we worked out that it was the other side of a pair of substantial rail and road bridges which seemed firmly closed for operations. Paul radioed back to the lock for information just as we noticed a sign on the rail bridge with a number to ring for operation! Our phone call (at premium rate on the mobile as we didn’t have a German SIM) was answered by a cheerful man who said that ‘of course’ he would open the bridges for us.
At last we made it to the moorings after seven hours on the go! But there were no spaces available and the much publicised warm welcome to visiting Linssen boats failed to materialise. We pottered up and down the rows of double moored Linssens until we gave up and took matters into out own hands, coming alongside the only singly moored boat we could see. In compensation, we had a splendid view across the old dock basin to some classy houses with gardens running down to the water. An added bonus was a firework display from behind a restored crane on the other side of the basin.
It was not until 11 am next morning that we managed a meeting with the Linssen agency manager, who had been in his office the previous evening but not noticed our arrival. We chewed the fat for a while then went away with a vague plan to bring Eleanor back in time for the boat show which they will hold at the end of April 2015. It seems that they cannot overwinter boats in the manner to which Eleanor (and we) have become accustomed so it will be back to Ossenzijl for that. We were, however, welcome to stay for a few days gratis so we could take in the city. We were helped to discover our departure options by consultation of tide tables and bridge and lock opening times so that we would not be hostages to administrative and tidal fortunes as we headed back for Ossenzijl.
The weather had turned sunny and hot so we headed out to explore, calling in at the Tourist Information office nearby for a rather unhelpful booklet and map. We discovered that Papenburg has three centres quite scattered about. Since we were moored in the Alte Warf basin it made sense for us to pick up the Hauptkanal as it exited the basin and follow this until we ran out of steam, which turned out to be at the square by the Rathuis. This was a delightful stroll beside a narrow canal crossed by many small footbridges and lined with the most splendid displays of flowers. Small shops and cafes vied for our attention with a windmill and three ships, including a triple-masted vessel, at various points along the channel. It was all quite charming and the crowds suggested that this is a popular tourist destination. Back at the Alte Warf there was a different atmosphere as two huge cranes towered above the hotels and small boat moorings that are what has become of a once thriving boatyard.
Back on board Eleanor, we watched the harbour trip boat take on passengers then head for the road and rail bridges. The road bridge sent up a spectacular fountain of water from its shore end, which was amusing until we realised that this meant it was broken and might compromise our plan to depart next day. The tour boat returned to its berth and discharged its passengers so there was clearly no quick fix to the bridge problem. A conversation with the skipper, who sports a spectacular white beard, revealed that he had reported the problem and been assured that the bridge would be fixed in time for his 11 am tour next day, which coincided with our planned departure. Later in the afternoon men in a van arrived and began to inspect the bridge mechanism so Paul (and the tour boat skipper) went over to investigate. The problem was with the hydraulics, the man in charge said, assuring Paul that the bridge wasn’t broken, it just wasn’t working! A low-tech solution was being applied in the form of spraying everything with WD40 and hoping for the best! A trial run proved that it did indeed work again, letting a cruiser through which had been patiently waiting and taking drinks on deck.
In the event, we indeed departed behind the tour boat, which apparently is what the locals do. We were in good time for the sea lock and were again allowed through outside normal times because the lock keeper’s friend also wanted to get to the river. Catching a fast tidal run, we had a quick trip back to the lock at Hebrum but then waited on the sport pontoon for two hours until a big enough gap appeared in the commercial traffic for us to fit into the chamber. We had learnt from our experience on the Canal du Nord that we could legitimately go in behind a longer than usual barge as there would not be room for any other commercial to join them. Careful note of the length of the lock and doing our sums with the lengths of commercials arriving (which are marked on their sides) enabled us to spot and grasp our opportunity since the lock keeper was clearly not keen to radio us!
Now we retraced our steps to Emshaven at Haren, Emmer Compascum (where we took an unserviced mooring with a view of the windmill), the Koppelsuis basin, the Klenckebrug west side waiting place opposite a field of Llamas (there are unserviced mooring just round the corner but they were very exposed to wash and we had already encountered one commercial and were told to expect a second), Geesbrug (where we took a break from long cruising days at the good serviced moorings in an interesting location), the small unserviced haven at Rogat and back to the binnenhaven at Meppel. We ended the 2015 season just pottering about the Ossenzijl area discovering some new aspects of familiar stops.
18th – 29th September 2013
We made the most of a pleasant morning in Weesp to take a walk around the town following the VVV brochure in English and booklet and map in Dutch. There were a number of errors in the English guide so it took a bit of detective work to find all the buildings described, but we had an interesting hour or so’s exploration, learning a bit of the long history of Weesp along the way. The lock onto the tidal river Vecht was important for keeping back the salt water of the Zuiderzee from the land behind Weesp’s defences. It has a fort which was part of Amsterdam’s defensive ring, and bastions which became part of the Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinje defences, so clearly was important enough to be protected. The Grote or Laurenskerk, which dominates the wide main street, was Roman Catholic until that religion was outlawed in 1582 and the Protestants took it over. A new Catholic church, St Laurentiuskerk, was built in 1876 and is on the Herengracht side of the haven. There was, briefly, a porcelain factory in Weesp around 1760 which was notable for its coloured wares so is valuable to collectors to this day. Inner canals add to the charm of the centre of this thriving town.
Back on board, we were astonished to see a huge vessel passing through. The ‘Hydrograaf’ was built as a steam powered survey vessel in 1910 but is now a diesel-powered party ship. At 40.5 m length and 6.75 m breadth we felt humbled as she was expertly piloted along the narrow waterway, only possible because of her relatively shallow draught of 1.8 m. At 297 tonnes, we were pleased she did not hit our little Eleanor! Still impressive in her original black and yellow livery she was quite a sight to see at close quarters.
After anxiously consulting the weather forecasts for the crossing to Flevoland, and the opening times for the bridges and lock on the Vecht, we set out early on Thursday morning. Our fears for the weather were unfounded and we had a beautiful run in sunshine and slight breeze out onto the IJmeer. We hastily reviewed our plan to take the Randmeeren route for the shelter and mooring opportunities it provides in uncertain conditions, opting instead to make for the Zuidersluis entry to Flevoland and the Hoge Vaart canal. Our destination was De Binnenzee mooring place beside the ‘Green Catherdral’, something we had passed before and earmarked for a visit next time we passed this way. The 1989 brainchild of Marcus Boezen, De Groene Kathedraal follows the ground plan of Reims Cathedral but planted in poplar trees. Set in fields of clover amid woodland this stop afforded an opportunity for a nature walk as well as the interest of the cathedral itself.
Our next overnight halt was at De Spiek moorings which we hardly recognised from our previous visit four years ago. The banks of the canal had been dug out, creating an open but rather scoured aspect. Our cruising days are shortening as we reluctantly head for Ossenzijl to leave Eleanor for the winter. We managed an hour and twenty minutes before taking a place at the De Hoop moorings. Here my shore-side excursion took me to the Meetstoel monument , well more of an artefact left over from the development of Oosterlijk Flevoland. It consists of a pole with a number of fingers at the top which point in various directions and a platform from which to view it. Used to survey the emerging land in 1957 it helped planners to lay out buildings, roads and canals for construction once the land was drained.
Our relaxed progress seemed set to continue as we topped up on water at the friendly Jachthaven in Biddinghuizen before wandering along to the next overnight place. No sooner had we set off, however, than we ran into weed trouble. The next stretch of canal was choked, not something we have encountered in The Netherlands before. Poor Eleanor’s raw water intake blocked and her prop. got all tangled up. Luckily she sheds most things from the propeller quite readily but the water intake is another matter. We crept to a loading quay for Paul to clear the blockage but something still wasn’t right. We made our planned overnight halt at De Nabbert amidst fields of vegetables and beside a wood of nut trees.
Optimistically, we hoped that the weed would have fallen away from Eleanor’s bottom in the night and we would be on our way with the engine running as usual. Not so. We chuffed and coughed the 8 km to Ketelhaven, Paul concluding that the impeller must have got damaged somehow. This needed to be replaced before we could safely continue but, luckily, there is a chandlers near the mooring below Ketelsluis who had the very thing in stock. Paul spent the afternoon folded up in the engine room struggling to remove the existing impeller, which is awkwardly located. Success at last, but it was undamaged. The only other possible cause of the water intake problem was failure of the vacuum seal on the water filter. Paul took this apart, cleaned and lubricated it then put it all back together again. The engine was fired up, a loud sucking noise emanated from the water intake assembly resulting in the filter filling with a plug of compacted weed. Problem solved! But, at the expense of an unnecessary new impeller and almost a whole day spent trouble shooting.
Next morning began foggy but this soon cleared for us to make the long run back to Blokzijl and beyond. We tied up to the fence mooring at Valse Trog, poised for a hop back to town to stock up at the supermarket next morning. We had heard from home that Paul’s 92-year-old mother has gone downhill and giving cause for concern. This focused our minds on making plans for returning to the UK. We made for the West Wetering mooring where we could get wifi from the nearby campsite enabling us to arrange boat storage and book our travel back to the UK. Before arriving at Vri-Jon’s boatyard we had a lot of de-commissioning tasks to perform but, since we didn’t need anything but a place to tie up for this, we elected to make a detour via Steenwijk so as to prolong our cruising as much as we could.
Our cruising guide had put us off taking the Steenwijkerdiep, describing it as narrow and only suitable for small boats. However, we had seen some sizeable craft turning onto it so thought we’d give it a try and discovered that we had better depth and a wider channel than on the shallow, muddy, winding and sometimes narrow Kalenbergergracht which we usually take. There are plenty of moorings beside the canal and our first stop was at Scheerwold, an odd little place that was intended as a new polder village when Queen Juliana inaugurated it in 1952. The project never took off so there are just a few streets of houses and limited facilities. The housing is surrounded by a very pleasant area intended for walking with gravel paths and a good variety of trees and plants. As we left next day we passed the local visitor attraction, an eel smokery with its own moorings.
The weather had now changed from damp and misty to sunny but chilly at nights, better for boat chores. We needed engine oil and other supplies which we knew we could get at Steenwijk. The visitor’s harbour there has a bridge half way along which usually restricts us to the moorings furthest from the town. This time we took advantage of the sunshine to take the hood and mast so that we could pass under the bridge and tie up near to the shops. We still had some walking to do to fetch engine oil from Halfords on the edge of town, but we managed to obtain everything that we needed, including a tank of fresh water, before heading out to a mooring on the Steenwijk-Ossenzijl canal. This was our last stop before taking Eleanor to the boatyard for winter storage so rather bitter-sweet as we enjoyed our last views of the Dutch countryside in glorious sunshine.
11th to 17th September 2013
Having gone to sleep to the sounds created by the wind and the rain we were surprised to wake to calm and sunshine. The only thing delaying us from heading for Amsterdam was the covering of leaves and other tree detritus that Eleanor had aquired during the storm, the penalty we paid for the pretty mooring by the woods in Noorderplassen. Having washed the topsides and operated the self-service bridge rather more efficiently than last time, we soon found ourselves in Zuidersluis which lifted us five meters or so to the level of Markermeer. The wind was still blowing up here but we decided to poke our noses out beyond the Almere breakwater and give it a try. Paul set a course that just kept Eleanor’s bow into the waves which gave us a comfortable enough passage until we gained some shelter from the land around IJmeer. Arriving at Oranjesluis we did not have long to wait for a pen through and were soon making the turn towards Nieuwendam.
We had moored at Het Yacht last summer in order to avoid the August crush at Sixhaven and because there was no space at Aeolius. This time this seemingly out of the way option was our first choice and we were pleased that they could fit us in again. We found the harbour beneath Nieuwendamerdijk such a pleasant setting that we spent two days locally, encouraged by the Het Jacht people who are very enthusiastic about North Amsterdam which tends to get overlooked in the rush to visit the canals of the old city.
We lunched at the very convenient and convivial Cafe de Sluisje beside the old lock, which gave Diane the opportunity to catch up on such specialities such as kroketten and Ossenwurst. A walk along the Nieuwendammerdijk itself took 1.5 km along the top of the flood defence which was created in order to protect Amsterdam after the 1516 disaster when the IJ laker overflowed. It is topped with old houses many of which were built during the 17th Century (the Dutch Golden Age) by seafarers, craftsmen, merchants and sea captains. The smaller cottages to the west gradually give way to the more opulent houses at the eastern Golden End of the dijk reflecting the social stratification of the time. The modern dijk has a quite extraordinary ambience as though it were more a rural village community than a soulless big city suburb, an atmosphere which quite enchanted us.
At the western end of the dijk we contemplated continuing to the stunning-looking new Eye Film Museum but settled instead for the little Museum de Noord as it was rather nearer and more in keeping with our mood. This tiny museum is situated in the Vogelbuurt, an area of housing built by philanthropist Floor Wibaut in 1918 to help deal with the homelessness created by the imposition of minimum housing standards in the city. Small dwelling were hastily put up for the displaced poor but there was no space in them for a bath so an equally small community bathhouse was built nearby and this has now become the museum. The Vogelbuurt housing still stands and has been upgraded so that the occupants no longer need to take their daily bath outside of their own home. We chose to walk back through the Vliegenbos park which made for a very pleasant stroll from which we emerged at the Kleine Haven. Nieuwendam once had a thriving ship building industry with the renowned Het Fort shipyard in this basin, the name still surviving at a rather reduced facility.
Of course, we couldn’t come to Amsterdam without spending a day in visiting our favourite places across the IJ. A very convenient bus service runs through the IJ tunnel to the Centraal Station interchange fro which we used our day tickets for tram rides around the city. We began in the Jewish Quarter where the Portuguese Synagogue stunned us. After riding the tram back to Spui we took coffee and pastries in the Lanskroon bakery on Singel to fortify ourselves for a walk. We followed the booklet produced for the forthcoming heritage weekend which gave interesting descriptions of the properties which would be participating, incidentally providing us with previously unknown details about canal houses which we have walked past many times. Our next refuelling stop was at Cafe ‘t Smalle on Egelantiersgracht, a delightful old ‘boozer’ (their word, not ours!) which serves delicious snack lunches. Lastly, we walked through the Jordaan, along Brouwersgracht and Haarlemmerstraat to catch our bus back to Nieuwendam. Only we caught the wrong bus and ended up passing through endless housing projects to arrive at the Buikslotermeerplein shopping mall which Diane had recently walked to for an Albert Heijn shop. A quick change of bus as Paul’s feet weren’t up to further walking and we were soon back on board Eleanor just as a pleasant day turned to rain.
We felt very at home in Nieuwendam so it was a wrench to leave, especially as we woke to pouring rain next morning which was not conducive to working on deck. But, the skies cleared by lunchtime and we had a fast and pleasant cruise through central Amsterdam as we took the Amstel route south. We encountered another Dutch house move as we waited for one of the lift bridges on the Amstel. Just as we reached the turning onto the Weespertrekvaart we were hit by a nasty squall marking a change back to chilly and wet weather. Not good news for we were held up waiting for the Uitkomer bridge just after the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal crossing. There were two of us waiting for the bridge to open, which it usually does immediately hence there was nowhere to moor securely against the wash from commercial vessels on the major canal we had just crossed.
Some 25 minutes later we were finally on our way into Weesp but our journey was to be broken again but in a nice way. As we passed ‘t Haantje windmill, whose sails were gaily turning, we were flagged down by an ebullient lady on the tow path, accompanied by a young, male acolyte holding an umbrella over her. She helped us to moor so that we might pay our two Euros each and visit the mill which was open for Monument Day. The old miller’s house and windmill base are privately owned but the mill cap is owned and maintained by the Molen Stichting, a foundation dedicated to the preservation of old mills. It is very rarely open to the public so we felt privileged to be shown everything by the house owner and a member of the foundation, who were very proud of their charge and delighted to have visitors from overseas. Quite unusually for the area, and very different from Weesp’s two other windmills, ‘t Haantje is a whip mill with a wooden cap, sails and gear wheels which can, and has, been detached from a built base and transported to a new location as required. So, this one began life driving a stone cutters in Amsterdam, then a seed crusher before coming to grind corn at Weesp.
This impromptu outing concluded, we returned to Eleanor and continued our journey through Weesp and its attractive small haven before turning south on the Vecht river to take a fence-style mooring opposite Uitermeer Fort. We had been here before and now noticed that the fort was better kept and visited by more people, largely because a restaurant or eetcafe had been opened up beside it.
Despite very changeable weather, plenty of people were out and about taking meals and walking the towpath opposite us. Our mooring had no shore access but a pastoral outlook over a shallows, reeds and a field of cattle. We had some enchanting scenes right outside our own windows as water birds came to feed in the shallows and reed beds and the cattle came down to drink, all in the changing light of autumn days and variable weather conditions. The real star was a cow who waded into the water and spent an hour or so systematically munching her way through a stand of reeds just an arm’s length from the boat.
Part and parcel of the Dutch weather we were enjoying were gale force winds. This, and general lethargy, kept us at this mooring for three nights until we took advantage of a brief lull to make the short return trip to a mooring in Weesp’s haven at the Achtergracht quayside. Having been uncertain as to whether we were heading for Maasbracht or Ossenzijl or Papenburg to overwinter Eleanor, we had finally ruled out making the long run south to Limburg, favouring a leisurely cruise back to Overijssel which also happened to be on the route to Germany and Papenburg,if that was where we elected to make our final destination. We had never visited Weesp so made this our first port of call on the next leg of our journey.
4th to 10th September 2013
Clear skies and lower temperatures overnight meant that we woke to a dew-covered Eleanor. So, before we left the idyllic setting of Rottige-Meente we needed to rinse off the now congealed muck on the topsides that had been building up since Harlingen. All nice and clean again, we set out on a lovely morning for a nostalgic cruise through Ossenzijl and Kalenberg to one of our favourite stops alongside at West Wetering. The only thing that marred our joy was the discovery that Diane’s favourite house opposite the Klompenpierik moorings has been taken down and was in the process of being replaced with a new dwelling. She was somewhat shocked and wondered how about the reason why this had come to pass.
September 5th was Diane’s birthday which she had chosen to celebrate in Blokzijl, a one hour cruise on another sunny morning. We found a nice mooring against the quay in the Kolk of this charming village and the birthday ‘girl’ spent a happy afternoon wandering around looking in the small shops, watching the activity at the lock and admiring the buildings. In the afternoon temperatures reached 32 degrees C, quite unusual for Diane’s birthday. We ate out at Auberge am der Hof on Kerkstraat where Frans, front of house, made us very welcome and Selma, the chef, gave us a wonderful meal in the relaxing surroundings of their spacious and comfortable surroundings of their dining room.
Before moving on the next day we visited the Grote Kerk where the some informative and welcoming members of the congregation told us about this 17th Century Protestant Church, the first in The Netherlands, of which they are justly proud. The church building has grown along with the population it serves, having an unusual Maltese Cross ground plan as a result. We saw the hanging ship and the huge chandelier that were gifts from the Guild of Skippers, the baptismal with its scissor motif that was given by the Guild of Taylors, and the original stained glass window.
In search of rural peace we then pottered the short distance to Vollenhove Stenen, the canal-side mooring we had been flooded off in 2010. No such catastrophe this time so we had a sound night’s sleep before embarking on a full day’s cruise through Zwarte Meer, Ramsdiep and Ketelmeer to drop down into Flevoland at Ketelsluis. The good weather had deserted us with the result that we moved through a monochrome landscape of grey water, grey reed beds, grey artificial islands and grey sky all veiled in still air heavy with moisture. All of which changed as we made the six metre drop in two locks as the rain poured down! Taking the Lange Vaart route we found that we had quite a way to go before we found a canalside stop at ‘t Gat Van Dornspiek just beyond Dronten. As is the way of it down in Flevoland, the name of the mooring derives from that given to the sandbank by fishermen in the old Zuiderzee for navigation and orientation purposes.
Investigation in improved weather next afternoon revealed that the mooring lies in an area of rough woodland which, in turn, is part of a large park with several differently managed zones. One of these zones appears to feature the hump of the sandbank as a grassy knoll. Plenty of scope for walking, cycling or (if you have one) horse riding yet the boat moorings are very secluded. We appreciated the peace as we had a lot to think about not only in relation to our new boat plans but also having received news that Paul’s mother had taken another fall precipitating a great deal of worry about her care. Luckily, she seemed to pick up again, for now, so we did not need to rush back to the UK to deal with a crisis.
By Monday morning summer had passed and the temperature was decidedly chilly even when the sun did come out. We moved on through scenery more like that of a river than a canal until we saw a sign to a mooring inside a lake with no name at PK12. We found a fixed wooden pontoon that looked as if nobody but the local ducks used it where we had another quiet night, even though a busy road passes along the opposite side of the lake. Next day was characterised by sharp showers and little sunshine as we continued through Almere Buiten to Vaartsluis hoping for a mooring for shops and a tap for some water. From the canal, Almere seemed like an endless housing estate which must have contained supermarkets but none was visible to us as we peered down side streets, not that there were many places to tie up in any event. Nor were there any water holes, although the lock hut sported a tap but no signs of life or drops of liquid could be raised, the result of automation.
We had been taking our time through Flevoland in the hope of improved weather for the crossing of Markermeer and IJmeer on the approach to Amsterdam. The wind was still too strong for a comfortable ride out on the meeren so we elected to ‘make do’ with the resources we had. Remembering the Noorderplassen where we had enjoyed a pleasant stop in 2009 we headed back there. The pontoon before the lift bridge where we had moored last time was largely occupied by ‘works in progress’ which looked more permanent than ‘passanten 3x24h’. The question was: how do we open the bridge in order to gain access to a rather attractive passanten place on the lake side just beyond? We moored up and took strong coffee to stimulate the ‘ze little gray cells’, then with Dutch dictionary to the fore, we set about cracking the self-service instructions. For future reference, what you do is: put the bow up to the post with the rocker button and let the crew hang over the guard rail with increasingly lengthening reach as the boat drifts away so as to relentlessly hold in the button as long as it takes for the bells to ring then stop (not just start ringing, by the way) as the road barriers come down. The opening process is slow but the result was, we thought, worth it.
The crew went ashore to investigate the environs, returning with the exciting news of her first sighting of a Spoonbill having found a box of leaflets about the walks and cycle paths in the area and followed the path to a bird hide on the Lepelaar Plassen. There a local man had lent her his field glasses and confirmed that a white bird with its back resolutely turned to her was, indeed, a Lepelaar. The leaflet showed that there is much to see and do here, including a trek to the visitor centre and another to an area where beavers might be seen. Again, zones of different plantings have been laid out and have now had time to mature to provide excellent wildlife habitat.
During the evening the wind rose steadily and lashing rain set in making a crossing to Amsterdam next day seem increasingly unlikely.
28 August to 3rd September 2013
We spent three busy days as guests of SRF, Harlingen where we were accomodated in a spacious box with water and electricity. Lex and his colleagues could not do enough to help us to everything we wanted to know about their 19.95m Luxe Motor hulled live-aboard barges. We saw round one of these ships which was in the shed having some work done and Lex lent us a van to drive down to Dordrecht where Peter and Marie-Michelle spent the whole day showing us their ship and talking things through with us. Lunch was at a Brasserie overlooking the junction of the Noord, Beneden Merwede and Oude Maas where we sampled the Dordrechtse Potjs – chicken and mushrooms in peanut sauce. We came away with many photographs of ‘Phoenician’ and lots of notes and ideas for our proposed next boat, already named ‘Beatrice’.
Friends Dick and Midge came over from Alkmaar on Thursday and took us out to lunch in Workum. Paul was inducted into the ways of the Dutch Croquette, a meat and potato affair which you squash onto bread then smear with mustard. Dick and Diane tried the Workumse Broodjes which turned out to be a substantial plate of brown bread roll filled with hot strips of ham and mushrooms in a sweet and sour sauce. We ate in the square of this lovely old town on the IJsselmeer, vowing to visit again by boat. We looked in at the Jopie Huisman Museum before returning to Harlingen via Makkum (and Albert Heijn!).
By Friday morning we had gathered as much information on ‘Beatrice’ as we could handle so needed to find somewhere quiet to moor up and digest it all. But before we headed for a grassy bank somewhere we had to put in a stop at Franeker, just a short distance inland from Harlingen. Despite allied bombing of the shipyards, much of the original centre of Franeker remains including the building which particularly attracted us, the Planetarium.
Wool-comber and self-taught mathematician and astronomer, Eise Eisener, was so appalled by the panic of his fellow townspeople when a conjunction of planets in 1774 led them to believe that the end of the world was nigh that he designed and built a planetarium for his living room ceiling with which to educate them. After seven years of painstaking work he brought his plan to fruition in 1781 and it is still in perfect working order toady. The planetarium and its mechanism is the most amazing sight which is quite beautiful as well as accomplished on many levels. But it is the setting which astonishes being above a room with a cooking stove, dining table, bed alcove and presses where Eise, his wife and the one surviving child of his first two lived (their second child did not come along until after the project was finished!).
Time for that grassy bank, which we found just to the north of the village of Warga yet with the buildings of Leeuwarden still visible on the skyline to our north. During our three night stay there the weather changed putting an end to the warmth and sunshine which was replaced by cloudy skies and howling winds. The temperature plummeted to the extent that we resorted to putting the heating on for a while on Sunday night. So it was on a damp, chill and windy Monday morning that we moved on to Grou for water and victuals, the latter from Friesland’s own supermarket chain ‘Poiesz’.
With resources topped up, the plan was to find another grassy bank or similar. The howling wind and poor depth put paid to a vigorous attempt we made to come alongside a fence-type mooring just south of Pikmeer. Then our carefully planned route, courtesy of PC Navigo, let us down with the water too shallow to risk the channel we intended to take to Joure. Hasty consultation of every navigation aid we had, including (or should that be ‘especially’) our Bennelux road atlas, a new route was found as we chugged across Seekermeer in the wake of a commercial vessel. Taking the channel for Langeweerwielen we were relived to find alongside mooring at Scharsterland which we could get onto for wind direction and depth. Here we spent a quiet evening enjoying the open skies of the Fries countryside in improving weather.
We woke on Tuesday to a lovely morning and set out to enjoy cruising again after the previous day’s disappointing experience. We crossed the meers at Langeweer and Tjeukemeer in excellent sea conditions and set off onto the canals leading us south into Overijssel and a possible overnight stop by the Driewegsluis to the north of Ossenzijl.
Plans are always flexible, however. There is a bend on the Helemovaart where everybody takes a photograph as it combines those quintessential ingredients of any Dutch canal picture: a windmill, a sailing barge and a lock. It also has a free fixed pontoon for visitors of up to three days which we could not pass by. Rottige Meente turned out to have much of interest with paths providing walks or bike rides around the peat digging canals with their houses and lakes. There is an old American Windmill as well as two of the regular Dutch sort, the tjalk moored in front of one. The icing on the cake is the old lock, now nicely restored, with two arches inside the chamber which are the site of the sluices. Away from roads and much habitation, this is one of those delightful stops that we found almost by accident and will certainly return to.
21st to 27th August 2013
After taking our time over the last stretch of our journey, we decided that it was time we got a move on in the direction of Harlingen where we had an appointment at the SRF shipyard in a week’s time. The De Ketting moorings are for 24 hours only so we had used up our time there, and very pleasant it had been, so had an extra incentive to be on our way. After crossing Zwartemeer and Kadoelermeer, we made the turn for Voorstersluis, the entry lock onto the Zwolse Vaart. Here we dropped 6 m into the Noordoostpolder to cruise through reclaimed land below sea level, dropping another meter in the lock at Marknesse.
We decided to make use of the free moorings just beyond the Marknesse lock for an overnight stop. Drainage of the polder was completed during World War 2 but food and fuel shortages meant that the town of Marnesse had to wait until the 1950’s before permanent buildings could be erected, the early residents living in houseboats. Although Marknesse is a new town and lacks the built environment of, say, the Hanza towns, it is still a place to wander around. The lock is always a place to watch boats passing but the Marknessevaart that branches off the main canal has quays to investigate as well as a facility to service the vast fleet of agricultural machinery required to farm the polder. The centre of town has shops and cafes either side of a wide street which leads up to an inner canal with a fountain. Just before the canal a corner has been fenced off to create a memorial to the crews of a Lancaster and a Wellington which went down in the IJsselmmer on their return from bombing raids on Germany. The names, ranks, ages and nationalities of these RAF crews are recorded along with their story with a bent propeller from one of their aircraft placed alongside a wooden cross in a well-tended garden.
Next morning we cruised along to Emmelord, hoping to find a place at the first mooring from which to make a shopping expedition but there was no room so we turned up the Lemstervaart to make one more stop at a nice quay just before Lemmer. This quay has been paved and equipped with a table and seats, all behind a locked gate so both commodious and secure. Such an attractive spot that boats have to vie with fisherman who squeeze round the side of the gate in order to set up for the day in comfort. We took the place vacated by a departing boat so had no trouble but later arrivals had to either endure a stand-off to get rods moved enough to be able to come alongside, or give in after a loud exchange of words and cruise on. The other quays along this canal, which are in the process of being renovated, seemed to have gone overboard on being fenced off but perhaps this will exclude the fishermen and avoid unpleasant conflict.
Friday was a day of two halves. We set off on a sunny morning with the intention of visiting the Ir. DF Woda Gemaal, the steam pumping house at Lemmer which is said to be the oldest in The Netherlands. Paul’s research had indicated that it would be open and that we could moor outside. Having never been through Lemmer before, we elected to pay the 5 Euros toll to pass through the town on the canal, and perhaps find an alongside place to moor for a spell ashore. We had a quiet lock up to IJsselmeer level at Friesesluis but arrived at the Lemstersluis into the town to find a queue of other craft waiting for the lock.
The wait gave us a chance to appreciate the grand entrance to Lemmer which the lock created with its two towers and lamp standards at the four corners of the chamber. Once inside, we were relieved of our toll money before being released into the crowded Binnenhaven basin where we jockeyed for position in the flotilla of boats going our way and in the face of the queue for the lock going the other way, not to mention the moored craft,as we waited for Oudesluisbrug to be lifted. This let us into ‘t Dok where there were alongside spaces but we passed them up, finding the press of tourist shops and cafes along the quayside too busy for our taste. Soon we hovered in line for the Flevobrug to lift at the end of the short tolled passage and felt we had paid a lot for a little. Lemmer might once have been a charming village of fishing cottages but this was now almost unrecognisable under the press of boating and tourism interests.
Now we passed a number of huge marinas before turning towards the gemaal. We could see the moorings ahead but a lift bridge lay between us and them with no indication of how to cause this to operate. We tied up by one of the marina offices and the crew went inside to enquire, returning crestfallen. The bridge no longer lifts and the nearest mooring from which to approach on foot was in the large and crowded Gemeente Binnenhaven. A short conference led to the conclusion that we didn’t want to pay for an expensive berth in a crowded boat park just to walk a fair step to see a steam pump house which, superficially, didn’t hold a candle to either Croquius on Harlemermeer or the Damphmachinenhaus in Potsdam. It was a lovely day for going out onto the IJsselmeer so we elected to pass through Prinses Margarietsluis and make for Hindeloopen.
After a crowded pen out of Lemmer we ended up on the IJsselmeer where we could have been over an hour earlier had we not wasted time and money on Lemmer, although we did learm that we should cross it off our list of places to visit again! Now the day began to look up as we made a coastal run past Stavoren until the church tower of Hindeloopen beckoned us into the buoyed channel for the harbours. Once inside the breakwater we found signs which directed us clearly to the Hylper Haven away from the big marina complex, and to the Harbourmaster’s reporting station from whence we were allocated a quayside berth. We accepted that we would be rafted onto as this is a busy little harbour in the summer season, but initial impressions indicated that we would like Hindeloopen so it was worth it. The crew went briefly ashore to rustle up wine and ingredients for dinner from a handy little supermarket, acquiring a walking tour in English from the tourist information office along the way. She returned having fallen in love with the town!
We waited until after dinner before taking the walk, by which time there were few other people about yet the evening was a pleasant one for a stroll. Our mooring lay beside the small manual lock and lift bridge which gives access to the narrow inner canals which criss-cross the old town. Beside this the lock keepers’ cottage, built in 1619, makes quite a landmark with its clock tower rising above the haven to ring out the hour and half hour.
We made our way through streets lined with houses which mostly date form the Golden Age of Dutch trade. Most fascinating of all the houses were those which were the homes of the Commanders of the VOC ships (Dutch East Indiamen) which had a distinctive frontage from which an anchor would be hung when the Commander wished to indicate that he was available for cargo. These men were most often away at sea during the summer and would close up their houses, consigning their wives and children to a sort of wooden hut, ‘likhuis’, at the bottom of the garden for the duration of their absence.
Hindeloopen was relatively isolated from the rest of Friesland so developed its own culture and language, taking from the countries with which they traded. English and Scandinavian languages were incorporated into Dutch and Fries. Chinz fabrics became the basis for the wealthy to develop a complex traditional costume and a way of decorating rooms and furniture with unique colours and patterns established itself, still produced by local craftsmen. We pressed our noses against the shop windows as we wandered the town, crossing the inner channels by wooden bridges, some of which had lifting central sections just big enough to let a yacht mast pass through. Arriving back at the Hylper Haven, we looked out at the meer from beside the old lifeboat station established over a century ago. These days some rather powerful RIBs do the work of safety on the water, giving tourist trips on nice days.
We would have liked to stay on In Hindeloopen but the weather forecast was for increasing wind strength from noon on Saturday and, since our onward passage to Harlingen would take us onto the Waddenzee beyond the Afsluitdijk we thought discretion was best and we should leave. Back out on the IJsselmeer in a chill wind we had a good run up to Lorenzsluis, apart from being badly washed by a big German cruiser passing too close at full throttle. As it was good sailing weather, we had to dodge many yachts and were unable to turn across the German Boat’s wake because ‘steam must give way to sail’! We required extreme caution when opening cupboards for the rest of the day and a bag of potatoes broke loose and scattered rolling things across the galley floor!
Arriving at the lock we found a lot, a lot of boats waiting for the starboard of the two chambers. Chaos began when the tannoy announced that we should all turn round and go into the port chamber. This was accomplished with some damage to the established order of arrival. Then we had to all fit into the lock, the keeper being determined to cram in as many boats as he could. Just three motor cruisers shared with many, many yachts of which one crew was decidedly incompetent and hit the lock wall, our stern and another yacht’s bow before close of play.
After a very modest rise in water level, we were all let loose onto the sea. This was only Eleanor’s second taste of salt water and her first coastal passage! It wasn’t far to Harlingen, though, but quite challenging as all the boats had to stay within a buouyed channel to avoid sand banks and it was very busy. Rather like being on the M1 on a Friday afternoon only without any lanes to separate traffic!
Our arrival at the Harlingen channel coincided with that of the big ferry from the Friesian islands of Terchelling and Vlieland so we hung back and followed it in. Thankfully, there was less traffic now and we had a calm lock down in Tsjerk Hiddessluis onto the Van Harinxmakanaal. An immediate turn to starboard took us into the canalside moorings HWSV which we had chosen in favour of the busy, salt water and tidal Noorderhaven. We were two days early for our appointment at the SRF yard so had time to look around Harlingen from our base in these central moorings before we headed out to the industrial edge of the city. But before we could do anything else we had to wash the salt water off Eleanor and this, of course, meant that we woke to rain next morning!
Harlingen has always been a busy trading port which did not suffer from the decline in trade when the Zuiderzee silted up and the VOC failed. Its only period of decay was during Napoleon’s blockade of trade intended to isolate England but effectively sealing off all shipping into the Zuiderzee. The city boasts over 100 monuments, most of them buildings around the old havens. We acquired a leaflet from the tourist kiosk and wandered around admiring the old merchant’s houses, warehouses, entrepots, administrative buildings and workers cottages tucked into the little spaces in between. Some, but by no means all, of the inner channels have been filled in so we needed to use our imagination to conjure up images of how the city might have looked in the days of sail – and busy trade with England.
Monday and it was time to head out to SRF. Before we left we had time to notice the Hunter Pilot 27 moored behind us. This model of yacht had been our first boat so we were filled with nostalgia. It was interesting to compare the yacht with Eleanor, who seemed so big and robust in comparison. Then we moored at SRF’s boatyard and were taken on a tour where we saw what we hope will be the next model of boat we shall have, a 19.95 m Luxe Motor. This live-aboard barge makes Eleanor look just as small and fragile as she made the Hunter Pilot 27 look! It was strange to experience our boats past, present and future all in one day!
14th to 20th August 2013
It appears that the quayside spaces in Zwolle are not subject to mooring fees so we spent three nights there, moving across to the other side of the canal to keep out of the way of the mooring used by the Rederij trip boat as well as finding more shade from the sun, the weather having gone back to summer mode again. We spend a relaxing few days enjoying strolls around the old city and catching up on the kind of things that need to be done when you have changed country.
The Vispoortbrug just behind us does not normally open so we were surprised when, early one evening, the warning bells rang. We scurried up on deck and, sure enough, the bridge was lifting. Two small tugs, one fore and one aft, were slowly and carefully moving a house boat along the Stadsgracht with its narrow bridges. Several hours later, the same tugs made the return trip with a rather tatty old house boat for which, we presume, the earlier version was the replacement. We had never thought of what moving house might entail if you live in (or should that be on?) a house boat. We also fell to wondering what was to happen to the discarded model?
By Friday morning we felt that it was time we moved on so, after taking on water, we left Zwolle behind in favour of a place on the lakeside at Streng. We have moored here several times before and always find it good for the spirit. The view over the lake, reed beds and meadows has that ‘big sky’ feeling and the nearby hamlet of Holten makes for a charming destination for evening strolls. Three days on Streng and we felt fully recovered from the Rhine and from some long cruising days.
Needing food and water, we decided to go into Zwartsluis on the Monday morning. Although it was calm and clear as we cast off, as soon as we were out on Zwarte Water the wind strengthened and the rain came down, marring our view of lovely Hasslet as we went past. Mooring in Zwartsluis Passantenhaven in the rain we got thoroughly wet so we elected to stay put overnight. Better weather arrived and we were able to wander round this familiar town, visiting our favourite places which include Frederck Weijs’s gallery. The new Sluuspoort facility has been developed since our last visit and now includes a museum and several local organisations under one roof, including the VVV and Wereld Winkel who were the original occupants of the building. A little ferry now makes tours of the havens, stopping at the islands which were previously shut off from the public.
We made a new discovery at Zwartsluis, too. The Zintuigentuin or Sense Garden is tucked away on a secluded plot only 100 m long and 15 m wide. Here Albert Greveling has created a delightful warren of paths crammed with plant and objects to truly delight the senses, even in winter. He is not afraid to include decay as part of his celebration of nature and of man’s discarded items.
On leaving Zwartsluis behind us we made another brief cruise past Gennemuiden to moor in Vluchthaven De Ketting just beyond. This was the old refuge harbour from the days when Zwartemeer was open to the sea which makes a very pleasant passanten halt now. From there it is possible to walk into Gennemuiden with its inner and outer harbours and pleasant green areas. The town itself is a very pleasant place with the usual shops and other facilities but, for us, it suffered a bit in comparison to the old Hansa towns of Doesburg, Zutphen, Hattem, Zwolle and Hasselt.
7th to 13th August 2013
Before we left Oberwinter our guests, Linda & Abi, took a wander round this engaging town, returning bearing breakfast pastries. Our cruise for the day took us to Koln where we were relieved to find that a new pontoon had been intsalled to replace the rickety old cake-walk, but the modern one was just as long a walk to the facilities and exit gate as the old one had been. We had no desire to make the treck to visit the city again so stayed on board doing chores whilst Linda & Abi hiked out to explore. Perhaps our negative view of Koln set the bar low but our guests were moderately enthusiatic having taken roughly the same route as we had on our previous visit.
The last leg of our journey with Linda and Abi on board was the four-hour stretch to Dusseldorf through flat and industrial landscape. Mooring at Marina Dusseldorf in what is now called Medienhafen, the city instantly brought us all under its spell. Linda and Abi went out for a preliminary look around then we all ate out at the local Trattoria before taking a turn around the hafen with its wonderful architecture. Unfortunately this triggered Paul’s allergy, rendering him hors de combat for the next 24 hrs or so.
In the morning the three women went up the Rhine Tower to the viewing platform 168 m above the city and the river. The views were amazing, giving a different perspective on buildings previously seen only at ground level. Next we wandered around the old centre, refreshing ourselves with coffee and cake before the shops enticed us in. Diane returned to Paul and Eleanor, leaving Linda and Abi to drink in more of the city before our last supper on board.
Their week with us seemed to have flown by and we felt quite lonely after seeing them off in a taxi next morning. Our usual post-guest salve is to start cruising so we were back out on the river and just passing under the Autobahn bridge as Linda and Abi’s airport bus was crossing above us. Paul had decided that he didn’t want to stop until we were across the border into The Netherlands – a tall order. Our departure was impeded by having to hang back in the hafen entrance until we could find a way to slot into the heavy traffic, the lock keepers’ strike having ended thus releasing a constant stream of commercial vessels going both up and down stream. As we got into our stride, Dusseldorf gave us one last spectacle with a fire boat passing us, hoses at full pressure!
We had a long, tiresome last day on the Rhine, exacerbated by plummeting temperatures and squally showers. Our dress went from shorts and T-shirts to jeans, jumpers and jackets, and it was hard to believe that we had spent weeks sweltering in the heat until just a few days before. The hectic traffic did thin out a bit as the day wore on but we faced another challenge as the river level had been constantly falling and was barely a meter above Pegel nullpunkt at Emmerich. We calculated that we would still be able to pass over the bar into Bijland Plas, the first possible Dutch stop. Either the information on which we based our calculation was wrong or the bar has sanded up in recent years but we nearly grounded and Paul had a helming challenge to get us onto the river again by reversing as there wasn’t room to turn between the rocky sides of the entry channel.
The evening now cleared up to the extent that we had a pleasant run along the Pannerdens Kanaal and onto the Gelderse IJssel before we found a berth at WSV De Engel up IJsselarm De Steeg. It was 8 pm by now and, after ten hours cruising, we were well over due and aperitif and a meal! We found this mooring to be peaceful and were able to relax and re-charge our batteries during the following day, having decided to stay for two nights.
As luck would have it, our stay coincided with one of the relatively rare open days at nearby Kasteel Midachten so we enjoyed a tour of the interconnecting ground floor rooms still with their original furnishings and the basement servants area, part of which contained a display of photographs along with some of the clothes seen worn in them. Luckily, there is a guide book with descriptions in both Dutch and English which helped us to make sense of what we saw. The Kasteel has been in the same family for four hundred years with the current owners still living in the courtyard cottages, the main house now being a wedding and special events venue. The Kasteel is moated and set in well-tended gardens which offer a variety of different themes and are a delight to wander.
Next day we made a late start but only had a short journey to make to Doesburg where we celebrated being back in The Netherlands with a Big Shop at the rather convenient Albert Heijn supermarket! Another late start the following morning saw us set out for the little Passantenhaven at Wijhe, the traditional half-way stop on the Gelderse IJssel run. We felt drawn towards making a stop at Zutphen as we love it so much but any regret at passing by was scotched when we saw how full the little Vispoort was.
With the current, which had been in our favour to the tune of 7 or 8 kph, gradually falling off, it took us over four hours to cover the 60 k to Wijhe in infriendly weather characterised by spiteful squalls. Once more, we had changed from shorts and T-shirts to jeans, jumpers and jackets during the course of a few hours. It was raining again as we turned into the haven and went to moor alongside the finger we had used before. But something was not quite right and we found the finger had shrunk dramatically in our absence. In fact the whole haven had been re-configured to accommodate fewer boats, and only small ones at that. We just did not fit so went back out and moored on the quay. This didn’t last long, however, as we got badly rocked by the wash of a passing commercial.
Our next option was the marina at Hattem. Much as we love Hattem we didn’t need all the facilities included in the mooring fee at the marina. Paul suggested that we head for Zwolle where the fees are cheaper so we cruised on into improving weather, having a quick passage through the lock and lifting bridges in our way. But, oh dear! The fair was in town and the quayside by the passantenhaven was all lights and noise from the big rides there! Added to which, there were no spaces for a boat our size. On our previous visit we had seen a boat continue beyond the pontoons and moor at the quay by Vispoortbrug so we decided to seek refuge there. There was a space on the Thorbeckegracht side which, getting the nod from a local, we ducked into. It was mercifully quiet there and we were able to enjoy a pleasant evening in peace.