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Tex’s observations on a Dutch life

Before you read this blog I feel I should point out that there are three of us on the boat and we all like to blog from time to time. Some new readers may be surprised to read my blog because, after all, I am a dog but go with it you’ll enjoy it – honest!

I’ve been in The Netherlands for four weeks now and I thought I you would be interested in a few observations I have made in my time here. So here goes.

Dutch Dogs…

…don’t seem to like me. When I approach they generally start shouting at me, in Dutch, I don’t know why (well obviously I know why they shout in Dutch but not why they shout at all!) Mum says I give off the wrong signals by looking a bit concerned by them and that need to be braver. But brave I’m not, so I have to work with what I have! You will be pleased to know that I do not shout back. That would not be dignified (and they wouldn’t understand anyway because I only speak English).

Pigeon evolution

One of the things about the Netherlands is that they have a lot of water and correspondingly a lot of bridges. It’s very civilised because as you boat along the bridges open. Whilst they are open the bit where the bridge normally sits is ‘exposed’. With it so far..?

During the course of our visit I came to the conclusion that the inner city pigeons of Utrecht are less evolved than those of Amsterdam as the ones in Amsterdam have learned not to sit on the ‘exposed’ bit when the bridge comes down.

For this reason one doesn’t see the evidence of multiple ‘pigeon expiries’ under the bridges of the capital that are really very evident in Utrecht. Clearly the ones in Amsterdam have developed an eye on the top of their heads or something. I would have supplied pictures at this point but then I would have to X-rate my blog for gruesomeness! You get the idea, many a squished pigeon was evident!

I’m sure it keeps the population down but it’s not a very efficient method!

Just to give you the idea this is one of the killer bridges of Utrecht, sounds like a film title (now there’s an idea – maybe not)

Bikes!!!

Goodness I’m getting to be bike savvy and I need to be. The flipping things are silent and deadly. Everyone has a bike over here. Maybe they have two or three, there are sooooo many of them, more than the population that’s for sure. They have their own roads and their own traffic lights and cyclists rule the roost. I have to keep my eyes open when out with mum because she can never work out what direction the traffic is coming from anyway, so adding in a silent enemy that can approach from anywhere, and is top priority, just makes things even worse! I tell you I’m glad I haven’t got my old job over here it would be a nightmare!

Of course, if you’re on the other side of things i.e. a bike owner that’s very different. But being one that gets around on four paws I am certainly not cut out for cycling. So I think mum should get one of these

It’s a Bakfiets and it’s designed primarily for transporting children around, we have seen up to three toddlers in one of these! However, I think it could easily be adapted for a Labrador don’t you? In fact I expect that if I went into one of the (many) Fiets-shops in this country such an adaptation would already exist, you know with an entry ramp, a non-slip floor, a dog bed interior, kibble holder etc. But mum said if I think she’s going to push 30kg of Labrador (x golden retriever) around on a bike I am sadly mistaken. She does nothing for me…

So there are a few observations on life so far. It has taken me a little while to find my paws but I am settling in to it all. I can be adaptable if I need to be and I have been a city dog or a country dog as and when required. (This is me being a country dog)

Living on the boat is different, but you know what they say, home is where the humans are (and where the kibble is of course).

On that note I will leave you with a picture of me in the lock at Utrecht where mum thought I looked very handsome and I’m showing off my Juneau boat tag which is set off quite nicely against my fur.

I hope you are well dear reader, more updates soon.

Love

Tex

Back to base

This week’s travels saw us leaving the quiet town of Weesp and heading into the middle of Amsterdam before returning to our home mooring in Aalsmeer. For several weeks we have been planning to be in Aalsmeer this week because it is convenient for Schiphol airport and Liz’s anticipated trip back to the UK for a client meeting. In the end the UK trip was not required but we stuck with the plan and will be here for the working week. It marks the end of our month-long cruise around the southern Netherlands and enables us to re-stock supplies with the aid of a car before heading off on our next adventure.

We enjoyed our stay in Weesp – nice town, nice marina (boat club) – but it did get a bit hot for working. One day we recorded 37 degrees in the boat (99 Fahrenheit in old money) which was really getting a bit uncomfortable. That only lasted a couple of days and then things returned to a more comfortable warm/hot instead of scorching.

One of Weesp’s many small canals
Our marina was separated from the town centre by this bridge

We had a couple of options for getting back to Aalsmeer. The first was to take a series of small rivers that wind their way south and then north again. It would be nice, but perhaps a bit slow. The second option was to head across part of the IJmeer, join the main route into Amsterdam and then head south to Aalsmeer from there. We chose the second option and, with a little apprehension, set off for Amsterdam. The journey turned out to be very easy – the lake was very smooth and we didn’t encounter too much commercial traffic on the river IJ, which is the main river through Amsterdam.

Crossing a corner of the IJmeer
Heading into Amsterdam (and avoiding big ships)
Amsterdam, in case there was any doubt

There are two main marinas in the middle of Amsterdam. Both are on the opposite bank of the IJ from the city and require a short ferry trip to get to the city centre. We opted for the relatively new “Amsterdam Marina” rather than the well-established “Sixhavan Marina”. As expected it had great facilities but our allocated mooring was at the far end of the marina and involved a long walk.

Round marina building – our berth was at the far end of the long, thin building

We don’t often make use of the marina facilities – showers, etc. – preferring to use those on-board. But on this occasion Liz was tempted by the thought of a real bath, the first one on offer since leaving the UK. The facilities block was new, clean and very appealing. The bath turned out to have a view across the marina and the river and Liz enjoyed her soak whilst waiting for the washing. (Yes, all those chores follow you wherever you go!)

A bath tub with a view

We didn’t have time to visit Amsterdam city centre on this occasion, but the next morning we set off back across the river and entered the canals. Whilst there are hundreds of canals in Amsterdam, most of them have low, fixed bridges and therefore would not be suitable for Juneau. There are a couple of routes that have opening bridges to allow boats of any size to pass, so we took one of these. It’s actually part of the “stand mast route” which enables sailing boats to pass all the way through the Netherlands whilst leaving their masts in place. The route through Amsterdam is known as the “night convoy route” because two of its bridges carry railway lines and can only be opened for a few minutes at a time, and only in the middle of the night. Tall boats queue up at the first bridge and then rush through together before it closes again. They then proceed at a more leisurely pace through the next ten bridges before arriving at the rail bridge at the far side of the city. Again, they all have a few minutes to get through when it opens.

Fortunately Juneau can easily clear the two rail bridges so we did not have to travel the canals of Amsterdam by night. In fact, with everything taken down (windows, etc.) we were able to squeeze under all but three of the bridges along the route. Some were a little close for comfort with only an inch or so to spare above our highest point – the top of the steering wheel!

Lots of low bridges on this route
An unusual driving position

Squeezing under the bridges instead of waiting for them to open saved us a lot of time and we got through the city quite quickly. It was interesting to look along some of the canals to the side and see typical Amsterdam streets with tall buildings, narrow roads, more bicycles than you can count, houseboats along both sides of the canal and a narrow strip of water up the middle. There was no doubting which city we were in.

Emerging from the canals we arrived at the top of the Nieuwe Meer. We had been there once before, during our short trip at Easter, and had been just about the only boat on the lake. Things were a bit different this time. A hot, sunny July day brought all of Amsterdam out onto the water, at least it felt like that. We again found ourselves surrounded by small day boats (sloops) in the lock, mainly filled with scantily clad sun worshippers. The “don’t go out in the sun it will kill you” message has not yet reached Holland. The Dutch seem to have few inhibitions and, thinking back over the last week, we have probably been the only fully clothed people wherever we have been. As we progressed across the Nieuwe Meer even the scanty bathing costumes disappeared and it appears that this was a location where people take their boat, drop the anchor and work on their all over tan. That wouldn’t be so bad, but this was definitely the more mature, more rounded demographic who really should know better.

Back to the journey. From the Nieuwe Meer we joined the Ringvaart van de Haarlemmermeerpolder (Ringvaart for short) which we think of as our “home” canal as it passes by our marina. Once again we were struck by how different things can be on a nice day. Our previous experience of this canal had been calm waters with the occasional passing boat. On this sunny Saturday afternoon it was packed with boats of all shapes and sizes. People don’t seem to worry about wash and the little sports boats were tearing around making it a very bumpy experience. But everything was very good natured and despite some close shaves we didn’t see any collisions.

We had a lovely day on Sunday with some guests on board. Gaston, a colleague of mine who lives in the Netherlands, had helped me with some of the logistics for the trip. It was nice to meet his family and to head out onto our local lake (the Westeinderplassen) for some lunch and, in the case of Gaston and his children, some swimming and leaping off the back of the boat. Madness, but they seemed to enjoy it!

The last leg of our four-week journey was quite short – here’s the route we took this week.

Week-4

I’ve been keeping various statistics along the way. This is how things are looking after four weeks:

Kilometres travelled 330
Engine hours 50
Bridges opened for us 58
Locks 19

Our “southern loop” went like this (blue, red, orange, then green):

Loop-1

Next week we’re planning to head north.

Utrecht

We left Leerdam on a sunny Friday morning and proceeded back down the river Linge which we had travelled up in pouring rain five days earlier. In the sunshine the Linge turned out to be a lovely river with lots of wildlife and, with very little traffic, it was a pleasant hour and a half to the Merwedekanaal that would take us north again. Our planned destination for the day was Vianen, where we had spent a night a couple of weeks earlier.

WSV De Oude Horn in Leerdam – our home for five days

Having made good progress we were in Vianen by lunchtime and decided to push on to Utrecht the same day. We would then be able to spend two nights instead of one in Utrecht with a full day to explore the city. The journey involved crossing a large river and canal, each of which had a pair of locks around it, before making our way slowly into the centre of the city.

According to our ANWB app on the iPad there are three mooring places in Utrecht. The first is accessible from the south, which is the direction we were approaching from. Our preferred one was right in the middle of the city and then there was a third one on the north. We decided to have a look at the southern one with a view to then moving on to the city centre one. As we took a look at the southern mooring on the Catharijnesingel we were advised by someone on another boat that this was the best of the moorings and we should stay here. He turned out to the right – there is no central mooring at all – it appears to be an error in the app, and the northerly one was nowhere near as nice as the Catharijnesingel.

Gemeente Utrecht (“town moorings”) do not exist!
Our mooring on the Catharijnesingel

The Catharijnesingel was very central and a two minute walk through some quaint streets took us to the heart of the city. It’s an old city with lots of lovely buildings, narrow streets and the river Oudegracht winding its way through the middle. We spent Saturday exploring the city and having a nice lunch in a restaurant at the water’s edge. As the day unfolded the river got busier and busier with tour boats, leisure boats and all manner of small hire boats, canoes, paddle boards, etc. We were quite happy watching it all from the comfort of our table but we knew we had to pass that way on Juneau at some point as our next destination was north of the city.

Typical bridge and restaurant along the Oudegracht
Bikes are everywhere

There were several things that concerned us about taking Juneau through the middle of the city. First, there are 16 relatively small bridges, some of which are more like short tunnels. Whilst we knew the overall height was not a problem if we took the canopy and windows down, the bridges are either rounded or “pointy” and it was likely to be quite a tight fit. The second problem was a big No Entry sign at the first bridge when approached from the south. We made enquiries and were told that this had been put up in anticipation of the following weekend when the Tour de France would be starting from Utrecht. We were told we could ignore this no entry sign! Essentially they were making the river one way, which led to the third problem – it was likely that we would be going against the traffic in a very confined space.

Some of the 16 bridges we would pass under

The alternative to passing through the middle of the city was to retrace our steps to the south as far as the Amsterdam Rijn Kanaal and then take this busy, industrial waterway north to beyond the city. We didn’t like the sound of that and decided to make our move early on Sunday morning when there would be few other boats on the Oudegracht and hopefully no one to tell us off for going the wrong way.

It all worked out well in the end and the trip through Utrecht was really nice. We didn’t meet a single boat and managed not to hit any bridges. It took about 30 minutes at a slow walking pace but the video below has it condensed to less than 4 minutes.

For best results, click here to watch it on Vimeo and select HD playback.

The reason for heading north from Utrecht was to travel along the river Vecht, supposedly the most beautiful river in the Netherlands and possibly all of Europe. The description turned out to be accurate and it was indeed a lovely river, with impressive houses, beautiful villages and nice countryside along its length.

One of the villages along the Vecht

I had identified the Loosdrechtse Plassen as a potential place for an overnight stop. It is a large series of connected lakes with many islands, moorings and with marinas all along its edges. The only downside is that there is a single lock through which all boats have to pass to get in and out. When we turned up on Sunday afternoon there was a small queue of boats waiting to go in. We joined the queue and soon found ourselves in the middle of a crowd of boats, many of which were playing loud music and having parties. We couldn’t easily get out at that point and decided to head through the lock.

The lock itself was quite a sight. The first thing that struck us was that the lock is on a curve. We tied up on the “inside” of the curve and had several smaller boats around us, some of which were tied to us. We also couldn’t help noticing the jazz band and the rows of chairs that had been assembled along the side of the lock so that people could sit there with their drinks being entertained by the antics of the boats as they jostled for position.

You don’t see (or hear) this kind of thing on the Thames

When we got through (unharmed) there was a much bigger queue on the other side waiting to back out from the Loosdrectse Plassen onto the river. We estimated 50 boats or more. Most of them were quite small but some would be waiting there for a few hours. At that point we decided we should definitely stay overnight and leave on Monday morning when things would (hopefully) be much quieter.

Amazingly, once we got away from the lock the crowds and the noise disappeared and we found an island with some nice moorings. We had a very peaceful evening watching the birds and the lake and were the only boat on the island overnight.

Peaceful mooring spot – Weer island on the Loosdrechtse Plassen

Getting out through the lock on Monday was no problem (once the lock keeper had relieved us of five Euros for the second time in two days) and we proceeded on up the Vecht. We aimed for another boat club – WV Zeemeermin in Weesp – and received a warm welcome. This is where we are spending our working week before heading back towards our Aalsmeer base at the weekend. Weesp is another nice town – the Netherlands appears to be full of them.

Here’s where this week’s route took us:

Week-3

Nature and a rescue

As planned on Friday morning we left Gorinchem headed for the Beisbosch national park. I don’t think we’d quite factored in the size and the choppiness of the Boven Merwede river (see David’s blog) which was a challenge, particularly as we hadn’t made preparation for big river cruising and it caught us by surprise.

Tex was swiftly, but reluctantly, relocated to the cabin where he soon defined his ‘big river’ position. Wedging himself into the corner by the stairs, in a sit, where he had walls to his back and his side and the largest surface area (his bottom) in contact with the floor. He’s not as daft as he looks!

From the wild waves of the Boven Merwede we passed through a lock and into the calm tranquillity of the entrance to the Beisbosch. Talk about different worlds, this was much easier.

We cruised down towards the park and stopped off for lunch in a side shoot off the park. Tex wasn’t particularly in fond of the pontoon which was a metal grid, so I could see his point. But he made it over to dry land and was rewarded with sand between his toes and a squidgy ball thing he found. We spent lunchtime watching the coots beat up ducks and the ducks coming back for more. And we saw an Oyster Catcher bird. I don’t think they are rare but that was a first for us.

Our first destination was a Jachthaven on the edge of the Beisbosch, where we were greeted by a Brit working there. It was a very efficient location, a bit car parky but a useful stop-over. And it had a nice restaurant.

Destination gifts seem to be the order of the day, so far we have acquired 2 key floats, an LED torch (courtesy of the Beisbisch jachthaven) and a life ring bottle opener (perhaps the least useful as we never open bottles of beer – yeah right – but we have got a bottle opener on board).

The plan was to find a nice peaceful mooring and to overnight in the park. However that didn’t quite work out. There weren’t many moorings and the ones that were there had attracted groups of people who were mostly having a weekend gathering, we felt we’d be a little out of place in those locations and that they might not provide the peace and tranquillity we had hoped for, So Plan B was hatched. To head back to a marina just below the lock and to head back onto the Boven Merwede the next day. Sounds simple…

This complicated it…

It’s a man, standing on the front of his boat and, initially, he was shouting at us in Dutch. We got the gist he had broken down and would like a tow, honour says you have to help. Well if we were in the same situation we hope someone would help so…

With my worst case scenario hat on (this is the one I wear most of the time) I was convinced that it was just a ruse and that he was of course going to board our boat, rob us blind and sail off into the sunset with Juneau and Tex. David pointed out that this was unlikely to be the case and that he probably just needed a tow! He was right so tow them we did.

Whilst they looked a little scary (to me) they were just a family with three children, one a young baby. They had had the boat two months and this was the second time they’d been towed home. I said maybe he should contact the seller but as he pointed out, it was very cheap. (Really?)

So our good deed done we went off to find ourselves a home for the night. After a bit of hunting around we finally found somewhere we deemed suitable and broke out the wine!

A new plan in place we are now sort of Utrecht bound but we needed a place for the week so we cruised up the Linge to Leerdam. I assumed it would be famous for its cheese (Leerdamer and all that) but it’s not, it’s famous for glass. I think Leerdamer might be a marketing thing. Anyway this week it has been famous for its rain as it hasn’t stopped much since we got here and now there is a strong smell of wet dog on the boat!

But we have a nice town centre location and hopefully the weather will pick up and we’ll have a good few days here. Fingers crossed.

Plans are meant to be changed

Before leaving home I had read a little bit about the Biesbosch national park in the south of the Netherlands. The stories were of quiet, out of the way moorings in tranquil surroundings with lots of bird life and the occasional beaver to be seen if you are lucky. It sounded perfect and I put it on the “must see” list. Our first cruise from our base in Aalsmeer is planned to be about a month long and that gave us time to cruise down to the Biesbosch via some interesting places, spend some time in the national park and then cruise back north via a different route.

During our first week we had made it as far as Gorinchem, a lovely little town on the north bank of the Boven Merwede river. During our stay we had seen some barges going by, like this one being pushed along one evening.

Barge being pushed past Gorinchem’s harbour entrance

After our working “week” (three days) we headed out of Gorinchem’s quiet, calm visitor harbour on Friday morning and into the biggest, lumpiest river we have yet experienced. It’s a major thoroughfare for the huge barges that carry containers, aggregates, gas and no doubt many other things between Germany and the sea port of Rotterdam. The name Merwede derives from an ancient Dutch word meaning “wide water”. They’re not kidding – it’s about half a kilometre wide at the point where we joined it.

Leaving the calm of the Lingehaven
All the locks here are different – this one has a latch

Rivers change their names a lot in the Netherlands. The Waal, which is fed from the Rhine, becomes the Boven (“Upper”) Merwede just upstream of Gorinchem and is only about 8km long before it splits into the Beneden (“Lower”) Merwede and the Nieuwe (“New”) Merwede. We travelled most of the length of the Boven Merwede and a couple of kilometres of the Nieuwe Merwede before turning off towards the Biesbosch. During that time we lost count of the number of commercial ships we saw, some of which overtook us and made us feel tiny. In the picture below, a “pusher unit” is pushing 6 barges – three abreast and 2 in length.

About to be overtaken

Whilst none of these ships makes a huge amount of wash by itself, their combined effect along with strong winds made for unsettled water, causing Juneau to pitch and roll quite a bit. We stayed well clear of the big boys and no harm came to the ship or crew. When we turned off the Nieuwe Merwede and passed through a lock onto the Steurgat river it was like entering another world. All of the hustle and bustle disappeared in an instant and we slowly made our way down this quiet river.

Calmer waters

Our overnight destination was the Jachthaven Biesbosch at Drimmelen, on the southern edge of the national park. To get there we skirted through the edge of the park and we had a pleasant lunch stop in the Aakvlaai recreation area. This is a purpose built area of canals and islands with lots of moorings. It’s very green and pleasant but our guide book describes it as being a bit artificial and they have a point. Nonetheless it was a nice place to stop, have lunch and give Tex a walk on a beach.

A peaceful spot for lunch

On arrival at the Jacht Haven we were quickly allocated a berth by the friendly and efficient harbour master (mistress?) and we walked across to the nearby Biesbosch Visitor Centre. The visitor centre was a bit of a disappointment, mainly consisting of a small shop and a collection of stuffed beavers. Dinner at the nearby restaurant “Het Panorama” was, however, excellent, so all was not lost.

It turns out there are not very many mooring areas in the national park itself. We identified an area that had several potential spots and set off the next morning to claim our place in the wilderness. It took a couple of hours to get there – first down the wide but quiet Amer river, then into the smaller waters of the park. I kept one eye on the iPad – it was running the ANWB Waterkart app, which is excellent for planning and navigation – and the other eye on the depth gauge. The depths in the Biesbosch vary enormously, with 5m suddenly changing to 30 or 40 cm if you drift out of the main channel, which can be very narrow in places.

Navigating around the shoals

On this screenshot from the ANWB app the dotted line from bottom left to top right is our planned route through various channels to get to the area with moorings. The moorings are the red dots with legs in the top right corner. We managed not to run aground and found the mooring area easily. Unfortunately the first one we reached was occupied by a large group of boats who had colonised the bank and looked like they were setting up for a party. The second and third ones looked nice but were also full. We eventually stopped at the top of the “Rietplaat” island, although the “finger” mooring was a bit small for us. Juneau was twice as large as any of the other boats there! As we ate our lunch, got buzzed by small dinghies with big outboards and watched more people arrive on our small island we began to wonder if we had found the tranquillity we had hoped for.

The area itself was very picturesque and there were lots of birds singing all the time. That was all very nice. The problem was that all of the moorings were concentrated in a very small area, and where you get a concentration of boats and people you get lots of noise. Perhaps we’re not as tolerant as we should be but that spoiled it for us. We had planned to spend one or two nights there but over lunch we got the charts out and did some re-planning.

A new plan was made and we set off in the general direction of Utrecht, several days cruising away. This involved retracing our steps back along the Boven Merwede – thankfully it was much calmer on a Saturday afternoon than it had be the previous morning. We stayed overnight in a marina at Sleeuwijk, just across the river from Goringchem. This marina is home to a brokerage specialising in large luxury motor yachts. Tempted though we were, we managed not to trade Juneau in for a larger model whilst we were there!

The next day it rained. A lot. It rained particularly heavily at the point where we had to take the canopy off to get under a low bridge. We decided to head up the relatively small river Linge to the town of Leerdam and settle in there for a few days. We knew that the next day was also going to be wet and miserable and we might as well sit it out in the comfort of a marina in a small town. We’ll be here through the working week and on our way again on Friday. The town seems very nice and we look forward to trying one or two of the restaurants whilst we’re here.

Here’s where we traveled this week:

Week-2

The first week

After 18 months of planning we finally arrived in the Netherlands on Sunday 7th June. Juneau was waiting for us, freshly polished and looking good. We spent Monday putting away the mountain of things we had brought in the car, visiting the local shops (and park for Tex) and generally getting organised.

The next few days were spent working. That will be the pattern for the next few months – Tuesday to Thursday in our floating office, then Friday to Monday on holiday. After a few technical teething problems we were up and running with our internet connection and work could commence. There are worse places to spend your working day than in a floating office in a nice marina with a lake in the background.

Eventually on Friday we were able to head off from Aalsmeer and the adventure could begin properly. We had identified a national park in the south of the Netherlands as a potential destination and decided to head off in that general direction first. We had a rough idea of the route we would follow but there were a number of options and we would work out the details as we went along.

Our first overnight stop was at a place called Boskoop, meaning “trees for sale” and which was, unsurprisingly, full of tree nurseries. We stayed at a boat club (WV De Grouwe) up a quiet canal, away from the major waterways we had been using during the day. The location was very nice and of course we were looking down on nurseries. One of the things about Netherlands boating that is strange at first (at least to us Thames boaters) is that the canals are considerably higher than the surrounding landscape, so you’re usually looking down on something.

View from our mooring in Boskoop

The next day, Saturday, we visited Gouda. Initially we had planned to stay there overnight but after studying the information in the almanac – the book containing all of the information about rivers, canals, bridges, locks, harbours, etc. – we spotted that the bridges in the town don’t open on Sundays, except in July and August. We didn’t want to stay until Monday and just stopped for lunch instead.

Town moorings in Gouda

Of course, Gouda is famous for its cheese and cheese was in evidence everywhere. There was a market in the town selling all sorts of food including lots of cheese. We had a nice lunch. Mine involved a lot of “old cheese” – I think they meant “mature cheese” – and it was very good.

Plenty of cheese to be had in Gouda

Getting into and out of the town was surprisingly time consuming. There were several bridges that had to be raised for us and, as far as we could tell, one bridge operator to look after them all. He was very friendly and told us how long we’d have to wait at the next bridge before he could turn up to open it.

When leaving the town we had to pass through a lock to get onto the tidal Hollandse IJssel river. The friendly bridge operator had told us that the height available under the lock’s fixed bridge was 4.2m. That’s not a problem because Juneau’s canopy is around 4m so we headed into the lock. The lock keeper looked at us in a slightly strange way and asked how high the boat is. “Four meters” I said. “I don’t have four meters” came the reply, “I have 3.3”. My heart sank. We now needed to either reverse our route back through Gouda or drop the canopy to reduce our height. We chose the latter option and after much unclipping of canvas and moving of stainless steel tubing we were down to something like 3.3m – maybe a bit less, maybe a bit more. If we were still too high it would involve removing all of the windscreens to get down to our minimum height which I was confident was around 2.6m. After the lock had filled we crept forward very slowly towards the bridge and carefully inched forward under it. Thankfully there was enough room – at least a couple of inches. The lock keeper was cheerful and helpful throughout the slightly extended process and told us to take our time and not to rush things.

Vertical lock gate (with 3.3m of clearance!)

The most remarkable thing about the lock was its vertical gates. We’re used to locks that have two gates that swing open to let boats through. This particular lock had gates that are raised vertically above the water. I assume this is because the river level can be either below or above the level of the town’s canals and therefore the gates have to hold back water on either side. It’s very clever, but the result is that you get dripped on as you pass under the gate!

Once onto the Hollandse IJssel we soon passed through another lock and were back into semi-tidal waters. For those familiar with the Thames, it was the equivalent of Richmond lock. But much smaller and operated by the friendliest lock keeper in the world!

Our overnight stop was on a mooring in the quaint old town of Oudewater.

Oudewater street

The next morning we headed off early(ish) with the goal of reaching Gorinchem by late afternoon with a backup plan of stopping about half way if progress was slow. The journey along the Hollandse IJssel was slow but very pleasant. It was relatively narrow, had lots of bridges that needed to be opened and had a speed limit of 4.5 km/h in the towns – that’s very slow!

We went with “Plan B” and stayed overnight in a town called Vianen which is on the Merwedekanaal. The Merwedekanaal crosses the river Lek, another tidal river. This involves passing through two huge locks that are designed to take multiple “giant barges” (I’m sure there’s a specific name for these boats and I’ll learn what it is at some point). The biggest lock we had previously encountered was at West India Dock on the Thames in London. These locks – the Prinses Beatrixsluis and the Grote Sluis were about three times as long as West India Dock, but nowhere near as deep (or slimey!).

Prinses Beatrixsluis with two two chambers and lots of space

Vianen has a very good Passantenhaven (visitor’s harbour) and turned out to be a really nice, historic town. It was Sunday and nearly everything was closed but the town still had a nice feel to it.

The remaining journey from Vianen to Gorinchem was quick and easy. The Merwedekanaal is a medium sized waterway with a higher speed limit (12 km/h, but we rarely go over 11 in Juneau!) but lots of bridges to be opened. We had the fortune of being followed by several other boats, one of which was calling ahead on the VHF radio to ask for the bridges to be opened. This greatly helped our progress. Whilst we could hear the communications between boat and bridges I can confirm that Dutch over VHF is pretty much incomprehensible to the untrained ear and I’m hoping not to have to try it myself.

We had planned to stay in the visitor’s harbour (Lingehaven) in the centre of Gorinchem and had identified that there are two routes in. The first involved going through a large lock onto the Boven Merwede river, along the river a short distance and then back through another lock onto the Linge river and into the harbour. The second route, which we chose, was more direct and avoided the locks. It did, however, involve passing under two fixed bridges at 2.85m and 2.80m. We stopped and removed the canopy and then proceeded cautiously under the first bridge. We cleared it by about 5cm. The second bridge was in theory 5cm lower and we thought we might have to remove the windscreens for that one. But in the end we managed to limbo under it with about 1cm to spare. Then it was just a case of finding a mooring and parking up for four nights so we could do our three days of working-from-boat before returning to holiday mode again. (Actually, it wasn’t quite that straightforward, as Liz mentioned in her post yesterday!)

Juneau moored in the Lingehaven in Gorinchem
The 2.8m bridge we squeezed under

Gorinchem is a lovely town with walls that protect it from the (large) river Boven Merwede. These walls provide a great dog walking area, so Tex is happy too.

Here’s an overview of this week’s route.

Week-1

Next up – Biesbosch national park.

No one’s been thrown overboard yet!

So we have managed to get through a week and a bit of living in a fairly confined space and there haven’t been many cross words. Tex is probably in the most in trouble for being in the wrong place at the wrong time but we know he can’t help it really, it’s a small space for a large dog. David can be in trouble for the same thing and he has no excuses 🙂

It’s amazing how at home Juneau felt when we arrived on the Sunday after our journey from Wokingham. The journey went as well as we hoped. Tex did sit up the whole way and we felt a bit sorry for him knowing that after each ‘wee stop’ he had to get back in the car and carry on. I think he was pretty relieved when we finally reached Aalsmeer. But he was none he worse for his day in the car and was pleased to see his dinner, always a good sign.

We spent the first week at our home base just getting used to being on the boat, getting things packed away and getting our work environment set up. Amazingly all of the stuff we brought with us packed away easily and we didn’t have to resort to filing clothes under the bed for future use, everything is to hand.

We’ve both got our own work areas. Mine in the bow of the boat, which is very handy for the kettle as I need a lot of tea during the working day. David is in the middle of the boat, his desk (the deck table topped by a rather bright red plastic table cloth) comes out each morning and gets put away each night. He also likes the spot under the canopy to take calls etc. He’s named that the Conference Room! Technology has been a bit of a challenge, not so much for me but for David, but we are getting there now.

It was a bit odd to actually untie the boat and set off on Friday morning, the first day of our holidays. There was a strong temptation to stay put, but that’s not the plan and so we headed off. Luckily it was a beautiful day and the weather encouraged us on our way.

We made our way through…

  • Boskoop – the tree growing capital of the Netherlands – very nice, very green!
  • Gouda – the cheese capital of the Netherlands – very nice, very cheesy!
  • Oudewater – the capital of Witch weighing in the Netherlands, apparently (obviously not these days as I escaped) – very nice, very rural
  • Viannen – not the capital of anything I think (I’m sure they would say different) anyway very nice, very oldy-worldy

And now we are in Gorinchem (not Goring on Thames as someone said). We first planned to stop in a local marina, having passed through the visitors harbour on the way. But David much preferred the visitors harbour so we went back. We saw a lot of the marina lock that day! By the time we got back a lot of the right type of mooring (with alongside dog access) had gone so we literally slotted into a space by a bridge. It was OK but a bit close to the bridge junction.

The next day a better slot became available so we moved there. This morning a slot became free next to the water point (easy access to water is important if you want a long shower) so we moved there. It’s Wednesday and we have now tied up in 5 different places in this harbour, we only got here Monday!! Anyway today’s is a good spot, where I think we’ll stay until we depart on Friday morning.

Gorinchem is a really pleasant place, the harbour is beautiful, right in the town centre but on the edge of the river. The town is a ‘star fort’ town which means it has old star shaped walls around it. On the top of the walls there is a path around the town which is perfect for walking Tex in the morning and at lunch time.

Tex is doing OK. It has taken him time to get into the swing of things but it is about 9 months since he was on the boat so really he has done well to settle back into it all. He was very cautious of various steps and pontoons and the steps here are particularly challenging because they are very steep and have narrow treads, but bless him he has taken it all in his stride (literally). I have to say adaptability is not generally a word we use to describe our Tex but he has done well. He has also made a few café stops where he settles down really nicely, I think it goes back to his roots. We are blessed to have such a good pooch.

So as I say it’s now Wednesday and we are 2/3rds of the way through our working week with just tomorrow to go. However the basics of life have to go on and I am in the launderette as I type this! I haven’t been in a launderette for years, I think the only one in England is actually in EastEnders – there is no Dot here though. It seems to be quite soon to start washing stuff but the opportunity presented itself so I grabbed it (because I loooove washing – not!)

On Friday morning we’re going to head off further south to the Beisbosch, which is a national park. Not sure where we are going yet, that is still in the planning phase, but I am keeping my fingers crossed for some good weather (which we have had up till now).

David is going to upload a video he did on our trip to Viannen. It’s a time lapse video so quite short but quite amusing. Take a look if you get chance. Its not on the site yet but I will link it in my next blog, whenever that may be.

Don’t forget you can subscribe to the blog and the site will email you when the blog page is updated by me, David or Tex (as if you don’t get enough spam- don’t worry we’re not that prolific a set of writers!). And if you are on Facebook there is a Juneauboat page where I’m trying to do a photo a day (so far so good) it’s http://www.facebook.com/juneauboat if you ‘like’ the page you can get eeeeven more info about our trip 🙂

So that’s it, my washing is still going so I should start researching the Beisbosch…

Crikey, this park better be good!

Last week was a hive of activity in our house. Every day there seem to be jobs to be done, people to instruct and generally lots of hustle and bustle. By Saturday evening things were being packed up into the car which always makes me rather nervous! By Saturday bed time mum and dad looked a bit frazzled and I was deeply suspicious!

I had every reason to be suspicious, come Sunday morning I jumped into the car expecting to go to Heath Lake and 7 ½ hours later I was still there. I really don’t remember Heath Lake being that far, we normally get there and back in an few hours with a run thrown in! Anyway it turns out we weren’t headed for a local beauty spot but for a flipin different country! I know, I know I was aware this was going to happen, I just forgot!

It was a new experience for me to go on a train, well of course in my previous life I did ‘do’ trains, but not trains that hold cars! Mum was obviously uncomfortable with the train thing so she came and sat with me for the journey. I don’t know why, it doesn’t look very comfy does it? Anyway I shared my space and humoured her!

After many promises of nearly being there we did finally stop. Having sat up all the way from Wokingham to Aalsmeer my legs were a bit stiff but I managed not to fall over when I got out of the car! That would have ruined my street cred.

My boat was a sight for sore eyes but I must admit I have had some trouble bonding with her this time. The steps had been polished so getting on and off was been a bit of a challenge, but they were better after mum scrubbed them with a scourer to ‘roughen them up’ a bit! And I also didn’t like to pontoon we were moored to. Not sure why but I just was not keen! However I lived with it for the week, we’ve moved off now and I am regaining my boat confidence.

On the up side mum and dad are working within about 5 meters of each other so when I want a tickle I don’t have to venture far. Also I have had a bed upgrade and a new blanket. I like these very much.

I have met a few Dutch natives. Some two legged and some four. They all speak (or bark) in a funny language so I’m not sure what they are saying to me but I just wag my tail politely and that seems to go down well. Luckily (for us all) a lot of the locals do speak English and are happy to communicate that way. One chap used his English to declare he loved me very much, which I thought was a bit forward as I had only just met him! I’m sure he meant well.   Another inspected my teeth, which I also though a little strange, but he had just given me a biscuit so I let him check there was none left. I assume that’s what he needed to know or perhaps it’s a local greeting custom!

Pets are popular in the Netherlands, so far I have seen lots of dogs being walked plus one cat on a lead and today a small parrot on a lead too. Unusual I think!

Now we have started to meander around the country. Today I visited Gouda, home of Dutch cheese. I saw a lot of cheese, smelt a lot of cheese, got photographed with a large cheese (and a small cow), luckily I like cheese. Did I get any cheese – did I heck! Personally I think that’s just mean.

So I’ve been here a week now and all is going well. Today I felt I was back in my comfort zone as we ‘did’ three locks! I know Thames locks so I felt at home. I also made a friend of a lock keeper who said I could stay with him if I liked. I nearly took him up on it but mum pointed out the bed upgrade etc so I decided to stay.  It looks OK doesn’t it 🙂

Anyway, Juneau is where my toys are. I know a number of people are keen to know what my final choice of toys was for the trip. In the end I settled for Skippy, Hank, Seahorse and Duck Face with a Nylabone on the side should I need something to chew. A fine choice I felt and so far they are working out well.

I shall have to see if I can acquire any new ones while I’m here (maybe I can at least get a furry cheese!)

So dear reader that’s my first Netherland’s update – more to follow I’m sure

Love

Tex

Ever Decreasing Circles

That’s how things feel as we get nearer to our departure date. At one stage our decisions were things like what country to put the boat in and how to get her there. Now I’m down to deciding what is the optimal combination of cotton colours to go in a travelling sewing kit? No really I am… and I have made the decision (white, cream and black should anyone need to know for future reference!) It really is getting down to the nitty gritty now and this time next week (Saturday evening) I won’t be sitting at the kitchen table writing a blog – I will be running round like a mad thing checking lists and distributing post it notes to remind me of things to do prior to our Sunday morning departure! The time to go is very close.

The big, and very hard, thing is that this weekend my bunnies go to their holiday home and I am not looking forward to that. I am really lucky that they are going to someone who I know will look after them very well – so I have no worries on that account. But nevertheless it will be a bit traumatic for them and at their ages (almost 11 and 9-ish) it is quite an adventure. I am sure they will be fine but I will have a lump in my throat when I say bye-bye. Here they are my little furry friends.

On a lighter note, as part of the preparation Tex has to decide which members of his well-stocked toy box he is going to take with him to the Netherlands as we certainly don’t have room in the car for them all. Prior to choosing I decided a quick trip through the washing machine for most of them would be a good idea and that a bit of line drying would finish them off nicely. So here they all are washed and ready for selection.

Tex was a bit bemused to find most of his pals strung up by their ears!

I think he was relieved when they were unpegged and returned to their rightful place where he could access them.

I expect I will have to help him make the decision and at the moment we’re (Tex and I) favouring Skippy and Hank for indoors with Seahorse and Duck-face (you had to be there in the early 90’s) as deck toys as they float (well it says they do – we’ve never tried it – maybe a Dutch canal is the place!)

So progress is being made we’re clearly down to the smaller details now but I suspect we’ll still be trying to decide things come 9am Sunday morning when we get in the car!! However once we are underway nothing more can be done and we can relax and reap the benefits of all that planning!!

Party Time

My life is just one round of parties as my family and friends grab the opportunity to wish me (and mum and dad) a ‘Bon Voyage’. I must say my diary has never been so full but I do rather enjoy all the attention.

Last weekend we were guests at the first BBQ of the year. As ever I didn’t actually get to participate in the BBQ. I think I could have done had mum not turned down the offer of a rather tasty looking pork chop on my behalf! Fine for her to say when not 30 mins earlier I had seen her happily include one of the pork chops in her meal and apparently enjoying it along with a host of other food. Talk about one rule for some and another rule for dogs!

On this occasion I had some doggy company for solidarity (he didn’t get a pork chop either!) Anyway it was very nice to meet Toffee, a very young and lively cocker spaniel. I learned that cocker spaniels have a lot of energy to burn, they like to play and they are quite insistent in engaging fellow doggy companions in a game. After a while I got use to Toffee’s quite bold approach and decided to join in so we spent a lot of time exploring our host’s beautiful garden, generally ploughing through their bushes and(in my case) eating their sticks. Toffee and me had some good games and I was glad of his company.

Whilst we weren’t allowed any of the BBQ we were not forgotten. Jay and Mike, our lovely hosts, had laid in special provisions for Toffee and I in the form of a pack of Smackos which, between us we consumed over the course of our afternoon. This was a result!!! I think Jay was a bit surprised when I pretty much inhaled the first one I was offered. Safe to say it never touched my teeth. Gob to stomach in the shortest possible time period, that’s’ the Labrador way. Needless to say Toffee was much more refined about Smacko eating (no Lab in him!)

So here is a picture of Toffee and me captured when we managed to get him to stand still long enough to grab a shot J

Mum and dad think he is a very handsome boy (but they still love my black furred looks a great deal).

So that was my first party and I should say a very big thank you to Jay and Mike for making me so welcome. I really did enjoy my day. But a day of entertaining, and being entertained by, a small spaniel took its toll and once home I can assure you I didn’t move from this spot all evening, and when I did move it was to go to bed!

This weekend I have been to Nottingham for another party, this time with mum’s family. As usual I was a bit confused by the journey and decided I should not curl up and sleep through the motorway bit, as surely we must soon be reaching the park? After two hours of watching the road we didn’t get to the park but to granddads house – so that was a bonus. Mum and dad do try to get me to lie down but I am having none of that, they have decided I must be number plate spotting or something! Apparently in a couple of weeks I will have a very long time to spot plates and they will mainly be foreign!

We had a lovely time in Nottingham and I got lots of tickles, and I really enjoyed the trip. I am always welcome and think I could have stayed in Nottingham if I had asked, I don’t think it would take much to persuade granddad to keep me J

Anyway, after partying we travelled home this morning (another plate spotting opportunity) then mum made me walk around the block again just for fun. After that I put my paw down, took up one of my favourite sleeping places on the stairs and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon! They should realise a dog NEEDS his 40 (50 or 60) winks!

I have another party to come but this time I am hosting it as Dad’s family are coming over next week. So you close your eyes and picture me in my waiters outfit handing round canapés (you can picture me if you like, but it won’t happen, what self-respecting Labrador would actually voluntarily hand out food I ask you?!) Waiter-ing ruled out I expect my role in proceedings will be limited to meeting, greeting and general fur spreading as usual J

And then that’s it. Our sail away parties will be over and we will actually have to sail away! Aaaargghh I don’t think I’m ready. Actually I don’t know what I have to do to be ready so perhaps I won’t panic. I notice mum has a few lists on the go so I am relying on her to panic on my behalf. (it’s a safe bet!!)

I hope you had a good bank holiday weekend dear reader.

Love

Tex