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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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Paul Smith
 

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.

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