The photo above was taken on a happy day in September 2008 when the the barge in the picture, the Hennie Ha, was newly ours and we had just finished sprucing it up to take it to its new home in Sas van Gent. We were celebrating our delight with the work we had done. However, the four years since have seen troubled times for our little barge. At the insurance inspection we'd had done in Rotterdam, the inspector told us we would have to have the steel plates that had been used to 'double' the bottom removed and replaced. They were too thin to be acceptable and we were given one year to have the work done.
Shortly after this happier photo was snapped, we made the journey through Zeeland as far as Hansweert, where I left Koos to go back to work in Rotterdam. Koos continued across the Westerschelde, an estuary so busy with sea-going ships and so riddled with sandbanks and shallows that you need a special licence to navigate it. He made the crossing without mishap, but just as he turned into the big sea canal from Terneuzen to Gent, the steering shaft broke. Some of you who have been reading my blog a long time might remember this episode. It was traumatic for Koos but a blessing that it happened so close to a lock and not out in the middle of the main shipping channel.
He was given a tow to Sas van Gent, and since then, the furthest the Hennie Ha has travelled under its own steam is from Zelzate (four kilometres towards Gent) back to Sas after having spent nearly a year at the shipyard having its bottom replaced (so to speak).
It took close to the year we were given to organise these very necessary repairs as we couldn't find anyone to do the work at a price we could afford. Some of you might also remember that at the first attempt, the yard at Zelzate could not lift the Hennie Ha with their crane because it was too heavy, so she had to be towed back to Sas by our narrow-boating friends, Olly and Anne on the Wandering Snail. That was on 2 July 2009
The second attempt was made early in 2010. In the intervening months, we had looked at several other options, all of which were too costly and the Hennie Ha just lay sadly at its berth. Except for the fact that Koos managed to fix the steering and I did my best to keep up with the maintenance, it could not go anywhere. Had any problems occurred with the hull, we would not have been insured, hence we were effectively 'gated'. In the end, another arrangement was made with the yard at Zelzate and Koos risked the trip back. This time the barge was pulled up the slipway - where it remained until February 2011.
In May 2011, we attempted a trip out with some friends, but once again, the steering gave problems. By this time, our confidence in the little barge had dropped again, and it never really recovered sufficiently to get things moving again during 2011. Apart from that, the rest of the year brought other priorities that needed our attention and so the Hennie Ha lay in its berth again.
This summer did not really materialise until this month, weather wise, and again, there were other priorities that prevented us from testing out the new cooling system that Koos had set up in June. Still, (and yes, you knew I'd come to the point eventually) we finally did it.
As I mentioned in my last post, after some very necessary testing - and I won't bore you with the details - we were finally satisfied the Hennie Ha was ready to go again. So, today, we did it. It took some resolve - after all, our faith in the boat had taken some knocks - but we finally cast off and went for a test run. The silly thing is that it was so thrilling and so exhilerating I totally forgot to take any photos!
We didn't go far. Bit by bit, you understand. Next time, it will be further, and we have a special trip in September to aim for. The point is, though, we did it. Out and back without a problem. Are we pleased? We are. More than just a bit.