On a dock in the Rhine, a lovely little boat sits tied up waiting. She is not big, just 6.5 meters. She is not strong, just 23 Swedish horses strain under her hatch. She is not young with some 40 years since her last steel sheet was pounded in the Papendrecht scheepswerf.
This morning I closed the locked gate with its razor wire scarf and walked down the gangway to head to the hauptbahnhof for a train to Frankfurt and a flight back to civilization where love and clean socks waited. On the path I looked back at her as she floated easily in the safety of the inside passage. I had clothed her up in tarping like butcher’s wrap and prayed she would be Ok. She had earned her rest.
From the minute I laid eyes on her I knew she was the one. That afternoon in Rotterdam when I went to meet Peter and have a first look. Her engine was thundering under the bridge at her berth in the small boat yard when I arrived. I had no real experience with boats other than canoes but somehow Djes convinced me in those first few minutes. I trusted her. I knew Peter thought I was loose a few screws. I had not started the boat myself and had a hard time steering around in the canals. I suspect he thought I was an odd buyer. Then I told him why I wanted the boat and from his look I knew he was convinced. I told him Djes ticked all boxes. She was the right size to motor single-handed, her engine offered the right economy at two liters of fuel per hour. And, I added, I thought she was drop-dead gorgeous from her rope clad bow to her Papendrecht painted stern. When we docked I had already decided and sat with Peter to get the deal done. I had opened my heart and worked from a point of trust unlike the cynical guerrilla consumer I was back at home in Wolseley. At home a deal like this would involve many phone calls and negotiations and lots of late night pacing before a purchase was made. Here, sitting in the wheelhouse of tiny Djes, it was just a question of how much he would settle for and I wasn’t leaving till he said yes.
Djes is a comfortable boat. She is not big, but her cut and weight give her a stability found in larger craft. At night, she sits well in the water and gently bobs in a way that is like being rocked to sleep. Her cabin is fully insulated between the steel exterior and the wood inside and so even the coldest nights she held the warmth of the two-burner stove till I could get into the sleeping bags. Then, she held the cold so I could leave chicken, coffee milk and other typically refrigerated items near a window to stay nice and chilly till the next day.
Along the way, her uncommon appearance earned me attention and found me friends in every place I moored. Children would pull mother’s sleeves and point to Djes, “Aussehen Mama, ein Mini-Yacht.„
Men would park cars and come down to the rail to have a look and chat about the boat and tell me about fishing the Waal or making way in hard waters. Djes took the compliments with characteristic reserve. After all she is Dutch.
When I ventured out onto unsteady currents and had Netherland’s finest pull me over in their huge bumble bee police power tugs, it was the fact that I was a quiet man in a Dutch boat on Dutch waters that allowed them to let me continue. I could see they loved Djes too. Her lines and the vision of her was a page from their past that they did not want to let go. In Nijmegen the officer in charge of getting me to port came aboard to look and gently ran his hands along her wainscoting and curved roof. Nothing was said but we enjoyed the few minutes and we shared an understanding.
Now in Germany it is a land where the power of the economy clouds vision. Boats here are fiberglass monsters with massive twin screws and powerful benzene fueled engines. Requests to obtain assistance to help Djes go to ears made deaf with too much dough. Certainly this is not everyone, but the mechanics, boat dealers and repair types can’t understand why I would waste my time with a boat like this when I could be in a Princess 47 or a Bayliner. So, Djes waits at dock till I can muster the necessary personnel to get wrenches moving on her broken prop shaft and reverse gear. I have not just hope, but a firm belief that the solution can be found. Indeed, the combination of Canadian determination, Dutch boat building skill and German mechanical know-how will eventually see Djes well again.
For now she is resting quietly in one of the world’s most beautiful settings. Castle clad hilltops look down to the Rhine and the docks at Bad Honnef and the little Dutch boat that pushes back and forth on her lines while she patiently waits for her master’s hand to return.