An Essential Addition to Dutch Waterways Cruising Kit
Our week began quietly enough. We enjoyed four delightful days parked in a peaceful car park overlooking a tranquil lake, wondering why no other motorhomes shared such an idyllic space with us. We decided that the one tonne maximum weight limit at the beginning of a narrow lane leading to the car park via a wooden canal bridge may have had something to do with it.
The first of a dozen crossings over the wooden bridge petrified me. Our Hymer weighs five and a half tonnes. Were we being irresponsible and foolish foreign motorhome owners? Was there a real risk of us crashing through the bridge into the clear water of the canal beneath us to die a horrible death surrounded by Dutch carp? More to the point, would our insurance company cough up if they discovered we crossed a bridge designed to carry less than twenty per cent of our weight?
Each of the next three or four crossings were buttock clenchingly exciting. We’d drive slowly to within a hundred metres of the narrow bridge, check to make sure that there were no oncoming vehicles blocking our route, and then accelerate as quickly as possible towards the canal crossing. A racing start in an underpowered motorhome is not terribly impressive, but we still managed to negotiate the bridge at a respectable 30kph, hopefully spreading our weight across the bridge and avoiding an early start to our summer cruising plans.
We were a little more relaxed after seeing two Chelsea tractors – large urban four wheel drive prestige cars to non English readers – on the bridge at the same time towing fully laden horse boxes.
We relaxed completely when we realised that a comedian had carefully removed a number from the sign. Like most of the other bridges in this area, the correct weight limit was a far more respectable twelve tonnes.
Without a care in the world we continued to cross the bridge without worry until, on our fourth day at the car park, Cynthia noticed a sign prohibiting overnight stays in motorhomes. She spotted the sign shortly before a rare Dutch police car drove slowly into the car park, paused briefly next to us, and then drove sedately away. We decided that, if the police weren’t going to bother about the rules, nor would we. Not that we could stay much longer anyway.
Our water pump failed and was replaced at a motorhome service centre in Narbonne in January. Since then, the water pressure hadn’t been very good, but over the last ten days it fluctuated between poor and abysmal. I could spit faster. And then, on Tuesday morning, the water supply failed completely.
I no longer had my tool box with me. We transferred it to the boat along with a handful of other non essential items the previous week. Not that the absence of a tool kit would ever make much difference to me. I lifted the inspection hatch above our one hundred litre water tank, eliminated the only possible remedy I could think of by establishing that the tank was still almost full, prodded the corroded wiring running from the tank, and then gifted Cynthia with the wisdom of my diagnosis. “I think the pump has gone again. We need to have it replaced.”
“Why would the pump fail again so quickly?” asked Cynthia. She pointed at the corroded wiring. “Couldn’t that have something to do with the problem?”
I once successfully changed a plug on my kettle, so I considered myself a bit of an expert with electrical wiring. “No, that’s not it. The pump has failed again. Replacing it is going to cost us another €100 we can’t afford!” As usual, I was stressed about money.
My good friend Google showed me the location of Hymer dealers with service centres in the Netherlands. I phoned the closest. A guy told me that he would love to help, but the earliest appointment was in a week’s time. However, he had a suggestion. He told me that anyone with half an ounce of common sense could fit a new water pump. He obviously didn’t know me. I would love to have half an ounce of common sense. I decided to look elsewhere.
The next guy I called was similarly busy. In fact, he told me that everyone in the motorhome industry is booked solid at the beginning of the touring season. He warned me that I would be lucky to find anyone prepared to replace the pump within a week.
Fortunately, there are service providers who offer an efficient and structured service and do everything in an orderly manner, and there are those who are chaotically flexible and determined to help those in need. My third phone call was much more positive “We’re sixty kilometres from you but, if you can’t find anyone closer, we’ll fit you in.” I think we pulled onto his forecourt before he put the phone down.
The claustrophobic service centre was bedlam. Dozens of motorhomes in varying states of disrepair were wedged into a handful of workshops barely large enough to house them. There was just enough for the uniformed fitters, so there certainly wasn’t enough space for an eight metre motorhome.
We were asked by the owner to park on the industrial park access road in front of the workshops with the promise to “send a fitter to look at your pump as soon as one’s free.” I could see how busy the guys were, so we settled down for a lengthy wait.
Within an hour we were on our way again. The service was first class. Within seconds of lifting the water tank inspection hatch, the fitter diagnosed the problem. “These wires have corroded, so they’re not making contact.” Maybe I’ll think twice before giving Cynthia my expert opinion in future. After a blur of snipping, stripping and crimping, the fitter had new fittings attached to a new block, and had also resolved the issue with the poor water pressure we’ve endured for the last four months.
We now have galley and bathroom taps and a shower head issuing jets of water powerful enough to strip paint, and a cassette toilet flush strong enough to lift either Cynthia or me off the seat if we are foolish enough to press the flush button while sitting down. And the magical cure for our water pressure woes? The French fitter had installed the pump with the positive and negative terminals the wrong way round. That’s what you get for having work done in the afternoon in a country where two hour lunch breaks with wine are normal.
We stopped for the night at a small and empty car park on quiet coast road next to a deserted beach close to Schoorl, and enjoyed a long walk along the water’s edge. We missed the boat which dumped an industrial quantity of bubble bath into the sea, but the dogs enjoyed rolling in the windblown foam.
Although we’re not back on the water yet, we’re very close. Fitter Jos has completed all of the repairs and alterations, apart from fitting our second fridge. We hoped to have a duplicate of the original sixty five litre fridge fitted, but that particular model is no longer available. A similar alternative model will be installed this weekend, and then we’ll be free to roam the Dutch network for the next four months.
We’ve taken advantage of the delay to shop for a few essential accessories, although ‘essential’ has been the subject of some debate.
High on Cynthia’s list were a pair of life jackets for Tasha and Florence. Bassets aren’t the most active dogs, which I suppose isn’t surprising given their stumpy little legs and elongated bodies. Unsurprisingly perhaps, they aren’t very good swimmers.
Tasha has already had several surprise encounters with England’s murky brown canal water. She struggled to come to terms with a towpath which would switch sides depending on where we were moored, so she always tried to jump off the boat on the same side. Sometimes we caught her in time if she was heading for the water. Sometimes we didn’t.
She didn’t wear a life jacket during the eleven months she was on the English waterways, so an unscheduled dip was something of an ordeal, especially if she jumped in at night. A brown dog in brown water on a dark night is tricky to find, especially if the dog in question ‘swims’ vertically with just the tip of her nose above the surface.
Tasha always wore a Ruffwear harness. It didn’t help her swim, but at least the sturdy handle enabled me to drag her forty four pound bulk onto the boat before she sank like a stone.
The English waterways, especially the canals I usually cruised on, were placid and shallow, so I knew that she wasn’t going to be swept away by a strong current. The Dutch waterways are in a different league, so we need to take more precautions. We also need to consider the logistics of getting Florence back on board if she falls in.
Florence is a shadow of her former self. When Cynthia collected her from the Pennsylvania kennel where she was used for breeding, she was a very unhealthy 105lb. Thanks to a strict diet and regular exercise, she’s now 65lb. Sixty five pounds is still too much to lift three of four feet from the water to the gunnel and then either under or over the lifeline.If she falls in she will need to be directed to the back of the boat to the swim platform.
This process, coupled with the time needed to bring a boat moving at five or six knots to a stop, takes time, time which a poor swimmer simply doesn’t have. A life jacket is essential for the dogs’ safety.
We drove to Gouda to the Netherlands’ largest Ruffwear dealer, had them fitted with a Float Coat each, and then began a very frustrating twenty four hour period of our motorhome adventure.
We have been very lucky with our overnight stops so far, partly because we always aim for rural locations, and partly because of the time of year. We began our tour last October, the end of summer and the beginning of unsettled and cooler weather. The weather at that time of the year discourages many people from spending time in the great outdoors, which means that we often have parking areas all to ourselves. Now that we’re blessed with warmer weather, we’re also cursed by other people trying to enjoy it with us. Especially during public holidays. Last Thursday was Ascension Day in the Netherlands, and it was HOT!
We stopped for the evening on a vast and mostly empty car park close to a dozen connected lakes north east of Gouda, and then settled down to a peaceful early evening sitting on a lawned area to read quietly and watch the water fowl… until a pair of morons with single digit IQs turned up in hot hatches with speakers the size of telephone boxes.
We endured half an hour of bleeding eardrums, and so much bass that we were vibrated off our seats, before admitting defeat and driving to the opposite end of the car park. All we had to contend with then was the continuous roar of Schipohl air traffic thundering into the sky.
Thursday, Ascension Day, was top up day. We’re pretty good at avoiding paying for camp sites these days. Our previous paid top up, six days earlier, had been at a marina fairly close to Leiden where Julisa is moored. Moorers at the marina pay a €20 deposit for a facilities card which can then be preloaded to pay for metered potable water and showers. We paid to stay in the marina car park for a night, paid a deposit for our facilities card, loaded it with enough money for several weeks’ worth of water, and then left the marina the following day without returning the card. Now, if we’re in the area, we pop in to top up our drinking water and to dispose of our grey and black water. Each visit costs us €1.
Three days later, we topped up our potable water tank from the public toilets in a lakeside car park. I also very carefully emptied our cassette into one of the toilets. As the process requires a great deal of care, and a degree of unpleasant cleaning up afterwards, it’s not an exercise for the faint-hearted. But it’s free, and that’s what counts.
Water is always our highest priority. We can manage six days away from facilities with our two toilet cassettes, but four days at a stretch with our water. Our Gouda car park didn’t have public toilets, so I searched the area thoroughly for businesses with outside taps. The Dutch are more than happy to let us top up if we pay them a few euros, especially if charming Cynthia does the asking. I’ve discovered in the past that, if I ask, they’re more likely to retire quickly and think about calling the police.
After drawing a blank, we decided to drive to the coast to (a) find a campsite which would allow us to use their facilities and (b) find a more peaceful place to stay for the night than a favourite haunt of Gouda’s brain dead young men.
We drove to a likely looking campsite on the outskirts of Den Hag, which was probably a mistake on a public holiday, especially as the weather was good. The coastal area was similar to England on a bank holiday weekend; nose to tail with frustrated car drivers, searching in vain for somewhere to park close to one of many overcrowded beaches.
After a painfully slow drive through Den Hag to the campsite, we endured another painfully slow drive through Den Hag again after the staff at the overcrowded campsite refused to allow us to top up. They kindly gave us the address of another campsite, on the opposite side of Den Hag, which they suggested would be able to accommodate us.
Something was obviously lost in translation. After half an hour of frustratingly slow driving we arrived at the address to find that we were out of luck again. Rather than a rural campsite, the address was an urban multi story car park.
Half an hour later, we found another campsite. I sent Cynthia on the charm offensive hoping that she would be more successful than me. I watched through the windscreen as she chatted to a large and severe looking Dutchman. From his stern look and shaking head, I guessed that we were out of luck again. Fortunately I was wrong. Cynthia just had a problem communicating our needs. The Dutchman thought we wanted to stay for the night. We couldn’t. The campsite was full. As soon as he realised that we only wanted water, he was all smiles. Ten minutes and four euros later, we were fully stocked for another four days off grid. All we needed was somewhere pleasant to park.
If you are ever thinking of visiting the Hook of Holland, especially on a Dutch public holiday, here’s a word of advice. Don’t.
We have never seen so many people, and so many police. We saw more police vans, cars, bikes, dogs and men on that one day than we have ever seen in the Netherlands. Pavements packed with thousands of holidaying teenagers probably had something to do with it. We left, quickly.
Three hours after setting off from Gouda to look for water, we were still driving. We caught a ten minute, eleven euro ferry at Rozenburg, this time keeping a careful eye on our bumper, unlike the momentary lack of concentration on the lake Constance ferry which cost us €1,000 in repairs, and then drove along what we hoped would be quiet coastal roads looking for a pleasant place to park by the sea.
Any space larger than a bicycle had a vehicle parked on it. Our day wasn’t proving to be much fun at all. The seaside loving Dutch were out in force. Much as we like the Dutch, we didn’t want to be anywhere near them.
Our luck changed when we crossed the border from South Holland to Zeeland on the N57 on one of a series of concrete causeways connecting the Netherlands southernmost province’s coastal islands.
From the main road Cynthia spotted a peninsula surrounded by sparkling blue water and white sailed pleasure craft. A rough track lead to a deserted lawn like area opposite a busy marina filled with tall masted sailboats and coastal cruisers.
We enjoyed an idyllic afternoon relaxing in the hot spring sun, watching dozens of weekend sailors tack across the vast freshwater bay beneath us. The icing on the cake was our solitude. Several hundred metres away, families picnicked and frolicked on a narrow sandy beach, but we had the peninsula all to ourselves. Apart from the occasional quiet plop as a lone angler cast his lure, all we could hear were the waves which gently swirled around the peninsula rocks… until we climbed into bed at 10pm.
By then the area was deserted. Acres of empty space surrounded us, enough space for hundreds of people to share without interfering with those around them. Why, then, did two Dutch guys in their early twenties race along the dusty track at a speed not normally seen outside Brands Hatch, skid to a halt fifty feet from us, and then set up a football pitch between their car and our rear bumper. For the next hour they stood far enough apart to necessitate shouting at great volume while they kicked the ball between them. I was so angry I nearly sent Cynthia out to give them a piece of my mind.
We moved further south the following day, edging closer to the second of Cynthia’s essential purchases. It’s a 2.4 metre long sailing dinghy, which she wants to use as a tender for Julisa. She argued that it’s an essential item of safety equipment if we ever break down far from land. I kept quiet, but I think that if we’re ever out of sight of land in our little cruiser, it will be me breaking down, not the boat.
From the photo’s we’ve seen, the dinghy appears to be in very condition. She also appears to be solid wood and therefore quite heavy, which is a bit of a problem.
The dinghy is at a marina near Ossendrecht close to the Belgian border, 120km south of Julisa’s mooring at Leiden. We’re going to view it tonight in the vain hope that we can fit the dinghy on the Hymer’s bike rack. I think that one of two things are likely to happen if we try. The most likely is that the weight of the dinghy will rip the lightweight bike rack from its insubstantial fittings. The best outcome there would be that the bike rack parted company with the Hymer as soon as we tied it on. A rather more serious result would be losing it doing 90kph along a motorway packed with holiday weekend traffic.
If the bike rack and its fittings are strong enough, which I seriously doubt, the excessive weight on the Hymer’s 2.4m overhang could lift our front wheels off the ground. Either way, our journey home would range from extremely unpleasant to catastrophic.
The alternative solutions are to either take Julisa south to the dinghy on coastal waters which she isn’t designed for, or ask the owner to deliver the dinghy to Leiden, and hope that, if he agrees, compensation for fuel and a two and a half hour round trip isn’t going to cost more than the dinghy.
While we contemplate our logistical problems, we’re parked at Berghsluis, overlooking another quiet coastal marina. As we sit quietly in the sun, one of us ocassionally glances at the water, points and says, “Look, that boat’s about the same size as Julisa. We’ll be doing that next week!”
We’re both very excited now.
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