Thursday, 31 July 2014

Canals and bridges

Waiting for the rail bridge at Gouda to open
Today we left Gouda early to continue our journey north. The picture shows a large group of boats jostling to get under the railway bridge at Gouda. The opening times of this bridge are dictated by the train times: it opens once every two hours and then only for a few minutes. There is a great scramble to get through and a risk that the slower and less manoeverable boats could lose out. We then traveled several miles down the canals passing under numerous lifting bridges of many different types. Each bridge presents its own challenges especially if there is a barge coming the other way. Being an open water yachtsman Dave had had little experience of navigating through  locks or bridges before this trip but we are now well on the way to regarding ourselves as experts.

The smaller Dutch canals wind through fields, towns and villages. Often they go past people's back gardens. Frequently we find the level of the countryside either side of the canal is actually well below the water level in the canal. These tidy Dutch houses with their elegant gardens exist in an artificial world, depending entirely on dykes, locks and water pumps.

In the afternoon we arrived at Braassemermeer, a large lake at the junction of several canals. The wide open space contrasts with the confined feel of the canals that we have become used to, and the water seems cleaner.

While here I cleaned out the engine cooling water filter, which had become partially choked with weed. Sometimes the murky canal water looks as though nothing much could grow in it, but the weed seems pretty resistant.

In the evening we went out for supper with some Dutch friends of Dave's, Vince, Heather and Roger. They visited and joined us in Bonita's cockpit, although having no nautical experience at all they declined the offer of a trip down the canal.

A Day In Gouda

Dave and I, and the crews of about 30 gaffers, spent the day exploring the quaint old town of Gouda. The first picture shows the very impressive sixteenth century town hall surrounded by a bustling market place. We looked round the interior of the magnificent town hall, and the cheese market where we felt we had to buy some cheese. The market stalls seemed mostly to be selling house clearance sort of stuff and although there were some interesting pieces we resisted the temptation to buy anything - attic to attic, dust to dust. 
Everywhere in the grand old buildings here there are reminders of the great wealth that the Dutch republic of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries built up from trading overseas. 
This more recent mural is a reminder of the hazards of the sea for those floating peacefully on the still waters of the canal.

Dave visited the Bonita boutique in the town centre (no other male customers) where the staff were jolly and friendly. He was generously presented with a Bonita carrier bag and a prized set of labelled Bonita coat hangers. 
The old boat may be a bit short on some of the comforts one expects on a modern yacht, but at least she now has her own personalised coat hangers.

In the evening we were entertained by a local shanty group
West Zuid West  who sang rousing sea shanties in Dutch and English with great spirit.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Dordrecht to Gouda

Today started with a guided tour of the old part of Dordrecht There are many fine buildings dating from the days with this was a prosperous trading port between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.

There were also several pictures and plaques reminding people of the devastation caused by the widespread flooding in 1953 which led to the building of the extensive and very impressive flood defences that are so often seen in Holland.

After our guided tour we left Dordrecht as a slightly ragged convoy at about midday.

This evening we are in Gouda. On the way we have passed through some of the busiest inland waterways in Europe; we have gone through three sets of locks and rather more lifting bridges.

This seems like a full day's work with plenty of opportunity for causing embarrassing and costly mistakes by minor errors of judgement when manoeuvring in confined spaces.

Gouda however is a quaint town and we are tucked away down a quiet side canal near the centre of town. The sad news is that D has had to go home, having stayed away from her medical duties for as long as she could. Bonita is now entrusted to the gentle care of just Dave and me until fresh reinforcements arrive at the weekend.

We found Bonita's namesake shop in Gouda although I fear it may not be doing so well as everything on sale is half price!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Next stop Gouda, Haarlem, Amsterdam then the Ijsselmer!

The major Dutch waterways that wind through town and countryside are very busy with lots of huge barges.
Many of these are 10,000 tons or more, and travelling at much higher speeds than Bonita is capable of.

These barges are always handled very skilfully and serious accidents are apparently very rare.

This AIS snapshot of our progress so far shows only a very small proportion of the other boats sharing the waterways.  Learn more about our final destination here.

Wemeldinge to Dordrecht

Today a massed group of about 60 old boats travelled in convoy through the inland waterways from Wemeldinge to Dordrecht.  They must have been a fine spectacle.

The trip was great fun but had its difficulties.  We left Wemeldinge in a rainstorm which reduced visibility to virtually zero.  The weather could only get better after that, though we had  head winds all the way.

The first picture shows a large commercial lock at Krammer crammed with elderly sailing boats.  At this point we left salt water and entered fresh, which we hope will discourage any barnacles on the bottom.

We had a scramble to fit into a smaller lock at Volkerak (picture #2) and some congestion getting under a lifting railway bridge at Dordrecht.  This only opens for 9 minutes every 2 hours so everyone was very keen to get through first time.  We're now in a small harbour off the main canal in Dordrecht

Although Bonita is difficult to manoeuvre under motor, many of the other old boats are not much better, so there's plenty of interest in watching them negotiate tight spaces.
We've seen a few minor collisions but fortunately without significant damage or loss of temper.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Rest day in Wemeldinge

After the labours of yesterday we had a rest day in Wemeldinge where many Dutch and English gaffers are gathered to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Dutch Old Gaffers. 

The day started with us moving Bonita into the inner harbour where all the other gaffers are. There is a very jolly atmosphere here.  There are so many old boats packed in there is very little space. Getting Bonita in needed some luck and a lot of skill on the part of the foredeck crew and several willing helpers, but all went well and the second photo shows her in her berth. Getting her out again will be tomorrow's problem!

The third photo shows the lovely 'Molly Cobbler', a 19ft gaffer owned by Mary Gibbs (green hull with yellow top band).

Mary has spent many years crewing for other people, but after going round Britain last year decided it was time she had a boat of her own. Having come over from the East coast she is now cruising the Dutch inland waterways.

Into the heart of the Netherlands

After a good start yesterday the trip across the North Sea was at times a bit of a plod. We had mostly light NE winds, the night seemed long  and the mer was a bit mal at times. Things brightened up with a northerly breeze this afternoon.

The picture shows us locking into the Osterschelde at Roompotsluis. The sheer scale and ingenuity of Dutch marine engineering is always impressive and the collective effort needed to keep the sea in its proper place seems to have influenced the Dutch society and culture in a unique way. We got into Wemelding at about 8 pm and found a large and jolly gathering of Gaffers.

Unfortunately we were not able to join them as they are in the inner harbour, we are in the outer harbour and the man with the key to the bridge separating them has gone home. Never mind; it was nice to meet some old friends and we hope to see more tomorrow.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Heading East

The picture shows Bonita with her all weather crew of D and Dave Patuck bravely sailing out of the Swale at the start of her cruise.

This is the same fine crew that took us safely on a stormy passage from Falmouth to Southern Ireland last May, when the weather was considerably colder. We had intended to leave our mooring at midnight last night after a day at work, but a forecast of NE force 5 winds made us think that a 12 hour delay and a night in bed might be a better idea.

We now have lighter head winds and bright sunshine as we head East, hoping to be in Holland in time to join the Dutch OGA party.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Bonita's 2014 cruise

Anxious and faithful followers of Bonita's blog may be wondering what the old lady is doing this year. Well, not very much so far.  However we are planning to cross the North Sea later this month to join the Dutch Old Gaffers who are celebrating their 10th anniversary. They are planning a cruise through the Dutch canals from the south to the north of the country.  Other East coast gaffers have been rather more active than Bonita: I have been enviously reading the blogs of Witch and Robinetta, both of which have done the long journey up to the North of Scotland this summer.

Inevitably Bonita needed quite a lot of cleaning and tidying during the winter. I cleaned out the fuel tank which had accumulated about 2-3 cm of sludge in the bottom. I revised and I hope improved the mainsail reefing gear.  Also a bit of carpentry was needed on the cabin sides. Bonita's cabin is unusual in wooden boats, having a double curved 'shell-back' cabin top fastened to the rounded cabin coaming. This arrangement looks lovely but is structurally weak, which is why most wooden boats have a sensible rectangular cabin and a plywood roof curved in one plane only. My father did a lot of work to strengthen the cabin sides over the years with copper and extra bronze fastenings, and I have continued the process using stainless steel. 

Fitting out for a cruise is always a busy and interesting process with all the many components that a boat needs - from antifouling paint to insurance with much else in between- all coming together just in time. This year I also decided I should get some certificates. I learnt mostly from my own and other peoples mistakes and have never had any certificates or qualifications in yachting. The last time we went to Holland -several years ago- they didn't seem to be needed. I was concerned that today this sort of optimistic attitude maybe isn't good enough, and on the inland waterways we could run into trouble if we can't produce the right papers at the right time. Therefore  my friend Geoff Jones and I spent a pleasant morning motoring with a little sailing in the river Medway, and we persuaded an examiner that we were competent. We both now have an International Certificate of Competency that we can show to anyone who suggests we don't know what we are doing.

At present the plan is to assemble a sturdy all-weather crew and, if the prospects look reasonable, to set out for the eastern horizon on Friday 25 July.