Saturday, December 05, 2015

Digging into the memory archives

I mentioned in my blog before last that it was fourteen years ago in November that I bought the Vereeniging, but it was at the beginning of December - around now to be precise - that I brought her to Rotterdam. The story of our journey is told in Watery Ways and is the lead up to the end of the book when she took her place in the Oude Haven.

Early days in the Oude Haven

But it was in fact great good fortune that we arrived at all given the fragile state of the axle. What we didn't know and never checked was that it was completely rotten and water was seeping steadily through the flange into the engine room. During that journey, we were unwittingly in constant danger (no exaggeration) of having the whole propellor drop off and the barge flooded, but luckily we had no clue. We'd have been in despair if we had.

We only found out how bad it was and how much water was coming in when the Vereeniging was on the slipway. That was also when the inspector turned my lovely boat into a colander (again, no exaggeration) by bashing holes in the bottom, which he did with uncomfortable ease because the old iron was perilously thin. I went cold thinking what could have happened if we'd hit anything hard or sharp on the way. I still do. I mean you would, wouldn't you?

So it's made me think how often we've been spared by not knowing that something was seriously wrong. Well, maybe not spared as such  - it's always resulted in some kind of heavy cost - but at least blissfully ignorant.

For instance, even before this frightener, we'd done a long trip to Lille on Koos's barge before finding out his gearbox was on its last legs. You wouldn't credit it, but we managed to cross all the major stretches of water between Rotterdam and Antwerp, and travel down the Belgium river and canal system into France. I'd left him at Lille but his son was with him when it finally packed up. As chance would have it, his guardian angel had prompted him to have another gearbox on board so he and his son changed it while moored up along the canal side. But weren't we lucky it didn't decide to expire while crossing the wide waters with no handy spots to tie up? And how glad I am we didn't know at the time!


Koos's Luxor, which he sold three years ago
A few years later, another drama occurred that still gives me 'daymares' when I think about it. The steering on our little Hennie H went as Koos pulled into the big sea canal to Gent just after crossing the mighty Westerschelde estuary which is notorious for its currents and sandbanks, and also because it is used by all the sea-going traffic on its way to Antwerp. I am certain that this time Koos's angel was working overtime to make sure it didn't break down on the open waters. It doesn't even bear thinking about what might have happened if it had. Admittedly, he'd had some misgivings about the technical condition of the barge before, but had never anticipated that sickening feeling of turning the wheel and finding nothing was happening at all.

However, being in the mouth of the canal and close to the locks, he was able to get help and a tow to Sas van Gent, but it thoroughly unnerved him. Come to think of it, maybe this time it would have been better if we'd known about the problem. We'd never have set off from Rotterdam in the first place - not until it had been repaired in any event. I only have to see the Westerschelde to shudder at the risk he took.

The Hennie H. Ready to go? We hope so!

As things turned out, the Henni H has taken a few years to get right, and it's only now we are even thinking of taking another real trip in her. Next year is when we hope it will be.

And the destination?

I think I'll keep you all guessing for now. Have a good Sunday everyone!

12 comments:

  1. Loosing steerage reminds me of being on a converted ship's lifeboat in the middle of Lough Derg during a storm. The owner left everything to me so I put an emergency tiller arm on the rudder and stood on the stern bench with one foot on the 'new' tiller. I held myself steady by holding to the cabin top and was able to navigate through broken waves which were coming towards from several directions. While I shouted to instructions to his gf on how much power was to put on the engine. While Himself was going through shades of green.
    All jolly good boating fun !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, wow, wow!! Mel! What ingenuity! Well done you! I am extremely impressed! Koos managed to manoeuvre himself to safety by using the screw effect and quick changes of forward and reverse gear, but with big coasters approaching the lock, he was very anxious about getting about of the way. That is some story you have there!

      Delete
  2. Hi Val - yes stress-worry is almost worse than the thing going wrong. Wandering around with something not quite right is a distinct worry, but if you don't know you don't know ... thank goodness for guardian angels ... I count my blessings quite often! Your trips sound amazing around the Canals ... cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Hilary. This is the stuff that guardian angels thrive on :)

      Delete
  3. Isn't it good we don't know what's coming - would we leave our harbours (real or metaphorical) if we took seriously all those disasters that might lurk round the corner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's probably true, Jo, but then the odd near miss is good grist to the writing mill, isn't it? I can think of the odd tiger and crocodile in your case :)

      Delete
  4. It does sound scary. I think that boaters can become a bit blase, of only because on boats things so often seem to go a bit wrong - just in the ordinary way of things - or at least, the boats I know they do ! :) It was certainly a lucky escape for Koos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Jenny, yes! That is so true. And if we worried about everything that went wrong, we'd never go anywhere. I wasn't with Koos when the steering went - I'd had to leave him a little earlier in the trip, but my imagination goes into overdrive when I think of the procession of huge sea ships that uses that estuary on the way to Antwerp. He was incredibly lucky.

      Delete
  5. It really has been life on the edge for you, Val, even if you didn't know it at the time. I am so pleased nothing horrid has happened, and that your barges are now safe and sound. I wonder where you will go next?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Patricia! We have a plan, but I won't jinx it by talking about it yet :)

      Delete
  6. The very stuff of nightmares! Glad your barge/s have brought you safely to your destinations, Val. And thank goodness for Koos's innate talents and quick thinking. xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bless you, Veronica. I will concur, though. He is rather good ;)

      Delete

Apologies for switching on comment moderation, but this is to make sure everyone can comment without jumping through captcha hoops!