The 27-strong MBM fleet took a diversion on Wednesday this week from Zeeland waters to the attractive walled town on the Holland Deep.

Our Wednesday night stop should have been Tholen. But, despite it offering an authentic taste of a typical barge town, with a slightly Wild West feel into the bargain and hence a change of pace between the civilised town quays of Brouwershaven and Goes, there were reasons not to visit.

For starters, those that had visited the Netherlands with Motor Boats Monthly before were not fans of the place. Its steel and wooden pile-lined basin is quite basic, in keeping with its facilities, and space would be tight for what is the biggest ever fleet to go Dutch under an MBM banner. The average size of participant boats was also an issue for the nearby Bergsediepsluis that would only allow around two or three of our typical boat sizes at a time to lock into the southern arm of the Oosterschelde. If we could not realistically use the lock then we would have to run around to Goes by retracing steps of only the night before.

An alternative seemed to be a good idea but where to park 27 boats at short notice? We knew where we wanted to go: the attractive walled town of Willemstad on the Holland Deep might be technically out-of-bounds for an event termed ‘Zeeland Cruise’ but it had been a regular call in the days when the magazine ran a circuit encompassing the Markermeer to the north and we knew the fleet would fit if the town quay could be reserved. One phone call later and arrangements were made.

The run would be a bit longer than Tholen, but not much more so. The fleet all pushed out of Brouwershaven in good time, avoiding the Grevelingensluis hustle and bustle of a few days before. After that came the nearby water-exchanging lock at the Krammersluis gently gave access to the algae-streaked fresh water of the Volkerak beyond.

Two-thirds of the way along the Volkerak a few boats hauled over to take advantage of a speedboat area; with plenty of room to anchor a whole fleet in firm holding to the south of the area, this proved to be a useful spot and a mental note was made to earmark it as a possible lunchtime stop sometime in the future.

Once at the far end of the Volkerak there is a further lock to make before clearing into the Holland Deep; Willemstad was reached 20 minutes later.

The harbourmaster had been as good as his word and most of the space in the Binnenhaven was cleared by the time we arrived at midday, with just a few yachts hanging on – we couldn’t blame them for their reluctance to leave. Four hours later it was a busier picture with the MBM fleet in rafts of between three and five boats alongside the cobbled quay in the shadow of a windmill and with several attractive bars and restaurants just yards away.

With two petrol boats on the fleet – MBM’s Humber RIBTime Fliesand Eddie and Angela Donn’s well loved and travelled Sealine 215Canta Libre, Willemstad’s fuel berth also provided a welcome additional place to top off tanks (in addition to Delta Marina and Port Zéland, our other petrol fuel stops in the Netherlands).

The following morning it was time to reverse the route of days before to visit our last scheduled Dutch stop, Goes, which lies two miles inland from the Oosterschelde just east of the entrance to the Veersemeer. Boats were moving on as perfect a morning as you could wish to imagine. Waiting for the yacht lock at the Krammersluis there was barely a breath of wind, temperatures were rising into the low 20s and terns were providing excellent entertainment in their efforts to make a meal of leaping fish and boiling shoals of excited fry.

A few boats, including the Sealine S37Ocean Romanceowned by Timothy and Margaret England, took the time to make a lunchtime stop at Tholen; in their eyes the place mostly redeemed its character compared to other opinions in the fleet, not least thanks to its magnificent church which, sadly, was shut.

Faster boats had been able to take advantage of unrestricted stretches of the Volkerak and Oosterschelde to hasten journey times, but once locked in to the Goes Havenkanaal the world changed to a 3-knot meander through countryside. Then it changed again to a world of half-million euro waterside houses with the canal on one side and a lake on the other. Then it changed again to industrial docks before giving way to the final approach to town with superstores on either side.

While waiting for the Goes road bridge to swing one might be forgiven for wondering what you are committing yourself to; the view suggests a narrowing alley between a tiny marina on one side and tall residential buildings intimately hugging the bank on the other. But nothing prepares the first-timer for the even tighter bend beyond and the narrow entrance under a counter-balanced manual lift bridge that gives access to the equally side-hugging town basin beyond.

It can all be made to sound a bit difficult but the fact of the matter is that everything happens at such slow speed in an area mostly sheltered from wind that the maximum damage likely to be inflicted is only on personal pride if a fender is ever so gently bounced. Your prize for braving several close encounters of the wooden pile kind? A berth under a set of historic buildings that could be accused as being artificially perfect were it not for the fact that they are most certainly the real thing.

More news on Goes, our return home plans and more pictures, tomorrow.

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