The marina where we were staying was very close to the centre of the older part of Zaandam, a short walk to the restaurants, shopping, train station and other conveniences. As we mentioned earlier, at one time, this area was perhaps the most industrialised in Western Europe – but that was a long time ago, and now it is a pleasant satellite town of Amsterdam.
Czaar Peter Huisje
Literally a stone’s throw from the marina is the main international attraction of the town, the Czaar Peter Huisje. In 1696, Tsar Peter of Russia (Peter the Great) arrived incognito in Zaandam. He wished to study shipbuilding so he could introduce the skills to his country. He stayed for only 8 days on that first visit, sleeping in the small wooden house belonging to a local blacksmith.
The house was falling into decline, partly due to neglect and partly to local flooding that was damaging the building. The house changed hands a number of times, and in 1804, now owned by a local innkeeper, it was opened to the public who, for a small fee, could be amazed that Peter the Great had stayed there almost 150 years earlier. In 1818, the house was purchased by King Willem I of the Netherlands, who gave it to his daughter-in-law, Anna Pavlovna, a descendent of Czaar Peter. She had a brick outer shell built to protect what remained of the original wooden building, and a house was built alongside for a caretaker.
While we were there, a group of Russian tourists were being shown around, all the guides can speak Russian as well as Dutch and English. The house has been visited by such luminaries as Napoleon Bonaparte, Mikhail Gorbachev, Vladimir Putin – and, more recently, a couple of McCauleys!
Aside from the historical interest, the shipyard that built Catharina Elisabeth was originally called the “Czaar Peter Shipyard” and on the original registration documents, this is noted as the builder. There is more detail on this in our historical section.
In the mid-18th century, Zaandam was very popular as a centre for artists to come and paint and relax. One artist with a developing reputation was Claude Monet. He and his family stayed in four months in Zaandam during 1871 and there are 25 paintings from this era in various museums, many depicting the landscape and scenery of Zaandam. One painting, now in a private collection, depicts the house that Monet and his family occupied – it is called ‘The Blue House’. It is notable because it is one of the very few paintings by Monet that depicts his family, his wife, young son Jean, and a companion.
The house is still there, privately owned, and recently the house was painted in the same colour and style of the painting. The house was even closer than a stone’s throw to the marina, and we passed it every time we left to go to the town.
We also took advantage of only being €6 and 15 min by train from Amsterdam to check into a couple of museums we had not been able to visit with Gill and Graham. There is so much to see and do, and never enough time to fit it all in!
Rocking up to a museum dedicated to van Gogh we found the queues to be 3 hours at least, with no guarantee of entry. So we booked on line for a 9 am entry a few days later.
Disappointed to miss out on van Gogh (although this turned out to be merely a delay of a couple of days) we headed off to the Rijks Museum. No queues here, and while we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of it – your entry ticket allows you access for a full 12 months! Lots to see, from temporary exhibits (fashion magazines through the ages) to naval history, weaponry, and a number of wonderful pieces by Rembrandt.
This painting commemorates the attack by the Dutch fleet on the English navy at Chatham on the Medway. Close to London, the populace were terrified by the surprise attack, destruction of 13 ships, the seizing and removal of the English flagship Royal Charles, and capture and burning of the nearby fort. The defeat was total and drove the English to make a treaty with the Dutch. The hero of the action was the Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter, and a fascinating character involved in a tumultuous time in Dutch history.
One of the benefits of travel is, of course, learning that the English did not win every battle, sometimes they copped a shellacking.
Amongst all this culture, we still took time to relax, and do some catch up shopping for essentials. I could not believe that the day my sister left, we came across the biggest wine shop we had ever seen. It’s hard enough to get Ian out of the wine section in the supermarkets here, but to let him loose in a place this big…
Having spent a bit of time in one place, it was now off to perhaps the most important destination of our cruise – Catharina Elisabeth’s home port of Wormerveer, and the Verwer family who built her. And after that, Alkmaar, where she would have started her working day – loading cheese.
One of the most important dimensions of a barge is its ‘air draft’, or its maximum height above the waterline. This governs what bridges and tunnels you can use. If the bridge is low, and fixed – and you are too tall, you can’t pass. We’ve taken some measurements and the top of the front of the wheelhouse last year, and it is about 3.05 – 3.10 m above the waterline. The leading edge of the bimini further back is about the same height.
So we knew we had a bridge on the way that had a section that opened, and a section that was fixed, but just above (3.2 m) our height so we could use it to check our measurements, and calibrate our forestay height – often this is done by fixing a wire or similar to the forestay to give us early warning if we were approaching a questionable bridge.
So after a bit of rain, and filling up the 2000 L water tank under our bed, we set off. At the bridge we crept in but as the wheelhouse passed under, just the tip of the leading edge of the bimini jammed. OK, into reverse, pretty fiercely too – so we could approach the bridge to use the raising section instead. As we backed out, there was a bit of grinding, squealing and ripping. Not a good sound – but getting back out was now a priority.
We made it out, but the bimini frame was pretty bent.
So what had happened? Let’s skip the bit about “why didn’t you use the opening bridge” as it was a ‘Captain’s Call’. Three things had conspired:
First, it had been raining and even the quite wide Zaan river was a little higher. There are depth indicators on the side of the bridge, indicating the height, but these were badly positioned, and we were reasonably committed to the non-opening span we had chosen and probably mis-interpreted the depth markers.
Second, we had just put two tonnes of water on board, and our clean water tank is positioned well towards the bow. As it turns out this had raised the stern by about 5 to 8 cm.
These two facts got us stuck. However the damage was done while reversing back out. We made it in without catching the bimini, so why did it catch on the way out?
So the last fact is that when a boat is under power, and going forwards, the stern drops significantly – sometimes this is used to drop the wheelhouse to get under a low bridge. Conversely, when you reverse, the stern raises, and that’s what got us. There was a post with some information at the leading edge of the bridge, and when we reversed and the stern raised, it now caught the trailing edge of the bimini.
The damage was not that bad, and you can see that we fixed most of it, courtesy of a jack (‘krik’ in Dutch) we borrowed from a commercial barge about an hour later.
There is also a small tear which we can easily patch. While not fully fixed on the day, we will complete the repair in Veurne before we leave. A few learnings there – sigh…
We knew the address of the one of the Verwers, where Trien Verwer now lives. She and her husband Maarten Verwer ran Catharina until she was sold in the late 1950’s. Now 89 she lives right next to the Zaan. Having her address (we used it to register Catharina’s home port as Wormerveer) we we had used Streetview to get an idea of a mooring spot near where we we thought she might be living.
So we tied up, started fixing the bimini frame and “Hi there” and it was Joop Verwer come to say hello. He is a descendent of Pieter and Catharina from their eldest son Peter. The barge Catharina Elisabeth passed to their other son Maarten, and in discussions later, it emerged that Peter never had any interest in the family transport business. We had a nice chat and coffee with Joop who gave us some information about his part of the family.
While we were chatting, there was a tapping on the window, a woman gestured to us and said “Come look!”
Next episode – ‘Meeting the Family’