Nijmegen lies just a stone’s throw from the German border, a fact of which many have reminded us. In Bellvue, a town we harboured in prior to making the dash for Nijmegen, a woman to whom we asked directions schooled us on how hard the second world war had been on the region. “Just there across the river the Germans sent a constant assault against American and English forces that were just there on the other side. By the time they were finished I’m surprised there was anything left to rebuild,” she said. Her name was Briggette and she was going home to walk her dog. She had been kind enough to escort the crew to the site of a discount grocery and then stood talking for half hour. “Just remember,” she told us. “Not every German person you will meet will be bad.” Obviously, Briggette held a bit of grudge over German atrocities more than 50 years ago. We took her stilted advice and headed into the store for provisions.
We had found this little port by luck. We were scanning the maps and shoreline looking for either a bunker barge, a largish stationary ship that is like a massive Petro Canada, or a land-based petrol station for diesel that was getting a tich low in our tanks. Looking through the binoculars the flag of a Total station flapped in the distance between a church spire and bridge. We headed in and found Bellvue and the De Waal jachtshaven, the first place in more than a week that we had to pay to berth (7.50 Euro).
Formalities taken care of, the crew set off to ferry the diesel from the petrol station above the harbour. This took a good hour or more to fill the tank. Next it was off to the shops to fill in some holes in Djes’ stores as well as find a T Mobile shop to get advice on the new Euro phone that was causing so much anxiety. Back in the boat by 9:00 and ready for dinner. Tonight it was green pea soup, Camembert and fresh whole grain bread, an exact replication of lunch. This meal also offered numerous flagons of French vin a table.
The next day started late for the crew. Undoubtedly we drank a few too many flagons and noon was creeping up as things were readied for the challenge of Nijmegen. The map showed nothing but the wilds of Gelderland, a Dutch province that offers a lot of forests and lonely spaces. There were no jachtshavens and even the berthing facilities for the larger boats were few. I had been slipping into these and getting away with it till two nights before when the river police explained things to us in detail. Now we was shy of these big boat berths not wanting to incur the nasty fines that hang over boaters’ heads for everything from lack of sewage black tanks, to oily discharge, to docking where you are not supposed to.
The engine was started and given its half hour idle before setting out. The crew had an uneasy feeling about the day. The weather had turned from just miserable to state-of-the-art nasty. Wind direction was variable with gusts of 50 km, freezing rain turned to snow and visibility out the windows was bad but made worse by the plus 2 temperatures inside that created a constant fog on the glass. We released the lines and left anyway.
There are some things which are difficult in a boat where constant supervision at the helm is mandatory. The crew would make lunch in advance of setting off. A thermos of coffee and a peanut butter sandwich was a good standby if a quiet harbour or tie-up spot could not be found. One hand on the wheel and the other grabbing thermos and sandwich is an easy task. Going pee is another thing altogether. Let’s just say we have had to be very creative in ways that keep the inside of the wheel house from being sprayed by unconstrained urine as the boat is lashed by wind and wake from passing barges.
The day wore on and as 5:00 rolled around and the sun started to fade, the Voyager’s thoughts turned to ways to get off the river. An inlet appeared and the crew turned the boat into what turned out to be a massive ship yard (shipswerf). The docks were simply too high to tie up. We could not get the ropes swung around the bollards and as time was a wastin’ we abandoned this location and headed back onto the channel. Next we spied a largish canal and small lake. In we went thinking that we could tie up to a tree or even beach the boat. This thinking got the boat grounded in sand. We kept our cool and soon the Volvo had pulled the boat out and we were free again to keep looking. By this time it was after 6:30 and it was dark. The decision was made to stop wasting time with the searching and just power on to Nijmegen, another 12 km up river. Twelve kilometers doesn’t sound like much, but when the current is 6 to 8 km against you and the engine can make 15 km in still water the challenge comes into view. I figure I am making 5 km an hour ground speed with the engine running at around 3/4 full.
The night was as dark as the inside of a cow’s stomach. All that could be seen were the distant green starboard lights of tilting buoys. The markers that I had been using – long poles with green arrows atop that indicated the edge of the channel and the danger of the rocky outcrops – were now gone from view. Occasionally they would race into sight and we would have to quickly change course to either avoid them or move away from the rocky points at their edges. Ships would now just appear, rather than show up on the starboard tail. All that could be done was face this music and continue along until the tune was over in Nijmegen. An hour followed another hour. Soon the lights of Nijmegen showed up bright as we came around a bend. I could see a good potential haven just at the entrance to the town. By now the Voyager’s arms were tired from the constant battle with the wheel and rudder. The entry point came up quickly, and Djes dodged into the quiet of the canal. Unfortunately, this was another shipswerf and we had to set back out onto the river to make the last push into the main part of the town.
Nijmegen is the Netherland’s oldest city and has a population of about 165,000. Looking toward the lights on the shore, our eyes could see that the landscape looked interesting. First we had to get onto the land. Help was at hand. No sooner had we had pulled back onto the current when lights start going off all around the boat. It seems the control tower at the bridge as I entered the shipswerf had radioed a navy boat as I came out of the canal to come back onto the river. They could see that we were seeking safe harbour and sent the navy boat to guide me to the city’s jachtshaven. Under the red and orange flash the navy’s rotating emergency lights we were asked to come alongside for a quick chin wag at which time the crew was told to follow the patrol boat into town.
“Hallo, where are you going?
“Nijmegen,” we answered. “We are looking for the jachtshaven.”
“This is what we think. So, we have come to assist you. There is nothing wrong. You are sailing well and all the lights are working. We just want to make sure you get off the river in the dark. This is a very dangerous place for you. I will speak to you again once you are tied up.”
An hour later we had been guided into a berth right in the very heart of Nijmegen across from their hot-shot new casino. We considered going over for a few spins of the roulette wheel, maybe some baccarat. Given the day the suspicion was that all our luck had been used up just making it to port. Even the newly installed Tibetan prayer flags from Prairie Sky were mostly destroyed leaving us with the view that as the day wore on we had been traveling without a prayer when it seemed we needed them most.