Maandag 7 August: our mission: to get to Groningen to avert a chemical toilet-related disaster.
Such is the everyday glamour of journeying in a foreign country in an 8 metre wooden sailing boat.
For several days, we moored in ‘civilised’ places, where there were facilities and shops, but the downside was that we were surrounded by large, plastic cruisers, shouted at for no discernable good reason( and also for putting our rubbish into a domestic bin rather than the ‘Recreatafval’ bin, by mistake). Understandably, we decided that a few nights getting away from it all might restore our equilibrium.
It was difficult to know, before we started this trip, just what sort of mooring suits us best. Passenthavens with facilities are helpful; it’s good to have a shower and use the launderette. Cities and towns are fun to explore, but at least every few days or so, we really need to be away from it all, preferably on a wide waterway, with no biting insects and few, if any, other boats. On Sunday, we found such a place and were very happy. An added bonus was seeing two hares, close-up, on the path when we went out for a cycle ride.
We’d planned to go to Groningen anyway. It’s got bookshops and art shops, bars and restaurants, lots of trees, a couple of leafy, shady parks, and an amazing, air-conditioned museum. But the Passenthaven doesn’t have a chemical toilet disposal facility. The Yacht Haven at the other end of town does. Now on foot, the distance between these two is a trifle, but on a boat, you have to take the long route, following the water and in this case, meant that our route was interrupted by sixteen bridges.
I’ve written about bridges before, especially the rail bridges, where you can wait for up to half an hour. Groningen also has lots of small road bridges, but they’re not all continually staffed. One bridge keeper shuttles, on his bike, between them. While we waited at one like this, accompanied by five or six other boats, we had no excuse for angst and stress, as the predominant aroma was probably weed.
Each bridge is also different from all the others and I sometimes think that any individual bridge can changes its operating mode between our visits, just to keep us on our toes. The ones where there is an operator in a glass booth, who sees you coming, stops the traffic and lifts the bridge are easy. As long as there isn’t too long a wait, there aren’t lots of other boats also waiting and the wind isn’t pushing you all over the place.
There were bridges where we had to ‘press a button’. No problem! Except in a boat, with the aforementioned wind and wash from other boats making it difficult to line ourselves up so I could reach the button. Even with a boathook, I’ve got quite a short reach.
Other bridges were operated by calling the operator on VHF and we can now just about understand all the information we get back, even if it’s in Dutch.
We travelled a massive 5km in three and a half hours and all this on a day which was stinking hot. Later on, we cycled back into the centre and it took us about twenty minutes and was a lot cooler. But the upside is: we got the chemical toilet emptied and we had a boat tour around a lovely city, something which we’d have been happy to pay for, in other circumstances.