On Tuesday evening, the 17th of July, as Edi and I were driving the 160 kilometres northward from Loosdrecht toward Leeuwarden, we were mulling-over the merits and demerits of three barges. These were the results of many months of searching.
During the previous several months we had narrowed our search for a canal boat to ex-commercial barges. We had then sorted through the different types: aak, bolpram, hagenaar, klipper, luxe motor, steilsteven, tjalk and many more, and had decided we wanted a tjalk. We had then combed through the dozens of tjalken listed for sale in Belgium, Britain, France and the Netherlands, and had chosen the Netherlands because of the overwhelming selection and the lower asking prices. We had winnowed the listings down to a spreadsheet of seventeen tjalken, we had contacted the listing brokers and had headed from Vancouver to Friesland. During the previous few days we had whittled our spreadsheet down to these three.
Two of these were pavjonentjalken, one built in 1898 and the other in 1902 and the third was a skûtsje tjalk built in 1908. Essentially, we had already made up our minds which one we wanted. However, as we drove I played devil's advocate and represented the other two, offering ever decreasing arguments in their support. We arrived at our farmhouse apartment at twilight, and before beginning to cook dinner, I sent an email to the broker with an offer on Nieuwe Zorg, telling him we would like to meet in his office on Wednesday to formalize the offer.
On Wednesday morning we received an email from the broker informing us that the seller had accepted the amount of our offer, and that he would await our formal written offer. At 1100 we met with Peter, the broker and when he had to leave for an appointment at noon, we continued with his partner, Ties. Among other things, we went over lists of recommended surveyors and insurance agents and looked at possible yards to haul-out for the survey. I was delighted to see on the short lists the names of the surveyors and insurers to whom the previous evening I had emailed requests for quotes. These names I had harvested from the list of links on The Barge Association site: www.barges.org
. We had rejoined the Association, having let the membership lapse after I had sold my previous canal boat in 2006.
We headed back up to Leeuwarden, packed-up our belongings from the apartment and moved south to an apartment in Volendam. We had found a rather modern place in a location much more central to our anticipated activities over the following week or so. It has a well-equipped kitchen and a second-floor balcony overlooking a large, active marina.
On Thursday morning we went on a walking exploration of old Volendam, through the labyrinth of narrow back streets and then along the old waterfront. There we admired the traditional Volendamer kwaks, the wooden fishing boats similar to Zuiderzeebotters. These kwaks fished the Zuiderzee for shrimp, eel, anchovies and herring in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and at its peak in 1910, the Volendam fleet numbered over 300 kwaks. With the closing Afsluitdijk in 1932, the former Zuiderzee waters around Volendam became the IJsselmeer, and as the waters slowly lost their salt content, the fishery changed.
We strolled along the dike top, which toward its eastern end is thickly lined on both sides with tourist shops. We decided that since we were buying a former fish boat, that we would need to play the part, so we had ourselves kitted-out in traditional dress. Today's clothing certainly is more comfortable.
On Friday we drove up to Enkhuizen, where we proofread, amended and eventually initialled and signed the formal offer to purchase Nieuwe Zorg. The HISWA (Netherlands yacht brokers' association) standard contract was clear and concise, as were the nearly four pages of appended special conditions, which had been compiled in face-to-face, email and phone consultations among the owners, the brokers and us. Peter then gave us an insurance application to complete, and he faxed it to the broker, phoned to see if all was in order, had us redo one page and re-faxed it. Our quote for insurance on Nieuwe Zorg came in at less than eight percent of our just cancelled insurance on Sequitur. It looks like the Dutch canals are a much lower risk than the Chilean ones.
Back in our apartment on Friday afternoon, using Skype and the reception office's fax, I ordered our bank to send a wire transfer of the 15% deposit in Euros to the broker's Stichting Derden Geld (third-party or trust) account. Meanwhile Peter had coordinated our chosen surveyor, a haul-out yard and Nieuwe Zorg's owners into a very smooth three-day schedule of events beginning on Monday.
On Saturday Edi and I walked across the road from our apartment and caught a bus into Amsterdam for a walkabout. Edi decided that the best way to give me a flavour of the city was to begin with a canal tour. Across from the central station, where the bus had dropped us, were lines of tour boats. We joined a queue, and as we approached the ticket booth a young lady ahead of us asked if we wanted a two-for-one coupon; she had spares. We thanked her and saved €14.
Along the Amsterdam canals are nearly solid walls of woonboten. These live-aboard converted barges, boats and scows are one of the ways the city has increased its residential area. We saw a full range. Most are well-done and obviously cared-for, though along more remote sections of the canals there are increasingly ugly and neglected barges, including some truly derelict examples.
After an hour's boat tour, we walked in through the heart of the old town, tottering at times trying to keep an even keel with so many of the buildings being askew and leaning. Some areas look like Doctor Seuss illustrations. We walked along Oudezijds Voorburgwal, through the red light district, and we remarked that business must be down. The ladies in the windows could not even afford underwear.
Amsterdam is laid-out in a series of concentric semicircular canals built between 1649 and 1662. We followed a couple of them, pausing for coffee and pastry in a canal-side restaurant, before completing the circuit and arriving back at the train station. Around the station were many hundreds, probably thousands of bicycles; car parking is scarce and expensive, while bicycle parking is everywhere and free. There are more bicycles in the Netherlands than there are people, about 1.12 bicycles per person. Nearly 30% of all trips in the Netherlands are by bike, and traffic patterns reflect this. The order of priority seems to be: pedestrians, cyclists, boats and then cars. We need bikes for Nieuwe Zorg.
We took the bus back, but continued through Volendam to Edam, where we got off and wandered through the picturesque old town. Along the way we crossed over the Kwakelbrug, the narrow bridge for which Edi's great-grandfather had been the toll keeper. In the centre of town we bought some groceries for dinner and then walked the four kilometres along the dike trails to our apartment on the far side of Volendam. It had been a wonderfully relaxing day.
On Sunday we drove to Driehuis near Haarlem to visit with Edi's cousin, El with whom she had shared toddler years before moving to South Africa in 1952. We then drove the dikes to Wijk aan Zee, Edi's birthplace and on through town to the top of the dunes. We sat on the patio of Hotel Het Hoge Duin, which had been built on a former Nazi bunker overlooking the Noordzee. We enjoyed good company and a tasty lunch of broodje kroket.
We were up early on Monday to drive to Hoopddorf to the EuropeCar agent to arrange for an extension of four days on the rental car. Then we continued on to Aalsmeer, where we met Bram, our granddaughter's other grandfather. We did a car convoy with him onward to the Kempers boatyard in Leimuiden, where we dropped our car and then rode back to Aalsmeer with Bram, arriving at Nieuwe Zorg at 1002, two minutes after the appointed time. We surprised the owners Henk and Martha, who been told that we would be arriving at noon. This was to be the only glitch in the complex schedule involving eleven people, four locations, three days and two languages.
We relaxed onboard having coffee with Henk and Martha and waiting for their daughter, Jacqueline to arrive. Edi and I were feeling comfortably at home onboard as we increasingly realized how suitable Nieuwe Zorg is for us. We reflected on the meaning of her name: Nieuwe Zorg translates to New Concern or New Worry, and we thought that she should instead be called Zonder Zorg: Without Concern, Without Worry, Carefree as we are.
Jacqueline eventually arrived, and we headed out of the little port and down the canal toward the Westeinderplassen, scooting easily under a low bridge, while other boats lined-up waiting for it to open. Nieuwe Zorg's air draft is only 1.95 metres, which gives her a great exploratory range. Henk gave me the tiller and I quickly gained a feel for how easily she handles.
We arrived at Kempers, and Henk being unfamiliar with the marina layout, headed in through a narrow entrance and weaved his way between lines of moored boats toward a couple of people on the bow of a cruiser to ask directions. The way was back from where we had come, and I was pleased with how easily Hank handled the barge in the confined spaces. She appears very responsive, and I noted she has a left-turning screw, which in astern gear gives the stern a kick to starboard. This will be very handy for mooring with the preferred starboard-side-to. We found the proper entrance and came to bollards on the wharf short of the travel lift.
Edi and I drove Bram back to his car in Aalsmeer and saw him off before we turned around and drove back to the Kempers yard and waited for our surveyor to finish with a cruiser berthed ahead of Nieuwe Zorg.
Marine engineer Rutger Versluijs arrived onboard and began a systematic inspection of the engine and the machinery spaces. He paused from time to time to explain to me what he was doing and what he was finding.
First with the engine and generator off, and then with them running, Rutger continued inspecting the machinery spaces for over half an hour, including the engine cooling and exhaust systems, the through-hulls, the electrical systems, the generator, the batteries, the heating system, the propane tank installations, the engine mounts, the transmission, the thrust bearing, the stern gland and its associated greaser, and so on. During this process, he used an electronic temperature sensor to take readings from a variety of places on the engine and its ancillaries.
He then had Henk motor out onto the lake and we did a half hour sea trial, including ten minutes at full throttle with Rutger down in the engine room with his flashlight and instruments. Back alongside, Rutger performed battery load tests and did inspections of the galley and heads systems. It was early evening by the time we were finished with first part of the survey; the second and third parts, the hull and the rigging were scheduled for Wednesday.
We were delighted with the thoroughness of the surveyor, and with his findings thus far. We drove back to our apartment in Volendam, where we dined well and slept well. On Tuesday morning we arrived back in Leimuiden for the scheduled 0800 haul-out.
The past few days the weather had been clear and warm, and forecasts had this continuing for several more days. It was glassy calm as Henk motored Nieuwe Zorg the short distance into jaws of the travel lift.
We admired the efficiency of the haul-out process. It consisted of one man with a push-button remote, calmly and methodically doing what we have seen teams of three and more chaotic and scrambling men perform in Vancouver, Puerto Montt and St Augustine.
Henk told us that Nieuwe Zorg had last been out of the water in 2005, when he had re-plated her bottom. We had expected to see a heavily fouled bottom, encrusted with mussels and other growth. Instead, there was only light vegetation and a few small crops of mussels. As Nieuwe Zorg hung in the slings, the lone operator power-washed her bottom.
The scales on the travel lift showed that she weighs 18.52 tonnes, which, for the benefit of the metrically-challenged, is about 40,830 pounds.
With a touch of thumb pressure, the operator single-handedly nestled Nieuwe Zorg onto the stands as he adjusted the wooden blocks and wedges to evenly distribute the old girl's weight. The one-man operation was much calmer and took less time than any of Sequitur's haul-outs.
After taking another series of measurements of her interior, we left Nieuwe Zorg resting on her stands and headed north again. We drove to Alkmaar in central North Holland and explored the range of furniture and kitchen appliances in the crowd of large home decor stores across the canal from the historic centre of town. With the shopping craving satiated, we headed across the bridge and strolled through the old town until a canal-side restaurant caught our eye and we paused for lunch.
Back in our apartment in Volendam on Tuesday evening I prepared a huge pot of mussels. I began with a butter sauté of julienned garlic and shallots and diced red, green and yellow peppers, then added the mussels and a generous splash of beer. The steamed mussels were garnished with chopped parsley and served with melted butter and fresh baguette slices accompanied by a bottle of Champagne Veuve Clicquot. It was a delicious, if maybe a bit premature way to begin celebrating our pending new adventures.
On Wednesday morning we arrived back at the Kempers yard at 0800 to find that Rutger had already begun the bottom survey. He had completed the port side and was halfway back on the starboard with his electronic sounder. Unlike previous versions of this instrument, which I had seen with Lady Jane's surveys in France in 2000 and 2006, this one does not require removal of the bottom protection layers.
Application of a conducting gel to the hull's surface and then applying the sensor to the gel gives an instantaneous reading of the metal thickness. This is a wonderfully nondestructive process, much better than the former necessity of scraping or grinding away the coatings, and dramatically better than the earlier need to drill holes through the bottom, take measurements and then weld closed the holes. Henk was very interested in the process, as was I.
Something that I had quickly noticed when the barge was hauled on Tuesday also caught Rutger's attention. Henk had added a second raw water intake for engine cooling to handle the expected dirtier water before he went to France a few years ago. I saw that the unconventional installation was vulnerable to being compromised or knocked off by large flotsam as well as by canal banks and lock sides. I was pleased to see Rutger think the same way and condemn it.
Rutger found the rudder bearings to be well within tolerance, but found the propellor shaft with a rather large amount of play. The tolerance is 2% of the shaft diameter, so he applied his dial indicator to the shaft as Henk pried the propeller up and down against the skeg. The readings calculated to exactly 2%, and Rutger explained that in a case like this, the owners and buyers should share the replacement expenses. We agreed.
The aluminum anodes showed erosion, not excessive, but sufficient to indicate that they had been doing their duty protecting the more noble parts of the boat. Rutger declared that these and the remainder of the underwater were gear good.
We next went aboard and inspected the inside of the hull under the floorboards. The flash on my camera made this process much easier than contorting behind a flashlight and trying to get a viewing angle. The photos showed a dry and dusty environment with virtually no rust on the century-old riveted iron bottom.
The only place where there was any appreciable amount of rust was in the well beneath the mast tabernacle. The foot of the mast, with its 1100 kilogram counterweight swings through a slot in the foredeck as the mast is raised or lowered, and the cover over the deck slot is very prone to leaking. Rutger called this the weakest part of a skûtsje. He hammered and sounded and declared it still good. Though not critical, Rutger recommended we scale and treat the area. We both remarked that there were no bilge pumps in Nieuwe Zorg, neither here nor in the engine room; there had apparently been no need for over a century. This had been noted in her sale listing.
As we were finishing the hull inspection, Peter, the broker arrived. We all met: seller, broker, buyer and surveyor, and we received the verbal survey report. There were a few things for Henk to correct, repair or replace before the completion date. There was nothing major:
un-seize, clean and grease the starboard leeboard winch;
repair a broken cog on the port leeboard winch;
relocate the secondary raw water inlet and blank-off the old hole;
replace the propeller thrust bearing rubbers;
repair a leak in the cooling water pump; and
repair the interior heating system.
There were two items that will be shared 50/50:
replace bow-thruster battery bank; and
replace propellor shaft stern bearing.
We agreed to have Peter investigate the costs involved in the shared items, and we would then come-up with an amount to deduct from the balance owing on the purchase.
We arrived at an easy agreement and then we got into our four separate cars and Henk led us around the Westeinderplassen to Hoofddorp, to a warehouse where he has been storing Nieuwe Zorg's rigging. We first looked at the leeboards, which are in fine condition, with beautifully executed stainless steel plates, stars and edge trim.
We were aware from the listing that fittings and rigging are missing and that there is no jib, only a mainsail. The sail is in good condition, still crisp and as far as we looked, with intact stitching. The laminated oak gaff looks good, but needs fittings.
The mast has a deep split running about half its length, and this had been exacerbated by an earlier repair attempt. Henk had invited a carpenter to attend the inspection, and after a quick examination, we all agreed that it was uneconomical to repair. The boom is in far better condition, though missing a few fittings. In our contract, the seller is to install the leeboards and deliver the remainder of the rigging onboard Nieuwe Zorg before the closing date. We told Henk that he could exclude the mast from this, but to include the mast counterweight. It was mid-afternoon by the time we had all shaken hands and had driven off in our separate directions. Everything had gone smoothly; totally zonder zorg. We were well pleased.
This post is also on our other blog: Zonder Zorg