The plan was to go south from Leeuwarden into the district of lakes that is in the southern part of Friesland. You can cruise here in every direction, just for an hour or so, and come to a new place to moor. It is very popular with the Dutch, and all those that want to cruise a little, and relax a lot.
As we left Leeuwarden, we took a shot of one of the larger bridges, and one of the minority that lifts on an angle, a precise exercise in geometry when it is designed and built so it falls back into place nicely when it closes.
An hour or so south we entered the quiet, slow and shallow area of what was once peat bogs, and has now been made into a national park. The lakes are used for fishing, boating, sailing and just relaxing. Here we found our first Marrekrite mooring – a new one judging by the newly planted grass – and the only facility was a rubbish bin. Nowhere to go, unless it was by boat.
The next day we suddenly had a large vessel stop behind us, turned out it was the rubbish barge. It dropped two large spud poles to hold it steady and then reached over to pluck up and empty the rubbish bin. There are also barges that cruise the lakes taking on the “black water” that modern boats hold on board. Pumping that out is free. So these two services, in Dutch efficiency style, keep the park clean.
While we were there, and as we found ourselves with a sunny day, we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and make a start on the maintenance aspect of barge life.
There’s a Dutch saying ‘koop een boot, werk je dood’ – ‘buy a boat and work yourself to death’. It is certainly the case that there is lots to maintain, especially if you haven’t had any opportunity for what might be two years.
So Ian pulled out all the paints, varnishes and brushes from below decks and off we went. Ian is generally happier with larger paint jobs and I don’t mind the fiddly ones. So I volunteered to do a varnishing job, and thought I should begin with the roof hatches as they seemed to be in the poorest shape of all the external woodwork. But we soon realised they were going to need more than a coat of varnish. Most of Catharina’s windows are double glazed, but water had leaked between the glass panels of the bedroom hatches, and we could see they would need to be dried out. We sensibly agreed a glazier would be our choice of handyman, so this task will have to wait until we are in a suitable place for a few days. The woodwork on the hatches should really be sanded right back for a fresh start. So I abandoned that idea, and over the next few days, got a couple of coats on four of the large wheelhouse windows.
Feeling pretty satisfied with this effort, I foolishly decided to do a quick tally of the remaining external varnishing tasks: two double roof hatches, six large salon windows, two large bedroom windows, three front wheelhouse windows, two more at the back of the wheelhouse, one door, two flag stays and a mast! Probably not going to get all of that done this year.
There’s another piece of advice we were given – if you ask how many coats of varnish should be applied to external marine woodwork, you will be told “seven”. I think it is probably more along the lines of “how many have you done? Just one more should be right.”
So after a bit of work, we decided to change our mooring location to a shadier spot, a leisurely cruise of 800 m across the lake, to another pleasant mooring. Just because we could.
Service to your wheelhouse door
After a windy night, we did a little more maintenance until the bells started ringing for lunch. We looked out, and a tinny was puttering along, the guy ringing his bell, and we learnt of another maritime service on the lakes – the cruising deli. In response ‘to what do you have’, he said ‘Everything you could want’. In Dutch terms that means herring, eels, beer, salad and ice cream. And the newspaper.
So I called Ian over, shelled out a couple of euros, and lunch was ready – ice cream and herring.
‘Niewe harring’ is a very popular Dutch street food – immature herring, pickled for a short time in light brine and served with onions and sometimes pickles. Often in bread, or it can be consumed by dangling it from its tail and eating upwards. Not too bad if you like fishy taste and soft texture. Ian quite likes it, me, not so much.
Busy towns and waterways
So the plan was now that we pop into a town, restock some essentials (wine/beer/cheese) and move to another free mooring. The nearest town was Grou, and the books all raved about it. So off we went. When we arrived, it was the busiest place we ever been in. Craft were going every which way (it seemed to us) and all the town moorings we occupied. No chance for us to moor. We found out later that this was the first day of a big sailing event, and was the busiest day of the year in Grou.
This is the problem of travelling in August in Europe. It is summer holidays, and events pop up everywhere. For bigger boats like Catharina, it is harder to find moorings, so the strategy we have devised is to leave early in the morning, do a short cruise and arrive wherever after the morning crowd has left and there is the best chance to find a bigger space. Arrive at 2 pm, OK – arrive at 5 pm and you will have to be lucky. If there is an event, or it is a weekend – nothing is guaranteed!
We followed a paddle boat up the town canal, until we were stopped by a low bridge we could not pass. Time to retreat. We retraced our path, and using the database that our barging group provides, went off to Jirnsum, a smaller town where it seemed likely a mooring would be available. It was, although it was only half the length of Catharina – but long enough on a quiet canal. The supermarket had closed down long ago, so there was still the problem of the supplies.
We took off on our bikes for a gentle ride of 4 km to the nearest big town Akkrum, a very pretty place, and resupplied. On our return, we were content to stay overnight for €0.50 per meter – a very cheap municipal mooring – and take in a sunny evening accompanied by fresh beer, wine and cheese.
Our Own Island
Next we moved on towards the town of Sneek. It was a short but rainy cruise and, denied the chance to moor near a road that we could use to get to a town, we instead moored at a tiny island that had moorings on all sides.
When we moored, the only other boat was unoccupied (most Dutch in these areas carry small inflatables and use those to go on short jaunts to civilisation if required, leaving the bigger boat behind). As it was a rainy, painting was off, so we had a craft afternoon – I was beginning to crochet a rug for grandchild # 2, and Ian was splicing our new ropes.
While he had spliced a standard three braid rope last year, and had lots of instructions available for that task, this was four braid rope, and the only instructions available was a YouTube video in Spanish. Took a bit longer, but the results looked OK.
A very pretty location, and we put it in our notebook as a good place to bring our next guests, as an example of a pleasant wild mooring.
That evening, there was a rapping on our window, and outside, quite by chance and coincidence, we saw that it was one of my “Women on Barges” (WOB) Facebook friends. I knew that Petra was in the area, but had no idea where, or what her barge looked like.
So we had a very pleasant evening of conversation and, for our part, extracting lots of knowhow and local knowledge from Petra and Claus, who live on board Harmonie.
Promising to return, we took off across the lake next day towards the town of Sneek. We intended to moor there around lunch time, do a bit of shopping and then move on for another free mooring. Just managed to squeeze into the last available town mooring, and went off for shopping where Ian made a momentous discovery – but that deserves its own posting – so more on that later.
We had only one more full day’s cruising before we had to collect our next guests. This was going to be a trip to the town of Heerenveen where we planned to stop nearby or in the town, leave Catharina, and take the train to Amsterdam. There was a short route, retracing our travels, but a longer, more scenic and new route beckoned. So we wanted to press on a bit to get a head start on a long day.
Shopping done, we moved off to see how far we could get and when we had done enough we checked out the nearest Marrekrite mooring – but it was full. So, plan B into action, and we had our first go at fully wild mooring, and cautiously found some shallow water and dropped the spud poles. All went smoothly, and when we woke in the morning, we were still in the same place. Tick one more bit of experience.
Finding a train station
We now had one day of cruising to go, to find a place where we could moor Catharina near a railway station, so my sister and her partner would be able to carry their luggage to us. We had decided that the town of Heerenveen was a good candidate, and the cruise was planned around getting there, but viewing a bit of the local sights. So instead of the shortest route, we took a longer, more scenic trip. We were rewarded with some lush, quiet canals, some windmills, and squeezed past many cruisers lining a long narrow canal.
All pretty nice, but as we entered the main canal into Heerenveen, Ian took the turn a little tight and a shallow projection from the shore captured Catharina with a bump and a shudder. Grounded. Solidly. A lady rushed out to inform us we “couldn’t moor there” – to which I politely responded that was certainly not our plan. Reversing, forwarding, pushing – nothing moved us an inch. Then Ian put the bow thruster to full use, and tried to pivot the bow around into the middle of the canal, while I used a boat hook to push us away from the side. The bow thruster gave out as the batteries were exhausted after a modest amount of turn, but with the engine roaring, Catharina dragged herself slowly off the obstacle.
Shaken, but grateful, we passed the possible mooring in Heerenveen to find it occupied by a couple of little tinny’s, not even cruisers, some chained to the jetty. Inconsiderate! So we activated Plan B and continued to Akkrum, where we found a nice Marrekrite mooring near the town – but no access for pedestrians. Well, we could have sauntered into the field with the cows, but short of a swim, could not cross the canal to the town side. Fine though for us for one night – we always have everything we need on board. So we arranged a marina mooring in town for the next day, and early in the morning, took a short cruise there, tied up Catharina and went to the train station to travel to Amsterdam to meet my sister and Graham.
Again, lots of learnings in this part of our journey, and we enjoyed almost all of it immensely. We gained in experience, confidence, and reaffirmed our that our plans to cruise and stop in quiet, isolated spots was an essential feature of the barging lifestyle that we want.