I love liquorice. Always have! And so do the Dutch;  so every supermarket or service station has shelves and shelves of the stuff, with fruit – or ‘zoet’ or ‘zout’ (sweet or salt). Last year we always had liquorice in the tin, for those ‘liquorice moments’ when we needed a reward, after negotiating a tricky bridge, deciphering the chart, or sorting out the sails and sheets. And there were ‘liquorice moments’ most days. Stroop waffles were another reward and we almost always had one, or two, with each cup of tea or coffee.

This year, we decided, things would be different. At home during the winter,we didn’t eat liquorice or Stroop waffles at all. If we could resist them at home, surely we could do the same on the boat. After all, went the reasoning, we were now experienced and proficient boat handlers, who’d travelled widely and lived to tell the tale. So, my supermarket shop on Saturday had neither waffles nor liquorice in the basket.

This morning, we decided to go to Leeuwarden, for several reasons. It’s a lovely city and tantalisingly near. You can see its tower blocks from Grou, mistily blue on the horizon. The distance between Grou and Leeuwardedn is about 10km and it takes three hours to get there by water – the route isn’t direct and there are lots of bridges – and about fifteen minutes by train. This year, Leeuwarden is the European Capital of culture and there’s a lot going on. Also the forecast was for rain and we thought, what better place to be than one with theatres, cinemas, cafes and even more expositions and exhibitions than usual. A good decision.

We did well at first. The wind was behind us, so although we had the engine on, we unfurled the jib, to pull us along and save the planet by an infinitesimal amount. Every little helps! Then the wind changed direction and the jib started to flog (flap around wildly and be impossible to furl in) So we had to turn round and faff about – including having to deal with a bit of the furling mechanism which wasn’t working as it should. All sorted after a while –and we deserved a reward- but where were the ‘Allsorts’?

As we passed under the first bridge, there was a recorded message, saying something about Leeuwarden, but it was in Dutch and we didn’t understand it. Decided to press on anyway, expecting it to become clearer, whatever ‘it’ was. At the next bridge, the bridge-keeper said that the rail bridge into Leeuwarden was closed ‘until April.’ Quick check of the date and despite Dave’s watch telling him yesterday that it was ’32 March’ we concluded that today’s date was 4 April. So what was the problem?

Making decisions when you’re hungry and cold is a bad idea, so we moored for lunch and after delicious Pompoen soep, several phone calls, consulting the Almanac and the internet, we discovered that the bridge in question is closed for maintenance until 10 April. Although we were moored in a scenic spot, with views of fields, other waterways and loads of birds, we felt this would pall if we waited for 6 more days, so off to Wartena, a tiny hamlet which we’ve taken refuge in before , hoping that the village bar is actually open on Tuesdays. Actually getting off the mooring wasn’t simple, as by now it was quite windy, but we managed it, turned round and set off in the opposite direction. And those misty blue towers were still there on the horizon – taunting us.

I’m thinking of making a board game called ‘Navigating the Netherlands’.A bit like monopoly, but you get positive points for reading the chart correctly, understanding an instructions in Dutch, or saving fuel by using your sails. Negative points for anything jamming or failing to work, waiting at bridges, having to change your route, or being caught in the rain. Lots of positive points for seeing birds though:lapwings, cormorants, ducks,terns, geese and oystercatchers. And most points for seeing a hare.

We must have scored bonus points today, because as we boiled the kettle for a cuppa and realised we didn’t have any Stroop waffles, the mobile shop drew up next to us! No kidding. So our Stroop waffle tin  Christmas present is now full

and I’m going to buy some liquorice as soon as we get to Leeuwarden. If we ever do!

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