Monthly Archives: May 2017

An Essential Addition to Dutch Waterways Cruising Kit

Our week began quietly enough. We enjoyed four delightful days parked in a peaceful car park overlooking a tranquil lake, wondering why no other motorhomes shared such an idyllic space with us. We decided that the one tonne maximum weight limit at the beginning of a narrow lane leading to the car park via a wooden canal bridge may have had something to do with it.

The first of a dozen crossings over the wooden bridge petrified me. Our Hymer weighs five and a half tonnes. Were we being irresponsible and foolish foreign motorhome owners? Was there a real risk of us crashing through the bridge into the clear water of the canal beneath us to die a horrible death surrounded by Dutch carp? More to the point, would our insurance company cough up if they discovered we crossed a bridge designed to carry less than twenty per cent of our weight?

Each of the next three or four crossings were buttock clenchingly exciting. We’d drive slowly to within a hundred metres of the narrow bridge, check to make sure that there were no oncoming vehicles blocking our route, and then accelerate as quickly as possible towards the canal crossing. A racing start in an underpowered motorhome is not terribly impressive, but we still managed to negotiate the bridge at a respectable 30kph, hopefully spreading our weight across the bridge and avoiding an early start to our summer cruising plans.

We were a little more relaxed after seeing two Chelsea tractors – large urban four wheel drive prestige cars to non English readers – on the bridge at the same time towing fully laden horse boxes.

We relaxed completely when we realised that a comedian had carefully removed a number from the sign. Like most of the other bridges in this area, the correct weight limit was a far more respectable twelve tonnes.

Without a care in the world we continued to cross the bridge without worry until, on our fourth day at the car park, Cynthia noticed a sign prohibiting overnight stays in motorhomes. She spotted the sign shortly before a rare Dutch police car drove slowly into the car park, paused briefly next to us, and then drove sedately away. We decided that, if the police weren’t going to bother about the rules, nor would we. Not that we could stay much longer anyway.

Our water pump failed and was replaced at a motorhome service centre in Narbonne in January. Since then, the water pressure hadn’t been very good, but over the last ten days it fluctuated between poor and abysmal. I could spit faster. And then, on Tuesday morning, the water supply failed completely.

I no longer had my tool box with me. We transferred it to the boat along with a handful of other non essential items the previous week. Not that the absence of a tool kit would ever make much difference to me. I lifted the inspection hatch above our one hundred litre water tank, eliminated the only possible remedy I could think of by establishing that the tank was still almost full, prodded the corroded wiring running from the tank, and then gifted Cynthia with the wisdom of my diagnosis. “I think the pump has gone again. We need to have it replaced.”

“Why would the pump fail again so quickly?” asked Cynthia. She pointed at the corroded wiring. “Couldn’t that have something to do with the problem?”

I once successfully changed a plug on my kettle, so I considered myself a bit of an expert with electrical wiring. “No, that’s not it. The pump has failed again. Replacing it is going to cost us another €100 we can’t afford!” As usual, I was stressed about money.

My good friend Google showed me the location of Hymer dealers with service centres in the Netherlands. I phoned the closest. A guy told me that he would love to help, but the earliest appointment was in a week’s time. However, he had a suggestion. He told me that anyone with half an ounce of common sense could fit a new water pump. He obviously didn’t know me. I would love to have half an ounce of common sense. I decided to look elsewhere.

The next guy I called was similarly busy. In fact, he told me that everyone in the motorhome industry is booked solid at the beginning of the touring season. He warned me that I would be lucky to find anyone prepared to replace the pump within a week.

Fortunately, there are service providers who offer an efficient and structured service and do everything in an orderly manner, and there are those who are chaotically flexible and determined to help those in need. My third phone call was much more positive “We’re sixty kilometres from you but, if you can’t find anyone closer, we’ll fit you in.” I think we pulled onto his forecourt before he put the phone down.

The claustrophobic service centre was bedlam. Dozens of motorhomes in varying states of disrepair were wedged into a handful of workshops barely large enough to house them. There was just enough for the uniformed fitters, so there certainly wasn’t enough space for an eight metre motorhome.

We were asked by the owner to park on the industrial park access road in front of the workshops with the promise to “send a fitter to look at your pump as soon as one’s free.” I could see how busy the guys were, so we settled down for a lengthy wait.

Within an hour we were on our way again. The service was first class. Within seconds of lifting the water tank inspection hatch, the fitter diagnosed the problem. “These wires have corroded, so they’re not making contact.” Maybe I’ll think twice before giving Cynthia my expert opinion in future. After a blur of snipping, stripping and crimping, the fitter had new fittings attached to a new block, and had also resolved the issue with the poor water pressure we’ve endured for the last four months.

We now have galley and bathroom taps and a shower head issuing jets of water powerful enough to strip paint, and a cassette toilet flush strong enough to lift either Cynthia or me off the seat if we are foolish enough to press the flush button while sitting down. And the magical cure for our water pressure woes? The French fitter had installed the pump with the positive and negative terminals the wrong way round. That’s what you get for having work done in the afternoon in a country where two hour lunch breaks with wine are normal.

We stopped for the night at a small and empty car park on quiet coast road next to a deserted beach close to Schoorl, and enjoyed a long walk along the water’s edge. We missed the boat which dumped an industrial quantity of bubble bath into the sea, but the dogs enjoyed rolling in the windblown foam.

Blowing bubbles at the sea side

Blowing bubbles at the sea side

Although we’re not back on the water yet, we’re very close. Fitter Jos has completed all of the repairs and alterations, apart from fitting our second fridge. We hoped to have a duplicate of the original sixty five litre fridge fitted, but that particular model is no longer available. A similar alternative model will be installed this weekend, and then we’ll be free to roam the Dutch network for the next four months.

We’ve taken advantage of the delay to shop for a few essential accessories, although ‘essential’ has been the subject of some debate.

High on Cynthia’s list were a pair of life jackets for Tasha and Florence. Bassets aren’t the most active dogs, which I suppose isn’t surprising given their stumpy little legs and elongated bodies. Unsurprisingly perhaps, they aren’t very good swimmers.

Tasha has already had several surprise encounters with England’s murky brown canal water. She struggled to come to terms with a towpath which would switch sides depending on where we were moored, so she always tried to jump off the boat on the same side. Sometimes we caught her in time if she was heading for the water. Sometimes we didn’t.

She didn’t wear a life jacket during the eleven months she was on the English waterways, so an unscheduled dip was something of an ordeal, especially if she jumped in at night. A brown dog in brown water on a dark night is tricky to find, especially if the dog in question ‘swims’ vertically with just the tip of her nose above the surface.

Tasha always wore a Ruffwear harness. It didn’t help her swim, but at least the sturdy handle enabled me to drag her forty four pound bulk onto the boat before she sank like a stone.

The English waterways, especially the canals I usually cruised on, were placid and shallow, so I knew that she wasn’t going to be swept away by a strong current. The Dutch waterways are in a different league, so we need to take more precautions. We also need to consider the logistics of getting Florence back on board if she falls in.

Florence is a shadow of her former self. When Cynthia collected her from the Pennsylvania  kennel where she was used for breeding, she was a very unhealthy 105lb. Thanks to a strict diet and regular exercise, she’s now 65lb. Sixty five pounds is still too much to lift three of four feet from the water to the gunnel and then either under or over the lifeline.If she falls in she will need to be directed to the back of the boat to the swim platform.

This process, coupled with the time needed to bring a boat moving at five or six knots to a stop, takes time, time which a poor swimmer simply doesn’t have. A life jacket is essential for the dogs’ safety.

We drove to Gouda to the Netherlands’ largest Ruffwear dealer, had them fitted with a Float Coat each, and then began a very frustrating twenty four hour period of our motorhome adventure.

We have been very lucky with our overnight stops so far, partly because we always aim for rural locations, and partly because of the time of year. We began our tour last October, the end of summer and the beginning of unsettled and cooler weather. The weather at that time of the year discourages many people from spending time in the great outdoors, which means that we often have parking areas all to ourselves. Now that we’re blessed with warmer weather, we’re also cursed by other people trying to enjoy it with us. Especially during public holidays. Last Thursday was Ascension Day in the Netherlands, and it was HOT!

We stopped for the evening on a vast and mostly empty car park close to a dozen connected lakes north east of Gouda, and then settled down to a peaceful early evening sitting on a lawned area to read quietly and watch the water fowl… until a pair of morons with single digit IQs turned up in hot hatches with speakers the size of telephone boxes.

We endured half an hour of bleeding eardrums, and so much bass that we were vibrated off our seats, before admitting defeat and driving to the opposite end of the car park. All we had to contend with then was the continuous roar of Schipohl air traffic thundering into the sky.

Thursday, Ascension Day, was top up day. We’re pretty good at avoiding paying for camp sites these days. Our previous paid top up, six days earlier, had been at a marina fairly close to Leiden where Julisa is moored. Moorers at the marina pay a €20 deposit for a facilities card which can then be preloaded to pay for metered potable water and showers. We paid to stay in the marina car park for a night, paid a deposit for our facilities card, loaded it with enough money for several weeks’ worth of water, and then left the marina the following day without returning the card. Now, if we’re in the area, we pop in to top up our drinking water and to dispose of our grey and black water. Each visit costs us €1.

Three days later, we topped up our potable water tank from the public toilets in a lakeside car park. I also very carefully emptied our cassette into one of the toilets. As the process requires a great deal of care, and a degree of unpleasant cleaning up afterwards, it’s not an exercise for the faint-hearted. But it’s free, and that’s what counts.

Water is always our highest priority. We can manage six days away from facilities with our two toilet cassettes, but four days at a stretch with our water. Our Gouda car park didn’t have public toilets, so I searched the area thoroughly for businesses with outside taps. The Dutch are more than happy to let us top up if we pay them a few euros, especially if charming Cynthia does the asking. I’ve discovered in the past that, if I ask, they’re more likely to retire quickly and think about calling the police.

After drawing a blank, we decided to drive to the coast to (a) find a campsite which would allow us to use their facilities and (b) find a more peaceful place to stay for the night than a favourite haunt of Gouda’s brain dead young men.

We drove to a likely looking campsite on the outskirts of Den Hag, which was probably a mistake on a public holiday, especially as the weather was good. The coastal area was similar to England on a bank holiday weekend; nose to tail with frustrated car drivers, searching in vain for somewhere to park close to one of many overcrowded beaches.

After a painfully slow drive through Den Hag to the campsite, we endured another painfully slow drive through Den Hag again after the staff at the overcrowded campsite refused to allow us to top up. They kindly gave us the address of another campsite, on the opposite side of Den Hag, which they suggested would be able to accommodate us.

Something was obviously lost in translation. After half an hour of frustratingly slow driving we arrived at the address to find that we were out of luck again. Rather than a rural campsite, the address was an urban multi story car park.

Half an hour later, we found another campsite. I sent Cynthia on the charm offensive hoping that she would be more successful than me. I watched through the windscreen as she chatted to a large and severe looking Dutchman. From his stern look and shaking head, I guessed that we were out of luck again. Fortunately I was wrong. Cynthia just had a problem communicating our needs. The Dutchman thought we wanted to stay for the night. We couldn’t. The campsite was full. As soon as he realised that we only wanted water, he was all smiles. Ten minutes and four euros later, we were fully stocked for another four days off grid. All we needed was somewhere pleasant to park.

If you are ever thinking of visiting the Hook of Holland, especially on a Dutch public holiday, here’s a word of advice. Don’t.

We have never seen so many people, and so many police. We saw more police vans, cars, bikes, dogs and men on that one day than we have ever seen in the Netherlands. Pavements packed with thousands of holidaying teenagers probably had something to do with it. We left, quickly.

Three hours after setting off from Gouda to look for water, we were still driving. We caught a ten minute, eleven euro ferry at Rozenburg, this time keeping a careful eye on our bumper, unlike the momentary lack of concentration on the lake Constance ferry which cost us €1,000 in repairs, and then drove along what we hoped would be quiet coastal roads looking for a pleasant place to park by the sea.

Any space larger than a bicycle had a vehicle parked on it. Our day wasn’t proving to be much fun at all. The seaside loving Dutch were out in force. Much as we like the Dutch, we didn’t want to be anywhere near them.

Our luck changed when we crossed the border from South Holland to Zeeland on the N57 on one of a series of concrete causeways connecting the Netherlands southernmost province’s coastal islands.

From the main road Cynthia spotted a peninsula surrounded by sparkling blue water and white sailed pleasure craft. A rough track lead to a deserted lawn like area opposite a busy marina filled with tall masted sailboats and coastal cruisers.

We enjoyed an idyllic afternoon relaxing in the hot spring sun, watching dozens of weekend sailors tack across the vast freshwater bay beneath us. The icing on the cake was our solitude. Several hundred metres away, families picnicked and frolicked on a narrow sandy beach, but we had the peninsula all to ourselves. Apart from the occasional quiet plop as a lone angler cast his lure, all we could hear were the waves which gently swirled around the peninsula rocks… until we climbed into bed at 10pm.

By then the area was deserted. Acres of empty space surrounded us, enough space for hundreds of people to share without interfering with those around them. Why, then, did two Dutch guys in their early twenties race along the dusty track at a speed not normally seen outside Brands Hatch, skid to a halt fifty feet from us, and then set up a football pitch between their car and our rear bumper. For the next hour they stood far enough apart to necessitate shouting at great volume while they kicked the ball between them. I was so angry I nearly sent Cynthia out to give them a piece of my mind.

We moved further south the following day, edging closer to the second of Cynthia’s essential purchases. It’s a 2.4 metre long sailing dinghy, which she wants to use as a tender for Julisa. She argued that it’s an essential item of safety equipment if we ever break down far from land. I kept quiet, but I think that if we’re ever out of sight of land in our little cruiser, it will be me breaking down, not the boat.

From the photo’s we’ve seen, the dinghy appears to be in very condition. She also appears to be solid wood and therefore quite heavy, which is a bit of a problem.

The view from our bedroom window last night

The view from our bedroom window last night

The dinghy is at a marina near Ossendrecht close to the Belgian border, 120km south of Julisa’s mooring at Leiden. We’re going to view it tonight in the vain hope that we can fit the dinghy on the Hymer’s bike rack. I think that one of two things are likely to happen if we try. The most likely is that the weight of the dinghy will rip the lightweight bike rack from its insubstantial fittings. The best outcome there would be that the bike rack parted company with the Hymer as soon as we tied it on. A rather more serious result would be losing it doing 90kph along a motorway packed with holiday weekend traffic.

If the bike rack and its fittings are strong enough, which I seriously doubt, the excessive weight on the Hymer’s 2.4m overhang could lift our front wheels off the ground. Either way, our journey home would range from extremely unpleasant to catastrophic.

The alternative solutions are to either take Julisa south to the dinghy on coastal waters which she isn’t designed for, or ask the owner to deliver the dinghy to Leiden, and hope that, if he agrees, compensation for fuel and a two and a half hour round trip isn’t going to cost more than the dinghy.

While we contemplate our logistical problems, we’re parked at Berghsluis, overlooking another quiet coastal marina. As we sit quietly in the sun, one of us ocassionally glances at the water, points and says, “Look, that boat’s about the same size as Julisa. We’ll be doing that next week!”

We’re both very excited now.

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!

Cynthia says…

“Hooked on Holland”
Once again, this past week has been a wonderful smattering of exploration and enjoyment of much that Holland has to offer.
On Monday our problem with the water pressure hit an all time low and we knew we had to do something, so we did some research and found out about a place in North Holland not too far from our beloved Bergen, where the big dunes and forest are located.
We made the 1 1/2 hour drive there through beautiful tree lined country roads flanked by farms galore.  When we arrived in the small town of Winkel and drove up to the facility, we found the parking lot crammed with campers and motorhomes and pretty much figured we would be camping out there for awhile.
Weren’t we surprised when Peter and helper came right over and discovered the problem straight away.  After no more than 15 minutes and €15 we were out the door with the best water pressure we have ever had—-and we found out they can do our habitation check and maintenance duties as well in the fall.  Once again, another reason to fall more deeply in love with Holland!
We continued on to Bergen for a bit of bio food shopping at our favourite place, then on to our beloved restaurant near the forest and dunes.  Paul treated me to lunch then we hopped on our bikes and rode into town to purchase two more comfortable bike seats along with a tire pump and small tool kit.
We love the beach at Camperduin, just another 10 minute drive up the coast and so decided to go there and enjoy some beach time with the girls.  Unfortunately a lot of the beach was somewhat dirty which we hate, but the girls love.  I don’t even want to know what they were eating!  But no one got sick and they loved their freedom.
We needed to buy life jackets for the girls and I had found a place online that had a shop near Gouda.  I love Ruffwear products and knew we wouldn’t be disappointed with their canine float coats, so we had made a reservation to go to the warehouse and have them fitted out.  We were not disappointed—these items are pricey but worth it and guaranteed for life.  You can get them online at Amazon, but we were running out of time and it was nice to be able to make an appointment and get the proper fitting and not have to pay the postage.
We decided to head south for the coming long weekend because I was lucky enough to find a website that had sailing dinghies for sale.  I knew pretty much want I wanted and low and behold found one that fit the bill.  I shall report on this next week, as we are going to see her tonight.  If all works out, she will be another dream I have had for some time, as I used to own a similar boat back in the ’70’s when my first husband and I lived on a sailboat in San Diego.  I loved my solo sailing sojourns and can’t wait to pull the tiller towards me again!
We spent a couple of idyllic days on a small island that is just south of Rotterdam surrounded by water and boats coming and going.  And except for two young men playing ball outside our window for several hours until it was too dark to do so, we had peace and quiet.
Saturday morning we decided to head further south to our favourite Westenshcouwen.  We were one of the first vehicles in the parking lot at 8:30 AM but by the time 10:30 rolled around the place was packed.  And it was the hottest day we have experienced thus far.
Paul was a dear and decided I shouldn’t cook, so he treated me to a sumptuous lunch at our special ZeeLust restaurant.  We sat in the shade outside and a soft breeze made the time extra special.  And the girls were a dream—just lay next to us as quiet as could be…..with the occasional (and rare for us!) “pomme frites” (french fries) finding the way into their waiting mouths.
After lunch we were able to find some shade outside the Hymer and sat and read until it got cooler.  We had talked about taking a bike ride but wanted to wait until it had cooled off a bit.  By 5PM the temperature had dropped about 15-20 degrees so Paul set up the bikes and away we went, and were lucky to discover yet another beautiful forested venue with bike and hiking trails that led to curvaceous sand dunes along the way.  We were smitten—yet another great Dutch find!!
It was a good week, and the best news is that on Monday (as in tomorrow) we will be making our way back to Leiden to pick up Julisa.  We couldn’t be happier:-))
Stay tuned for our next newsletter and all the news about our much-anticipated transition……

A Strange Request in a Remote Countryside Car Park


If you are one of the many, many hundreds of subscribers who completed last week’s survey, THANK YOU! Your comments were as useful as they were inspiring, apart from the solitary individual whose sole comment was ‘how do I unsubscribe from this smug and inane drivel?’ After I spent a few minutes weeping into my Belgian beer, I took that comment on board too. I forgot to add an unsubscribe link to the introductory email. If you are one of the few who actively object to the emails I send, you can click on the link at the bottom of the introductory email to banish me from your lives forever.

The comments were many and varied, but the overall theme was ‘carry on doing what you’re doing but, if you have time, a few more photo’s would be much appreciated’

Only 48% of respondents expressed an interest in motorhomes, compared to 71% interested in the Dutch network, and 91% who want information about living on the UK network.

That leaves Cynthia and me with a bit of a quandary. Do we move afloat for twelve months of the year, and spend our winters breaking ice with our nicely painted bow when we’re not huddled around a flickering candle flame for warmth? Alternatively, do we repeat what we did last winter, drive south the France’s Mediterranean coast, and spend the cooler months of the year in tee shirts and shorts soaking up the Mediterranean’s welcome winter sun? It’s a difficult decision to make. We’ll have to think long and hard about it.

The survey results were very useful for a number of reasons. One comment repeated several times was that it’s a shame that some of my older posts aren’t still available. I didn’t really understand what this meant until someone pointed out that clicking on some of the links in my introductory emails results in a 404-page-not-found error.

The error has been caused by me ditching the ridiculously expensive newsletter and CRM software I used for several years. It had more features and functions than I could ever hope to use, so I switched to a much simpler online application. The switch reduced my site maintenance costs, but created a bit of a problem for anyone who had saved the introductory emails, hoping to read the associated newsletters when work commitments allowed.

The good news is that the newsletters linked from the emails haven’t been deleted. They are still neatly filed away in the site’s newsletter archive. The ten most recent newsletters are in chronological order at the top of the column to your right. If you want to read any older posts, you will find every newsletter I’ve written since Christmas 2012 in the Newsletter Archive. There’s a link to the Newsletter Archive in the menu at the top of this page.

If you can’t remember the date of the newsletter you want to read, try the Google Custom Search box at the top of the right hand column. Just enter any phrase or word to produce a list of relevant posts or pages within the site.

A number of survey respondents also pointed out that the newsletter link from my email on 7th May didn’t work, which probably accounted for what I thought was an unusually poor response. If you haven’t read the newsletter yet, which includes details and photo’s of our new boat, you can read Playing the Waiting Game here.

OK. That’s the admin out of the way, so upwards and onwards!

Julisa out of her element again

Julisa out of her element again

We visited Jos at his boatyard on Tuesday to check progress. We were delighted to see a little progress. Julisa was out of her element again, this time on the hardstanding close to Jos’s workshop. The sea toilet and its attached hand pump had been removed, as had most of the electrics in and close to the engine bay. The boat looked a mess. The old adage, ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’ sprung to mind. The eggs in this case were well and truly broken.

Jos was still waiting for the new fridge, four AGM batteries and our replacement Eberspacher heater. The heater and batteries were due to arrive later in the week, but he had no idea when the fridge was due. The work is not going to be completed by 20th May as Jos first suggested. They delay is very frustrating, but at least we’re now reasonably confident that when we set off on our cruise we’ll have a boat which will stay afloat. If we hadn’t asked Jos to replace the sea toilet with a cassette, that might not have been the case.

Once we’d spent a few bewildering minutes tiptoeing around what looked like most of julisa’s component parts, dismantled and scattered in haphazard heaps about the boat, Jos lead us to a storage area to the rear of his workshop. “You’re lucky I took the sea toilet out when I did,” he told us as he bent to pick up a short section of cylindrical steel. “Look at this piece” He pointed at a patch of rust bordering a jagged hole. “I needed to loosen this pipe with two or three light taps with a hammer. The hammer went straight through the pipe” He pointed to a discoloured area circling the pipe slightly above the hole. “That’s the waterline. This hole is below it. You’re lucky the boat didn’t sink!”

A rusty submarine section of toilet

A rusty submarine section of toilet

Jost also showed us a mess of cracked filler between the sea toilet and the vertical soil pipe it rested on. The toilet fell off the pipe when I lifted it. We couldn’t have used the sea toilet even if we wanted to keep it The first time either Cynthia or I sat down to attend to business, the weak filler would have given way along with the toilet bowl and whoever was sitting on it. The end result wouldn’t have been pretty.

Our broken toilet - This wouldn't have taken Cynthia's weight for long (Just kidding Cynthia!)

Our broken toilet – This wouldn’t have taken Cynthia’s weight for long (Just kidding Cynthia!)

We considered ourselves very lucky. Two weeks earlier we cruised for two and a half hours along twenty kilometres of wide and deep waterways, with the hull regularly bouncing across choppy waves. The shock and vibration could easily have holed the rust weakened toilet outlet and given us a novel submarine view of the Dutch waterways.

We considered ourselves lucky with the heater too.

The Eberspacher heating system wasn’t working when we took the boat for a test run with our surveyor. The agreement we reached with the owner, Piet, was that he would pay for a service which, he thought, would be enough to resolve the issue. However, if the service failed, he agreed to pay half the cost of a new heater.

A service couldn’t be done. The heater’s internal components disintegrated when the casing was opened. We needed a new heater. A direct replacement for the defunct Eberspacher costs €1,900. Piet refused to pay. He told us that he had found a brand new Eberspacher on the internet for €900. He offered to pay €450 for his half share.

After a little investigation and discussion with Jos, we discovered that Piet’s heater was designed for use in trucks. It wouldn’t fit in Julisa without extensive adjustments and labour. The additional parts would cost €550, plus another €350 for labour. The ‘cheap’ heater, after much adjustment, would cost just as much as the direct replacement.

Our beast of an engine

Our beast of an engine

I’m delighted to report that Piet is an honest man. When he finally agreed to pay his half of the €1,900 Eberspacher, Cynthia and I breathed a sigh of relief. We realised that we would be able to buy food this week after all.

Who wants to make the first deposit?

Who wants to make the first deposit?

Apart from an hour or two at the boatyard, we’ve continued to explore the Netherlands. The scope of the Dutch waterways continues to astound us, as does the way that they are integrated with Dutch society. If you cruise along an urban canal in England, you often have to endure shallow and dirty waterways filled with old bicycles, shopping trolleys, the occasional joy ridden car, and a sea of plastic. The canals regularly skulk through dirty, graffiti covered industrial areas dotted with abandoned factories and with towpaths frequented by furtive, hoodie wearing youths. Of course, not all English city canals are unpleasant, but there are relatively few areas where city waterways are embraced.

The Netherlands is very different.

The Netherlands canals still have their fair share of bicycles thrown in them. The Dutch have one of the most bicycle friendly countries in the world. There are 16,500,000 bikes in a country with a similar population total. Nearly everyone in the country has a bike. Unfortunately, as many as one in five bikes are stolen each year. Many of them are dumped in the canals.

The difference in the Netherlands is that the waterways are generally much deeper than the shallow canals in the UK, and the city authorities are far more proactive in keeping the waterways clear, which are used extensively by commercial boats as well as a high number of leisure craft.

The waterways surrounding our Den Ilp car park. The blue dot shows our location.

The waterways surrounding our Den Ilp car park. The blue dot shows our location.

Everywhere we visit we cross or skirt a wide variety of rivers, canals and lakes. We spent much of this week overnighting in a car park at Den Ilp overlooking a lake at the edge of six square kilometres of lakes, canals and parkland, devoid of traffic apart from a multitude of horse riders, bicyclists, skaters, dog walkers and hikers on an extensive network of superb bicycle paths, bridleways and footpaths, all of which often crossed or ran close to the endless waterways.

We stopped overnight on this causeway near Marken

We stopped overnight on this causeway near Marken

The astounding amount of bicycle theft aside, the Netherlands feels incredibly safe. Cynthia and I regularly stay overnight in remote car parks which, in the UK, would often be the haunt of noisy and sometimes drunk and aggressive teenagers driving hot hatches. That’s if we managed to get into the car parks at all. Far too often, the English car parks would have height barriers preventing motorhome access, signs prohibiting overnight stays, or traffic wardens or car parking officials knocking on our door, usually while we were eating, asking us to leave. Wild camping, even when it was possible, often didn’t feel very safe.

Sometimes I find adjusting to the far more peaceful countries we’ve visited in Europe quite difficult. After living for fifty five years in the UK, I often judge strangers by the same standards I experienced there. After a lifetime in the USA, Cynthia has a similar problem, but to a far lesser degree.

Two incidents earlier in the week proved us both wrong. The first was at 10pm one night. We were laying on our bed, watching a DVD when Cynthia stiffened and stared intently at a shadowy figure outside she struggled to make out in the fading light. The figure approached. A shaven headed, heavily muscled and tatooed man in his mid twenties beckoned to us through the open window.

“Don’t go out there!” warned Cynthia. “You don’t know what he wants.”
I glanced at the kitchen drawer where we keep a selection of razor sharp knives, and decided against weapon carrying at this stage in the proceedings, but put on my shoes before I answered the door. I didn’t want to have to deal with an unwelcome guest with my bare feet. I find that I can run away much faster if I’m properly shod.

I opened the door and glared at the guy suspiciously, which was a shame, because he couldn’t have been more pleasant. He was Dutch, but, as usual, he spoke perfect English. “I’m really sorry I’ve interrupted you at this time of the night, but could I ask you a favour?” I hesitantly nodded my head. What could he want this time of the night? Money? Drink? Drugs? Somewhere warm to sleep for the night? Cynthia?

“I’m night fishing with my friend,” he gestured to a mountain of camouflaged bags and boxes piled neatly beside a car on the edge of the car park. “We have everything we need for the night, apart from a toilet roll. Could you spare one?”

After expecting to be robbed or beaten, being asked for a solitary toilet roll came as a very pleasant surprise. I almost invited him inside to loosen his bowels, but I suspected that he might reach the wrong conclusion.

Our second surprise was the following night, a humid evening after a hot and sunny day. We had all of our windows and both of our skylights open to stop us from melting inside the poorly ventilated Hymer, so we could hear every sound from the car park outside.

A three vehicle convoy pulled into the car park and skidded to halt on the gravel close to us. Six stockily built eastern Europeans exploded from the two cars and a van, collected several cases of beer and barbecue paraphernalia from the back of the van, and then set up camp on a lawn-like area next to a lake fifty feet away from us.

For the next three hours we listened to the group’s conversation and laughter at an ever increasing volume, interspersed with grunts, thuds and splashes as they wrestled by the water’s edge. I dreaded their return sometime in the early hours of the morning. I remembered all the many occasions during my pub management days when similar heavy drinking usually resulted in flying fists and feet, usually aimed at innocent bystanders. Given that we were in the only other vehicle in the secluded car park, I imagined that they would consider us an easy target.

Once again, I was wrong. They diligently collected their post party debris at 10pm, returned to their vehicles as quietly as church mice, waved a cheery farewell at the backlit figure staring intently at them from a motorhome window, and drove away slowly and carefully.

The Netherlands is a very peaceful country.

We stayed in our Den Ilp car park for several days so that we could buy two more bikes. At the beginning of the week, I still had my big sit-up-and-beg Dutch bike. I bought it last August when I visited Cynthia at the house she rented near Drachten in Friesland, while she waited for me to finish my season’s work at Calcutt Boats. Cynthia bought a similar bike in Drachten, but the bike was stolen during our brief visit to Malaga at the end of November last year.

I hadn’t used my bike once since then. Preparing it for a ride was just too laborious. The Hymer’s bike rack is fitted higher than on most motorhomes, so I needed to use a set of steps to lift bikes off the rack. The steps were buried deep in the motorhomes cavernous garage, so even unearthing the steps was a painful process. Then I had to removed a tightly strapped bike cover, and then find three keys to three separate locks. I could spend as long preparing the bike as actually riding it.

I part exchanged the bike for a Takashi folding bike at Cool Biking in Landsmeer, a hop, skip and a jump from our Den Ilp car park. Both bikes will fit in the fit in the Hymer’s garage, after some ruthless pruning of the ‘essentials’ which we crammed in there at the end of last year, including my well stocked tool box.

I don’t know what possessed my to bring a comprehensive range of tools with me. I didn’t use them on my narrowboat. I don’t actually know what some of them are for. I brushed the dust off the bag once four months ago when I needed a 13mm spanner to tighten a loose windscreen wiper. I’ve kept the spanner and a single flat-headed screwdriver and transferred everything else to the boat, where it will no doubt gather dust until we move everything back to the motorhome in September.

When we transferred some stuff from the garage to the boat yesterday to make room for the bikes, we checked progress on the boat. It’s still a mess, but we can see a dim light at the end of a very long tunnel. Jos has missed his 20th May deadline, but he’s confident he can complete everything now by next Thursday. We live in hope.

Five weeks after having the survey done, we should be able to begin our summer cruise. All we have to do is shoehorn everything which is so carefully organised in the Hymer into a boat with much less storage space. Then we have to decide where to go. We don’t have a clue. Do you have any suggestions?

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Cynthia says…

“Verse Munttee* and other Dutch Delights”
Both Paul and myself have lamented over the fact that the work on Julisa has been extended due to “circumstances beyond our (and Jos’s) control”—delivery of parts being the main culprit.  We had hoped to be back on the water long before now—–
But as always, every cloud has a silver lining, and we have found that silver lining this past week in the form of wonderful places to discover and enjoy.
My brother Jeff, who introduced me to the Netherlands several years ago, has suggested several places he thought we would enjoy visiting, so we have started doing that, and this past Sunday, Mother’s Day we found ourselves exploring the delightful little village of Broek on Waterland, just a stone’s throw north of Amsterdam.  He thought we might like to spend some time exploring the canals there in a whisper boat, which is like a medium sized row boat with a small electric motor.  The idea sounded like a great one until we found out they cost a whopping €50, which was way out of our budget.  So we just collected the girls and set off on foot.  We found a quiet lagoon and a bench beckoned to us so we sat and just enjoyed the quiet tranquility that stretched out in front of us.
The Dutch weather is quite fickle, so what started out as a warm and sunny day, soon turned cool and breezy with rain on the horizon.  As we made our way through the village we discovered a beautiful old building that had a lovely court yard dining area.  We decided to deposit the girls back in the Hymer and come back for a Mother’s Day lunch.
The food was very good, but we thought a bit pricey given the fact that our sandwiches had no accompaniments, making the plates look rather bare.  This is the only meal we have had in the Netherlands that we were somewhat disappointed in.  But the staff were delightful and the surroundings wonderful.
On our way back to the Hymer, we found the most beautiful tree shaded cemetery so we took a quiet stroll through it, enjoying the serenity.  As we exited the cemetery, there was a community garden area along the path back to home.  We both looked west at the same time and remarked how dark and foreboding the sky looked.  We knew we only had minutes to hot-foot it back to the Hymer.  We were pelted with a few raindrops, but lucked out making it back just before the big deluge occurred.
We needed to fill the coffers a bit, and found that the Jumbo that is almost next to the Cool Biking Company had Sunday opening hours.  Just as we pulled up and parked, Rene who owns the bike place was at our window.  We told him we had just been to Broek in Waterland and he gave us a thumbnail sketch of the history.  Evidently a woman back in the 1600’s, who was the richest person in the world at that time, built the village and owned every house in it.  We found out that the building where we had just had lunch was once an orphanage of all things!
One of the places that Paul found a week ago, just a short drive from Landsmeer in Den Ilp, turned out to be one of our favorite places of all to stay.  It is truly magnificent and each time we land in the parking lot there are no other campervans/motorhomes to be found–amazing!  There are the assorted dog walker, horseback riders, inline skaters and bikers among other people taking advantage of this fine spread of country replete with lakes, beaches, walking paths, biking paths and horse trails.  Something for nearly everyone.  I still have a hard time believing all of this is just minutes from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam.
As we look out our window we can see a lovely pond with ducks of various kinds and their young, and a lovely freshly mown plot of grass that invites us to come and sit a spell.  So we do!
This past Wednesday turned out to be a splendid early summer day with temps in the mid ’80’s Fahrenheit.  It was an amazing day that brought out many people to enjoy the lovely vistas.  We picked up my bike that day and once we returned to our parking spot by the pond, I set off on the bike and Paul set off on one of his solo walks.  We ended up returning home at almost the same time.
On my ride, I came upon a delightful cafe right on the water that also had a great outdoor sitting area.  I vowed I would return with Paul in tow, as I knew he would like it as well.
And return we did, this time in the Hymer.  I had found a small and lovely beach just around the bend from the cafe and we had the place to ourselves, so we let the girls off the leads and away they went running and having a ball together.  A few minutes later a young couple with their baby and bulldog/terrier mix showed up.  The husband would throw a stick in the water and the dog, Lola, would leap into the water with great abandon and fetch it.  We watched for several minutes and then noticed Tasha heading over to greet the dog and the owners.  Neither she nor Florence have anything to do with other dogs other than the occasional sniff, so Paul and I were wonderfully surprised when they all started to play together.  It was fun talking with the owners as well.  We have met many delightful Dutch people during our travels about and have even more to look forward to meeting once we are ensconced on the waterways.
The other thoroughly delightful person who has shown up in our lives is Rene, who owns The Cool Bike Company in Landsmeer where we bought our bikes.  He specializes in  fold up bikes and I found out about him through–of all places!–a bike shop in North Holland whom I had called a week ago requesting if they had fold up bikes.
This guy is THE most wonderful, happy and energetic person and does a phenomenal job.  We were given a number of items for our bikes gratis, and he helped Paul with questions about the Dutch SIM card, taking time from his business to do so.  We discovered that he began the business when he was just 17!!  His customer service is THE absolute best and I would recommend him to anyone.  Check out his business at
So.  That’s been our week, and a good one it was.  The Cuckoo bird is calling the alarm outside, so it is time to close and move on with the day.  Can’t wait to see what the coming week brings—with a bit of luck we should be writing next weeks newsletter to you from Julisa!
* Verse Munttee is fresh mint tea, which is available everywhere in the Netherlands.  It normally is served in a clear mug with the bright green mint leaves showing through.  And a side serving of honey on the side….this is my favorite drink here in the Netherlands.

2017 05 07 Newsletter – Playing the Waiting Game

Our exciting lifestyle of the last seven months is now driving me mad. After our thrilling maiden voyage at the beginning of last week, we’re now playing a waiting game. There’s much more work to do on the boat than we expected because, after being told that the boat’s heating service would just need a quick and inexpensive service to get it working again, surprise, surprise, we’ve discovered that it is well and truly kaput.

Previous owner Piet told us that the Eberspacher worked perfectly the last time that he used it very briefly on a particularly chilly summer’s day in 2015. He was confident that a service would be enough to return it to the robust and reliable heating system that it’s always been.He was wrong.The Eberspacher’s innards disintegrated as soon as they were exposed to the light of day. The Eberspacher technician wasn’t at all surprised as he pointed to the printed date stamp on the heater’s casing. Julisa was built in 1975. The Eberspacher heater is actually three years older than the boat. The service centre no longer carries spares for the forty five year old heater, so we need to have a new unit fitted. One of the conditions of sale was that, if the original heater couldn’t be coaxed back into life with a service, Piet would pay half of the cost of a new heater. We’re both quite pleased about that, as a similar model Eberspacher to the one that has fallen apart is going to cost €1,900. Fortunately, the existing fittings can be used, so there isn’t going to be an installation cost to further deplete our rapidly disappearing savings.We’ve now agreed the scope of the work to be done on Julisa. We’re still hoping that everything is going to be completed by mid May, but we’ve allowed for an extra week. Boat fitter Jos works on his own. He’ll have to fit the jobs on Julisa around the three of four other boats he’s also working on at the moment. He’s a charming and apparently very efficient man, but I think we’ll be popping in to see him on a regular basis just to make sure he stays on track.

Here are our boat details, cost and specifications. If you have an inkling to cruise the Dutch waterways one day, I hope you’ll find the following information useful.

Julisa’s Details

Julisa - Our new summer home

Julisa – Our new summer home

Type: Super Favorite AK
Built by: Van Kleef
Year of Construction: 1975
Length: 9.70m (32’)
Width: 3.20m (10’6”)
Depth: 0.95m (3’1”)
Air Draught: 2.45m  (8’0”) (That’s what we were told, but on our maiden voyage we scraped under a bridge we were told was 2.40m)
Building Material: Steel with mahogany superstructure
Engine: Peugeot Indenor Diesel 106 hp
Motor Number: 0562 690055 indenor AS106 OM
Engine hours at purchase: 3,217
Fuel consumption: An alleged two litres per hour
Purchase cost: €32,700 (£27,365)
Repairs and upgrades required for long term summer cruising: €9,600 (£8,135)
Toilet type: Sea toilet discharging waste directly into the waterway
Water tank capacity: 200l
Diesel tank capacity: 200l
Water heating: None
Shower/Bath: None
Central heating: A defunct Eberspacher
Electrical power generation: 60ah alternator & battery charger when connected to shore power
Electrical power storage: Three lead acid leisure batteries of different ages and sizes and one 110ah lead acid starter battery.
Inverter: 300w modified sine
Berths: 7 (Providing that they are all very good friends who are as thin as rakes)
Insulation: None that I am aware of

Our new summer home has a very different specification to James No 104, my home on the English waterways for six and a half years. The narrowboat was far more comfortable and spacious, far warmer in cold weather – of which there was plenty – and far better equipped for long range, long term cruising.

Before I had even contemplated selling James, I considered taking the boat to Europe. The main problem was of course that I wasn’t committed enough to the idea of European cruising to look for ways of overcoming the challenges involved. My marriage to Cynthia and our difficulty importing her into the UK was the catalyst which allowed my European cruising plans to blossom.

Transporting a narrowboat across the channel would have been costly, but that wasn’t the main problem. A narrowboat is very well designed for shuffling along a muddy and often very narrow ditch. The hull has a flat bottom for bouncing over a canal bed which is often just two or three feet beneath the surface, and one which is often littered with man-made debris which regularly wraps itself immovably around the propellor. Because of constant fouling, narrowboats have hatches, weed hatches, set in the rear deck above the propellor. A cruise  along an urban canal will often necessitate regular stops to allow the owner to remove items of clothing, lengths of rope, tyres, wire baskets and shopping trollies, old sofas, bicycles, and the occasional rotting badger carcass. Julisa doesn’t have a weed hatch. The Dutch describe the stuff they cruise through as ‘sweet water’ which means that there isn’t any debris to foul the propeller. Life at the helm of an English narrowboat is not always as problem free as it is on the Dutch waterways, but it’s usually on very placid waterways.

UK canals usually have very slow flowing water. The negligible current is often determined by nothing more than the number of times locks are used  at either end of any given stretch of water. Consequently, a powerful engine isn’t needed. I have seen some very large craft on English canals powered by very small engines. The most extreme case I saw was a monstrosity, looking like a half finished paddle boat, which often moored around the Braunston area. It was seventy feet long, ten or twelve feet wide and had a hull which towered about passing narrowboats. At the stern, a two metre scaffolding pole tiller was lashed to a 15hp outboard engine. The engine had to work flat out to move in excess of thirty tonnes, but it just about provided enough power to allow the owners to move the boat a few miles up and down the canal in order to pay lip service to the continuous cruising guidelines. This boat was exceptional, but small outboard motors on poorly maintained narrowboats dotted around the network weren’t unusual.

Taking a flat bottomed narrowboat with a low power engine onto the European waterways would be asking for trouble. Even a well built narrowboat with a decent engine would struggle. My own boat had a 42hp engine, which was typical in a boat of its size. It wouldn’t have been powerful enough. The European network includes some very large and often fast flowing waterways used by craft of all sizes, including ocean going ships. An underpowered flat-bottomed boat would usually be at a disadvantage and occasionally be in danger.

Once we began boat hunting over here, we quickly discounted the idea of bringing a narrowboat over. It just wasn’t a sensible or practical choice. Yes, there are narrowboats on European waterways, so cruising on them is possible, but neither easy nor practical. We haven’t seen any since last June when Cynthia and I first visited the Netherlands. In addition to cruising difficulties, mooring wouldn’t be as easy as it is in a shorter, fatter boat.

Mooring opportunities here in the Netherlands are plentiful, providing you aren’t narrowboat shaped. There are a reasonable number of canal-side moorings in or close to towns and villages, but the available spots are far easier to slip into in a short fat boat. There are also an almost unlimited number of marina moorings. However, these are often box moorings which a narrowboat would would not be able to get on or off.

So we discounted narrowboats almost immediately, which still left us with a bewildering choice of potential summer cruising homes. We really liked the look of the Dutch tjalks. These beautiful boats, often over a hundred years old, are usually beautifully maintained. They have large and striking rudders, massive flipper like leeboards, and telegraph pole sized wooden masts reaching high into the sky.

One of the Dutch tjalks on our shopping list

One of the Dutch tjalks on our shopping list

We found a few lower end tjalks within our budget, but common sense prevailed. These are sailing boats. Their place is on one of the Netherlands many large meres, scudding gracefully over the waves. They aren’t particularly suitable for cruising and living on board full time. Most of the tjalks we looked at, particularly the boats within our budget, had beautiful but very basic accommodation. We would have needed to spend a small fortune to upgrade the electrics and onboard facilities to meet our requirements. We would have had to pay another fortune to cruise anywhere in one. Tjalks are large and very heavy wooden boats with a bow like a Croc rubber shoe. They offer a great deal of resistance to any engine trying to push the boat through the waterways. Consequently, fuel consumption can be as high as five litres an hour.

Another consideration was the boats’ high mast. There are so many bridges on the Dutch waterways that we would have to either consider having the mast unstepped, lowered, when cruising, or only cruise on one of the relatively few ‘mast up’ routes. The final nail in the tjalk coffin was the craft’s large open deck. The more external deck space, the less internal living space. Even though our plans were to only use the boat during the summer months, the weather in the Netherlands is too similar to English summers to realistically expect to spend most of our time out on deck.

We also considered buying a Dutch barge. We were given the details of two very good condition Dutch barges by Calcutt Boats’ owner Roger Preen. Thank you Roger, but in order to buy either of these boats, we would have needed to sell our motorhome and then live all year on the waterways. We decided that we wanted the flexibility to explore areas of Europe far removed from the nearest canal or river. A decent Dutch barge was definitely out of our price bracket.

Our final consideration was Dutch motor cruisers. Cynthia was very keen to look at them. I wasn’t so sure. Each time she mentioned them, images sprung to mind of the dilapidated ‘plastic pigs’ which I had often seen on the English canals on untidy moorings, covered in algae and piles of junk.

The more we viewed the online listings, the more I agreed with Cynthia. A motor cruiser would probably do the job. Although not as long as the narrowboats I was used to, they were considerably wider, and offered much more living space than we had in the motorhome. We viewed hundreds of cruisers online, viewed two, and then bought the second boat we saw.

The first boat, coincidentally owned by same broker who sold us the second, was in excellent condition, apart from one small detail which Cynthia noticed. I missed it completely. There were signs of mould on a white flannel covered panel in the small aft cabin. That, and the fact that the boat cost €5,000 more than the second boat on our list, was enough to put us off.

Six months after paying a deposit to hold Julisa, we are now the proud owners of a beautiful old boat and the not so proud owners of two nearly empty bank accounts. They’ll be completely empty by the time we start cruising because we need to make many alterations and improvements before we can live on her in comfort for half of each year. Here’s what we need to do.

Julisa's sea toilet

Julisas sea toilet

This sea toilet needs to come out. It will be replaced with a simple cassette toilet. Julisa will need to be taken out of the water (using the old rust bucket of a crane you can see in this post’s final photo) so that the sea toilet vent can be welded over and then painted. We had hoped to convert the tiny toilet space, the head, into a wet room. We can’t. There isn’t enough headroom, or foot room, or any meaningful room at all actually. There’s nowhere else we can fit a shower on board, so we’re either going to have to use the facilities at one of the many marinas dotting the Dutch waterways. I suspect that the reality will be a combination of both so, if you’re thinking about coming to visit us, bring a peg for your nose.

The main cabin is pictured below. It feels surprisingly spacious after seven months in the Hymer. The biggest job in here is to fit a second fridge. The current and almost new fridge is sixty five litres. It’s half the capacity of the one Cynthia is used to and needs. We can’t fit a fridge with twice the capacity anywhere in the cabin, so we’re going to fit a second identical fridge.

Julisa's main cabin. It feels spacious after the Hymer

Julisa’s main cabin. It feels spacious after the Hymer

The boat’s electrical setup is extremely basic. There are very few 220v sockets throughout the boat, and just two ridiculously positioned sockets in the main cabin. They’re mounted on the outside of a cupboard above the freestanding four ring gas hob. Any appliance plugged into these sockets will drape its cables across the burners. The sockets will have to be moved elsewhere.

There’s only one other socket in the cabin, ingeniously fitted by the previous owner. He attached a multi socket extension lead to the shore line plug in a cupboard in the cockpit, and then ran one extension lead to a point under the dinette in the main cabin. A second extension lead runs to two sockets under the mattress in the aft cabin. New sockets are going to be fitted properly in both cabins.

Our cockpit, which we hope to use for al fresco dining for most of the summer

Our cockpit, which we hope to use for al fresco dining for most of the summer

The cockpit, and just in front of the cockpit on the cabin roof, is where most of our hard earned cash is going. The boat’s mismatched bank of batteries are going to be replaced with a bank of four 135ah AGM batteries for the domestic supply, plus a 110ah battery for the engine. We’re also having a battery charger fitted to keep the batteries topped up when we’re on a shore supply. When we’re not, two small but powerful 240w solar panels should give us all the power we need, and then a 2,000w Victron inverter should provide us with all the A/C power we need when we’re on the move.

The Eberspacher heater in the engine bay will also be replaced. After over four decades of intermittent use, I’m not surprised that the old one died. I think the new unit should provide enough heat to keep us warm, but I’m not terribly confident that the boat will be able to retain the heat the Eberspacher produces. Julisa doesn’t appear to have any insulation at all so, if we do experience any particularly cold summer weather, I expect to have a problem with condensation. The cockpit roof is a concern too. It’s a single layer of waterproof canvas, which isn’t going to provide any meaningful insulation at all.

The cosy aft cabin is being left alone, apart from the installation of one double 220v socket. There’s a tiny amount of rust showing under the floor which is coming through the concrete ballast. A patch of ballast will be hacked out so that the rust can be treated. The steering gear runs from the cockpit under the port side bunk. It’s sagging, so it’s going to be replaced.

Last but not least, Cynthia wants a little sailing dingy to give our two empty davits something to do. She

A place for a boat on our boat

A place for a boat on our boat

has her heart set on a wooden dingy, varnished to shiny perfection. Given the cost of these things, and the amount of maintenance required to keep them in good condition, I think we would spend more time crying over our depleted bank account, sanding and painting, than we would using it on the water. I’m not going to stand between a woman and her dream boat though, so I’m sure it will make an appearance before too long. Maybe I could sell my body to medical science if we run out of money in the bank to pay for it.

Now we’re playing the waiting game. We spent two days at Jos’s boatyard, wedged into a small space under the half tonne lifting frame suspended from the rusty boom of an ancient crane. On the second night, I was woken by Cynthia screaming. “The crane’s falling on our roof. We’ll be crushed!” I think a cat might have jumped onto our bedroom skylight by a nearby tree. Other than that, and the sound of Cynthia quietly weeping, the night was tranquil.

There was no point in us staying any longer at the boatyard and Hymer was in the way. To help pass the time before the boat is ready for cruising, we drove 100km north to one of the Netherlands mountainous areas. At least the Dutch think the area of sand dunes close to the picturesque upmarket town of Bergen are high.

Life under a crane. We glanced through our skylight quite often while we were parked there.

Life under a crane. We glanced through our skylight quite often while we were parked there.

For the last two days, we’ve been parked on the edge of a busy car park next to an expansive area of forests and dunes. There aren’t as many wild camping opportunities in the Netherlands as there were in France but, if we can find somewhere to park, we’re usually left alone. As I sit on our double bed tapping away at my keyboard, I can see a steady procession of dog walkers, joggers, mountain bike and horse riders heading from the car park to the forest trails. All of them are quiet and well behaved. The Dutch are a civilised bunch. Duinvermaak, an upmarket pizza and pancake house, is on the opposite side of the car park to us. Yesterday, as we ambled into town for shopping and coffee, we watched hordes of happy diners sitting on the restaurant terrace, basking in the afternoon sun. Today, we think we will join them. We’re still living the dream, but time can’t pass quickly enough until we can start cruising.

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Cynthia Says…

“The hills are alive….and On Hold”
Paul and I both miss the mountains and hills we are so familiar with in our respective countries, so as much as we love the Netherlands, it is, well, Very Flat!  But just over a week ago we were driving north in North Holland (about 1 hour from Amsterdam) and came upon the most gorgeous village that had….HILLS!!  And beautiful sand dunes to boot.  What more could we want??
As you may remember from last weeks blog, we had returned to Friesland to check out that area as it contains numerous lakes which are of great interest to us, because they are someplace where we can moor up the boat for free.  There is an ensign  (which we display on the boat) that one can obtain from any tourist office that allows one to stay for free on these lakes and the islands therein.  We will definitely be getting one of these and will make good use of it.
Last Tuesday we decided we needed to head back to Leiden to see Jos about the work we are having done on the boat. Before we drove there, we decided once again to return to Bergen and found a great spot to park right next to the woods, and the parking there is free!  We didn’t have much time to explore the woods, but vowed to return after our trip to Leiden.
We had gone over the things we wanted to have done on Julisa the previous week and had been waiting for the final quote from Jos.  Paul is great working out anything having to do with figures and such and he had a pretty good idea what we needed to come up with in the $$ department.  But, low and behold, the figure was less than expected, so we were elated.
We spent the next couple of days doing errands, dreaming about finally being on Julisa and also exploring Leiden on foot, doing some necessary shopping and just checking out the boats on the canals.
After all was said and done with Jos, we were told that Julisa would be ready 20 May, so unfortunately we will have to delay the start of our canal cruising until then.
As we had had enough of the city we couldn’t help but find ourselves wanting to make the trip back to Bergen and further explore the town and the hills and dunes trails.  Even though it was Friday afternoon rush hour, we were lucky enough to be heading north and had no issues with traffic.  And best of all, our parking lot in Bergen had a spot for us!
Yesterday, Saturday, we couldn’t resist the fine sunny warm weather as it beckoned us to come outside and make the most of the day which we did.  Bergen is charming and full of vitality and a lovely energy.  We did a bit of shopping and enjoyed watching the world pass by as we sat at an outdoor cafe and sipped our beverages.
Florence has really taking to going to town with us and she is very good–no barking like so many of the dogs we meet.  She doesn’t mind the crowds, and is well behaved, so it is a pleasure to have her with us.
We are not sure what the coming week will bring, but I am pretty certain we will be staying close to our little haven here in Bergen.  It offers everything that brings us joy and happiness.
We hope you enjoy a good week ahead, and many thanks for all the kind words about last weeks blog post–it’s nice to be back!  And a special thanks to those of you who were interested in the 3e Centre I attended to rid myself of the leukemia cells.  I am always happy to share the fact that there are many ways to heal cancer that give much better results than western protocol.

2017 04 30 The Transition From Wheels to Water


If you’re new to this site and you’ve been following the chronological post listing in the newsletter archive, you may be wondering why the last post before this one was way back in September 2016. There’s  very good reason. Cynthia and I no longer live on a narrowboat on the English waterways.

At the beginning of October 2016, I sold my narrowboat, packed all my belongings into a Hymer motorhome, and drove to the Netherlands to join my estranged wife. Cynthia and I had been married for three months but separated for most of it. We decided that we didn’t’ want to continue trying to overcome both the bureaucratic nonsense and the ridiculous expense necessary to allow her to live in the UK on the inland waterways network with me. We decided that, if we couldn’t live together in the UK, we would spend our time exploring as much of Europe as we could in our Hymer motorhome.

Seven months later, we’re about to return to life on the water, this time on the wonderful Dutch network. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our European travels. We’ve visited Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Austria and France. We spent most of the winter close to the Mediterranean coast in the south of France.

We left the Narbonne area mid February for what we hoped would be a gentle month of exploration before arriving at a German clinic in time for Cynthia’s five week stay at a homeopathic cancer clinic mid March. As usual, our tour didn’t go quite as smoothly as we would have liked, including some scary moments in both the Swiss and the French Alps.

If you would like to read about our motorhome travels, our tour blog is here. I stopped writing those blog posts a couple of months ago to concentrate on writing a book. The book is progressing nicely, and I miss blogging so, from now on, both Cynthia will be adding new posts to this site regularly.

We paid a deposit on a Dutch motor cruiser towards the end of last year and then, last week, arrived back in the Netherlands to have a survey done on the boat and hopefully set off on a five month cruise beginning mid May.

There you are, completely up to date. I hope that you enjoy our first boating blog post of 2017.

Last Tuesday, we to Kempers Watersports on the Westeinderplassen in Leimuiden to see our new summer home for the first time since last October. The six kilometre long lake was a far cry from the narrow English waterways I fell in love with seven years ago. There are many hundreds of boats moored at over a dozen marinas around the lake. There are five hundred berths at Kempers Watersports alone. Many of the boats moored there dwarfed our little ten metre boat, including a handful of twenty five metre sea going monsters costing in excess of half a million euros. Some people have far too much money for their own good.

We quickly established the location of Julisa, the boat that we hoped would be ours the following day, and then walked along a series of wide jetties towards the marina entrance. I wasn’t quite as excited as Cynthia appeared to be. Much as our Hymer home has frustrated me since last October, I have begun to relax into our travelling lifestyle. I particularly enjoyed the time we spent on the Mediterranean coast in France. The warm and sunny days were a far cry from the cold and damp weather I  endured in England for over half a century. The Hymer has been too small for me to live in comfortably, but I have found a solution for my mild claustrophobia. Cynthia has found the solution actually. When I become too unbearable, which is more often than I care to admit, she suggests, always diplomatically, that I take a long walk along the coast or into the mountains, through the forests or along the beaches which are usually within walking distance of our overnight stops. The walks, usually on dry, sunny days, help tremendously.

Now we had left the warm weather thirteen hundred kilometres behind us to buy a boat I wasn’t sure we could really afford and which, I was pretty sure, wasn’t going to be anywhere as comfortable as our little motorhome, despite the many costly alterations which we still needed to make. As we walked along a series of wooden pontoons past craft ranging from immaculate wooden motor boats to four deck look-how-rich-I-am plastic gin palaces, I was so nervous I felt physically sick. We saw the boat for the first and only time last October, wedged on a wooden cradle in the corner of a cavernous hanger on the edge of an industrial park four kilometres from the nearest canal. On the strength of our hour long visit we had already paid a non refundable €5,000 deposit. I wasn’t sure that committing to this boat less than a month after selling my last one was a good idea. In fact, I was pretty sure it wasn’t, and I was beginning to regret the hastily made decision to buy it.

I held my breath as we walked towards the end of a pontoon on the edge of the expansive marina. Walking past the gently rocking bow of a forty foot, three deck motor cruiser, we saw Julisa for the first time in her natural environment.

She looked wonderful.

The owner, Piet, had promised to repaint the already immaculate hull and apply a few more coats of varnish to the mahogany superstructure while we were away in France over the winter. He had clearly kept his promise. The forty two year old boat looked brand new.

Our first view of Julisa

Our first view of Julisa

We spent ten enjoyable minutes admiring her from a distance, but what I really wanted to do was climb on board. Cynthia was horrified. “It’s not our boat. You don’t jump onto someone else’s boat unless you’re invited. The Dutch are very possessive about their boats, cars and homes. Piet would be very annoyed if he found out. We’re just going to have to wait until the survey tomorrow. You can see enough through the cockpit window. You’ll just have to be satisfied with that!” Despite Cynthia’s indignation, I could tell that she was as keen as me to see more of our future home.

“I can’t see much through the window. Why don’t I loosen a few of these fasteners so that I can look inside? I won’t actually be on the boat.” Translating Cynthia’s silence as agreement, I opened a small section of the blue canvas cockpit cover, kneeled on the pontoon, leaned on the gunnel and poked my head inside the boat. Everything was spotless. An ornate mahogany captain’s chair rested on padded feet over the varnished teak deck. Artfully arranged blue cushions lay on the white leather seats on the port and starboard sides. “This really is a beautiful boat…” I began to tell Cynthia as she pushed her head through the gap next to me so that she could see the cockpit herself.

“I wonder if the door to the main cabin is locked?” she interrupted guilelessly.

That was all the invitation I needed. Minutes later, we were both sitting in the cockpit, pretending the boat was already ours, discussing features and functions, and dreaming about the summer ahead. Julisa rocked gently under us. A lively north westerly blew an endless series of white capped waves towards the protected marina entrance. A pair of black cormorants sat on top of adjacent pilings, wings spread to catch the afternoon sun. We sat for an hour on someone else’s boat, thinking about canals, rivers and lakes, and worrying about the following day’s survey. I was doing the worrying actually. Cynthia leaves fretting about the unknown to me.

There was no need to worry. We were both delighted with the surveyor’s report. He confirmed what we thought; the boat is in very good condition for its age. It’s in very good condition for any age actually. In recent years, more time, effort and money has been spent on labour and maintenance than cruising and relaxation. In fact, Julisa was used for just three weekends last year. When the boat wasn’t being used in the summer, it was left covered in a sheltered marina berth. Each year, during the winter months, the Julisa was taken out of the water and kept in a spotless farm warehouse. She has had her hull repainted and her woodwork varnished every year for the last decade.

Aesthetically, the boat takes some beating, but I am always more interested in practicality than appearance. I knew that we were going to make a number of costly alterations before we could live on her for extended periods.

Julisa is a much smaller boat than I am used to. My narrowboat, James No 194, my home for six and a half years, was 18.9 metres (62’) long and 2.1 metres (6’10”) wide, which gave me forty square metres (four hundred and thirty square feet) of living and storage space. Julisa is just 9.7 metres (32’) long. At 3.2 metres (10’ 6”) wide, she is a little beamier, but the total living and storage area is just 31 square metres (three hundred and thirty square feet). There’s not as much living space as I would like, but our new summer home offers 50% more space than we’ve managed with in our Hymer motorhome over the last six months. The boat is small, but I’m sure that we’ll be very comfortable.

The practical difficulties we face have nothing to do with the space available to us. Compared to the tiny space I’ve endured for the last six months, Julisa actually feels very roomy. Small spaces don’t bother Cynthia at all, so she’s delighted. She keeps referring to the boat as ‘commodious’ I don’t know what that means, but I assume it’s a good thing. The onboard equipment and specification are the real problem. The boat was designed forty two years ago as a very pretty toy to be used on weekends and holiday. The onboard systems and facilities are pretty basic and need upgrading.

The toilet is the biggest problem.

Forty two years ago, waterways regulations in the Netherlands weren’t as strict as they are now. If you wanted to dispose of your toilet waste, you simply dumped it in the water you cruised through. Great for the fish, not so pleasant for anyone swimming near your boat with their mouth open. You aren’t allowed to dump black waste as you travel these days, which presents a few logistical problems if, like us, if you plan to live on board all the time with nothing to collect your waste other than a sea toilet.

The previous owner’s solution was simple. On the few occasions each year he managed to escape both his office and the onerous taxi driving required as a father of two teenaged daughters, he spent a day or two on Julisa. The sea toilet was used for liquid waste only. Each of the many marinas on the Dutch network has comprehensive facilities, so Julisa’s crew were never more than an hour from the nearest fully functional toilet for depositing a few solids. There was always the rare chance of an inspection from the waterways authorities, so he kept a supply of toilet bags on board. The bags are designed to fit under the sea toilet seat. You sit on the toilet, do your business, and then remove and dispose of the bag with the rest of your household bags. He didn’t ever use them. I can’t say that I blame him. The idea doesn’t appeal to me much either.

Our solution is slightly more user friendly.

We’re going to have the sea toilet removed and replaced with a simple cassette toilet. We considered fitting a pump out toilet and a holding tank, but there isn’t much space on board for a tank much larger than we would have with a standard cassette toilet, so there isn’t much point. We also considered fitting a composting toilet, similar to the one I had fitted on my narrowboat. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough room for that either, so the cassette will have to do.

Next on our to do list is something a little harder to resolve than the toilet. We don’t have a shower on board. I considered having the boat’s tiny toilet cubicle converted into a wet room with a shower and shower tray but, again, there just isn’t enough room, and the shower tray would have to go over the access panel to the bow thruster. Until we can think of a better solution, we’ve bought a portable shower, similar to a weedkiller spray bottle and wand, and a camping shower cubicle. We also bought the shower cubicle with the intention of setting it up inside the boat when we want to shower, and then dumping the shower water, never more then five litres per shower based on our extensive use of a similar shower on the narrowboat, into the galley sink. Unfortunately, neither Cynthia nor I thought to check if the shower cubicle has a shower tray or if the cubicle is just a four sided tent to provide a little privacy. We’ll try to pluck enough courage to look before we move on to the boat. If the collapsable shower cubicle idea doesn’t work, we’ll just have to rely on marina facilities. For the last six months on the road, we’ve made do with a shower every three or four days. I don’t think we smell too bad but, as no-one ever parks particularly close to us, maybe we do.

Another change we’re going to have to make is to the onboard power. It is, quite frankly, a mess. There are four batteries of different sizes and different ages. The oldest and largest battery was fitted three years ago. I’m changing them for a bank of four 140ah AGM batteries, which should last us for the next decade. A means to power the batteries is also on our shopping list.

We’re having a solar array fitted that is slightly smaller than the 3 x 100w directional panels I had on the narrowboat. The solar panels won’t generate as much power as I’m used to but, as we’re only going to be using the boat each year from May to September when the solar panels will be more efficient, they should generate enough.

There’s a good quality, good condition fridge on board, but it’s too small for Cynthia’s culinary needs. There’s enough space to add another similarly sized, eye-waveringly expensive fridge, so that’s on the shopping list too.

There are a few minor maintenance tasks highlighted on the survey report; resealing the join between superstructure and hull, adding a support to the sagging steering gear cable, and replacing a couple of gas hoses. Two or three hundred euros should be enough to cover them, as long as we can get the heating system working.

During the three hour long survey I tested every piece of equipment on board. The only faulty item was the Eberspacher heater. It fired up and produced billowing waves of smoke, but no heat. Piet suspected that it just needed servicing. On the three occasions he used the boat the previous year, the weather was hot and sunny. The year before that, he’d needed to heat the boat on just one occasion. Two years without running the heater, he suspected, had blocked the jets. A quick call to a guy who services Eberspachers confirmed his diagnosis. Piet offered to pay for the service. If that doesn’t work, Piet will pay half the cost for a new Eberspacher to be installed.

Last, but not least, we need to make the boat a little more user friendly for two heavy and short legged basset hounds. They can’t get on and off the boat on their own at the moment. They both have harnesses with carrying handles, but 65lb Florence takes a bit of carrying, especially if I have to stand with one leg on the bank and the other on a narrow gunnel, bent double to try to force her bulk through a small glass window into the cockpit. We need to have a section of cockpit superstructure hinged – a dog door if you like – to allow them easy access and to prevent me from putting my back out every time either Tasha or Florence need a toilet break.

We emailed our list of requirements to a very good boat fitter in Leiden ten miles north east of The Hague who had agreed to do the work. All we needed to do before Jos quoted for the work was to take Julisa along twenty kilometres of scarily wide Dutch canals and expansive lakes to his workshop so that he could see the boat.

We had to wait for five frustrating days before the our payment for Julisa travelled electronically from England to the Netherlands, and the broker, Warner, could take a break from his busy boat showing schedule to deliver the keys to us. The big day was last Tuesday, the coldest, wettest and windiest day for weeks.

We had a few days to prepare for the cruise. I downloaded Waterkaarten, a marvellous iPhone and iPad app which covers all of the Dutch inland waterways network in astounding detail. Everything you need to know is listed on the app’s map, including all bridge width and height restrictions, whether the bridge is fixed or liftable, and if it lifts, how and when it will be raised.

The network is very different from the UK. Locks are few and far between. Bridges are the main navigational issue. They are often many times the size you would expect to see in the UK. Nearly all of them are manned by full time bridge keepers who watch the canals and rivers from waterside offices ready to stop the flow of traffic on roads large and small to let passing boats through.

During our extensive research, we learned that a boat with an air draught of less than 2.5 metres can pass under the majority of main road bridges where there can often be a lengthy wait before the bridge is raised. Our new boat has an air draught of 2.45 metres. We hoped that our route, passing under dozens of bridges, would allow us to pass unscathed. The problem with the Waterkaarten app for an English speaker is that all the navigations notes are in Dutch.

The app takes a bit of getting used to, which is why my knickers were firmly in a twist the day before our maiden voyage. A strange symbol across the waterway had a Dutch annotation next to it, ‘schulpstuw’. Google translate informed me that the word meant “shell weir”. I couldn’t find any reference to a shell weir on t’internet, so the only solution to finding more about what appeared to be a worryingly shallow weir blocking the main navigation, was to take myself off on a four mile round walk to check it out.

As usual, I had nothing to worry about. When I arrived at the spot marked on the app, the only sign of anything unusual was a pair of dormant traffic lights. I looked at the app data again and all became clear. The waterways depths are marked in decimetres. I had translated thirty decimetres as one foot. It isn’t of course, it’s ten feet. Whatever a shell weir is, this one wasn’t going to bother us as there would be seven feet of clear water under our hull at that point.

I always tend to worry needlessly about coming events, so my next focus was on the deteriorating weather. For the previous few weeks, the sun had shone from a mainly cloudless sky and, although much cooler than the winter temperatures we had enjoyed in the south of France, the weather had been quite pleasant.

Tuesday morning, after an overnight low close to freezing combined with a lively north wind, was decidedly chilly. This didn’t particularly please Cynthia as she was going to have to stay on the unheated boat with the dogs for two hours while I drove our Hymer thirty five kilometres to the fitter’s yard, waited for broker Warner to arrive with the keys to our new home, and then drive me back to the boat and chilled-to-the-bone Cynthia.

Two of the many windmills on our route

Two of the many windmills on our route

I left her in the cold cockpit wrapped in a full length down coat, clutching a hot water bottle, a flask, and two furry basset hounds. By the time I returned with the keys she was looking a little blue and very pleased to see me.

We weren’t in a hurry to begin our maiden voyage. A twenty knot north easterly raced down six kilometres of open lake to the marina, sweeping the tops of waves. Julisa was moored at right angles to a pontoon in an open ended box created by two telegraph poles behind our stern, and rope railings along the port and starboard sides. The wind was gusting from the starboard side, so as soon as we untied our bow and stern lines, we knew that we would be blown into the telegraph pole sized post on the port side. This was going to be a very different experience to steering a narrowboat.

A narrowboat is built like a tank. Contact with stone canal sidings, lock entrances is expected. Raised strips of steel, rubbing strakes, protect the bow and hull sides. A gentle bump or two on a cruise is no cause for concern. In fact, making contact with the boat’s bow and using the bank as a pivot point is a handy way to turn a flat bottomed high sided narrowboat against a wind. Our new summer home is very different.

Julisa’s forty two year old hull was immaculate. There wasn’t a single chip, scratch or scrape marking the snow white paint. We were determined to keep it that way, which is why we didn’t try to move for two hours. We ate our first lunch on board, familiarised ourselves with a pleasingly large number of cupboard and lockers, discussed the improvements we hoped to make, and browsed through guide books and maps. We did anything we could think of to delay the beginning of a cruise onto a waterway I wouldn’t have dreamed of tackling in a narrowboat.

We ran out of excuses eventually, so I started the engine and familiarised myself with the bow thruster. I used to scathingly refer to bow thrusters as ‘girlie buttons’, something which a ‘proper’ boater shouldn’t need to use. With a wind strong enough to blow the whiskers off a walrus, I was very pleased that we had one.

Reversing off our mooring was the scariest part of the cruise, although there were still one or two buttock clenching moments later on. Armed with a bow thruster, a keel and one hundred and six very useful horsepower, after a gentle bump against the mooring and a non too graceful pirouette to keep us off the harbour wall’s solid oak battens, we slid gracefully out of the marina entrance into water choppy enough to make a narrowboat owner’s knees knock.

After spending over half a decade cruising waterways I could almost jump across, edging onto a lake 3km wide was a little unnerving. Once again, I worried unnecessarily. Julisa felt very stable indeed. With the Waterkaarten app showing our route and our precise location as we cruised, we sliced effortlessly through the waves and were able to relax and enjoy our maiden voyage.

The feeling of space on these new waterways was overwhelming. For a start, the Netherlands is Big Sky country. In an area where the elevation is often expressed in negative rather than positive terms – my elevation as I write this is four metres below sea level – there aren’t many hills to get in the way. There’s just so much more water than I was used to in England too. There are over 6,000 kilometres of navigable waterways. That’s twice the length of the English waterways network in a country one third of the size. There are some very large bodies of water too. The Ijsselmeer, at 1,100 square kilometres, is the largest lake in western Europe. The lake we began our maiden voyage from is 20% bigger than lake Windermere, England’s largest lake. The Dutch have a lot of water to cruise on.

Ten minutes after leaving the marina, we cruised through a reed fringed channel onto a wide canal and our first challenge of the day, a low bridge under a four lane highway. My Waterkaarten app tried to assure us that we were safe. The bridge height is 2.5m. Julisa’s air draught was listed at 2.45m. As I edged cautiously towards a mass of low concrete, pushed forward by the strong wind blowing from our stern, I hoped that both bridge and boat measurements were accurate. The solitary operator in the control tower above the bridge didn’t appear bothered by our approach, so we both tried to relax.

We made it by the skin of our collective teeth. Julisa has a varnished hardwood ball topping a length of dowel fitted to a spring on the bow. It’s the same height as the highest point on the cockpit so, if the ball passes under a bridge unscathed, so does the boat. That’s the theory anyway. The problem for a novice and nervous Netherlands boater is that the ball is only ten feet from the front of the cockpit, so there’s precious little time to take evasive action if the ball makes contact. We didn’t have to worry on this occasion. The ball slid under a series of massive steel girders with what appeared to be a cigarette paper’s width to spare.

The next excitement was the Braassememeer, a six kilometre square lake with a series of white horses marching towards our bow. Rough water like this on a narrowboat would have seen me reaching for either tranquillisers or brandy. Julisa handled the water impeccably. A little spray on the windshield was all we had to worry about. Oh, the joy of cruising in a fully protected cockpit on a boat with a keel!

We cruised for two hours past fields filled with spring-time tulips, a never ending procession of water-side windmills, and a steady stream of expensive yachts returning from a jumble of lakes and islands ahead of us. We headed south, away from the yacht playground, towards Leiden, Julisa’s home for the next two weeks. As we approached the town, the canal narrowed to twice the width of an English canal. Moored yachts, motor cruisers, Dutch motor and sailing barges and hundreds of small dinghies and rowing boats lined both banks. We cruised under more bridges, some even lower than our first scary bridge. Two opened as we approached, controlled by smiling men in bridge-side booths.

After two and a half hours of thoroughly enjoyable cruising, when we reached a narrow houseboat lined canal near our destination in central Leiden, we were completely at ease with the Dutch waterways. I think it’s called the calm before the storm. Two hundred metres from our temporary boatyard mooring, we hit our final problem.

A white painted wooden footbridge arched over the canal in front of us. It looked lower than any of the low bridges we had scraped under on our cruise so far. We couldn’t see a man in a booth- the bridge looked too small to have a full time operator – nor could we see any way of opening the bridge ourselves, not that there was anywhere to moor to reach the bridge if we wanted to try. We waited, and waited, and waited, playing with the bow thruster and giving the powerful engine quick bursts to help us hold station on the narrow, windy waterway.

After ten frustrating minutes we decided to moor in front of a waterways maintenance barge before we drifted into its jutting jagged excavation bucket, and look for a solution. Our mooring, the only one available on this crowded stretch of canal, appeared to be close to the cycle path crossing our obstruction. It was, but the mooring was within the private and secure grounds of a large refuse collection company. Leaving Cynthia and the hounds curled up in our unheated cockpit, I walked through a labyrinth of roads and walkways, past dozens of parked refuse collection wagons, gave a cheery wave to the security guard monitoring traffic entering the site as I scurried out of the entrance, found the bridge, established that it couldn’t be raised and then walked to our boat fitter’s home to ask for help.

“You should be able to pass under that bridge,” Jos told me when I asked what to do. “It’s 2.4 metres high.”

“But Julisa is 2.45m high,” I told him, imagining Julisa wedged under tonnes of woodwork, the expensive cockpit canopy slowly tearing from the roof.

“I took a boat like yours under there a few years ago. It should fit. I’ll come and help you try,” he offered with a grin. I wasn’t terribly impressed with his use of ‘should’ and ‘try’. After all, it wasn’t his home he was going to be experimenting with.

The heavens opened as I pushed the bow off the concrete bank towards the narrow bridge centre. Jos took the wheel and then, as the bow edged under the bridge’s solid beams and our dowel height indicator bent slowly backwards, he abandoned the helm to leap onto the bow to stare intently at the cockpit roof. With a worried frown, he waved me forward, gesturing that I should approach very, very slowly.

We made it with just a sliver of daylight between bridge and boat. The bridge was an exciting climax to our first short cruise, the first couple of hours of many hundreds this year.

Julisa is now safely moored behind Jos’s workshop, waiting for him to begin an expected fortnight’s work tomorrow. Much as I have enjoyed our winter’s motorhome adventures over the last seven months, moving back onto the water feels like coming home. The next two weeks are going to pass very slowly. In the meantime we’re both busy compiling our Dutch waterway to do list. We’re really looking forward to ticking them off.

Safely moored after our maiden voyage

Safely moored after our maiden voyage

Cynthia says—-

“Splashed again–In the Company of Boats”
Well, I must say, it’s nice to be back writing a newsletter–it’s been a good hiatus, and much water has flowed under the bridge–or will soon!  I guess it would be more appropriate to say there’s been a lot of asphalt under the tires!
On Friday, 21 April 2017 we officially added “Julisa” to our inventory of live aboard homes.  We had her surveyed the previous Wednesday and all went well, which was a big relief.  It felt a bit strange still living on the Hymer in the parking lot of the Kemper marina near Amsterdam, as just a few metres away from where Julisa was afloat, awaiting her next adventure with us.
We obtained the keys on the blustery Tuesday, 25 April and were a bit worried about the less than tranquil waters out on the lake that we needed to navigate in order to move her to Leiden.  We were scheduled to meet with the gentleman there whom we had commissioned to do the necessary work in order to make her liveable and safe for the waterways.
After saying good-bye to our broker and his wife, we sat down at the dinette for our first meal aboard.  The girls were settling in nicely, so we felt we didn’t need to worry about them.  We needed to concentrate our attentions on leaving the downwind berth we were in without any catastrophes befalling us.  And at 1415, we cast off the lines and away we went, with just a minor bump on the stern when she hit the piling as we were blown about.  I should add here that we did all of this in an 18 knot wind!!  The Aalsmeer (lake) we had to cross in order to made it to the canals and under our first bridge, was frothing with whitecaps.  Julisa handled it all like a champ that had both Paul and me grinning ear to ear!  A good start to be certain.
We were both a little skeptical about making it under the first bridge (that spanned four lanes of highway), but we need not have worried.  We made it with about 7 inches to spare.  We both signed a breath of relief.
The journey to Leiden took us about 2 1/2 hours and we passed through lovely countryside and were surrounded by numerous windmills and luxurious homes.  We skimmed through large bodies of water as well as through the narrow canals of the small picturesque villages.  The few bridges that needed raising cooperated as if by magic–“open says me!”  —-That is except for the last draw bridge just metres from our final rest stop.  We waited and waited as the rain began to pour down upon us, but it did not go up.  We both felt we could probably make it under, but didn’t want to chance it.  Paul decided to get off and find his way through the maze of canals and streets to Jos’s (the man doing the work for us).  After about 20 minutes he returned with Jos, who went forward and made sure we could squeeze under.  We did, but only with about an inch to spare!  Oh well, a miss is as good as a mile!
The Hymer was nearby in the boatyard so we spent the night there and returned the next morning to meet with Jos, and go over all that we wanted to have done to make Julisa comfortable, safe and workable.  When we completed that, we said a tearful goodbye and turned the motorhome around and headed out the yard…
It will be a couple of weeks before the work is done, so we decided to head to familiar places we love and also to explore the lakes in Friesland of which there are many.
We have a lot to learn about navigating the Dutch canals and rivers, which will be quite different from the English canals.  But we both love the challenge and are up to the task.
We look forward to sharing the bits and pieces of this new adventure with all of you faithful blog readers.  We hope you will find our travels, trials and tribulations afloat entertaining and informative!
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