Before heading down the final section of the North Holland Canal we visited De Zaanse Shans a collection of historic buildings and windmills that have been reconstructed by the river Zaan. Wind power was used for all sorts of things, included in the collection was a sawmill and a dye mill. 

In our last update we still had to motor the last section of the North Holland canal. We could not go down the Zaan as there is a bridge that has been out of service for a few years preventing yachts from passing. There is a diversion through the Nauerhasche Vaart with a stated height restriction of 18m, a yacht not much bigger than ours had apparently turned back and returned to Den Helder a few days earlier.

The information we had showed all the bridges opened, we set off unsure what the height restriction was caused by. It turned out to be electricity cables, we are told that these are always at least 30m high so plenty of room for our 16m mast.

At the end of the canal we passed through a small lock into the North Sea Canal. This lock had a very friendly lock keeper who provided local information as well as a safe passage through the lock. The water level on each side was pretty much the same, the locks just help keep the salt and fresh waters separate and stop the salt waters from poisoning the farmland.

A short trip along the North Sea Canal and we decided that we had enjoyed the canal and we would continue on the canals through to Zeeland.

We made an overnight stop at a small club marina, this allowed us to get some washing done. The marina was in a very rural location but it was directly under the final approach for Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, fortunately, they do not have flights in the night.

Haarlem again

It was just a few hours up the river to Haarlem, you can stay on moorings right in the middle of the city. We were lucky with our arrival timing and found a great place near Ponte Mobile. We were able to see the town square without a fun fair.

We like seeking out some of the quirkier places and found ourselves in prison. Actually, a closed prison being converted into an entertainment and business centre.

We woke in the morning to find a cat sleeping under the sprayhood. The cat continued to get on and off the boat all day, in the evening the owner came looking and took the cat away. I think they were worried it might stow away in the morning with us.

We were heading to Lieden for our next stop. We knew through a Facebook group there were 2 more Island packet yachts at Kaagsocieteit. We stopped by to say hello, first time we have seen three island packets in a raft. We also ended up with a dog on board.

They were also heading for Lieden that evening so at 5 we all left and had a convoy of island packets heading along the canal.

Leiden was a really nice city and once again we stopped at the municipal harbour right in the middle of the city. It has canals, old buildings, University and museums to explore, and famous residents, include Rembrant and Erasmus. It has everything Amsterdam has apart from the red light district and the crowds. Currently it is winning the competition for our favourite city in the Netherlands. It is easy to get to from Amsterdam on the train so would make a great alternative for a city break.

We decided to get our dinghy out and take our own trip through the canals to see the town from water level. Everyone in these cities seem to have a small boat and you often see youngsters whizzing around the town in them.

We took the train to Den Haag (The Haig), this only takes about 20 minutes if you do not miss your stop and end up in Delft. Anyway this gave us the opportunity to try upstairs and downstairs on the double decker train as we retraced our steps.

Den Haag is a modern city, it not the capital but parliament meets here, it is also home to Embassys and of course the international court of justice. In many parts of the city you feel you could be walking around Chelsea or any other well to do part of London.

We were curious to see what we had missed by not sailing along the coast to Shevinhaven so took the tram to see the sea. We found ourselves in a grand seaside resort complete with a pier and sealife centre. The beach was full of restaurants, they were busy but it was mid-week and the wind was a cold northerly so not too many people on the beach. On the promenade, there was a model of a full-size Giraff created from Duplo.

We walked back to the harbour and found a great ice cream parlour dating back to the 1930s. Too cold for ice cream so had the Dutch staple; coffee and apple cake.

We enjoyed our visit but are glad we decided to take the slow route through the canal.

On the way back we managed to get the right train, the confusion was caused as there are three stations in Den Haag.

Another few hours down the canal brings you to Gouda. Planning is required on this canal as some bridges open to a schedule. This is particularly true for railway bridges which open for about 5 minutes every few hours. One such bridge is just outside of Gouda, we were a little early but there was a good place to tie up and wait. Kettle on and a cup of tea. There was just us and a German yacht waiting but in high season it must get busy as the waiting area could accommodate at least 20 boats. Boats up to 7m tall could pass under the closed bridge.

Again we found a place to stay in the middle of town, trees stopped us mooring on the side with electricity. They also lacked facilities, I think they were in the process of building new facilities. It is good to be able to stay close to the centre of the towns, it makes it easy to walk around. Obviously Gouda is famous for cheese. We missed the tourist cheese market, it only happens once a week.

Walking around the town you notice small brass plates set into the pavements outside some homes. This is a project by a German artist where he plans to set these up outside all the homes from which Jews and others were taken from their homes to concentration camps in the Second World War. there is a lot of street art in the Netherlands, here in Gouda there are 50 painted statues celebrating cheese makers, this is to celebrate the 750th anniversary as a city. We did not find them all and I have only included 2 pictures.

Next stop was a club marina just outside Rotterdam. We got very lucky with the last set of bridges, they open once an hour and we arrived just as the lights were changing.

On arrival we tied up on the pontoon but as we were adjusting the lines the harbour master came rushing along to ask us to move to make space for all the other boats arriving later. There was a small space closer to the club house between 2 boats, the gap was not more than 13m our boat is 11.5m this was going to be a challenge, there was no wind and we managed pretty well. We never saw any other boats arrive.

The marina was having a beginning of the season party, brass band, beer, model boats and other attractions.

Sunday we cycled to Central Rotterdam, this city suffered in the war and has been rebuilt since. Little of the old city remains. There is a great collection of historic ships in the city harbour. There are a lot of modern buildings, we particularly liked the cube houses built in the eighties. The modern market hosts a food hall, we tried the Dutch take on fish and chips for lunch. We headed back via a cycle tunnel, you took your bikes down an escalator, a health and safety nightmare. You then cycled under the river (there was a separate tunnel for walkers). We found there was a lift option at the other end so took that up.

Monday Graham cycled to the local Yanmar dealer to get some spare oil filters. The wind had picked up and we were back on tidal waters. We also had a railway bridge to pass that only opened every two hours. We planned to leave around midday but at midday it was raining. The rain did not last but it was still windy. We decided to leave, would we make the bridge or would we have to drink tea?

We got off the berth smoothly despite having to reverse, something a long keeled island packet is not particularly good at. As we made our way along the river we encountered a surprise, Noah’s Ark was tied up alongside the river bank. (We managed to get a picture.) We then caught up with a steam tug towing a crane. (No pictures). We followed them along, the crane was taller than our mast. This would help us find the lifting section of the upcoming bridge.

As we got closer we heard a noise and realised they were lowering the crane to go under the fixed part of the bridge. We had to find our own way, this required us to cross the channel carefully avoiding the commercial shipping and fast ferries on this stretch of water. The shipping was much larger than we had encountered on our recent travels.

As we approached the bridge we realized we had about 5 minutes to spare before the lift. Almost perfect timing as it was not immediately obvious where we could tie up if we had to wait 2 hours. Just before the bridge is the Oceanco shipyard currently building a superyacht for Jeff Bezos (of Amazon fame). As we were concentrating on making sure we were close to the bridge ready for the lift but not too close we did not take any photos of this. Sitting still in flat water with no wind is straightforward, when there is wind, current and wash from large boats it gets more challenging.

There were three marinas in Dordrecht, WSV Maartensgat was recommended, the motorboat behind us in Rotterdam was heading there Tuesday. Another challenging entrance, little space inside, we needed to turn the boat and moor in front of a French boat. This completely blocked them in, they were leaving in the morning so were quick to check we would be on board to move and let them out.


Dordrecht

This city is the oldest city in the Netherlands, the medieval church looms high above the town.

The tower leans more than the leaning tower of Pisa. It is home to enormous bells, they ring all day and night and from the two nights we were there they interrupted our sleep. The other unusual feature of the bells, to us at least was that in addition to the normal hourly chimes they chimed the hour on the half hour. For example at three thirty they would chime four times, and again at four they would chime 4 times. Graham asked about this, apparently the introductory musical chime told you if it was the half or full hour.

The residents of the town are know as sheepsheads and models of sheep are spotted all around town. Children born in the town are given a stuffed toy sheep by the town council. This all has origins in a story dating back to the Middle ages. There was a tax due in bringing meat into the city. To avoid this two enterprising residents returning home with a sheep saw a scarecrow in a field. They stole the clothes and dressed the sheep, nearing the city they lifted the sheep to its hind legs. They might have got away with their deception but as they entered the gate the sheep bleated and they were found out.

The Dutch really like their bike’s, we found a bicycle made for 5 sitting outside someone’s home.

From here we will head into the inland seas of Zeeland, we should be able to get the sails out again as we explore this area.

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