Note: Due to the logistics of being in the motorhome, on a boat or, on a jetty trying to get a lift, with the unpredictability of all that entails; it has not been possible to update the blog on a regular basis.
The very nature of this voyage is the fun of not knowing what is going to happen next or where I will be at any given time. I am writing this in a carpark near a lock, with no internet. As you are following the progress of the voyage please use the contact page to send me your email address: I will add you to the update list and you will receive notice of when there is a new posting of the blog, photos or videos and arrivals in new towns. You will then be able to go to the appropriate page to see what has been posted by clicking on the link I will send each time.
Day 6 – Wednesday
The marina boss had found the banana in his quay, and decided to add a few more ropes to it. When I arrived and went down to the quay I saw him watching me from his car. He was suspicious and listened carefully to my explications, almost without saying a word and without saying he was the owner. He made up his mind quickly and told me to move the Banana to another part of the marina, he helped pull it whilst l paddled to the new place. He invited me for coffee in the marina club house-boat and seemed to warm to the idea of the voyage but didn’t think I had much chance of making any moves that day as all the boats were still on land until Saturday morning.
I set out with the camper to travel up and down both sides of the river Lek walking down to quay sides and getting into docks to ask if there were any boats going up stream. I found plenty of boats of all kinds; either none were moving, or were going the wrong way. It became clear I would have to be in the right place at the right time. I found a ship discharging sand at a depot. They were happy to take me and the Banana but were leaving within the hour.
Time is money for the ship owners and they do not stay at a quay for longer than necessary. On another occasion one of the ship hands told me he earned over 60,000 euros a year; but it was not easy money, with long hours, hard physical labour and on call 24/7.
In an attempt to get the word out that I was in the market for a lift, I spoke to everyone I met, just in case by chance they knew someone who had a boat. These conversations were great fun and seeing the reaction of people, usually starting with disbelief then laughter following made me feel the trip was worthwhile if only for the fun and laughter it has brought. In the evenings I toured the cafes and bars with my story, and in one the fun lead to me getting my guitar and small PA and quite literally singing for my supper.
The priority of finding the next boat has taken up all the available time during the days. The basic logistics of having a Banana in one place and having to be in another was tricky. There are endless domestic necessities which cannot be ignored. Eating, and therefore shopping; sorting out the moving of the camper whilst I am with the Banana, finding shops and getting on with communications of all kinds made my days very long.
The complications of minor breakdowns, didn’t help. The secondary battery malfunctioned, overheated and threatened to explode, the shower pipe came adrift and the water pump had to be turned off. As it is on the same circuit as the transformer I could not charge any of the dozen or so battery chargers which keep the phones and computers going.
Saturday came with no sign of a lift. The marina owner needed to get rid of me so offered to take me up stream to the next town once he got his boat into the water. He took me to the tiny touristic historical silversmith City of Schoonhaven and left me in the flash new marina up stream to the East. The process of finding the next lift started immediately. The battery problem was getting worse and after parking briefly half on the pavement near the Belmont hotel the motorhome failed to start and I ended up staying the night in the motorhome sleeping at 20° whilst waiting for nock on the door from the Police to tell me to move on; the nock never came and I found someone willing to jump start the engine.
Since not having had the time to read the instructions for the camera and video equipment I have been filming the various events by just pressing buttons and hoping all will be well. I have a dark feeling this will end in tears. I recorded over the early footage of the Banana being inflated at STC and some great shots were lost. The Phantom 3 drone is still in its box partly through lack of time to read up on how to fly it but also I had no power point to charge up the battery.
Sunday 10th April
The marina boss was very helpful and allowed me to stay for free, and have parking for the camper which was very good of him. Once again timing was essential to get a tow. Boat owners would come back from shopping, cast off and go within minutes. The boats look as though they are tied up for the season and suddenly they are gone. I decided to row the Banana around the headland of the marina into a little sandy cove I saw on the way in.
I spent the day waving any boat going upstream most of the people just waved back thinking I was just being friendly. I couple of men on jet skis came over and thought towing the banana would be great fun. They said they would come back within the hour but two hours later with no sign of them, I decided to return the Banana to the marina. I tied up the floating fruit and on the way out of the marina met a couple who had shopping bags and were heading for the quay. They agreed to take me to the system of locks upstream and towed me to the wrong lock. We had a lively conversation on the way up the Lek and I had the chance to interview them and get some great shots of the river traffic at the same time.
As they sailed away with their boat Moppy, I was happy to be next to a lock where people stopped whilst the lock gates opened and I knew I would be on my way soon. Wrong. There are two rivers and a canal at the first set of locks up stream from Rotterdam. I was left at a jetty downstream from the route North to Amsterdam. West, was Rotterdam and East lay my route at another lock 4km away, but in the same complex of waterways. My problem is that ships coming down from Amsterdam cannot stop at the jetty without turning into the flow or powering their engines full throttle in reverse to stop and tie up. No ship captain would be willing to do that, even if they were going my way which from this quay would be unusual as most shipping goes on to the West.
I thought my best chance would be to get on a ship above the lock, but I was below. After a day messing around with batteries and trying to fix a leaky pipe in the toilet in the motorhome, I decided to try to go against the river flow and a fairly strong cross wind to attempt to move the Banana with the tiny electric outboard motor Max had let me borrow for manoeuvring in marinas. My trip to the little beach had taught me that unless the water was still, it would be impossible to row.
I arrange with the lock keeper to open the lock for me. I set up the little motor on the plank of wood with a little up stand for the bracket to clamp onto, and set off from the jetty. The wind made progress very difficult and I had to steer the Banana at about 45° to the direction I needed to go to counter the cross wind. The Banana zigzagged and crabbed along the 200m channel and I entered the lock through its massive gates. The other side of the lock was reached and I had more problems with the wind. I had to steer at 75° to the river flow and had to try not to be blown into the path of a ship heading for the lock. The 5,000-ton danger passed and I made it to a small marina whose waters were only a few hundred metres from where I had sailed from. My voyage, including arranging the lock passage, took most of the day.
I tied up and spoke to some boat owners who were all either staying put or going off in different directions to where I wanted to go. I went shopping and found a sign informing me I had to pay by using a payment machine. I decided to move from the quay to the opposite bank where the was no jetty. The little trip was almost a disaster as the wind was bit stronger and my little outboard came adrift from the plank. I found myself being dragged off the Banana by the thrust of the propeller whilst trying to switch the motor off. With no motor running I quickly drifted into some blackberry bushes overhanging the bank which had very large hooked barbs which looked as though they could tear the Banana to pieces. I got the outboard fixed back into its position and holding my breath steered out of the tangled Banana death trap and scrapped free without any damage. As I was tying up the Banana on the bank, a boat owner shouted over to me that he could take on to the next lock.
I had explained to him earlier where I had needed to go so happily made the short trip over to his converted World War 2 tug boat. Within minutes the Banana was tied to the side of his boat and we were chugging happily through the lock and heading for open waters. As we were coming up on the jetty he suddenly announced we had arrived and asked me where would I like to tie up? He said he didn’t have time to take me to the other lock but he thought I would do better below the lock, and said goodbye. I was back where I started and had lost a day getting there.
So having secured the Banana, I went looking for a battery to install in the motorhome. I had changed the one that was boiling hot and spitting fumes, spilling acid and ready to explode with a reserve battery I brought with me for occasions such as this. I went to a DAF lorry garage. They didn’t have a battery small enough but they filled up my depleted water tank which revealed my temporary repairs were not adequate and the motorhome had a pee on their floor.
They said they were busy but could do a repair, I videoed them at work and made a short interview with the manager who was almost too nervous to speak in front of the camera. Whilst waiting, I quickly edited the shots and put them on the internet for him to see. He was too busy to look at it and eventually he said he could not help that day. I thanked him for the water and went back to the lock to wait for a boat, and to try to fix the broken pipe.
The locks open at 6am, and close at 10pm, this makes for a long day for me. I got back from one of the bars in the town after 2.00am; spending the evening talking about the project and hoping someone listening fancied at least taking the Banana to the next lock. I must say they were very generous with beer. I walked back to the motorhome through a gentle rain, by way of most of the winding streets in the town until I eventually found the car park I needed.
I still have not learned how to fly the drone. I did manage to dismantle the toilet wash basin and stop enough of the leak to have hot water again and, I have illegally parked next to the lock so I don’t miss a boat. The only unsettling thing about being here is that I can see the Lek 300m away, with boats and ships passing every few minutes, most going my direction; East. The rain has stopped and all is well and Vianen is quite nice in a quiet sort of way. Ah, hang on: here comes a boat into the lock.