Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The joys of an open steering position

The Vereeniging on the day we arrived next to the Hoop in the Oude Haven

Back in 2001 when I bought the Vereeniging, I didn't really stop to think of much at all other than the fact that I wanted this barge. It had meant a great deal to find a boat that was so very much me. Firstly was its name - the Vereeniging, spelt with a double 'e' and not the single 'e' used for the word 'society' here. As many of you know, I lived in South Africa for much of my life and the town of Vereeniging (with a double 'e') to the south of Johannesburg, was a favourite with me. It seemed just right that the barge I'd fallen in love with from a photo should have such a special and familiar name and one which I associated with calm tranquillity and the warm sunshine of my former adopted country.

There were of course other bonuses to Vereeniging, the barge. It wasn't too long (19,8 metres), it wasn't too wide (3,2 metres), and it was low and sleek, meaning I could creep into places other more muscular, barges could not follow. In fact, with the charm of its ancient engine (a single cylinder hot bulb installed in 1921) and its old fashioned good looks, there was not much that could have dissuaded me from making the offer. Which I did. There and then.

Still, before I bought the Vereeniging, I'd had something of a checklist of requirements. The length and overall size checked out perfectly, but one thing I'd wanted very much was a nice, cosy wheelhouse. My early days as a resident of the Oude Haven were punctuated by spells of sitting in the wheelhouse on the Hoop, the barge I was renting from my friend, Philip. I'd sit there next to the upside down toilet (which never found its intended position and aim in life) and watch the ducks while I drank endless cups of coffee. The dogs also liked sitting there and watching Sea TV (okay, it's a river, but they didn't know that). The cast of characters never changed much: Mr and Mrs Mallard and their hundred and plenty offspring, varied occasionally by the Cantankerous Coots, hustlers of local notoriety and now and then Ma and Pa Swan whose main line seemed to be 'Give us a snack' in varying tones of aggression. At least it wasn't too challenging a script as they never seemed to forget what they had to say. Anyhow, it was really great to sit there and I was determined that any barge I bought should have a wheelhouse for sitting in too.

Well of course I forgot this completely the moment I saw the Vereeniging. It had everything I wanted, that is, barring two rather important features: firstly it was totally empty. A shell with a rotten wooden floor and only rusting iron for walls, so zero accommodation. Secondly, it had no wheelhouse. Still, I reasoned, the price was good, and I couldn't afford the Hoop anyway, so the selection committee was down to beggars, and we all know about them.

My first reminder of what I'd so conveniently overlooked was our maiden voyage from Grave (pronounced a gutterel Hraava in case you had other ideas) near Nijmegen in the east of the Netherlands. It was December, 2001 and we had a journey of some 120 kilometres to make. The day was arctic with winds that slashed at us in icy shards. And there we stood - at our open steering position, exposed to it all. Oh joy!

There is a an article here published by the tugboat owner who assisted us on this trip, and he took this photo of me looking clearly huddled and miserable (yes I did have dark hair in those days, but not naturally even then). It was an exciting journey for all sorts of other reasons (to be found in Watery Ways, the book), but it was also an extremely cold one.

While I have never regretted buying the Vereeniging, I still think wistfully of the Hoop's lovely wheelhouse and often scheme about how to add one to my little barge. Sadly, I have been through all the possibilities mentally and on paper, and it would not work. More importantly, it would look so out of keeping, it is not even thinkable really, but still I dream. To be confined to travelling in the warmer months in this part of the world is somewhat limiting to say the least, so if anyone has any bright ideas, feel free to send in your plans! I want something like this (see the Hoop below). What do you think?

The Hoop as it was when I  was Philip's tenant.

Sindy on the hatchboards as a youngster


  1. Hi Val .. I must buy your book to read more about the waters of Europe .. and your trials and tribulations as well as those days of treasure .. cheers Hilary

  2. Well, put it this way, I can't steer my house anywhere at all... so I am still envious!!!

  3. It all sounds so splendidly piratical and daring that I can't even contemplate plans and designs (not my forte), but the wheelhouse looks as if it might be cosy... and certainly better in the rain and the icy blast. From an English waterways perspective, your barge seems huge compared with a narrowboat!

  4. Haha you don't know how this hits home! When Pete first built our yacht he sneered at 'weekend sailors' who had wheelhouses. 15 years older he now coverts their warmth and comfort! Is the Hoop's wheelhouse a folding one? Our wheelhouse will be the last thing we tackle unfortunately as I cannot wait to sit up there with my cup of tea watching Sea TV! Xxxx

  5. It does sound like an amazing way to live. And I'm glad you gave us the pronunciation of Grave. I had thought it as you predicted!

  6. Hilary, I'm working up to writing the sequel now. Watery Ways is more about my life on the Hoop, but the next one will be hundred percent Vereenigin.

    Carol, maybe a narrowboat is on your wishlist then?

    Christina, there are many narrowboats that are longer than the Vereeniging, but I admit it is wider than most.

    Fran, the Hoop's wheelhouse was officially collapsible, but I never figured out how it would be possible! I think someone had done something to prevent it collapsing spontaneously, so it couldn't do it anymore.

    Ros, I being English too, I know how I would have pronounced it had I not been told :-)

    Thank you all for your comments!

  7. Inspiring, even in hindsight. <3
    And... they must buy your book!

  8. Thank you Monsieur Anoniem! Your vote of confidence means a lot :-)

  9. It seems such a lovely way of life and quite romantic,thanks for a peep into it.
    Is Anyone There

  10. "Sea TV". I always say that for the girls if they are watching birds out the window-- it's bird TV for them.

    You my have touched on this question before in a post, but I ask, we're you always attracted to the water and wanting to live on the water?

  11. Ps: forgive me , this and your last post did not appear on my update bloglist, and I see things not in order. It very well may be my iPad ( things appear differently with this ipad at times).

  12. Grace!! So glad to see you again, and don't worry, I'm just happy to see you here. Haha, we used to have bird TV too :-) Hope you are well, my friend xx


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