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We set off from Kerkhoven on Saturday April 15 with members of the Blauwe Reiger Yacht Club bound for Blauwe Kei, a short distance to the end of the Kanaal van Beverlo. Prior to setting off we loaded our new Diahatsu Cuore onto the stern of Harmonie. Said like that it sounds easy but it was fraught to say the least.
We knew that the Hiab crane would be working at the limit of its lifting capacity so it was necessary to get car and ship as close as possible to limit the jib extension. The crane is installed on the starboard side of the ship but whoever did the job had his mind in neutral. If you traverse the gib in a clockwise direction, the hydraulic hoses prevent the crane turning to a position with the gib at 90 degrees to the ship. To do this you have to rotate the crane in an anticlockwise direction, lift the car and swing it clockwise, out over the water through 270 degrees to get it on board, an operation guaranteed to give the owners loose bowels!
Sue was in charge of taking photographs of this epic operation but, perhaps through nerves, thought the on/off button was the shutter and kept switching the camera on and off but failed to take a single shot for posterity! We would have probably given up without the help of Hugo Harbournaster, Paul Leten and Koh to whom we extend our heartfelt thanks. Needless to say we will not be performing this operation again until extensive modifications are made to the crane, the seating of the car on deck and the lifting tackle.
At Blauwe Kei we celebrated Easter with our winter friends, the yacht club members and a magnificent fish banquet of many courses in the local restaurant. The next day we were supposed to hunt for Easter Eggs in the surrounding pinewoods but it was raining heavily so we went to the pub and everyone was given their eggs by Mrs Mercedes, Belgian chocolate ones of course! On the way back from the pub the sun had come out and we noticed a new arrival, a small yacht flying the Swedish flag. We introduced ourselves to Lief and Marianne from Gothenburg and invited them to join us on our cycle ride to Postel. Here we indulged in Beer and cheese made by the monks at the abbey, after which we ate frites and mayonnaise from one of several vans and rounded off the afternoon with large ice creams!
The next day we all had breakfast together at the restaurant and said our farewells (three kisses on the cheek is the Belgian way). Neither us or Harmonie wanted to leave, Harmonies engine refused to start until the starter battery isolating switch was mysteriously found to be in the off position, but we set sail with Koh and Riet in Agitado to Bree where we spent the night. In the morning we were introduced to Bree's famous Coffee and Tea "Winkel"(shop). We were given cups of coffee by the proprietor who then showed us around his fascinating shop where he roasts coffee from all over the world. We are now enjoying his Grand Cru Kenya AA.
Farewells were said to Koh and Riet. They are the previous owners of Harmonie and have become firm friends. Koh has helped us in many ways during our breaking in period with the ship and still wishes he hadn't sold it to us! We travelled down the Zuid-Willelmsvaart to Helmond and it was dark when we arrived due to lots of delays with works on the locks. We are now using some voyage planning software called Navigo which uses the ships GPS navigator much like the systems you can buy for cars. For more information on this system click here. So the next day was a shorter one as we stopped at Oirschot on the Wilhelminakanaal for two nights and did some more painting on Harmonie. We also enjoyed some excellent Tapas at a friendly pub in the picturesque town square.
On down the canal through Tilburg the canal widens and big ships create big wash, then out across the tidal River Maas into the Biesbosch. A black swan and cygnets came to welcome us. Koh had recommended we spud Harmonie at a certain place which we did. The problem was that we moored at high tide which dropped overnight 70cm leaving us high and dry and leaning over at such an angle that things started to fall over in the galley! To make matters worse the aft spudpole cable came off the pulley and jammed necessitating a hacksaw and big hammer to be utilised in a very confined space between the car and the wheelhouse. Would the list increase further causing the car to slide off the deck into the 'oggie?!? Those securing straps were 950kg breaking strain weren't they? The gods were with us, the tide came in eventually and we moved to a safer mooring.
We launched the dinghy and proceeded at 35Km/hr upstream where we found a better mooring so returned and moved Harmonie yet again. The next day dawned nice and sunny but a trip upstream to the next lock in the dinghy failed to find anything of interest so we again spent the day painting and putting transfers of Harmonies name in place - definitely better than trying to paint her name on.
Monday 23rd saw us cruising down through the middle of the Biesbosch but it was not without incident. In sight of the open river Maas and in the middle of the channel marked on the chart as having 6 metres depth, we went aground! After several attempts at coming astern off the shoal and trying different places to no good effect I decided to reverse our steps and travel out of the Biesbosch the way we came in but we scraped the bottom several times doing that.
Finally out on the river Maas, under the big bridges across the Hollands Diep then hard to port through the busy shipping of Buitenhaven Roode Vaart, through the lock to Moerdijk shipyard where we booked Harmonie in for a good bottom scrubbing next year. Rubbish dumped, washing done and water tank replenished we set sail the next day for Gouda.
The voyage to Gouda through the great rivers was full of big ships travelling at speed but the ones which caused the most wash were the little fast catamarans which run a water bus service from Dordrecht to Rotterdam. We turned to Starboard off the Lek on the outskirts of Rotterdam, blindly following the satnav and found ourselves in a little creek called Silksloot faced with a bridge only 3.2 metres high. My fault for entering our air draught as 3.2 metres but that meant lowering the mast, blue board, arials, satellite dishes etc and we were not prepared. In the process of turning Harmonie around in a 26 metre wide creek I manage to clip our stern against a barge, snapping our flagpole clean off. Once we emerged back on to the open river, steamed another 2 km downstream and turned into the Hollandse Ijssl, I retrieved the pole and flag which we were being towed behind us!
The following day found us in delightful canal scenery and glorious sunshine through the pretty town of Alphen, over the big lake Braassemermeer and through the picturesque village of Oude-Wetering. Hard to starboard onto the tongue twister (for an Engels) Ringvaart van de Haarlemmermeerpolder where big ships cruise between the suburban canalside houses of Amsterdam. One of them looked like the Royal Yacht! Finally we arrived at a good mooring stage right opposite Schiphol Airport. We cycled into the airport terminal on our own fietspad (cycle track) where we found a free bike park and wandered around the shops - only in Holland would they provide these facilities at a major airport for cyclists! Our next destination was the Dutch bulb fields