A storm, lost keys, and a bygone era

“The forecast is for strong winds tonight and tomorrow”, I say. “We might need to put some extra warps on, and batten down the hatches”.

“That all sounds very nautical”, says the First Mate. “Splice the mainbrace, me hearties, and all that. Have you been reading the Manual of Sailing again?”

I suspect she isn’t taking me seriously enough. We have some sailing friends who are in the Isles of Scilly at the moment, and they have emailed us to tell us that they are making a run for it back to mainland Britain as they don’t want to weather the storm in the limited shelter there. The winds forecast for Enkhuisen are the tail-end of their storm.

Depression centred over the Isles of Scilly.

The wind is already starting to rise, and there is a steady stream of boats coming in off the Markermeer for shelter in the harbour. There isn’t a lot of space, so all the newcomers have rafted up to others already there. We are in a relatively sheltered part of the harbour, so I think we should be alright. I put on a couple of extra lines just to be safe and make sure the hatches are closed. I don’t want the harbour master thinking we are blasé about it.

The wind increases and the trees start to sway, their leaves shaking loose and blowing around the harbour. Ruby Tuesday strains against her moorings, the mast moving slowly from one side to the other. We sit in the cockpit and watch the seagulls struggling against the wind to try and get home, and then giving up and flying where it takes them. The sun breaks through the gathering storm clouds for a moment and catches the lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour, and lights it and the sheltering yachts up against the darkening storm clouds.

The calm before the storm.

Then the rain starts. Small drops at first, then becoming heavier and heavier until we can’t hear ourselves talk. We sit in silence. There is something comforting sitting in the cockpit enclosure, protected against the elements, as the forces of nature rage around us.

Warm and dry inside.

The next day dawns bright and clear. We decide to cycle out to the Zuiderzee Museum for the afternoon.

“Have you see my keys?”, I say. “They don’t seem to be in any of my pockets.”

“Perhaps the jackdaws stole them?”, says the First Mate. “They like bright shiny things. Where did you last have them?”

I try and think. I had locked the bike the day before when I went to the harbour office to pay our mooring fees. I hadn’t used them since – the First Mate had locked the two bikes together overnight. We ransack the boat looking for them, I check at the harbour office, and try and retrace my movements after that, but to no avail. Luckily there are only two keys which are missing, one to the boat itself, and one for the bike lock. Oh, and my COVID facemask. All are important, but at least we have a spare of each.

“No problem”, I say. “We can see if there is a keysmith in town, and we can call in with the spare keys on the way to the museum and get him to make copies. We can pick them up again in the evening.”

Mr Google tells us that there is a keysmith not far from where we are tied up.

“It shouldn’t be a problem”, he says when we get there. “Call back after your museum visit and I’ll have them ready.”

Relieved, we cycle out to the museum on the north-east of the town. There are two parts – an indoor part, and an outdoor part, about two minutes’ walk from each other. As the sun has come out, we decide to do the outdoor section first. Who knows what the weather might do later?

The Zuiderzee was a former large body of shallow seawater that extended inland from the North Sea. During storms, it had the effect of funnelling water in from the North Sea and flooding the surrounding land, drowning people and destroying villages on a periodic basis. The Dutch eventually became fed up with this, and in 1932 decided to build a huge dam across the mouth of the Zuiderzee to stop these storms causing so much havoc. The dam was called the Afsluitdijk, and it created a new lake behind it, which was named the Ijsselmeer. Parts of this lake were also drained and made into ‘polders’ or farmland, and even a new province called Flevoland where town and villages were built. A second dam completed in 1975 called the Houtribdijk further divided the Ijsselmeer to create the Markermeer. This was the dam that we had passed through on entering Enkhuisen.

Flooding in the Zuiderzee.

Although the dams stopped the flooding, it did have the effect of destroying much of the fishing culture that had previously existed around the shores of the Zuiderzee, and the museum is an attempt to preserve some of that culture. The indoor part contains many of the different types of boats used in and around the Zuiderzee, while the outdoor part consists of an artificial village constructed from houses from different parts of the region.

Model Dutch village at the Zuiderzee museum.

We stop at one of the houses. Inside is a women dressed in traditional Dutch costume. She introduces herself as a traditional storyteller.

“Can you tell us a story in English?”, I ask. We are the only other people in the house at that moment.

“Of course”, she replies. “Let me tell you the story of the mermaid who lives in the Zuiderzee.”

“Once upon a time there was a young boy named Sijmen who lived in one of the villages around the Zuiderzee”, she starts. “As fate would have it, he fell in love with a girl called Geeske, the daughter of one of the skippers of the village. Eventually, they decide to get married, but first Sijmen has to ask Geeske’s father for her hand in marriage.

“No, you can’t marry my daughter”, is the response. “You are much too poor. Only if you can give me one thousand guilders can you have her.”

Sijmen is a bit downcast at this, as 1000 guilders is an impossible sum for a poor fisherman’s son. So, as one might do in these circumstances, he jumps in his boat and goes fishing.

“Why are you looking so sad?”, says a voice suddenly.

He looks around. Who is talking to him our here in the middle of the sea? Then he spots a beautiful mermaid poking her head up out of the water. He tells her his story.

“Perhaps you made a mistake in counting how much money you have?”, she says.

“No chance”, he says. “I only have 200 guilders. I know, because I count it every night.”

“I still think you might have made a mistake”, says the beautiful mermaid. “Go and count it again.”

So Sijmen goes and counts his money again, and discovers that indeed he has 1000 guilders. Overjoyed he goes back to Geeske’s father and gives him the money and the couple get married. And from that time on, every time that Simjen goes out fishing, he looks for the mermaid to thank her. But he never sees her again.

The Zuiderzee mermaid (from Wikimedia Commons).

The storyteller looks at us and sips a glass of water. Did I just imagine a small tear in her eye?

“Rumour has it that she is still out there”, she says. “Many a fisherman since has seen her. But others say it is just the waves. Make of it what you will.”

We thank her for the story, and continue on. We pass kilns used to extract lime from seashells. Here and there, old fishermen chat to each other in the sunshine while mending their nets, a woman hangs out the washing.

Mending the nets.
Hanging out the washing.

The houses are tiny, yet this was where whole families lived together, and often worked together as well.

Living room in Zuiderzee house.

Real cows and sheep graze peacefully in the lush grass near the canal. A post office has scales for weighing letters and parcels, the carpenter uses his chisels to shape timbers for a boat, and wooden clogs are lined up neatly outside the school classroom.

Carpenter in Zuiderzee museum.
Clogs in the school cloakroom.

The church stands at the centre of the community as a place for people to come together. All relics of a bygone and simpler age.

We stop at the café for a coffee and cake.

“That was one of the best museums I have been in a while”, says the First Mate. “Life was certainly tougher then. But more sustainable. It’s a bit like my parents lived when they were young. I think what impressed me was the community spirit they all would have had – everyone helping each other. I wonder if it will ever revert to that kind of lifestyle again, or has it gone for good?”

A jackdaw alights on a chair nearby and eyes our piece of cake.

“It could come again”, I say. “We only have a high-powered lifestyle now because of cheap fossil fuels. Once they run out and we haven’t found any alternative energy sources, then we might have to accept a different way of living than we do now.”

Over the winter, I had read 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years by Jorgen Randers, one of the authors of the original Limits to Growth book back in the 1970s. I had read Limits to Growth back in my university days, and it had been a major influence ever since. In this 40-year update, Randers uses a mixture of real data, models and projections to hazard a guess at what life will be like over the next 40 years. Global population will keep increasing, but will slow down and peak at around 2040. We won’t run out of fossil fuels, but they will become increasingly expensive to extract, meaning that a greater proportion of our effort will have to be spent on doing that. Use of renewable energy will increase, but again, the cost of this will increase. But the biggest challenge will be climate change and its impacts – more and more effort will have to be spent on dealing with the damage it causes – rising sea levels, flood defences, lower food production and the like. Even though we know now about these impacts, we will be sluggish in doing anything about them, as the consultation and participation of our democratic political systems are just too slow to make the rapid, and sometimes unpopular, decisions necessary. For that reason, China will be the next world superpower and not the USA. The bottom line is that the global economy will change drastically – less money will be spent on consuming things we don’t really need as more and more will be spent on just keeping the world safe for us to live in.

“I am not sure if I would like that too much”, says the First Mate, trying to shoo the jackdaw away. “I am quite glad that we are living when we do. It worries me what our grandchildren will have to face.”

Jackdaw contemplating the future of the world.

It does all sound doom and gloom, but it might not be such a bad thing. Randers argues that consumer culture will be replaced by other things that give us longer term satisfaction and meaning in life, and that the focus on individual rights will give way to more cooperative behaviour where the common good is more important than personal pleasure. And the environment will benefit as a result. It’s a more upbeat perspective than Limits to Growth, emphasising societal change rather than collapse. But is it a change that we will choose, or is it one that will be forced on us?

We finish our cake and get up to leave. The jackdaw flies off with a disgusted look on its face. I am fairly sure it is because he didn’t get any cake, and not because of the topic of conversation. But I might be wrong.

On the way back to the boat, we call in at the keysmith.

“Here they are”, he says. “The bike lock key was easy, the boat one other more difficult, as there is no number or make on it. But I managed to find a blank that is close enough, so I think it should be OK. Give it a go.”

Getting new keys cut.

We cycle home. I decide to try the keys. The bike lock one works perfectly. The boat door key doesn’t fit at all. It’s too late to go back to the keysmith as he is closed, so we decide to do it first thing in the morning before we set off for Makkum.

In the morning, I jump on the bike and pedal around to the keysmith.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to do it”, he says. “It’s a really unusual key. You’ll probably need to get some blanks from the boat manufacturer, and get someone to cut out the pattern from the spares. It’s consumer culture. Sorry. Here’s your money back.”

Up until now, I had had no idea of the intricacies of key science. They had all looked the same to me.

Just before we leave, an email arrives to tell us that our sailing friends have made it safely back to Cornwall, but that other sailors they had met out there and who had decided to ride out the storm have had a terrible night of it, with several boats dragging their anchors, and one being dashed on the rocks. Enkhuisen seems benign in comparison.

Enkhuisen the morning after the storm.

1 thought on “A storm, lost keys, and a bygone era

  1. All so interesting R and B. Love reading about your travels. Such a beautiful part of the world you’re in at present.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.