Saturday, April 30, 2016

Boat hunting

Just recently, I've been checking out the boats for sale sites. I do this now and then, not particularly because I want to buy another barge - I am far too attached to my Vereeniging to contemplate such  treachery -but because I love barge viewing just as much as I love house viewing. Nothing gets me going so much as when a member of my family says they are looking for a house to buy. It's my excuse to log into the property sites and start scanning for the potentially perfect home. Well the same applies to boats. I have Apollo Duck permanently bookmarked on my laptop as well as a few favourite Dutch sites such as Fikkers and Boten te Koop. I can spend hour upon happy hour on these sites, dreaming impossible dreams.


Actually, I rather miss not having a barge to look for. None of my offspring is currently in the market for a barge and no one I know is aiming to buy right now. Rather the opposite; they are all trying to sell. But it takes me back to the time I first started looking at barges as an alternative to a house. It was when Bill the erstwhile and I decided this was a viable option for us as we couldn't afford to buy a house in Holland when we first came here. What funds I'd brought from South Africa disappeared into the big money pit scam titled Exchange Rate Disaster and the only affordable possibility was something the size of a lock-up garage (single, not even double) or a potting shed.

However, the world of barges opened up a whole new scenario for me. I'd never before looked at a floating home. After seeing the size of the accommodation on the huge commercials, I realised that the living space was easily as big as a large apartment. But we weren't planning on plying the trade, so we had to downscale and look at the smaller, older barges in which the holds were, and still are, often converted to houseboats. We then had to decide how big (or small) we wanted it to be, or how old, and even whether we wanted an authentic, original barge or one that had been modernised.

What type barge would we want. There were so many to
choose from

 These were all considerations. Of course, there were even more important concerns such as how thick the bottom was, whether it had any unintended holes, threat of holes, hint of holes or otherwise. What was important, though, was that whatever we chose had to be liveable on immediately. Yes, immediately. The fact that back in 2000, we were paying the equivalent of €1200 a month rent for a flat with stairs so dangerous I'd fallen down them twice and broken my ribs was quite compelling. We had to get a mortgage to buy our first floating home, but even at the higher interest rates for barges, this would still be a lot cheaper than our astronomical rent for an apparently life-threatening environment. Okay, so maybe I was just clumsy, but even so.


Some typically steep Dutch stairs


And so we began the search. It was actually amazing. It took us to parts of the country we might not otherwise have visited for years, and in some cases, never. For instance, we went to see a barge moored on a tiny canal in the depths of Friesland. It was virtually hidden among the reeds and accessible only by crossing a field of waist high grass in front of the owner's remote country house. It wasn't what we were looking for, fortunately, as I had to wonder how on earth anyone was going to extract it from where it seemed to be firmly lodged - in the mud.


Reed lined banks deep in Holland's heart

That said, we'd never have wandered so far off the main routes in Friesland otherwise. We went to all sorts of other interesting places too: to Leeuwaarden to see a huge 38 metre Kast and also a Stevenaak, one of a very rare breed of beautiful barges. Sadly, this one was in such a mess, we knew it would never meet the criteria for the mortgage we needed. Other places we went to were Urk and Harlingen, both lovely towns that might have taken us several years to reach had we not been barge hunting. Eventually, we found 'the one' in Purmerend, a town north of Amsterdam and curiously, the place were Koos spent much of his youth (not that I knew that, or even him, at the time).

We went to places we might never have visited
but for barge hunting. 
It's a bit of a shame, but I've forgotten the name 'the one' had when we bought it. It was something like a combination of Johanna Jacoba, but I'm not really sure. I remember other things though. It was originally a sailing barge, 27 metres long and built somewhere around 1905, but it had been modernised in the 1970s and not very sympathetically. It had the most hideous wheelhouse ever - and I really mean that. I've never seen one as ugly since either. And it had a not very attractive modern build up. At first sight, I remember thinking 'oh no! And then we went inside and I thought 'oh yes!'

It wasn't the height of luxury or anything like that. It was just really homely and well fitted out, and I could imagine living on it without changing a thing. There was a neat 'man's den' type workshop in the bows, then behind that the bedroom (I only later found out the hatches leaked - right over my pillow). Next came the toilet, a rather throne-like room because you had to climb a couple of steps up to the loo (something to do with the gravity needed for pumping out, but it certainly made going to the loo feel like an act of some import). Then the main hold contained the lounge and kitchen, a light, airy space due to the many windows and skylights. The kitchen was at the stern end of the hold, and then behind that, up a couple of steps, was the shower and then the wheelhouse, which was a lovely place to sit once you were inside.

As soon as we'd been through the barge and discovered how good it was technically, we knew our search was over. I must admit I was a little sad but also relieved. As far as I was concerned, the barge didn't need a thing doing to it, except perhaps revising the wheelhouse from hell. I loved it. But to get a place in the Oude Haven, we needed to have a restoration plan. And that's how it went wrong in the end. But that's another story and, unless I can inject some humour into it, not one for my blog. But we'll see. You never know.

The thing is, and coming back to the beginning again, the fun we had looking for barges is what I really remember and so I still love doing it. After all, there is always that tiny, teeny hint of a possible life change, isn't there? And that's what keeps it exciting!

Dreamy stuff or the stuff of dreams



14 comments:

  1. I can understand why you love looking at barges. I love looking at houses although after buying one last year I had to avoid looking for a while to save my sanity. You have hair the nail on the head it is the possibility of a life change, and what your life would be like if you lived in that house or that barge. I even love looking at houses costing millions ,ah well we can dream. Those stairs are dangerous!

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    1. Oh Anne, yes! So do I! Dreams are good for us, I'm sure :) Yes, those stairs...the ones in the picture are quite short, but I have friends who live on the two upper stories of a townhouse and the stairs up to their apartment are terrifying. The ones I fell down were the same...I fell two floors worth and my ribs still hurt now and then.

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  2. Val.In my private thoughts or day dreams even, I have often considered what it might be like to live on a boat. Why ? Well, mainly because I recall still the sense of being buoyant that I used to feel when going aboard my father's and friends boats in my youth. The practicality of actually putting it into practise in this country stops me and so ends my dream.

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    1. Ah Mel, dreams are still good to have, even if they aren't realisable. Dream on!

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  3. Oh I could thst 'could I live here' feeling - I don't go home-hunting, but I've been in so many cities that still tug at me every time I visit.

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    1. I have that too, Jo! Places I feel I could live are more than I'd ever manage in one lifetime!

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  4. well, I would never contemplate living on a barge, as you know, but I love reading about your life and this was a cracker of a read! Keep them coming, Val. One day I shall pay you a visit and you can show me round!

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    1. Aww, thank you, Carol! I would love to show you my world xx

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  5. Another great blog! No problem with barge hunting for the excitement of it...you never know! But, oh my, those stairs! Ouch! You keep life interesting and amusing...even for those of us not fortunate enough to live on a barge!

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    1. Ah, Stephanie, it's just the fascination we all have of life in a different country...you should write a memoir about what it was like to move from Bandera to Scotland ;)

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  6. I love barge hunting and get quite disappointed when there are not enough photographs on the webpages! Funnily enough we found some beautiful places too when we were barge hunting in Holland and met some wonderful people. Thank heavens for the SatNav otherwise we would never have found anywhere xxx

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    1. It's fantastic isn't it, Fran? I love going looking. It gives a reason to explore places you'd never see, wouldn't it?

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  7. Another great read, Val. Like you, I love looking at other people's homes - any excuse will do... but looking at boats is another dimension...

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    1. Well there you are, Stephanie...a whole new reason for exploration! Try it! And thank you :)

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