11. Early days in The Netherlands

We entered the Netherlands on 11th May in some confusion as the PC Navigo wanted to send us one way and the old trusty book map another. To make things even trickier, the lock we arrived at had no name or VHF number visible, as quite a lot of construction work was in progress. Fortunately, the light was green and as we entered the lock its identity appeared on the AIS. It was Lock Lanaye, deep but with sliding bollards.

Peter was keen to moor on an island in the middle of a lake just past the lock wall, but it was not apparent on the Navigo. Fortunately the trusty book map did have it marked and after doubling back (having missed the turning) we were soon moored up at the back of the small island.

Maastricht Island mooring.

Hidden wooden quay and a delightful place to stop for a couple of days.

With the pressing need to somehow activate our new Dutch Vectone Wifi, we unloaded our new canoe and paddled across the lake to the edge nearest to Maastricht. It looked about a 4 km walk to the town from there and I had bottled out of paddling all the way on the Maas because of the frequent large commercial barges whizzing past.

We aimed towards a small lake-side bar, thinking it a good place to leave the canoe. Peter, whose long sight is very good, suddenly said “Oh …I think it is a nudist area”…and so it was, so we gave the assembled company a cheery wave and headed around the bend to a small beach.

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Still recoiling from some scary sights around the corner we set off for the town!

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My ‘I’m thirsty’ look!

After a long hot walk into the centre of Maastricht, we were sent from pillar to post in search of a Vectone Internet Provider or top –up card. Having no internet onboard we needed some to access the new account. With our thirst increasing and our patience exhausted we found a pleasant bar with Wi-Fi near to the centre and enjoyed a couple of our favourite Bruges Zot beers. Still unable to access the help line, but with a newly purchased Vectone top up card, we headed back in the hot sun to our canoe.

We had left it safely padlocked to a small tree, and had to disturb an impromptu family barbecue on the beach when we went to retrieve it.

Just a paddle across the lake and we would be home.

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Heading back.

It certainly was an idyllic spot, tranquil and with lots of bird life…very ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

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This’ll do for our first Netherlands mooring.

Fortunately, being so close to the border with Belguim, our Belgian mobile number still worked, but Peter tried in vain the next day to contact Vectone and we were still without internet.

Our day away from cyberland was lovely and while Peter busied himself on deck sorting out fenders and the dinghy, I put up the mozzie screens, read my book and knitted. In the afternoon we canoed around the island and into the lagoon in the middle where we saw several carp and various water fowl.

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Our lagoon, very ‘Swallows and Amazons’

We had an unexpectedly early start the next day when on rising to make the first cuppa of the day, Peter realised that we were listing to starboard. The water level had dropped about 8” overnight. Not wishing to go aground any more, we had cast off by 7.30, arriving in Maastricht at about 8.15.

Thinking that the mooring on the wall in the middle of the river was for cruisers only, we moored on a stone quay just upstream from the Shell bunker barge. Then we headed into the centre to use the McDonald’s Wi-Fi and check out the market, stopping at the chandlery in the bunker barge for a Dutch courtesy flag on the way back.

On our return, we were approached by a couple from a nearby Tjalk. They were very friendly and pointed out that our mooring was for professional boats only and that the wall in the middle of the river was fine for barges. They said we could moor alongside them if we couldn’t find a space.

Fortunately, there was plenty of room on the wall and we were soon settled, opposite the rather busy trip boat mooring.

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Great mooring and right in the centre of Maastricht.

With several Public Holidays coming up, we were glad to have found a free mooring in such a nice town and spent just over a week there in the end. Peter finally managed to sort out the internet and we enjoyed some pleasant evening walks. We were joined by our Dutch friends from the Tjalk one evening for drinks and it turned into a bit of a session. Nic, a very young 86 year old, used to be a pilot in the Dutch Air Force and had some good stories to tell.

Maastricht proved to be a lively, prosperous town, with a good shopping area, market and lots of old buildings. We discovered the ‘joy’ of shopping at ‘Jumbo’, one of the two main supermarket chains in the Netherlands. Groceries seemed to be cheaper although fuel much dearer.

I climbed the 200 steps up the red tower of  St John’s (apparently painted that colour to help strengthen the crumbly rendering underneath) and was rewarded with a fine view from the top. The interesting bookshop in a church was also worth a visit.

Best of all, our son Adam joined us for a week having secured a new job which would start in early June. Peter combined collecting our car from Sclayne in Belgium with meeting Adam in Liege.

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A high quay but a lovely free mooring right in the centre.

After a couple more days in Maastricht enjoying the sunny weather, we left via the Julianakanaal which took us through a mixture of industrialized and agricultural landscapes. We had three bags of rubbish with us that we had failed to dispose of the previous week, there being few if any suitable unlocked bins available to boat users. Disappointingly, the only two locks of the day did not provide bins either and we hoped this was not going to be a big problem in the Netherlands.

We reached Maasbracht early on Saturday afternoon. It is a big inland port with lots of commercial barges and a jachthaven for smaller boats only. The nearby Maasplanen (lakes left after extensive gravel extraction which are now used for water recreation) promised several free lakeside moorings though and of course we could always try out our anchors if need be.

As we headed into the Maasplanen, we found ourselves among a variety of water craft; cruisers, yachts, speedboats, dinghies, canoes and windsurfers. We hoped to find a mooring near the unusual town of Thorn. The nearest pontoon  was full of cruisers so were pleased when Adam spotted  another one on the other side of the lake. It was a metal pontoon about 75m long and not attached to the bank. There were a couple of boats already there, but plenty of room for us.

Once settled, Adam was keen to try out the canoe, so he and I went for a paddle while Peter set up the fishing rods. The weather was fine and the spot idyllic. By sunset, many of the yachts and cruisers at anchor had left and it was very peaceful.

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Intrepid explorers.

Sadly the weather took a turn for the worst and it stayed that way for the rest of Adam’s visit.

The following day we all went rather precariously in the canoe across to the pontoon which served the town of Thorn. The lake-side provided suitable rubbish bins, probably because it was a popular camping car area. A ten minute stroll took us to the quaint town centre where all the houses are painted white. Apparently it was founded as a home for noble ladies and is now a popular tourist destination with regular passenger boat trips from across the lakes. After a walk around, we settled in a bar while the rain fell and then returned to our isolated mooring getting quite wet in the process. The rain had made the mooring less ideal and we decided to head off the next day.

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Never mind the weather!

In deteriorating weather, we cruised towards Roermond and stopped on a wall outside a Jachthaven near the non functional ferry. No facilities but a 12,50 euro charge for the night. While Adam and I braved the elements and cycled into the town for groceries, beer, wine and cash, Peter decided to transfer some concrete blocks in order to ‘trim’ the barge which had been listing to port. Unfortunately, he dropped one on his foot causing his big toe to bleed, bruise and perhaps even break. This was to cause him some discomfort over the coming weeks.

Despite the sad lack of fish in the river, Peter and Adam enjoyed resuming their chess and draughts competition and started a computer golf one as well. In fact they were enjoying themselves so much one night that they saw the sun rise at about 5am having duly anaesthetised Peter’s pain with copious quantities of alcohol.

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Hic!

Needless to say our departure the following day was somewhat delayed, but as we were only going down to Roermond it didn’t matter. We nosed into the industrial port (where they are building a new Maashaven for cruisers,) turned around and perched ourselves at the end. A commercial barge was also keen to share the quay, and said we would be fine there for a night or two.

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Within sight of Roermond lock, a cheeky little mooring.

Roermond is another pleasant town with lots of shops and a few interesting historical buildings, including a belfry with characters that move around as the carillon chimes. The next day after a bagel and coffee brunch in town, we said goodbye to Adam at the station.

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‘My Boy’

I filled the gap left by his departure by heading to the nearby retail outlet and McDonalds to use the free Wi-Fi. Peter meanwhile, enjoyed watching the enormous pusher barges coming and going in the port. We were beginning to get to grips with cruising in a new country and looked forward to the coming weeks.

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