2015 Barging Netherlands

Neo Vita’s last cruise

Sunshine and Rain

We arrived in Groningen two weeks ago, to several days of brilliant sunshine, over 35ºC temperatures, and much to finish organising. Too busy to write. We left Groningen to start cruising about a week ago, nice weather, lots to see and do, a visitor to entertain/enslave. Too busy to write. We’re at a wild mooring in a National Park, and it’s raining. Not so busy, so we’re writing!

<well this WAS written, but as AussieHost had failed to renew my domain registry, eurmacs.com has been off the Internet for some time. Took a while to sort out. Grrrr>


Most of our time we have been pretty much flat out buying, adjusting, rearranging, organising and so forth. This, coupled with the fact it does not get dark until 11 pm has meant long days, and we drop into bed exhausted at the end of the day. There have been times of relaxing, but so far, this has been about as far from a bludge as it is possible to imagine. That said, it has been great fun and very rewarding. We’ve now got about 90% of the settling in work done, but very little of the maintenance – lots of painting and varnishing to do when the weather gets fine, and we stop for a few days.


We’re going to post descriptions and pictures of the great work that Willem, Andrew, Claudia, Aldo and all the team have done to make our suggested improvements a reality. The work has been great. However, We’ll save that for a later posting.

Neo VIta in Willem's shipyard
Neo VIta in Willem’s shipyard


We brushed off the cobwebs with some very short, 200 m or so cruises up and down the blind canal in which Neo Vita was moored, where the shipyard is located. We practiced our forwards, reversing, 180º turns and mooring. In the quiet, and with plenty of space. It went pretty well despite ‘tapping’ a houseboat and startling the occupant on one occasion.

Our first cruise of the season was based around picking up our friend Steve, who was to be our first guest, and was going to stay for a few nights before he had to return to Amsterdam for a conference. Pickup and drop off was to be at Leeuwarden.

Map Groningen to Leeuwarden
Neo Vita travels from Groningen to northern Friesland – five days cruising


We left Groningen on a Tuesday, precisely at 10 am as the bridge was opened (pre-booked, only opens twice a day) and proceeded through the almost endless succession of bridges that characterise the Netherlands waterways.

Saying goodbye to Willem and his crew at Groningen - off to wherever..
Saying goodbye to Willem and his crew at Groningen – off to wherever..

Almost immediately, we had to pass through an enormous lock, one of few we are likely to encounter in this part of the Netherlands. We shared it with three giant commercial barges and learnt more about lock etiquette – which is basically ‘big guys go first’. Not sure of where to moor that night, we stayed in an outrageously expensive marina in the pretty village of Zoutkamp. We treated ourselves to a celebratory dinner out, our first since arrival, eating some of the plentiful local fresh fish.

Nice as the meal was, we rarely eat out, as we are very well fed by Chef Lisette, capable and inventive as always, and with some assistance from our new BBQ.

We eat well on board!
We eat well on board!


We left next day to traverse the Lauwersmeer, once part of the North Sea, but since 1969 when a dam was built to seal the northern access, it is now a large fresh water lake. With Lisette at the helm, we safely navigated it against reasonable wind and some chop, and cruised onto the old fortified, moated town of Dokkum. We had seen several photos of beautiful moorings in this town, near the windmills, and while waiting for the bridge to be opened after the lunchtime break, we tied her up and trotted off to check out what was available. Found a good spot and dashed back to Neo Vita to prepare to leave quickly. Only to have the key to the wheelhouse break while trying to get in.

Neo Vita is pretty secure when locked, and the prospect of breaking thick double-glazed windows was not appealing. Purely by chance, we had left the skylights closed but unlocked. Dropping through the open hatch and we were in. Spare key out (and several new ideas on how to avoid another possible lockout) and off to get to a great mooring near one of the two windmills. The windmills are actually built over the remains of the old cannon placements.

Lying in bed, we could see the windmill above us through our skylight
Lying in bed, we could see the windmill above us through our skylight

We stayed two nights in Dokkum, a pretty town, in great weather, but as we were still playing catchup with chores, only browsed around the town.

Becoming Catharina Elisabeth

Then we were ready for the trip to Leeuwarden to pick up our first guest, an old friend of ours from Uni days – Steve. He might have thought he was coming for a holiday – but we soon disabused him of that notion. Too many chores still to do, and an extra pair of hands was welcome. So, he had a working holiday, building new deck furniture and a barbecue, running errands, and most importantly, helping with the tricky task of placing Catharina’s full name on her bow. That was fully a three person job, with Steve and Ian holding the adhesive vinyl letters, and Lisette hanging from the rusty recovery ladder and attaching them.

Funny how easy it is to get your head through railings - and then MUCH harder to get back out...
Funny how easy it is to get your head through railings – and then MUCH harder to get back out…
"Just don't bounce on that rusty bottom rung, or you'll be swimming dear"
“Just don’t take one step down, or you’ll be swimming dear”


But it was a great moment to have her full name gloriously displayed on her bow, and we four celebrated with a glass of Veuve Cliquot champagne that Steve had bought along.

Popped the cork-

Cork on its way ...
Cork on its way …

Poured the glasses –

Nice bubbles Steve!
Nice bubbles Steve!

Gave Catharina Elisabeth her drink –

Christening Catharina Elisabeth
Christening Catharina Elisabeth

And her proud owners posed with her for pictures before finishing their drinks.

Proud owners
Proud owners

We’ve kept several mementos of Neo Vita, especially the door to our bedroom, which has a fabulous glass etching of her name, compass headings and a picture of her cruising.

Remembering Neo Vita
Remembering Neo Vita

We will forever remember the tremendous new experience that she introduced us to during that first season’s cruise that she took us on.


The next day we set off for a short run to the town of Franeker to give Steve a taste of cruising. After a little over two hours, we moored up, and did a few more chores – well Steve did, while we supervised! Then we went off to visit the Eisenga Planetarium.

Very civilised - Planetarium with coffee shop
Very civilised – Planetarium with coffee shop

This is the oldest working planetarium in the world. It has been operating continuously and open to the public for almost 250 years. Eise Eisinga was born to a family of woolcombers, and barely completed primary school. However, his intellectual capacity and thirst for knowledge was quickly recognised, and his father arranged for Eise to have supplementary lessons from a teacher in town. At the age of 15, he published his first book – a 650 page tome on mathematics. At 17, he had published a book on astronomy. He wanted to build a planetarium to educate the residents of Franeker which would be constructed in his and his wife’s house, using their living room ceiling. Ten thousand hand made nails, nine pendulums, intricate gearing and precise measurements (well Saturn was a bit off apparently) and seven years later (6.5 years longer than planned) it was finished and Eise’s wife had her bedroom back.

Eise and his wife's bedroom, you can just see the top of the bed alcove below in the centre
Eise and his wife’s bedroom, you can just see the top of the bed alcove below in the centre

It is truly amazing, still accurate and is being maintained using his original instructions (when to lift the various pendulums, when to move a piece by a millimetre, when to tighten a screw…).

Built to a scale of 1 mm to 1 million kilometres
Built to a scale of 1 mm to 1 million kilometres

The earlier photo of the roast chicken was that night’s meal, and leftovers made a few nice chicken sandwiches.

The leaning tower of Leeuwarden

Next morning, we started back to Leeuwarden as we had finished most of the construction jobs, so Steve could get back to Amsterdam to have a rest. As it was a short trip, after we had moored we had some time for a little touristing, Steve seemed insistent that we leave Catharina and take a stroll through town – can’t imagine why!

Leeuwarden has its own leaning tower – the Oldehove. Construction on the church was started in 1529 but the land was reclaimed marsh and the tower soon started to tilt. They tried shoring it up with clay, but eventually the project was abandonned. The angle of leaning is 1.99 metres! Two enormous bells cast in the Leeuwarden foundry in 1633 and 1636, ring out on the hour.

They gave up building when the tilt became excessive - at only half the planned height
They gave up building when the tilt became excessive – at only half the planned height

After a pleasant late lunch at a cafe, we bade farewell to Steve, and promised him next time that he would get more time sitting in a deck chair, we returned to Catharina and more chores and tweaking. As we still had a few more significant items to sort out, we decided to stay a couple more days to sort these out. A number of things were of a hardware nature, we needed a good hardware store.

Willem and Andrew had recommended ‘Auke Rauwerda’ a store that was just a 200 m or so away.

Single door to get in, and a six foot counter - that's all
Single door to get in, and a six foot counter – that’s all

They say in Leeuwarden, and throughout the entire region, that if you want some any item of hardware, and can’t find it in Rauwerda, then it doesn’t exist.The place is amazing. It’s over 80 years old, and now occupies seven houses and several floors in some of them, absolutely packed with every hardware item imaginable. Shelves upon shelves of bolts; shelves upon shelves of nails; – and on and on.

Expanding up and down the street
Expanding up and down the street

For those familiar with Bunnings, I can say without any exaggeration that for every one item that is in Bunnings, there would be ten more variants in Rauwerda. Then add in all the marine items and it is a hardware wonderland.

Our last day in Leeuwarden was highlighted by meeting up with the first of the friends we had made through the various social media channels that cruising folk use. We had a great evening with Sheila and Paul, starting in the mid-afternoon with tea and coffee on Catharina, and then moving onto beer and wine on their 12m cruiser Papillon in the evening. We listened abashed at how poorly treated they were by the Australian government, forced to leave after seven years because of some visa technicality. Turns out, our loss, they’ve done well since. We weaved our way home at a little after 11 pm, just as it went dark, realising that our plans to leave at 9 am in the morning were in tatters – but not caring a whit.

So here we are now, writing this the next day, now onboard Catharina, and we’ll cover this first ‘outback’ phase of our journey in a future posting.

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    11 Responses

  1. Love your notes on Leeuwarden. My father was from there. I have been a number of times and still have relatives there. Lots of memories of dotting uncles and aunts.

  2. Loving your blogs. How wonderful to do what you are doing.Love from us both.xx

    1. We are having a great time. Every day is new, never know where we will spend the night or what it will look like.love, Lisette

  3. Nice to have you guys back up again. Wondered what had happened to the website. Enjoy!

  4. Thanks for an entertaining read guys! Sounds like so much fun….and a lot of work. Thanks also for sharing about some amazing places, that only a ‘local’ would know. I’m staying tuned for the next exciting episode from the Catharina Elisabeth.

  5. Congratulations on making Catharina a reality. Sounds like you are having an awesome time. Thanks for the photos. Bruce will send you his order for stuff from the hardware shop!

  6. Just back from sunny Colorado and loving your latest travelogue. I was wondering who the 4th glass of champagne was for. Nice to have the original name back on her but with an excellent glass memento of Neo Vita.

  7. Glad to hear you back on the airwaves, was thinking you may have got stuck on a sandbank somewhere but still never a dull moment. Sounds just like renovating a house/farm but at least darker earlier here. The new name sign looks great, looking forward to further pics and postings.

  8. You really must have worked me hard, I didn’t notice the door to your bedroom – looks great!
    Loved the whole experience and hopefully will get a chance to do it again.
    Happy cruising.

  9. Well you sure made up for being offline. I just love the stories and the photos are great. Did you forget Jack is a locksmith and he could have popped over hahha. By the sounds of it you are having a ball and the new name is pretty unbelieveable even a tear in the eye. Safe travelling and yes of course your little girl is just amazing the words never stop coming but I am sure you can hear that when you have facetime. Love to you both xxxx

  10. How are you Lisette l have been thinking of you all night. I wish we could do something this end. I know you are in very capable hands with your ship captain. Thankfully you have Jill with you so that is of some comfort. I know you will not this little mishap deter you both but it does set certain tasks a little bit difficult. Love to all xxxx

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