Cruising to the end at Groningen

Giethoorn to Groningen

The whole cruise

The map shows this stage, and indeed, the entire cruising track for this short season.

To Assen

After a very pleasant, if short stay at Giethoorn, it was now time to head directly for Groningen and our winter mooring. Planning indicated we would need about three days cruising over the five days until we wanted to be in the shipyard early on Monday.

The direction of cruise was to head back slightly south, through the town of Meppel and up the Drentse Hoofdvaart to Assen, and Noord-Willemskanaal to Groningen.

We left reasonably early on the Wednesday and cruised uneventfully towards Meppel. This was quite a big, busy town and we had to navigate past some enormous, but thankfully slow moving barges before we entered the Drentse Hoofdvaart canal.

Big barge

We had been told that this was one of the most “French” of the Dutch canals, and this was certainly true. It was relatively narrow, perhaps only 15 m wide, the surrounding countryside was largely rural; and the speed limit was a leisurely 6 kph and suddenly, everything became tranquil: on the foredeck, it was sunny, with just a light breeze and only the gentle thrum of the diesel as the fields of grain, and herds of grazing cattle drifted past.

Finally we also had a chance to really do some proper lock work. Other than our very first lock, 45 min into our cruising, which was about 5 m, all the other locks had been trivial rises and falls of between 10 and 40 cm only.

There were a number of locks on this route, each around 2 to 4 metres of rise (after Meppel) and fall (after Assen). The locks were quite small, big enough for Neo Vita, but not much more. They also had pretty lock keeper houses, and the locks were operated manually by the lock keepers.

Lock keepers house

Manual locks

On this first day, we travelled alone – seeing no one heading either in our direction or coming towards us. Very peaceful. After four locks, and numerous bridges, we moored, rather late in the pleasant little village of Dieverbrug. While we were there, we met a long time DBA member, Bill Fisher, his wife and a friend who were now travelling in a Dutch cruiser. It turns out that his barge was for sale, and was one of the barges that we had considered before settling on Neo Vita.  We chatted and absorbed a plethora of details from them on barges, the lifestyle, the route we were taking and on some of the characters in the DBA that Bill had met in his 35 years of cruising.

On Bill’s recommendation we had decided to stop at the relatively nearby town of Assen the next day in the central harbour, and stay an extra night there. Again, after a quiet, relaxing and uneventful cruise we mored up in Assen – alone.

All to ourselves

Now late September, almost all tourist traffic had departed and we had the main mooring to ourselves for the two days.

Relaxing after a long day

Although it was only a brief visit, Assen was a pretty town, plenty of facilities and a large museum that we arrived at late in the day, so didn’t have time to appreciate it fully. The entrance to the turning basin was dominated by two floating sculptures of a dog and a puppy – created by a local artist for a recent art event that filled the harbour side.

Dogs on guard

 

To Groningen

Saturday we planned to leave at around 9 am and had arranged for the two low bridges in the harbour and the entry canal to be raised – now the season is essentially finished, they had to be booked. However, the day dawned very foggy, barely a 100 m of visibility, and so we decided to delay at least an hour to allow it to clear a little.

Foggy morining

That was OK with the harbourmaster, but at 9:30, he came by and asked if we could leave a bit earlier as another boat was trying to leave, and they did not want to open the bridges twice. As the fog seemed to have lifted a bit, we cast off, executed a 180º turn around the dogs and followed the cruiser out.

Following in the fog

Once we were out and onto the Noord-Willemskanaal, the fog closed in a bit more, and we soon lost sight of the cruiser in front, and although the canal was quite wide at this point, we slowed down  – to avoid any excitement from oncoming traffic.

Helm in the Mist

After a nervous half hour or so, we caught up with the cruiser in the next lock, and with the delay there, the fog lifted and cruising became routine again. We since gather that most barges, particularly commercials, refuse to travel in foggy conditions because of the risk of collisions – and so next time, we won’t be induced into travelling under such conditions – but just wait them out. However, the belt took another notch, and we’ve gained a little more experience.

The cruise to Groningen was again in warm sunny weather, and we entered the town in the mid afternoon. It was quite busy, but we successfully navigated to a mooring that we intended to use for the Saturday and through the Sunday until on Monday we could take the short cruise to the yard. This needed a low bridge opening that was only available twice a day, Monday to Friday. We settled down for the evening to eat, drink and relax while watching a few episodes of the “West Wing”.

Evening in Neo Vita

Although we were doing the usual chores, taking time to make measurements for the renovations we were to discuss with the shipyard, and getting ready to leave Neo Vita, we had a bit of time to cycle around Groningen. It’s a pretty city from what we saw; it has a strong University culture, so lots of young  people and irreverent meeting places typical of college towns. Cats and dogs both represented –

Cat Cafe Sign

IMG_0604

Dog Pub

The bicycle culture of the Netherlands was strongly evident –

Bicycle culture

and there is also a dense community of permanent barge dwellers.

Permanent Barges Life

We also came across our first red-light district, at least two streets worth, complete with enticements in the windows.

Red Light

There are also a number of cultural establishments awaiting our return next year, to provide a break from cleaning, painting and so forth.

Ready to Leave

Lisette was on deck duty on the Monday when we took the short trip to the ship yard, and this involved mooring next to the bridge during the wettest and windiest five minutes that we had experienced on the whole trip. Soaked, she then held the ropes as we did a near perfect “ferry glide” (where the barge is stationary parallel to a mooring point, and is then moved, under control, sideways to gently lay into the mooring) from one side of the canal to the other. Ropes were passed perfectly, and it was a satisfying demonstration of our hard won skills and the perfect end to our first cruise.

Moored at Willem's

What Next?

Neo Vita will have all her fluids antifreezes, fresh water emptied, diesel filled, toilet and shower salted and put into maintenance mode for the winter and over the spring until our return sometime in the middle of 2015. During this period Willem de Vries’ shipyard will undertake some relatively minor modifications, and tidy up some items that we feel will add to the convenience of our cruising. Willem and Andrew Sadler who is the ship’s carpenter who works with Willem, spent several hours with us going over our ideas, and providing lots of practical advice and creative suggestions. They were terrific.

The main task will be some modifications to the bathroom and the fo’c’sle to provide some guest accommodation and add some “wrap around” seating at the stern to make the sun-deck larger and more functional. Other than some minor items, we have been delighted that all the indications that Neo Vita was sound and well suited to our needs, have been confirmed during the three weeks of cruising.

So, on the Wednesday morning we bid farewell

Bye

to Neo Vita, wrapped in her winter garb

Left for winter

for a short visit to Amsterdam before flying out on Thursday morning.

In the three weeks we had travelled 356 km in 13 days of cruising, at an average speed of 6.3 kph – a fast walk.

We’d had the best time of our lives.