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Super Favorite 950AK Dutch Cruiser For Sale

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

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

None of it was warranted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, we can’t do that on Julisa.

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

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

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

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

Our first sight of Julisa in the water

Our first sight of Julisa in the water

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

Vital statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

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

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

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

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

The Head

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

The smallest room in the house

The smallest room in the house

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

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

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

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

There is a large ceiling hatch for ventilation.

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Galley

Headroom 6’2”

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

A compact but very user friendly galley

A compact but very user friendly galley

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

Plenty of work space in the compact galley

Plenty of work space in the compact galley

Another view of the galley showing the sexy main cabin roof

Another view of the galley showing the sexy main cabin roof

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

Dinette

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

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

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

Sunday morning breakfast on the main cabin dinette

Sunday morning breakfast on the main cabin dinette

Sunday night rest, also on the main cabin dinette

Sunday night rest, also on the main cabin dinette

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

The main cabin bench seat is also...

The main cabin bench seat is also…

...a very comfortable single bed

…a very comfortable single bed

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

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

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

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

Cockpit

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

The cockpit table is perfect for summer lunches

The cockpit table is perfect for summer lunches

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

Looking from the aft cabin forward

Looking from the aft cabin forward

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

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

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

Julisa's super reliable 106hp Peugeot engine

Julisa’s super reliable 106hp Peugeot engine

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

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

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

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

The Victron inverter and Allpa battery charger

The Victron inverter and Allpa battery charger

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

The brand new Eberspacher heater

The brand new Eberspacher heater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aft Cabin

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

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

The aft cabin double bed

The aft cabin double bed

The aft cabin single bed

The aft cabin single bed

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

Outside

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

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

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

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

Jos adjusts the davits for our new dinghy

Jos adjusts the davits for our new dinghy

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

Mooring

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

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

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

We decided to moor in Leiden instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset at a yacht club in Aalsmeer

Sunset at a yacht club in Aalsmeer

A cosy floating home to return to

A cosy floating home to return to

A tranquil mooring for the night in Flavoland

A tranquil mooring for the night in Flavoland

On a Kaag inslaand mooring

On a Kaag island mooring

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

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

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

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

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

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

Cruising Differences Between the Dutch and English Inland Waterways Part 2


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

Keverhaven Island Caretaker's Floating Home

Keverhaven Island Caretaker’s Floating Home

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

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

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

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

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

The lock keeper quickly put us off the idea.

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

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

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

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

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

A trip boat squeezes through a narrow bridge at Maarssen

A trip boat squeezes through a narrow bridge at Maarssen

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge after bridge through Ultrecht

Bridge after bridge through Ultrecht

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

Cruising in the Netherlands isn’t always glamorous.

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

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

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

Utrecht city centre's very narrow canal

Utrecht city centre’s very narrow canal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue sky after a day of rain at Amstelveen

Blue sky after a day of rain at Amstelveen

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

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

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

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

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

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

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

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

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

The view from WV de Koenan clubhouse

The view from WV de Koenan clubhouse

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

There are far worse places to be.

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

Boat Styles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A quirky houseboat on Amsterdam's river Amstel

A quirky houseboat on Amsterdam’s river Amstel

HOW MUCH WILL YOUR NARROWBOAT COST TO MAINTAIN?

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

Canalside Facilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

C’est la vie.

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

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

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

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

Depth, width and quantity

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

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

The Dutch canals are much more spacious.

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

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

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

Fuel Cost

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

Free moorings

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

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

Mooring isn’t quite so easy in the Netherlands.

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of the Unknown

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

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

Cynthia and the UK government changed all of that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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2

Cruising Differences Between the Dutch and English Inland Waterways


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A trawler with a bit of a problem

A trawler with a bit of a problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plenty of space on the large rear deck

Plenty of space on the large rear deck

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

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

A large and cosy cabin for cold winter nights

A large and cosy cabin for cold winter nights

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

Plenty of guest seating

Plenty of guest seating

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

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

And then there’s the scenery.

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

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

HOW MUCH WILL YOUR NARROWBOAT COST TO MAINTAIN?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You might be one of them.

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

The Differences Between Dutch and English Inland Waterways Boating

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

No Touching Please

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Boat Cost

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

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

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

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

Yours for €650,000

Yours for €650,000

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

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

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

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

An office with a view

An office with a view

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


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

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

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

A floating bar with an outboard motor

A floating bar with an outboard motor

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

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

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

It didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t life wonderful?

Cynthia Says……Trial by Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just wish the summer wouldn’t end!

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