2014 Barging Netherlands

Elburg – and the Sailing Ships

We never know what we will find at each new place. We have some books and maps. We use the Dutch Barge Association’s website to check postings made by other travellers regarding moorings and facilities. We use Google Earth. But until we arrive, we don’t even know if there will be room for us to moor overnight.


Cruising into Elburg, we saw a place large enough for Neo Vita and tied her up. A lovely gentleman from an old sailing ship moored just in front of us, took our ropes and fed them through the mooring loops. Sometimes people hang around as we come in, and will often offer to take a rope to help us. We do fine on our own, but it is the camaraderie that gives it a special meaning. And this is usually a prelude to “where are you from..?”

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He told us there was a huge festival of the fishing boats that weekend. This was Wednesday, and we learnt the boats would start to arrive the following day. Paying the harbour master for our mooring, we were advised that the harbour would soon be full, and it may be necessary for boats to tie up against each other (which happened to us twice over the next few days). So while we were really pleased we had a mooring, Ian decided we would cycle back, untie her, and whip her around to face the other way so that we would not need to do a full turn with a busier harbour when we wanted to leave. As it turned out we stayed 4 nights anyway – it was way too much fun to leave during the festivities.

Elburg is an old fortress town, and we spent the next few days cycling around the ramparts, strolling the paved streets, and having late afternoon beers in the sunshine at various street cafes. The outer cottages of the old town were all built against the fortress walls,

Elberg Houses in the Walls

and for some of them the surrounding moat enters the town from beneath the house. These small canals are just part of the landscape.

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Parade of the Boots

Late on Thursday the boats (which had slowly been arriving all day) started to parade past – a magnificent sight! It took more than an hour for all of them to pass (we estimated around 100 of them) – beautiful 100-year old wooden boats (boots), with enormous masts. Each one has two letters painted on it that shows the port of registration (EB: Elburg; VD: Volendam and so on). Boots had sailed to Elburg from all over the Netherlands to participate in the festival.

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For the parade, they gracefully cruised past (we were on our aft deck with wine and cameras) to the mouth of the harbour, and once all were out, they slowly came back in.


It’s not hard to paint this picture – late afternoon sun, highlighting the warm aged wood tones of each boot, accompanied by much singing and waving and calling out to friends.

Some of the boots had brass bands on board; one had a troup of women singing, all decked out in traditional clothing and lace caps. On another a lone piper was playing. And on another a guy started singing “Bound for South Australia” when he saw our flag.

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As the sun was finally setting, and all of the boots were safely back in the harbour for the night, the three that had brass bands on board ceremoniously tied themselves together at the bow, and there was more music and singing. I’m pretty sure the local mayor made a short speech – but it could have been in Dutch for all I could tell.

Three bands meet

The Regatta

The next morning, the boats started past us again – to the mouth of the harbour and out under the bridge. We dashed up on our bikes so we could watch as the bridge (we had cruised under this as we arrived in Elburg) would be raised for 20 or so boots to pass at a time. As they cleared the bridge, their sails went up and it was a glorious sight.

Herding the Boots

The day was a ‘friendly’ racing regatta, and they all came back late in the day full of good humour ready to party again that night.

Boat School

On the Saturday morning, we heard children singing – rushing up on deck we found a small group of little sail boats, with one youngster in each, being towed by the trainer boat. They resembled a group of ducklings being taught how to swim. The lead boat would swing gently from side to side and round in little circles – so very cute. As they passed us, the teacher led them in a round of “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi”.

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Monument Day

Back in town we found a market in full swing. There were local crafts, and food stalls (fresh gingerbread, heaps of different kinds of fish) and music. So much music. It was another warm sunny day, and really pleasant to stroll around. This was Monument Day, where all historical buildings were opened for free. We went through the boat museum and under the ramparts where the gunpowder and canon balls were stored, and from where the locals could defend the town from intruders via interconnecting stone tunnels hidden under grassy knolls.

One of the highlights was a trip we took on one of the old boots. Many of the individual owners made themselves available to take small groups out of the harbour (under power) and back to the harbour entrance under sail.

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We cruised out under power, but sailed back. They look magnificent under sail, and it is so peaceful with just the wind to power us along.

Boots under sail

We eventually returned to Neo Vita, and made arrangements with the boat moored to us to leave early the next day, as they would have to be up to cast off from us, and looked forward to an easy cruise the next day. Fools that we were – heading for our experience with the ‘saving boots’!

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    One Response

  1. You guys have been so fortunate to happen upon all of these festivals. Such a wonderful way to kick off your barging experience!

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