Archive

Monthly Archives: July 2017

How to Avoid Mooring Fees on the Dutch Waterways

How was the beginning of your week? Ours was spectacular!

We were moored on a quiet visitor berth at the Nieuwe Meer Jachthaven at the northern end of the Westeinderplassen on the outskirts of Aalsmeer town centre. This was one of the best moorings we’ve found to date. It wasn’t free, but at €9.20 (£8.24) for a night, it was pretty good value.

We had access to water and electricity and a mooring with an unrestricted and far reaching view of the Westeinderplassen. I took the photo below on Monday night at dusk. How’s that for a sunset?

Sunset over the Westeinderplassen

Sunset over the Westeinderplassen

While I sat on the front deck, sipping an excellent Belgian beer, I considered the coming fortnight. My planned trip to Philadelphia to collect our new basset, Agnes, is hanging in the balance.

American Airlines won’t fly animals if the temperature at the airport exceeds eighty five degrees. On each day over the last three weeks, the temperature has risen to the limit or exceeded it. The forecast for the coming week isn’t any better. We’ll continue with our plans until next Wednesday, the day before my scheduled flight, and hope for a cold spell, but things aren’t looking good.

In the meantime, we need to find somewhere safe for Cynthia to stay for five or six days while I’m away. She is still feeling quite weak after her recent illness so she doesn’t feel either able or willing to do any boating on her own.

We need a marina or yacht club close to shops, and with water, electricity, gas, and a chemical toilet disposal point.

The last item on the list has been the most difficult to find.

Our twenty one litre capacity toilet cassette will last the two of us three days at a push. I’ll probably be away for six days, so the cassette will need changing at least once. At some stage, we hope to buy a second cassette. I say ‘hope’ rather than ‘intend’ because, frustratingly, Thetford don’t appear to offer a spare waste tank for their Porta Potti Excellence.

Our only option at the moment appears to be to spend £130 for a whole new toilet and throw the top part away. We don’t want to waste money, but we’re running short of options.

However, a spare waste holding tank is no use to Cynthia if she’s on her own. A 21kg plastic box full of liquid is too much for her to manage, not that we can find anywhere to empty it.

I carefully researched the availability of chemical toilet disposal points before we committed to the removal of our sea toilet and the installation of a cassette. My Waterkaarten app indicated that, although most marinas don’t cater for chemical toilets, there are enough on the network to allow us to cruise without too much difficulty.

Unfortunately, over the last three months, we’ve discovered that the Waterkaarten app information isn’t always either up to date or accurate. The app’s inaccuracy has really frustrated us recently.

At the beginning of the week, we cruised two hours north to the southern outskirts of Amsterdam to investigate mooring possibilities at one of the six marinas/yacht clubs on Nieuwe Meer, another of the area’s many large lakes.

I did some research before we left. On my Waterkaarten app, just one of the six businesses offering moorings supposedly had a chemical toilet disposal point. I called the yacht club. The harbour master told us that we couldn’t get rid of our waste there, but suggested that a neighbouring club would be able to accommodate us. No one answered the phone there, so the only way we could decide if the location would suit us was to visit it.

We chose Nieuwe Meer because of its access to public transport for me. The yacht club is a short walk from a rail station with a direct link to Schiphol a few miles away. On the way back from Philadelphia, I don’t want to spend a minute longer than necessary on a noisy train with a new dog unused to public transport, and possibly unfamiliar with toilet etiquette on trains, or anywhere else for that matter. I’ll be carrying a plentiful supply of wet wipes, toilet rolls and rubber gloves, and hoping that I don’t have to answer any difficult questions about personal sexual preferences if I get searched at the airport.

After spending the last few weeks gently cruising on and between rural lakes, the two hour journey towards Amsterdam was a little depressing. Our first brush with commercial noise and dirt was Schiphol airport.

The airlines have a lot to answer for.

Although we’re very happy with our little cruiser, we still both enjoy walking around marinas looking at boats for sale, idly thinking about a bigger and better floating home. There are some beautiful boats on offer over here, including many Dutch built Linssen yachts.

The bigger Linssens are way out of our league, but the models the same length of Julisa would be just about within reach if we sold everything we own, including the dogs (just joking Cynthia), and lived on bread and water for the rest of our lives.

So we’ve looked at a few second hand Linssens, mainly at Kempers Watersports, which is just six miles from Schiphol. All of the boats, unless they have been washed that day, have grey smears and runs on them. “It’s pollution from 30-40 passenger aircraft that fly overhead every hour,” one salesman told us with a philosophical shrug. If the deposits from aviation gas have that effect on shiny white boats over such a short period, I can’t imagine what impact it has on the people living in the area. I’m pleased that we’ll be moving on to the quiet and pollution free Friesland area shortly.

The canal from the Westeinderplassen towards Amsterdam, the not so succinctly named Ringvaart van de Haarlemmermeerpolder, passes nine hundred metres to the south of one of the main runways. I’ve just measured the distance. OK, I know I have too much time on my hands at the moment, but I’m happy. Leave me alone.

On the cruise towards Amsterdam, we involuntarily ducked twice as enormous aircraft filled the sky above us. Neither of us had a camera ready to catch the drama but, with planes passing at the rate of one every minute or two, we were confident that we’d catch one or two on the way back. We didn’t allow for Sod’s Law which dictates that things will never go according to plan when you need or want them to.

We slowed down on the return journey as we approached the runway. We slowed down even more when the sky remained empty. We stopped, then reversed, executed a pretty little circle or two, ate some lunch, rested and grew old. For the first time in months, the sky remained empty. I don’t know why we wanted the photo’s in the first place, but we were disappointed not to get them.

An unusual canalised business

An unusual canalised business

The background noise increased as we approached Amsterdam’s outskirts, as did the length of time before bridges were raised for us. At one, we twiddled our thumbs for twenty minutes, trying to stay in the canal centre despite a lively cross wind. While I waited, I was able to assess the effect that the bow thruster has on my battery bank. I won’t be using the bow thruster quite so often in future.

The yacht clubs we’ve visited so far have been quite informal affairs.

This one wasn’t.

“Don’t go over there. I want you here!” the harbour master shouted at us as we headed for an empty spot at the end of a wooden pier with an unrestricted view of the vast lake.

“How long do you want to stay? How long is your boat?” he asked as he constantly glanced at his watch.

“One night. Nine point five metres.” We always massage the truth a little when we declare our length.

“OK. I can fit you in. The rate is €1.70 per metre a night, so one night will cost you €17.00”

The rate was horribly expensive, and the harbourmaster’s maths was wrong, but we needed somewhere safe to stay for Cynthia. At least we had been told that they had a chemical toilet emptying point. As I paid, I asked where it was.

“I don’t know who told you that, but we don’t have one. I’ve been in the boating industry for many years. I’ve never heard of anything like that!”

We left immediately. The lack of toilet facilities was the final straw, but we didn’t like the noise or the harbour master’s brusqueness after unfailing Dutch politeness everywhere else we’ve been.

We were able to tick another first off our Dutch boating list on the way back. We topped up our diesel tank for the first time.

Again, the otherwise excellent Waterkaarten app has been a little misleading. Several marked diesel filling points haven’t been where they’re marked on the map and, on one occasion, a marked diesel point was actually a petrol station on the far side of a busy road from the canal. Many of the boats on the Dutch waterways have small outboard engines, so I assume that a roadside petrol station would work for them if they had a small can on board. However, they aren’t really practical if you want a couple of hundred litres of diesel.

Anyway, we passed a lakeside cafe with clearly marked petrol and diesel pumps, so we tied up on their mooring. We usually keep a reasonable amount of cash on board because of the regular problems we have with our UK and US credit and debit cards and, on occasion, my Caxton FX prepaid currency card.

I only realised that we were nearly out of cash after the very pleasant eastern European lady serving us had squirted 110 litres of the most expensive diesel we’ve found in the eleven countries we’ve visited so far into our tank.

I walked into the cafe praying that the card would work, especially after dimly seeing the burly cafe owner in his grubby white vest through a haze of thick cigarette smoke. He sat at a wooden table with half a dozen beer drinking eastern European cronies discussing dark deeds.

The cafe’s aged card terminal wheezed and sighed, and eventually spat out all five of our cards in disgust, which left me more than a little worried. All conversation stopped at the cafe owner’s table as the owner stared at me as he scratched his armpit with grease smeared fingers. He then walked behind the cafe counter, still staring at me, to drop some chips into a deep fat fryer. I understood why the cafe was mostly empty.

Back on the boat, we searched the boat for cash, emptying wallets and purses, drawers and jars. We found €163 to pay the bill, much of it in €1 and €2 coins. As I paid, cafe conversation resumed, and I was able to relax a little.

We left the Albanian brotherhood behind as quickly as possible. I don’t actually know whether they were Albanian, or a brotherhood, but they were up to no good, and they made me feel very uncomfortable.

We cruised two hours back to our not so convenient but far more reasonable, quiet and friendly Monday night mooring. The harbour master welcomed us back and offered us a solution. He would find space for us at his little yacht club. He didn’t have a chemical toilet point but, in a gesture typical of the generous and caring Dutch, he told us that he would help Cynthia empty the cassette into one of his shower block toilets.

Even though Aalsmeer doesn’t have a rail link to Schiphol, it has a very frequent bus service. I provisionally booked the mooring with him, and made a mental note to increase my rucksack supply of clean up tissues for the bus ride back to the boat.

From Aalsmeer, we cruised southwest towards Leiden via a lake system called the Kaag lakes. The Waterkaarten app showed a number of moorings on free to use Keiver island.

Maybe I should help the Waterkaarten developers update their app. There’s an astounding volume of ever changing data to keep up with. We quickly discovered that free moorings on Keiver island were a thing of the past, not that we were complaining.

The island is a welcome haven for boats on the windswept lake system. Dozens of boats, many of which dwarfed Julisa, were tied up to new pine mooring posts sunk deep below the freshly mown lake bank next to a mass of brambles bowed under the weight of ripening blackberries.

The school summer holidays had begun, so many of the boats carried rubber dinghies, canoes and delighted children who paddled happily between towering yachts without a care in the world.

The Dutch like to camp out in style. A group of three retired boating couples moored close to us surrounded by gazebos, windbreaks, and barbecue paraphernalia enjoyed an al fresco meal in the summer sun. As usual over here, everyone was as relaxed as they were friendly.

We met the island’s stewards in the evening as they slowly walked from boat to boat collecting mooring fees. The couple told us that the local council had sold the island to a local business owner two months earlier. The pair didn’t receive any wages. They trimmed trees, mowed grass and collected fees in exchange for a free summer mooring on a heavenly island. The husband left at 5am every day to go to work. He took his dinghy to the mainland where he parked his car. He spent his evenings after work cutting the island grass while he chatted to his ever changing guests. Life’s not bad when you get the balance right like that.

We’ve discovered that there aren’t actually many free places to moor on this part of the Dutch waterways network. We’ve also discovered that we can virtually eliminate mooring fees completely if we make a simple lifestyle change.

There are many, many locations where you can’t moor on a lake-side bank for free, but there’s no charge for anchoring. Of course, if we were to anchor, we wouldn’t be able to let Tasha, and Agnes when she arrives, jump on and off the boat to attend to their toilet needs.

The simple solution, and one which I’ve been resisting, is to train them to do their business on the boat.

Pet owning yachtsmen and women are familiar with the concept. If they want to cross vast bodies of salty water with pets on board, they don’t have the option to stop next to a convenient patch of grass three or four times a day. They just take some grass with them.

Only it’s not usually grass, it’s carpet or, if they’re really posh, astroturf.

It’s easy, I’m reliably informed, to ‘scent’ a section of old carpet, and then encourage a dog to do its business on the carpet on a specific part of the deck every time they feel the need.

The main problem we would have would be getting them there.

Bassets are neither agile nor easy to carry. Each excursion would involve encouraging them to jump through the window which passes as our front door, then prevent them from completing the jump into the lake beyond. Each long and heavy dog would then have to be swung out over the water using the harnesses they always wear to help them negotiate the narrow walkway towards the bow.

The unlucky shepherd (should it be dogherd?) would then have to stop two stubborn bassets from wandering overboard on a dark night, reverse the process to get them back inside the boat, and then deal with cleaning a urine soaked and faeces covered section of musty old carpet.

Can you tell that I’m not a big fan?

Anchoring rather than mooring would save us a fortune. Our plan is to use the boat for five months, one hundred and fifty days, each year. The average cost is €1 per metre per night. Bankside moorings for a ten metre boat will cost us about €1,500 a season. Anchoring on lakes would save us maybe half of that.

Seven hundred and fifty euros would buy us a very good quality piece of carpet for the front deck. We could actually carpet the whole boat for that, but I’m still not convinced. I suspect that Cynthia wouldn’t be able to handle the physical side of the operation, especially swinging a harnessed dog over a night-darkened lake.

We’ll have to spend the money and save the worry. Either that, or buy the dogs nappies. I’m still joking Cynthia!

Right now, we’re back at our Leiden base collecting a few essential items for next week’s proposed trip, hoping and praying for cool weather on the other side of the Atlantic.

Because of my trip, I won’t be writing a newsletter next week. I hope that you can manage without us until then.

If You Enjoy These Newsletters, Please Help Support This Site

I enjoy writing newsletters which, I am often told, are very useful to anyone considering living an alternative lifestyle either afloat on the English or Dutch waterways, or leading a nomadic life on the road in the tiny living space offered by a motorhome. The downside is that adding content to the site, maintaining it, and answering dozens of emails each week takes a considerable amount of time. I invest up to twenty hours every week on the site and, over the course of the year, many hundreds of pounds. I can’t afford the investment in either time or money without a little help. If you are in the fortunate position to be able to afford a small financial subscription or one off donation to help with the site’s running costs, please click on this link to find out more. If you are one of the generous souls who already support the site, thank you!

Useful Information
Entertainment

Netherlands Boating by Engine and Sail

Life goes on, at least for some of us. Florence’s passing becomes a little more bearable as the days go by. Cynthia still can’t bear the thought of visiting the island again where Florence died so, on the few occasions we passed that way recently, Cynthia hasn’t been able to even look in that direction.

This difficult time has been eased by the many messages of support sent to us by site subscribers. We both appreciate each and every one of them, so thank you for your thoughts.

Time is a great healer and, as many of you suggested, so is getting another dog. In that respect, we’ve been very, very lucky.

Over the years, Cynthia has kept in touch with the lady responsible for looking for homes for the retired breeding bitches at the Pennsylvania kennel that Tasha, Florence and a number of other bassets Cynthia rescued came from. There’s usually a long waiting list for these dogs, but Cynthia jumped straight to the head of the queue because of her past track record.

She’s been offered two year old Agnes, Florence’s half sister.

Like Florence, Agnes was retired early because of complications when she gave birth to her first and last litter. Also like Florence, she has a very silly name for a dog. I was all for changing her name to something more suitable, like Bruiser, Fang, or Killer. For reasons completely beyond me, Cynthia wants to stick with Agnes.

We now need to tackle the logistics of collecting our new pooch from a breeder on the other side of the Atlantic. You might think that flying a total of 7,400 miles to collect a new pet is an outrageous and expensive extravagance. It would be if Cynthia hadn’t spent most of her life working for American Airlines. She, and now I, can take advantage of the airline’s lifetime of almost free travel for its thousands of retirees.

Providing that there’s a free seat on a flight, we can have it for a token charge. Hopefully, I’ll fly to Philadelphia at the end of the month. I plan to go a few days early to get to know Agnes (and to ask her if she wants to change her name), and to help prepare her for what is probably her first journey away from the kennel where she was raised.

We aren’t sure whether the airline will agree to carry Agnes at the moment. Their temperature limit for safe pet transport at the terminal, in the cargo area, or on the aircraft itself, is eighty five degrees fahrenheit. Temperatures in Philadelphia over the last two weeks have been consistently higher than that.

We’re praying for cooler weather in the weeks to come.

When we haven’t been keeping ourselves entertained with international dog rescue, we’ve spent much of our time carrying our belongings between the Hymer and Julisa.

Our original plan was to put the Hymer to bed for the summer after 15,000 miles of European exploration. Life has conspired against us. We’ve had to use the motorhome on several occasions recently to ferry Cynthia to and from an Eindhoven clinic, to collect Florence’s ashes and, on a more positive note, to enjoy a weekend’s sailing on a proper boat.

Our boatyard host, Jos, and his bubbly wife Brenda, invited Cynthia and I to crew for them in an annual tjalk race on the Markermeer close to Amsterdam.

In order to enjoy a stress free weekend sailing, we had to raise our stress levels considerably to get there. Our TomTom performed faultlessly until we reached Monnickendam town centre.

Friday is market day. The narrow town streets are blocked by stalls on market day. All traffic is diverted down even narrower streets filled with bicycles, nose to tail parked cars, and hundreds of market visitors.

It’s no place for an eight metre motorhome.

Unfortunately, we had no choice. With a solid queue of traffic behind us, we had to follow a stallholder’s directions down a footpath-thin side street. A handful of smiling market traders enthusiastically moved stalls, bicycles and people so that we could squeeze through the narrowest of gaps onto a series of roads on a housing estate more suitable for minis than motorhomes.

After half an hour of inching past double rows of parked cars we made it to our equally congested waterside campsite. A combination of good weather, the weekend, early summer holidays, and a number of different boating activities, meant that the campsite was bursting at the seams.

Sadly, Cynthia wasn’t one of the happy campers. She still felt incredibly weak after an adverse reaction to antibiotics weeks earlier. She was barely strong enough to manage the motorhome steps. A day hauling windlasses, ropes and sails was out of the question.

Two marinas, Hemmeland and Waterland, shared the water next to the campsite. A thousand sailboats bobbed gently on their moorings. Close to the harbour entrance, the relaxed crews of forty tjalks waited for the weekend’s first race.

After an early breakfast with Cynthia, I enjoyed a second hearty breakfast on Jos’s boat  – thank you Brenda. The bacon was a much enjoyed and often missed treat – before we untied our lines for the one hour cruise to the race start line.

Watching the Dutch helmsmen at work was a joy.

Many of the boats, including ours, left and entered the harbour breasted up. I don’t think that any of the tjalks had bow thrusters but, with two boats tied side by side and both engine’s running, the helmsmen managed inch perfect reversing through chaotic harbour traffic every time.

Sailing without wind

Sailing without wind

Saturday’s race appeared to be mayhem to the uninitiated. Forty tall masted tjalks under full sail jockeyed for position at the start line, then quickly headed in different directions, the different crews trying to make the most of the light breeze, each making judgements about wind speed and direction, and each plotting the best courses to keep their sails filled, which often meant heading directly towards their fellow competitors.

I’m not sure if anyone knew where their boats ranked in the race. I don’t think anyone cared. They were enjoying simply being on the water and having the opportunity to shout friendly insults at other crews when, as often happened, the boats gently bumped against each other.

Sunday was more about floating than racing, but we enjoyed an interesting diversion on the cruise from

McDonald's Good Times Island

McDonald’s Good Times Island

the harbour to the start line. The Dutch lady owner of the boat tied to us told me, with a mischievous grin, that we were going to stop at a McDonald’s drive through on our way to the start line.

I don’t speak Dutch and, although she spoke very good English, I thought something had been lost in translation. As we approached a small island, the crews of both boats stared and took photographs.

The island didn’t look quite right: tall palm trees waved in the gentle breeze, a waterfall cascaded down a smooth rock face, and a sandy beach rose from the lake towards a trio of picnic tables and a rock painted with a pair of familiar golden arches.

Sailing away from Good Times Island

Sailing away from Good Times Island

We had found McDonald’s ‘Good Times Island’.

The island has been constructed by the global fast food chain for use in one of their latest commercials. You can see the advert here. Fortunately for our health, they didn’t have an operational store outlet on the island. There were prominent signs to discourage landing, so we motored on to an underwhelming start to the race.

The water was glass smooth. Half an hour after hearing the starting gun, we still hadn’t managed to cross the start line. Jos’s heavy boat started badly, and then fell away.

After an eternity, we reached the first buoy. We should have turned on our way to a second buoy, and then a third, before repeating the route several more times. At our speed, completing the race would have taken days.

Jos continued in a straight line after a little banter with the stewards’ boat. We sunbathed and chatted and ate endless snacks as we floated slowly back to Monnickendam harbour. The absence of wind was really a blessing, but Jos didn’t realise that until the following week.

Removing a broken mast

Removing a broken mast

On the return cruise to Leiden, Jos noticed a small crack in his lowered mast. Just before we left his yard to continue our cruise, he unstepped his mast to explore the damage. The mast broke in two. He’s had to shelve his plans for a three week sailing holiday in the tjalk in September.

He’ll probably be able to do the repairs himself, once an engineer friend has made some calculations. He may have to replace the mast, which will be a very expensive affair.

How on Earth do you fix that?

How on Earth do you fix that?

A tjalk was just about within our budget when Cynthia and I began looking for a boat in the Netherlands late last year. I am so pleased that we didn’t buy one. We have neither the funds to maintain one, or the knowledge to sail it.

Our little motor cruiser was a very good choice.

After leaving Monnickendam, we stayed overnight in Leiden and then drove down to Eindhoven to book Cynthia in for another two days of treatment. She came away from the clinic feeling better than she has for weeks, so we decided to carry on cruising.

Cynthia may not have any energy for cruising, but she’s very happy sitting at a table fixing things. She’s very good at finding ways to store the things she needs on board. She wanted a sewing machine. I suggested that we didn’t have room for one. She found a solution. Here it is. Perfect for little jobs on a little boat.

The perfect sewing machine for a small boat

The perfect sewing machine for a small boat

Back on the water, we stayed for the night on Oude Kooi, the private island haven we stopped at for free a week earlier. This time, as storm clouds gathered overhead, a gentle knock on the sliding glass panel that serves as our boat’s front door, indicated that our second visit wasn’t going to be quite as cheap.

We couldn’t complain. The €10 fee secured us a mooring on our very own section of island. I think that the same boating organisation owns all of the island, but our section was separated from the bulk of the island by a wide, weed choked channel, bridged by a single thin and rotting log. Moorings on the far side were stem to stern with visiting boats and pampered owners who didn’t want to stop too far from the island’s basic amenities block.

We were happy with our own boat free stretch of canal bank and its comparative peace and quiet. We lay awake for hours listening to rain pounding on our thin canvas roof and constant thunder crashing as lightning flashed overhead.

A week later we returned to the same island mooring. We stopped on the same stretch on the same day of the week, at the same time of the day, and were asked for money by the same retired couple, working their round from a small dingy with a little outboard motor. This time they charged us €13.50 to stay the night.

At the rate the price is increasing, I think it’s time to move on to pastures new.

I mentioned that the island’s stewards knocked on our glass ‘front door’. The boat’s entrance is something to consider if you are thinking about buying a cruiser like ours.

My narrowboat, James, was typical of many liveaboard narrowboats. The gunnel at the bow was usually about mid thigh high when standing on the towpath, but  the towpath height and the canal water level could change the distance by as much as twelve inches. To climb onto the boat, I had to simultaneously throw a leg over the gunnel into the boat’s well deck, and duck under a support bar for the front deck cratch cover.

I’m pretty fit and flexible, so I didn’t think twice about climbing on and off my boat. Some of my guests weren’t quite as happy. I hosted hundreds of guests on my discovery days. I guess that up to 50% of them struggled to negotiate the small entrance, especially those with stiff joints. Most of my guests were definitely on the wrong side of twenty one!

Climbing into Julisa

Climbing into Julisa

Many cruisers don’t have doors at all. Julisa doesn’t. There’s a sliding glass window on both port and starboard sides of the cockpit. To get into the boat, we have to climb in the  same way as we did on James, but as there is less headroom on Julisa, simultaneously ducking and stepping initially stretched muscles I didn’t know I had. I’m used to the contortion now but, on the odd occasion we’ve had guests, there’s much huffing and puffing as they haul themselves through the narrow opening.

We’ve had to adapt to other challenges on Julisa. The most difficult to initially come to terms with was the bathroom.

The boat doesn’t have one.

The head, the toilet room in the bow, is just large enough to sit on with the door closed. There simply isn’t enough room for anything else other than a small and difficult to reach sink.

There’s no room for the most basic of showers.

We considered using a portable shower. We have one on the Hymer, bought when our gas boiler failed. The shower cost us €40 from French sports megastore Decathlon. It’s wonderful.

The seven litre collapsible shower packs down into a bag which takes up very little space. The shower

Plenty of marina shower blocks to choose from

Plenty of marina shower blocks to choose from

itself is a breeze to use. We’re actually using it on the Hymer at the moment. The gas boiler is on the blink again. We both love it, but we can’t easily use it on Julisa.

The Hymer has a wet room shower cubicle. Water drains through the shower tray into the motorhome’s 100l grey water tank, so cleaning up after a shower is easy.

We have no such luxury on the boat. The head is too small to fit a shower tray. Even if there was space, we couldn’t block the bow thruster access panel in the floor in front of the toilet.

We considered setting up a collapsible shower stall and tray in the cockpit area, or even on the canal bank when we moor. Neither option is really practical.

The simplest solutions are often the best, so we’ve decided not to wash. Not wash on the boat, that is, rather than not washing at all. Anyway, I’ve actually discovered that washing too often isn’t good for you.

Showering every day is a relatively recent innovation. Showering too often removes essential oils from both skin and hair leading to all kinds of skin complaints and split ends. Showering less often helps save water, protects our body’s essential oils, and shields us from too many guests.

Showering off the boat is easy. During the course of a half day cruise just about anywhere on the Dutch network, we’re likely to pass dozens of marinas, many of which offer short term moorings which include use of their on site facilities. We haven’t seen a Dutch shower block yet which is anything other than spotless, so we’re spoiled for choice wherever we go.

We’ll certainly have every opportunity to test new waterside facilities over the coming weeks. I’ll overcome another hurdle tomorrow by tackling our first Dutch lock.

I’ve negotiated thousands of English locks, often on my own, but I’ve usually been the only boat, or had just one other similarly sized narrowboat for company. I may have to share a lock with a commercial barge or two tomorrow, each up to one hundred metres long, and probably carrying a car on its rear deck.

I’ll also have the lock traffic light system to contend with. Jos, explained the sequences to me, “If there are two red lights, you must stop. If there are two red and two green lights, you can approach the lock. Two green lights mean that you can enter the lock. Four red lights tell you that the lock’s not working. One red light and two green lights means that one of the red lights isn’t working. Four green lights is an indication that the lock keeper’s having a party, and one green, one yellow, one red and one blue light means that you need your eyes tested!”

I’m not sure whether all, or indeed, any, of the advice was accurate, but I will proceed with care just in case.

Very few locks in the Netherlands are used to gain or lose height as they are on the UK network. Not that we come across many locks on our travels. Granted, we haven’t done  a great deal of cruising yet, but in 167 kilometres cruising on the Dutch waterways, we haven’t encountered one.

The locks primary purpose in the Netherlands is to control water levels rather than to gain or lose height as they do in the UK. Amsterdam is close to a vast body of water, the Markermeer, so there are a number of protective locks between the Markermeer and Amsterdam.

There’s a lot of water to control. At two hundred and seventy square miles, and at an average depth of sixteen feet, there’s more water in the Markermeer than in the entire English waterways network. It’s big, scary, and far too risky for our little boat if there’s anything stronger than a gentle breeze blowing.

If there’s not much in the way of wind tomorrow, we’ll cruise through the Markermeer’s centre, pausing to wave at far distant McDonalds’ Good Times Island, slip through a lock into the Ijsselmeer which dwarfs the vast Markermeer, and then race for shelter onto the comparatively tiny Ketelmeer, which is still twice the size of lake Windermere in England.

Yesterday, we stopped for the night at Kempers Watersports so that we could visit their on site restaurant for a special meal. It was our first anniversary. As we ate, we talked about all we have seen and done in the last twelve months. We’ve covered a lot of ground, figuratively and literally. Neither of us would change a thing.

Celebrating our first year together

Celebrating our first year together

Much as we’ve enjoyed our time in this particular area, we’ll be very pleased to escape the noise. Schiphol, a handful of miles north of us, is the world’s 12th busiest airport. Each year, sixty three million people pass through there. I’ll be one of them at the end of the month but, until then, I want to be as far away from noisy airport traffic as I possibly can.

If You Enjoy These Newsletters, Please Help Support This Site

I enjoy writing newsletters which, I am often told, are very useful to anyone considering living an alternative lifestyle either afloat on the English or Dutch waterways, or leading a nomadic life on the road in the tiny living space offered by a motorhome. The downside is that adding content to the site, maintaining it, and answering dozens of emails each week takes a considerable amount of time. I invest up to twenty hours every week on the site and, over the course of the year, many hundreds of pounds. I can’t afford the investment in either time or money without a little help. If you are in the fortunate position to be able to afford a small financial subscription or one off donation to help with the site’s running costs, please click on this link to find out more. If you are one of the generous souls who already support the site, thank you!

Useful Information
Entertainment
22

Dark Days on the Dutch Canals

 

We live an idyllic lifestyle; the weather is good, we are fit and healthy, and we have all the time in the world, and just about enough money, to tour or cruise wherever we want in Europe, but there’s a dark and dismal cloud hanging over Julisa today.

After two peaceful days on our island mooring, Oude Kooi on the Klein Kerkegat, we, our happy band of four, cruised for an hour north to Kempers Watersports on the Westeinderplassen to resupply.

The boat’s tiny 200l water tank wasn’t the problem, but our 21l capacity toilet cassette was close to overflowing. Initially we resisted buying a second cassette because of the logistics of finding somewhere to store it securely and out of sight. We’ve now discovered that there is more than enough room in the engine bay.

A second cassette will certainly be out of sight, but possibly not out of smell. Twenty litres of liquid poo slowly cooking beneath our feet as it nestles next to a hot engine as we travel is not a particularly happy thought, but I think the advantage of being able to stay another couple of days away from the expense of marina moorings outweighs the disadvantages of standing above a fetid slow cooker. I think we’ll be ordering a second cassette, and a packet of clothes pegs for our noses, in the very near future.

We both continue to marvel at the size of the waterways over here, and realise once more why narrowboats need to be as tough as they are. I was reminiscing earlier in the week, leafing through the vast collection of digital photo’s I took on my watery wanderings. Sections of canal barely wide enough to accommodate a 6’10” wide narrowboat are common, often through rocky cuttings where a wider waterway would have been a laborious and costly affair in the days when picks and shovels were the builders’ only tools. No wonder then that all narrowboats are a mass of scrapes and scratches.

The vast Westeinderplassan couldn’t be more different. Over fifty marinas circle the three and a half mile long, mile and a half wide lake. A jumble of tightly packed islands form narrow navigable channels through the lake’s northern section. Most are privately owned and used for recreation. Some are still used to grow strawberries and herbs. One, Starteiland, is a publically accessible nature reserve.

After a night at Kempers Watersports marina to top up with water, empty our cassette, and charge our battery bank, we ploughed for forty minutes through white topped swells to the much more placid public moorings sheltered by the small island.

We had the island, and the two hundred feet long jetty to ourselves, until another small cruiser arrived at dusk carrying a father and his two teenage sons. The father, a retired jazz musician from Aalsmeer at the lake’s northern tip, left the the boys and the boat to their own devices when his wife arrived in a second boat to collect him.

His plan was to allow the lads to enjoy a night on their own, fishing from the island using the boat as a refuge in case the weather turned. The reality was far different. After setting up a couple of rods close to the boat, the teenagers climbed into their bunks and slept until morning, leaving the island free for Tasha and Florence to explore at leisure.

After a night on the island, we chugged north to Aalsmeer, the largest town on the lake, and tied up on two hour visitor moorings close to the town centre for food shopping and a two hour cafe visit to use their free WiFi to update Cynthia’s MacBook operating system.

We had a choice of moorings for the night. Another island close to Aalsmeer offered free forty eight hour moorings, but with a lively breeze blowing and just one small space free between two expensive cruisers, we decided to return to the tranquility of Starteiland.

I wish we hadn’t.

That night was peaceful enough, apart from the ever present roar of passenger aircraft launching themselves into the sky from Schipol airport a handful of miles to the north, but the following day was anything but quiet.

At 8am a Dutch waterways work boat arrived to replace a section of broken pilings close to our mooring. The boat mounted excavator hammered in new 25’ long pilings all morning, and then six boats from the local sailing club arrived, each crewed by half a dozen excited children and their patient instructor.

By mid afternoon the work and pleasure boats had motored and sailed away, leaving us alone on the tree studded island again, free to relax and read or, for Florence and Tasha, free to explore the picnic tables for any sailing club lunchtime droppings.

Our two bassets are mischievous little gits. They are living vacuum cleaners, sucking up any morsel left on the ground. Their constant hoovering sometimes causes stomach upsets but, rather than subjecting them to the indignity and inconvenience of muzzles, we keep an eye on them to keep them away from from the inedible and unhealthy.

Neither are terribly active, both are wilfully stubborn, more inclined to sleep than exercise, but they both have huge characters, especially Florence.

Although it was Cynthia who rescued Florence from a basset breeder in Pennsylvania where she was considered surplus to requirements after a difficult birth, and transported her from the USA to the Netherlands after a great deal of paperwork and even greater cost, she always considers Florence to be my dog.

Florence has always been a wonderful companion.

I don’t display emotion easily, other than anger – a trait, Cynthia assures me, which is a result of PTSD after enduring a considerable amount of workplace violence following a decade of managing tough pubs, especially in London. In the short period that this wonderful dog has been with us, Florence has helped calm me considerably.

She is an affectionate clown. Her favourite place is on my lap, which is quite a feat considering she weighs 65lb. The pain in my crushed testicles is always outweighed by the pleasure I feel as she leans her football sized head against me and paws me gently with dinner plate feet.

She grows both restless and mischievous if she doesn’t get enough exercise. In that respect she is very similar to me. I often escape with her for an hour or two. We wander around new towns and villages, stopping occasionally for a drink. The cappuccino brought to me is always accompanied by a bowl of water for Florence. After our drinks we doze and dribble, often in unison, as we relax and watch the world go by. Ours is a very happy partnership.

An idyllic day on the island drew to a close, so we wandered back to the boat for what we expected would be an evening of quiet relaxation.

Both Tasha and Florence are very conscientious with their toilet needs. A gentle whine, or a solitary bark is enough to let us know that they need to go outside. Soon after we climbed back on the boat, after an afternoon of happy picnic bench snacking, Florence whined quietly by the cockpit steps. By the time I put my shoes on, she was pacing restlessly and whining insistently. After opening the sliding cockpit window for her, she hauled her considerable bulk onto a portable step we installed to accommodate her stumpy legs, squeezed herself laboriously through the recently constructed dog door, squatted on the pier’s wooden decking, and shat copiously and at length. She walked a few steps, and then squatted again. Within a couple of minutes she had squatted five times to fire bright brown jets of illness through the decking slats into the lake beneath.

The event didn’t worry me. Both dogs occasionally pay the penalty for their gluttonous ways. To be perfectly honest, I was more annoyed than concerned.

I am not proud to admit it, but I am not very tolerant of anything which makes a mess of what I consider to be a necessarily tidy home, especially one as small as our 32’ long boat.

When Florence jumped back on board and promptly vomited on the cockpit’s highly varnished wooden decking, I was a little irritated. When Tasha followed that by quickly squatting and pebbledashing the rest of the cockpit, I was angry.

“This is too much! We spend all of our time cleaning up after these two. If it’s not dog hair on everything, it’s slobber, vomit or shit! I hate living in a mess all of the time. The dogs are a nightmare!”

While I was busy with my childish tantrum, Florence scrambled outside again to squat and strain, shortly followed by Tasha. Cynthia, ever the diplomat, spoke to me quietly. “When something like this happens, I always ask myself how important I will think it is in a month or a year from now. Is life really THAT bad?” Yes, at the time, I really did think life was that bad. I wouldn’t have done if I knew what was coming.

While she spoke, Cynthia used yards of kitchen roll to calmly clear up the mess, trying to keep up with the regular deposits of watery vomit made by Florence. She constantly soothed ‘my’ dog with gentle and reassuring words and touches, trying to comfort her and ease her distress.

I did my bit by going to bed.

For several hours, Cynthia climbed wearily out of bed every time she heard Florence gag, to mop vomit and encourage her to drink. I did nothing other than lay awake and fume.

Eventually, the storm appeared to pass. The retching stopped and was replaced by the slow and steady breathing of trouble free sleep. I slept too, deeply and without regret, until dawn the following day.

A high pitched heart-rending scream startled me awake. “Oh my God, Oh my God!” Cynthia wailed. “She’s dead. Florence is DEAD!”

I rushed into the cockpit to find Cynthia sitting on the wooden decking above the engine bay with Florence’s limp and lifeless form cradled in her arms. “It’s my fault! It’s all my fault. When I walked with them around the island last night I saw them eating scraps beneath the picnic benches, but I didn’t stop them. WHY didn’t I stop them?!”

Cynthia draped a blanket over Florence, which suited me fine. I couldn’t bring myself to touch her, or even look at her. While the dog which had given me so much unconditional love quietly died on her own, I lay in bed cursing the mess that she made. I felt, and still feel, a selfish, bad tempered, childish prick.

I’m not very good at relationships, feelings or emotional stuff, but give me a clinical task to complete, and I’m pretty much unbeatable.

A pleasant pre dinner stroll around a merman lake

A pleasant pre dinner stroll around a German lake

We had to deal with the logistics of disposing of Florence’s rapidly stiffening husk. We didn’t know the rules in the Netherlands. Did we have to notify the authorities? What did we need to do with her body? We were stuck on a boat on an island in the middle of a large lake, without the transport necessary to move the body of a large dog to a veterinary practice or, as the very last resort, to the closest skip.

My first thought was to call the local police station but, tragic as the circumstances were, it clearly wasn’t an emergency and, at 6am, the small town police station was likely to be closed.

Enjoying a seaside rest in northern France

Enjoying a seaside rest in northern France

We decided to return to Kempers Watersports with its easy access to a main road and ever helpful staff. The cruise was a sombre affair through grey water streaked with bright green algae under a sky filled with ominous grey clouds.

We tied up at 7am, still much too early to call any of the local authorities, so, still unwilling to accept Florence’s death, I stepped over her blanket wrapped body to attend to our practical needs. The cassette needed emptying, our water tank needed filling and our batteries needed charging.

By the time I completed my tasks, the time was respectable enough to start making phone calls. I tried to phone the local police station, but my Netherlands SIM card blocked calls to 09 prefixes. I called 112, the emergency services number, and asked them for an alternative local number. They couldn’t give me one.

This motorhome is MINE!

This motorhome is MINE!

I tried phoning a branch of the Netherlands pet ambulance service. The guy who answered didn’t speak English. I tried another branch. The lady who answered spoke English but couldn’t understand me because of my poor phone signal.

By then, the marina office staff had arrived for work. Martine, the ever helpful receptionist, offered to call the ambulance service and translate for me. They would come, she told me, but there would be a charge for coming, and another for disposing of the body.

A sunny day on the beach

A sunny day on the beach

Back at the boat, while we waited for the ambulance, I took a deep breath and tackled the unpleasant task of carrying Florence’s stiff body off the boat. She was a big and heavy dog who struggled to fit through the narrow door we had made for her and Tasha. Now that rigor mortis had set in, the task was especially difficult.

I gently lifted the blanket off her. Maybe she wasn’t dead after all. She looked like she was sleeping and, when I slipped my hands between her fur and the deck boards, her body felt warm. Cynthia must have made a mistake. She was probably just in a deep and exhausted sleep.

Then I realised that her body heat was because of the hot engine in the bay beneath her. Our big, adorable, affectionate clown had left us good, and I didn’t have the common decency to comfort her as she suffered.

The ambulance driver and receptionist Martine arrived carrying a stretcher between them, offering quietly spoken condolences. The ambulance driver frowned when she heard we were English, checked her phone and told us the bad news. “I am so sorry for your loss, and I’m sorry to tell you that, because you are not Dutch, the disposal charges are very high. You need to pay €25 for me to transport the body, and then €170 for the cremation”.

I haven't been near the pond, honestly!

I haven’t been near the pond, honestly!

We didn’t really have a choice. The only other option was to drop Florence’s body in one of the marina’s half dozen wheelie bins. That wasn’t a consideration as far as either of us was concerned. Cynthia was in favour of cremation after remembering a story I told her about the English waterways.

A few years ago, I met a lone boater standing beside a lock, holding a wooden box wrapped in a tattered plastic shopping bag. I discovered that, after twenty years of saving for a boat to spend their retirement on as they cruised the network, his wife died a week before their custom built narrowboat was launched.

Seeing eye to eye with little fatso

Seeing eye to eye with little fatso

The husband cruised on his own, stopping at each lock he passed to sprinkle a few grains of his wife’s ashes on the water. By doing this, he told me, his wife would be with him in spirit.

When we asked about collecting Florence’s ashes, the ambulance driver had another unpleasant surprise for us. The price she quoted was for a group cremation. If we wanted the ashes, we would have to have a solo cremation, which would cost an additional €100.

We agreed.

I helped carry Florence’s inert form along the marina pontoon to the waiting ambulance and then watched sadly as she was driven away forever.

Florence’s Dutch vet, Anneka, learned of her death through an email from Cynthia. In her reply, she told Cynthia that both people and animals come into your lives for a reason. They are there to teach you a valuable lesson. I don’t know whether I believe this, but I know what I have learned from this sad episode.

I stress far too much about the little things in life so much that I lose sight of the bigger picture. I can’t see the wood for the trees. Rather than focussing on trivial dog hair, muddy paw prints and the occasional strand of drool flicked from a joyously shaken head, I should concentrate on the unconditional love that dogs, especially bassets give so freely.

I don’t think that we will wait long before getting another basset. She won’t ever replace beautiful Florence, but she’ll certainly help.

Florence: gone but NEVER forgotten

Florence: gone but NEVER forgotten

If You Enjoy These Newsletters, Please Help Support This Site

I enjoy writing newsletters which, I am often told, are very useful to anyone considering living an alternative lifestyle either afloat on the English or Dutch waterways, or leading a nomadic life on the road in the tiny living space offered by a motorhome. The downside is that adding content to the site, maintaining it, and answering dozens of emails each week takes a considerable amount of time. I invest up to twenty hours every week on the site and, over the course of the year, many hundreds of pounds. I can’t afford the investment in either time or money without a little help. If you are in the fortunate position to be able to afford a small financial subscription or one off donation to help with the site’s running costs, please click on this link to find out more. If you are one of the generous souls who already support the site, thank you!

Useful Information
Entertainment