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How NOT to Leave a Windy Mooring


We’re off the water now, and neither of us is very happy about it.

Our late September priority was to put Julisa to bed. I’m constantly amazed at the volume of stuff we can shoehorn into our little boat, and the even smaller wheeled box we spend our winters in. We slaved for the best part of a day transferring our meagre possessions from boat to motorhome, alternately baking in the September sun and dodging heavy showers.

We also had a number of minor repairs to attend to. One of the most pressing was looking for a reasonably priced sailmaker to restitch Julisa’s two cockpit covers. On a cruise earlier in the year we stopped at a high end canalside chandler near Leiden. I don’t know why we bothered. ‘Posh’ is always expensive. We were quoted €250 to restitch just one of the two covers. The sailmaker didn’t really appear bothered whether we accepted the price or not. Sailmaking and repairing is a high demand profession in the Netherlands with its profusion of sailboats, cruisers with cockpit covers, and expensive open day boats which spend half of the year under wraps.

Cynthia insisted that we look further afield. She found a sailmaker a pleasant half hour drive away who was happy to restitch both covers for the same price we were quoted in Leiden for just one. We plan to collect the repaired canvas when we return to Leiden next spring.

Once the boat was empty, I set to with a vacuum cleaner inside and a soft bristled brush outside. Thoroughly cleaning the boat’s exterior highlighted this season’s battle scars; scrapes on the starboard side gunnel towards the bow where the then fenderless boat slid along a lock wall, abrasion on both port and starboard gunnels from rubbing centre lines, and a bare metal gouge caused by inept helmsmanship on a particularly windy day.

We had moored overnight beneath Muiden’s medieval castle in preparation for a long day’s cruise to Amstelveen on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The early morning weather as we prepared for our journey was foul. Heavy rain bounced inches off our flimsy canvas cockpit roof. White capped waves marched into the mouth of the river Vecht past our sheltered marina mooring. Nothing moved on a popular waterway normally teeming with boats.

My marine weather app indicated that the wind was force six on the Beaufort Scale, described rather misleadingly as a ‘strong breeze’. The mischievous breeze didn’t know its own strength. It pushed us sideways out of the marina, and then the wind and the waves conspired together to slam us hard against the marina’s wooden refueling quay, which was just as well because we needed to top up our nearly empty two hundred litre tank.

After quickly securing Julisa with the centre line, I spent an unpleasant ten minutes making small talk with the harbourmaster’s wife as we tried to shelter from torrential horizontal rain under a wind-whipped golfing umbrella.

With the howling wind still forcing our vulnerable white painted steel against the quay’s uneven timber, I knew that Cynthia and I needed to work both quickly and seamlessly as a team if we stood any chance of gaining the river centre without incident. Because I am the consummate professional, I gave Cynthia precise instructions before we attempted to move.

“The wind’s blowing really hard now. We’re going to have to act very quickly to get away from the quay. Listen to me carefully. When I tell you to go, push the bow thruster lever to the right. That will move our bow away from the side. I’ll push the stern to stop it from swinging into the quay as the bow swings out.

“As soon as the bow is pointing towards the channel, quickly push the Morse control forward until the gauge registers 1,000rpm. Don’t worry about me. I know what I’m doing. I’ll jump on board as the boat moves away.

“It’s very important that you do exactly as I tell you. If you don’t, we’re going to be slammed back into the quay. Do you understand?”

Cynthia looked at me with disdain and growing apprehension. She had known what to do before I’d said a word. The only thing I had achieved was to frighten the life out of her.  

Ever professional, I made sure that everything was in order before we launched ourselves into the wind.

Centre line undone and secured so that it couldn’t fall in the water and foul the propeller?

Check.

Fuel cap secured and the fuel cap key hung back on its hook?

Check.

The engine turned on and in gear?

Check.

Cynthia at the helm waiting for my signal?

Check.

Everything was in order. I waited for the wind to drop slightly, pushed the stern away from the rough wooden quay, and shouted loudly so that Cynthia could hear me over the rain pounding the canvas inches above her head.

“OK. Bow thruster to the right now. Go, GO, GO!”

The bow moved out, but not as quickly or as far as I expected. The wind must have been stronger than I thought to defeat our powerful bow thruster. We couldn’t afford to wait any longer though. I could feel the gale increasing again.

“Right. Push the Morse control forward quickly. No, quicker than that. We need to go NOW!”

Cynthia did exactly as she was told. The boat surged forward as I leapt on board. I allowed myself a self congratulatory smile as our 106hp Peugeot engine drove us powerfully away from the quay.

My smugness didn’t last very long.

The boat skewed to the left and ploughed back into the wooden walkway we’d just left. I was thrown onto my knees by the force of the impact.

I wasn’t at all happy.

“What happened? I told you to push the bow thruster to the right. Did you push it to the left by mistake?”

“Of course I didn’t. I know my left from my right! That’s my right hand. I’ve had it for seventy years, and that,” Cynthia pointed at the foam crested waves surging down the river’s main channel, ‘is where I was heading”.

Still suspecting that Cynthia had suffered from temporary panic induced confusion, I jumped back onto the quay, and walked quickly towards the bow.

The real cause of the accident was immediately apparent.

As we had pulled onto the quay before refuelling, while I secured Julisa using the centre line, the harbourmaster’s wife, unknown to me, had secured the bow line as well. The bow was still anchored firmly to the quay as we moved off. Failing to notice her tying the line was no excuse. Failing to check all the mooring lines before we set off was a schoolboy error.

Cynthia looked at me. I pointed to the still taught bow rope. She shook her head in dismay and looked away.

My poor wife has a lot to put up with.

A Dutch boat for sale - We liked this one until we saw the rust

A Dutch boat for sale – We liked this one until we saw the rust

Ninety euros for a pair of ball fenders was enough to prevent any further damage to the gunnels during our remaining lock passages this season. Less overconfidence and more careful pre cruise checks prevented any further silly mistakes, but we couldn’t do much about tied centres lines abrading the gunnel paintwork.

I don’t like using the centre lines to moor, but sometimes we don’t have a choice. Anchor points at overnight moorings this season have often been either missing or spaced wrongly for our boat length. We’ve had to use the centre lines.

One solution to prevent future damage to the paintwork is to have stainless steel strips fitted over the areas on each side of the boat where the centre lines rub. That will be done this winter while Julisa is out of the water, as will repairs to the other gouges, scuffs and scrapes.

Hull maintenance was much easier and cheaper on my narrowboat. A few dabs with a bitumen covered brush would have been enough. Julisa is a beautiful lady, but she’s very high maintenance.

She’s high maintenance, but we miss her. Even though she’s only 9.5m (31’) long, she feels so much more spacious than the slightly smaller 7.7m (25’) length that we’re crammed into now.

Our last Dutch lift bridge in 2017

Our last Dutch lift bridge in 2017

I mourn the lack of space more than Cynthia, but it’s not just about the space.

Travelling by water is so much less stressful than travelling by road, especially for us. I have to do all the driving. Cynthia can’t drive the five and a half tonne Hymer on her American license. She would have to take a UK driving test for the C1 (3.5 tonne to 7.5 tonne) category. Even if she took and passed this test, we would have increased insurance premiums to consider. Insurers aren’t keen on anyone over the age of seventy driving large motorhomes. The increased premium would probably be prohibitive so, for as long as we own the motorhome, I will remain constantly at the wheel.

Cynthia dislikes the situation just as much as me. She knows that I find the driving stressful, and she’s frustrated because she can’t share the workload with me. She can on the waterways, although she doesn’t need to very often.

Cruising on a boat is very relaxing, especially now that we’re used to the busy Dutch waterways, and keeping out of the way of the occasional towering commercial barge. During the summer months I wished that the boat had an outside helm, a flybridge. I remembered my summer narrowboat cruises with great fondness, perched on cabin top padded seat, shiny brass tiller in my hand as I soaked up the sun.

Towards the end of the season, as more and more open day boats passed carrying shivering passengers trying to hide from heavy rain and icy winds, Julisa’s heated and covered cockpit was far more appealing.

Driving onto a train at Calais

Driving onto a train at Calais

Both covered and open steering positions on a boat appeal to me now. I’m stuck behind the wheel of an unwieldy vehicle on often congested roads filled with inconsiderate and bad tempered drivers.

HOW MUCH WILL YOUR NARROWBOAT COST TO MAINTAIN?

Purchase cost, licensing, part or full time mooring fees, propulsion and heating diesel, coal, gas and electricity generation costs... Trying to estimate the real cost of living afloat can be a real headache. In this comprehensive package, ALL the costs you are likely to incur are broken down and explained. Then you can enter your own specific costs in a bespoke narrowboat budget calculator. Low cost and backed by a 100% unconditional money back guarantee.

We crossed the Dutch border into Belgium ten days ago.The roads immediately took a turn for the worse, as did the people we saw. The happy smiling Dutch were replaced by sullen and scowling faces, particularly among the teenagers. The problem with living in a country considered to be one of the happiest on Earth is that every other country is less friendly.

A French town which doesn't take its officials too seriously

A French town which doesn’t take its officials too seriously

At least the border crossing from the Netherlands to Belgium didn’t worry us. The crossing from France to England was a different kettle of fish.

Despite constant research over the last year, Cynthia and I are still nervous about border crossings outside mainland Europe. As an American citizen, Cynthia is allowed to stay in any Schengen country for up to thirty days without a visa. Any longer than that and she’s obliged to obtain a long stay visa.

However, according to a case we found documented online, Cynthia, because she’s married to an EU citizen (me), has the same right to roam in Europe as I do. That’s the theory anyway. The site which details the case warns that many border officials aren’t aware of the case. It advises printing out the case summary, and carrying it along with a marriage certificate. Ever prepared, Cynthia had all of the required documents neatly stored in a plastic folder in the Hymer’s glove compartment as we drove towards Eurotunnel’s security fence protected Calais terminal.

The first hurdle to overcome was getting the dogs booked in, something which has proven problematic in the past.

Tasha, our eldest basset, was refused entry when I crossed the channel last October. Although her documentation was current, there was a discrepancy between two dates on the passport. I had to leave her in Calais with Cynthia while I paid a lightning visit to the UK to obtain specialist travel insurance.

Our Dutch vet issued a replacement passport for Tasha last month, and a new passport for Abbie. On last week’s crossing, Tasha’s passport was fine, but there was a date discrepancy on Abbie’s brand new passport.

On this occasion, the French official was unusually flexible. Because we had all of Abbie’s documentation with us from her flight from Philadelphia to Amsterdam in August, Abbie was allowed through. However, we were warned that she would be refused if the dates were still incorrect on her next crossing.

With that out of the way, we checked into the terminal, and then crawled through the French border control checkpoint. We were waved through without a second glance. All that remained was an expected brief drive through the UK’s border control checkpoint.

The fun started when the kiosk officer checked Cynthia’s passport and spotted last year’s deportation stamp.

Cynthia, retired flight crew for American Airlines, has flown into the UK more time than most people have had hot dinners. When she flew into Heathrow in 2015 with the intention of marrying me, she didn’t think twice about required paperwork.

Nor did I.

She knew that she was allowed to stay in the UK for up to six months without a visa. What she didn’t know was that the rules change if you intend to marry within those six months.

After skipping happily up to Heathrow border control and announcing to all and sundry that she couldn’t wait to marry her lovely English fiance – her feelings might possibly have changed by now – she was told that she couldn’t enter the UK without the correct documentation. She was given a seven day stay of execution, and was then sent back to the USA to obtain a ridiculously expensive marriage visit visa.

She secured the visa, but we didn’t marry in the UK due to complications. We then tried again, and failed again, in Denmark. We finally married in Vermont.

It’s a complicated story complicated further by our European attempts to get Cynthia’s passport surname changed from Schultz to Smith. It was a painful and frustrating affair which saw us visiting, or making appointments with, American consulates in Amsterdam, Madrid and Marseilles. Cynthia finally succeeded in Marseilles. When we arrived at Calais, she proudly held her new passport in her grubby little hand, which caused no end of problems.

Her new American passport contained no European entry or exit stamps.

We were waved out of the line of traffic and into an empty bay close to the UK border control office. I was worried. Cynthia was her normal super confident and eternally optimistic self. I tried to bring her down to my level.

“This is a serious situation. We have to prepare for the worst. You could be deported. Be very careful what you say to whoever questions us. These officials don’t have much of a sense of humour”.

Just as I finished talking, a stern faced officer drew level with Cynthia’s sliding passenger window. From the look on his face, I suspected that he was suffering from very painful piles. His scowl deepened when Cynthia slid her window wide open, leaned through the gap, looked him in the eye and asked, “Do you want fries with that?”

He wasn’t impressed.

After an hour of intensive questioning followed by half an hour on the phone in his office, he mellowed slightly. “Your deportation put a marker on your passport. Your convoluted marriage and unusual lifestyle further complicated the situation. You’re free to go, but make sure that the next time we see you, you have a residence permit for one of the countries you visit in Europe”.

We think we can secure a residence permit in the Netherlands,  All we have to do is get back into France next week to start the process.

Cynthia admires the Wife Cliffs of Dover

Cynthia admires the Wife Cliffs of Dover

We’ve been back in the UK now for over a week. Much as I’ve enjoyed returning to Calcutt Boats to visit my extended narrowboat family, we’re not particularly enjoying our stay.

While I regularly moan about stress caused by trying to keep a large motorhome on the right side of narrow country lanes and high mountain roads, at least there are plenty of beautiful places to park free of charge in mainland Europe.

Each of our evening stops in England has been on £20 a night campsites.

We stopped in a Gloucester pub car park one night. The parking was free, but we were obliged to eat in their very pleasant restaurant. The only truly free overnight parking has been at Calcutt Boats. Thank you Roger, Rosemary and Matt Preen for your enthusiastic welcome and continued generosity.

One of the reasons for returning to the UK was to have some long overdue warranty work done to the Hymer. We bought the vehicle from Oaktree Motorhomes in Nottingham in March 2016. While we’ve been away, we’ve had a few problems. The galley mixer tap disintegrated, we had a skylight roof leak, the alternator and the hot water supply failed, both headlights failed on separate occasions and, soon after the last headlight failure, our fuel tank gauge malfunctioned, and the odometer developed a mind of its own. Rather than clocking up kilometres driven, the odometer increased the vehicle’s total mileage a the rate of one kilometre every second or two, regardless of whether the Hymer was moving or not.

Our new basset Abby finally visits England

Our new basset Abby finally visits England

We have now discovered, perhaps not surprisingly, that visiting French garages after the mechanics have enjoyed two hour liquid lunches is not a particularly good idea.

On one occasion, immediately after French mechanics changed a headlight bulb, the headlights blinked whenever the indicators were used. We took the Hymer back to them. The problem was eventually resolved by the combined efforts of six mechanics on a Friday afternoon. We didn’t notice the associated odometer or fuel gauge problems until two days and many hundreds of miles later. By then, we were too far away to return to the garage which caused the problem.

On another occasion, a mechanic at a different garage changed a water pump for us. After experiencing problems with our water supply, on the advice of Oaktree Motorhomes, we asked the same company to make sure that the pump had a non return valve on it to prevent water in the Hymer’s boiler from draining back into the cold water tank. I don’t know what the French garage did to fix it, but the hot water supply worked briefly and then failed again. This week, Oaktree Motorhomes discovered that the pump fitted in France didn’t in fact have a non return valve. Earlier in the year, after the French pump bodge, we took the Hymer to a Dutch garage to rectify poor water pressure. They discovered that the pump fitted in France had also been wired incorrectly.

The Oaktree fitters spent half a day trying to get to the bottom of our electrical problem. They tried, but they failed. They told us that the electrical system requires extensive investigation which will take time that they don’t have. Oaktree Motorhomes have been voted as one of the best companies to deal with in the country. They sell a lot of motorhomes. Because of that, their fitters and mechanics are busy checking up to fifteen motorhomes sold by the company every week. They simply don’t have time for lengthy electrical investigation, or to dismantle gearboxes to rectify leaks.

The gearbox leak was an added bonus, discovered while Oaktree investigated the odometer oddities. In addition to the fluid oozing out of the gearbox, there’s a slight engine oil leak.

Oh the joy of motorhome ownership!

Oaktree didn’t have time to deal with the leaks on the day, and we don’t have enough time to take the Hymer anywhere else before returning to the continent. We’ll have to find a company there to fix the leaks somewhere in mainland Europe. The nominated garage certainly won’t be in France.

During our recent travels, we have continued our search for a bigger boat, a boat which we can live on full time, and hopefully leave the stresses and strains of life on the road far behind.

We’ve found one or two likely candidates in England. Unfortunately, they aren’t quite as competitively priced as similar sized boats on the continent. We would also have to consider the cost and logistics of getting it onto the European network.

Peter Coupland, a knowledgeable English broker we’ve been swapping emails with recently told us…

“The cost of bringing a boat back to mainland Europe always works out to be circa £3,000 including fuel as the Insurance companies now require 3 persons on board, 2 being qualified and one other. There is the daily rate for the crew and then all expenses including getting them back to their base or starting point. There will be no more crossings this year I am afraid as the weather windows are few and far between now and there will be too much waiting time for good weather.”

Three thousand pounds would be too much out of our budget. We would rather spend the shipping money on a big bank of long life batteries and a large solar array to keep the batteries topped up. We’ll focus on boats in the Netherlands from now on.

We’ll head south later today, enduring a couple of hours of motorway driving on our way to tomorrow’s MOT. The MOT and renewing our ridiculously expensive travel insurance are the last two items on our UK to do list.

All we will need to do then is to formulate a plan for the coming winter. Boat searching in the Netherlands or basking in the sun on France’s Mediterranean coast are the two most likely outcomes. I prefer basking in the sun, but if enduring a cold and wet winter allows us to move back onto the water full time, we’ll probably head north from Calais.


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Summary

Super Favorite 950AK Dutch Cruiser For Sale

After a frustratingly slow start, we have enjoyed a wonderful summer on the beautiful Dutch inland waterways network. We’ve cruised nine hundred kilometres on easy to navigate waterways through delightful towns and villages, including one rather scary but fascinating passage through Amsterdam harbour.

Our time on the water here has surpassed my wildest expectations. Of course, because I worry too much, I expected problems with the language, waterways signage, lock and bridge operation, finding waterside facilities and moorings, and just boating in a foreign country in general.

None of it was warranted.

The Netherlands is a wonderful place to live and cruise. Did you know that the Dutch are considered to be both the tallest and one of the happiest races on the planet?

We spent Friday evening with two French Canadian couples at a Leiden restaurant. Pierre, Claire, Bernard and Louise have been boating in the Netherlands for the last seven years on the Dutch cruiser they share. During the course of the evening we compared cruising notes.

We agreed that the Dutch are a very civilized bunch. They enjoy good food and they like to drink, but they always do it quietly, and with the greatest respect for those around them. If anyone’s making a noise while they’re enjoying a drink or two, they’re likely to be foreign tourists.

During our winter in France we often saw homeless men and women congregating in public, gripping cans of strong lager or bottles of wine in their grimy little hands. We haven’t witnessed that kind of behaviour once in the Netherlands. Nor have we seen any of the anti social behaviour so common in either the UK or the USA.

Graffiti is rare, vandalism is almost nonexistent, and antisocial behaviour is a rarity. When I think back on Friday and Saturday nights in England, I remember the streets of towns and cities filled with noise and staggering youth. Youngsters in the Netherlands are, at their worst, slightly boisterous.

On several occasions in the last year, on either the boat or in the Hymer, we have been parked or moored near groups of lively teenagers in the early evening. In the UK, I would expect the noise to increase as the evening progressed until the din reached such a volume that I would feel the need to either complain to the offenders, and run the risk of facing a barrage of verbal or physical abuse, or move to somewhere quieter.

In the Netherlands, I don’t worry about early evening activity at all. On virtually every occasion the youngsters have tidied up and left by 11pm at the latest. It’s a very refreshing change.

We’ve enjoyed the Netherlands, and we’ve enjoyed our boat, which is a shame, because we’re going to sell her.

Julisa is a superbly equipped boat for living afloat during the spring, summer and autumn months. We’ve enjoyed our time on her so much that we want to return to living afloat full time.

Unfortunately, we can’t do that on Julisa.

Julisa’s only fault as far as I am concerned is that she lacks insulation. She has an effective central heating system, a system which is wonderful for a day like today when rain has been hammering on the roof for hours on end, but one which would struggle in the depths of winter.

For that reason, and that reason alone, we have decided to part with her. We’re not going to list her with a broker yet. Part of me hopes that we don’t find a buyer so that we can enjoy her in 2018 for one final season.

The problem is that we think we’ve found the perfect boat for us. It’s a 16m barge currently moored in Belgium. We’re going to view ther at the end of this month. Whether we decide to move forward with that purchase or not, we will need to sell Julisa in order to upgrade to a bigger boat.

Sooner or later, our beloved Julisa will have to go.

Our first sight of Julisa in the water

Our first sight of Julisa in the water

On the off chance that a newsletter reader, maybe you, is interested in a wonderful and economical boat for three season cruising in Europe, I’ll tell you a little about her.

Vital statistics

Name: Julisa
Type: Super Favorite AK
Year of Construction: 1975
Built by: Van Kleef
Length: 9.70m (32’)
Width: 3.20m (10’6”)
Depth: 0.95m (3’1”)
Air Draught: 2.45m  (8’0”)
Building Material: Steel with mahogany superstructure

Engine: Peugeot Indenor Diesel 106 hp (economical 1.59 litres per hour at usual 2,000rpm/10.5 kph/6.5mph/5.7 knots)
Motor Number: 0562 690055 indenor AS106 OM
Engine hours: 3,891

Super Favorite’s are a striking and very popular boat in the Netherlands, especially with members of the thriving Super Favorite club. They are beautiful “ships”, as most boats are known to the Dutch, which usually have white painted steel hulls and mahogany cabins.

We purchased Julisa from a Dutch flower seller. His business dictated that he spent most of the summer months working rather than cruising. He took Julisa out for just three weekends in 2016.

He had much more free time in the winter when Julisa was stored in a cavernous and almost clinically clean warehouse. He spent that time painting, varnishing and buffing the boat to shiny perfection.

Regardless of the negligible engine hours, the engine was serviced every year. Everything on the boat was in first class condition when we purchased her in April 2017. Despite the boat’s first class appearance, we had a pre purchase survey done. All of the surveyors recommendations have been dealt with, which were as follows.

  • There was one small sign of rust under the floor in the aft cabin – That area has been treated and painted.
  • There was a little play in the steering gear – The steering gear has been tightened.
  • The cockpit canopy stitching needed attention – Both canopy sections will be restitched as soon as we have Julisa wrapped up for the winter sometime in the next two weeks.
  • There was a connection for a propane gas cylinder inside a sealed cockpit cupboard. Boats in the UK have to have gas stored in an exterior self draining locker. No such regulations apply in the Netherlands, but I suggested to the surveyor that the installation was a risk. He agreed, so I had the connection removed.
  • The surveyor considered the most serious problem to be the ringing noise which he identified at 1,800rpm. He suggested that there might be a problem with the engine. Before I had the engine professionally assessed, I had a look myself. I am far from being mechanically competent, but I resolved this “serious” issue almost immediately.

    The previous owner had hung a metal handled plastic bucket over the drive shaft to catch grease dripping from the stern gland. The ringing noise disappeared as soon as I removed the bucket.

Julisa is a good length on a waterways network where moorings are charged by length. The current rate is roughly €1 per metre per night on paid moorings, although there are unlimited number of moorings which are free of charge. We have used paid moorings for an average of one every four days this year. We use the paid moorings to give the battery bank a boost, empty our cassette toilet, use laundry facilities, or to have a shower.

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

Julisa’s minimal air draught is a huge advantage too.

In the UK, 57’ is the acknowledged ‘go anywhere’ length. In the Netherlands, air draught is far more important than length. Many of the moveable bridges are 2.5m or slightly higher. On a half day cruise we often need to negotiate twenty or thirty bridges. Many of them will be close to 2.5m. Boats higher than Julisa, and there are many, have to wait for up to 15-20 minutes before the bridge keeper opens the bridge for them. Julisa simply slides underneath. There is a ball topped varnished length of dowel fitted to Julisa’s bow with a strong spring. If the ball fits under the bridge, so will the highest point, the cockpit.

Julisa’s low profile has saved us many hours of frustrating bridge waiting.

Also at the bow is Julisa’s 200 litre water tank. It’s small by many boats standards, but our onboard water supply has always been more than enough for us. When we stop at a yacht club or marina, we top up then. Despite eating three cooked meals a day, and therefore washing dishes three times a day, we have never come close to running out of water, even with guests on board.

The Head

Headroom: Not much, but as you spend most of your time seated in this room, you don’t need much.

The smallest room in the house

The smallest room in the house

The smallest room on board, the toilet, for non boaters, is actually quite small on Julisa. There’s no shower on board so the head, which is just behind the water tank, is big enough for our single Porta Potti toilet and a small washbasin. There’s not enough room to swing a cat around in here, but that’s probably not something you want to do when you’re sitting on the throne.

The toilet’s black water tank holds 20 litres. It’s small, but plenty big enough with careful management. Our black water tank is rarely more than two thirds filled when we arrive at a marina.

The bow thruster is accessible through a floor hatch in front of the toilet. Not that we’ve ever had need to access it. The powerful bow thruster is very handy for turning on tight canals. We found it particularly useful when, in error, I took us onto a canal with very low fixed bridges which stopped us dead in our tracks. Julisa’s length, and the bow thruster which allows the boat to turn in its own length, enabled us to turn around on a canal barely wider than we are long, rather than reversing for a couple of miles.

The bow thruster is also very handy for holding station on windy days on the relatively rare occasions that we have to wait for bridges.

There is a large ceiling hatch for ventilation.

HOW MUCH WILL YOUR NARROWBOAT COST TO MAINTAIN?

Purchase cost, licensing, part or full time mooring fees, propulsion and heating diesel, coal, gas and electricity generation costs... Trying to estimate the real cost of living afloat can be a real headache. In this comprehensive package, ALL the costs you are likely to incur are broken down and explained. Then you can enter your own specific costs in a bespoke narrowboat budget calculator. Low cost and backed by a 100% unconditional money back guarantee.

Galley

Headroom 6’2”

The galley is behind the head. Cynthia likes to cook. She manages quite happily with our four burner propane hob. Propane is supplied by a 10kg cylinder in an external locker above the swim step. We also keep a smaller spare smaller cylinder on board in a cockpit cupboard.

A compact but very user friendly galley

A compact but very user friendly galley

There are two 12v 60 litre fridges on board. Cynthia enjoys cooking, and she enjoys cooking with fresh produce. There’s bags of storage space on board, so the loss of a couple of galley shelves to house the new fridge was no big deal, nor does the additional fridge’s electrical draw bother us because of the size of our battery bank.

Plenty of work space in the compact galley

Plenty of work space in the compact galley

Another view of the galley showing the sexy main cabin roof

Another view of the galley showing the sexy main cabin roof

There is a cold water tap in the galley as well as the head. Both are gravity fed, so there’s no problem with water pumps failing or freezing in the winter. Julisa doesn’t have hot water on board, but life is not a problem without it. We have a large flask we keep in the galley, topped up with boiling water heated in the kettle. A water heater is just one more thing to go wrong when you’re cruising.

Dinette

Headroom: 6’ 2”
Converted dinette double bed: Length 6’4”, Width 4’5”
Converted bench seat single bed: Length 6’4”, Width 2’2” Both Cynthia and I have slept on this, at separate times I might add, and found it very comfortable.

The boat’s very comfortable seating area is behind the galley. We have been surprised by just how many boats, often much larger than Julisa, don’t have anywhere comfortable to sit.

Julisa has a Pullman dinette which comfortably seats four adults. In fact, we spent one very enjoyable evening with four adults sitting at the table, and two large basset hounds sleeping under it.

Sunday morning breakfast on the main cabin dinette

Sunday morning breakfast on the main cabin dinette

Sunday night rest, also on the main cabin dinette

Sunday night rest, also on the main cabin dinette

There is a bench seat opposite the dinette which would comfortably hold another three or four people, not that we’ve tried.

The main cabin bench seat is also...

The main cabin bench seat is also…

...a very comfortable single bed

…a very comfortable single bed

Both the dinette and the bench seat convert into beds. Two people can sleep very comfortably on the dinette double bed, and another on the bench seat conversion. We’ve used both beds ourselves and enjoyed very restful nights. In fact, the dinette base makes a very spacious place to sleep.

Space beneath the dinette seats and the bench seat, and the space beneath the central walkway, provide ample storage.

For electrical devices, there are four 220v sockets in the main cabin, plus one cigarette style 12v charge which I use to charge my MacBook. The MacBook charger also has two USB ports, so we can keep our phones charged from the same 12v point.

There is an opening window and a ceiling hatch in the galley for ventilation.

Cockpit

The cockpit is accessed via two steps up from the main cabin. These have storage space under them including, a particular favourite of mine, space for ten bottles of wine or beer.

The cockpit table is perfect for summer lunches

The cockpit table is perfect for summer lunches

Beneath well insulated panels in the cockpit floor is the boat’s 106hp Peugeot engine. The engine is easily accessible via these panels, which makes essential pre cruise checks a breeze. We have been constantly surprised by the engine’s inaccessibility on other boats we’ve looked at.  In fact, one boat had an engine which was virtually impossible to get to.

Looking from the aft cabin forward

Looking from the aft cabin forward

The trawler style cruiser at a boat brokerage in Loosdrecht had its engine under cockpit floor. This is quite normal. However, a bench seat incorporating a second fridge had been built into the cockpit. The fridge was such a tight fit that it protruded slightly over the edge of the opening side of the hatch above the engine.

I tried and failed to move the fridge enough to open the hatch. I asked the brokerage harbour master to open it for me. He failed too, and then admitted that, on the one other occasion that brokerage staff had been anywhere near the engine, they had to take the fridge cabinet apart.

Easy access to the engine bay is essential, but not always easy. Julisa’s engine bay is easier to access than most.

Julisa's super reliable 106hp Peugeot engine

Julisa’s super reliable 106hp Peugeot engine

The boat’s two battery banks are also beneath the cockpit floor. When we bought Julisa, the domestic bank was a mess of mismatched and different aged lead acid batteries. I had them all replaced with a new bank of four 160ah long life maintenance free AGM batteries. I left the almost new 95ah starter battery in place.

A very substantial leisure battery bank (plus the starter battery on the right)

A very substantial leisure battery bank (plus the starter battery on the right)

Julisa had a woefully inadequate 300w inverter when we moved on board. That’s now been upgraded to a Victron Phoenix 1600 model, which caters for all our electrical needs, including Cynthia’s hair dryer and her Vitamix food blender and, the most essential of onboard kitchen tools, our coffee grinder.

The Victron inverter and Allpa battery charger

The Victron inverter and Allpa battery charger

The under cockpit floor space is also home to Julisa’s Eberspacher central heating unit. We tested the central heating during the sea trial. It didn’t work. The owner agreed to pay for half of the cost of a new Eberspacher heater if the installed model couldn’t be repaired. It couldn’t, so the boat now boasts a brand new and very reliable air blown central heating system. As I write this, the temperature outside is a rather chilly early autumn eight degrees. Inside, it’s a very comfortable twenty degrees.

The brand new Eberspacher heater

The brand new Eberspacher heater

The engine bay is both clean and spacious. The bilge is dry with no signs of rust. The Peugeot Indenor engine was extensively refurbished a few years ago – I don’t know exactly when – and currently has 3,891 hours on the clock. We’ve cruised 900km over 175 hours this year at just under 6 knots. I suspect that, if we push the pedal to the metal, we would get another 2-3 knots out of her. On occasion, in order to make a bridge which has just raised, we’ve raced forward. The engine hasn’t missed a beat. There are no signs of leaks, either oil or water, and the exhaust is smoke free.

In addition to the engine’s reliability, it’s also extremely economical. On waterways where boats using 20 litres of diesel an hour aren’t unusual, and craft drinking 4-5 litres an hour are common, Julisa’s negligible 1.6l consumption for a 106hp engine is rare.

Soundproofing is all important when you’re sitting on top of the engine as you cruise. Julisa’s engine bay is very well insulated, which means that we can barely hear the Eberspacher when it’s running either.

Julisa is a joy to drive. She’s very responsive, ‘turns on a tanner’, as my grandfather used to say – I eventually discovered that he meant the vehicle had a very tight turning circle – and from the helm, the steerer has 360’ visibility, handy when negotiating Dutch waterways on a sunny Sunday afternoon with countless perfectly maintained and ridiculously expensive day boats whizzing by on both sides.

The engine controls and gauges are both simple and reliable. There’s an accurate fuel gauge for the 200 litre tank, a tachometer, which I’ve calibrated as a speedometer, engine temperature gauge – it’s reassuringly predictable. The temperature rises slowly over half an hour and then sticks at eighty degrees regardless of the length of the cruising day – and a Victron battery monitor which I had installed in April this year.

The battery monitor is an essential tool for helping prolong battery life. The monitor displays a number of readings. The most useful to me is the current leisure bank state of charge. At a glance, I can tell if and when I need to run the engine to supplement the roof mounted 400whd solar array or connect to a shore supply. The current leisure battery bank, also installed in April, should last 7-10 years with careful management. The Victron monitor allows for very careful management indeed.

The engine speed is determined by a simple Morse control, similar to UK narrowboats.

The is an opening window in front of the helm equipped with wipers. After half a decade standing on the back of a narrowboat open to the elements, sitting in a comfortable chair warm and dry on the coldest and wettest days while I steer is still something of a novelty, and a very welcome one at that.

The cockpit roof is waterproof blue canvas. It can be removed on fine days for al fresco cruising, as can the rear cockpit hood. I have to admit, I was a little concerned about the practicality of a cloth top, knowing that the Dutch weather was similar to that in England, and that we could expect a reasonable amount of rain during our cruising year. Actually, we had very little rain this year until this month.

The cockpit waterproofing was well and truly tested in September, including thirty six hours of torrential rain earlier this week. In all that time, we had three drips through a seam where the stitching had perished. Both canopies will be professionally restitched at the end of this month.

The cockpit offers more very comfortable seating. There’s a comfortable L shaped seat on the starboard side large enough for four people, and another on the port side which will seat two. There is extensive storage space under the seats, in the engine bay, and in cupboards along both sides.

Aft Cabin

Headroom: 5’0”
Double bed: Length 6’2”, Width 3’11”
Single bed: Length, 6’2”, Width 2’8”

This is where Cynthia and I usually sleep. There isn’t much headroom, but that doesn’t matter because neither of us sleep standing up. Once again, there is plenty of storage space. In fact, we use the single bed in the aft cabin for storage too. We keep our two folding bikes in their protective cloth bags on the single bed. They’re much safer there than they are outside and they are protected from the elements.

The aft cabin double bed

The aft cabin double bed

The aft cabin single bed

The aft cabin single bed

There is a small skylight in the aft cabin for ventilation.

Outside

There is an anchor securely stored on the bow, and more than enough chain and rope to go with it.

The boat’s two solar panels are mounted on the deck above the dinette flush with the roof.

To the rear of the boat is a swim step. The Dutch are very fond of swimming in their lakes, rivers and canals. Given their fondness for discharging black waste in the crystal clear waterways, I’m not keen on following their example. If I did, I certainly wouldn’t be swimming with my mouth open.

We use the swim step for storing a boat cleaning brush, a gangplank for rare difficult moorings, and the mast and sail for the boat’s Pirate dinghy. The dinghy hangs securely from davits above the swim step. It’s equipped with a pair of oars for leisurely evening rowing on tranquil lakes (I sometimes sneak a bottle of beer on board to aid my solo rowing expeditions and occasional meditation, but don’t tell Cynthia!)

Jos adjusts the davits for our new dinghy

Jos adjusts the davits for our new dinghy

At the moment, Cynthia isn’t keen on selling the dinghy, but she might change her mind.

Mooring

Julisa is a wonderful boat, but she’s not suitable for living on board full time, which is the only reason we are selling her.

When she’s not being used, she needs a mooring. There’s no shortage of moorings in the Netherlands, but the cost varies considerably.

Before we bought Julisa, we provisionally secured what we thought was an ideal mooring in Friesland. In hindsight, that wasn’t such a good idea. The Friesland moorings was at a pretty marina, but it was quite expensive, and it was in a remote section of the network. In order to reach new cruising territory, we would have to constantly chug along the same canal from the Netherland’s far north.

We decided to moor in Leiden instead.

Leiden is a charming and vibrant city, known by some as “Little Amsterdam” The city’s bewildering network of low bridged canals is a hive of activity in the summer months. Trip boats and countless private day boats ply the waterways at all times of the day and night, entertaining visitors to hundreds of canalside bars, cafes and restaurants.

Leiden is also at the heart of the network. This year, we’ve only explored a small fraction of the canals, rivers and lakes within a few days cruise of our base. We’re moored close to the centre of a vibrant city, but an hour’s cruise away to the north is an extensive area of lakes, polders and islands with some wonderful locations to anchor or moor for a day or two.

Leiden’s proximity to Schiphol airport is also an advantage. There is a train station inside the airport terminal with over 100 scheduled trains to Leiden every day, roughly one train every fifteen minutes. The journey itself takes less than half an hour. Leiden is very easy to reach from the UK.

An equally important consideration is the boatyard we moor at. Actually, calling it a boatyard is a bit of an exaggeration. Our mooring is owned by Jos van Galen and his charming wife Brenda. He has a yard will well equipped workshops and enough space for sixty boats on hardstanding.

Jos has looked after us very well this year. In addition to a first class finish to the alterations and improvements we asked him to do, he agreed to let us keep Julisa in his small yard over the winter for a very reasonable price. He also allowed us keep our motorhome in the yard during the summer.

We’ve had to interrupt our summer cruising for a variety of reasons this year. Each time we returned, he allowed us to moor on the little free space he has on the canal next to his yard, free of charge. He’s a good guy. I couldn’t think of a better place to moor our boat, or a better person to maintain and repair it for us.

We haven’t spoken to Jos yet, but I am sure that he would be happy for the new owner to store Julisa there too.

I think I’ve covered everything you need to know, apart from the price. We’re asking €39,950 for Julisa. It’s a fair price. I don’t know how many Super Favorite’s are still cruising on Dutch waters, but I think that there are several hundred. You won’t find many for sale though. They are very popular boats.

Here are some more external shots taken during our cruises this year…

Sunset at a yacht club in Aalsmeer

Sunset at a yacht club in Aalsmeer

A cosy floating home to return to

A cosy floating home to return to

A tranquil mooring for the night in Flavoland

A tranquil mooring for the night in Flavoland

On a Kaag inslaand mooring

On a Kaag island mooring

…and two more while the boat was on hardstanding having work done…

I wanted to paint on a mouth to make Julisa more shark like

I wanted to paint on a mouth to make Julisa more shark like

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

If you want to know anything else about Julisa, or would like to arrange a viewing, please either email me or phone me on +31 (0)659 619957.

Oh, I forgot to add that the sale price includes two days of orientation and helmsmanship training if required. The Dutch waterways may seem intimidating to anyone who hasn’t cruised overseas before. I know that the prospect worried me before we made the leap of faith. Cruising over here is actually very easy once you know how. All you need is someone to show you, and I’m your man!

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Cruising Differences Between the Dutch and English Inland Waterways Part 2


We’ve seen more rain in the last week than we have all summer. In fact, I think that we saw more rain on Friday alone than we did all summer, which was a shame given that we cruised for eight hours.

Keverhaven Island Caretaker's Floating Home

Keverhaven Island Caretaker’s Floating Home

We’ve done a great deal of cruising since we left our mooring at Keverhaven last Sunday. Cynthia’s friend, Alex, flew into Schiphol from Boston last Sunday to spend a week with exploring the waterways with us. Two hundred and ten kilometres of cruising on through vast lakes, quiet canals and rivers, and two mercifully short crossings of the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal, the arterial waterway route between Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

Cynthia's friend Alex joins us for lunch at Muiden's Fort H

Cynthia’s friend Alex joins us for lunch at Muiden’s Fort H

As ever, cruising has been a pleasure, but we’ve had another frustrating episode with the Netherland’s automated bridge system. Although several Dutch boat owners have assured us that the system rarely, if ever, breaks down, we’ve been delayed four times now in the last three weeks.

The latest hiccough was on the Merwede Kanaal on the outskirts of Utrecht. An automated lift bridge which should have been in service showed two red lights, indicating that we weren’t going anywhere in a hurry. After chugging slowly in circles for quarter of an hour waiting for the lights to change, we decided to backtrack for a while and then try a slightly longer route through a commercial lock onto the mighty river Lek.

The lock keeper quickly put us off the idea.

We passed a long row of 3,000 tonne barges moored two abreast before tying precariously to a lock landing which dwarfed our little boat. I walked from the landing past two cavernous locks towards the distant lock keeper’s office.

The thought of taking Julisa through the two locks terrified me. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could. Rather than vertical, the lock sides were bowl shaped to accommodate the gigantic barges which used it. We wouldn’t be able to reach the lock walls to tie up. Even if we could, the post box sized bollards would be far too high above us to reach.

The locks clearly weren’t designed to accommodate boats less than a football pitch in length.

“You don’t want to bring that little boat in here.” the lock keeper laughed, looking at Julisa bobbing like a toy at the bottom of the lock landing. ‘You need to use the lock for sports boat at the far end of the canal,” he told us, pointing back the way we’d just come.

After explaining the bridge closure problem, he made a phone call. “It’s working now. The guy in the control room had to leave for a few minutes because of an emergency. Everything’s working now.”

A trip boat squeezes through a narrow bridge at Maarssen

A trip boat squeezes through a narrow bridge at Maarssen

Bridges and locks on English canals might be harder work, but at least you have a little more control over them.

The more I think about Dutch waterways automation, the more I miss English locks and bridges. English Locks especially offer wonderful opportunities to enjoy short breaks from what can become monotonous cruising over a long day. Depending on the time of day, and the time of the year, a lock passage can take anything from ten minutes to a couple of hours. It’s time which normally flies by thanks to inevitable interaction with a wide range of boaters and bystanders. Boaters especially are prepared, and sometimes far too keen, to share details of their journey or life to date. Striking up a conversation with someone at an English lock is a bit of a lottery, but one I’m always happy to take part in.

Once we’d backtracked again, and now running out of time, we approached the outskirts of Utrecht. With half an hour left before the city’s bridges closed for the day, we waited impatiently for one to open. After a ten minute wait, the bridge’s lights changed from red to red and green, an indication that the bridge was about to open. The bridge slowly raised until it was locked vertically. The lights remained on red and green, which meant that we still needed to wait. With no boats waiting on the far side of the bridge, we surged forward before it dropped again. Halfway through, an agitated voice blared from a nearby speaker. We were being reprimanded in Dutch for moving before the lights turned green. Cynthia suggested that we stop. I laughed. “We’re through now. What can they do?”

We found out what they could do five minutes later when we reached the next bridge, a bridge no doubt controlled by the same operator as the one we’d just illicitly raced through. A single red light means that the bridge is in service, but that boats need to wait. We waited, and we waited, and we waited. Fifteen minutes later we gave up. Our punishment for moving before we were supposed to was being held up by a bridge keeper with too much power, and being forced to moor on a scruffy section of canal in the commercial outskirts of Utrecht when all the bridges in the area closed for the day several minutes later.

With no official moorings between two now out of service bridges blocking our progress in any direction, we carefully nosed up to a grassy bank, making sure that we skirted piles of silt covered broken bricks visible less than a metre beneath our hull. We used two towering oak as mooring posts and then, for the rest of the evening, enjoyed staring at a graffiti covered wall on one side of the canal, and lycra clad, middle aged businessmen through floor to ceiling glass windows pounding treadmill mil

Bridge after bridge through Ultrecht

Bridge after bridge through Ultrecht

es in the Top Team Fitness Centre next to a busy mail road on the opposite side.

Cruising in the Netherlands isn’t always glamorous.

We were released from our low bridged prison early the following morning. We cruised north through Ultrech’s city centre along a sunken canal spanned by an endless series of low and narrow stone arches. It was one of the few occasions on the Dutch canals when I would have been more comfortable at the helm of a low narrowboat than a tall and fat Dutch cruiser.

While Cynthia and Alex marvelled at the city’s canalside architecture, I marvelled at my inability to breathe as we squeezed through and under one seemingly impassible bridge after another. Julisa negotiated the scary bridges unscathed. My underpants didn’t.

The final shock of the morning came when we passed under the last stone bridge and onto the landing of Weerdsluis, the lock allowing boaters from Utrecht onto the delightful river Vecht. We paid €5 for the five minute, one metre drop in height and then cruised north towards Loosdrecht and a second viewing of what we thought would be a suitable boat for us to live on full time.

Utrecht city centre's very narrow canal

Utrecht city centre’s very narrow canal

Sadly, we now realise that Dutch cruisers, regardless of their size, price or rough water handling capabilities, just aren’t up to the job. I understand that some of the more modern cruisers are fairly well insulated, but the relatively new cruisers large enough to live on full time are way above our price bracket.

The Dutch cruisers that we can afford generally aren’t insulated at all. The one we planned to view in Loosdrecht is one of them. The broker assured us that insulation could be retro fitted. I doubt that it can but, at the broker’s suggestion, I contacted a nearby boatyard to ask them to quote for the work. If the boatyard gets back to me at all, I expect a price too high for our modest means.

We’re back to searching online boat sales sites, hoping to find and insulated boat large enough to live on full time which doesn’t cost the Earth.

Taking of buying stuff, we topped up our diesel tank this week for the third time this season.

Our Peugeot 106hp engine is averaging 1.6 litres per hour at a cruising speed of ten kilometres per hour (6mph/ 5.2 knots) which, at current prices, means that our average fuel cost per cruising hour is €2.34 (£2.13).

We’re very happy with that. We need to make the most of it. Upgrading to a bigger boat means upgrading to a heavier boat that requires more diesel to push it through the water at our normal cruising speed. We’ll be lucky to find a suitably sized boat which uses less than twice our current average.

Blue sky after a day of rain at Amstelveen

Blue sky after a day of rain at Amstelveen

Our cruising week finished in truly filthy weather. We were in Muiden, just a hop, skip and a jump across the Ijmeer and through Amsterdam harbour to Amstelveen where we wanted to moor for a few days to allow Alex to do the tourist sight seeing thing. The problem wasn’t so much the day long, torrential rain, but the day long, gale force wind.

We’ve made the mistake of taking Julisa out onto open water once in a force five. It’s not an experience we’re keen to repeat. The alternative to three hours of relentless pounding by metre high waves was a relatively calm but long day skirting open waterways.

Steering from the relative comfort of a canvas sheltered cockpit is a mixed blessing. On my narrowboat, if I expected heavy rain, I simply climbed into my Guy Cotten commercial fishing waterproofs and stood exposed to the elements on the boat’s stern.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

On the Dutch waterways, I can sit in my heated cockpit wearing a tee shirt and shorts, oblivious to rain pounding off the canvas inches above my head. I stay bone dry, and completely blind.

A single glazed windscreen, warmed by the boat’s Webasto heater on one side, and cooled by heavy rain on the other, quickly becomes opaque. The only solution is to open the windscreen to increase visibility. Opening the windscreen also allows windblown rain to flood the cockpit.

So, on a boat in a weather protected cockpit, I ended up colder and wetter than on a narrowboat’s stern open to the elements.

We’re close to Amstelveen now, moored at WV de Koenen on Nieuwe Meer’s windy eastern shore. Our boat’s gentle rocking has just been compounded by the twin bow and stern thrusters of a thirty tonne Linssen yacht pulling off the mooring behind us. The €1,300,000 boat has more bells and whistles than you can shake a stick at, but I wonder if the owners who paid thirty times more than we did for our little boat are having thirty times the fun. I somehow doubt it, but I wouldn’t mind slipping into the owner’s shoes for a while.

I finished writing last week’s newsletter sitting on freshly mown grass on one of Julisa’s folding Comfort chairs next to a wind ruffled lake as I watched the sun sink slowly beneath the horizon. Here’s the few from my office window today.

The view from WV de Koenan clubhouse

The view from WV de Koenan clubhouse

I’m in the WV De Koenen clubhouse. Through a wall of two metre high windows in front of me, I can see forty white sailed yachts jockeying for position at the start of a half day race around the two hundred and fifty acre lake. Two wrinkled old Dutch yachtsmen are quietly playing billiards behind me. The clubhouse’s only other occupants are two harbourmasters drinking coffee as they wait for new boating customers.

There are far worse places to be.

Last week, I wrote a little about the differences between Dutch and English inland waterways boating. Here’s the concluding part. I hope that you find it useful.

Boat Styles

Boat styles on the English waterways network are quite limited because of water depth, lock width and bridge height. A ‘go anywhere’ narrowboat needs to be less than 57’ long to pass through all the locks on the network (60’ long if you don’t mind negotiating some locks diagonally).

Consequently, most of the boats on English canals are narrowboats.

If you decide that bigger is better, you can cruise some of the canals in a wide beam ‘narrowboat’. In reality, a wide beam will reduce your cruising options by about 50% in total. Not that you could cruise all of the waterways your wide beam could negotiate without incurring substantial costs.

A wide beam can’t cruise between the northern and southern sections of the network because of lock width restrictions, nor can they move between these two sections and the eastern waterways. If you have a wide beam, and want to visit all of the network, you have to have your boat shipped between sections by road. These style boats are usually used more as stationary floating flats than vehicles to explore the network.

At least a wide beam is low enough and has a shallow enough draught to pass under most canal bridges.

You’ll see a variety of steel and GRP motor cruisers on larger English rivers such as the Thames and the Severn. They are in their element on these waterways, which is just as well because, most of the time, they have to stay there.

Most cruisers are too high and too deep for most inland waterway canals.

On the Dutch network, just about anything goes, although far more of the network can be explored on a boat with an air draught of less than 2.5m. There’s still plenty of water to explore for boats higher than this. We regularly see boats able to transport one hundred and fifty passengers in comfort, commercial barges, cruisers costing over €1,000,000, tall masted sailboats, tugboats and trawlers which can cruise on many hundreds of kilometres of beautiful waterways.

What we don’t see regularly, or what we can’t easily identify, is boats being used as primary homes. If people want to live on the water over here, they tend to do so on dedicated houseboats. Here’s a quirky houseboat with its own car.

A quirky houseboat on Amsterdam's river Amstel

A quirky houseboat on Amsterdam’s river Amstel

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Canalside Facilities

Our boat had a sea toilet on board when we purchased it. Discharging black waste into the Dutch waterways isn’t officially allowed these days, we were told, so the sea toilet had to go.

Most Dutch boats, if they have onboard facilities, have pump out toilets. We considered one, but the available space only allowed for a 47 litre waste tank, which is about twice the size of a standard cassette toilet holding tank and a fraction of a size of the average tank on a UK narrowboat.

After asking about the practicality of using a cassette toilet in the Netherlands on the excellent Dutch Barge forum, and learning that black waste disposal points, Elsan points to English waterways users, were few and far between, I checked my very detailed Waterkaarten phone app.

While most marinas or yacht clubs didn’t appear to have Elsan points, the app indicated enough of them to make cruising long term with a cassette toilet relatively problem free. Unfortunately we’ve discovered that the Waterkaarten listings aren’t always terribly accurate.

Take last month for example; we cruised for five hours past dozens of marinas and yacht clubs. Only one out of seven showing Elsan points on the Waterkaarten app, Kempers Watersports where we collected our boat and had the survey done, actually had one.

We’ve cruised fairly widely over the last few weeks. Chemical toilet points are still something of a rarity, but we’ve learned to adapt. There are more healthy canal-side bushes about thank to a little furtive watering. We save the cassette for the solid stuff. Consequently, the cassette will now last a week, but the emptying process is a little less pleasant.

C’est la vie.

It’s just one of those little problems that you learn to overcome when you live afloat.

Pump out points for black waste holding tanks are plentiful but, in the last six months we have only seen one boat using one. Many Dutch boats for sale only have sea toilets on board. I have to assume that the Dutch waterways aren’t quite as clean as they appear to be.

Our washing facilities on board Julisa are very limited too. This hasn’t been a problem at all. There are thousands of marinas and boat clubs on the Dutch network. Many of them have wonderful shower blocks. Every three or four days we stop for a night on a paid mooring to top up both water and batteries and to enjoy a shower.

There are enough marinas and yacht clubs with laundry facilities to cater for our needs too. They usually have reasonably priced, high quality washers and dryers.

Depth, width and quantity

Narrowboats travel on narrow waterways with many narrow locks. A narrow lock can be as little as 7’ wide. A narrowboat is 6’10” wide. Narrowboats generally don’t travel with fenders down. If they do, there’s a good chance they’ll be pulled off when the boat makes occasional and often unavoidable contact with canal banks, other boats and lock landings. If fenders are left down when entering narrow locks, there’s a very good chance of either losing one or more fenders or, in a tight lock, getting the boat stuck.

Many English canals are very narrow. A section 40’-50’ wide feels spacious. Brushing against an oncoming boat as you try to avoid branches from overhanging trees or banks filled with sharp hawthorn or bramble is common, as is having to wait for an oncoming boat to pass before you squeeze through an 8’ wide gap.

The Dutch canals are much more spacious.

Cruising along a canal and seeing three or four boats overtaking each other as they race toward you isn’t unusual, nor is it a problem. There’s plenty of room and rarely any fear of making contact.

The Dutch locks are just as spacious. There’s normally room for relatively large boats two abreast and three or four nose to tail. Locking is far less stressful than on the UK waterways.

There’s far more water over here too. Many of the Dutch network’s lakes have more water in them than the entire UK network. Most canals are at least six to eight feet deep. There’s plenty of water under your keel so there’s very little chance of collecting canal bottom debris with your propeller.

Fuel Cost

Boaters on the English canal network can buy duty free fuel. It’s an odd system developed because of a narrowboat’s unique fuel use. Heating fuel in the UK is duty free. Propulsion fuel is not. A narrowboat often draws fuel for both heating and propulsion from the same tank. Because of that, many, but not all, fuel sellers on the canal network allow you to declare your own fuel split. The default split is 60/40, which means that 40% of your fuel is allowed for heating purposes so it is duty free.

The current diesel price at Calcutt Boats where I used to work is £1.20 for propulsion and £0.70 for heating. At the default 60/40 rate, the cost per litre is £1.00. However, you are allowed to declare all of your diesel purchase at the duty free rate, a 0/100 split. One hundred litres would then cost just £70.

Most narrowboat engines use between one and one and a half litres of diesel per hour. My own forty year old Mercedes engine used 1.29 litres per hour. My three hundred litre tank would therefore cost £300 to fill at the 60/40 rate and would, in theory, allow me to cruise for 233 hours. If I wanted, I could declare 100% heating and fill my tank for £210.

Dutch boaters don’t have a duty free allowance, they have to pay higher pump prices than in the UK, and they generally use much more fuel per hour.

A boat cruising at 6-7mph is usual, so fuel consumption is much higher. Three to five litres an hour is common. We have been very lucky with Julisa. The previous owner told us that the boat used just over two litres an hour, which would have been acceptable.

It doesn’t.

I’ve discovered that the engine hours gauge is faulty. For every two hours we run the engine, the gauge records three. The actual consumption is 1.62 litres per hour.

We filled our tank for the second time this season earlier in the week at a Muiden yacht club. We had to wait for the owner of a £1,000,000 motor cruiser in front of us to add a little more fuel to his enormous twin tanks. They held 4,000 litres. He put in just over 1,000 litres at a cost of €1,500 (£1,384). At 20 litres an hour, his gin palace had a 200 hour range. Two hundred hours cruising would cost him £5,536.

Three hundred litres at current Dutch prices would cost me £396, compared with £300 at the English 60/40 split, or £210 if I declared 100% heating.

Cruising on the English canals in my 62’ 20 tonne narrowboat cost me £1.29 an hour. My Mercedes engine was considered fairly thirsty. Cruising in the Netherlands in a 32’ 6 tonne motor cruiser costs £2.13 an hour. The 106hp Peugeot is far more economical than most other live aboard Dutch boats.

Cruising in the Netherlands is far more expensive than it is in the UK.

Free moorings

The UK network is head and shoulders above the Dutch waterways in this regard. Finding a suitable, and often tranquil, place to moor on an English canal generally isn’t difficult. Large sections of English canal banks have vertical banks which are easy to moor against in a vertical sided narrowboat. With the aid of a couple of chains or piling hooks, or two mooring pins and a lump hammer, you can pick any spot which suits you, and then stay on it, free of charge, for as long as you like within reason.

The official limit is fourteen days before you have to move on. However, this limit is rarely enforced outside major population centres. In reality, you’re only limited by your food or heating fuel supply, and the capacity of your potable and black water tanks.

Mooring isn’t quite so easy in the Netherlands.

In the UK, you can pretty much moor anywhere you like on the towpath side of the canal unless there’s a sign telling you that you can’t. In the Netherlands, you can’t moor anywhere unless there’s a sign telling you that you can.

Despite this restriction, we’ve rarely had a problem finding a suitable mooring. The trick, as it is in the UK to a certain degree, is forward planning. The later you end your cruising day, the more trouble you will have finding somewhere suitable. Ideally, you want to finish your cruising day in the early afternoon when most boaters are still travelling.

Leaving your mooring search too late is asking for trouble. You have to take bridge and lock closures into account, and you need a map which shows official moorings.

The Waterkaarten app I have on my iPhone is indispensable. It shows the daily and seasol lock and bridge closing times and all paid and free moorings are clearly marked.

The only time we had a real problem was on a lake only accessible by a single lock. The lake appeared to have plenty of free moorings but there was only enough space for one or two boats at each of the seven locations marked on the map. We couldn’t try anywhere else because the lock was closed for the day. With no free moorings available anywhere on the lake, we searched for a paid mooring. The lake had just one yacht club. The yacht club only had six moorings large enough to take our boat. Only one was free. Fortunately we only needed one. It was a close call but, an hour after we began looking for a mooring for the night, we secured one with a wonderful view.

Fear of the Unknown

This site is visited by narrowboat enthusiasts from over ninety different countries, but most of them are from the UK. Inland waterways boating is a much easier leisure pursuit or lifestyle to adopt in your home country. There are less perceived difficulties; less of a problem with the native language and less of a problem viewing, buying and operating a boat.

I toyed with the idea of exploring the European network for many years. Although the prospect appealed to me, sticking with what was familiar and comfortable was so much easier. I was more likely to find an excuse why I couldn’t or shouldn’t try it than search for a solution to move me closer to my European waterways cruising goal.

Cynthia and the UK government changed all of that.

Shortly after we met, our plan was for Cynthia to move to the UK full time. We would continue to do what I had done for half a decade, live afloat on the English waterways.

The government had other ideas. Despite being able to support herself, and despite being married to me, Cynthia had many difficult and costly hurdles to overcome. When we discovered that her visa application was going to cost $4,000 with no guarantee of success, we decided that me moving out of the UK rather than Cynthia moving in made more financial sense.

I’m so pleased that we decided to do what we did.

I was initially worried about the unknown. I worried about the new waterways regulations and navigational signs displayed in a language I didn’t understand. I worried about the boat buying process, finding a mooring once we’d bought the boat, finding someone both capable and reliable to work on the boat once we’d bought it, and I worried about sharing the waterways with boats weighing five hundred times more than our little cruiser.

As is often the case with worry, the reality was far less daunting than the expectation.

We’re now considering buying a larger boat, one which we can live on full time. The upgrade will necessitate selling both Julisa and the Hymer, possibly buying the new boat in either Belgium or France, and learning about the waterways in either or both of those countries.

Of course, all of the new unknowns frighten me too, but I’m not going to let them stop me.

Time and time again I’ve heard that when people on their deathbeds are asked if they have any regrets in life, it’s the things that they didn’t do which spring to mind, and not the things that they did.

I sincerely hope that if you have considered exploring the vast European network, you don’t let fear of the unknown stop you. Give it a go. I hope the comparison between the two different waterways networks has removed a few of the unknowns for you. If there’s anything else I can help you with, just let me know.


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2

Cruising Differences Between the Dutch and English Inland Waterways


We’ve had to take some time out of our busy cruising schedule this week to tick some jobs off our to do list.

We’ll be returning to the UK at the beginning of October to have some warranty work done on the Hymer, and for the motorhome’s MOT. To get both Abbie and Tasha either over or under the English Channel –  we haven’t decided which yet – we also needed to have a new passport done for Abbie, and to correct an error on Tasha’s passport which was noticed at the Calais Eurotunnel terminal last October. Even though Tasha had successfully crossed the channel twice earlier in the year on the same passport, she was refused when an over zealous French animal control officer spotted an incorrectly recorded rabies vaccination date.

Our doggie documentation is in order now so we should, in theory, cross the Channel without a problem.

While we were out in the Hymer, we popped in to Winkel to have the Hymer serviced, the brake pads renewed and a headlight bulb replaced. I was quoted the best part of €1,000 for the work to be done in Germany in April. Dick Groot Safaricampers in Winkel did the work this week for €580.

We were delighted with both the bill total and the service, so we’ve asked them to quote for replacing the bedroom window I knocked off a couple of months ago. I imagine that a substantial part of the bill will be for removing the two rolls of industrial strength duct tape keeping what’s left of the window stuck to the frame.

After half a day sitting in a draughty motor home showroom we drove south to a clinic in Eindhoven for Cynthia. On the way down, we stopped for a few hours at De Valk yacht brokers in Loosdrecht.

We’re more than happy with our 32’ Dutch Super Favorite cruiser, but it doesn’t suit our future plans. Much as we’ve enjoyed touring far and wide in our Hymer motorhome, the waterways are our spiritual home.

Cynthia lived on a sailboat in San Diego for  seven years. I spent six and a half hugely enjoyable years living afloat on the English waterways. After six months off the water, moving our meagre possessions back onto a boat felt like coming home.

Now that we have reached the end of our first Dutch cruising season, we don’t want to leave. We have exciting plans for the coming winter. We’ll return to England briefly in October. Then we’ll cross the channel again to visit Cynthia’s German clinic for a week, followed by a few weeks in Austria, Switzerland and Italy. As winter approaches, we’ll drive south to Provence in France. We’ll stay on France’s Mediterranean coast until April 2018, and then follow the spring north for another cruising season in the Netherlands.

That’s been our plan until very recently, but now we’re not so sure.

Cynthia often tells me that I’m like a bear with a sore head when I’m driving. Actually, I’m like a bear with a sore head when I’m not driving, but I’m worse when I’m at the wheel. Keeping an unwieldy five tonne, eight metre long vehicle on narrow roads with sheer drops to rocky river beds is a stressful affair.

The Hymer also feels quite claustrophobic after spending a few months on Julisa. Everything’s relative. On the boat, we still have about as much living space as a bricks and mortar home’s single garage, but there’s more space on the boat than in the Hymer.

We don’t want to come off the water, so we’re considering ways of living on either the Dutch or French waterway network full time. Our visit to De Valk in Loosdrecht was the first tentative step towards a return to full time living afloat.

We’ve been doing a great deal of research. If we’re going to be on a boat in the winter, it needs to large enough and warm enough to live comfortably. Julisa just isn’t suitable. We could just about manage the limited space, but Julisa’s lack of insulation, especially in the middle third of the boat, the cockpit, with its canvas roof, would mean that any warm air generated by the Eberspacher central heating system, would quickly escape.

The boat we went to see at Loosdrecht is a Crown trawler.

A trawler with a bit of a problem

A trawler with a bit of a problem

The boat, at 10.5m, is a metre longer than Julisa, but there is far more living space because of the flybridge, the roof mounted steering position. That means that the internal cockpit space, canvas covered and difficult to heat on Julisa, is a covered and insulated part of the living accommodation.

The trawler ticked all of the boxes on our wish list; plenty of internal storage space, a flybridge and loads of deck space for alfresco dining and general lazing about. It has a decent bedroom and – Cynthia was dribbling uncontrollably when she found out – two fridges. Unfortunately, one of them created a bit of a problem.

We checked the cabin’s underfloor storage. We could have hidden bodies in the cavernous cupboards and bilge area. We found the clean and neatly installed battery bank, a well wrapped calorifier, a decent sized water tank, an acceptably large black water tank but, after ten minutes of frustrating head scratching and deck board lifting, we couldn’t find the engine. In desperation, I even resorted to looking in cupboards.

Slightly embarrassed, I walked from the sales piers to the site office to ask the broker to find it for me.

The harbour master returned to the boat with us looking a little sheepish. He pointed to a fridge built into a raised seating area in the middle of the cockpit. “You have to slide the fridge backwards and lift that deck board,” he told me, pointing to a board trapped under the fridge’s leading edge.

“I’ve tried that,” I told him, “I can’t move the fridge any further back to lift the board”.

“Nor could we without taking the fridge apart!” he admitted.

A very basic pre cruise check is ensuring that the engine has enough water and oil. Not only was  the Crown Trawler engine buried under a difficult to move fridge but, once the fridge was moved enough to lift the deck board, an insulating box had to be taken apart before either oil or water could be checked.

The harbour master pulled and pushed the fridge for a few minutes before giving up. “This is a terrible design. I guess that some people think that the engine will run forever without any care”.

We didn’t spend any more time looking at that boat but, of the one hundred other boats on display, two or three were very well suited for living on board full time.

We really liked one of them. It is a spacious and well thought out boat equipped with a flybridge with plenty of space for alfresco dining, a large and cosy cabin and master stateroom and two guest bedrooms. Two guest bedrooms would be essential if we go ahead with one of our boating plans.

Plenty of space on the large rear deck

Plenty of space on the large rear deck

I’m thinking about resurrecting my discovery day service, this time for the endless Dutch waterways network. Because of the logistics involved, discovery day guests would have to spend longer than a day with us.

The Dutch waterways are as beautiful as they are easy to navigate. Over the last one hundred and thirty two days we’ve cruised six hundred and forty one kilometres, but passed through just fourteen locks. We didn’t even have to leave the comfort of the boat for them.

A large and cosy cabin for cold winter nights

A large and cosy cabin for cold winter nights

On my English discovery days, many guest found locks intimidating and quite hard work. On the English network, twenty miles (32 km) over 10 hours is considered good going as the route will invariably include a handful of locks and a couple of hours of hard physical labour. Last Saturday, on a cruise through Gouda to Aalsmeer, we managed 40km and two locks in six hours without breaking into a sweat.

Plenty of guest seating

Plenty of guest seating

Boating in the Netherlands is as easy as it is varied.

Sundays are wonderful on the canals over here. The Dutch are fair weather boaters, probably because so many of their boats are open to the elements. There’s no pleasure sitting motionless in pouring rain for hours on end, but, on a sunny summer Sunday, canals and lakes are a mass of watercraft, ranging from tiny rowing boats and kayaks to towering passenger boats hosting a hundred happy day trippers. The Dutch are a friendly bunch, so most of them smile and wave as they pass.

And then there’s the scenery.

The Netherlands is only a small country, but the population density is nearly 50% higher than in the UK. You’re never far from people, roads or buildings, so it’s just as well that the people are pleasant, the roads quiet and the buildings a pleasure to look at.

Unlike the UK where many a canal’s approach to a town or city is heralded by waterborne debris, graffiti and down at heel industry, Dutch city canals are generally clean and pleasant. You’re more likely to see someone’s front door than their back garden fence, and hordes of happy families out for weekend bike rides than hooded youth furtively looking at anything other than the people they pass.

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If you don’t fancy cooking on a Dutch waterways cruise, you’re never far from a convenient waterside restaurant, often with convenient moorings for passing boaters. It’s a real joy to moor for a while, grab a coffee or a bite to eat, and watch weekend boaters chug serenely by.

The more I think about it, the more appealing a Dutch discovery day service appears to be. Even for those not interested in or ready for boat buying, a pleasant cruise on a small but comfortable boat surely has some appeal.

However, I’m rather biased. I need an objective opinion. In this newsletters introductory email, there’s a link to click if you are interested in receiving more information about my proposed discovery day/recreational breaks. Please register your interest by simply clicking on it.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be tagged in my newsletter subscriber database. I won’t bombard you with unwanted emails, but I’ll let you know more about availability and cost if there appears to be enough interest.

If you would like to email me directly to ask any questions about the proposed service, you can either simply reply to the introductory email or click on this link.

That’s all I have to say about the new venture at the moment, but thinking intently about both the Dutch and the English waterways for a week or two has prompted me to outline the differences between inland waterway boating in the two countries.

Cynthia and I have been touring the Netherlands in our motorhome or cruising the Dutch waterways on and off for the last year. Before that, I lived on a narrowboat on the English canals for six and a half years. Cynthia spent six months on the English network with me.

We know enough about boating in both England and the Netherlands to understand the similarities, and the many differences. I know that many people who read my blog posts are considering opting out of mainstream living to enjoy a far more tranquil life afloat.

You might be one of them.

Here’s some useful information for you if you might be tempted to spend some or all of your time boating in mainland Europe. I’ll conclude the article below next week.

The Differences Between Dutch and English Inland Waterways Boating

I spent six and a half years living on the English canal and river network. There were a few aspect of English inland waterways boating which drove me mad, but I enjoyed nearly every minute of it. Cynthia and I are relatively new to Dutch boating, but we enjoy it just as much as we did in England. Both networks have their similarities, but they have just as many differences. Here they are…

No Touching Please

If you spend any time researching England’s inland waterways, before too long you’ll hear someone casually declare, “Narrowboating is a contact sport!”

While bumping into things shouldn’t be an aspiration, it’s often unavoidable. English canals are often narrow and sometimes overgrown, and you steer your long thin boat from a long way behind the bow on waterways that twist and turn like a spade chopped worm as they pass through bridges so low you need to duck to save your head.

Blind bends, especially on the older contour canals, are frequent, as is the likelihood that you will meet an oncoming narrowboat at the tightest and narrowest bend, a bend often partially blocked by overhanging bramble, hawthorn, oak, ash or willow.

When you touch an oncoming boat for the first time, you might worry about the owner’s reaction. You shouldn’t. If he or she is a veteran narrowboat owner, and you haven’t done something terminally stupid to cause the collision, the worst you can expect is a slightly disapproving frown. However, you’re more likely to be on the receiving end of a cheery smile and friendly wave.

Light contact with other narrowboats is part and parcel of English inland waterways cruising.

So is brushing against two hundred year old moss covered walls as you negotiate one of the network’s one and a half thousand locks which make cruising at an ever changing elevation possible.

Regular guests aboard my own boat usually found locks the most challenging part of their seven hour cruise.

My discovery days usually followed the same format. After five or six hours of very pleasant cruising along the snake like contours of the combined Grand Union and Oxford canals between Napton and Braunston junctions, the day’s grand finale would be the return trip through Calcutt’s three lock flight; three locks down and then three locks back up again.

I usually faced the same problem each time a novice helmsman nervously approached the first oh so narrow lock. I would give very clear and specific instructions, “This is a double lock, but we’re going in on our own. There’s only one gate open, because we only need one gate. This boat will fit, but it’s a tight fit. Forget what’s happening on the left hand side of the boat. Concentrate on the right. I want you to scrape the boat down the right hand wall”. The confused helmsman would look at me in horror, “You want me to intentionally crash your boat?”

Of course I didn’t want them to crash my home, but lock entrances are very, very tight. Narrowboats are 6’10” wide. A single lock, or a single gate to a double lock, is just over 7’0” wide. Making contact with lock walls is as unavoidable as it is necessary.

Boating on the Dutch waterways couldn’t be more different.

The canals are wide, deep and well maintained. Boating is very definitely not a contact sport over here. Negotiating the smaller urban waterways can be a little tricky, but boat owners here appear to be more skilled than many English narrowboat owners. They also have boats which are more maneuverable than narrowboats, and they usually have keels and bow thrusters.

Locks are wide, long, and very, very gentle. In an English lock, you have to have your wits about you. Most locks on the UK’s inland waterways are self service. If you’re very lucky, you’ll be the only boat in a lock and you’ll be in control of the water flow. A more realistic scenario is sharing a double lock with an inexperienced or impatient crew, or being helped by a boater waiting to come through the lock in the opposite direction.

If the paddles in a lock are raised too quickly, especially gate paddles which can allow a torrent to pour into the lock on top of your boat, you’re in for a rough ride. If paddles are raised quickly on both sides of the lock, strong currents can push you violently from side to side. In a single lock, your boat will be initially pushed quickly towards the bottom gate, and then even more quickly towards the upstream gate. Hard contact with several tonnes of solid oak can throw you off your feet and do a substantial amount of damage to your boat.

I was caught out on the Trent and Mersey canal a few years ago. I had thousands of lock passages behind me at that time but, just for a few important seconds, I was distracted from the job at hand. I had someone helping me with the lock. She had helped me with dozens of locks at that point, but a momentary lapse proved rather expensive.

While I was busy daydreaming deep in the single lock, she quickly wound the paddle fully open. I was still daydreaming as my boat began accelerating backwards. I woke up as my rudder was about to strike the downstream gate. I pushed my Morse control forward to slow myself down, just as the flood of brown water hit the gate, bounced back and pushed me quickly towards the upstream gate. I couldn’t stop the boat before it smashed into the concrete cill beneath the upstream gates. The impact shattered the four chains holding my £100 rope fender in place, and threw me forward into the rear deck’s steel hatch frame. Fortunately, my head hit first so there was no damage done to me, but I lost my week old fender.

Dutch locks are an entirely different affair. A major difference between them and locks in the UK is that locks in the Netherlands are nearly always manned. This is a mixed blessing. Unlike manned locks in the UK which can often be switched to self service during off peak hours, or if there’s a staff shortage, Dutch locks are impassible outside designated times. The same applies to bridges.

I always enjoyed early morning cruising in England. The sky is often clearer, the wind more gentle, and locks and canals are easier to navigate. I don’t have that option on Dutch waters. Cruise start times are dependant on when the nearest lock or bridge is open for business.

Timing aside, Dutch locks are very user friendly. Two red lights tell you that the lock is out of service. A single red light means that the lock keeper is present, but that boaters need to wait. A red and a green light warn you to get ready, normally when the gate or gates are about to open, and then it’s green for go.

Once in the lock, you use bow and stern lines to looped around a lockside bollard to keep your boat ready, turn your engine off and enjoy a few minutes of gentle ascent or descent. Nothing could be easier.

Out on the waterways, keeping away from other boats is easy too. The canals, rivers and lakes are wide. In fact some of the lakes are so wide that seeing the nearest boat is difficult, so bumping into them is out of the question.

If you want wide waterways with little chance of an accidental bump into another boater’s pride and joy, the Dutch waterways is the place for you.

The Boat Cost

You can buy a pretty good second hand narrowboat for £30,000 – £40,000. If you’ve done your homework properly, you’ll get a comfortable home, fully equipped for long term off grid cruising, and an engine capable of handling river currents and gentle tidal flows.

If you want to really push the boat out, you can have your own bespoke narrowboat designed and fitted out to a high specification for £150,000.

In the Netherlands, the sky’s the limit. A budget of £40,000 will buy you a pretty decent 30-40 year old little motor cruiser like ours, but if you have money to burn, you can pay £100,000 for an open dayboat. If you want the ultimate in luxury, you can ask Feadship to build a yacht for you. You won’t get much change from £200,000,000. These superyachts are too big to cruise on the inland waterways here, but Feadship build more modest motor cruisers.

Earlier in the week, Cynthia and I visited De Valk yacht brokers in Loosdrecht. They had over one hundred second hand boats for sale. They had some wonderful almost affordable boats for sale, some amazing and completely unaffordable boats which, if we won the lottery, we would love to own, and one boat which we wouldn’t consider if we had all the money in the world.

Yours for €650,000

Yours for €650,000

This irredeemably ugly floating bathtub is for sale for a mere €450,000 (£415,000). For that, you get the shell and an electric engine. That’s it. De Valk, in an attempt at offloading the monstrosity, asked a boatyard to quote for the remaining interior fitting. This boat, fully fitted, will cost over £650,000. That’s a lot of money for an ugly boat.

The more spacious boats that we have been looking at for living on full time cost €70,000 – €100,000. For that, you get a 6-8 berth boat with two bedrooms, an interior and exterior steering position, enough external deck space for a table and chairs, and all the bells and whistles you need to live on board comfortably for extended periods.

Of course, the bigger the boat, the larger the engine and the higher the cruising cost.

That’s it for this week. I’ve run out of steam. Much as I’ve enjoyed sitting on a peaceful island in the shade with my MacBook on my lap, the time has come to take the top off a bottle of Belgian beer and watch the sun go down.

An office with a view

An office with a view

Next week I’ll cover boat styles and quality, sanitary stations, the size of the two networks, fuel costs, mooring costs and availability, and policing the waterways. I hope that you’ll find the information useful.


I took this short video as Cynthia prepared our morning meal. Even though we were a hundred metres away from the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal, we were still constantly buffeted by their wash as we tried to eat. As I complained while prodding a fork full of food for the third time into my ear instead of my mouth, Cynthia quoted one of her favourite sayings, “Remember, this isn’t a third world problem!” She was right. We weren’t starving, although if we stayed on the lock landing for a few days, I think we would have been very hungry.

By mid afternoon, after six hours of pleasant cruising on the mainly rural Hollandse Ijssel, our plans were thwarted at Haastrecht by the usually faultless Dutch bridge automation.

Most bridge opening is automatic. A single red light indicates that the bridge is operational but you should wait. However, some are frustratingly awkward self service. Somewhere close to the bridge, only accessible from the water, there will be a small button which has to be pressed to close the bridge’s road barriers and either lift or swing the bridge.

A floating bar with an outboard motor

A floating bar with an outboard motor

On a cruiser even as small as ours, pressing the button means nosing the boat almost within touching distance of the bridge, and then laying on the deck and reaching down to press the button. We only learned about this self service bridge type after waiting patiently for half an hour at one bridge for it to open. Eventually, a Dutch day boat sped past us. The owner skidded expertly to a stop inches from the bridge, leaned casually over his bow, pressed the button and then reversed just as casually backwards to wait a minute or two for the bridge to open.

After that, we checked each bridge carefully for hidden buttons.

The bridge at Haastrecht had one. Our bridge management skill was a joy to watch. Cynthia expertly maneuvered the bow close to the bridge. I hung off the bow like a monkey to press the button. We congratulated ourselves on a job well done, and then reversed a little to wait for the bridge to open.

It didn’t.

We should have noticed the bridge’s two red lights, which meant that the bridge was out of service. And then we noticed a line of moored boats filled with boaters enjoying the spectacle.

One told us that the bridge was broken. An engineer was on his way, but the bridge probably wouldn’t be operational until the following day. We found a space among the waiting boats, and then watched the engineer work on the bridge until 10pm. A cheer heralded the bridge raising once again. Two boats slipped through before the engineer left for the night. We laughed. What was the point? The next bridge, closed for the night, was just half a mile away.

We weren’t laughing later on that night. The bridge developed a mind of its own. The road barriers dropped on their own, the bridge raised briefly and then dropped again. Much to the frustration of local bikers and car owners, the road barriers stayed down until the following day.

A further three hours work the following morning by the same engineer finally cured the fault. The bridge raised, horns tooted, and a dozen boats raced through the open bridge before anything else went wrong.

We cruised 38km yesterday, through Gouda, north to Alphen aan den Rijn, and back onto familiar ground. We spent the night at a marina near Aalsmeer where we knew we could empty our toilet cassette for the first time in a week. We can now make our 21l holding tank last a long time with a little care and late night hedge watering.

Making way for a tour boat on the cruise back to Leiden

Making way for a tour boat on the cruise back to Leiden

After a two hour cruise this morning, we’re back at our Leiden base. We have jobs to do which require the Hymer. Cynthia has another appointment at her Eindhoven clinic, we need to get passports for both Tasha and Abbie in preparation for our forthcoming brief return to the UK, and we need to search for a low cost chandler with affordable fenders for our bow.

Cynthia’s out shopping on her little folding bike at the moment. When she returns, we’re going for lunch at a canalside restaurant in the heart of Leiden. We’ll watch the boats pass slowly by and wonder, once again, which way to go. Do we keep our summer boat and winter motorhome, or do we sell both to buy a more comfortable and capable boat for full time living and cruising on the European network? As Cynthia would say, it’s not a third world problem, but it’s the only problem we have, so we’ll continue to focus on it.

Isn’t life wonderful?

Cynthia Says……Trial by Fire

When we first made an appearance at Jos van Galen’s boat yard, we had to guide Julisa down a very narrow canal just barely missing the houseboats lined up along the way.  Just trying not to run into anything was a major accomplishment!  Then in order to moor up properly we had to go past the boat yard and turn around in a small space then backtrack.  I remember those first few times how much in awe I was watching Paul manoeuvre the boat around.  The first time or so was a little tense, then it became routine.

Paul has asked me a number of times if I wanted to be in charge of turning Julisa around in this tiny space and I always declined—-until today, at the end of our 3 week journey where we discovered a decent range of the waterways network.  A couple of days ago I told him I wanted to do this “home port turnaround.”

As we approached the canal I was gagging my nervous level and surprisingly found myself to be quite calm, even though in part of my mind I knew I could easily screw it up.
In all truth it turned out to be far easier than I had imagined, and with just a few timely words from Paul, before I knew it I had turned her around and was headed to the mooring spot!  I was SO happy to end this journey on a positive note.

I haven’t done a lot of the helmsmanship while cruising, not because I don’t care to do so, but because I usually find myself involved in cooking, cleaning, watching our progress on the chart or other (seemingly) important tasks.

What I DO do the majority of the time is bring the boat in for mooring, whether it be along side a canal or lake or in a lock.  At first I was nervous about doing this, but thanks to Paul’s excellent directions it has become quite easy.  I’ve developed a system when docking on the starboard side that works well for me.  I have the window in the main saloon to look through in order to gauge my distances.  Without this, it is difficult to see very well to the right since the wheel is on the left (port) side.

During these past three weeks on the waterways I’ve had the opportunity to watch many boats mooring up and have come to the conclusion that nearly 100% of the time, the man steers the boat while the woman handles the lines (or ropes as they are called depending on the country you are from).

The reason I don’t handle the lines–which usually involves jumping or taking long steps from boat to dock–is because of the injury to my right groin that I sustained a couple of years ago.  It unfortunately has limited some of my movements, though I am working at improving this.

These past three weeks really put my skills to the test, as every lock or docking situation is different depending on weather conditions, the wind, how many boats are in the lock with us, etc.  I really find that I am up to the challenge (a good part of this is because I have such an excellent mentor!), and I will continue to welcome the challenges as they present themselves.

It’s been a great three weeks and we have been blessed with wonderful weather, kind people and lots of exciting experiences and personal interchanges with our fellow boaters.

I just wish the summer wouldn’t end!

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!
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Dodging Monster Barges on the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal


Four months after buying our Dutch motor cruiser, and just a month before we have to put her to bed for the season, we’re finally enjoying the lifestyle I hoped for when we talked about cruising the Dutch waterways.

We’ve climbed most of our major hurdles now. We understand enough waterway rules and signs to keep ourselves out of trouble. We know where to find moorings, how much they’re likely to cost, and which moorings we can stay on for free. We understand all the costs involved, which has allowed us to budget for realistic expenditure next season. We realise the limitations imposed by our pretty little Dutch cruiser, and the likely cost of buying a boat more suitable for coastal waters and large inland lakes and rivers. Most of all, we understand how much we underestimated the Dutch network.

A brick and thatch houseboat on a Flavoland  canal

A brick and thatch houseboat on a Flevoland canal

As far as I’m concerned, the Waterkaarten app we use for navigation is an essential onboard tool. Finding your way around the English canal network is easy. You can travel for days on the same canal. Making a turn onto another canal is a milestone, something to be noted and enjoyed. Getting lost is difficult.

A misty morning cruise in Flavoland

A misty morning cruise in Flavoland

The Dutch network is very different.

An uncountable number of dead end arms branch off hundreds of canals flowing through a bewildering number of connected lakes. Ask a boater in England how to get from London to Birmingham and he’ll tell you to either simply follow the Grand Union canal, or follow the Thames to the South Oxford canal and then turn left where the South Oxford joins the Grand Union. If you ask Dutch boater how to get from Amsterdam to Maastricht, a similar distance to London to Birmingham, you’ll need to settle down for a lengthy discussion about about possible route options, water depth and bridge height.

We’ve clocked up 600km so far, but all of our cruising has been done no more than 50km from our home base at Leiden. We’ve passed through a dozen large lakes as we’ve cruised, each with its own collection of islands, many of which are free to stay on. Facilities range from simple box moorings on a bush covered spit of land to privately owned islands where, for a fee, you can enjoy manicured lawns, smart shower and toilet blocks, and moorings protected from the wind which often scours these vast expanses of open water.

We’ve raced back to Leiden over the last three or four days, which has been frustrating because we’ve been delayed by a broken lock, a broken bridge, and my inability to absorb the mass of information available on my Waterkaarten app.

I planned our route back carefully, paying particular attention to forecast wind strength to avoid another bumpy and rather worrying passage on the Ijmeer. We couldn’t resist staying a night at Jachthaven Stichting which nestles beneath Muiden castle. The marina is a wonderful but expensive place to stay for a day or two. We bobbed on the water under a cloudless sky, watching a steady stream of boats passing to and from Muiden’s tandem locks.

A beautiful evening in Almere Haven

A beautiful evening in Almere Haven

While Cynthia did important womanly things on the boat, I did the manly work, trudging to the washing machines at a nearby marina, and then sitting with a coffee in the sun watching boats go by. It’s a hard life.

The view from our Maiden mooring

The view from our Muiden mooring

Dutch locks, which frightened us so much a few weeks ago, are a breeze now that we know how they work, and now that we have developed a system for entering them without damaging Julisa or the boats around us.

Julisa has five cylindrical fenders, three on the port side, and two to starboard. We need one more, and we need a pair of larger teardrop shaped fenders for the bow. These are essential for keeping the sloping bow away from lock walls or canalside moorings. Unfortunately, the missing white paint on the otherwise pristine bow is testament to our inexperience when entering the first few locks of our current cruise.

No shortage of moorings on our cruise south

No shortage of moorings on our cruise south

I knew that we would need a pair of bow fenders before we passed through our first lock, but the only ones available at chandleries on our route have been for sale at prices that make me want to cry. The blue rubber 18” rubber spheres cost at least £70 each. We’ll be passing a low cost chandler next week, so we’ll buy a pair there, and some paint to repair the damage done by not having adequate protection.

Our lock entry system didn’t work quite right in Muiden. Cynthia steered and I stood on deck ready to grab a passing lock bollard to pull us against the side. I cocked up, so the bow swung into an immaculate and ridiculously expensive Dutch day boat. These open boats often cost in excess of £100,000. Fortunately, they’re protected by thick rope fenders running continuously around the hull top so our awkward lock entry didn’t actually do any damage to anything other than to my pride.

Once through the lock, we cruised serenely down the river Vecht. The river is very similar to affluent sections of the Thames with vast mansions surrounded by manicured lawns descending gently to the riverbanks lined with day boats costing as much as a small house.

We stopped for the night at the Spiegelplas, a 700 acre nature reserve only accessible by dropping down a lock from the Vecht. “The Spiegelplas is the most beautiful lake in all of Holland!” the lock keeper assured us as he minced around the lock closely followed by his Filipino boyfriend.

He may well have been right, but it was a pig to moor on.

We cruised for an hour around the lake, visiting each of the nine designated mooring spots indicated on our Waterkaarten app. All were full, and as the lock wasn’t scheduled to open again until the following morning, they were all likely to stay full.

We spotted our first Dutch waterways narrowboat on the Spiegelplas. The ten metre cruiser stern boat was anchored in shallow water next to a willow covered island. After an hour’s fruitless mooring search we weren’t in the mood for stopping and chatting so we left the owner sunbathing on his back deck before continuing on our lake circuit.

We manage to secure the last remaining space at a lakeside yacht club where we enjoyed an alfresco meal at a waterside picnic bench before a good night’s sleep on a peaceful mooring.

Rested and raring to go, we were at the lock landing by 10am waiting for the lock to open. We had a long wait. The low bridge adjacent to the lock was broken. “We had the same problem last week,” the owner of the boat moored in front told us. “That time, the bridge took twenty four hours to fix” We were lucky. After two hours basking in the sun, we were on our way again, cruising south on the Vecht for a couple of hours to another lock and another lake.

The €5 lock fee came as a bit of a shock, especially as we only wanted to stay the night.

The Loosdrechtse Plassen is a beautiful expanse of water dotted with small islands, many of which have free moorings. Unfortunately, many of them are box moorings. Box moorings require boaters to climb on and off their boats from either bow or stern. Bow or stern entry isn’t easy for us, and is impossible for the dogs, so we need to moor alongside a pier.

After an hour searching for a suitable place to stop for the night, we found Meent island. We had a jetty, and most of the five hundred metre long island to ourselves. Most of the island’s five acres were mown lawn dotted with shady trees. A small kiosk sold fast food and ice creams to cater for what I assume are throngs of boaters visiting the island to use the small sandy beach and sheltered swimming area.

We were woken in the morning by the bin and poo boats. In addition to the fast food joint, the island has a small toilet block which stores waste in a septic tank. A large flat decked barge nosed into the bank behind us, then used a mechanical arm to swap full for empty wheelie bins. Another barge equipped with a powerful pump connected to a large holding tank moored close to the facilities block to prepare the island’s toilets for the weekend visitors.

Towing a broken boat to safety

Towing a broken boat to safety

We began the next day on a good note. A small cruiser crewed by two inexperienced young Dutch couples was moored in a small bay on the opposite side of the island to us. Their engine wouldn’t start, so we towed them across the lake to a jetty close to their parked cars.

After reluctantly parting with another €5 at the lock to escape the lake network, we continued south on the delightful and gentle river Vecht before a rude awakening when we joined the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal.

Commercial canals are not a pleasant experience on our little boat.

The canal is a through route for BIG barges, many of them a hundred metres long, weighing more than three thousand tonnes. We’ve passed fairly close to these monsters on open water over the last three months. Providing we don’t allow ourselves to be hit broadside by their bow waves, we don’t suffer too much. The experience is very different on a canal, especially when there’s a steady procession of these boats passing in both directions.

The water displaced by boats of this size, often blunt bowed, cruising at ten to twelve knots, has nowhere to go. Waves radiate out from the barges, crash into the canal’s steep sided banks and bounce back towards the centre.

Julisa didn’t like it at all.

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We corkscrewed, pitched and rolled. Each violent movement was accompanied by terrified squeaks from Cynthia. We couldn’t move about the boat for fear of falling. Cynthia had to sit in the cockpit, braced against the boat’s pitching. I had to stand wide legged at the wheel to stop myself being thrown about the cockpit. Both of us were terrified.

A grand house on the Thames like river Vecht

A grand house on the Thames like river Vecht

We watched as the Waterkaarten app tracked our progress agonizingly slowly towards our westward turn onto the Oude Rijn. Eventually we reached our goal, but the exit from the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal was almost as frightening as dealing with the wash from enormous barges.

Another property on the Vet

Another property on the Vet

Shortly before we made the turn, an ear splitting horn blared behind us. Two towering barges, one overtaking the other, raced towards us from behind. Another equally large barge ploughed through the choppy water towards us. The slower of the two boats approaching from behind had to move over to allow the overtaking barge to squeeze between it and the approaching boat. The slower boat, still moving much faster than us, was the one sounding its horn. It was on a collision course with us, and we had nowhere to go.

We reached the turning onto the Oude Rijn just in time. As we skidded around the turn onto the relatively calm water of the smaller canal, the two giant barges raced by. We’d narrowly missed being swamped by six thousand tonnes of racing steel, but we weren’t quite out of the woods yet.

A narrow permanently open lock spanned the entrance to the Oude Rijn. A 2.5m high bridge arched over the far end. On calm water, a 4m wide lock and a low bridge wouldn’t be a problem, but with the violent wash from the two passing giants, we were being pushed up and down and swinging erratically from side to side. With just a 10cm gap between the bridges steel girders and our boat’s canvas and wood top, and 30cm high waves, I had to race through the lock and under the bridge between swells.

We passed the bridge without scraping the canvas top off our cockpit, and then cruised slowly onto an entirely different waterway.

After the turbulent water of the one hundred metre wide Amsterdam Rijnkanaal, the ten metre wide Oude Rijn felt claustrophobic. It appeared to be too small for even a modest boat like ours. The feeling was reinforced when our bow tipped towards the sky and then dived towards the canal as we slid over a high mud bank in the shallow water.

Checking lock dimensions and opening hours is an important prelude to Dutch waterway cruising, as is also checking bridge height and status and, if the bridge is moveable, bridge opening hours.

I had checked the bridges on the eastern section of the Oude Rijn the previous evening. I knew that some of them would be tight but, as the alternative was a much longer route via Gouda, I thought the additional stress of creeping under stone or steel bridges a cigarette paper’s width above our delicate canvas top would be worthwhile.

Of course I made that decision from the security of our tranquil mooring on an expansive lake. I didn’t feel quite the same way creeping under an arched stone bridge that was barely high enough to allow us to pass at its centre. The bridge’s arch dropped perilously close to the varnished cockpit surround as we squeezed underneath.

After another handful of equally low bridges, we reached one which we knew we couldn’t pass under. It was just one metre high. Fortunately, it was a lift bridge. Unfortunately it closed at 4.30pm. We reached it at 4.36pm.

With no way of turning on the narrow canal close to the bridge, we moored on a nearby wooden pier. Our nighttime sleeping spot was far from ideal. We were in a busy town centre. A continuous stream of heavy traffic crossed the bridge in front of us and along the two roads which ran either side of the canal. The traffic was noisy, but not as noisy as the people.

The short pier we were moored on was very popular with the locals. A mother brought her two small children to fish in the canal. When one five year old couldn’t cast into the canal because of our boat, he started to climb onto our back deck to reach the water. His mother eventually dissuaded him. A teenaged couple chatted animatedly less than a metre from where we sat in our cockpit. Their noise was bearable, but the din created by two drunk and very vocal cocktail drinking teenage girls who sat on the pier next to our stern was not.

We realised that we were in for a noisy night before we could escape when the bridge opened at 9am the following day, and then we realised that there was no point in waiting for the bridge at all.

I checked the route ahead more thoroughly. Our boat’s air draught is listed as 2.5 metres. However, we have squeezed under some bridges slightly lower. I traced my finger along the map. A series of 2.5 metre bridges, then one at 2.45. That would be tight. The next was 2.4, which was worrying. Two point four metres didn’t seem too bad at all when I spotted a bridge further along the route. At 2.15 metres, there was no chance of passing it.

We were stuck.

Google Map’s satellite view saved the day. I used the measuring tool to check the canal width. At our cocktail party mooring, the canal was just eight metres wide. Julisa is about eleven metres long including the dinghy. Three hundred metres behind us the waterway widened to fourteen metres. We could turn there providing that we didn’t ground on the edges of the already dangerously shallow waterway.

The two cocktail drinkers were so drunk that they didn’t understand that I was trying to untie Julisa’s stern line from the wooden pole they were slumped against. After failing to get a response several times when I asked them to move, I had to lift one of them out of the way. She didn’t seem to notice.

As darkness fell, we reversed apprehensively along the boat lined canal to the wide section. Thank God for the bow thruster. It made the normally frustratingly difficult job of reversing a boat in a straight line a breeze, and then allowed us to quickly spin the boat in her own length.

Being able to turn around was a mixed blessing. We were able to escape from the too low bridges of the Oude Rijn, but now we were faced with a further 6km joyride along the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal.

Our second brush with the big barges was far less frightening. The canal was quieter and the water far less agitated at 7am the following day. We didn’t once fear for our lives, but we did feel slightly sea sick.

We needed to pass through a lock to escape the big canal. We arrived on the lock landing at 8am. The lock didn’t open until 9am. We had an hour to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, providing the boat stayed still long enough to let go of our dining table.


I took this short video as Cynthia prepared our morning meal. Even though we were a hundred metres away from the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal, we were still constantly buffeted by their wash as we tried to eat. As I complained while prodding a fork full of food for the third time into my ear instead of my mouth, Cynthia quoted one of her favourite sayings, “Remember, this isn’t a third world problem!” She was right. We weren’t starving, although if we stayed on the lock landing for a few days, I think we would have been very hungry.

By mid afternoon, after six hours of pleasant cruising on the mainly rural Hollandse Ijssel, our plans were thwarted at Haastrecht by the usually faultless Dutch bridge automation.

Most bridge opening is automatic. A single red light indicates that the bridge is operational but you should wait. However, some are frustratingly awkward self service. Somewhere close to the bridge, only accessible from the water, there will be a small button which has to be pressed to close the bridge’s road barriers and either lift or swing the bridge.

A floating bar with an outboard motor

A floating bar with an outboard motor

On a cruiser even as small as ours, pressing the button means nosing the boat almost within touching distance of the bridge, and then laying on the deck and reaching down to press the button. We only learned about this self service bridge type after waiting patiently for half an hour at one bridge for it to open. Eventually, a Dutch day boat sped past us. The owner skidded expertly to a stop inches from the bridge, leaned casually over his bow, pressed the button and then reversed just as casually backwards to wait a minute or two for the bridge to open.

After that, we checked each bridge carefully for hidden buttons.

The bridge at Haastrecht had one. Our bridge management skill was a joy to watch. Cynthia expertly maneuvered the bow close to the bridge. I hung off the bow like a monkey to press the button. We congratulated ourselves on a job well done, and then reversed a little to wait for the bridge to open.

It didn’t.

We should have noticed the bridge’s two red lights, which meant that the bridge was out of service. And then we noticed a line of moored boats filled with boaters enjoying the spectacle.

One told us that the bridge was broken. An engineer was on his way, but the bridge probably wouldn’t be operational until the following day. We found a space among the waiting boats, and then watched the engineer work on the bridge until 10pm. A cheer heralded the bridge raising once again. Two boats slipped through before the engineer left for the night. We laughed. What was the point? The next bridge, closed for the night, was just half a mile away.

We weren’t laughing later on that night. The bridge developed a mind of its own. The road barriers dropped on their own, the bridge raised briefly and then dropped again. Much to the frustration of local bikers and car owners, the road barriers stayed down until the following day.

A further three hours work the following morning by the same engineer finally cured the fault. The bridge raised, horns tooted, and a dozen boats raced through the open bridge before anything else went wrong.

We cruised 38km yesterday, through Gouda, north to Alphen aan den Rijn, and back onto familiar ground. We spent the night at a marina near Aalsmeer where we knew we could empty our toilet cassette for the first time in a week. We can now make our 21l holding tank last a long time with a little care and late night hedge watering.

Making way for a tour boat on the cruise back to Leiden

Making way for a tour boat on the cruise back to Leiden

After a two hour cruise this morning, we’re back at our Leiden base. We have jobs to do which require the Hymer. Cynthia has another appointment at her Eindhoven clinic, we need to get passports for both Tasha and Abbie in preparation for our forthcoming brief return to the UK, and we need to search for a low cost chandler with affordable fenders for our bow.

Cynthia’s out shopping on her little folding bike at the moment. When she returns, we’re going for lunch at a canalside restaurant in the heart of Leiden. We’ll watch the boats pass slowly by and wonder, once again, which way to go. Do we keep our summer boat and winter motorhome, or do we sell both to buy a more comfortable and capable boat for full time living and cruising on the European network? As Cynthia would say, it’s not a third world problem, but it’s the only problem we have, so we’ll continue to focus on it.

Isn’t life wonderful?

Cynthia Says……Trial by Fire

When we first made an appearance at Jos van Galen’s boat yard, we had to guide Julisa down a very narrow canal just barely missing the houseboats lined up along the way.  Just trying not to run into anything was a major accomplishment!  Then in order to moor up properly we had to go past the boat yard and turn around in a small space then backtrack.  I remember those first few times how much in awe I was watching Paul manoeuvre the boat around.  The first time or so was a little tense, then it became routine.

Paul has asked me a number of times if I wanted to be in charge of turning Julisa around in this tiny space and I always declined—-until today, at the end of our 3 week journey where we discovered a decent range of the waterways network.  A couple of days ago I told him I wanted to do this “home port turnaround.”

As we approached the canal I was gagging my nervous level and surprisingly found myself to be quite calm, even though in part of my mind I knew I could easily screw it up.
In all truth it turned out to be far easier than I had imagined, and with just a few timely words from Paul, before I knew it I had turned her around and was headed to the mooring spot!  I was SO happy to end this journey on a positive note.

I haven’t done a lot of the helmsmanship while cruising, not because I don’t care to do so, but because I usually find myself involved in cooking, cleaning, watching our progress on the chart or other (seemingly) important tasks.

What I DO do the majority of the time is bring the boat in for mooring, whether it be along side a canal or lake or in a lock.  At first I was nervous about doing this, but thanks to Paul’s excellent directions it has become quite easy.  I’ve developed a system when docking on the starboard side that works well for me.  I have the window in the main saloon to look through in order to gauge my distances.  Without this, it is difficult to see very well to the right since the wheel is on the left (port) side.

During these past three weeks on the waterways I’ve had the opportunity to watch many boats mooring up and have come to the conclusion that nearly 100% of the time, the man steers the boat while the woman handles the lines (or ropes as they are called depending on the country you are from).

The reason I don’t handle the lines–which usually involves jumping or taking long steps from boat to dock–is because of the injury to my right groin that I sustained a couple of years ago.  It unfortunately has limited some of my movements, though I am working at improving this.

These past three weeks really put my skills to the test, as every lock or docking situation is different depending on weather conditions, the wind, how many boats are in the lock with us, etc.  I really find that I am up to the challenge (a good part of this is because I have such an excellent mentor!), and I will continue to welcome the challenges as they present themselves.

It’s been a great three weeks and we have been blessed with wonderful weather, kind people and lots of exciting experiences and personal interchanges with our fellow boaters.

I just wish the summer wouldn’t end!

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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!
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Open Water Cruising in Little Dutch Boats

We’re back again after a hectic, exhausting and ultimately successful three weeks.

I flew to Philadelphia last week to collect our new basset hound, Abbie, named Agnes by someone with a dubious sense of humour for the first two years of her life.

My morning walk to Leiden rail station

My morning walk to Leiden rail station

The operation didn’t start well. Cynthia and I can fly on all American Airlines flights at very low cost, providing that there are empty seats on the flight. All current and ex AA employees enjoy this privilege, as do nominated friends and family. There are often twenty or more AA standby passengers hoping to board a flight, so actually flying on the day you want is often difficult.

The process is simple. You book a standby slot for a flight, go through all the usual airport hassle of checking in two to three hours before takeoff, enduring security screening involving the inevitable pat down by an over enthusiastic uniformed guard, and then settling down for a tedious wait at the departure gate. At least the paying passengers know that they’re going to get on the flight after twiddling their thumbs for an hour or more at the gate. Those on standby have to wait until everyone with a ticket has boarded the flight, all the time selfishly hoping that a few of them won’t , and then wait for their name to be called to fill any free spaces.

After four hours at Schiphol, I missed the flight by one seat. I spent the night at Schiphol’s quirky Citizen M hotel where everything in the room is controlled by an iPad, and the glass enclosed toilet and shower are actually in the bedroom. I’m quite pleased I didn’t share the room with anyone, especially as the hotel offers a free porn channel. Just kidding Cynthia!

I made the flight the following day, was collected from Philadelphia airport by Cynthia’s generous friend Brigitte, wined and dined at her home, and then driven three hours the next day to Abbie’s kennel home in State College.

Abbie - Our new boating companion

Abbie – Our new boating companion

I hoped to fly back the day after I collected her, but the high temperature meant that the airline would have refused to fly Abbie. Saturday was much cooler, so I knew I wouldn’t be refused because of the temperature, but I had something else to worry about.

Dogs need a raft of paperwork in order to fly, including a health certificate which is good for ten days from the examination date. Because I was delayed a day going over there, and another day coming back, Saturday was day eleven. Abbie couldn’t legally enter the Netherlands on the paperwork I had with me.

As you can imagine, this caused a little panic. I called approved vets in the area to see if Abbie could have another health check done before she flew. None of them could accommodate her. Our contact at the kennel spoke to the vet who examined Abbie. He suggested that I might be able to slip through the US checks at Philadelphia, but offered some worrying advice about the Netherlands. “The Dutch are great rule followers. The paperwork will be examined in detail. If there are any errors, Abbie many be placed in quarantine, and you’ll incur additional costs and maybe a fine.”

In the meantime, Cynthia spoke to our vet in the Netherlands. “Don’t do it,” she warned, “The checks will be thorough. You’ll be caught and fined!”

The sensible advice of course was to follow the advice given by both vets. I’m not terribly sensible, so I didn’t. I reasoned that if I managed to board the flight, and we were stopped at Schiphol, at least Abbie would be in the Netherlands a little closer to her new home.

My plan at the AA check in desk was to turn on the charm to distract the middle aged lady processing my paperwork. I leaned on the counter and gave her my best smile. She stepped back from the counter and turned to her supervisor for help. I gave up, and let Abbie use her undeniable charm instead.

She did a marvellous job. While the check in supervisor held Abbie’s lead, the paperwork was given a cursory check, and she was booked on to the flight.

At Schiphol,I waited for an hour for Abbie to be delivered to the oversized baggage area. I had to keep her in her travel crate until she was processed by border control. A large and stern faced officer directed me into a booth, held out a hand for Abbie’s paperwork, and then slowly and methodically examined each of the twenty pages. I tried to look calm and relaxed. I suspect that I failed miserably.

He cut the security tags of Abbie’s crate, scanned her microchip, and then returned to the bundle of papers lying on his desk. He paused again at the health certificate. “I’m afraid that you are going to have a problem,” he told me, pointing at the certificate. I held my breath, waiting for the bad news. Maybe trying to sneak her into the Netherlands wasn’t such a good idea. How much would we be fined? What would the quarantine costs be? Would the authorities insist, could they insist, that Abbie was returned to Philadelphia?

“You won’t be able to take your dog to England unless you have her wormed within five days of crossing the border. You’re fine for the Netherlands though!”

Minutes later I was skipping through the terminal on my way back to the boat. Honesty isn’t always the best policy.

Dutch canalside dining

Dutch canalside dining

Wonderful cafes to relax in after a stressful flight

Wonderful cafes to relax in after a stressful flight


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With our fearless, four-footed friend on board, we’ve been able to focus on widening our Dutch boating experience. Much as we have loved cruising the now familiar and extensive waterways between Leiden and Amsterdam, we have a month left to explore as much of the network as we can before we put the boat to bed in September. The extent of our exploration will depend largely on the weather.

Sunset over our Amsterdam mooring

Sunset over our Amsterdam mooring

We’ve had a few rather windy days in the Netherlands over the last week or two, which isn’t surprising when you consider how few hills there are in the country to deflect a breeze.

Windy days on the UK waterways were always a challenge for me. A flat bottomed, high sided narrowboat is ill equipped for cruising in blustery weather. When I worked as an instructor on the Calcutt Boats hire fleet, I knew that taking novice hirers out on wind rippled water was always going to be an interesting experience.

Escaping the sheltered wharf where the company’s twelve boat hire fleet moored was easy enough. Buildings, a lock, and a tree lined towpath kept most of the wind at bay. The first stage of the helmsmanship instruction as we ascended a double lock was easy enough, as was the short stretch of protected canal which followed. The tricky bit was a wide open stretch passing forty acre Napton reservoir.

As the confused helmsmen and women zig zagged up the canal trying to come to terms with pointing the tiller in the opposite direction to the way they wanted the boat to go, on windy days I always watched an approaching patch of agitated water close to the reservoir with apprehension.

“When we reach that point,” I would say, pointing to the area where the canal’s glassy surface was replaced by small waves marching across our path, “the boat is going to slew sideways. Don’t worry, it’s quite normal. Just steer into the wind”. As I offered my words of wisdom, I would be quietly thankful that I wasn’t cruising in my own boat on such a windy day.

After many years of nervous anticipation when forecast wind speeds exceeded 15 mph, I slowly learned to relax in similar weather conditions on our new boat. The combination of a keel, less wind resistance above the waterline, a much more powerful engine, and a decent bow thruster means that mooring, turning, reversing and cruising are a piece of cake… unless we are on a large lake.

The Westeinderplassen is a very large lake by UK standards. It has a similar area to Windermere in the lake district, but, at less than three metres, is only a fraction of the depth. Because it is relatively shallow, windy days quickly create large waves, which aren’t a problem in a small cruiser like ours if you have the wind behind you.

We left the shelter of Kempers marina at the lake’s southernmost point and watched, slightly concerned, as the wave height increased quickly as we cruised north. The few other motor cruisers on the lake kept close to the sheltered waters of the string of islands to the west of us. In hindsight, they obviously knew what they were doing.

After forty minutes on what felt like a fairly benign roller coaster, we reached a point where we needed to turn broadside to the wind to pass through a channel between two islands to reach the sheltered waters of an Aalsmeer yacht club.

A dozen dinghies from a children’s sailing school bobbed erratically over the white capped waves ahead of us, many capsizing in the strengthening wind. Concerned adults in inflatable dinghies with powerful outboard engines raced between the upturned boats, encouraging the young sailors and shielding them from passing boats.

As we turned broadside to the wind, we slowed to avoid two tiny tots clinging to upturned boats. As Julisa wallowed in increasingly high troughs, and Cynthia and I were deafened by the sound of pots and pans crashing to the galley floor, I remembered advice we were given a few weeks earlier.

“You have a good boat there, but be careful where you take her in the Netherlands. She’s a category D boat, fine for sheltered canals and rivers, and most of the lakes in calm conditions. Beware lakes on windy days though. Julisa doesn’t have any protective rails fitted on the cabin shelving. If you’re caught broadside to a heavy swell, you’ll be eating your dinner off the galley floor”

Fortunately, the only damage we suffered was a few pot dents, and the imprints of Cynthia’s fingernails as she held my forearm in a vice like grip until we reached sheltered water.

Between windy sailing days, we’ve cruised gently through tranquil lake networks and bustling small towns, enjoyed watching a steady procession of gently turning windmills, and all the time worrying about cruising into the unknown.

We’ve been back in the Netherlands since the beginning of April. Our first cruise was on Dutch canals was nearly four months ago. Since then we’ve cruised 393 km, but in all that distance, until two days ago, we hadn’t passed through a single lock.

Locks appear to scare novice boaters on England’s inland waterways more than anything else. Their concern is understandable. English locks can be dangerous. There are different lock configurations to understand, different paddle gear and procedures, and very different water levels and rate of flow at each lock. Tens of thousands of gallons of murky canal water racing through underground sluices, or gates within gates, all controlled by the novice boater himself, can create a boat smashing surge of dirty brown water. Boaters are hurt, boats are sunk, and locks are damaged if the correct procedure isn’t followed to the letter.

English locks are no place for the careless.

Scary as they are, most English canal locks are relatively small. Just one narrowboat will fit in a single lock, two in a double. River locks, often but not always keeper controlled, can be much larger, but are often relatively benign. Even then, the intrepid boater has to be on his guard.

On a beautiful summer’s day a few years ago, I stood contentedly by the side of my boat in a rising self service Thames lock, absently allowing the centre line, loosely wrapped around a lockside bollard, to slip through my fingers. As I waited for the lock to fill, I watched a steady stream of hikers and bikers pass on the nearby towpath. Many turned to stare. It’s a proud moment, thinking that bystanders are looking at your beloved boat with admiration.

I wasn’t quite so happy when a cyclist pointed over my shoulder with a look of horror on his face. “Why is your boat doing that?” he exclaimed.

Because I wasn’t paying attention, I hadn’t noticed that my centre line was trapped on the bollard, effectively holding the boat’s side down while the water continued to rise. The boat was already leaning dangerously towards the water. The lock was still only half filled so, with every passing second, the angle increased alarmingly. I had just a couple of minutes before the boat reached the point of no return and flipped on its roof.

By the time I sprinted to the head of the lock to stop the rising water, the boat was at almost forty five degrees. I could hear plates and glasses smashing as they fell from cupboards and racks. I didn’t mind the glasses so much, but I hoped that my collection of a dozen bottles of red wine hadn’t gone with them.

I was lucky. I lost a little crockery, no wine, and a little paint where the cabin top rubbed against a lockside oak post as it tipped. I could easily have sunk the boat.

I knew nothing about the locks on the Dutch waterways, other than that they are big, and that leisure boaters sometimes have to share with monster commercial barges filled with aggregate. The thought of several hundred tonnes of sand filled steel bouncing around a turbulent lock with little Julisa frightened me to death.

Friday was a frightening day of firsts; first trip through a Dutch lock, first cruise through Amsterdam’s harbour dodging blunt bowed, towering water taxis, first hesitant cruise on what amounts to an inland sea, first time getting lost trying to follow perplexing channel markings, and first time trying to work out what to do in the middle of an ocean with an overheating engine.

It was a very stressful day.

The first first, the lock, was a real anticlimax. We hovered near a motorway bridge spanning what we thought was the lock entrance, waiting for inspiration, then followed the skipper of a sea going cruiser who seemed to know what he was doing. He pulled into a channel with rope hand rails fitted to the three metre high walls to the left and the right of us. He held onto a rope. So did I. He calmly watched as an electric lock gate slid shut behind us. I jumped. He calmly watched as his thick pear shaped rubber bow fender protected his boat’s chrome as the lock water rose over moss covered brick. I winced as the same moss covered brick scraped off the paint where my bow fender should have been. I made a mental note to replace the one I lost weeks earlier on a choppy lake.

Other than that, the lock was a breeze. The front gate slid open and half a dozen cruisers surged forward towards Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is a busy city. Busy roads regularly cross the canal network. Every minute or two we had to negotiate another bridge, ever thankful that we decided to buy a sub 2.5m cruiser. Boats lower than 2.5m can fit under the majority of bridges on the main waterways. Sometimes we only make it by a cat’s whisker but, thanks to a clever device installed by Julisa’s previous owner, we always know whether the boat is going to fit. A spring mounted varnished wooden pole topped by a small wooden sphere is mounted on the boat’s pulpit rail. As we creep towards any suspiciously low bridges, we watch the wooden sphere with baited breath. It’s millimetres higher than the boat’s cockpit. If the sphere clears the bridge so will the boat.

The problem is that, from the cockpit, we’re looking upwards towards the sphere. We can have half a metre clearance, but still look as though we’re too high. During our first week or two on the waterways, we would edge painfully slowly towards each new bridge, ready to reverse quickly if the measuring device struck the bridge. Fortunately it didn’t. Eventually, for half a dozen bridges, I sat on the bow with my head level with the wooden assembly risking decapitation to check how much clearance we actually had.

An Amsterdam Mosque

An Amsterdam Mosque

On our passage through Amsterdam we were relatively confident, at least as far as the bridges were concerned. Our confidence plummeted when the canal spat us unceremoniously into Amsterdam harbour.

“Do we have to go this way!” Cynthia exclaimed, adding new half moon nail indentations to my already punctured forearm. I was thinking the same thing. Everything was so big. The harbour was enormous. So were many of the boats in it. Water taxis carrying a hundred or more passengers raced through the harbour pushing bow waves in front of them which threatened to swamp us. Heavily laden barges the length of a football pitch ploughed through the main channel, oblivious to the tiny leisure craft surrounding them. And cruise ships towered like skyscrapers from their waterside berths.

A cruise ship towers above us

A cruise ship towers above us

This is thirteen deck, eighty nine thousand tonne Crystal Serenity, built in 2003 at a cost of $350 million. The red line you can see down the ship’s starboard side is a row of lifeboats. Each one was as big as Julisa. We felt very small.

We cruised through the harbour area as quickly as we could, trying to time stages so that we didn’t meet one of the dozens of huge water taxis which appeared to completely ignore anything in their way. One bore down on us so quickly from a blind spot on our starboard side that Cynthia, rather than telling me about it, simply lurched across the cockpit and pushed our Morse control against its stops. The taxi passed so close that I was sure I could smell the skipper’s breath.

Eventually we left the harbour behind and had half an hour to take a series of deep breaths to prepare ourselves for our next challenge; not one lock, but four of them side by side. All we had to do was work out which one to use.

The workings of this particular set of locks had already been explained to us, but in our emotionally drained and slightly stressed state – actually, I don’t know about Cynthia, but I certainly felt stressed – we couldn’t work out where to go or what to do. As usual, I opted for the mature approach, swore a bit, and suggested that Cynthia took over if she didn’t like what I was doing. Oddly enough, that didn’t seem to solve the problem.

After twiddling our thumbs for a while, performing a number of neatly executed but pointless circles, and bickering a little more, we followed a penis extension of a power boat down a channel marked ‘Sports’. This was obviously the channel for leisure craft. I don’t know why Cynthia didn’t think of it. She did actually, but I wouldn’t listen to her.

We breathed a deep sigh of relief when we exited yet another gentle lock, which was a bit early because the worst part of our journey was ahead of us.

We were on the vast Ijmeer, which merged after a few miles with the even more vast Markermeer, and then the really forbidding Ijsselmeer. The Ijsselmeer is half the size of Warwickshire in England, and nearly ten times the size of Liechtenstein. It’s a BIG body of water for a little boat.

The longer we cruised, the less we appeared to move and the more we realized just how much out of our depth we were, especially when I noticed a worrying dashboard trend.

After six years of dealing with my forty year old Mercedes raw water cooled engine on my narrowboat, I knew a thing or two about overheating engines. If I had a pound for every time I had to stop on the towpath to let the engine cool down before continuing I would have been able to buy myself a nice new reliable Beta Marine engine.

Pulling over on a forty feet wide placid canal is one thing. Trying to stop to let your engine cool down on an open body of water with the nearest smudge on the horizon is a completely different kettle of fish.

I was all for sticking my head firmly in the sand and carrying on regardless, despite the headwind combined with a current which was slowing our normal ten kilometres per hour cruising speed down to just under six.

“Why don’t we make for that island there?” asked Cynthia, pointing to a grass covered hump topped by what appeared to be a large concrete structure.

“Because it’s probably private. We can’t just stop on the first island we see!”

“I thought you said that those little red symbols indicate public moorings?” she asked pointing to a clearly visible red mark on the map in front of me. Cynthia’s better at map reading and directions than me. I’m beginning to suspect that she’s not really a woman.

She was right. The moorings were public, and there was plenty of space for us. Which was just as well as the thermometer was beginning to creep upwards again, as was the wave height.

We found shelter just in time, although the shelter wasn’t quite as sheltered as we would have liked it to be. We spent two nights on the island. The first was very interesting. The pier we were moored against only deflected some of the force of the waves which marched towards us all evening. On several occasions during the night, we were woken by the boat’s violent corkscrewing as we were almost flung from our tiny double bed.

Our tranquil haven from the storm

Our tranquil haven from the storm

Tranquil until we were joined by a sailing school

Tranquil until we were joined by a sailing school

The waves were just as forbidding the following day, so we stayed in the island harbour’s relative safety, watching a steady stream of yachts and coastal cruisers plough through the choppy water without a care in the world. We spent much of the day working out how far short we’d fall if we were to upgrade to a small category C coastal cruiser. Do you know anyone with a spare £80,000?

More rain moving towards our island mooring

More rain moving towards our island mooring

Today was much calmer. We cruised for two hours through gentle swells to our current mooring at Almere Haven on Flevoland, an area of land reclaimed eighty years ago when the Zuiderzee, an inland sea within the Netherlands, was enclosed and reclaimed.

We’ve done nothing today other than eat and rest. Come to think of it, that’s a fairly typical day for us. Today’s eating was done in the harbour’s ‘Pancake Ship’, an ex second world war Red Cross hospital ship.

I think that we’re going to stay here tomorrow as well. Cynthia’s brother, Jeff, is over here on a three week holiday. She plans to see him before he flies back across the Atlantic. While she’s with him, I’m going to practice staying calm in stressful situations. This boating lark isn’t any good for my heart!

Cynthia Says…

And Now We Are Four…

The sky may be cloudy with the rain falling gently as I write this, but I can’t help feel the gods are shining down upon us this week.

This past week was one of transition, anxiety and deep happiness and joy.  On Tuesday Paul left for Schiphol for the second time to try to make the flight to Philadelphia to pick up Abbie.  But it was not to be—-he missed the flight by ONE seat!  When one travels standby one has to be ready for these just-missed-it-just-made-it situations.  When he called to tell me the bad news I suggested he stay at the airport and take the short walk to Citizen M–my hotel of choice.  It is a fun and funky place and a good deal.  And he agreed.
 
The next morning he made the flight, and was very well looked after by a dear friend and former co-worker of mine.  Upon landing he was met by another dear friend who lives near Philadelphia, and who took excellent care of him during his 3 day stay.
 
They made the 5+ hour round trip to State College to pick up Abbie in very hot conditions.  Luckily having Abbie along made the trip bearable—she fell instantly in love with Paul and vice versa.  Love at first sight!  I was so relieved to hear that good news!
 
The plans called for making the trip home on Friday, but the temperatures exceeded the limit for loading pets in cargo, so he deferred until Saturday when it was 10 degrees cooler.
 
I will back up here for a moment to say that they came close to not qualifying with the health certificate for her—there is a 10 limit and they were one day over this limit.  We discussed it and agreed he should just go for it and not say anything at check-in unless confronted.  It worked, and away they went across the pond to home.  How happy I was to hear they had both made the flight and all looked well for an on-time arrival in Amsterdam.
 
I was too excited to sleep much as I enjoyed tracking the flight across the Atlantic on the AA website.  What a nice feature to have!
 
I received a message from Paul shortly after 8:45 telling me they had arrived and he was waiting in the baggage area for Abbie and her crate to appear.  He stayed in contact with me the whole time, but I was concerned that she hadn’t appeared after nearly an hour.  Then finally the good news came–she was delivered to him outside a special room and they sailed through customs after a few questions were answered and her microchip was scanned.  I know we were both holding our breath that they wouldn’t pick up on the health certificate date discrepancy and they didn’t!
 
Paul then sent me a message saying they were on the train to Leiden, and should arrive back at the boat by 11:30.  Tasha and I were anxious so we walked the block to the main street and there they were—just crossing the bridge over the canal.  
 
I fell instantly in love with her and I know Tasha was smitten over having a new buddy.
 
Being a kennel raised dog, she has been confronted with so much since leaving the confines of that kennel back in State College.  I think that once she found Paul and instant love, she never looked back…..
 
The past 48 hours have been full of exploration and acceptance and she has proved to be absolutely the BEST.  We really couldn’t have asked for a better dog, and the fact that she is Florence’s half sister made it all extra nice.  There is much of Florence that we see in her, and I find that to be a comfort and a joy.
 
So.  Here we are, a family of 4 once again.  This past month (and the few weeks preceding it) were some of the most difficult times I have ever had to deal with in my nearly 71 years.  The whole incident with the infection was just magnified by the tragic and devastating loss of Florence.  There were times when I worried whether life would ever be the way it was when I felt well, and was surrounded by my lovely and wonderful husband and the girls.  I couldn’t have made it through without Paul and everything he did for me.  He is tireless and so kind!
 
Life sometimes has a way of dealing us these blows so that we can stop and take time to remind ourselves where we are lucky, and how much we have to be grateful for.  I have gained a whole new perspective on many things, and find I am appreciating every minute I spend living this wonderful and unique life.
 
As difficult as it was having Paul gone, I was able to stand on my own two feet again and regain my confidence and ability to manage my daily life and what it entailed.
 
It is nice to be back writing and I look forward to continuing to do so as the weeks come and go.  
 
Thank you for all your support and I hope you will continue to stay with us as we make our way though this quickly disappearing summer.  Next thing you know, we will be revving up the Hymer and heading south for another sun-filled exciting winter.
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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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2

Living Afloat Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

We were boating, and then we weren’t, and now we are again, this time, we hope, for the rest of the year.

Last week we began our cruise under difficult circumstances. Cynthia, for the first time in many years, visited a conventional general practitioner in Leiden to try to resolve an ongoing and painful infection.

The solution was to put her on a course of antibiotics. Cynthia’s body reacted instantly and violently to the unaccustomed medicine. Within hours, an unsightly rash covered her entire body, every bone ached, and she felt physically sick.

Abandoning our cruising plans, we raced 20km back to Leiden in Julisa, swapped boat for motorhome, and then drove 130km south east to Eindhoven close to the Belgian border. The clinic, Essaidi, was recommended by the cancer clinic in Germany where Cynthia spend a month in April.

On Tuesday, she had an hour’s treatment of aqua tilis. It’s a revolutionary treatment done nowhere else in the world. We booked her on for four more sessions later in the week, returned to Leiden to swap some essential stuff from the boat to the Hymer to allow us to stay away for a few days, then returned to Eindhoven.

With the thermometer hitting thirty four degrees centigrade, we were lucky to find a parking spot on the clinic grounds in a grove of lofty cedar. The downside was that, with the Hymer’s solar panel completely hidden from the sun, we had to conserve our electricity on one of the best electricity generation days of the year.

Hiding from the sun near the Belgian border

Hiding from the sun near the Belgian border

Cynthia felt a little better after the treatment, but she has been warned that the allergy may take three weeks to disappear. Aching bones combined with the rigours of having to move our belongings back from the Hymer to the boat again yesterday has just about finished her off.

Moored on our own private island

Moored on our own private island

She can’t help being bed ridden, but her absence yesterday caused a few logistical problems.

I still haven’t mastered single handed boating in a cruiser with an immaculately painted white hull. In a

A network of lakes for us to explore

A network of lakes for us to explore

narrowboat, it’s simple. You step off your rear deck, centre line in hand, and pull your steel tube towards the towpath. Even though the centre line is attached to the middle of the boat, either the bow or the stern usually reaches the bank first but, if you’re like most narrowboat owners, you don’t care. Your black painted hull is bomb proof. The thick steel is further strengthened by raised rubbing strakes. You’re not going to do any damage, but even if you do, a scuff doesn’t stand out against the black.

As I’ve now learned, a cruiser with its canopy acting like a sail, pushing the boat ahead of it thanks to a following wind, is an unwieldy beast.

Mooring on my own is further complicated by the door we had fitted for the dogs on the boat’s port side. Because that’s the only side the dogs can get off, we have to moor port side to the bank regardless of what either the current or the wind is doing.

This is a very long winded way of saying that I’m now mourning the loss of my once pristine paintwork. I’m sure that there will be plenty more scrapes and scuffs before the season ends, but the first cut is the deepest.

The saving grace is our location.

We’re moored on the Oude Kooi, the Old Cage, an island on a network of lakes 7km north east of our Leiden base. I think the island belongs to an exclusive Dutch boating club, but as the signs on the island’s manicured moorings are all written in an incomprehensible language, I’m not entirely sure.

We arrived last night. It’s delightfully peaceful after the Leiden city centre location we’ve become accustomed to over the last month or so. A pair of buzzards breed on the island, there are kingfishers galore, but very few mosquitoes thanks to a large colony of bats introduced to keep the bugs away.

That’s just about it for this week because I’ve been working on other narrowboat content. As I mentioned last week, I’m in the process of developing an interactive and very comprehensive course for aspiring narrowboat owners.

There’s now a huge amount of information on this site. Perhaps too much for anyone new to boating. Where do they start? How do they work through content without missing important information? How do they make sure that they remember important information in posts they’ve read?

The new course will be a mix of written articles, audio and video files, and interactive quizzes and surveys. One of the course’s first sections takes a look at the possible downside to living afloat.

I published an article on the site in 2012 by live aboard boater Pauline Roberts. Her rant about the lifestyle produced an avalanche of comments from other live aboard boaters. Pauline raised some excellent points. Life afloat isn’t all about sipping wine from an easy chair on a sun drenched canal bank. There are many issues to consider.

Pauline’s original article is here. If you haven’t seen it already, please read it and the comments made by other boaters at the time. My own comments are below, so don’t forget to come back here when you’ve finished with Pauline.

Pauline may well enjoy her life afloat, but she doesn’t really give that impression, does she? To balance her point of view, I’ve addressed the issues she’s raised below. So that you can easily switch between Pauline’s article and my comments, my comments refer to the numbering on Pauline’s paragraphs (If you’re reading this on the web site rather than in the course itself, there aren’t any number on Pauline’s paragraphs, so you’ll just have to count them yourself).

2. Cold Boats While I agree that a narrowboat’s floor can be cold in the winter, I’ve never had to resort to wearing thick leather boots in the boat. The bottom of a narrowboat is anywhere between 5mm and 15mm thick. Steel bearers sit on top of the base plate. Marine ply is fitted on top of the bearers to form the boat’s floor. The floor is usually no more than 10cm above the icy canal beneath. Because heat rises, the heat from your stove moves away from the cold well close to the floor. Unless your narrowboat floor is insulated (most aren’t) this area will be decidedly chilly in the winter months. My very effective solution is to wear Croc shoes as indoor slippers, and to always sit with my feet raised on our bench seating. No cold feet!

The number of clothing layers you need in the winter will depend on how well insulated your boat is. Mine was an old boat built using polystyrene insulation, which is generally considered the poorest of the insulators used on boats. Most narrowboats these days are insulated using spray foam. It’s not unusual to walk along a towpath on a cold winter’s day to see narrowboats with their front doors open to let the heat out. A friend of mine, Russ, used to sit in his boat in the winter with the front doors open wearing just a pair of boxer shorts. It wasn’t a pretty sight!

3. Cold Spots Again, I agree, but the cold spots can be reduced or even eliminated. When I first moved on board, my bedroom at the back of the boat was freezing, literally. As I mentioned in my introduction, my first winter on board, which I think is when Pauline wrote this article, the weather was the coldest on record. On a number of occasions I woke to frost on the bulkhead behind my head. My freezing bedroom was cause not only by the cold weather outside, but by the boat’s poor insulation, and inadequate heating.

My boat had a wooden top, which had perished in a number of places. I over plated the wooden cabin with steel, added more insulation between the old and the new cabins, and added a secondary heating system, a Webasto Thermotop C, to supplement my solid fuel stove at the front of the boat. My first winter was my last cold winter on board.

Draughts around hatches are due to poor fitting. The hatches can be modified to eliminate any draughts.

4. Toilets It’s true that living afloat you have a  much more intimate relationship with the processed remains of last night’s dinner, but it doesn’t have to be a problem. Watching the weather is important when you live afloat, as is making sure that you pick somewhere which can service all your needs if the weather closes in. Cassette toilets, or Porta Pottis, need emptying every two or three days. There are a number of other options open to you, all of which are discussed in detail in the toilets section.

5. Dog Muck You’ll find it everywhere, not just on canal towpaths. The solution is simply to keep your eyes open. I always carry a small coal shovel on board. Regardless of the culprit, when I arrive at a mooring, before I do anything else, I search the area thoroughly for unwanted piles of poo, scoop them up and flick them under the towpath hedge. The whole process takes just a couple of minutes. After that, I can relax on a clean and fragrant mooring without having to worry about unnecessary shoe or boat floor cleaning. It’s common sense really.

6. Water Forward planning Pauline, forward planning! If you need a residential mooring for school or work purposes, choose one which has a water supply. A mooring without a water supply can be a real pain in the backside. I spoke to a live aboard boater Jane Fletcher recently about her ‘idyllic’ farm mooring. The site was wonderful, miles from the nearest busy road, away from airport flight paths or railway lines, and in a very pretty part of rural Leicestershire. The two major problems were that the mooring had neither electricity nor water. Jane had to work for a living. Sometimes after a long day at the office, she had to return to the boat and endure an hour’s cruise to fill her water tank. All well and good on a balmy summer evening, but not so much fun in the dark on a cold winter night.

Pauline claimed that her tank took an hour to fill. She must have had a large tank which she allowed to practically run dry. Little and often is the key, especially if the forecast is for freezing nights and sub zero days. Again, I think that Pauline wrote her article following the awful winter of 2010. While she was melting snow for water, I had a plentiful supply available from a tap close to my boat. Yes, the tap froze solid once or twice, but a kettle or two of boiling water soon sorted that out.

Living afloat isn’t as easy as living in a bricks and mortar home, but it is not as difficult as Pauline would have you believe.

7. Personal Hygiene Poppycock! There’s no need to go without when you live on a boat. My boat’s tank was tiny compared to most. Most narrowboats’ water tanks hold 700-1,000 litres. I had 350 litres to play with. Even so, if I was on my own, I could comfortably make that last a month. That’s an average of just ten litres a day. which was plenty to accommodate all my hygiene needs. I used a seven litre Hozelock portable shower which was wonderful. A very thorough shower would use just five litres. There is absolutely no need to ration yourself to half a kettle for washing yourself. What a ridiculous notion.

Taking of ridiculous, there’s absolutely no need to have discoloured hands. Yes, coal burning stoves produce a little soot. Daily dusting sorts that problem out. Going down the engine ‘ole? (referred by most normal boaters as an engine bay) Wear a pair of disposable gloves and some overalls. Pauline make the operation sound like a full day in a coal mine!

8. Space Living space can be an issue, but surely you don’t move on to a narrowboat if you aren’t comfortable with small spaces? You will have to downsize and dispose of most of your material possessions. So what? You don’t need it.

Making up a folding bed every day simply isn’t necessary unless you have a very small boat. Personally, the last thing I would want to do at the end of the day is mess about making a bed. I had a 4′ wide 6’4″ long small double bed, permanently made up and fixed in place. The more you want on your boat, the longer or, heaven forbid, wider it has to be. Life afloat is all about compromise, but, for me, a fixed bed was a must.

9. Privacy If you moor in busy locations, especially locations popular with tourists, you have to accept a little unwanted attention. If you don’t want it, move or, if you want a really radical solution, close your curtains on the towpath side. That’ll stop them!

10. Postal Address Having your post delivered can be a problem. You can eliminate much of your post by going digital. Opening bank accounts can be a problem, so you can either do as much as you can before you move afloat, or try to persuade friends or family to receive your post for you. Make sure that they are aware that benefits can be affected if someone else appears to be living with them though.

11. Emergency Services Forward planning again. If you’re going to pick a mooring miles from anywhere, for God’s sake, know where you are! Pauline’s talking about boaters on static online moorings, so I assume that the moorers in question have been there for a while. Locations on the canal network are easy to pinpoint by bridge numbers or names. Rather than a vague ‘moored beside a field near a farmhouse close to Fenny Compton’, which isn’t going to help any emergency services operator, something like ‘I’m moored 400m south of bridge 37 on the Grand Union canal in a red boat with a blue roof and the name James No 194 on the side’ is going to be much more helpful. You will of course have checked that you have a phone signal, or an internet signal through which you can make WiFi calls, before you choose your mooring.

12. Signals All true, but not as bad as Pauline would have you believe. I always used a mobile dongle from Three. Using their earlier versions, I had to mount the dongle inside a plastic bag on a four feet long wooden pole fixed to my boat roof. The signal strength was boosted in later models, so all I had to do was use a magnetic clamp fitted with double sided adhesive tape to keep it glued to my ‘office’ window. During thousands of miles of network cruising, the device only failed me twice; one when moored at the Crick Boat Show next to dozens of other boaters who were trying to lock onto the same signal, and once when I moored in a deep cutting on the Shropshire Union canal.

Carrier signal strength varies tremendously on the cut. I had a  phone contact with Three. I terminated my contract after two years of constant frustration. EE’s service was much better, especially as I could make calls via WiFi if I had an internet connection but no phone signal. I made many of my calls via Skype.

As far as television is concerned, reception can be hit and miss, but what’s the problem? I see many boat owners who moor at idyllic locations but only leave the safety of their boats long enough to align their satellite dishes. Forget the telly. You’ve escaped society, so don’t keep tuning into depressing news to remind yourself of it. Pull the plug on the evil eye and go for a walk instead.

13. Vandalism and Antisocial Behaviour I’m sure that you know an area near you which isn’t pretty and where you wouldn’t like to walk alone at night. The canal network is the same. There are rough areas, even a few place which could almost be classed as ‘no go’ but they’re easy enough to find out about and stay away from.

There’s no argument, rural canal towpaths, devoid of street lighting, are often pitch black at night. That’s why you always have a torch or two and spare batteries on board. Are you likely to be attacked as soon as you step outside your boat, or have everything you own stolen if you leave it unattended for a moment? No, of course not. However, the same rules apply on the canals as off them. You do what’s sensible. You take precautions. If an area is renowned for anti social behaviour, stay away. If you have to use the canal to move your boat from A to B, start your journey at the crack of dawn before those with single digit IQs have surfaced from drink and drug induced unconsciousness.

14. Shopping For Christ’s sake Pauline, stop moaning! Tesco is actually very good at delivering to boaters. When you place an order with them online, there’s a comments section to allow you to give the driver instructions. He’s not going to deliver to you unless he can park reasonably close to you, but unless your boat has a broken engine, you can always move to somewhere where he can park his van.

Supermarkets aren’t always close to the canal you’re on, but they’re usually close enough. Try to remain positive. Living afloat can be a very healthy lifestyle. I treated shopping as welcome exercise. My supermarket shopping was usually done with my 70l rucksack, which always included an unhealthy treat as a reward for carrying my weekly shopping home.

If you don’t like to walk, get a bike, a car, or a taxi. It’s not a problem as long as you have a ‘glass half full’ attitude.

15. Towpaths Motorbikes roaring down towpaths is back to anti social behaviour again. Yes, it happens in some urban areas, but not as much as some would have you believe. Find out where the problem areas are and stay away from them, especially if you need to stay on a residential mooring long term.

Towpaths can make boating miserable in the winter months. For me, it has always been one of the most unpleasant aspects of living afloat, especially with dogs on board. Wellington boots are my default winter footwear. I don’t have to worry about wiping them down. It’s just a case of swapping them for my indoor footwear. Dog paws need wiping though, which is a bit of a pain if you need to take them for a middle of the night loo break.

Having a boat with a cratch cover, a waterproof cover over the front deck, is an enormous help. You have somewhere protected from the weather to deal with dog cleaning and footwear swapping. Try as I might though, I struggled to keep my front deck mud free during the winter months.

16. Car Ownership Once again, if you have to have a car for work purposes, make sure you have somewhere safe to park it before you take on a mooring. If you are lucky enough to be able to cruise continuously, you can do without. If you plan ahead, you can usually moor your boat close enough to the places you want to visit, or close enough to public transport. And if you really must have a car for a special occasion, Enterprise is a great company to use. Their rates are reasonable, and  they’ll often come to your boat to collect you.

17. Boat Maintenance and the Weed Hatch UK Canals are shallow, very shallow. Cruising in water just thirty inches deep isn’t unusual. The boat’s flat bottom drags along the canal bottom, then flicks whatever it’s disturbed into the propeller. Debris in urban canals is common. Cruise along an inner city canal, and you can usually expect a few stops to remove the offending articles. You’ll find an in depth explanation of weed hatch procedure later on.

Getting a mooring line wrapped around the propeller is a schoolboy error, an error which I’ve made just once. I was lucky. My punishment was an hour with my right arm up to my shoulder in ice cold water trying to remove several yards of iron bar taut rope from the propeller. I was lucky because a mooring line around the prop can sometimes cause extensive damage to the engine.

Reasonably new batteries not holding a charge are often the result of a poor charging regime, a regime made difficult if the boat doesn’t have a battery monitor. With care, lead acid batteries will still only last about three years. Batteries are a consumable and must be included on your budget.

Weeks of scrounging water because of a broken water pump Pauline? Nearly all boatyards and marinas stock water pumps. You could have had it replaced on the day it broke.

You only run your fridge in warm weather when you are travelling? You clearly don’t have an adequate electrical system (as is indicated by the exhausted battery bank). There is no need to make life so difficult for yourself. A little research is all it takes.

As for the friend who thought that he could do without a weed hatch, I think that’s called natural selection. Cruising without a weed hatch in place is pure stupidity. The weed hatch sits directly above the boat’s propeller. If the weed hatch is removed while the boat is moving, canal water from the spinning propeller is pushed through the weed hatch into the engine bay which, as you’ve just read, sinks the boat.

Damp can be an issue, but you can do an awful lot to reduce and eliminate it by both heating and ventilating the cabin correctly. Even then, storing books in the bilge is just asking for trouble.

18. Wildlife on Board The wildest life I’ve ever had on board was a one tonne bullock trying to climb into my engine room to snack on a basket of flowers I had removed from my front deck. Apart from that, no snakes, rats or mice. Interesting to note that Pauline said she wouldn’t be able to find the snake in all the clutter on board her boat. Keeping a boat clean and in a good state of repair helps keep vermin away. It’s a shame the same tactic doesn’t work with cows.

19. Boating Costs As far as I’m concerned, if you want to live to a reasonable standard, living on a narrowboat costs no less than living in a modest three bedroom semi detached house. The cost of diesel isn’t as big an issue as Pauline suggests. Most narrowboats use between 1.0 and 1.5 litres and hour. In 2015, five years after Pauline wrote her article, I cruised the network extensively. I covered nearly 2,000 miles, including 950 locks. I really cruised too fast and too far. I should have slowed down to appreciate the many wonderful places I flashed by each day. Even so, I only spent £1,138 on diesel, an average of £21.90 a week, which worked out at £1.13 for each hour I stood at the tiller moving my floating home around the system. That’s not a bad price to pay, is it?

You can find out all the actual costs of living afloat here.

20. Falling In Going for an unscheduled dip isn’t the problem, it’s what you hit on the way, and how you manage to get out which counts. I like to think that I’m pretty fit and healthy, but that wouldn’t help me if I injured myself as I fell or, worse, knocked myself unconscious on the way in. I’ve seen both happen.

Even if you don’t damage yourself entering the canal or river you fall in, you have to consider how you would get out. A narrowboat is very difficult to climb back onto without the aid of a crew member and a ladder.

Most slips and falls are caused by carelessness. I’ve fallen in four times in the last six years, but three of them were when I was working at the marina. The only time I fell in out of work was when I foolishly walked along a pier while I read my emails on my phone. It was a silly thing to do, and it cost me the price of a new smartphone.

Steel boats, water, ice and moss and lichen covered locks are a potentially lethal combination. Take care though, and your boating career should be a happy one.

That’s my response to the valid points which Pauline raised. You can subscribe to her point of view, shelve your boating plans and remain in the dubious safety of your bricks and mortar home, or you can use Pauline’s text, my response, and the comments of time served live aboard boaters to educate yourself and ensure that you avoid making many fundamental mistakes.

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!

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Summary