Slicing Through History

Fighting the Rhine at 642

Fighting the Rhine at 642

Wierdo trees in front of Remegen Cathedral. Deem bushes got da clip

Wierdo trees in front of Remegen Cathedral. Deem bushes got da clip

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Standard anti brigand and thug gear c. 1300

 

For much of its northern reaches the Rhine courses along relatively flat terrain.  Just at Bonn the topography starts to change. Suddenly there are hills. In the distance I can see two mounds like lopsided breasts where I must drive my boat through the cleavage-like gate that opens to a new area, one that is historic, challenging, and lovely.

The section of the Rhine from Bonn south is the land of the robber barons and the occasional toll levying archbishop.  From around 800 to just a couple of hundred years ago, those who plied the waters of the Rhine had to pay for the privilege and most often they paid in coin or in kind to square-jawed brigands who placed chains across the river to exact their remittances. Here at Bad Honnef you can see how the river cooperates by narrowing between two islands, Grafenwerth on the Bon Honnef side and Nonnenwerth towards the opposite shore. High on the hill tops the barons and others would construct castles to help them enforce their tolls. Here where I float tied to a dock I look up to the ruins of such a fortress with Rolandsbogan, a single window all that remains of the structure. Stories tell of Roland, one of Charlemagne’s knights who would brokenheartedly look out this window to Nonnenworth below where his true love was married to Jesus at the convent on the island. So moving was the tale that a 19th c romantic poet returned to his native Rhine and repaired the relic leaving only this window to love’s lost battle.

With the narrowing of the river the current is wicked. I am tucked behind an uncertain breakwater that comes and goes as the winter melt arrives from Switzerland. The large barges have to rev their diesels and their bows slam the water in big pushes. I look on and remember the hour it took just to cross the river to find the Wasserverine Hannef where I have found safe moorage and a welcoming community. How would this new rise in the river level and the enhanced currents impact my ability to move forward? Peter Kaufer, my friend who is a retired skipper and worked with the Wasserpolizie, is skeptical that Djes’ Volvo engine has the jam to push us through the ‘Gates’ between Koblenz and Bingen where the rocky shore towers and the barges really squeeze by. I have to admit that as I sit here in Bad Honnef getting the engine fixed, I am somewhat nervous. I have read about the region and now people on the ground are telling me to hold on to my hat for an intense hard ride. I believe in Djes and know her Volvo engine might not be speedy, but she is strong and like the tortoise – will get us to the finish.

This haven I have found is a small Rhine-side rowing club. Its well equipped with a full gym, locker room with shower and barn-like storage area for the array of boats they have in their bunks. The club is used by everyone from young teens who show up during school hours to seniors who go out in four man crews for an early morning pull. The one and two-man boats like those you see at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games are fiberglass with long oars that really get them going. The larger boats are wood, many with the rudder at the front. On weekends the harbour is awash in craft as they launch and set out to take on the currents of the river with crews first heading upstream for a tiring paddle before returning on the helping hand of the nine km river power.

The people at the club have been interested in my story and have offered me their hospitality for which we are very grateful. At first I was uncomfortable using their facilities given that I amount to someone who is squatting on their dock. They have been very welcoming in this regard and greet me with a friendly ‘morgan’ when I run into members out for an early row.

I was lucky to find Wasserverine Hannef. As I have discovered, I will have a significant challenge to run the currents up as far as Bingen where I can cross over and slip into the Mainz river and its gentle ways. Here I am able to get repairs done and use the area as a staging point for journeys around the region.

In fact, yesterday we rolled out Bike Too for a mission that took us as far as Sinzig. The Rhine offers easy bike paths on either side that move along the shore and deek into towns as they come up. Great ride along paved, cobblestoned, asphalt or packed pea gravel paths. Took the Ronsdeck ferry across and rode into Sinzig and the River Ahr. Had a Kolsch and looked out to cherry blossoms below the Romanesque church’s square. This side of the river is more rural with orchards and small garden plots in abundance. Across the river from Kripps where I took the ferry back (Linz), the towns are more frequent and are interesting in their preservation and way of life. Properties can date from the 1300’s and they are in better shape that most I have seen in new developments. You just couldn’t get a good quality particle board in the Middle Ages so they had to build with wood and stone.

Shops here are nothing much. There are the prerequisite souvenir outlets, but for the most part the goods in the stores are utilitarian or fairly downscale with slim selection and a trimmed back style that is indicative of the conservative nature of the region. Grocery shopping has been an eye-opener. While there are large populations in small footprint centers, there is only small grocery to offer them foods. Yes, there is a butcher, several bakers and other specialty food stores, but the Edeka, Kaisers, and others like Netto are just a bit bigger in layout than a community bread and milk store with maybe 10,000 to 15,000 skus in five narrow aisles that cover everything from fresh produce, to general grocery and dry goods to meats and dairy and beverages. Most stores have a lot of space devoted to wines, and beer that I would say averages about 15 per cent of total footage and stock. Interesting is the cost of beer. Very fresh and quality laden, the Alts and Kolsch’s can be had for 69 cents for a half liter bottle or 7.99 for a case of 20 on sale (add 30 per cent to get a Canadian context). Indeed, with so many good beers to try its hard to get involved with the wines or run the risk of becoming like some jolly friar going from town to town in a state of alcohol infused frivolity (doesn’t actually sound so bad). Here on the dock we have a refrigerator that has proven its worth as a storehouse for everything from Gaffel Kolsch to Frankenheim Alt.

Indeed the fridge has been a godsend especially today. Warm and sunny I have pulled out the fishing equipment. Back In Amsterdam at the big box sports store I decided to gather some tackle together and after putting the pieces in shape over the past couple of months I tossed a line into the water this afternoon. I’m using an 8’ telescoping pole with a spin cast reel and 20 lb line (you never know). Got a few spinners and something that looks like a cross between a Lazy Ike and a Red Devil – I’m calling it Lazy Nelson. I’m going for a little garlic rub on the hook and piece of herring to bring in the big one. Now its just a case of patience and a fond hope that the beers in the fridge will last as we look out across to the Rhine and its slice of history.

 

 

 

 

 

A Lock on Love

 

Koln’s Hohenzollernbrücke is 410 meters of arched steel and big button rivet tops. Its Germany’s busiest rail bridge with 1200 crossings each day over spans across the Rhine that give trains, bike and foot traffic access to Deutz on the east side of the river. It also stands as a living monument to love and hope for lasting happiness. The bridge is a site where Kölonians come to bring their love shackles to fasten them to the grates of the brücke’s protective fencing in a statement of undying commitment. The result is a cascade of shiny and weather worn padlock proclamations that must number well over 100,000 along the wide path that looks away toward the sweeping river and the city’s blend of old and new architecture.

The path itself has become a lovers’ walk where couples cruise hand in hand and look at the names and dates. Oddly, the activity is similar to the lonely graveyard amble where people walk amid the stones and also consider names and dates. However, amid the gravestones there is a sadness about the life lived and lost. On the Hohenzollernbrücke the names and dates cast a hope for the future and the happiness of love. Indeed, the entire bridge could be considered not as a piece of infrastructure that conveys people to geographical locations, but as a conduit to an emotional place. Consider that more than 200,000 moon-eyed humanoids have stood on the bridge and while in full-test gob-smacked crazy love placed a lock and left a spatial-temporal impression amid the great continuum. I suspect the entire bridge is awash in a kind of hormonal residue that is an amalgam of lust, hope, trust and selflessness.

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I wonder what ever happened to Jupp?

Love gets tough on hate

When love gets tough on hate

Love eatched in brass

Love etched in brass

Back when Köln’s streets were ankle deep in mud and dung and citizens wore cloggy BirkenstocksP1050140P1050150, the city was known as a great place to pick up cheap perfume (as well as a nasty case of Clap). Bathing was considered an unhealthy practice that could dilute precious bodily humours. Substitute odours were sought to help keep buzzards on outhouse roofs and unplug noses. In Köln its special Eau de Cologne offered a fruity mask that covered well the foul airs of medieval life and helped earnest-faced Burghers make a better impression at the Ratstadt. That was then. It was a simpler time when a mere slathering of stink sauce could change both social and individual fortunes. Today we need a new, more potent Eau de Cologne to improve the public good. We need to send in our scientific shock squads to Hoover up the hormonal residue from around Köln’s love locks. Shop vac this chemical gland smack and use it as a kick start for those whose hope, trust and love are in Limbo. Imagine what just a dab of Köln Hohenzollernbrücke Eau de Hormone would do for Robert Mugabe or the Hunt Bros. (not sure what it would do for Kim Jong-un, but it would involve big pouty men in saucy boots). Violent criminal offenders could be regularly sprayed down and kept in a permanent state of love struck bliss.

Like the two side of the bridge that fuses the shores together in a union, the love lock holds a couple’s dreams and aspirations at that moment. If the lock is broken is the spell un-cast? What happens when the bridge is simply full and not one more lock can be placed? Surely plans have been made. Once the last lock has been clasped and the couple walks off into a future assured by love, Köln must have another bridge at the ready. Another long line of grates must wait for the next lock to come and the next and the next till this new bridge too is filled. Love is our great positive. Any place, thing, person, or event that fosters blind love and all its trappings should be an exalted place of reverence – a true chapel of connectedness to the great multidimensional state of being. Like the Easter Islanders we should be devoting all our time (ok, we’d need to do a bit of farming and manufacturing too) to constructing these lodestones of positive emotion.

In a world gone mad with competition and loneliness could we not all use a little more love and understanding?  I’ll take a little squirt just a little behind the ears, please?

 

 

 

 

Global Shift

http://youtu.be/5jqnyHo113A    (Check out the vid of the Voyager voyaging)

Globalism’s one colour fits all approach is becoming more and more evident in the patchwork of the EU. Years ago I might have expected my Dutch friends to scold me in English that I should learn more languages. In Germany I would have been surprised to find two or three people out of ten that could work an English diphthong. Now not only do eight of ten people have the skill to say,” Dude, you are eating way too many Snackinfredas!” they also know how to order at Starbucks ‘Ich, bin eine Duplio mit the extra whipped cream’. People from the tip of Estonia to somewhere in western Romania have a firm grip on the 21st c. and that grip appears courtesy of Sports Check and Disney.

What I’m getting at is that the battle between evolved national culture and the drive to create culture from the need to make us all into the same consumers is moving forward at a breakneck pace. As I sit here in Bonn looking out a cafe window there is not much to differentiate kids coming home from school from those who walk down the snowbanks from Wolseley School or Laura Secord. Fashions (with the exception of snow suits) and visual cues are very similar. -A gang of three jostles each other as they head to the McDonald’s on the corner – The same is true with jokes. Mass culture has shaped what we consider funny and now that globalism has drifted television and movies across the world, someone in Germany or Morocco understands ‘get over it’ from the Soprano’s, the irony of Honey Boo Boo, or that you don’t want to be kicked off the island.

The evidence of the move to unicuture is all around. True, Germany is stronger than most with a highly developed domestic brand culture, film industry and music scene. The shift is in the style of clothes that are less European and more Chicago, the music that is more LA and the food that is more burger, less schnitzle.

Thanks be to Vishnu for beer. The brew is a stalwart of culture that has near nationalist undertones. Consider Köln where Kolsch rules the roost. Kolsch is a light hoppy Pilsner-style brew(4.8 per cent) that comes in thin 6 oz glasses. Citizen clink the bottoms and pound them back. If you are a fan of Gaffle or Sion, don’t show your face at bars where patrons drink Reisdorf or Früe. In Dusseldorf, just a few miles up the river Alt beers are all the range. “Where should I go if I just have one day to see the city,” I asked a couple who had stopped by my friend Han’s house for some of his free advice. “You must go to the Bierstadt and drink our Alt beer,” they said almost in unison with an undisguised pride. I didn’t go, but I did drink lots of Alt (this is the beer Belgians would brew if they were German) and I can attest that Frankenheim is awesome.

Is beer culture real culture? Of course and I hope to find more of it. Glad that the Millers and Buds have not been able to chip away at the true bedrock of European civilization – its beer. Think I’ll just grab another Snackinfreda and a cool Kolsch. Here’s to culture – popular or not. Cheers!

The Daily Grind

Djes is a stern taskmistress. When she is running she demands your full attention. With the currents running hard a few seconds with hands off the wheel and she is ready to turn tail and start heading in the opposite direction or keeling towards rocky shore or oncoming super barge. It had never occurred to me before leaving that I would not be able to set my computer on the helm with German lessons and practice all the way to Frankfurt. Twenty seconds of distraction can create some hairy situations. For example, two days ago I was daydreaming with a coffee in my hand. I was letting her get close to the shore and I was checking out the various waterfowl. Suddenly there is a grinding and dramatic change to the colour of the river as I ground out on gravel bottom. Another time I was attempting to bring the boat alongside a pier when I didn’t pay proper attention and found myself stuck on rocks. Both occurrences required me to lighten the boat to free her.

The days are very focused on driving. Things such as taking a pee, making a coffee, or jotting a note bring fresh challenges. I have no real maps. I am using a combination of my iPhone’s off-net maps and a little tourist map I picked up in Nijmegen. More than once I have nearly crashed the boat trying to find out where we were or where we should be going. The wheel is very stiff. A combination of boat design where the water is swept around to the stern and its rudder and the age of the craft every move of the wheel must be done with force. My left arm is now 25 percent bigger than when I left Canada. I’m like a half Popeye. I have three driving positions. One is sitting with the wheel in front and both hands operating. The second is standing in front of the wheel and using both hands and the third (and preferred position) is standing to the right of the wheel and working it with my left arm. This position offers the best view and the best control.

The water is wicked. The Rhine is filled with eddies and swirling currents that befit a river of this size with a flow of around 5 to 7 kilometers per hour. It is unforgiving – just ask Bike. Usually I make a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate and whip up a sandwich or two to do me the six to eight hours the boat is running. Many days I have left this off. This means making lunch with one hand on the wheel and then making a sandwich in steps where I let go the wheel for 10 seconds to get the bread down, another 10 seconds and I cut one piece, another 10 seconds while I cut another and yet 20 seconds more while I spread peanut butter or find a cheese slice. At any time a large ship could pass and I would have to forgo the operation to keep the boat right in the water. Photos are almost out of the question. A few times I lowered the engine revs and stood motionless against the current in a kind of river stasis that allowed me to run to the rear deck and snap a few shots before running back to take the helm.

As boats pass they give off a large wake that often hits hard. On occasion several boats will have two passing me from the bow while a third overtakes me to the port side. The swells can really get the small boat rocking. I have to really work the tiller to keep the boat moving true and not get in the way of the barges coming up to the rear. On the Rhine, the normal boats (anything over 10 meter) have the right of way. I am on the river as an annoyance to shipping. Indeed, I have yet to spend any time with the barge people. In Nijmegen I spoke to a captain who pulled his160-footer up to the dock and effortlessly parked opposite Djes. I said hallo. He looked at my boat and nodded.

“I heard about you from the radio. That is an old boat,” he said to me in English right away.

“Yeah, I’m trying to take it to the Danube.”

“On the Rhine?”

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Cheap liquor and cheap smokes. Like Vegas with an accent

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The ship’s bog. Room to really do some thinkin’ in thar. Even has an inside lock in case of security issues with the crew.

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The roomy bright interior. Italian design meets Higgins Ave chic.

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Historical beauty off the port bow. Sent the crew in to pillage. They brought back a lot of shiny stuff. I’ll look at it later.

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Why am I so beautiful?

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Tied up waiting to head in to Bad Honnef.

“Yeah,” I said.

He looked the two of us (Djes and I) over and walked away.

Other barge captains have given me nasty hand signals and had their crew go out on deck to yell at me. I remember one crewman who came out, looked at me and then drew his hand over his face in a gesture of complete ‘I can’t believe the stupidity I’m seeing here.’

I have been trying to break up the day by finding an interesting spot to stop for lunch. I tend to look for a place where I can get out and walk around a church or village square or two. These are few and far between. In Holland, smallish centres often had a harbour that I could motor into and tie up for an hour or so. In Germany this fell away to long stretches of river wall and only large industrial places to stop. Now that I am in the Rhineish heartland where population is massive the docking is easy to find in cities like Koln, Dusseldorf and Bonn with neighbourhoods having a small wharf.

Mornings see the crew rise at 9:00 for the ritual heating of the stove. The two- burner propane stove serves as cooking appliance and furnace. Once the cabin is warmed, the process to make coffee is underway. After the first cup the multi- stage start-up of the Volvo Diesel is set in motion. First the rear floorboards must be removed to allow the battery key to be turned on. Next the front floorboards have to come up to give access to the electrics for the fuel pump. Once these are on the glow plugs have to be fired for up to a minute to warm the fuel. On most days the first turn of the key earns a grudging but healthy moan instead of the engine’s normal aerobic chugging. This is when I take off one of the air filters and give her a shot of combustion spray. It’s like a cup of coffee for the old Swede. Next time around I can usually get it going a bit but this often stalls after a minute or so. Third time is the kicker with the engine usually running pretty smooth after 15 minutes of belching white smoke from the exhaust.

As the engine warms – this takes half hour – I do a few ready things like cleaning dishes, finding someplace to take the garbage, and securing everything that can fly around. Once the temperature hits around 60c I go out and untie the bowlines. Best case is when the bow swings around to face the river. Most times I have to dash out of the wheelhouse to untie the stern ropes and then make it back to the controls before I hit another boat or head off with the current.

Most harbours are pretty pleasant places. I have some favourites. Gorenchem in Holland will live on in my memory for a long time. There, the ancient town harbour (1200’s) gave up a pristine Rhine gem of old boats, well preserved buildings and rolling landscape. I love the quiet chugging and low speed entry to a new port. Standing at the wheel the view opens as you come through the entrance. There is a calm to a boat approach not available to those in cars, planes or trains. The burbling ripple of the prop under the water and the slow rhythm of the diesel motor deliver a calm that is punctuated by the easy tap to the dock and another address for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Reliance

 

The sun sets in Düsseldorf. Finally a sunny day. Spent it doing land chores in this city of 600,000 that is the racing heart of this hyper-industrial river region. Hans has helped a great bit by driving his 80’s VW bus like Sebastian Vettle through the streets and tunnels to find much-needed bits and pieces. Now Djes rocks her three tons quietly behind fresh bolsters and her cabins are filled with warm light.

heifenmeiser Hans

Hafenmeister Hans sits at his perch watching the action below.

tied up in Dusseldorf at DKC

Djes tied up at Hans’ dock in Dusseldorf

Hans' pet duck Daisy and her partner

Hans’ pet duck Daisy and her stalwart partner

The Gate

The gate on the drawbridge over the moat. Burglery has always been my strong suit

Club with a few boats

DKC with a few of the boats Hans has had returned

At age 80 Hans stands under a full head of white hair. He lives alone on a boat beside a barge at a rowing club he started 50 years ago on the outskirts of this German city. This is where Djes and the crew found him on the Saturday before Easter after scanning the shore for a fresh harbour. The night had been spent locked behind impenetrable dock security so the morning meant a fire up of the Volvo MD11, a letting go of the ropes and another uncertain move. Hans, a boat builder who runs the Düsseldorf Kanu Club (DKC), was watching from his windows high above the water as we came onto the Rhine and made our way across to his little harbour. He was there on his dock to help tie up as we coasted in.

“Kommen Sie für einen Kaffee,” he said as he threw the rope ends on the boat and walked back up the metal stairs to his perch.

I obeyed and found a charming older man in plaid shirt and patchwork yachting pants, steel rim glasses and great dental work. Trim and neat, Jan was sitting at his chair in a room fitted out to seat 60 for club events. His spot was strategically placed between two windows so he could watch all the action on the river and dockside. The table was set with a coffee thermos, glass of tiny teaspoons and two cups and saucers.

“Bitte sitzen.

Wie kann ich Ihnen helfen?“, he asked.

“Ich spreche kein Deutsch. Dürfen wir sprechen Englisch?“, I offered back.

“Ah, English. I speak English. I lived in New Jersey back in the 50’s. Then it was all good with the hair combing and nice manners. Now ist all Snooki and J Wow. Better I’m here.

How can I help you?”

Hans told us we could stay as long as we liked and to let him know if we needed anything. “I’m always here,“ he said.

It was Easter weekend in a devoutly Christian country. The whole place was shuttered tighter than the Flipper estate on Sushi Tuesday. Hans provided electrics, Internet, and any tool I might need. He liked to help. People came to him. “They come here and tell me their problems. Lots of women. I guess I’m like their (fahder) father. Together we talk and then it works out. Sometimes it takes time. Till then I always have my boats to work on.”

Hans had been married twice. “The women, they never stay. I have been all over the Rhine and the men all have been married once, twice, more. The women they don’t like boats.” Now he was alone with his boats at a spry 80.

He lives on a 10-meter powerboat he built several decades ago. When Jan builds you a boat it comes back to him when you die. This boat’s owner had passed away a few years ago and like all things the boat too returned to its maker. At age 80 Jan has outlived a lot of his patrons and has quite a few returned boats tied up along the dock and at his shop wharf.

We sat for a while talking about the river and boats and then the crew had to head back down to the dock to take care of Djes and set forth to Düsseldorf and its famed Alt bier. The crew left Hans to take the 30-minute walk into the old town. Along the Rhine lovely paths amble amid parklands. We chose a major walkway lined with massive moss-covered plane trees that follow Cecilienstraße to the old town. A wide avenue,  Cecilienstraße has five-story apartment living set against a busy road then a wide blvd with another road/tramway. All is somehow quiet with the buildings looking across to a tasty view of Rhinescape.

The old town of Dusseldorf is a candy box of Hansel & Gretel gable roofs that stand above streets packed with café tables. We had been looking for a shop vac and had to laugh imagining buying one here. Yes, one of the hundred merchants would have one but it would be hand tooled from a Swiss specialty shop after a design smuggled out of CERN. Everything was of a very high-caliber. Fortunately Hans had taken us to OBI a store very similar to Home Depot. The Vac had been acquired, freed from its warehouse store shackles (box and plastic packaging) and inducted into the ranks of the Wolseley Voyager crew. We were now free to drink Alt till das Getränk Halle Mann sagt nach Hause gehen. I would like to say here and now that Vac is a very heavy drinker (15 litres of beer and a 51 euro tab in 47 seconds). Rumour has it that Djes can really party but because of serious weight issues (she tips at a dainty 5,900 lbs/ must switch to lo carb diesel) we frequently (always) have to leave her at the dock. Tonight it was just the Voyager and Vac.

After losing the police behind the English Consul’s house (a story of impolite behaviour and much dashing about) across from the jachtshaven, Vac and I found our selves back on the dock a few hours later. iPhone was called into action to ring Jan who said he would open the gate on the drawbridge over the moat. His line rang and rang. “I’m always here,” he had said. Now we were faced with a nine-foot iron gate with an additional two feet of scrambled razor wire and nails. It took some thought. In the end the Voyager called into reference his many years as a practitioner of Spanish-school toreador yoga (lulu lemon has nothing on these tight pants). Vac and all the various types of gear were piled on the bridge in case of a nasty spill into the water. The gate was mounted. With all the grace of a bulldog on stilts Voyager cautiously swung around the razor wire to land on the other side upright, un-bruised and dry. All this left us wondering, ‘Wo ist Hans?’

Hans was out in the dark on the river in his small fishing skiff. He had spotted good wood floating by so he darted out to get it for his fire.To say that Hans is self-reliant is to make a huge understatement. For instance, he admits that even at age 80 he seldom if ever sees a doctor. This led to a situation three months ago where he broke two ribs in a bad fall on a rock. Rather than head over to Emergency he pulled himself to his shop where he made a harness and sling and put his body in traction for two weeks.

He also makes and repairs his own dental work. Hans had noticed me looking at the gold tooth on the windowsill. “I pulled that out myself. It was my first. I pulled all my teeth over the years and then I made these,” he said pointing to his perfect smile. He admitted that what I saw was a new set for which his insurance company had paid. “These are exact copies. The doctor was very surprised and he wanted to keep my old set. If these don’t work good I can fix them. Come, I’ll show you the machine,” he says.

Han’s ship had numerous layers with his well-windowed perch at the top. We went through an aft hatch and down a set of metal stairs to a door. Hans produced a massive key bundle and opened the steel door. Inside was another set of stairs that led further down to his main shop that opened out to his wharf and personal cruiser. “Its over here,” he said unlocking yet another steel door. We walked down a dim hall to a second workshop where his dental lab stood in one corner. On the stainless steel table was a Dremel and a bunch of files and what looked like some kind of small autoclave. “You can’t trust no-body to do nothing. If you want things done right, you do it yourself.”

 

 

 

Bike

Bike

Bike stands on the dock ready for action

strapped to the hood

Strapped to the hood like a dead moose, Bike rests awaiting fresh chores.

Bike and us had a short history together. We [the crew] came upon each other in Nijmegen at Het Good, a second-hand store much like MCC or Value Village. At Het Good the floors are stacked with shelves of old china, the walls have all the Robert Ludlum and Henk Van Piet books you could ever want and the appliances and furniture all had that ‘please-shoot-me-now’ well-used appearance. We had been looking for a bike to join the crew and when we came up the stairs to the second floor and saw her the match was made in heaven. Bike was a Dutch made Gazelle Solide. She was an ‘Oma Fiets’ or mom’s cycle and came all tricked out with skirt fender, full circle chain guard, lights and generator as well as great styling that screamed ‘Like these fenders, honey?’.

We had been looking for a bicycle since landing several weeks ago. The pages of Martkplace, Holland’s Kijiji, were read and reread and the crew made a few attempts to hook up with sellers. Bike stores and rental outlets were questioned and then finally in Delft the cycle repair guy next to the dope café up the street said he could help me out and would have an Oma Fiets ready on Wednesday the day we had planned to motor off the dock in Rotterdam.

“Ok, we’ll come back on Wednesday. Thanks.”

On Wednesday we came in to the repair shop around noon. The man was sitting at his bench talking to a friend. Over the time we had spent in Delft I had come to like him. He was direct in the Dutch manner and loved bikes. I had looked in as I walked past one snowy day and saw him huddled around a pot-bellied stove while he restrung some spokes and thought to myself – ‘There’s a guy in his element.’ So today when we walked in and asked if the bike was ready we were surprised when he looked up and said, “Maybe tomorrow. Black, right? With a front rack?”

We left his shop feeling sad that times for finding a bike had really come to an end and the crew would have to find other means of land transport. So, when we walked up the stairs at Het Good and saw Bike hearts went pitter-patter and jubilant bells rang out. A hard Winnipeg deal was hammered out with the floor clerk who was surprised that someone would want to make an offer on an item at a second-hand store. (For the Wolseley Voyager no deal is satisfactory unless negotiations have taken place.) Bike left with us and proved to be a sweet ride and willing participant.

Bike’s first mission was to assist with ferrying10-liter jerry cans of diesel from the petrol station. Bike handled it without a grumble turning a four-hour tank fill into two. Along the Rhine, towns seldom place their services like petrol stations near to the old parts such as the harbour. Cars are discouraged from town centres and all things automotive, fuel and such are found in outlying areas. This means distance and having to carry 10-litre cans of fuel back and forth to the boat. Having Bike meant life had gotten easier.

It was a Sunday, and we had found the jachtshaven in Wesel, a medium-sized centre about 100 kilometers from Cologne. After three nights anchored to floating platforms and rusting hulks the nice club with showers and full facilities such as restaurant and ample space for docking as well as electrical was welcome. The day was windy in the extreme. In fact, it was too windy to go out onto the river. The combination of head wind and current would have made travel almost impossible. We would have to wait it out. In the mean time, it was decided to break out Bike for a reconnoitering mission into Wesel. The boat was prepared for a short absence and Bike was brought down from her rooftop perch. We set her up on her kickstand on the dock and quickly went back to the boat cabin to grab backpack, door keys and heavier jacket to stave off the freezing winds. We came out to discover Bike had just disappeared. Gone. Like she had never existed. I couldn’t help thinking about those guys who tell their wives they are going to the store for a pack of smokes and never come back. We had to go back in the cabin and came out a second time just in case the first time was some sort of hallucination. A second look showed that like the first time just a vacuum existed where Bike had stood not more that two minutes ago. Best guess is the heavy wind just picked her up and threw her into the harbour. Optional guess is that her heart, heavy from leaving her native Holland, could not bear an afternoon among the Hun and simply threw herself into the currents of her beloved Rhine where her parts would be swept home to Limburg.

Decided at this point to drag the harbour, but lacked the materials. German stores are closed on Sundays – even 24-hour Internet cafes are closed. We would have to take a run back into Holland for a proper hook and we still needed a slim-tube draining funnel for the motor oil as well as food. With sad thoughts about Bike at the bottom of the freezing river, we set out for the Bahnhof. This gave us a good opportunity to check out the town and its 13thc. church. The station was about an hour’s walk from the jachtshaven and took us through deserted streets of closed shops. Trains were numerous with one every half hour to Duisburg and connections to Nijmegen where I felt I could get everything I needed. The trip turned out to be three hours and 20 minutes going in and five hours and 20 minutes returning. Regretfully, the time was such that by the point we got to Nijmegen only food could be purchased before stores began closing for the day. Returned to Wesel at 11:00 with no oil, no funnel, no hook, but had a big bag of groceries and plans for the next day.

After coffee on Monday morning we searched the boat’s side compartments and found a suitable piece of metal that could be tied to a rope for dragging the river bottom. We then spent three and a half hours throwing the line into the area where Bike was thought to lie. The search area was widened and Djes was brought into the process where I cast out and then slowly motored back and forth hoping to catch on a wheel or rack. Nothing. The currents are so strong that we now think Bike was likely swept beyond the docks at the harbour before she even hit bottom at 40 feet. She is probably still moving beyond the harbour entrance toward Nijmegen. When the main currents take her she will continue to go down river till she gets fouled on some tangle of metal or old boat line meeting a tragic end to her flee to Dutch freedom.

Bike we hardly knew you. What we did know about you was that you were a hard worker, had classic good looks and made life easier. Here one minute and gone the next, you taught a valuable lesson in not waiting for tomorrow. All of us will one day end up like Bike were one minute we were just standing on the dock and the next …

BIKE -1985 (?) to 2013

RIG (rest in grease)