14 June 2016

The Old Zuiderzee Coast

I've long been fascinated by the geography and history of the Zuiderzee. It was an arm of the North Sea that had gradually evolved with the rising sea levels caused by the slow global warming and melting ice sheets from the last ice age twelve thousand years ago. Global warming is not a new thing invented by pseudo-scientists and popularised by Al Gore; it is one of the natural cycles of the earth’s climate, just as is global cooling. This map from 1818 shows the inland sea in the early nineteenth century.

At the end of the ice age, the area now known as the North Sea was dry land. About five thousand years ago, the rising sea levels from the melting and recession of the last of the ice sheets that had covered northern Europe, created the North Sea and the melting polar icecaps soon increased it to its current shape. The topography of the areas inland from the coast in what is now the northeastern portion of the Netherlands was a shallow depression. Drainage here was slow and the area filled with peat. The continued warming trend caused the North Sea levels to rise further. Gradually there were inundations over the low lands inland, and flooding during major storms accelerated the erosion of the coastal dunes. The two maps above show the approximate land form of what is today the Netherlands. The one on the left shows the coastline during the first century AD, the one on the right depicts its shape in the tenth century. 

Storms in 1282 and 1287 broke through the coastal barriers and the sea flooded inland. The name Zuiderzee entered general usage around that time. The size of the inland sea remained relatively stable from the fifteenth century onwards because of improvements in dikes. There were continuing disastrous floods, one in 1421 broke a seawall and incoming waters flooded seventy-two villages and killed about ten thousand people.

Dikes and seawalls continued to be built and upgraded and around the Zuiderzee many fishing villages grew. Some of these developed into fortified towns, like Naarden in the Google Earth image above. Many established important trade connections with ports in the Baltic Sea, England and in the Hanseatic League. Kampen in Overijssel grew in prominence, as did several villages and towns in Noord Holland, such as Naarden, Amsterdam, Edam, Hoorn, and Enkhuizen. The formation of the Zuiderzee had created many large protected ports that were connected to the sea and started the ascendancy of the Dutch to the status as the world super power in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The Dutch continued to extend and reinforce its system of seawalls and dykes and look at ways to reclaim land from the sea. In the seventeenth century there was a proposal to harness the waters, but its concept was too ambitious and impractical for the available technology of the time. In nineteenth century serious attention was given to controlling the waters and reclaiming land. Plans were proposed in 1848, 1849, 1866, 1873 and then Cornelius Lely began serious planning in 1886. 

This map was used to illustrate an article in the March 1893 edition of the Geographical Journal of the British Royal Geographical Society. The article had been written by Pieter Hendrik Schoute of Groningen, Friesland. He wrote of plans developed by a technical research team under the guidance of Cornelius Lely, who in 1891 had become the Minister of Transport and Water Management for the Netherlands.

The plan called for the closing of the Zuiderzee with a dyke running from the tip of Noord Holland to western Friesland, making the contained waters into a freshwater lake. Once this was stabilised, internal dykes would be built encircling some of the shallowest areas and then draining these to reclaim the land. It was a very ambitious project. 

The project sat on the shelf through the recession of the 1890s and continued to gather dust into the twentieth century. In 1913 Cornelius Lely regained his seat as Minister of Transport and Water Management. After severe flooding along the Zuiderzee coasts in 1916, the plans were resurrected and in 1918 the Zuiderzee Act was passed. Works began in 1920 and they progressed in stages. By 1924 the first dike, just 2.5 kilometres in length was completed. Between 1927 and 1932 the 23 kilometre Afsluitdijk was built between Noord Holland and Friesland, cutting off the newly formed IJsselmeer from the Noordzee. The polders were drained between 1930 and 1968.

The newly created lands of Wieringermeer were absorbed into the province of Noord Holland. Those of the Noordoostpolder and the Flevolands were united in 1986 to form the new province of Flevoland. A total of 1650 square kilometres of new land was created. About fifteen percent of this is now used as housing, nearly seventy percent is for agriculture use and the remainder is parks, nature preserves and infrastructure. The plans to dyke and drain the southwest portion of the old Zuiderzee to form a polder named Markerwaard was indefinitely postponed in the 1980s.

During the past two weeks I've slowly made my around the south and east shores of the old Zuiderzee, visiting medieval towns and cities along the way. Zonder Zorg is currently at the end of a long, blind canal in the new province of Flevoland that half a century ago was under four metres of water at the bottom of the old Zuiderzee.

 These maps show the scale of the industry of the Dutch people over the last millennium as they reclaimed land from the sea. The map on the left is the current landform of the Netherlands. The one on the right shows the areas of the country that are below sea level.  

01 June 2016

Onward from Amsterdam

Unlike in France, where mooring is permitted except where prohibited, in the Netherlands no mooring is permitted except in designated areas. I had stopped on the free mooring in Dieman, five kilometres from central Amsterdam on 06 May and decided to test its 3x24 sign. These signs and 1x24 signs are common in the Netherlands and designate places where mooring is permitted and for how long. It is still off-season, so for a week and a half I was undisturbed in the moorage as I explored Amsterdam and wrote.

On Tuesday, 17 May I decided to continue eastward along the Weesper and then northward down Smal Weesp into the IJmeer to begin exploring the towns and villages of the old Zuiderzee coast. The lift bridge showed two red lights, meaning it was out of service, so I pedalled back to the previous bridge, which has a manned control booth from which both bridges are operated.

I was told that demolition of an old highway bridge had begun, closing the waterway until the first of June. That was fine, Dieman is a pleasant town and the moorage is a five-minute pedal to a huge shopping centre with two supermarkets. Another two weeks here would be fine and allow the weather to stabilise. The only problem was water. I had enough left for about another week. I pedalled the three kilometres to the demolition work to satisfy my curiosity.

A new pair of bridges had been built for a highway and the old bridges were being removed. A few days later, I called the bridge operator and told him I'd like to head west, back along the Weesper to get water at the marina at the junction with the Amstel, then return and continue to wait. I moored beside a water point on one of the marina's floats and looked for an office, but could see none, so I began filling the water tanks. An hour later, with full tanks and still nobody around, I walked to the exit gate to search further for an office to pay for the water. The gate required a code to get back in, so I returned to the barge, blew the horn a few times and waited. A quarter hour later, I assumed the water was free and left.

I headed back to Dieman and again moored between the town's two lift bridges. A few days later there was a knock on the hull and I answered the door to a man who told me he was posting signs that the moorage is being closed to set-up for a three-day music concert. I phoned the bridge operator and asked to be let through to find moorage further along. He said there was no official moorage, but I could stay in a small branch there until the waterway reopens.

Mid-morning on Sunday, 29 May, I heard the slap of wake on the hull and looked out to see two boats passing by. I went up top and saw the bridge opening for them. Seems the waterway opened two days ahead of schedule. I checked the fridge, freezer and pantry shelves and pedalled across to the Albert Hein to stock-up, then motored eastward past the destruction site and onward.

I paused for the day on a mooring in Weesp, when thunderstorms threatened and hunkered down through them. The storms weren't sufficient to keep the Havenmeister from his rounds, so I paid the €12 mooring fee. After breakfast on Monday I continued along the Smal Weesp and through the town's three lift bridges, paying the €3 bruggeld at the middle one. Weesp's €15 were my first fees of the season.

Just beyond town, I turned northward into the Vecht River, the river that flows to the IJmeer. The wind had been strong all day, and by this time was above forty kilometres per hour from the north. I decided to spend the night on a wilderness mooring in the lee of large trees to wait for the winds to abate. The forecast looked good.

Tuesday morning's weather was much improved, with light breezes and scattered clouds. I slipped and continued downriver to Muiden, enjoying the finely maintained tjalken, kilppers, Lemsteraaken and skutsjes moored along the banks. There were dozens of antique boats.

Past the swing bridge and through the lock, the antique boats continued all the way to the medieval castle on the old Zuiderzee coast.

Muiden Castle, or Muiderslot in Dutch, was originally built in the early 1280s by Count Floris V to impose tolls on river traffic. Floris was murdered in 1296 by Gerard van Velsen in retribution for raping his wife. The Bishop of Utrecht ordered the castle destroyed in 1298. Between 1370 and 1386, the castle was rebuilt in the same location and to the original plans by Albert I, Duke of Bavaria and Count of Holland and Zeeland.

Near the mouth of the river were a few ships approaching the late stages of their existence. Antique wooden ships require huge maintenance and there comes a time when it's no longer worth it.

I continued the short distance to the IJmeer, then turned eastward to follow the buoyed channel through the shallows and onward to the narrows into the Gooimeer.

I decided to stop for the day in Huisen and followed the buoyed channel to the waterway thet snakes into the town. Its three metre clearance meant I didn't have to wait for it to be opened.

I followed the narrow winding waterway kilometre and a half and under three more bridges to a small basin surrounded by a shopping area with a huge supermarket.

I'm another 25.5 kilometres along and in a comfortable spot with a good online connection.

17 May 2016

Enjoying Amsterdam

Among the reasons I wanted to visit Amsterdam, was to take my iPhone to the Apple Store. During the late winter its battery had began expanding and the pressure caused the case to exfoliate. My online presence for the past two years has been through the phone's hotspot, so I was pleased that even with its questionable appearance, the phone still worked.

I made an appointment online with the Genius Bar for 1210 on Saturday. The tram across the bridge from Zonder Zorg led with one change to a stop directly in front of the Apple Store in Leidseplein, in the heart of Amsterdam's fashionable shopping district.

I was directed up the free-standing circular stairs to the huge loft a spiral and a half up. I was received, and within minutes, my appointed Genius told me he'd replace the phone at no charge. I had anticipated this, and had done a full backup of its contents through my computer. I then spent three hours restoring the content into my new phone and updating all my apps using their wifi and my MacBook Air. Love you, Apple.

On Monday I used my museum pass to visit the Rijksmuseum. It's located at a tram stop, one change from my mooring.

As expected, there was a large crowd in the Hall of Honour in front of Rembrandt's Night Watch.

I chose my time and finally got a clear shot with only the top of one head in the way.

There are many of Rembrandt's monumental works on display, such as this brilliant group portrait, showing the Syndics of the Drapers' Guild being surprised by our intrusion into their private meeting. Using action poses, rather than stilted ones, was one of the marks of Rembrandt's genius.

Among my favourites is this 1661 self-portrait as the Apostle Paul. He shows himself at age 55 as a worn man. This was shortly after near-bankruptcy had forced him to sell his house, his huge art collection and most of his other possessions. He died as a poor man and was buried in an unmarked grave.

The Rijksmuseum is much more than Rembrandt. It is filled with great works of most of the Dutch and Flemish masters, plus those of Italy, France and other great art centres. Here's Van Gogh's 1887 work titled: Self Portrait With A Grey Felt Hat, one of three of his twenty-four self-portraits thus titled.

By the time I had left the museum mid-afternoon, the sky had cleared and it was hot, with many people enjoying mid-spring as I walked through Oosterpark on my way back toward Zonder Zorg.

09 May 2016

Northward From Gouda

Zonder Zorg's special winter moorage rates in the historic ship harbour of Gouda came to an end on 01 April, when the rate went from fifteen cents per metre per day to fifty cents. The canals were still closed until 15 April, with reservations required for each lock and lift bridge, so I decided to stay and pay the higher rate until unrestricted navigation began. Over the winter the moorage including water and electricity was €102 per month, but my two weeks of April cost €135 all inclusive.

On Saturday, 16 April, in a cold, light drizzle, I headed through three lift bridges and a lock to the Gouwe, then turned to follow it northward. The cool weather continued with overnight temperatures at or near freezing. Late April was colder and wetter than January and February. Rain was a daily occurrence, usually with blustery winds. I hunkered-down on a free three-day mooring at the edge of Alphen an der Rijn to wait for better boating weather.

In a brief spell of clear weather, on Tuesday I continued northward, then branched into the Amstel, the river which flows through Amsterdam. The lift bridge at Vrouwenakker was closed for repairs when I arrived, so I moored on the waiting station. By early afternoon, it was apparent the repairs were more complex than initially thought. I had a good solid mooring, so I decided to wait, rather than taking a circuitous route. On Wednesday, the engineers said Friday, so I pedalled into Uithoorn for groceries. The bridge finally opened on Saturday morning, so I continued to Uithoorn and moored in the centre of town.

The sign on the Havenkantoor showed that it opened on 01 May, so I stayed with free moorage and enjoyed the small city as the weather slowly improved, then continued north before moorage fees began. I found an open moorage in the heart of the small town of Oudekerk, the last isolated community on the Amstel before Amsterdam. The sign read 3x24, meaning there is three day limit, and it was adjacent to a supermarket, so I decided to stay a while.

Wednesday, 04 May is Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, marking the sacrifices during World War Two. Thursday, 05 May is Liberation Day, celebrating the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Canadian Army and ending their five-year occupation of the Netherlands. More than seventy-six hundred Canadians lost their lives in the final push to free the Dutch. Zonder Zorg's Canadian flag invited many offerings of thanks.

On Friday I continued north down the Amstel six kilometres, then east three and a half kilometres up the Weesper to a free three-day mooring in Diemen. This small town, only five kilometres from the heart of Amsterdam, is isolated from the urban build-up by fields and marshes. Across the Weesper from the barge is the stop for a tram directly into central Amsterdam.

The temperature rose to 25.5º Friday afternoon, but my shaded mooring and the light breeze made it very pleasant. The forecast shows many fine days to follow, and since the moorage isn't busy, I think I'll test the limits of the three-day signs.

24 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

May you be among the most appreciated gifts to those in your life.

From la Bourgogne to Zuid Holland

Zonder Zorg headed north this year from the Burgundy. We ascended la Saône and la Petit Saône through Franche-Comté and over Canal des Vosges into Lorraine then across to la Moselle and down it to Canal de la Marne au Rhin, which led us to Canal de la Meuse and eventually to La Meuse and into Belgium. From the Dutch border the river becomes de Maas and we followed it, then Julianakanaal, Kanaal Wessen-Nederweert, Zuid Wiliemsvaart, Maximakanaal, de Bergse Maas, Heusdens Kanaal, de Andesle Maas, de Afgedamde Maas. de Waal, de Gekan Linge, Merwedekanaal, de Lek, Doorslag and de Hollandse IJssel to Gouda for the winter.

The total distance covered was 994 kilometres through 244 locks, 6 tunnels and 26 movable bridges. This map shows Zonder Zorg's 2015 travels in white and her 2012-2014 travels in red. 

It was a very relaxing five-month trip with many extended stops along the way. Through the process I completed and published another canal boating book and a novel plus wrote two more novels that are now being edited. I've been much too busy to add much to this blog. 

11 June 2015

To the Top of the Saône

 The flooding on the Saône persisted for several days, then water level and river current slowly started easing. The temperature followed the water level down and the second week of May we were on the verge of overnight frost. After the second of the four national holidays in May, I headed down river to Saint-Jean-de-Losne to refuel to buy new mooring lines, a new courtesy flag and replace a few other things that wear-out.

I was fortunate to again find an open spot on Quai national, the same spot we had vacated in late September. In the evening I celebrated cutting loose from winter moorings.

Two weeks previously I had received an email invitation from Richard Carras, a wine business colleague from the 1980s and 90s. The invitation was to a winemaker’s dinner in Vancouver presented by one of my favourite wine producers, Masi. I replied that unfortunately I would have to miss it, since I was in the Burgundy. He replied immediately that he would be arriving in Saint-Jean-de-Losne on 10 May to begin a cruise on a hotel barge. I spent a splendid evening aboard Après Tout with Richard and his wife Marion and with more dear old friends, George and Trudy Heiss, British Columbia wine pioneers.

The following morning I bade them farewell as they headed up Canal de Bourgogne and I continued with my purchases and maintenance in preparation for heading north. I was still waiting for two pieces of mail addressed to Zonder Zorg in the port de plaisance in Auxonne, so I sat through the two remaining national holidays of May and watched most of the French take between twelve and sixteen days off.

Finally, after waiting for proofs of my new novel and for mail from one of the many malfunctioning sectors of corporate France, on Friday 29 May I left Auxonne and headed up the Saône. Edi was still in the Netherlands arranging a place for the off-season, so I would be soloing. One of the few benefits of the extended wait was that the current in the river was almost nonexistent.

In the late afternoon I passed the very attractive village of Mantoche and was tempted to stop there for the night, but its lack of shopping of any kind convinced me to continue the six kilometres to the city of Gray. In the dozen years since my last visit there, I had forgotten that the place lives up to its name. Besides its fine old Hôtel de Ville and many rather graceless, though historic and crumbling old buildings, the main attraction is the large supermarket just a block away from the moorings. Maybe the next time, Mantoche.

I spent most of Saturday exploring the city and stocking-up from the convenient supermarket. On Sunday I continued up the river, passing through the first tunnel of the year, the 640 metre Souterrain de Savoyeux.

In the late afternoon, I took winding channel up the branch of the river past the lock toward the weir to the village of Ray-sur-Saône, which is dominated by the château on the ridge above. 

The château dates to the year 800, and before it was partially destroyed in the sixteenth century, it was the largest fortress in Franche-Comté. The tiny wooden mooring docks, not much more than two metres long are still unchanged from my first visit over a decade and a half ago. Unchanged except for deterioration, that is. Two of them were taped-off with plastic ribbons and danger signs.

On Monday morning I headed back down the river to the lock and ascended through it to continue up the river. The route passed through very sparsely settled areas for twenty kilometres and four more locks, passing small villages and tiny settlements sitting back across the flood plains from the river.

The next tunnel, the 680 metre Tunnel de Saint-Aubin, has a long, narrow masonry-lined cut leading to it, so steering is interesting for much more than the tunnel.

The tunnel is well-lit and its 6.6 metre width is very generous. Zonder Zorg tracked almost automatically from the pressure waves off the smooth sides. In the late afternoon I arrived in Port-sur-Saône and secured for the night on a solid concrete and steel quai in the centre of town.

On Tuesday, after another five and a half hours of travelling I arrived my twentieth and final lock on the Saône this trip. I entered the chamber, and using my standard routine, tossed the stern line to loop the bollard, adjusted it on the staghorn and went forward to toss the bow line, activating the lock as I passed the control rod. Zonder Zorg came to an abrupt stop. I looked back to see what had snagged and saw a man on the rim of the chamber pulling the stern line and smiling. I told him in French and English to leave the line alone. I restarted the engine and motored slowly forward on the stern line so I could reach the bow bollard. 

I tossed the bow line up and watched unbelievably as another man picked it up. I told him to put it back on the bollard. I went back to the stern to shift into neutral and shut-down the engine, then tail in the stern line as the boat swung back on its bow line. My routine has been to tail from the stern until the lock is a bit over half full and then go forward and tail in the bow line to the top of the fill. When I pulled on the bow line to adjust it, it was snagged. When I could see over the top of the chamber, I saw it had been tied to the bollard by the ‘helpful’ man from the rental boat waiting to descend. I told the two men that voluntary assistance is very often a hindrance and sometimes it can be dangerous. Do not touch another boater’s lines unless asked. Stand clear of the bollards. It took me more than five minutes trying to untie the line from the bollard, using mallet, fid and screwdriver and in the process I severely damaged it. My two week old twenty-metre line with an eye splice is now an eleven metre simple piece and an eight metre piece with an eye. Both rather useless, just like the two renters from Le Boat. Neither offered apologies no compensation.   

Five kilometres later, as I prepared to toss my stern line after entering the lock at Corre to start up the Canal des Vosges, a man stood over my bollard on the rim. I asked him to move, I motioned at him to move. I cursed him with my best Anglo-Saxon. He finally got the message and left. I looped both bollards and locked-up with ease, then moored for the night, off the Saône and into Canal des Vosges. The trip from Auxonne was four days of motoring for a total of 147.9 kilometres, twenty locks, two tunnels and three overzealous lock-top hindrances. At least there’s a supermarket nearby.