Lazy days in the Netherlands

The 27 boats of the Motor Boats Monthly cruise to Zeeland have been exploring the islands and varied havens of the Grevelingenmeer.

Delta Marina on the Veersemeer, our first stop in the Netherlands, proved to be an ideal opportunity to take stock of the kind of cruising in store for the next few days. A tidy marina with a good restaurant and a play area for children all seem typical fare in this country although Delta arguably does it as well as anyone.

Since our last visit the marina has opened up its large visitors bay at the front to allow easier access and a bit more mooring space. Otherwise it seemed pretty much business as usual.

For example, the Volvo Penta agency was as efficient as we have come to expect it to be. One of the 42-series diesels on the Princess 34September Misthad suffered a seized compressor idler wheel that had subsequently destroyed itself, throwing the belt. The part was not only summoned up without fuss but also fitted for the grand sum of 10 euros labour, much to the amazement of owners Simon and Rosemary Harrison. OnCalm Voyagerthe starboard KAMD 300’s oil filler cap had come loose due to a failing lug and lost itself completely in an unreachable part of the bilge; ordered the night before a replacement was available at 8.00am. We also fixed a long-term oil leak on the boat’s Mase generator thanks to being able to buy, without fuss, the right size of pipe for 7.5 euros.

Above the engine floorboards others were taking sensibly taking advantage of the nearby town of Kortgene and the even nearer waters of the Veersemeer. For boats that had travelled a considerable length of south coast, east coast or River Thames plus the Channel crossing and the Belgian coast to get to that point it was a firm marker that the holiday had truly commenced.

The Oosterschelde can display a foul temper in wind against tide conditions, which in turn can be a bit of a rude awakening after the gentle Versemeer. Waiting until the afternoon gave a tide turn in keeping with the sea breeze which in turn offered little more than a playful lollop for the move around to the Grevelingenmeer on the Thursday of last week.

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The only surprise for some was the every-man-for-himself scenes at the Grevelingensluis. This must surely be one of the busiest leisure boating locks anywhere and there seems to be one golden rule – if you see a gap, go for it! Given the British sense of fair play with regard to queues it would be entirely possible, one imagines, to spend a complete day in the middle of the rafts waiting to enter without ever quite making it, although most boats in the MBM fleet discovered the ‘when in the Netherlands, do as they do’ solution and made it into the vast lakeland waters beyond after finding their own personal gaps in the scrum.

Once through the lock it was a short run to Herkingen Marina that, despite its modern marina facilities, retains something of the ambience of a quiet anchorage. On our previous visit the whole fleet had enjoyed an impromptu barbecue on the marina’s volleyball field but the control boat team had been hit by the mysterious tummy bug now nicknamed ‘Dutch Helm Disease’ (in honour of the high ratio of skippers afflicted) and had little motivation to be involved with cooking anything so the evening was an altogether less smoky affair with just a few crews choosing to publicly sacrifice their offerings upon disposable altars.

Sun-up on Friday provided one of those moments that completely compensate for boating’s often eye-watering bills. The clear morning air provided a view for miles over a peaceful Grevelingenmeer. Everyone awoke with the prospect of a run of just nine miles, at a time of their choosing, to the other end of the lake. The speed limit dictated a pace of no more than 7.5 knots but few if any would have been in the mood to do anything other than idle their way through the main channels and smaller navigations around the lake’s several islets. Several stayed on the islands for most of the day and just one boat, the ever-so-aptly Project 31Relaxowned by Steve and Georgina Thurbin, decided to skip sybaritic delights altogether for a couple of nights out on the sheltered visitor pontoons with their back-to-basics facilities.

There was nothing back-to-basics about our next call. A marina of huge proportions with a varied selection of resident craft to match and a holiday village complete with swimming pool complex adjacent, Port Zéland lies behind the Brouwersdam that keeps the sea and the Grevelingenmeer safely apart. This is great place for families boasting children with a need for a steady diet of fun pursuits, not least because of the immediately adjacent area set aside for waterskiing and sportsboating. It was soon busily being used by the fast tender splat pack, albeit supervised by adults in deference to local regulations.

“We have new toilets.” It was a slightly alarming statement to be greeted with as we visited the Port Zéland harbour office to announce our arrival. The fleet was becoming well known around Zeeland but had they heard about the rather nasty ravages of Dutch Helm Disease and our alarmingly high reluctance on ready facilities? In fact it was a response to an article written in MBM some years back when the author, Alex McMullen, had criticised the pontoon-based toilet blocks. This time around he would have had nothing to complain about; the dazzlingly clean buildings even featured piped music to gently sooth those in earnest concentration.

This was to be the last marina call of the trip and the only one to boast a pump-out facility for holding tanks among its comprehensive range of services. From here on the fleet was headed towards town quay moorings, the first of which was just three miles away at Brouwershaven. If you have to make passage on the day of rest this is about as easy as it gets, although the weather had taken a slight turn for the worse which made it a pleasure to get out of the wind in the sheltered environs of the town’s haven.

Once again the time passed here easily, with the sun reappearing to bathe the adjacent square and its Monday market with a pleasantly temperate glow. At first glance there’s not much to this place, well at least there isn’t if you are of the impatient tourist persuasion. But look again and you find an impressive church, a few useful shops, some great restaurants and a fantastic yacht club that serves food with great aplomb while offering computer games for kids and screening Tom and Jerry cartoons on the wall for the adults.

Right next door is a sailmaker.Calm Voyager’s canopies were in dire need of some attention and so we popped in, wondering if the man huddled earnestly over a sewing machine could do something for us in the three hours of his declared opening time. Furrowing his brow a bit, he looked at the missing fixings and simply said “I will make them like iron.” A bit later we popped in again and he explained that some of the repairs would need patches, which we took to mean that we ought to get those repairs done by someone on our return. An hour later he returned the canopies with patches applied and a bill for 67 euros. Not all things marine are a bargain in the Netherlands, especially once you take the current pound/euro exchange rate into account, but tradesmen have typically offered exceptional service in exchange for modest bills so far on this cruise.

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