Friday, 2 September 2016

Dutch Odyssey- last thoughts

Nic's impressions of the trip

The bad stuff about the trip is forgotten already, like night sailing through a fishing fleet and arriving in a strange town harbour at 4pm with a temperature of 32°. The good stuff outweighs the bad massively.

Holland was remarkably neat, well organised and welcoming - as long as you do things their way! 

We accepted the fact it was a 'motoring' holiday with only the occasional blistering sail thrown in as a bonus. Compared to our previous trips,  we did a lot more sightseeing and that was fine. 

Our experiences were logged into the Cruising Association website for other sailors to read. I very much enjoyed the Dutch food especially the cheese from Gouda!

Lesleys impressions of the trip 

I'm still surprised by how nerve wracking it is to sail at night in seaways you don't know, such as the night passage during our 140 mile trip across to Holland. The strange lights you see that might spell danger, the constant checking to make sure there's nothing new in sight and the struggle to keep your night vision while still checking a lit chart plotter.

Loved the beautiful architecture of Holland, the clean neat streets, the general efficiency of the bridge and lock operation and the mind boggling achievements  of engineering in creating dykes and polders and giant lifting bridges. Also loved the Oude Gouda cheese and Stroopwafels.

It was a special kind of journey with almost zero sailing but huge practice in mooring and unmooring, sometimes 10 times a day as we tied up to wait for bridges and locks. Also lots of practice at manoeuvring at close quarters in very small spaces. And some bumps and scrapes as evidence.

Our distance run looked poor compared with previous trips..only about 500 miles but then we were going very slowly and inland!

The ever inventive Nic designed DIY mozzie nets for the hatches using midge netting and turquoise gaffer tape. We didn't suffer a single bite, even on the hottest night in the canals. Result.

From both of us. 

Would we do this kind of trip again?
We would recommend any sailor to do the Dutch canals once. But then,   we do own a classic sailing boat which doesn't really belong on a canal. She needs her freedom. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A day at the seaside

Our last rest day before the last leg home to Gillingham, spent in Ramsgate. This is our 6th visit in 4 years so we know the harbour and marina, and we know our way around town, all of which makes for a stress-free visit. The town has a slightly run-down, frayed-at-the-edges charm about it, and the Royal Harbour keeps going due to the maintenance fleet for the offshore wind farm now that the cross-channel ferries have gone. 

Last night we had a drink at the Royal Temple Yacht Club and then a swift and tasty meal at the Italian restaurant literally underneath it - there's a steep hill that looks out over the Royal Harbour. Swift because we'd been up since 4am UK time. 

This morning we walked around to the beach, wolfing down a freshly made crab sandwich for elevenses on the way. The sun was warm, the wind slight, the holiday-makers thin on the sand, and we had an excellent swim. 

By the time we had de-sanded and changed in the public toilet block that said 'no changing' it was time for lunch so we repaired to an excellent locals' cafe off the classic English sea-side front for baked potato and various filings with salad and excellent coffee. We had remembered it from last year.

Then it was time for a little mooching round some charity shops, a couple of purchases. Thence to Waitrose for a very few supplies as we are running stocks right down now. L carried on retailing while N returned to the boat via a sit at the top to watch a yacht come in, and 10 mins quiet reflection in the Seamen's Church on the quayside. 

After some relaxation and tea we gathered ourselves to hose the boat down, washing off the grit of a hundred ports (well, a couple of dozen at least). A three  course meal on board with generous G&Ts, to celebrate our last evening of the trip, rounded off a splendid rest day at the seaside. 

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Channel fever

Our sailing guru, the great Tom Cunliffe talks about Channel Fever. It's the sudden onset during a sea passage of thinking only about the destination and what you'll do when you get there. 

In a small way that's happened to us. As we are crossing the Channel today, normal life is waiting for us and our minds are already ticking away about our complex schedule for September.

It's a perfect sunny day with little swell and yet it's as cold as charity. Several layers needed, hats and gloves too. What a shock after the sweaty excesses of Dutch heatwaves! 

We left unlovely Dunkerque at sparrowfart and it took an age to escape the foul chemical smells emanating from the industrial zone. (See pic)

Crossing the 'motorway' went pretty well. We only had to change course for one juggernaut of the sea.  Our AIS system on the chartplotter showed us the others would pass safely.

We passed very close to the famous Sandettie Light Vessel which you Radio Four listeners hear about on the shipping forecast. (Pictured)

Now we are heading past the Goodwin Sands towards Ramsgate and hopefully a drink at the Royal Temple yacht club with fantastic views over the sea. Back to Blighty. We've had a splendid time but the mind keeps switching feverishly to what comes next. 

Monday, 29 August 2016

Ostend to Dunkirk

0800  Ostend on a cool, wet Monday morning is a different, subdued place. No more bulging restaurants,  sweating w/e trippers, screaming kids and hooting teenagers. Just a town quietly going about its business. 

1000 The sky brightens as we prepare to leave, going calmly through our routine which is well practised after 4 weeks. Only a bridge and a slimy, shell-encrusted lock between us and the open sea. 

1200 An exemplary exit from Ostend - we heard one of the huge motor cruisers going out so we tagged on behind and were out of the lock in 30 minutes. In the calm of the outer harbour we had the fenders and warps stowed and the mainsail up. Now we are having a cracking sail against all the odds (i.e. not the forecast direction) with a 12kn wind on the beam - lovely! 

The Belgian coastal resorts are anything but beautiful. Rows of identical blocks of flats behind a long, long beach. (Pic)

1400 Threading our way along buoyed channels through sandbanks on our approach to Dunkerque. Still under full sail though the wind is easing. 

1600 Rounded up outside the harbour and dropped the sails, motored gently in with no commercial traffic, set fenders and warps in the calm water of the outer harbour. Called Marina du Grand Large on VHF and they gave us a pontoon berth with no fuss. We found it, we got into it and we tied up with no problem or shouting, sweating or swearing. 

Truly an exemplary day. 1 hour motoring and 6 hours sailing. You could almost think we've got the hang of this. Wonder what surprises tomorrow will bring? !

It has been a much cooler day with cloudy sun and a cool breeze. We are sitting in the late afternoon sun enjoying a snack and strong coffee ... there are no caf├ęs near this marina. We won't make the trek into town because we're just here for the overnight stop. If we had chosen to moor nearer the town there would have been delays in leaving. Tomorrow we leave at 0700 to catch the tide for Blighty in the form of Ramsgate. 

Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Blackpool of Belgium

From the land of the Stroopwafel  (Dutch syrup waffle) to the land of Moules et Frites, we had come a long way. Well only thirty odd miles really, to the Belgian port of Oostende.  

They always call port cities 'bustling' and Ostend is certainly that. The reason? The 30 degree temperatures have brought people streaming from the hot centre of the country into the breezier seaside in their thousands. Huge sparsely- clad family groups roam the streets seeking entertainment and chips. It feels like Blackpool but without the cheesy charm of that town.

The only attraction we visited today was almost empty,  and we loved it. The Amandine is a full sized Icelandic trawler launched in the 60s and pensioned off in the 90s which has become a museum on land.  

We learned about the Belgian fishermen who spent 4 days travelling in her to the cold waters off Iceland to land giant catches of fish, pulling in the nets by by hand and gutting the fish on the deck. We saw hair raising film from the 60s of great force 10 or 11 storms with trawlers ploughing through appalling waves. 

And we climbed all over Amandine, which had been only lightly and sympathetically restored, thank heaven. We saw the homely galley and eating area, and the helmsman's comfy seat with the built-in ashtray at one side and built-in wooden mug holder on the other. Essential during gales I would say... The deck seemed a small and crowded space with a million trip hazards especially in foul weather. Our respect for these fishermen grew. It cost a measly 4 euros to visit Amandine and I heartily recommend it. 

We cast a quick eye over the railway station (unimpressive) and the church of St Peter and St Paul  (closed, pictured). Enough Ostend. There were charts and tide tables waiting, for the planning of our journey to Dunkerque and onwards to Ramsgate. And the making of lunches too. As I write, Nic is cooking tonight's dinner using root veg we brought from Sainsbury in Greenwich!

Last night moules, and tonight basic boat food like the trawlermen.

Sent from Samsung Mobile on O2

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Switching flags

As it turned out we left the Netherlands a day early and like a cork out of a bottle. With our intimate knowledge and deep experience of bridges and locks we confidently expected to take 3 hours to do 5 miles from Middelburg to Vlissingen (Flushing) that required 6 bridges and a sea lock out into the Westschelde. Much to our surprise we popped out after an hour and a half. 

Our last Dutch port was to have been Breskens, opposite Vlissingen, but they informed us they are full due to a yacht festival. So with fair wind and tide, a lucky happenchance, we decided to make straight for Ostend (Belgium). Hence the switching of the courtesy flags as we rolled along the coast. 

The rest of today's story will come tomorrow as we're too full of moules & frites to stay awake. 

Friday, 26 August 2016


Middelburg doesn't sound inspiring, rather bland and middling really.  Yet it's quite spectacular in a quiet way. This was our second day exploring and it was twenty times more enjoyable at a civilised temperature of 22°C rather than boiling 30+ yesterday.

It was an important trading town (slaves as well as spices) in the days of the Dutch East India Company and the affluence can be seen in the splendid abbey, town hall and many towering, elegant mansions.

In 1940 a chunk of the old town was bombed and destroyed by fire, and there's been a lot of careful restoration. Fewer houses lean drunkenly here than in other Dutch towns.

There's some dull modern bits but in large part it's  all very handsome. Lots of glossy dark green painted windows and front doors, with the owner's name in flowing white script above the door knocker.

We wanted to visit the old abbey, now a centre of local government and the Roosevelt university.  Sadly there is some enormous music festival starting tonight in the abbey square, and much of it is out of bounds. However we sneaked into the old cloisters of the Norbertine monks and sat in the fragrant herb garden at the centre (pictured) A Zen moment.

Earlier we nipped into the Oost Kerk, also pictured, a Protestant church with a huge Catholic style dome and much ornamentation. A very friendly woman told us about the Roosevelt connection. 

Apparently the antecedents of FDR came from Middelburg and that's why the university was set up here in 2004. Also they award a Four Freedoms prize - freedom of speech, worship, freedom from want and from fear. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are past recipients.

Then we took a look at the Kuiperstraat, (pictured) a small and exquisite street of little houses which date back to the 16th century. One had an open stable door - you could imagine a Vermeer woman in a cap pouring milk in a shady corner.

Now we are back at the boat (see her pictured in her berth) for a spot of tea and Nic has again rigged a temporary awning over the cockpit to allow us to sit in comfort. Tomorrow we plan to leave for Breskens on the coast, so this may be our last night on the canals before we finally burst out into open salty sea.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Middelburg top temp

Phew wot a scorch as a newspaper once said. 32C with almost no wind. We are very comfortably berthed in Middelburg for a couple of days. We are better prepared for the heat, finally finding a use for a plastic tarpaulin that we've been carrying for years, rigged up as a shade for the cockpit. With all hatches open and towels blocking the direct sun, life had been on the pleasant side of bearable.

But enough of the constant complaining about the weather, I hear you say, what of the town. We are moored in an old harbour right by the town centre (pics), which has been a common and very handy feature of Dutch towns and cities. Here we are literally a 5-rung metal ladder and 15 metres from the yacht club with facilities and excellent cafe /restaurant. I know we mention facilities a lot, and that's because a good toilet and shower becomes very important - nuff said. 

But the town I hear you cry ... we were expecting something small, pretty and sleepy rather like Willemstad but it is big and buzzing and more like Gouda or Dordrecht. Our outing this morning was only as far as the Thu market to buy fish and veg, with a stop for a Fanta and another for coffee and iced water. We failed to find the tourist office because the map lied about its location and to be honest we were a bit late up after yesterday's efforts. The afternoon was spent sheltering from the sun on the boat or in the yacht club.  So more about Middelburg tomorrow. 

We are now looking ahead at the weather, you cannot really expect any more than a week for predictions, and it looks remarkably settled ... which may go down in the annals of famous last words ... and we are planning our route home via Belgium and France.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Hot, hotter, hottest

Today we came 27 miles in 10 hours...our slowest day so far. It was hot beyond belief, scorching hot, over 30C° and our route took us through the riverside holiday land of the Verse Meer where it seemed every child in Holland was playing like mad on the water and yelling for good measure.

It took huge concentration to helm in these crowded waters with dinghies, motor boats and yachts sailing at you from all angles. We had managed to sail ourselves earlier, a blissful hour and a half in wide open waters in a perfect sailing wind.  Sirena leaned to the wind joyfully as if to say ' this is what I'm for'. After all we have been using her as a mere motoring canal boat for 2 weeks!

The heat intensified as the day wore on and we motored on. It was unbearable being down below as the breeze didn't get down there. It was pretty unbearable in the cockpit too in the full glare of the sun. The wind had fallen away and almost everyone we saw was bare chested (men) and bikini clad (women). We wondered if they had heard of skin cancer.

We went through two locks today and one small bridge.  Long waits at both locks. The first was a huge affair well equipped with bollards to tie on to. The boats present didn't fill it so that was easy. 

The second was much smaller and we ended up being crowded by a mini super yacht, a gleaming monster motor boat which towered above our stern. We escaped before him when the lock opened. 

By the time we got to our target, Middelburg in a smallish canal, we were melting, dehydrated, sweatstained and shattered.

We waited a final half an hour at the harbour master's hut before the bridge lifted to allow us to reach our lovely finger berth, followed by showers in the yacht club and long cold drinks in the restaurant and fine dinner, with a view of our own Sirena through the window.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Salt water and sunshine

It's been a watershed day, almost literally. The second of two big locks on our 20 mile trip took us from freshwater to saltwater. 

We set off from Willemstadt at 0930 just as the heat was starting to intensify. Soon we were at the first massive lock, Volkeraksluis queuing up to wait on a nearby pontoon. No-one seemed to know when the lock would be ready so we all waited with engines off. Then there was a stream of boats coming out of the lock from the opposite direction and we knew it was time to start up. 

We counted sixteen boats in the lock ... some even rafted up. It was truly enormous. And on top a road bridge with the traffic thundering along. The clearance was given as 18.5m and we had measured our masthead to be 15m ... yet looking up it seemed awfully close. All was well though and half an hour later we had dropped all of half a metre and exited in a rush of boats. 

The weather was picture prefect with clear blue sky and just a breathe of wind. We're in wider waters now so sailable in principle - one boat tried a mainsail but we all kept motoring. It seemed to be a bit of a race down the Volkerak to the next lock. We kept to our cruising speed and let them go ahead, and when we reached the next lock it was green and they were piling in and we just squeezed in at the back. One smaller boat who was a bit slower didn't make it, and as he cut us up earlier we felt a quiet justice had been served. 

The massive lock gate closed just 1m behind us. Hare and tortoise job. This time we dropped more than a metre and emerged into salt water - L could smell it immediately. Out we all piled again and some went right to Bruinisse, some ploughed on down Mastgat perhaps with the next lock in their sights. We turned left into Krabbenkreek (honestly) and after a mile turned into a marina at Sint Annaland. I know this sounds like a pathetic theme park for someone called Anna, and there was nothing about it in our Cruising Guide, but their website looked good so we risked it. Wow, what a great find. Huge modern marina, finger berths, great facilities ... and a sandy beach on the river where we went for a swim. With temperatures reaching 30 it was very welcome. The heat sapped our energy though, we didn't make the long walk into the town. We could see the church spire and two windmills, standard issue pretty Dutch town. Instead we washed the boat and had a simple pasta meal onboard. 

Monday, 22 August 2016

Willemstadt, wild and woolly

Actually it wasn't Willemstadt that was wild and woolly, it was the journey to get there. 
We left elegant old Dordrecht early, to make sure we caught the double rail and road bridge opening at 0915. Even then it was raining moggies and mutts. 

It got worse as we chugged further down the wide waterway. When we entered Hollands Diep the rain was torrential, we were motoring into a 20 knot headwind and visibility was very poor. (Especially through Lesley's streaming specs.) Mammoth barges were passing on both sides as we hugged the edge of the main channel.

We had life jackets on, full wet weather gear and with wind over tide, a nasty swell and chop. It felt like the sunny canal life of last week was a long long way away. 

When Nic came on watch,  the rain petered out and after 4 hours and 15 miles, we arrived at the marina at Willemstadt,  a former garrison town with a star shaped fort. Unfortunately this was our first experience of the Dutch 'poles' style of mooring. 

In most of northern Europe we have finger berths where crew can hop on to the finger shaped pontoon next to the boat, to tie the ropes and then to enter and exit the boat from the side. Very civilised. 

In Holland they tend to do it differently. No finger berth.  Dutch boats reverse in, with the stern of the boat meeting the pontoon and at the other end,  ropes are thrown around 2 large poles in the water. Fine except we can't reverse (Sirena"s long keel again) and even if we could, we have a large trawler type pushpit at the back that means we can't get off her that way! 

So Sirena"s bow is hanging several feet above the pontoon and we have to somehow swing our legs up and climb awkwardly over the pulpit, hanging on to the Furlex for grim death. 

Anyway we had a good nose around Willemstadt, seeing the Orange windmill and Mauritzhuis (pictured) (Mauritz was William of Orange's son) plus various fortifications and the very pretty waterfront cum harbour. It didn't take long to walk the whole thing. We had a coffee, an ice cream, a drink, a supermarket shop and then dinner of an Indonesian noodle dish at a friendly eatery.  

And almost as soon as we had arrived, the wild and woolly weather departed. The afternoon became baking hot and we soon needed hats and suncream. It hit 27 degrees.
From November to August,  in just about four hours.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Angles on Dordrecht

We sit here on our second day in Dordrecht listening to the cacophonous sound of the Grote Kerk's bells calling the Calvinist faithful to the 5pm service, while the rain storms sweep across with shots of sun inbetween. The lovely weather of the last week has let us down for a day, hence we are still here rather than on our way south as originally planned. The good weather is rumoured  (sorry, forecast) to return during tomorrow when we shall progress down river and into the open water of Hollands Diep to Willemstad.

Dordrecht is beautiful wherever you go. Yesterday we went to lots of places after getting up early and doing two lots of washing. We're in the town marina which is perhaps 300m from the centre yet it is very peaceful ... despite constant comings and goings of infeasibly large motorboats through the small bridged entrance. 

It seems the city, oldest in the Netherlands, is built on clay and many of the buildings have an alarming lean to them. The church tower was planned to be an impressive height but when they built it they changed their minds and stopped halfway. 

Our first port of call yesterday was the
Het Hof, an old building which has been relentlessly  modernised and which boasts the most expensive and all encompassing interactivity museum we have ever seen. It includes a lavish feature film with real actors which tells the story of the start of the Netherlands at the time of William of Orange. We were the only people watching, in August, in a museum which must have cost a million.

The point of the film was to show a crucial meeting at Dordrecht which changed the course of Dutch history. The museum is a tad bombastic - all about Dordrecht and its place as a trading and shipping hub from the 1400s onwards. 

Our Combikaart museum ticket also allowed us to visit an art museum (again relentlessly modernised) which offered a lot of so-so local artists and a single Rembrandt. 

Streets are all cobbled, blocked and bricked. There is no tarmac. It's gracious, on a larger scale than chocolate-box Gouda and with few tourists. Most streets are very quiet.

Each day we've had lunch onboard as it's not cheap eating out. Last night we went to a very small and very slow fish restaurant close by. The wait was worthwhile, for oysters gratinated with various Dutch cheeses, fried sole and delicious swordfish. 

We hit the shops to buy food and also looked in a few antique shops for a coal scuttle for home. We spotted an oak barrel with brass hoops which would work a treat. The surly dealer wanted 60 euros. We retired horrified.
Later the same day,  different shop, similar barrel ...15 euros! Result. It's been stowed in a locker.

Today we had a much later start as the rain hammered down. L went to church the Grote Kerk very close to the boat. It was a mistake. 2 hours of Calvinist Dutch service, no english translation and not an idea what was going on! Impressive building though.

Talked to another British yacht, very rare to see one. They are doing same route as us but opposite direction. Have had similar frustrations with waiting for locks ... oh good!

Went to third museum on combi, large house of rich collector, for once not modernised but as when he died in 1921. Combi ticket supposed to be only one day, we played the innocent, thought it was w/e, how could we do three in one day, smile ... and the nice lady let us in. Very enjoyable. Refused the siren call of their cafe and scampered back to the boat. 

Later the weather improved and we had a stroll around old streets and waterfront, almost deserted. Perhaps it is the end of holidays here for the Dutch and they are back to work tomorrow - poor them. 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Half way notes

In time and miles we're about halfway. How to summarise the trip so far? 

Certainly successful in that last year we airily said "we'll go to Amsterdam and see some canals" without much idea of what was involved and needed. Then with minimal planning, a lot of it as we go along, we've made it work. Only today did we try to buy a chart for the Delta area because it is not covered by Staandemastroute or by Imray Netherlands charts (that we bought online in UK the week we left). The one Chandlers in town was open and he did have one copy of exactly what we needed. 

One downside was the 26 hour crossing, in that we asked ourselves "why do we do this" at 2am when approaching unidentifiable lights. And yet it is great experience and nothing bad happened. Another downside is the many mooring manoeuvres every day due to bridges and locks, and the small marinas. Our lovely strong seaboat is difficult to control at close quarters. And yet all we have is a couple of scrapes and some embarrassing memories, both of which can be polished away. Plus plenty of boat handling experience for the future. The language had also been a struggle; although they almost all speak English, the key navigation and information books are resolutely in Dutch only. And bridge timing info differs between 2 books and a website. Thank goodness for Google Translate! 

One could conclude from this that sailing out to sea during daylight is the way to minimise stress, and that's true if you are away from shipping lanes, shallow waters and vicious tides. Oh, that's why the Med is so popular! Ah but we don't like it that hot. Hard to please or what? There is another angle to reducing boat stress, and that's to stop doing entirely new things and places, and go where we have gone before while we still remember the tricks and rules for getting in and out. 

Of course we're glad we came and we're looking forward to more open water as we make our way home. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

The longest twenty miles

Today it took seven hours to go twenty miles. Even the slowest marathon runner would have outpaced us. 

As we left our mooring in Kattensingel in Gouda, a heron was scouting for breakfast just feet away. (see picture)  He nabbed a small fish effortlessly. We had already put away porridge.

To cut a long story short,  it was a day full of frustrations. It took an hour to get through the two tiny bridges and a lock only (a few hundred yards apart) which formed the entrance to Kattensingel. Slow wasn't the word.

As the waterway became more tidal and wider, (and more industrial) lo and behold we had tide against us. We had almost forgotten what that feels like...  Eventually it was 3.5 knots against us,  plus a stiff headwind too. Waves and all. It rained.

There was a large lifting bridge at one point where we had read it would open at 10 to and 20 past the hour. It was open at ten to. We rushed toward it. A loudspeaker boomed ' English sailboat go behind the other sailboats'. They were lined up at a waiting pontoon  waiting for 20 past. But how were  we to know? The Dutch expect you to know.

Later we arrived at a major bridge that we read would open at 1415. We were 35 mins early and looked for a place to tie up and wait. There was none! It was ridiculous. A total of nine yachts had been hanging around with engines on, idling in stiff tide and wind, waiting for the damn bridge. Sirena didn't find it easy to hold station thanks to her long keel. At last we got through. 

Finally we approached our goal, Dordrecht. The spires of the city looked pretty as the rain began again. We entered a small bridge into a city centre marina, tied up in a tricky berth only to have the harbour master whistling at us telling us we couldn't stay there as it was reserved for a long barge. Earlier we had been told we couldn't reserve a place! So we had to turn around in a small space using bow thruster and go into another berth, scraping on a pole as we arrived.

Both of us were hot, cross and frustrated. That wore off when we went for a short walk around the streets of the harbour area. It is on a bigger scale than Gouda and more graceful and imposing. However we fear the 67 bells of the Grote Kerk's magnificent carillion might just keep us awake tonight. 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Cheesy Gouda

Up early for once and a 12 minute trudge to the facilities in a restaurant alongside a different canal to where we are moored.

After our usual porridge and filter coffee breakfast on board we sallied forth and bought a few things in Hema (think Dutch Ikea) ... and had a second breakfast. Thence to the famous traditional cheese market held every Thu outside the Town Hall on the Markt. Supposedly farmers are actually selling to traders with a hand clapping routine, but actually it is all a pantomime for the tourists. Cheesy in all respects. 

On to St John's church, the longest church in the Netherlands with enormous stained glass windows. Architecturally spectacular yet somewhat soulless. Then through pretty back streets to the Museum Harbour containing various elderly Dutch barges. Back to the market to buy some fish for our dinner then back to the boat for lunch and a rest. Except L the indefatigable went off on a retail jaunt and N pottered about the boat. 

We feel we have done all the essentials of Gouda so tomorrow morning we continue south towards Dordrecht. We may stop on the way depending on progress. Btw another day of perfect weather. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Trees and cheese

We are sitting in the cockpit with the sound of leaves rattling pleasantly, shaded from hot sun by a glade of trees on the canal bank. This is the centre of Gouda, a medieval city famous for its round yellow cheeses. We are only 5 minutes from the Markt square.

We got here after a 2 and half hour sprint through more lifting bridges - including an infamous rail bridge. It opens infrequently and 3 different sources gave us 3 sets of timings for opening. We assumed if we didn't get there by 1015 we would have to wait another 3 hours for the sod to open, tied up at an unprepossessing edge of canal.

We thought we'd just missed it as we came steaming toward it at 1022. Much cursing. But hang on. There was a magic green over red signal and a display said it opened at 1027. Our timing turned out to be immaculate. Who knew.

Once through, there were more bridges, a lock (where the drop was a mere 11cm) and increasingly small bridges in ever narrower and shallower canals. Until at last we popped out into the Kattensingel a wide waterway fringed with trees in the centre of Gouda. We moored up alongside in time for lunch.

Then a short stroll to the Markt where an antiques and curio market was in progress,
coffee, ice cream and a trip around the glorious medieval town hall complete with ornate ceilings, which is now used for weddings. We sat in the wedding chairs to rest our hot feet. There's a lot more still to see.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Pottering through the Polder

JH De Brasem where we stayed last night was indeed an excellent find. We were given instructions by telephone then met on the pontoon with lines caught and a gift of a jar of gherkins. JH stands for Jacht Haven which means yacht marina. The other type of establishment is WV which means something like yacht club - a more basic affair. All of them are much cheaper than the city and coastal marinas, €15 per night instead of €25-30.

We slept shockingly late and finally got underway after 1200, the fresh breeze nicely blowing us off the pontoon and turning us in the small space to exit the very narrow gap. 

It's another steaming hot day, we're thankful for the breeze. We progressed southwards across the Braasemermere (which is open water mostly very shallow - we followed a buoyed channel) down the Woudwetering and Heimanswetering (canals again now) and through Alphen aan der Rign. A very pretty town from what we could see as we stopped, hovered, jilled and then hurried through 8 bridges. Sometimes we tied up, never waiting more than 10 mins. Once an enormous commercial barge appeared from behind and then drifted alarmingly close as we waited for the magical change of lights from red to red-green which means about to open. We had to assume he knew what he was doing although between him and the jetty even our solid Nicholson would have been crushed into (fibreglass) matchsticks. 

We are truly in polder land now (first pic), puttering along 3-5m above the surrounding land which is beautifully cultivated. Even the classic windmills to hand (guess the pic). We decided we did not have the energy for Gouda today, mooring might be tricky, so we executed plan B. Turning off the main canal into a side canal called Otwegwetering we tied up and telephoned a number given to us by the WV we're heading for. Five mins later a woman appears on a bicycle and hand winds the little bridge up with much smiling and waving (pic). 500m further on is the alongside berthing at WV De Gouwe also confusingly known as JH Boskoop. An elderly gentleman advised us against squeezing into a small gap and directed us to a larger slot with a green collar around the bollard which means available to visitors. 

I should say that at the entrance to the side canal we had 0.0 under the keel and all the way up it is only 0.4m. Outside the main canals (where we usually have 2m or more) is not for the faint-hearted re grounding. 

That aside this is sleepy heaven in the countryside. No-one about, perfectly adequate facilities, floating holiday houses on the opposite bank. A motorboat arrived, a friendly Austrian family - unusual to see Austrians in boats. As the sun begins to dip and the heat eases we prepare a small chicken curry aboard and anticipate G&T or Scotch to toast the sunset. 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Canal heaven

We awoke, groggy after 5 hours sleep, in the delightful sunny backwater which might be peaceful if not for the 6 lanes of motorway bridge and railway bridge nearby. We had breakfast and tried to pay. No said the harbour master. Don't worry we'll see you again.

We motored to the next massive bridge close to Schiphol airport, which only opens at 0530 and 1230. They closed the A9 motorway just for us this lunchtime, so we could motor under its giant bridge shadow trying not to dwell on the tonnes of metal propped high above us.

Through the twelve mile journey we saw countless lovely neat Dutch houses, many with their own private mooring on the canal. Cue fantasies about keeping Sirena moored by the front lawn. 

The sun was hot and white clouds moved across deep blue skies. Happy people cycled by the canals, children played in gardens, Dutch barges passed us. It was a glorious stereotype of everything you expect to see in the Netherlands. It made us smile.

There were more bridges which we dealt with easily by following a huge barge which got every bridge opened promptly. 

Near the airport we had the most shocking sight of the day. An Emirates jumbo coming in to land passed just 200 feet over our heads. You could see every rivet. 

The canal finally broadened into Braasememere lake and we tied up at a friendly small marina near some German boats. Now we can catch up on sleep and maybe dream of a little Dutch paradise.