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Sea Hawk - newsletter 3/2008

News from Sea Hawk 2008-3
Groningen, Holland
23 August 2008

As you can see we finally left the boat yard and are now in one of our favourite Dutch towns – Groningen. It is rather like a miniature Amsterdam with canals in the town full of boats, many of them old tjalks like ours, but still with their side boards and sails. Because it is a university town it has a nice buzz, with lots of coffee shops and pubs spilling out on to the cobbled streets and everyone whizzing around on bikes. One of the reasons we like staying here is that we have a mooring right in the middle of the town so we can walk everywhere. Today we went to the market and bought delicious fresh fish for dinner and had a pub lunch of mustard soup (my favourite) and uitsmitter (Alan’s favourite - a cholesterol laden Dutch delicacy of toasted ham and cheese with fried eggs on top).
We eventually left Havelberg with a much renovated Sea Hawk – 16 square metres of new plating and 32 welded dobs on dodgy looking rivet heads on the hull, some new plating on the port side, a refurbished propeller, 14 new sacrificial anodes, new windows in the wheelhouse, 2 new bilge pumps and alarms and we painted just about everything since we had very good weather. Past visitors NB even the winch is now painted!
The first day back in the water we were anxiously looking down hatches looking for leaks, but eventually relaxed and realised all was at last well. In fact Sea Hawk’s new shiny hull and propellor make her go quite a bit faster – we are pushing up an impressive bow wave! And no more barnacles up the toilets – we left at least a million behind at the yard when the hull was pressure hosed.
Unfortunately we left just a little too late to meet up with Chris and Trevor in Berlin so we pushed on west to keep our date with the Spits family who are arriving in a couple of days from the Isle of Mann. It was magic to be travelling again and we really enjoyed the trip across Germany and northern Holland. It seemed a lot more relaxing than when we did the same route two years ago, probably because I could manage better without a broken hand and Alan’s German has improved to the extent that he can communicate with the lock keepers over the VHF radio. When he was apologising for his limited German to one lock keeper he felt pretty good when he got the reply: “Keinen problem, seine deutsche ist ok”. The barge traffic on the Mitteland canal was quite heavy at times and we had a few scary moments when we were sucked in and then pushed out towards the rocky banks as the big boys rushed past – a fully laden 90 metre barge weighs between 1500 and 2000 tons so it draws a hefty suck. It is always interesting to see the cargoes they are carrying – lots of scrap metal for recycling, oil, coal, grain, wood and we even saw a 180 metre long barge train carrying wind generator blades. It’s only when you see the blades close up that you realise how huge those generators are. We got chatting to some of the bargees in the locks and one recognised our flag and had actually spent two years working in Saldanha Bay – small world.
After the Mitteland we went down the Ems canal as far as Haren where we spent a pleasant couple of hours in their old ship museum which is literally on the old ships and then we were in Holland and suddenly on canals only a little wider than us and everyone was talking Dutch which we hadn’t heard for a couple of years. In this area, all the locks and lift bridges are manually operated so you have to travel in convoy with a team of operators who go from one bridge to the next on their bikes. In some parts the canal ran right past peoples’ houses with no road in between so we felt like we were driving through their living rooms! Lots of waving and Goede Dag’s and Oi! On one day we did 59 lift bridges and 8 locks – lots of skilful manoeuvring needed to get through those narrow gaps.
We felt quite sad to have left Germany after 2 seasons of interesting experiences both on the canals and the beautiful lakes and the fascinating city of Berlin. We found the people very friendly in spite of the language barrier – not just the boaters but most people we came into contact with. The differences between the west and the east and how the easterners felt about the west was enlightening.
And now here we are in Groningen, looking forward to pottering through Friesland for a few weeks, going to see some Dutch friends and then on to Belgium.

Tot siens
Liz and Alan
Sea Hawk

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