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



Monday, April 25, 2016

Meandering through London's other world and a meeting with a special blog pal

Going to London last week wasn't only about the London Book Fair; it was also an opportunity to do what Koos and I do best - canal walking.

London is blessed with a number waterways that most people rarely notice unless they use them for cruising, cycling or walking. When I was a child, we just used to head for the Thames. My father loved to take us to the docks or to the Embankment where we could see ships of all shapes and sizes loading, unloading or just lying at their moorings. As a former naval man, he was drawn to the river and I remember well that on frequent Monday evenings, he would go down to the Thames to join his former seaman buddies on one of the Admiralty ships that lay off the South Bank. I forget its name now, but the one he went to was used as a kind of club. Oddly enough, though, the canals were never an attraction for him. Not that I can remember anyway. In those days, I honestly think they tended to be just somewhere for people to dump rubbish and old shopping trolleys.

With the resurgence of interest in canal boating, however, the canals have come back into their own and they are now places where people escape from the press and stress of city life. On the second afternoon of our stay, and once I'd finished at the LBF, we took a bus east, eventually getting off at Mile End, right by the Regent's Canal. Our bus route had taken us through the colurful eastern districts of Whitechapel and Stepney Green which have traditionally always been populated by an eclectic mix of people. They are busy, multi-cultural and lively, but when we stepped down to the canal towpath from the A11 main road, just next to the Queen Mary University of London, it was like stepping through that wardrobe door in the Narnia stories into a different world. It really was. The noise, traffic and fumes of the city streets vanished and peace descended. Sure, we had to watch out for the commuter cyclists who sped along the towpath as their chosen route, but almost without fail, these were gracious in their thanks for our consideration. It's as if a gentler spirit comes over people when they are close to the water, isn't it? So as we wandered north between the array of narrowboats that lined the canal side to our left and Mile End Park to our right, the tranquillity was incredibly therapeutic.


At the end of the park, we came to the Regent's Canal junction with the Herford Union Canal that led off to the north east, so of course we had to follow that. According to the map, this section runs between South Hackney and Bow, and I was sure I recognised images from Walter Steggles' paintings of the canal at Bow. I may be imagining it but it all looked familiar and as if nothing much had changed since this great East London artist painted his memorable works in the 1930s. Just exchange the working barges for a few run down narrowboats and the scene is just the same,




 At some distance along the Hertford Union Canal, we sat on a bench and chatted to a charming chap complete in city suit who was enjoying a smoke in the evening air. He told us quite a bit about the area and how it was becoming 'gentrified' at the expense of the local people. I wasn't surprised to hear that although developers are obliged to build a quota of social housing, there is still considerably less than there was before. As usual, then, the original locals can no longer live in the areas in which they grew up. There is simply not enough affordable housing as the private properties are way beyond their means...beyond anybody's I would have thought. The average price for a canal side apartment? Somewhere around GBP 1 million!


A little further along and under another bridge, the canal joins the Lea River, at which point we decided it was time to call it a day.

The next aftenoon, being Thursday, I left the LBF and met Koos at Tower Hill underground station. From there, we went down to the river at Wapping to see some friends of ours who have their barges on the Hermitage Moorings. We spent a lovely couple of hours with them, but in the end the motion of the rocking barge on the Thames got to my stomach and we had to retreat to the shore. All the same, we had another great walk through the old redeveloped docklands to Shadwell Basin, another haven of stillness right next to the tourist trap gone mad that is the Tower of London and its famous bridge. It's amazing how quiet and peaceful it is there, and yet the wall to wall tourists are just a couple of streets away. I can only liken it to being in the unreal calm of the eye of a storm.

Shadwell Basin: The calm eye in London's tourist storm 

On our final day, we left London and caught the train out to Southend which was where we'd flown into. One of the reasons for choosing this destination was that I'd particularly wanted to see an exhibition of paintings by The East London Group (see ref Walter Steggles earlier) that I knew was on at Southend's Beecroft Gallery. We'd also planned to meet up with a couple of long term blog pals. For me, it was the chance I'd been wanting for years to meet the very special and truly lovely Fran of the blog Bonnie of Clyde fame. For Koos, it was a reunion with a blog friend of old too. 

What a terrific day that was. The exhibition was great, but the meeting with Fran was just the highlight of my trip. We had so much to talk about and as we both knew we would, we got on like a house on fire straight away and I am now on a promise to take a ferry over and visit her on her barge, something I am looking forward to doing immensely. So to finish off this rather long (okay it's me) post, here are a couple of photos to prove it. Have a great week everyone and I promise, yes, I really do, that my next post won't be as long as this one!

The wonderful paintings of  The East London Group

Fabulous Fran from Bonnie of Clyde


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dogs On Board

It's not unusual to see dogs on board a barge. Actually, it's pretty common, but what often tickles me is that the size and number of the dogs is often in inverse proportion to the size of the barge they live on.

Many's the time I've seen dogs scooting up the gunwales of the huge commercials, and most often, these are small wiry terrier types that probably get all the exercise they need charging up and down a hundred and ten metre barge. Okay I'm generalising here, I know, but this is something I've definitely noticed. Conversely, I've seen  English narrowboats, the smallest and (predictably) narrowest of the barge type boat, positively crowded with dogs, quite often very large ones. I even know of a narrowboat owner who has about five or six greyhounds on board, not to mention a labrador as well (I think).

But having dogs on a barge isn't always easy. Sindy, my lovely old Labrador/Dobermann cross was fine all the while the boat wasn't moving. But as soon as we turned the engine on, she became something akin to a jellyfish on amphetamines and was hell bent on getting onto terra firma, whatever it took, even forcing her way out of the hatches on one occasion.

A contented Sindy on a stable boat


But even before Sindy, and when I was with Bill, the erstwhile, we had two dogs on board. One was an old Labrador called Daisy and the other was a slightly manic Border Collie who answered (occasionally) to Polly. These two feature in my first watery memoir, Watery Ways, and they, especially Polly, presented us with all sorts of fun and games.

Daisy was already getting old when we came to the Netherlands and was rather ponderous and heavy. She didn't like new challenges much either. A laid back existence with plenty of snacks both offered and found was her idea of doggy wellbeing. So when we had to persuade her over a gangplank stretching across a yawning gap, her paws grew roots and the worry wrinkles on her forehead doubled in size. Still, with one of us in front and the other behind, we shuffled her across in much the same way as a heavy and cumbersome piece of furniture. We did this for a week or so, but once she got the hang of it, she was quite full of herself and started cantering over the gap with gay abandon, oblivious to the clanging of steel on steel as she thundered across.

On one occasion, the two of them, Polly and Daisy, decided to race each other, and in true competitive style, they jostled for pole (not Poll) position. Well, the inevitable happened. Daisy, being the larger and beefier, leaned into Polls who lost her balance and disappeared over the side. Daisy's expression was suspiciously like a grin when she jumped down onto the deck. As for Polly, she decided to take a heaven sent opportunity to round up a few ducks while she was in the water. Well, why not? 

We only managed to get her out when she found her way onto a small patch of stony, silted up bank, at which point, Bill scaled down the ladder in the harbour wall and hoisted her up to me. Armfuls of very wet, weedy collie don't make the best cuddles. I can confirm that without any hesitation at all.

Talking of Polly's collie instincts, she had them to an intense degree and much to our dismay, she was indiscriminate in her choice of subjects that (she felt) needed rounding up. We live in a country where there are far more water fowl than there are sheep - although there are plenty of those too - and we have a harbour full of ducks, coots and swans. I'll leave the rest to your imagination. Suffice to say, Polly tried to herd them all, including the swans, a foolhardy act that I think even she regretted.

Have you ever seen an angry swan? Well, this one was very unimpressed and not a little upset at being rounded up by a compulsive obsessive sheepdog.

The only photo
I still have of
Polly& Daisy
On another wintry occasion early on in our Oude Haven life, the harbours were frozen over except for one small puddle on which a swan was sitting. Not thinking to test the thickness first (as you do of course), Polly took off over the ice to collect the 'errant' swan, broke through it and sank. Not thinking of the potential risks (as you should of course), I took off my coat and waded in to rescue her, breaking the frozen surface as I went. Luckily at the spot in question, it wasn't very deep so I could still just reach the bottom. Even so, a couple on the other side of the water were just about ready to call the police, thinking I was putting an end to things (yes, that again). They hadn't seen Polly sink below the surface, so it was only when I emerged on their side of the harbour with a bemused, soaked and frozen dog in tow that they realised what had happened. Despite the sodden furry evidence, I'm sure they thought I was completely bonkers. They might have called the cops anyway had I not assured them of my relative sanity and that it was love for my dog that made me do it. 

The odd thing, though, was that I burned up completely on the way back home. I suppose it was my body's reaction to the freezing water, but at least I wasn't shivering when I climbed fully dressed into the shower to peel off my wet clothes and get warm.

Apart from these issues, the two old girls adapted very well and were perfectly happy living on the barge. They loved going 'faring' and would stand in the bows sniffing the air with contented smiles on their faces - which was why it came as such a shock when Sindy came into my life: a puppy, albeit an already abused one. She grew up on the barge, but never, ever got used to the motion. She hated it, even in the rowing boat, and it was just bad luck. You can't ever know how your dog is going to react and I've since heard that others have the same problem. Dogs seem to either love it or hate it and there's nothing you can do to change that.

Sindy in motion. Poor baby, she was not happy.
Sindy was the doggy love of my life; I adored her and miss her terribly, but she was not easy. Oh no. And for that reason more than any other, I think it'll be a long time before I risk having another canine companion on board my barge.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Experiencing The London Book Fair

What a week that was!

I've just come back from a few days in London, during which I spent an afternoon and two mornings at The London Book Fair where I was helping out at the Sunpenny Publishing stand - number 5C138 as we all came to know it. For those of you who don't know, Jo Holloway, Sunpenny's managing editor and director, published two of my books, but this was the first time I'd met her, so it was a special occasion for me on that score.

Actually, I don't think I really helped anything very much other than to dispense coffee and leaflets, but it was so good to be there as there were many of the other Sunpenny authors there too. For me, the best part was meeting these lovely people with whom I've only ever connected via Facebook, Twitter and email and I can't tell you what a difference it made to us to talk, chat, laugh and even hug each other for real.

Firstly, I have to mention the Hat, which became a symbol of our stand. This hat was a glorious, red, sort of pillar box crossed with a cloche and was borne aloft by Michelle Jayne Heatley, our social media wizz-kid, who is as sweet as she is clever and who struck upon this absolutely genius move of being the walking mascot for our stand. Michelle's lovely book, Fish Soup, is a literary novel of unusual lyrical beauty.
The Red Hat
Apart from this, it was just great to meet the others, one of whom had come all the way from Seattle to attend. This was Sonja Anderson, whose delightful children's book, Sophie's Quest, is doing well in the States and elsewhere. Sonja is enthusiastic and passionate about encouraging children to read and she seems to have immense energy. I realise now that I never got a photo of her as she was so busy attending talks and really making the most of the occasion!

Then there was Julie McGowan from Wales, whose novels, Don't Pass me By and The Mountains Between, and short stories, Close to You, are great favourites of mine. She is just terrific and I am full of admiration for her energy and talent. She includes nurse, pianist, actress, production company owner and writer among her gifts, talents and skills, not to mention a lovely, bubbly personality, sparkling wit and a great sense humour. I honestly don't know how she fits everything in and still manages to be so organised and fun with it too!

Julie McGowan with Michelle
Another author who I've had really good contact with on the internet was Tonia Parronchi who came over from Italy. Her sailing memoir, Whisper on the Mediterranean, is full of the flavours of her Italian home. Sadly, I only saw her for a few hours, but I know for sure we will meet again. We have so much in common and so much to talk about; a real darling as I knew for sure she would be.



Tonia Parronchi
Closer to home was Christine Moore, a truly lovely, gentle lady who I spent most of the time with on the Wednesday and who I also think I will have more contact with now. Christine's book, Going Astray, is one I've read and admired. It deals with what can happen when a church becomes more of a cult organisation than a place of faith. It's riveting stuff and Christine, an academic scientist by education, writes about the subject very convincingly and so well. We spent much of the morning walking round hall dishing out leaflets and just talking about everything and anything.

Checking the intricacies of the coffee machine pads with
Christine Moore

Christine Moore again. Double checking!
And then there was Jo herself. It was a huge pleasure to meet her, and what a sweetheart she is (may I say that, Jo?). She is knowledgeable, skilled, talented and authoritative about publishing as well, so I was pretty impressed watching her and Julie work as a team in their negotiations with publishers, agents and rights buyers. 

Jo in discussion with an illustrator

For the rest, the London Book Fair is quite awe-inspiring. It is huge and is entirely devoted to the industry, so the stands represented publishers both large and small, national and international. It also had an extensive range of agents, printers and translators. There were talks and events going on all the time throughout the day at various locations throughout the vast Olympia hall and interspersed with these were coffee bars and snack stalls. There were also people doing massages on stools up the centre aisle, so when the negotiating got too much, relief was close by and in the healing hands of this group of green clad masseurs. 

And it was busy! My goodness! I was a little overawed at first, but got used to it eventually. Our stand was easy to find being straight up the centre aisle and then turn right at the Book Bus...but I'll say more about that another time. Suffice to say, with all the authors, with Michelle, Julie and Jo, it quickly became 'home', and on Thursday, I was genuinely sad to say goodbye.  

Koos and I outside Olympia
The fair was a great experience and I'm so glad I went. It was impressive to see the event, but it was even more special to meet my fellow authors and our leading light, Jo. If I ever have the opportunity to go again; if Jo decides it's worth a repeat performance and we are invited, then I'll be there. Thank you, Jo, and thank you Michelle and Julie. You were all fantastic!

Monday, April 11, 2016

My cup is overflowing? Oh no! It's my tank that's overflowing!

In my last story from the past, I wrote about the time when I woke up to find our barge filling up with water because our waste water pump had stopped working and we hadn't noticed it. That of course reminded me of other times when I have managed to fill the barge up with water when I should have noticed it!

The thing with the Vereeniging is that everything I've done has been a sort of Val 'workaround'. So when I put my two plastic water tanks in, I had to concoct a system for filling them from outside the barge. This was, of course, totally not professional and the way it worked (and still works 16 years later) is that I have two lengths of garden hose that pass through holes in the top of each tank and which are connected with a T piece joint to another length of hose that passes out through the main hatch. I then connect this to the hose from the water point on the quay and turn on the tap. The trick is that you have to keep an eye on it; the risk is that because it takes a long time to fill, you forget about it. Which is what I did - not once but several times.

The first time it happened, I'd become engrossed in a book and was sitting on the sofa when I became aware of water trickling from under it. At first I was about shout at Sindy - you know, thinking she'd wanted to go out and had sneaked round the back to do her business? Not that she'd ever done so before, I hasten to add. But as Sindy was curled up in her basket asleep, it didn't take me long to twig that it wasn't her, and then to twig again what had really happened.

Well, I've never leapt up the stairs on the barge so fast as I did that day. Like an idiot, though, I forgot I could pull the hose apart at the joint just outside the hatch and instead I charged up the gangplank to the main tap wasting precious seconds. By the time I got back inside, Sindy was regarding the puddles forming around her basket with bemused interest and the rug I had on the floor was totally soaked. Of course, this also meant I had to heave the rug outside, move everything else down to the back of the barge, lift the floorboards and mop up all the water that had gone through the cracks to the bottom of the hull below. Never again, I promised myself. Never.

Well, of course, it did  happen again, more than once, and not only to me. The last occasion was when one of my daughters was living on board for a while. I should also mention her boyfriend, Peter, was a frequent visitor.

So on this occasion I came home and found the rug on the hatches looking distinctly damp.

"What's happened?" I asked. "Having a spring cleaning fit?" I knew this was highly unlikely, but it was worth a try.
"Erm, no," she muttered. "We were filling the tanks and Peter....."
"Forgot to turn the tap off?"
"Well, not exactly."
"What then?"
"He turned it on again."
"What?"
"I'd turned it off already"
"So...?"
"Well he didn't realise I'd done it and turned it back on."
"Oh my word. Is it bad?"
"Yes."
"How much?"
"A centimetre of water in the bottom."
I swallowed hard, bit my tongue and counted to ten.
"Well," I sighed eventually, "I think I'll go away and leave you both to dry out and clean up. You'll find me with Koos."

And so that's what I did and that's what they did...somewhat sheepishly of course. But,  not only did they pull all the floor up and dry everything out, they also re-greased the whole of the bottom too, a horrible time-consuming job that has to be done every few years to protect the hull from rust. And I have to say this was a deed done for which I was very grateful and which more than made up for the blunder.

Since then, it's been a dry run, but you never know. I might just get too engrossed in a book again one of these days - that's unless I can find a better way of filling the tanks safely!

Friday, April 08, 2016

Close encounters of the interesting kind

I love it when I meet interesting people out of the blue, don't you? Just recently,  we've had two such encounters and they've left me feeling refreshed and charmed in equal measure.

The first one was when I was taking our fire extinguishers to be checked in the harbour here in our southern getaway. I was on my own (other half being off on a Polish-ing trip), and so I arrived at the marina office huffing and puffing somewhat as I was carrying two rather hefty fire blasters (or brandblussers as they are called here).

My type of
fire blaster

A burly individual met me at the entrance and kindly helped me down into the bowels of the boat that serves as the harbour office. Unfortunately, he had such a strong Zeeland accent, I couldn't make out a word he said. Everything that came out of his mouth sounded as if it had been through a tumble drier first before being ejected. Still I got the message that I should ask the man 'through there' (this was ascertained by means of a pointy finger - his, not mine) how long it would take.

Following the line of the finger, the man 'through there' proved to be a very congenial soul dressed in reliable blue overalls who told me I could safely go shopping and come back later for my extinguishers. He even found me a felt-tip pen to write the name of our boat on them, which I thought was very decent of him.  Throughout this exchange we had been conversing in Dutch, but then he came very close to me and whispered "Can I hear that you are English?", "Yes" I whispered back conspiratorially. And from then on we were best friends.

My new bosom buddy switched immediately to English and proceeded to tell me he was a member of an Irish Celtic music group and that he'd been to Ireland about forty times to perform there with his band. I was duly amazed and genuinely impressed that a Dutch band playing Irish Celtic music should be invited to perform in Ireland. Not only that, he told me they'd been asked to go to America and perform there too, the American fans not actually realising they weren't even Irish. Well, I was tickled pink by his story and we shook hands and parted with big smiles, good cheer and promises to see each other at their next concert.

Sea-going ships docked near Terneuzen

Another encounter occurred a few days ago when we took a drive to the dock areas at Terneuzen and met a man there who was barge spotting just as we were (one of our favourite pastimes). It transpired he came from a skipper's family like Koos and the two of them had very similar backgrounds and educations. The funny part of it for me was that they both recognised each other as Skippers' 'children' from Skippers' families immediately. The Netherlands is a small country with a small population, many of whom are connected to the barging world which tends to remain within certain families.

This is something I find fascinating as it's like being part of a fraternity and this kind of 'recognition' happens pretty frequently. Many is the time Koos will give his name and his conversation partner will ask "Are you one of the X Fernhout's? From the Skipper's world?" And then they will find loads in common and chat like brothers. It seems this man was quite a linguist too as he spoke about seven languages including Afrikaans, which he tested out on me. I didn't like to tell him my Dutch is a whole lot better than its South African equivalent. He was also a musician, a technician, an artist and traveller - quite a surprise for someone who looked as if he'd be quite at home on a commercial fishing vessel... I know - books, covers and all that.

Barge & boat watching on the canal near
Terneuzen
So that was it: two meetings that gave me a smile and a new insight into the breadth of knowledge, creativity and experience you can find quite unexpectedly in the most unlikely looking people. But then this is one of the things I like so much about this country. You can't make assumptions about anything or anyone.

Maybe it's part of why the Dutch really are different. Or maybe it's just true everywhere if people are open to each other.

Friday, April 01, 2016

The boater's worst nightmare - that sinking feeling

While I've been on the subject of my pre-Watery Ways era in the harbour, some more of the incidents that coloured the few months I was there with the aforementioned erstwhile have been coming back to me. And these are stories I don't think I've mentioned before. For instance, have I told you about the day I got up only to find I was walking on water? No? I thought not.

Well, the way it went was that when we first had the barge, which we named the Kaapse Draai - a South African expression meaning a kind of life U-turn, which in our case it was - there were many technical aspects of living on board that we weren't familiar with. The barge, a motor zeilkast was well-equipped with the necessities of a standard sort of life (if any kind of onboard living can be called standard), but what went on behind that was still part of our learning curve. To put it simply, we had a kitchen with a normal gas stove and sink. We also had a shower and toilet. The latter used outboard water, meaning water from whichever canal or river we happened to be moored in. The former, the shower, took water from the water tanks, but how it drained out was not something I ever thought about - that was Bill, the erstwhile's area. I suppose he had thought about it and even knew how it worked, but I don't suppose it had gone much further than that; there was still so much to discover.

The Verwisseling - a similar barge to the Kaapse Draai
With thanks to the LVBHB photo gallery

Anyway, on this one memorable morning, I crawled out of bed to go and put the kettle on. The bedroom was in the bows of the barge, so it was a bit of a walk to reach the kitchen, which was closer to the stern (back end for those not familiar with boating terms - the bows are the front end). As I walked, still foggy with sleep, I became aware of a curious sensation beneath my feet. The floor was still covered with the linoleum the previous owners had favoured, and my emerging consciousness was aware that where it was usually quite firm, this particular morning, it wasn't. It had developed an odd sort of spongy feel. Of course I thought it was me at first. How much wine had I drunk the night before? I couldn't remember. Not a good sign. Was I going down with something? I liked that idea better. But as I progressed towards the kitchen, the spongy feeling was accompanied by squelching noises. All of a sudden, my brain's gears engaged and I put two and two together. The fact that I came up with a hundred and plenty is an indication of the violence of the alarm bells that started clanging in my head.

Water. Yes. That's what that squelching meant. Water inside the barge. This was not good. In instant panic mode, I rushed back to the bedroom to squawk at Bill. Needless to say, my imitation of a frantic parrot worked, and he leapt out of bed. Somewhere in my screeching, he had managed to understand that we were in the process of sinking, so man action was needed. He was good at that, I must admit; the man action stuff.

Together, we pulled up the lino and and then a few very soggy floorboards and found the evidence of what we were dreading. Seeping up between the sheets of under floor insulation in some profusion was water of the very wettest kind. It also had a distinct pong as if it had been there for some time.

But where was it coming from? We'd recently had a full inspection and the bottom was completely sound; there'd also been no water in the bilges either. The former owner had replaced the entire under water hull with new steel, so we knew it couldn't have developed any rot within the space of a few weeks. With our heads screwed back in place again, we started to eliminate the possibilities. It didn't take long.

While the previous owner of the barge had been a technician of some note, he must have had one spell of madness when he fitted the drainage system from the shower and the kitchen sink as these two together just emptied into a large bucket into which a pump was submersed. This switched on automatically - or at least it was supposed to -when the water in the bucket reached a point close to its rim. The shower and sink water were then pumped out into the harbour. However, what he hadn't done was install any kind of alarm system in the event the pump stopped working. Which it had.

We didn't know how long the water in the bucket had merrily been overflowing into the bottom of the barge, but it must have been for most of the weeks we'd been in the harbour as there was an awful lot of it, which also explained why it was more than a bit smelly. Luckily or unluckily, I'm not quite sure which, the linoleum prevented the smell becoming noticeable until it started  seeping up through the floorboards.

As you can imagine, my relief was great when I was reassured that we weren't heading inexorably down to the bottom of the harbour  and I cheered up immediately. In contrast, Bill's grump factor went through the roof as he realised how much time and work it would take to dry everything out and repair the pump. But there I will leave the story, not because of my sensitivity about personal conflicts, but because I honestly can't remember what happened next, how we solved the problem or how long it took to put things back together. Life, as they say, took over. Since at the time I was the one going to work while he was fixing the barge, I suppose that's what happened. I probably, and quite cheerfully, left him to it.