Many of you will have seen live aboard boats at home or in your own areas. Many of you will also have spent holidays on boats, but I wonder how many readers here have spent time on a traditional, or historic barge.
In the Netherlands, it's an amazing fact that there are more boats per capita of the population than almost anywhere else in the world. Quite something for such a small country, isn't it? So the Dutch have a strong sense of their waterways heritage as well as being very active boaters themselves. Our particular harbour is dedicated to the restoration of the barges that thronged the rivers and canals from the mid 19th century up to World War II. Our duty, as the barge owners and restorers, is to maintain the exterior of our boats as they were in the days when they were in use as cargo carrying vessels. And our job is to try and restore them to the state they were in when they were first built.
There is a slight snag with this. They were, as I've said, cargo boats. Their holds were never meant to be lived in; they were closed spaces covered only by wooden hatches and they had no windows. But practically all of us who own these old barges convert these cargo holds into living space, so what do we do about light? Since we are absolutely not allowed to place windows in the sides, it ends up being a kind of compromise.
I describe in Harbour Ways how I sneaked a window into the rear end of the hold after I raised the 'roof' or height of the Vereeniging. It's difficult to see this window from a normal standpoint, so I got away with it. In fact, it's just a kind of wide slot between the engine room roof and the top of the hatches, but for quite a while, this was the only natural light I had inside. This meant that one end of my space, the bedroom area, had light, but the area where I spent most of my time - closer to the entrance - was constantly dark.
|The sneaky window at the back of the hold - barely noticeable|
|An old photo showing the window in the entrance hatch|
I cut a carefully measured hole in the brown sail cloth that covered my hatches, removed a single heavy hatch-board, and found a fitting piece of perspex. This was then attached to a frame and slotted over the space where the hatch-board used to be. The difference was amazing. I could see - even in the early morning; well at least as far as my waist. The bottom half was still a bit vague and I still got my socks mixed up, but the improvement in my mood was substantial. And I had managed all this without losing my monumental status - and yes, I do mean that.
|'Strip' lighting in the hatches. I want more of these!|
I should say I now have plans to take out more hatch-boards and have what is effectively 'strip' lighting down the centre of my ceiling, but that's for next year. Or maybe I'll do it in stages; I don't know yet. For the moment, I'm happy to say I am no longer given to bursts of light-loss lunacy. But it's true that the challenge of solving the problem without losing my Vereeniging's historic status has been one that has taxed even my stubborn and bullish nature!