Boating in Holland and Belgium– Cruising the Dutch and Kempische canals – It was going to be my first experience in boating – the boat was a motor cruiser, built in 1987 by Debock & Meyer of Woerden, Holland. My partner Ian bought it second hand and got some work done to it during the winter months of 2012/2013. The boat is in good condition, very clean on the inside, quite a bit of paint work is needed on the outside, but all in all it is a darling little boat. Spacious actually, with a double cabin in the back, a steering room, a kitchen/eating area, and another large place to sleep in the bow of the boat. Ron, a friend of ours, and Ian fitted extra railings as we found that the originals were not high enough. Other various jobs were done day by day. We stocked up on water and food, and so we were ready to begin our adventure.
We started our journey by crossing the Aalsmeer which is situated near Amsterdam and is a large lake. From there we turned into the Kromme Mydrecht which has been the loveliest of rivers, it took us through the most beautiful country side, some quite pastoral where we saw birds and other wild life such as Hares. Along the side of the river there were a lot of lovely yellow Irises, lots of reeds and other wild plants, and some water lilies too. This river ran through quite an idyllic part of Holland, very beautiful. In the distance little villages could be spotted, their church spires giving them away, the haze blending the colours and making the landscape almost dream-like.
But we have had some difficulties finding our way around, the maps which we have come across have not been detailed enough and sometimes the names of the canals or rivers are not found on the entrance of rivers, which makes you wonder if you should turn in or not, in this way we missed a very important turn and had to make a great detour to get to where we wanted to get. However, if it was not for this we would have missed the town of Gouda which I enjoyed visiting. So we took the river Gouwe over Gouda, which is where I found a marina on the Golden Kaai, in the Kromme Gouwe. I took the opportunity to go into the centre on a mission to find an ATM machine, and of course, also soaking up the atmosphere of the old town centre with it fine historical buildings, and I heard the Beiaard playing, to my delight, and enjoyed stretching my legs as I had been in the boat for the last couple of days. Down at the marina we found that we had an excellent Harbour Master who helped us and was friendly and attentive to his customers. He got us a bottle of gas delivered and he connected it for us. We were then told that we could get Diesel in the garage around the corner, but we needed a large jerry can and a large funnel. We were offered the loan of both by the Harbour Master and his friend. It was very stressful to have to go about things in this way but it soon got sorted. I also learnt something new and important for the novice boater and it is that one should never carry a purse in a pocket while on the water! I did, and it turned out a big drama. It fell out of my pocket and into the water at this marina, fortunately the Harbour Master, came to our assistance once more and summoned a diver to retrieve my sodden purse with all the money and cards intact – it cost me 100 euro to pay the diver, and I gave a tip of 50 euro to the Harbour Master as I was so relieved that I had my credit cards back – so a lesson learnt.
This was day three of our boat journey, and all was well, we solved some of the problems and are looking forward to the long trek of the Hollandsche Ijssel tomorrow. We are aiming to arrive in the town of Nieuwegeis, and from there we would travel down to Gorichem and so further down south.
After an eventful afternoon in Gouda, the day ended with stormy weather, quite a gale was blowing and the boat had rocked Ian to sleep. Black clouds racing past a still blue patchy sky, but just then the sun had become very watery, I was soon rocked asleep too. We stayed in Gouda for two nights.
FRIDAY THE 14TH OF JUNE
On day five of our journey we awoke to a beautiful sunny day – we left Gouda around 11:00 hours and travelled through the historical harbour where many older ships were moored, delightful! We had to wait a while at the lock which allowed us into the Hollandsche Ijssel – this proved to be a most pleasant experience – what a lovely river – this river has been canalized, it runs through pastoral landscape, quiet and peaceful. Lovely houses or old farmsteads dotting the landscape along the way, lush trees along its banks and in the undergrowth I saw lots of Yellow Irises, and other waterside plants, including many Reeds. Scents from the Elderflower bushes wafted in the slight breeze. The meadows and pastures were grazed by sheep, goats or cows. I’ve seen many coppiced Willows and Poplar trees, they are a landmark for Holland and Flanders.
We passed the little towns of Haastrecht and Heksendorp, and eventually arrived in Oudewater where we moored and visited. A lovely town, old and historical, known in the past for the weighing of women accused of witchcraft. It was also known, and still is, for its rope making, presumably there must be a lot of Hemp growing around the area (not sure of this). We came across a genuine shoemaker shop with the shoemaker at work. Many lovely gables of the houses, historical or not. Some rivers come together here, the Lindschoten meets the Hollandsche Ijssel.
After Oudewater we travelled as far as Montfoort and moored up there between trees on both sides of the river, there are lots of birds singing. It was a most beautiful evening.
We passed a pump station just outside Montfoort before coming into the place. It was closed already – we passed there around 6pm. Also a water point at the same place – we had a really good day!
Next day, we passed the Blauwe brug and realised that we had gone wrong, in fact we were already inside the Lock a little further on beyond the bridge, and there was a gale blowing. We had to reverse out of the Lock, when we had done so we had to wait for the bridge to open, but we did not moor on the waiting place, for some reason Ian had to stop the engine and the result was that we started spinning around because of the strong winds, it was quite scary and we were not sure what to do. Finally the bridge opened and we passed through. We followed the river Merwede but it was very difficult steering because of the gales. We finally came to a place where we could moor for the night, it was the town of Meerkerk, were we glad to be safely moored! We were both so exhausted that it did not take us long to fall asleep.
We woke up on Sunday morning and breakfasted at leisure, both still a bit tired. We finally got going around 11:00 and the sun was out, all was well. Things went fine until we came to the river called the Waal, this stretch of water, which we had to navigate to get across to the Steurgat, was so rough that it was throwing our boat up and down and even sideways for some of the time, I was truly scared and Ian was not comfortable either he said afterwards. It took long to reach our crossing for the Steurgat, though we had the current going with us, the wind was going against us.
Once we were in the Steurgat, which runs along the nature reserve called Biesbosh, we were in for a real treat, lush growth on the banks of the river, reeds and trees and plants. I saw a swan on its nest and its partner beside it. Other water Fowl and birds were all around. The scent was of Elderflowers. There was actually a lot of Sunday travellers on this water, lucky for us, as we went aground in a bend, a small pleasure craft came to our rescue and pulled us out! It was still quite a job to figure out where we were going as our map is not detailed enough and there seemed to be many more rivers and or canals materialising than our map would indicate. Eventually we saw a sign for Oosterhaven which we knew to be our next town to pass through. We followed what looked like a bit of a commercial waterway and saw the sign for this marina, so we turned in and soon had a mooring place, it only cost us €10 and we were able to fill up on drinking water, use electricity, showers and facility to get rid of our rubbish. We settled and I cooked us up some food. It turned out to be another eventful day, with some very scary moments during the Waal crossing – not likely to be repeated. Thank goodness Ian is excellent at steering the boat.
MONDAY AND THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
We have overnighted in the WSV Sluis 1 marina, and both slept very well. It was a nice place with plenty of Passants, and lovely Noddy boats (as Ian calls them). In the morning I went and had a great refreshing shower, then breakfast without any milk, as it had gone sour. And then we set off again. Boat people are always friendly and helpful, and here again the people next to our ship helped us to cast off. Soon we were waiting for our first lock to open; it took a while, once inside the lock we had not read the board high above which said that we should tie up on both the stern and the bow of the boat. This we did not do and so the boat started to dance around a bit. Ian had gone down in the cabin and had to be called up again! But it was alright, we managed to hold the boat, still this can create a dangerous situation if there are other boats in the lock. We learnt so much every day!
We passed a few more locks today, and towards the last one it started to rain, meanwhile we were passing Tilburg but did not see any shops in order to enable us to top up our supplies.
All along the Wilhelmina Canal I could get the scent of Elderflowers, it was lovely. Despite the rain it was warm, and by the time that we moored the sun came through, the rain stopped, and all of a sudden it was 30 degrees Celsius! It was very hot in the metal boat, we had moored and we both fell asleep. I did go for a short walk. We were moored in a very beautiful nature area, birds were singing something amazing, the canal was very quiet and the water was very still, here and there water waders feeding or just lazily moving about. We ate what we could still find in the press, some soup and crackers and a spread, drank water, and then as it got a bit cooler we just enjoyed the stillness of the evening. Overhead a moon started to light up, but by now thin swirls of black clouds were speeding along hiding it. It looked like thunder, the quietness that precedes thunder was in the air. I was able to take some photos of the water birds today and got some good ones, Grebes, Coots, and Moorhens. Tomorrow we are planning to make it as far as Eindhoven so that we can tank and fill up on supplies again, we are missing our coffee milk and something sweet to go with it! Tonight we discussed our journey in Belgium, which canals we would cruise and, towns we would visit.
TUESDAY THE 18TH OF JUNE – A VERY HOT DAY!
We left off from the place where we were moored along the banks of the Wilhelmina Canal, it was already warm early in the day. After checking if the coffee shop was open, which is was not, we made a start at around 11:00 hrs. The going was good but it soon became too hot to be comfortable and we had to try and keep cool, I kept pouring cold water over my head, and we both put on lots of sunblock as the sun was stingingly hot. At around one o’clock I spotted a mooring place among lots of sheltering trees and we stopped for several hours there to cool down and rest. It is amazing how much the heat tires you out, we were near the point of overheating I think, both as red as cooked lobsters! In the shade of the trees it was lovely, the birds were singing and we were surrounded by beautiful lush growth. I went for a short walk there and noticed many wild plants, as I’ve been noticing along the banks of the canals and rivers to date.
There were beautiful pink Champions, Buttercups, Clovers, Hogweeds, Ground Ivy, Comfrey, only a few Yellow Flags now, some wild roses, lots of Elder flowers. As far as trees are concerned, there were a few that I was not even able to identify! But I think that there was Alder, there definitely was a certain type of Oak, lots of Silver Birch, Chestnut, and several others that I did not know. Along the banks of the canal the rows of trees and woodland is lovely, gives some much needed shade and makes for a ‘park-like’ feel, further along the canal I saw lots of Ferns, including the Osmunda Regalis, a very beautiful Fern. All was green along the way and very pleasing to the eye, overhead birds were singing their hearts out and all was well. Eventually we turned into the Beatrix Canal on the way to Eindhoven, which is where we planned to tank. Our stop would be the Beatrix marina which we found very easily. Before we got there though, we had to experience some setbacks, that is, there was work being done to the banks of the canal, and at first we thought that we would not be able to carry on, but on our own risk we travelled on and reached our destination. By now we were both so affected by the heat – it had been around 35 degrees Celsius during the day that we were close to heat exhaustion – we moored the boat and made for the coolness of the coffee shop where we also ordered cool water. We only had about 30 euro in cash and they could not accept visa cards. So we got some food, several coffees and waters. Afterwards a long cool shower was very welcome. I then tried to get to a shop supposed to be close by but had to give up the attempt as got too hot again and did not find the shop. Tomorrow I will take a loan of a bike and cycle over there to fill up on supplies and get cash. It is now about 22:00 hours and still very warm. We are sitting inside now, too hot to go to bed, the mosquitoes are starting to appear and it is getting dark, but the birds are still singing all around us. We are the last boat on the bollards, trees all around us – how very nice! I have been thinking today how abundant nature really is, to think of all the plants and trees growing all over the earth, how wonderful and plentiful, it truly gives me pleasure. The moon is half and already high in the sky, lit up by the sun, it looks like it is going to give us plenty of light tonight.
It has been a good day – we were slightly worried that we would run out of diesel, but Ian’s calculations were good, he did not have enough data though to be sure that he was right.
WEDNESDAY THE 19TH OF JUNE AND AN EXTRA DAY AT THE BEATRIX JACHTHAVEN IN EINDHOVEN.
We moored for an extra day in this marina and which turned out a good idea. I got the loan of a bicycle and cycled to the nearest shops, this was very enjoyable. I bought some very much needed supplies. In the afternoon I spent time doing the washing, it cost 5euro to use the machines. Ian was catching up with his internet stuff, I did a bit of that as well, and worked a bit with my photos. We started the day off with an enormous thunderstorm, then it dried up and became warm and sunny – lovely and fresh too. We had another good experience at this marina with friendly and helpful people. On the whole we have found that staying at a marina can be a blessing, the Harbour Masters we came across have gone out of their way to help us, and we have found them very friendly. I have found the Dutch all very friendly and extremely helpful all along. They seem to be very outgoing and nice clean people. Their houses and garden very decorated, I think they are extrovert in that they display a lot of their personal joys and interests in their windows and front gardens, and decorate their houses, flowers especially are used a lot, and plants in their windows both inside and out are very popular. They cycle everywhere and cyclists are given great consideration by other traffic. Children cycle to school and we saw whole bunches of them cycling together on the cycling paths, safe and happy going to school, sitting upright on their bikes two by two, chatting away.
THURSDAY THE 20TH OF JUNE
The next morning I went and cycled to the shopping centre again and bought drinking water and coffee. We then washed the boat as good as we could, and tanked for diesel. By that time there was an enormous thunder storm started and heavy rain, but we left anyway, after an hour or so in the rain and lightning, we were going well along the Zuidwillemvaart, then the rain stopped and it became very warm and sunny again. This canal, after passing the crossing into the Zuidwillemsvaart became real busy with commercial ships passing the other way. We passed several more locks and now the two of us have it down to a tea with the ropes, it was easy. But there seemed nowhere to moor, and so we are settled for the night at the side of the canal near a lock, not at all a good position to be in as there possibly will be large commercial barges passing us early tomorrow morning, hopefully not during the night as we have no lights on the boat, so I’m a bit worried but Ian thinks that it is all right and safe.
We watched a beautiful sunset after having dinner, now it has become dark, it is only 10:33 hours I am going to call it a day, hopefully get some sleep. Tomorrow we enter Belgium.
FRIDAY THE 21ND OF JUNE
On Friday we moored up in Weert, we had quite a bit of wind again and we did not really want to travel any further, also it was hard to say if there would be any mooring places at the side of the canal. I went into Weert and visited the St.Martinus church dating to 1456, and built in the style of late Gothic, I made some photos and checked for other interesting buildings to see. Then I did some food shopping and called into the local library, where, unlike in West Cork, everything was automated, including the requests pick up etc….. Yet there was enough staff there to take care of.
Around 14:00 hours Ron arrived at the boat and we had decided to take him out for a meal for his 65th birthday and his retirement. He was very jolly and we all had a good time. In the afternoon we spent more time organising things about the boat.
SATURDAY THE 22ND OF JUNE
After breakfast we got ready to cruise further. We left Weert and cruised along the canal towards Belgium now. Still the ZuidWillemsvaart. Ron was able to do some steering and he helped with the ropes which was useful in the locks and tying up for mooring. We passed a diesel station along the way and stopped to tank. The wind was very high, and so I suggested that we did not go too far today. Ron had to get back to Weert and we also had a stop at Sluis Bocholt as the boat’s papers had to be seen to, and we had to buy a Vignette for the boat. We decided to go another 2km and drop Ron at Bocholt. We stopped in a marina there and we still had a drink together before Ron went off with a lift from a local woman. Ian and I went back to the boat, the marina came and charged us the 7euro for the night, and also 15euro for a connection that we need in Belgium for the electric cable to the boat. That done we settled down to some other things, Ian had a nap and I decided to deal with the two very dirty cupboards underneath the front bunk at the bow of the ship. That cleaned and rubbish dealt with, I warmed us up some food and we both settled down to our laptops, Ian to read Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a small Island”, and I to write more of our journal. By then it was raining outside but the Blackbirds were singing their hearts out. Now and then Ian bursts out laughing with his book. Other than that I can hear the wind blowing in the trees surrounding the marina. It’s going to be a good night, I enjoy life on the boat, and I am getting better and better organised, and so is Ian. He is planning to draw a plan of the boat, as there is a lot which he has not got sorted, a lot of which he does not know where it is, or what it is! Today even we were putting diesel into the wrong opening slot, it turned out to be one of the openings for water – but we are not sure about that! It is hard to work with a boat without the original manual – not knowing where anything is located, and what all the pipes etc are for! Time will tell.
Last night I had a disastrous experience with my photos on laptop. I downloaded I-Tunes nr 5, and after that quite a few things changed on my laptop, and I could not open any of my photos, old or new anymore! I was devastated and I tried to put them all on a memo stick, and then did a system recovery to an earlier date, but that did not really produce any results. Later on, I was able to open the pictures again, but the laptop’s desktop was still changed. I know that I’ve got some very beautiful photos in this lot and I certainly do not want to lose any of them.
Enough for today. We have left Holland and are now in the Kempen, the Limburgse Kempen, the land of my birth – it is good. Tomorrow we will be in the area where I was born, we will moor in Mol and the boat can hopefully stay there all winter long.
I awoke to a blustery and somewhat rainy morning after 09:00 hours – Ian was still asleep. Beside us boats were leaving. Bells were ringing in the village where we were moored – Bocholt – an otherwise quiet and out of the way place. Yesterday we visited the Heuvel Zicht Marina Restaurant and there were some local sounding people having a rather jolly time of it too. It felt good.
We decided to take it easy as the weather was too unpredictable to leave the marina. So I started with cleaning out underneath the seats in the eating area. Lots to dump (remember Ian bought the boat second hand) and lots of mice droppings to clean up. Some things needed sorting, such as electrical equipment. It gave us more space for nicely putting away our own stuff. Still things could do with a hovering to catch the last of the mice stuff. Last evening I had cleaned out the two presses at the bow of the ship, one I use for storing extra drinking water in bottles. The other to put in the empty 10 litre diesel can. The drawer underneath the table I cleaned out as well. I now use that for extra food stuffs (separate in plastic bags for cleanliness!) All these spaces still need to be washed with bleach at some stage.
I like the idea of having everything in its place so that we can put our hands on it without looking. That’s essential in such a small living quarter.
It is 14:00 hours and the sky has become very overcast and dark again, it does not look like we are going anywhere today! Cruising in rain and windy weather is heavy work, why should we bother when there is no deadline on our arrival in Mol. Maybe tomorrow the weather might be more settled.
Ok, I’m off to walk over the pedestrian bridge to make some photos, some of the boat seen from above. I’ve just seen three young men jump into the water from that bridge and swim away! Brave!
I visited the village of Bocholt a little more this evening. The whole place was dead quiet. Only a few cafes were open, with a few people sitting outside enjoying the evening with a glass of beer or coffee. Not much to say about this sleepy place really. Friendly people, some out walking their dogs, but the overall impression was one of quiet and things happening behind closed doors, family visits, watching television and other activities. One activity that I took note of earlier in the day was the cyclists dressed for the occasion passing by in large numbers, training, or perhaps just enjoying a weekend cycle. This place lays on a cycle route – the Willemsroute – it is also a route frequented by walkers. People like to spend their weekends out of doors in the summer, attending either festivals in nearby towns and villages, or group activities such as the cycling, walking, or water sports.
And so we arrived at het Zilvermeer in Mol, this on Monday the 24th of June. It had been a windy and chilly day, and so the trip between Bocholt and Mol had not been very pleasant. The wind had been quite high, on the other hand, the locks were very easy, going down rather than up – much easier to get the ropes around the pillars.
Now we have been here already a full day, so this is our second night, and we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the trees across the lake, what a view! We did cruise as far as Balen, had an experience with mooring along the canals, that is, we were told off by a seasoned retired skipper who cruised the canals all his life, for 51 years in fact, and he was telling us that our ropes are not strong enough. He also said that it was suicide to moor up along the canal for such a small boat, saying that the first large barge would sink it! That scared me, we undid our ropes and we moored up a little further where he said it would be safer. I had to walk a mile or so to the centre of the village to take off some money, as I was walking over the bridge a large barge passed the boat, my you should have seen it, our little boat was being tossed about like a toy!
My walk was interesting in that I was actually born here, the church I saw was the church where I was christened, and my parents would have known and walked or cycled these streets. I saw a nice museum, great building and I made a photo of it, other than that there was not much picturesque to be seen. I called into a grocery shop, and found a very friendly attitude from the people, one man around my own age was at the only check-out, we had a short chat, and he told me where Balen-Wezel was. He also told me that the Zink factory where my dad had worked for a little while is still producing, but not doing so well these days.
I walked back to the boat to be greeted by a starving Ian, we made some sandwiches and set off to the Zilvermeer again. I felt nervous after the old skipper’s story of the danger to small boats. Far off I saw a large barge following us, then in front of us another barge was coming towards us, I was a bit scared of what would happen if we all met at the same time, especially as there was a narrowing coming up because of a bridge. Anyway the one barge passed us, created quite a bit of wash, and then just as we were about to enter the Zilvermeer mooring, the large barge caught up with us and gave us another doing, I felt quite relieved to have made it to our mooring and decided that I needed a cup of coffee to revive me, so we went to the restaurant attached to this place and sat enjoying both the coffee and the wonderful view over all the little boats and the lake, and forest. We felt relaxed and all we had to do was to go back to the boat and each enjoy our various pastimes. I did get a little further with sorting my photos. After a meal of potato mash, tomato, beans and some boerenkop that I bought today, we enjoyed it slowly getting dark after watching a wonderful sunset over the trees and the lake. Another day of our journey has almost finished, what a rewarding time to share together. I hope to go for a walk tomorrow in the Birch, and Pine tree forest with which we are surrounded.
WEDNESDAY IN MOL
Yes that is where we were today. We decided to take a trip to a shop which was supposed to be about three kilometres away from here. Ian on the bicycle and I walking. I walked and walked and it was lovely, the scent of the Pine trees along the road, this region of Belgium is called the Kempen, it lies right in the North-East of the country. Until the 19th century the Kempen was known for its Heathers, Oak forests, its soil being sandy and with lots of turf like, or swamp like areas. You also find lots of Pine forests there.
CONCLUSION AND REFLECTION ON MY FIRST BOATING EXPERIENCE
Though I enjoyed it very much, it was also more difficult than I expected, especially the actual navigating and helping Ian with the ropes and mooring and so on. It was a valuable learning curve for me. My interest in travelling lies not only in meeting new people but seeing how they live and behave in their environment. I am also immensely interested in the flora and fauna of a land, and the birdlife too. And of course in photographing all this natural wealth. This journey has definitely satisfied me on that account. Of great value to me is also seeing how I do when challenged and challenged I was, totally out of my comfort zone some of the time, as I actually have some sort of fear of water. I like to see how I can do without everyday comforts and see how it affects me. It was all good and great memories were laid down. Ian was an excellent captain and we had a wonderful time. A very rewarding experience.