Apologies we are so far behind, but we are making progress – albeit slowly.
We left our tale with a tap on the wheelhouse window.
As we stepped out of the wheelhouse onto the aft deck we could see Trien Verwer draping a large blue banner from her balcony. Trien with her late husband Maarten had last owned and operated Catharina Elisabeth for the Verwer company. It would seem we were moored almost below her window, and the banner must surely be that from the historical pictures we had seen!
In no time at all, Trien, a sprightly lady of 89 years, was standing beside Catharina with her son and daughter – Maarten and Afra – along with their respective partners Ina and Jan. Without much difficulty, she was on board and soon down the stairs into the salon where we all sat down to swap stories over freshly-brewed coffee.
We negotiated the language differences pretty well – fortunately for us mono-lingual English-speaking Aussies, Trien was the only one with little English and everyone else chipped in to do the translating.
It was a fascinating discussion, and we learnt a bit more about Catharina and the Verwer family.
Perhaps the most surprising story was that about 12 months ago, an old skipper who still lived locally had alerted the family that he had spotted a barge called Neo Vita nearby, and he recognised that she was Catharina Elisabeth. The Verwers then made contact with Paul and Marianne (from whom we had bought Neo Vita). This explained why the advertisement for the sale of Neo Vita included some old photos of the barge. But we were unaware of this link during any of our meetings with Paul and Marianne. Last year the Verwers also found out that Neo Vita had been sold, and new owners were taking her away. They hurriedly drove to Middenmeer, only to learn from the Havenmeester that Neo Vita and her new owners (us!) had just left. We probably were cruising past them as they travelled from Wormerveer.
Through a lengthy search for our barge’s history, amid a desire to piece together her fascinating past, we came full circle, and Catharina Elisabeth was reunited with her first family.
Too soon, it was time for us to part, and as we were escorting the family off board, they presented us with the Catharina Elisabeth banner, last used 53 years ago at the 175 year Jubilee Celebrations. It seemed too precious a part of her for us to accept, but they insisted that it belongs with Catharina. Very touched, we accepted and promised to keep the banner with her – although Trien made sure we understood that we were not to put the banner in a washing machine as it was now too fragile to withstand any rough treatment!
One of the very special things we learned was that the same old skipper who had recognised Catharina, made models of the barges that had worked around Zaandam. One of these was a scale model of Catharina Elisabeth, in her original form, built entirely from memory. This model is in the local Zaanse Schaans museum. We had been there a few days previously and just missed out on going into the museum as we had to catch our water taxi back to Zaandam.
A few days later, armed with this new information, we made another trip to the museum, this time arriving early enough to buy tickets and go inside. It was a small but very well designed and informative collection of the history of the area – the windmills, the people and the industry.
One of the displays was of the commemorative porcelain tile tableaus that workers used to present to their company on significant occasions. One of these was one presented to the shipbuilding company that built Catharina in 1915 to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary.
It was proving tricky to locate the models, and we had almost given up, when we noticed a cabinet in the section that described how Zaandam and the local area was involved in the business of processing rice, wheat and cocoa.
There was a display of the barges that were involved in carrying the rice to the warehouses.
And there was Catharina Elisabeth.
The model depicts her very much as we had imagined she must have looked in her working days – a really special treat.
We were enthralled, and after taking a number of pictures we dashed back out of the museum just in time to meet Maarten and Ina who had invited us to see their barge, moored just a short distance away. Aphrodite was built to their specifications, and designed for long cruising – they have taken her through the Netherlands, Belgium and France. She was beautifully kitted out and we were lucky to see her as Maarten and Ina are selling her, to change to a motorhome style of travelling.
We had a lovely chat over a coffee on Aphrodite, and then hopped on their spare bikes and cycled to their house in the nearby town of Zaandijk. We then kicked on to a very friendly Greek-style restaurant in Wormerveer, close to where we had been moored when we first met the family. We had a great evening – from the ouzo presented to us as a welcome drink, to the food prepared by an Egyptian chef, and served by a young Afghani. We were astounded to discover this young man had a truly encyclopaedic knowledge of cricket, in all its forms. Maarten and Ina watched on bemused as we chatted about sixes, one-dayers and Dennis Lillee.
We finished off by making certain that we had Maarten and Ina write in our copy of the book that describes the history of the barge families of Wormerveer.
We hope that we can meet them again in the not too distant future.