Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vicarious adventures

So much has happened in the past twelve months that dreams of going faring for any length of time have had to be shelved along with my planned sabbatical. The dream will come true, but just not yet, so I'm having to satisfy my craving to go travelling by vicarious means (don't you just love that word? It's what Jodie would call a purring word ;-)).

At the moment there are three wonderful blogs that I'm following in particular, apart from my usual rounds, and they all involve long distance journeys on the waters. The blogs in question are NBHerbie, the almost daily log of a three month plus cruise round England's canals, rivers and Fen ditches; Blauwe Vis, our friend Philip's tales of his travels through France and Wandering Snail's Wanderings, stories and photos of an English Narrowboat's meanderings through Belgium.

Reading their stories has been fantastic. I've followed their progress and both laughed and gasped with them at every twist and turn. Neil of the Herbie blog writes in a lovely, friendly self deprecating way, but reading between the lines, you just know he knows how to handle his boat (and himself) in some pretty scary situations. He also gives heaps of information about the wildlife, countryside and birds that they see on their way. I never realised England had so much truly rural and unspoilt fen land, and I check his blog every day as I hate to miss an update. He takes some mean photos too.

Philip's blog is like following my own dream of going to France on the Vereeniging, but apart from that, his story telling is so vivid and colourful, it should be a book not a blog. Sadly most other people won't be able to read it as he writes in Dutch (naturally) and also in quite an informal and colloquial style. Sometimes I have to read his posts two or three times before I really understand everything, but all the same, I love them and it's like hearing him speak. He always was good at spinning a yarn..... And, these accounts are full of local life and characters, but with probably just a few small embellishments here and there to add a bit of sauce to the flavour! His photos are also terrific and tell the story of his travels really beautifully too.

The last one, Wandering Snail's Wanderings, is a recent find and I discovered them through Saltysplash, whose blog is another on my list of favourites. When I saw that Wandering Snail was a narrowboat cruising through Belgium, I read the blog from start to finish, and am now following it regularly. What was even more of a thrill was that we came across them ourselves when visiting Ieper last weekend. We'd decided to have a day out, and were originally going to go to Bergues in France on the strength of one of their posts. After slogging a hundred km's through the pouring rain, though, we decided to cut our losses and go to Ieper (or Ypres in French) instead. Well, imagine our surprise and excitement when we found the Snail herself moored up in the harbour there. It was like seeing a celebrity after having read so much about this most fĂȘted of English barges.

The owners, Oll and Annie were clearly around but we couldn't make ourselves heard, so had to leave a note to say we'd called. Later that evening I got an email from them saying they'd been there but were watching the F1 racing so hadn't heard us! Who says that life afloat needs to be limited? Satellite TV and all mod cons, not to mention a stunning Royal Enfield motorbike. Of course I took some photos to prove it (see below). The good news is that we will probably be catching up with these two blogging boaters when they arrive in Ghent in the coming days.

You can just see my note under the mat there

The beautiful carving Oll did for their roof. The story behind it is on their blog.

The Wandering Snail from the stern

And the Royal Enfield motorbike tucked into their foredeck

I can really recommend following the links. See what I see and see what I dream about too. If you can't go travelling, sharing the experiences of these three very different waterways cruisers will at least give you a taste of what it is to have this wonderful way of life that all we boat people aim for - always. These three have succeeded in making it happen. I wish I was one of them.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The good, the bad and the very very oily

Yesterday we moved the Vereeniging to its new place in the Oude Haven's neighbouring village, the Haringvliet. It's something I've wanted awhile too along with the changes to the Vooronder etc. This was the best thing, as well as getting the ship moving again, which always feels good.

Here are some pics of the move and its new place, courtesy of Mo.

The Vereeniging looking lovely in its new home.

Holly Houdini, the escape artist - one of Mo's Moggies

Do I look bored or what? Haha! This was when waiting for the reverse to be fixed

Koos playing at being DJ

The bad part was that I'll miss it. Stupid really. Don't know why as it'll hardly be a stone's throw away. I'll also miss Mo and Craig as neighbours. I'd got used to having them around and there was a big empty space next to us this morning where both my ship and my daughter should have been.

Bad too was the fact we had a slight problem with the Vereeniging's reverse gear system. This is my nemesis. It's the technical glitch I dread the most, and it's the one that always happens. The ship version of having no imagination goes into overdrive just at the thought of it. Fortunately, Koos managed to repair the problem, but we'd both forgotten one very important consideration.

When starting out, we'd put Sindy in the car as she is not a happy camper on board and tends to be something of a distraction when she goes into doggie catatonia (excuse the pun - no cats are involved at all) and virtual cardiac arrest at the mere sound of a diesel engine revving up. However, when we had to stop to fix the reverse, Koos went back to get his tools and I asked him to put Sin back on the Luxor. Unfortunately she needed a pee before we got back and in her frantic attempts to find a way out, she stumbled into the Luxor's bilges.

We arrived back to find one very very filthy, oily Sin hugging the stairs out of the Luxor having destroyed a rug and splattered old sump oil all over the ktichen and shower area. The only blessing was that she hadn't gone into the living area. Her smart tan patches were nowhere to be seen. She was just one big black oily blob.

Needless to say we felt terrible for causing her such anxiety, but has anyone ever tried to get old sump oil off an already distressed, paranoid pooch? I've so far worked my way through six towels, a whole bottle of dishwashing liquid, a bottle of shampoo, three changes of clothes (for me, not Sindy) several throws to protect the furniture, three washing machine loads to clean all of the above and 24 hours later, my dog is still slick and greasy to the touch leaving large brown patches on everything she sits or lies on. Any tips would be gratefully received.

Ah well, life is never ever it?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Vereeniging's new guest cabin

Ever since I've had the Vereeniging, I've dreamed of turning the space under the foredeck into a spare bedroom for guests. In the picture above, it is the area below the white hatch cover behind the chairs. Unfortunately, I never managed to convince myself that all the wood I stored there and all my tools could possibly go anywhere else, and so my dream wasn't realised - that is, not until now.

With Craig and Mo taking the Vereeniging over for a while, I've had to clear out all my things, including my tools and woodworking materials. I've been ruthless too and a lot has been thrown away, while the rest is either being stored at the cottage or housed in Koos's vooronder. I've mentioned before that they also wanted a guest room, so between the three of us - Mo, Craig and myself - we've worked our backs off to do the conversion in the last two weeks. I'm using the word 'backs' deliberately as there is nowhere of standing height in the vooronder so it has been very hard on us from that point of view. We've had to work in very cramped space, constantly bending over and bashing our heads on things, and I'm still in some pain as a result... but boy, the results have been worth it. The pictures below tell the story from start to finish.

The beginnings. Insulating the hull and starting the back wall

Cladding the insulated sides of the hull with flexible plywood

The plywood walls are then trimmed with strips to seal the joins and painted. The pine plinth is to finish the forepeak and provide a place for a portapotti.

The back wall is varnished with teak coloured finish and the floor is insulated.

The ceiling is also painted

The floor is then carpeted

Finally, we make two single beds that are built into the sides of the hull

The beds have mattresses cut to fit, then today, Mo bought duvets, pretty covers and pillows. With a small table (later to have the tiny basin built in) and two night lights, it's ready to receive the first guests. Tomorrow, my stepson (Mo and Jo's brother) and a friend are arriving for a weekend in the Netherlands, so we were just in time!

Monday, June 15, 2009

It's a busy old life

It's Monday again, and I'm left wondering where the time has gone. Everything's so busy at the moment, and it's not about work either.

We're back in Rotterdam after a weekend trying to sort out leaky gutters in the cottage and faulty steering on the poor little Hennie H. With the former, we've had some luck (I hope). On Sunday morning, the rain was streaming down the kitchen walls. VallyP was not amused, so I took photos and sent them to the builder. He arrived later in the afternoon full of apologies and promptly scaled the ladder armed with some serious skirting which he has now glued into place. I am fairly confident this will at last do the trick.

As for the Hennie H, Koos thought he had fixed the broken steering, only to take it out for a test and find the same problem occurring again - it can only turn in one direction...not very helpful unless we plan to confine ourselves to a a life of "go left, my friend, go left." so it's back to the drawing board and a new plan next week. It has to be fixed soon as it is going to the yard in Zelzate at the beginning of July, and we will have a lot of work to do there.

This week, the Vereeniging will be moving to the neighbouring Haringvliet. I shall miss seeing it here, but it will be quieter for Mo and Craig there, and when they buy their own boat - something that looks to be sooner rather than later - I shall have the pleasure of moving there myself. We have a new loopplank arriving tomorrow for the Luxor, so that the one we use now (belonging to the Vereeniging - see below) can go with it. Even so, it needs some welding to make a proper support for it. Anther wee job for our Koos...

At the moment, we are comfortable on the Luxor, and I still have plenty to keep me busy here too. Below is a recent pic of its interior and a couple of nice family pics that Koos took.

And here are a few more pics of the Luxor's interior with my 'office' space and the rest of it. Still lots to be done by way of fixtures and fittings, but it is fairly cosy now with a decent shower and loo too!

Sorry about the blurriness of the kitchen pic. I should have put it on a hard surface as I didn't use the flash.

Have a good week, all.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

It's a banging good weekend

They weren't really on a collision course, but it looks like it. They are two identical transporters meeting each other in the Westerschelde estuary not far from Westdorpe

I know we live in the middle of a serious city. I know that. I really do. What I can't get to grips with, though, is the total and mind blowing cacophony we have to live with. I was going to say unbelievable, but it isn't. Unbelievable that is. It's only too real. 24/7, 7/31, 31/12 (or in some cases make that 30 and ok, in one case 28).

Nearly every morning I wake up thinking that WW3 has begun, or at least that we are under attack from giants with monster walking sticks thumping their way through the city streets. This starts at 7 a.m. Not so early you might say for a world war or crippled giants on the loose, but then this is after a night spent listening to riotous revellers who think that the people they are with and all the rest of the world as well are deaf.

Maybe I should backtrack a bit and explain that the dawn raids or in other parlance, early wake up calls, are from the pile drivers on the building site next to the harbour. Oh, I forgot. Not just one site. There are now..let me see...about four sites in very audible proximity to the harbour. They are all building ever higher tower blocks in competition with each other, and they all seem to need to start the race for pile driver of the day, every day and even on Saturdays, at the same time. (I wonder if there's a yellow jersey for the winner of each stage?). Anyway, the explosion of sound and vibration is worse than any rock concert ever, and what baffles me is that there are no government health warnings advising the local populace to wear ear protection when within five kilometres of such locations. Strangely, all the builders wear them, but we mere mortals are clearly unworthy.

As for the night time revellers, I'm sure they think everyone is deaf because I've stood outside in my PJ's at four in the morning watching them. Picture this. Two extremely inebriated students are standing less than a metre from each other. No closer of course. This is Holland, and not Italy, remember. In any other circumstances, they'd be close enough to whisper and still hear each other clearly. But no. They have to shout at the tops of their lungs, and just to make sure they've got their point across, they feel obliged to pick up a few tables and chairs and hurl them into the water for added emphasis. Vocal punctuation is obviously not enough. They need a few physical exclamation marks.

Sometimes, tempers flare and fights ensue. Given the state of inebriation, time is relative to the participants and what might normally be a few terse words is strung out into a long drawn out battle of howls of distress emphasised at intervals by the regulation chair and table throwing, and if things get really bad, then the bicycles fly.

This also goes on pretty much seven days a week.

For a little extra spice, call up the trams squealing across their tracks from six in the morning onwards and the testosterone-boosted boy racers screeching their tyres as they u-turn at the end of the harbour where the road meets its end. Not to mention, of course, the gangs of youths who arrive at any time during the night with their car windows down and their heavy rap music which resounds across the harbour and double flips back to meet itself half way - right over our barges.

"What a gezellig place to live!" my Dutch students say when I tell them I live on a barge in the Oude Haven. I merely smile vacantly, and ask them if they'd like to sample a Friday night experience. I see them thinking of the implications. Many of them are quick to realise that they might well be party to some of my night hour distress. Then I tell them about WW3 every morning. Aaah, they nod sagely. It's a bit noisy yes? Just a bit, I say.

I have escaped now to my personal 'haven', but this one is of peace. We are down in Westdorpe, affectionaly known as Westdopey, for some much needed relief.

On that note, I hope you all have a crashing good weekend. Love from all of us here in quiet, sleepy Zeeuws Vlaanderen.