Sunday, June 26, 2011

Captain Scott

Up with the lark this morning. Off to Krimpen aan den IJssel to fetch a boat. Not with Koos this time, but with Mo and Craig. It feels horribly early for a Sunday morning and the world is still and hushed.

The previous owners are still in their dressing gowns, but smile cheerfully as they show us through their house and out onto their private jetty. Then it's busy, busy getting ready, checking fuel, ropes, safety measures and procedures. Never done this before, not without Koos, that is.

Mo untying ropes in readiness for our departure

The boat is a small cruiser of 7 metres. Neat, but a bit untended and unfinished inside. A nice price though. It has a large outboard motor and this is the 'fear point'. We don't know it, don't know if we can trust it, and are not sure whether it will run the distance. The former owner seems to know as much about boats as you could write on an aspirin with a pickaxe, so we are not inspired to have total confidence.

At last we are off. The ropes are cast and we ease out of the tiny harbour. We've been there for nearly an hour and not seen another craft, but Murphy pulls one out of the bag and we have to wait for a largish passenger vessel before crossing to the right bank and starting downstream.

The small private harbour where the little cruiser was moored

The waters of the IJssel are peaceful and it is millpond still. Marvellous. Craig is steering and going well. It is his boat, in fact, so he is the skipper today. Captain Scott sails again, or rather for the first time ever.

Craig at the wheel. Even his back view speaks his pride in the CMS Brutus. And justly so

Mo, steering well and with concentration

The last bridge before the Hollandse IJssel meets theNieuwe Maas

Then Mo takes a turn. She too steers well, focuses well. Then it is my turn. I am not a natural steerer. At first, I am all over the place with the unaccustomed weightlessness of the boat, and the steering has some play too - a sort of delayed action. Very unlike the positive and direct steering of the Vereeniging. But I get the hang of it in the end and take us out of the smaller Hollandse IJssel to join the wider super highway of the Nieuwe Maas. The water becomes choppy and we meet the waves caused by the bigger shipping: container barges, normal cargo craft, the Fast Ferry to Dordrecht and many more cruisers.


As we approach the monster Van Brienenoord bridge, I am alarmed by a fast ferry steaming up behind us and a stationary barge apparently blocking the opening I wanted to go through to avoid the fast ferry. One moment of panic.

But there is plenty of room for a small cruiser anyway, so we pull through the side section of the bridge and avoid the worst of the swell created by the ferry.

Over to Craig again, and Captain Scott ploughs on. We're into home territory now. "There's the tank station!" I send Koos an SMS. He calls back "I'm at the Tropicana" he says. Oh good, he is at the best point to watch to see if it's safe for us to cross. We have to power over the river , round the Noordereiland and into the south channel that leads to Mo and Craig's harbour.

As we approach, Koos calls again. A familiar barge is coming out of the exit from our own Oude Haven. "Wait for it to cross and then if it's clear, follow it over," says Koos. There is another fast ferry coming up behind us. In what seems like a coreographed manoeuvre, the pretty sailing barge, Linquenda, pulls across the river just before the ferry reaches us and they skirt round each other like well practised dancers. There is nothing more in sight, so Captain Scott powers up. "Follow that barge!" I say, and he does. We are soon safely across the river and with it the scariest part of the trip. Or almost.

Approaching the Hef Bridge

As we approach the Hef Bridge, we notice the water eddying and swirling around us. Mo has taken the wheel while Captain Scott calls the bridge keeper of their harbour, but soon passes the wheel back to the skipper to take us through the apparent maelstrom.

As we pass under the bridge, a curious sinking feeling strikes me and I see it does the same to Mo. Why does it feel as if we are being sucked into the water? It starts to be really alarming until I realise suddenly that we are not going down, it is the bridge that is going up. A small yacht with a tall mast needs to come through, and the bridge has to be raised for it. The optical illusion created by the rising section of bridge and the swirling of the waters causes a very strange physical feeling indeed.

But now we are there. We have made it, and we are safe. All that remains is for the bridge to be opened into Mo and Craig's harbour and we are told this may take a while. Captain Scott cruises round and round gently while Mo and I sit on the bows and enjoy the gentle slapping of quiet waters against the hull. The sun shines softly through the mist. This is it. This is what it's about. This is why I like boats and boating.

Finally the bridge is opened and Craig takes us slowly through. Their neighbours wave and nod approvingly at Craig's little cruiser. Up to the end of the harbour and with some helpful hands, the CMS Brutus fits snugly into its box. We are really there now, and it all went fine. No dramas, no crises have marred Craig and Mo's first ever voyage, unassisted by those with more experienced hands.

Well done Captain Scott. I think you're going to be good at this!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The drought - what drought?

Rotterdam in drier times

It already seems impossible we had those weeks and weeks of dry, sunny weather. Today it has rained unremittingly. Heavy, hard rain that soaks with every drop. It's the rain that floods are made of, that locks you inside physically and mentally and gives you a feeling of isolation. It doesn't take me long to hate it, even though I know we need it.

My poor little Coot, who has made a beautiful nest of recycled harbour rubbish, has sat firmly on her one and only egg throughout the deluge. She had two until yesterday, but either a heron has had one, or it got blown away in the wind. I wish I could protect her somehow, but she is strong and, I suppose, used to the rain. Her nest is on the cover of our friend's rowing boat. He's always telling us we can use it, but I haven't had the heart to tell him why we don't. The boat is serving a very important purpose as a nursery, but I fear he might not see it that way.

In a barge, the rain is much more 'present' in one's life. Not that it comes in. You just hear it so much more than you do in a house. It clatters on the tarpaulin that coves the hatch boards and pounds the water around you. The only other time I've been so aware of the rain outside was when I lived in a house with a corrugated iron roof, but that was in Africa where the rain was even more torrential. But much more condensed too. It only lasted half an hour a day mostly. Here, well, it just hasn't stopped. Today anyway.

So, what does one do on days like this? Most of the time, I have classes to go to and a Koos to come home to, but today, my classes were cancelled and there was no Koos. He is in Poland. My solution was to write another children's story in between the assignments I had to mark and taking Sindy for her constitutional 'dash and slash' sorties. This story is also based on a proverb (like Cleo the cloud) and it kept me busy when I might otherwise have become gloomy. I still have to edit it, but who knows, maybe it's the start of a series? How to familiarise children with our old English proverbs through stories. It feels like quite a good plan, and of course the writing is the fun part.

Jodie is coming tomorrow, so maybe she'll be inspired to do some more illustrating. All I can say for the moment this space....and I wish you all a sunny, dry weekend. I think that's probably real wishful thinking here, but it will be true for some people, somewhere. Enjoy it if you have it xx

Monday, June 13, 2011

The sky's the limit - as long as the clouds keep forming

Okay, I know it's not done to focus on oneself, but if I don't promote me, I can't expect anyone else to either. Well, this time I can also say I'm promoting Jodie as an illustrator too.

The preview above is a little book I've just produced as a children's tale. The story is one I wrote years ago, and in fact, published on this blog, but a friend of mine has recently had a baby, and I decided it would be so nice to give her something more personal than the normal baby gifts. I'm sure she's got everything anyway, so what better than a 'home produced' gift. That aside, I really love with the way it's turned out and the illustrations Jodie has done are just gorgeous, so I'm very chuffed with it.

Of course, I have to add that if anyone's interested in it as a gift for a son, daughter, nephew, niece, grandchild...well you name it.... then feel free to order pleasure!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Is this it?

We are having the most magnificent weather at the moment. In fact, we've been having it since the beginning of April, and bar just a few cloudy rainy days, we've had two months of the most glorious sunshine with dry dry conditions. The farmers are just about surviving on the strength of those few wet days, and today I saw the first fields of cut and baled hay. Always a favourite sight. Now I feel that summer is really here. Today it was 30 degrees by mid afternoon, and for me this was, simply, wonderful.

But as always, the question lurks: will this be it? Are we having our summer now? And will the rest of it be one long, wet disappointment? I so hope not, as I could really get used to this very easily. There is rain forecast for this coming week, but the week after looks set to be fine again. Last year, we had an early summer and from mid July to the end of August, we could count the number of fair weather days on one hand. I guess we're all praying it's not going to be a repeat performance this year.

My work is drawing to a close now, so that's another reason to hope for good things to come. I have three courses to finish up, and one that goes on until the end of July, but at least I'll have some more time to work on the Vereeniging and the HH, and of course, my current Writing Project. At the end of the month, the kitchen in the little house is going to receive some much needed attention, and I'll have to find some new cupboards to replace the rather shabby present incumbents. There is always work to be done and there are always plans, but in the end, I hope Koos and I can get away for a few days together.

Our aim is to take a week at the beginning of August, but so far we're not sure where we are going or how. Later on, I shall be going to France to visit my sister for a few days, and before that - in fact, next week - Koos is off to Poland again on another hunt for the perfect photos. In the meantime, I shall present a few more of my more recent snaps to add colour to this rather non descript post :)
Poppies hiding in the reeds with rapeseed fields in the background.

And changing the subject abruptly, Jodie's new baby, Beowulf. What a sweetie!

I rather like this slightly strange photo Koos took of Jo, me and the dogs recently.

A typically peaceful Zeeuws Vlaanderen scene.

And more poppies. I just love them!