Holland Barge Trip Day 4–After enjoying several days in Amsterdam, we journeyed to Locaboat in Loosdrecht where we met up with the rest of our barge adventure party of 14. We met Christophe, the French Locaboat mechanic who gave us an orientation to our vessel. Due to some type of clerical error we ended up with the longest, tallest, barge possible and had the fewest passengers on board. This seemed to be an advantage for now. We were a little nervous about being able to clear the many bridges along our route but Christophe assured us “It is possible.” Under the direction of our trusty captain David, we got underway, heading north towards Amsterdam and planning to spend the night in a little village along the way–any village would do. Unfortunately, a key difference from barging in France is that most of the land adjoining the canals is private and you can’t just park anywhere you want. This made it challenging to keep a relaxed schedule and find a place to spend the night almost every night of our trip. Finally–close to dark and under the threat of rain we docked on the edge of a town where we discovered none of the restaurants wanted to seat an unanticipated party of 14. We split up–some of us wandering back to our boats to dine on salami, cheese and bread–the rest managing to squeeze in to restaurants. I thought this experience must be an anomaly and looked forward to a more satisfying, relaxing day to follow when we would head to Amsterdam and enjoy the city from the water.
The next day was rainy and windy and we first experienced the large-barge disadvantage; in the wind, it became a giant sail. The size of the thing, along with underpowered engines and sad bow-thrusters, led Captain David to proclaim he was “trying to pilot a feather.” We came to our first bridge and had our first Holland Bridge Encounter. Just in front of the bridge and off to the side, a sailboat had run aground and was uncomfortably close to where we would eventually pass under the bridge.We did not think we could make it under the bridge, and were unsure of the ramifications of the stranded sailboat, so our flotilla circled in the canal in front of the bridge while we waited for the bridge keeper to lift the bridge. It was a tight squeeze, but necessary to maintain control of the barges. We were patient, confident that the bridge keeper was keeping us waiting for good reasons of his own. After some time he came out and starting yelling at us in Dutch (of course.) As his agitation increased, his face became tomato-red and his glasses steamed up. I asked Captain David, who speaks German and backpacked through Europe at the age of 15 if he understood. He replied “No” and stared intently at the gesticulating Keeper trying to discern the meaning of the man’s words. Finally it dawned on him, “Oh, yes, I do understand. The man is saying ‘you don’t know how to drive, do you? Oh, so it is true gotdammit, you really don’t know how to drive.’ Yes, I guess I do understand Dutch.” This went on for a while before he asked very politely in English, “Will you please open the bridge?” And the hopping mad Keeper yelled in English to just “drive under the gotdammed bridge.” He did, and we cleared it by one and a half inches. This is when I began to wonder if Christophe meant “it is possible–maybe,”–rather than “yes, it is possible!” to clear the bridges. We left the angry Keeper behind in the rain, mopping his brow and drying his glasses, no doubt cursing our incompetence from the warmth of his little office, and continued on to Amsterdam.