On Monday 14 August, the morning had a real tinge of Autumn in the air. I can’t explain exactly what that is, except to say it was cooler, but still sunny, with the sun at that angle which makes everything look well-defined without being dazzling. The sort of day you need to Get Up and Go!!! So we did.
We ‘slipped the mooring’ and started the voyage from Groningen to Sclochteren at 10 am.
Trial 1: Oosterhaven at Goningen was very crowded
and we were hemmed in by other boats. The fact that they were plastic (or polyester as they say here) cruisers, didn’t make us feel very kindly towards them. We asked the man in the boat directly next to us if he would move, so we could get out. We don’t have bow-thrusters, so we can’t turn on a sixpence. Need a 2 euro coin at least. He moved – a bit- leaving us with very little room to manoeuvre and a massive empty space in front of him. Dave managed to get us out, without impaling aforementioned man on our bowsprit or bouncing off the boat on the other side.
Trial 2: You have to go under the Oosterbrug – a lifting bridge- to get out. Our kids will remember this bridge from our first time in Groningen when we stopped eating breakfast to watch the bridge lift to let a masted boat out. We were gob-smacked.
This time, we couldn’t see the Bridge-Keeper in his kiosk, suspended high above the water. We hung about in the centre of the channel for a while, then tried calling him up on the VHF. No reply. After a few minutes we saw him arrive back on his bicycle (he’d probably been for a wee) and he operated the bridge for us.
Nothing too taxing, so far.
By now, it was a wonderful morning. The sun had got into its stride and the light was dancing off the water, very few other boats around and of course, the stuff we were going past was interesting and wonderful as usual. This, for instance, is a kids’ play area, complete with double-decker bus.
The houses have an exhilarating view of the water and the people who live there are at most, 20 minutes bike ride from the centre of a really buzzing city.
And there are some unusual buildings.
We decided to call all the Bridge-Keepers in advance,to reduce our waiting time. They all responded, lifted the bridges so we didn’t have to wait and wished us a ‘Good day!’ Excellent. We felt like royalty (but better!)
Trial 3: The first ‘Zelf bediening’ or ‘self-service’ bridge. Whoever designed the mooring place for this bridge had obviously never arrived there on a boat! Suffice to say, I need to hone my ‘beam-balancing’ skills. Eventually moored, no-one got wet and I hopped off the boat to open the bridge. It needed a key. Now, we’d heard about this key business before, but everyone who we asked about it was a bit vague and to tell the truth, we’d half forgotten about it and half hoped that if we REALLY needed a key, someone would force one on us. Clearly a mistake on our part. We radioed the lock we’d just gone through and the Lock Keeper said he didn’t have the keys. The nearest place to get them was Groningen. Where we’d left a couple of hours earlier. Our choice was to either go back through one lock and three bridges to obtain a key (and it was now 11:50, ten minutes before all the bridges shut down for lunch) or for Dave to cycle back to Groningen. We decided to go for the latter option, but we needed somewhere to moor the boat in the meantime. There were some mooring places, but they were either too short, too shallow, private or all three. Eventually found a spot just outside another lock, where we weren’t strictly allowed to moor. Dave went off on his bike and I waited. He was back in not time, 35 euros worse off. Apparently this fee is refundable, at some future destination.
Trail 4: We soon felt we’d got into our stride with these bridges. I sat on the roof at the front and used my ‘Wild West’ skills to lasoo the mooring posts and hold the boat straight while I waited for Dave to open and close the bridges,
until…the rope got jammed in the anchor. Never happened before. It’s really important when you’re releasing a rope to do it quickly, otherwise the back of the boat swings out and you can’t go anywhere. A bit of swearing and a determined pull and I got it loose. The anchor is sharp though and I was worried I’d compromised the rope.
Trial 5: Making sure, at the next bridge that the rope couldn’t get tangled round the anchor, it managed to jam itself between the screw holding the pulpit rail in place and the pulpit. More swearing and brute force needed.
Trial 6: Final bridge negotiated and I breathed a sigh of relief, then Dave pointed out the tall trees, overhanging and almost joining across the next stretch of water. No problem at all for a cruiser, but Lady Christina is a sailing boat and the mast was up. Dave invented and excelled at the new art of ‘Mast Slaolm’.
All in a day’s travelling really. Once we were moored in an otherwise empty harbour,
we cycled to a well-stocked supermarket, bought beers and ice for chilling them, dinner ingredients and finished up with a bike ride around the locality, past windmills and sunflowers. Altogether very rewarding. Two Kingfishers flew past while we were eating dinner on deck and it was pitch dark by 10pm. So, all’s well that ends well…but then
Trail 7: the tap on our sink broke. Not a disaster but something which needs a temporary repair, new components ordering from EBay and collection of the parcel at our destination next weekend organising.
Morals of this story: You travel for the best and worst. And it’s quicker by bike!