“I’m glad we went”, says the First Mate. “It was good to see them all again, after all the travel restrictions last year. And I am glad we found a solution to the gas problem.”
We are driving back from a few days in Germany to visit the First Mate’s family, particularly her mother, who has almost reached the impressive age of 88. We had hired a car in Hoorn and driven the two-and-half hours to her home town. We had decided to call the car Strawberry Custard because of its colour scheme. Choosing a car to advertise the rental company had been the latest in the First Mate’s efficiency measures.
We had arrived just after lunch. The barbecue planned by the First Mate’s brother for the evening had unfortunately had to be cancelled as thunderstorms and heavy rain had been forecast. It didn’t really matter, as the time had been spent visiting various members of the family and other friends, making the most of the good weather in the following days by enjoying coffees, teas and ice-creams in the street cafes, catching up on the gossip, and, of course, shopping.
In particular, we were keen to solve our problem of a gas supply for the boat. We had discovered that despite the best efforts of the EU to standardise gas bottles and fittings, every country still had its own system, most of them incompatible with any of the others. The existing bottles on the boat were butane Calor Gas ones from the UK, and could not be filled for love or money on the Continent, mainly because it is illegal. We had found propane bottles in Germany, but of course the dimensions of the bottle were different, and foolishly I hadn’t measured the dimensions of the gas locker on the boat. We weren’t desperate yet as we still had one more bottle of Calor Gas left, so we decided that the best thing to do was to check the dimensions of the German bottle and our locker, and if compatible, to buy one later, along with the fittings, when we were in the German part of the Baltic. Assuming our current Calor Gas bottle lasts until then, of course.
We arrive back in Hoorn, unload all of our luggage, load one of the bikes into the boot, and take Strawberry Custard back to the rental company.
The next day we cycle into the town centre.
“I don’t think you are allowed to ride your bicycle down there”, says the First Mate, as I enter a narrow lane. “It’s only for pedestrians.”
I am not so sure. The sign says Fietsen toegelland buiten winkeltijd. I get out my phone and ask Mr Google to translate. He tells me it means “Cycling allowed outside shopping hours”.
It’s a Sunday. Many of the shops are closed, but some are open. Is it ‘shopping hours’ or not? I hate uncertainty, but I do as I am told, and push the bike rather than riding it. I’ve found that it’s easier that way. To do as I am told, that is.
We sit down at a café to have lunch. We can see the statue of Jan Pieterzoon Coen, one of the Dutch Governors-General of the Dutch East Indies, in the Roode Steen square. We had learnt a bit about him when we had visited the Friesland Museum in October, but over the winter we had both read Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton on the history of the spice trade in the East Indies. Different times, different morals, of course, but by most measures Jan Coen was a nasty piece of work. A Calvinist with no sense of humour, he hated the English with a vengeance because they had killed a close friend of his, and was determined to gain control of the spice trade by conquering islands, subjugating the natives, and establishing Dutch colonies. Any Englishmen that he captured were whipped, had salt and vinegar rubbed into their wounds, and were put into cages and paraded around ports to show Dutch superiority. The Bandanese islanders fared even worse – their leaders were hung drawn and quartered, and the people dropped over cliffs into the sea, or shipped off to Jakarta and sold into slavery.
“It’s unbelievable”, says the First Mate. “How could people be so cruel? And I thought they were supposed to be Christians. How do you think they reconciled their beliefs with what they were doing?”
“They probably just thought of them as a different category of human”, I philosophise. “Don’t you remember in the book that Coen said the Bandanese were an indolent people of whom little good can be expected. That probably justified in his mind the way that he treated them. Love one another, but only if they are the same as you – that kind of thing.”
“Not very ‘woke’”, says the First Mate. “It’s interesting that his statue is still standing – in the UK, there is pressure to remove the statues of people associated with the worst aspects of the British Empire. I wonder if it is the same here?”
She has a point – the statues of Edward Colston associated with the slave trade and Cecil Rhodes associated with subjugation of Africans are currently proving contentious in the UK. We read later that, in fact, there had been a large demonstration against the Jan Pieterzoon Coen statue in June 2020, but that the authorities had refused to remove it. Apparently many of the Dutch regard him as a national hero.
Another couple come and sit at the table next to us. The First Mate strikes up a conversation with them. They live in Hoorn, and are enjoying the fine weather by having lunch in the town before heading back to watch the Austrian F1 Grand Prix. The Dutchman Max Verstappen is a favourite to win.
“After the Netherlands was knocked out of the Euros by the Czech Republic, we need something else to cheer for”, says the man.
“We were just wondering if you are allowed to cycle in those little streets in that area over there”, says the First Mate, pointing to where we had just come from.
“No, definitely not”, the woman says. “Pedestrians only.”
“But what counts as ‘shopping hours’?”, I ask. “It’s Sunday today, and some of the shops are open even though most are not. How many shops have to be open in a street to count as ‘shopping hours’?”
“That’s a good question”, says our neighbour. “Do you know, I don’t really know. The owners can choose to open on Sunday or not. Shopping hours are definitely before 1800h during weekdays, but I must admit I don’t know what they would be on Sunday.”
I decide to play safe and push the bike through the narrow streets. I don’t really want to cause an international incident over cycling rights. It’s not such a big deal anyway. Either way is good exercise.
With Ruby Tuesday now ready to go, we decide to leave Hoorn around 0900h the next morning. It’s about 13 NM up the coast to Enkhuisen, just a nice distance to get us back into the way of sailing after about eight months. It’s a bit overcast, but the wind is good. I look back as we motor out of the harbour entrance, and feel a tinge of sadness to be going. We had both enjoyed Hoorn, and had got to know it well – its narrow streets, picturesque houses, beautiful harbour, and friendly and helpful marina staff – in the weeks that we had been there. Not quite like home, but somewhere familiar nevertheless.
We cut the engine and hoist the sails. Ruby Tuesday surges forward like a bird who has just regained its freedom after being imprisoned for a period and wants to test its wings again. The First Mate takes the helm. She is keen to get more practice on helming and getting the feel of the sails and the wind.
The first hour the wind is from the SW and we are on a beam reach, giving us an effortless stretch. I am always a bit nervous on the first sail of the season – have we forgotten to do something, is something seized up after a long period of inactivity? Weed around the propeller or rudder? Growth blocking up the log paddle wheel? But everything seems to be working fine. I begin to breathe easier.
We reach Kraaienburg, and turn to the NE. This is not so easy – with the wind more-or-less directly behind us now, we need to take care that we don’t gybe. We decide to furl the mainsail and use the genoa only to avoid this. There is still enough power in the wind to push us along at 5 knots, and we are not in a hurry.
Eventually we reach the Krabbergat Naviduct on the Houtribdijk, the 27-kilometre dam that divides the Markermeer and the Ijsselmeer. Here the road goes under a canal constructed for boats moving between the two bodies of water. Apparently this used to be a real bottleneck for both road traffic and shipping when there used to be a only a single lifting bridge as only one or the other could pass at any one time. Now the traffic can flow through unimpeded underneath while the boats sail through overhead.
“That’s clever”, says the First Mate. “It reminds me of that viaduct we crossed on the Forth and Clyde Canal in our little boat with the motorway going underneath.”
She’s right. We had taken our small boat from the centre of Edinburgh to the centre of Glasgow along the Forth and Clyde Canal a few years ago, at the same time as the infamous EU Referendum in 2016. We had crossed the Edinburgh City Bypass on the Scott Russell Aquaduct and looked through at the traffic zooming past underneath.
We arrive in Enkhuizen around 1300h, and enter the town harbour. We had heard that it gets busy here, and that sometimes 20 boats have been rafted up next to each other. We are not all that keen on that as it means clambering over other boats to get to shore, and also probably means that we won’t have power. By chance another boat is leaving from the small number of box berths at the end of the harbour, so we quickly nab that one. It’s perfect – no one else can raft up to it, it has its own power supply, and it is a five minute walk to the town centre. What more could one wish for?
The owner of the boat in the next box-berth gives us a hand tying up.
“Have you been here for a while?”, says the First Mate, noticing the two folding bikes next to the boat.
“Most of the summer”, he tells her. “We live in Amsterdam, but my wife is working in Enkhuizen at the moment, so we decided to come up here with the boat and stay here. I am working remotely.”
It’s not the first time we have heard something similar. We had met a couple in Hoorn marina who lived in a small poky flat in Amsterdam, and were glad to get out if it in the summer and come somewhere nice in their boat. I can’t say that I blame them.
He shows us how the electric power system operates. We need to purchase a card with credit on it, then place it against a reader, and push a button next to our socket. The First Mate presses the button.
“Ah, it’s nice to have power again”, she says.
The power goes off about an hour later.
“Perhaps we have a dud socket”, I say.
We plug into a different socket and press its button. This time it lasts a couple of hours before stopping.
It eventually dawns on us that each button push gives us 1 kWh of electricity, and that we need to push the button a few times to get enough for the day. I calculate that we are using about 4 kWh per day. At home we use about 20 kWh per day. I push the button four times.
We are feeling peckish and find a place serving food overlooking the harbour. As we munch our kibbelings (fried chunks of fish) dipped in garlic sauce, we watch the boats coming in after us, circling around the harbour looking for free spots, and eventually rafting up to another boat of similar size. We feel slightly smug that we managed to bag the last of the box berths, and that we have power and water and no pesky neighbours. It’s the same feeling you get when you have got up early and put your towel on the best sun-lounger on the beach. Not that I do that, of course. In the distance, the sun catches the green onion-shaped spire of the church, and its glockenspiel starts to play a cheerful tune announcing the top of the hour. All is good with the world.
“Look out for those dohlen” says the First Mate suddenly. “They are pretty cheeky, and will steal anything shiny when you are not looking.”
She is referring to the flock of jackdaws have descended on our eatery and are perched on empty chairs, eyeing our food like vultures. The people at the next table pay and leave, and the jackdaws converge on their table, pecking at any food that is left. In nature, little goes to waste.
That evening, we hear on the news that Johnson is dispensing of all COVID regulations in the UK on July 16th, despite the number of infections by the Delta variant still shooting up meteorically. The idea is that the country just has to learn to live with the virus. It this wise, we wonder? Will it translate through into more and more admissions into hospital, intensive care, and eventually deaths? Perhaps the vaccine roll out will stop this happening, who knows? But we feel glad that we are in Europe, and are onlookers in this massive public health experiment rather than part of it.