Ghent to Dokkum: Chaos into Order
We are just ten days into an adventure we hope will last for many years. We are already losing track of time. Yesterday we had to check our iPhones to determine the day. We have nothing to do but relax and enjoy our travels, but every day is full.
On Wednesday morning after yet another surprisingly restful night at a motorway service station, this time near Ghent in Belgium, I drove for five hours along mile after tedious mile of motorway. Cynthia was waiting for me with Florence-the-Fat, a recent addition to our gypsy family. Florence is a shadow of her former self. At her heaviest, when she was used for breeding in a Pennsylvania kennels weighed an unhealthy 105lb. She had dropped to 95lb by the time Cynthia collected her on 10th August. Today, after many vigorous walks and a strict diet, she is a comparatively svelte 64lb. With her stumpy little legs, she still rolls onto her back every time she lifts a paw, but we love her.
I arrived in Rottevalle in what I thought was a pretty full motorhome. Two hours later, the Hymer was really full. We managed to squeeze in another five suitcases, four large wheelbarrows of additional bits and pieces, two very substantial Dutch bikes complete with cavernous panniers, and a folding covered trailer for transporting Tasha and Florence.
Bassets aren’t the most energetic dogs in the world. Tasha is a ten year old who has decided that walking is for the foolish. She likes to exercise by walking from bed to bowl and back again. Four year old Florence is much more energetic, but she can’t cover the distances that Cynthia and I want to travel when we explore. The two dogs are reasonably comfortable in the one trailer. As the one pulling them, I’m not so comfortable, but all exercise is welcome now that I have given up work for a living.
With everything on just about on board, and the motorhome bulging at the seams, we made a quick stop in Rottevalle for bike rack restraining straps and a small folding step. I suspect the Hymer’s previous owner was a giant. Each of our bikes is heavy, but I had to lift them at full stretch above my head to place them on the rack, and then climb onto the Hymer’s tow bar so that I could secure the bikes’ upper frames. We invested in a folding step to make the job less likely to result in a hernia.
Bikes secured, we drove two hours south west to Heemskerk for a two day campsite stay and Hymer reorganisation. I think I suffer a little from claustrophobia. I was certainly very uncomfortable indeed on the journey to Heemskerk. All of Cynthia’s suitcases and a jumble of odds and sods littered the cabin. We couldn’t put one foot in front of another without stepping or tripping. An emergency stop would have been very dangerous indeed.
We had the campsite to ourselves, which was just as well given the mess we made emptying the cavernous Hymer garage contents out onto the grass. By the time we left, we almost had an uncluttered cabin. Cynthia constantly chastises me for trying to do too much too quickly. I was frustrated by inability to move through our “home” without having to move something out of the way first. She gently reminded me that we were two days into our new life and that we had done very well indeed to reduce the contents of a three bed detached house and a 62’ narrowboat into a space the size of a modest conservatory.
We took a brief break mid organisation to take Tasha to a homeopathic vet in Heemskerk. Ten year old Tasha had lost her wag, her zest for life. I suspected encroaching old age. Cynthia assured me that the vet would be able to restore Tasha to her former energetic self, not that a ten year old basset can reasonably be described as energetic.
Cynthia was right. I was wrong.
The day after what appeared to be quite painful manipulation with fingers and acupuncture needles, Tasha had recovered her zest for life. She was so energetic she almost asked to go for a walk.
From Heemskerk we drove north east, then south around the vast freshwater Ijsselmeer looking for a suitably quiet spot to stop for the night. There’s never any shortage of these in the Netherlands. Our haven that evening was in a very quiet car park next to a twenty berth marina at Hinderloopen, empty apart from a single fisherman tinkering with his outboard motor, and a somewhat frazzled German on a ten meter hired cruiser.
Forty three year old Oskar was on a long weekend break with his three energetic boys, Emil, Mats and Jan, all under ten and all scampering over the boat roof when Oskar nervously navigated his large and delicate plastic boat onto an available pier. “These things are horrible to steer,” he told me, “I’ve had no training, but I have to allow for wind, and current… and keep an eye on the boys. I have to pay for any damage I do to the boat. I’ll be glad when I get back to my office. I would much rather manage mergers than mooring lines!” Something for Cynthia and I to consider as we are thinking about buying a similar length and style boat. Narrowboats, with their sturdy steel hulls and raised rubbing strakes, are much more forgiving.
We were parked within a marina close to their open facilities block, so we expected to be approached by a marina official at some stage to be either asked to leave or pay a fee for the night. We didn’t see an official, nor did Oskar.
After a peaceful night watching moonlight reflected in gently rippling marina water from our bedroom window we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast as Oskar reluctantly edged his boat out of the marina’s tight confines onto the open canal and his four mile journey back to base and sanity.
After breakfast we drove half an hour to a yacht broker at Heech. We’ve come to the conclusion that, much as we like them, Dutch sailing barges, tjalks and lemsteraaks in particular, are just not suitable for extensive inland waterways cruising. We were pretty sure that they wouldn’t suit us before visiting the brokerage’s eighty boats for sale, but we had to see several of them before ruling them out.
We told the broker our budget. Many he had for sale cost as much as a house. The ones we could afford where in his budget range, but what beauties they were. Here are a couple of photo’s of Cynthia and I with a particularly sexy one hundred and twenty year old tjalk.
We really liked this boat, but it’s just not practical. Even with the mast stepped, we would be too high for many Dutch waterway bridges, the large open back deck would be wasted space in all but the finest weather, and the boat electrics were limited to 12v. The broker mistakenly informed us that the only way to heat the boat was with a paraffin lamp but, even with the recently fitted Webasto diesel heater, we were very worried about an expansive damp patch on the saloon seating. Actually, that might have been my fault after the broker told me the boat’s fuel consumption.
Over the last few weeks I’ve become obsessed with the amount of fuel boats use on the inland waterways, and how much more they use than boats on England’s canals.
My old boat, twenty tonne, 62’ long Norton Cains narrowboat built in 1977 had a Mercedes engine which used an average of 1.37 litres of diesel an hour. I cruised over 1,000 hours in 2015 at an average of 2 mph. Most narrowboats use between one and one and a half litres an hour.
I was horrified to learn than boats on European waterways routinely use between three and seven litres an hour. Extensive cruising didn’t seem affordable until I put things into perspective.
On a road vehicle you talk about miles per gallon rather than litres per hour but, for comparison purposes, I worked out how many litres per hour our five and a half tonne motorhome uses. When we bought it in March and with very few of our possessions on board we managed 22mpg. Now that we have the vehicle packed to capacity, the average has dropped to 18 mpg.
At an average of 60 mph, we consume an eye watering fifteen litres an hour. Three litres an hour for a classic steel motor cruiser weighing twice as much as the Hymer doesn’t sound so bad now. I feel a little better about the fuel consumption. I would be happier with 1.37 litres an hour but my old 42hp Mercedes engine wouldn’t be powerful enough to manage the waterways safely over here. There are some narrowboats over here, but they aren’t the best tool for the job.
We left Heech happy that we’re wise to discount a sailing barge. Cynthia examined the map looking for a quiet place for the night and directed onto a very narrow series of country roads towards a lakeside hamlet.
We parked on a very quiet country lane between two expansive lakes. A white sailed windmill turned lazily in a distant field. The landscape was still, apart from a trio of coots floating slowly by on sparkling water. We’ve found some stunning places to stay for the night in the Netherlands, but this was one of the best.
While I settled down to do a little internet work, Cynthia walked the dogs through Sandfirden village to a small campsite on Flakke Brekken. The grassed pitches nestled a stone’s throw from the lake. For €16 we could have a pitch with electricity and use of their blazingly fast internet. We drove a mile to our new home for the night.
We spent the day basking in the sun on a lakeside pier, and the night alternating between swatting mosquitoes from the ceiling and pulling their blood-engorged bodies from our sleeping faces. Cynthia reacts particularly badly to mosquito bites so she has to be very careful to avoid them.
We viewed another boat in Leeuwarden the following day. This one was a Super Favorite classic motor cruiser, Bellissima a 9.7m long steel hulled boat with a 106hp Peugeot engine giving it a cruising speed of 10mph and a top speed of 15mph.
The boat was perfect in every way, apart from two very minor problems. It has two cabins, one of which I can use as an office, sleeps seven, is in immaculate condition, has an expansive cockpit area for lounging around in the summer, an average fuel consumption at 10 mph of three litres an hour, and is just about within our price range.
One small problem is that it has neither bath nor shower. That’s not a problem to me as I don’t use the Hymer’s claustrophobically small shower at all. I always use campsite facilities. As most of the campsites we’ve visited have coin operated showers, we could use these on our watery travels. There are plenty of campsites within easy walking distance of the canals, and there are plenty of marina facilities if we feel the need to pay for a mooring for the night.
The other problem is slightly more difficult and costly to resolve. We can’t get the dogs on or off the boat.
Bassets are not agile dogs. Walking is a chore. Jumping is out of the question unless the height is more a step than a jump.
Getting on and off Bellissima involves stepping two feet up onto the deck, stepping another two feet over the deck rail, and then climbing three feet down almost vertical steps into the cockpit. Neither of our bassets could manage this and both, especially big bird Florence, are far too heavy to lift in and out.
We want the boat, but we have to be practical. We need to determine the cost of altering a section of the hull to incorporate a door and changing the deck rail above so that it can be temporarily removed.
We will tackle these logistics once we have overcome one more high but scaleable hurdle. I’ll let you know about that in my next post.