Tuesday, April 19
Ready to start our canal journeys we left IJmuiden after laundry and some minor provisioning the day before. We had kept a keen eye on the wind as our experience going through tight locks and bridges was fairly limited. But, as many cruising friends had told us The Netherlands are made for newbies. Bridge tenders and lock keepers were ready to hold our hands as we inched into a variety of locks and sluices and through bridges of various configurations.
With this busy port’s four locks manhandling the abundant commercial and leisure traffic we were directed to one of the smallest ones, still huge and industrial in scope.
(FYI: the lights are self-explanatory with Red = stop; Red + Green = prepare to go; Green = go, and they do mean ‘go!’.)
With our first lock under our belt we started to get the gist of how things work here, and relief and confidence set in as we slowly motored down the Noordzeekanaal (North Sea canal).
One-fifth of The Netherlands is built on reclaimed land so it wasn’t surprising to see sand-laden barges and bulldozers.
If 20% is reclaimed, another 20% of The Netherlands is water. In 1953 a flood in the southwest (Zeeland, the country’s most vulnerable region) led to the largest public works effort, the Delta Project. Today numerous dykes, dunes and pumping stations (the latter now replacing windmills) keep the liquid threat at bay. In the north and west you’re below sea level (!). With this type of terrain it’s a wonder the Dutch haven’t sprouted duck feet.
[Just an aside, The Netherlands and Holland aren’t interchangeable like I originally thought. Actually, this came up a few years ago in my Book Group. Holland is the name for two of the 12 provinces that comprise The Netherlands: the North or Noord and South or Zuid; yet, I find myself wanting to use Holland more than the sterner sounding Netherlands. Probably because it sounds warmer and more in tune with wooden shoes, windmills, Gouda and Edam cheese and tulips. So, if I mistakenly slip and use ‘Holland’ in future blob blogs, I do mean the entire country. Just put it down to sipping too much of their delicious beer.]
To reach our first destination, Spaarndam we took a right turn and positioned ourselves in front of the camera for the remotely operated bridge. It worked like a charm, and we entered a much more tranquil and rural landscape.
Our next bridge had set opening times to accommodate the major road crossing it; so, we tied up alongside a pontoon. All of our docking was great practice for the new method we had heard about and Max researched: using the aft spring line (generally tied towards the stern (back end) of the boat allowing JUANONA to pivot evenly, i.e., neither the bow nor stern would be pulled in more than the other). With hardly any tide or wind our canaling offered gentle opportunities to perfect this technique. I really appreciated this method for it meant I wasn’t teetering on the side of JUANONA with the bowline in one hand while clutching the life rail in the other as I gauged a gaping distance to jump from the boat to a dock as Max positioned us as close to land as possible.
We relaxed and peered about as we enjoyed our first true ‘sitting in the cockpit lit by warm sun reading’ of the season. Cyclists, tractors, and a horse-drawn cart trotted by on the road bordering our tie-up; and, overhead a KLM jet began its journey and left us wondering if our friend Koen, an EU air traffic controller, had sent it on its way.
Our last lock of the day was in Spaarndam (logically named as it’s a dam on the River Spaarne) where we joined a small motorboat and a large barge. The latter hosted a group of American, Canadian and European passengers who hopped off with bikes to enjoy a tulip tour. Friends had done one of these cruises and they certainly looked appealing, not the least being the flower be-decked tables I espied in the dining area. Talk about luxury.
Reaching a small marina we docked on the outer pontoon (JUANONA’s on the right at the end),
which felt like a small neighborhood as we walked out of the gate
and entered the associated office/shop where a woman gave us the lay of the land. Not only was she versed in her town’s landmarks but also an expert on our Reflex diesel stove. We have to say these Dutch folk have been some of the friendliest hosts we’ve been around in all of our travels. Once you take the initial step of approaching them, the Dutch respond typically in excellent English while encouraging any questions with a smile. Practicality, forthrightedness, and helpfulness seem to be universal personality traits in this small European country.
With the marina women as proof of the above, off we went to explore:
the 13th century lock that protected a picturesque water plaza…
laza…the Hans Brinker finger-in-the-dike statue (which is just a story tale)…
the eel dock where an eel smokehouse has operated since the 1860s…
and, some sights we’re becoming to expect… such as cyclists waiting for a bridge to open,
a train of kindegardners being wheeled down the road…
planters of flowering grape hyacinths,
and the occasional gnome.
During our stroll back to the boat we looked for an ATM (many businesses don’t accept VISA credit cards and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of banks, unlike in England). Espying what we mistakenly thought was an ATM Max noted it was actually a 24-hour drug dispenser. A pretty clever way to get your prescription.
Our last stop was the grocery store where we added a bouquet of tulips to our provisioning list, something I think will be a regular item during our canaling in this friendly and laid-back country.
So, with our own floral centerpiece :) we head next to Haarlem, a city whose origins date from the 10th century thanks to some enterprising Counts. Spotting an opportunity to take advantage of a growing trade they set up a toll booth on the River Spaarne. Didn’t I say they were practical? :)