Hardships and setbacks will not discourage a Finnish sailor. Our first attempt to travel south along the canals from Amsterdam had bounced off a closed bridge south of Haarlem, and although our first reaction may have been ”let’s forget about the canals and go out to the sea!” we were pretty soon back on track with the original plan. Heavy winds predicted for the next few days may have played a small part in the decision.
We motored back to Amsterdam. The operator at the Spaarndam locks was not aware of the closed bridge. Fortunately, he was enlightened by a Finnish sailor passing through! In Amsterdam our bad luck with phone and radio connections continued, and for several hours we received no information about whether there was going to be a night convoy through the city or not. Then we were told to come in from the outer harbour, where we had been rocking in windy and swelly conditions. There were two other sailboats in the canal. Eventually we found out there was to be a convoy – with the help of a friendly Dutch sailor, who offered to translate the VHF instructions for us. At 2 am we – just three boats – started our night adventure though Amsterdam.
It was magical! Bridge after bridge, sixteen in all, would open to us as we floated past old houses, streets and parks. At the southern side of the city we went through a lock, and suddenly came to a small lake, Nieuwemeer. The city lights and lanterns of floating houses were reflected on its black surface, the clouds scattered and the bright moon began to shine.
Now it was just a short distance to the Amsterdam airport, where we would have to wait for a highway bridge to open at 5 am. That was only about an hour away. But it just so happened, that we fell asleep, exhausted from the day’s and night’s travels, and didn’t wake up on time. Instead we enjoyed a good rest and motored through at the 12:30 pm opening.
And now things got interesting! Now we arrived into a water wonderland we had never known existed – the real, strange Holland surrounded by water. There are floating houses, and small plots with houses on them, with canals between them instead of streets and roads, small hamlets with parking lots for boats instead of cars, children’s playgrounds, small parks and lawns, surrounded from all sides by canals. There are endless fields and pastures, dotted with canals, still lush green in October and November, with cattle, sheep and horses. Old windmills that used to pump out the water from those fields. Villages, where small rafts move people and bicycles across the water, and where you can park your boat on the edge of the canal and pop into a supermarket.
Journey along Holland’s canals – click the thumbnails to see bigger pictures.
In many places the canals widen into small lakes, where new waterfront houses are built along the shores, and every couple of hundred meters you can find a yacht club and a marina. All traffic and transport travels along the canals, and there’s all sorts of it: long, low cargo ships, tugs and barges, and pleasure boats of every size and style.
The Dutch ingenuity in canal and other watery construction is surely unsurpassed. If the sea levels begin to rise, the impact will naturally be the most dramatic in these low-lying lands, but the Dutch people have lived with their water for centuries and must be up to the challenge better than anyone.
After Amsterdam our first stop was a small town of Alphen aan den Rijn. We found a good spot by the canal’s edge, took a nice long walk, and spent a pleasant moment in a pub with the locals – who are quick to notice a stranger and eager to exchange a few words any time. In the morning we continued on, but for a couple of days it was cold and rainy. We motored through Gouda and the outskirts of Rotterdam, only stopping for the night at some random pontoon.
After another set of locks we came to a river, where the current kept slowing us down, until we got to a larger body of water called Hollands Diep, south of Dordrecht. We planned to stop at Willemstad, a small fortified town that seemed worth a closer look based on the map view alone – or what would you say about this?
The small town proved very cosy. The historical town is surrounded by well preserved stone walls and water-filled moats, with seven bastions named after the 17th century Dutch counties. Close to the harbour stands an old town hall with a bell tower, on the other side of town the country’s oldest protestant church, and in between you can find a few blocks of pretty old townhouses surrounding a large windmill, nowadays some lucky devil’s private home. In the summer this idyllic place must be full of tourists, but now, in November, we could only count two of us. We cycled around the bastions, walked around the town, and enjoyed a rare occasion of dining at a restaurant.
Beautiful town on Willemstad – click the thumbnails to see bigger pictures.
This was the end of our adventure along the canals and inland waters of Holland. It was short, but full of impressions! Between Willemstad and the North Sea there remained one bridge and one lock, and after those, we would again be sailing in the open sea.