We had arrived in Sneek on Thursday, 27 September and secured to a wharf in the Aquanaut marina. Our 228 kilometre route from Aalsmeer had taken us through a wonderfully diverse assortment of scenery and environments; we had motored alone up placid narrow canals, maneuvered along crowded traffic-churned broader waterways, crossed stormy lakes, explored towns dating back over a millennium and visited others created on seabeds drained within our own lifetime. We had arrived in Friesland, the home of the skûtsje, and we were chomping at the bit to explore the Fries Scheepvaart Museum.
On Friday morning our passes gave us free access. We asked the receptionist some questions specific to our skûtsje’s builder and early owners. She called the Librarian to set-up a meeting with us and then sent us off to the library. We had a delightfully informative meeting with Jeannette Tigchelaar, the Librarian, and among other things, she gave me some links to research sites to pursue later. We then spent a couple of hours exploring the museum before we headed into the skûtsje rooms.
There are many superbly detailed models on display, which show the skûtsje’s design features. I took many photos for later study.
In one display case is a skûtsje alongside a tjalk, and this close juxtaposition makes it very easy to compare and contrast the designs. The skûtsje is obviously more sleek; it is narrower and has a shallower hold. The leeboards are broader and shorter to allow very shallow water navigation. To make-up for the narrowness, the roef is slightly longer and a bit higher.
Among the exhibited models is a skûtsje half-section, which clearly shows the internal structure of the ship. At the after end of the cargo hold is a watertight bulkhead, which is also the forward part of the roef, the living accommodation.
In the roef the barge family lived. It is a flat-sided structure with a curved top, two shuttered windows on each side, a pair of portlights aft and a companionway topped with a sliding hatch. Growing out of the forepart of the roef is a crutch to cradle the boom.
In the museum is a restored skûtsje roef, which shows the typical layout and style. The interior design makes maximum use of the small space and it is very well appointed and finished. In the centre of the forward bulkhead is a fireplace, which serves for both cooking and heating. On each side of the fireplace is a storage cabinet, each with twin doors. The wood paneling and trim appear to be ash or beech, which is lightly varnished.
A table sits in the centre of the room and around it are chairs for the family. There are cabinets along the sides, which make full use the spaces under the side decks. Overhead, in the centre of the roef is a pigeon box skylight, which affords lighting as well as cooling and ventilation when required. An oil lamp hangs from the ceiling and there are decorative lace curtains on the windows and portlights.
Leading aft from the room, tucked under the aft deck is a bed platform, extending back into the round of the stern. In the stern are two circular portlights adding some light, and sometimes there is a pigeon box skylight.
A framed drawing on a nearby wall in the museum shows the scale of the interior of the accommodation space. It also shows how important and multifunctional the central table was to the room. In this space lived the family that owned and operated the barge. The skûtsje was both their home and their business.
Their business consisted of finding loads to carry. Often times this was cut peat to be carried from inland across the shallow lakes and through the narrow sluices to seaside ports. Sand, gravel and compost were also regularly carried, as were eels, both fresh and smoked.
The skûtsje was designed as a sailing vessel, and it was fitted with very broad, but relatively short leeboards to better navigate the shallow waters. Other tjalk-types had narrower, longer leeboards that extended deeper into the water. The mast on a skûtsje is fitted with a counterweight to make easy the process of lowering the rig to pass under low bridges and of re-erecting it once clear. When there was no wind, or when the wind was adverse, the family donned harnesses and pulled the barge along the canal.
As small engines became economical, some skûtsjes were fitted with auxiliaries. With the coming of purpose-built powered barges, such as the luxemotor, the usefulness of the skûtsje declined. A few kept on working, some were scrapped, some were converted to houseboats, some were converted to pleasure yachts with extended roefs over the hold and some were preserved and maintained for racing. Skûtsje racing is huge sport in Friesland, with two leagues: the prestigious SKS and the newer IFKS.
Near the entrance to the skûtsje rooms in the museum is a trophy case, and among the trophies is a retired SKS Championship trophy. It shows the names of the series champions from 1988 to 2007. On the trophy’s plaque, Douwe Visser of Sneek is shown as the SKS champion for 1995, 1996, 2002, 2003 and 2007. Douwe won the championship again in 2011 and 2012. In the 1930s and 40s his grandfather, Douwe Albert Visser raised his family aboard our skûtsje, Nieuwe Zorg. Another of his grandchildren, Douwe Visser of Grou won the SKS championship in 2005 and 2009.
We had thoroughly enjoyed the Fries Scheepvaart Museum and our eyes, minds and souls were filled to the brim with wonderful images. It was time to move on. We slowly wandered through the downtown core of Sneek, browsing in the many upscale shops gathering ideas for interior decoration in our restored skûtsje. In one shop we saw some gracefully sculpted chairs that showed a cheeky bit of humour, but in the end we decided to pass. We continued shopping and exploring, and then made our way back to Nieuwe Zorg to relax for the remainder of the day.
At 1125 on Saturday morning we slipped from our berth and headed back down the Woudvaart and Witte Brekken to the Prinses Margriet Kanaal, which we then followed northeastward to the Sneekermeer. Along the way we saw windmills and sailboats.
Set back in the fields along the banks were typical Friesland farmhouses and in the water and in the air were ducks and swans.
Some of the farms were directly on the canal side with wharves, which at one time may have been the easiest access for sending produce to market.
It was Saturday and there were many pleasure craft out on the water. As we approached Sneekermeer, the number of sailboats we saw quickly increased.
We could see at least two class-boat races in progress, with many dozens of participants sailing courses around the markers.
Also out sailing were several skûtsjes, most with crews eight or more.
It was rather windy with sudden gusts, and we saw reefs in the mains on some of the skûtsjes.
Most of the skûtsjes we saw appeared to be fully restored to their original configurations, with small roefs aft and canvas-topped shutters over the cargo holds.
They all looked very well maintained, and we assumed they were part of the SKS or IFKS racing fleets.
One with the same green hull as Sneker Pan went by, but she had her main down, so we couldn’t see her identity mark. Pan from Sneek is the current SKS champion, and it is skippered by Douwe Visser, grandson of a previous owner of our Nieuwe Zorg.
We headed into the long, narrow harbour of Grou and found an empty mooring place along a town wharf. Once we had secured and hooked-up to the shore power, we went off to explore the small town. Very prominent near its centre is a Romanesque church dating to the thirteenth century. We stopped in for a look.
We continued on in search of a supermarket, and along the way we spotted a viswinkel. The displays looked inviting and they tempted us to purchase two large pieces of halibut. We found the supermarket and bought a few items, reminding ourselves again that we needn’t buy more than a day or two’s supply of food at a time; the markets are everywhere and all so far have been excellent.
For dinner I coated the halibut in crumbled beschuit seasoned with salt, pepper and dried dragon and lightly fried it in butter. The fish was accompanied by butter-roasted baby potatoes and steamed fine green beans and garnished with sliced tomato with shredded basil.
We continue to search for inexpensive wines to add to our list of favourites. Among the whites we have found a wonderful Sancerre-styled New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc by Seagull Mountain and a deliciously refreshing Spanish Chardonnay-Macabeo blend from Freixenet. Both are in the €4 range.
At 1100 on Sunday morning we slipped and headed out into the continuation of the Prinses Margriet Kanaal. The canals are well marked, with signposts at junctions indicating the branch to follow.
Some of the signs are rather complex, and we have learned to take photos of them as we go by, so that we can continue to gather information from them after they have disappeared in our stern.
One of the things we have been noting as we moved along the canals in the Netherlands is that we have seen no raptors. As we were again commenting on this, we spotted a bird perched on a fence post ahead. We thought that we had finally seen a hawk, but as we approached, we saw that it was a duck. I cannot recall ever having previously seen a duck standing on a post, but I supposed that if the raptors don’t use the posts, the ducks may as well.
As we entered Leeuwarden, we turned up De Tynje Wide Greons and squeezed through a low, narrow bridge cut. We continued a few hundred metres and took a mooring along the bank in the entrance to Jachthaven De Nieuwe Leeuwarden.
Across the entrance canal from us was the tjalk, Vrouwe Geziena. She is the first boat we had looked at in July as we began our search for a barge. We had visited her in a mooring along the Emmakade in the centre of town. Seeing her here was like closing the loop on our adventure.
We spoke with the couple aboard, who were the previous owners, and from them we learned that their tjalk had been recently sold to a young French couple. As a part of the sales contract, they would assist in moving the barge to Paris and they planned to leave the following morning.
Early on Monday morning we watched as Vrouwe Geziena maneuvered from her slip to begin her estimated ten-day passage to Paris. Looking at her, we were pleased that we had passed on her and had waited until we had found Nieuwe Zorg. The tjalk is 3.5 metres high, compared to Nieuwe Zorg’s 1.95 metres, and this would mean not only having to wait for many more bridges to be opened for us in the Netherlands, but also scraping through most of the canal bridges in France and having to forego three of Europe’s most scenic and historic canals: the Bourgogne, the Midi and the Nivernais.
Shortly after noon we took our umbrellas and set off to walk into the centre of Leeuwarden. We were amused with the mid-channel buoy perched in the roundabout leading from the jachthaven. Even ashore, the route is well marked.
We arrived in the heart of the shopping district just as the shops began opening; most don’t open until 1300 on Mondays. We browsed a few shoe stores, looking for more seasonal footwear; I was still in sandals and Edi was in light runners. There is a marvelous selection of nice leather from Bulgaria, Romania and other eastern European countries at very reasonable prices. We both found fashionable boots that are much more suited to the climate and the barging environment.
On Tuesday morning we slipped form our berth and headed back down the canal and squeezed through the bridge, pleased that we were a few centimetres lower than the posted clearance.
We were soon out in the countryside and passing typical Friesian farmsteads.
The weather continued heavily overcast with occasional showers as we motored along on our final leg to Harlingen.
The canalside scenery looked as if it had been lifted from textbooks on Friesland. There were Friesian horses, Friesian barns, Friesian autumn skies.
We passed many windmills. Most were the huge modern structures with automatic feathering three-bladed propellers sitting atop tall steel pylons.
Here and there we also passed old wooden mills, some intended for grain grinding and others as water pumps to keep the fields dry.
As we approached the town of Dronrijp we saw a three-masted ship on the horizon. It slowly grew and as we drew closer we saw it was secured alongside. As we passed we saw a very long-in-the-tooth ship that was obviously far beyond her best before date. To us she appeared ready for the cutters’ torches, though there were some young people aboard who appeared to have dreams of a better future. They will need many buckets of Euros and many more of good luck to realize their dreams.
We passed under the bridge at the west side of Dronrijp and had gone about half a kilometre when the engine hesitated and stopped. I tried to restart it without luck. As we drifted, I slowly steered toward the right bank, which was slightly to leeward in the 15 to 20 kilometre breeze. At 1346 we came to an emergency mooring on three pins pounded into the soft clay of the canal bank.
The sight glass on the fuel tank in the engine room showed the tank was low, and I suspected that the fuel pump had picked-up some sludge from the tank bottom. Access to the fuel filter involves major disassembly and panel removal in the engine room, so I began toward the other end of the system. I cracked open the line from the fuel pump and turned the engine. Fuel sprayed out. I repeated the process at the first and sixth injectors, which also resulted in spraying fuel. As I turned the engine there were random firings, but none sufficient to kick it into action. I suspected the injectors were clogged.
We were at kilometre post 15 on the canal, 12 short of SRF in Harlingen. With my cell phone, I called the SRF office and explained the situation to the person who answered and asked if a tow could be arranged. A few minutes later Lex returned my call and told us a boat has been arranged and it would arrive at our location in about an hour and a half.
Shortly before 1600 a small yard tug from SRF had arrived skippered by a young SRF employee, accompanied by his eight and a half month pregnant wife and an old boat dog. We were quickly taken in tow and I steered Nieuwe Zorg in the tugs stern as we began the final two hours of our passage to Harlingen.
Along the way we passed through the town of Franeker, where we again saw canalside homes with private bays for their boats, much as we have driveways and garages at home. Throughout our travels in the Netherlands we have seen many such arrangements, or private wharves with mooring arrangements directly on the canal.
As we approached Harlingen we came into an industrial area, including a huge yard filled with many heaps of scrap metal. Among the piles of scrap we could see cutup ship parts. We are delighted that Nieuwe Zorg is a long way from needing to be put to rest here.
A little past 1730 we arrived at SRF and were towed to a berth outboard an old converted workboat, which was awaiting work on the wharves at the rear of the complex.
On Wednesday afternoon Wychard Raadsveld, one of the four partners in Scheepsreparatie Friesland came aboard to begin gathering information from us on what work we wanted done. We were shortly joined by another partner, Lex Tichelaar, and the four of us began the long process of planning Nieuwe Zorg’s second century facelift.