Wimps, imps and valiant Dutchmen
I have a confession to make. I am two people in one – wimp and imp, and they are continuously at war. The imp does blog posts and facebook and generally takes care of business. Imp loves the fact that my life is precarious, rootless, full of interesting adventures and creative people. Imp makes plans for me when I’m not looking; keeps my confidence levels topped up and launches me into new situations with a smile, a glass of wine and an open mind.
Wimp, on the other hand, is terrified of the water, terrified of everything, desperate for security, for someone to say: ‘there, there, everything will be all right!’ Wimp likes peace and quiet, and would far rather I lived a settled routine life on dry land.
Now here’s the thing – every so often imp lets me down and goes missing, just at the time I need him most. Wimp is left exposed, terrified and in a permanent state of anxiety. It’s as if the centre of my being has vanished and in its place is a gaping hole of dread. I become the most hopeless human on the planet and there’s nowhere to turn; into the black hole I fall, disconnected from all that makes me tick – art, music, words, ideas, optimism. Is this just me? Does it happen to anyone else?
The middle of a cruising holiday in Holland was a bad time for the imp to vanish. I was doing what I had wanted to do for a long time – take my elderly Dutch boat to sail in her home waters, in the company of good friends in traditional boats. What could be better? I had a good skipper with plenty of experience, a good crew in my son James, and the boat had been as well prepared as time and money allowed. Flat bottomed Dutch boats are not designed for the open sea, so the north sea crossing had to be done in the right weather – nice and calm. Once safely behind Roompot sluis we cruised to Middelharnis where Else used to be based, then joined the gaffer fleet at Wemeldinge for a great three days of socialising, music, racing, exploring by (free) hire bicycle, before cruising in company northwards to Dordrecht.
Band on the roof……
The imp abandoned me in Gouda. I’ve no idea why; we’d successfully negotiated umpteen lifting bridges and a couple of locks to get into the old harbour and moored up under a windmill. The next day, after a morning spent trying to find somewhere to fill water containers and empty the chemical toilet (always the first thing you need to find in a Dutch town) I had a happy afternoon looking at Rembrandt etchings in the Gouda museum then enjoying the company of friends and Dutch shanty singers in the evening. But by next day, I was in full wimp mode; every breath exhausting and full of dread. I don’t know why. We negotiated the bridges again and a dozen more beside heading north for Haarlem when the wimp was dealt another wallop – ‘Else’s reverse gear refused to work as we headed slowly towards a closed bridge. Shaken, we moored alongside the pilings and my crew discovered that the gear box was losing oil. We carried on to a quayside where some of our Dutch friends had stopped to pick up some shopping; in no time at all Rik Janssen of ‘Cine Mara’ had taken us in tow, soon joined at the rear by Fred Scholtman of ‘Raven’. We made a strange procession – a steel galway hooker tugging a tug boat with a Dutch gaff cutter bringing up the rear.
Tug boat becomes tugged boat… negotiating bridges at Haarlem
With supreme skill Rik and Fred negotiated all the lifting bridges in Haarlem (too numerous to count) and took us to a boatyard in Spaarndam, north of the town. They didn’t stop there; within half an hour I had an engine room full of Dutchmen who laboured in high temperatures to install a new (reconditioned) heat exchanger on the gear box. How they managed to source one so quickly I will never know. Now we had gears again… but on a test run there was still an oil leak. Our friends had left to join the fleet in Amsterdam; skipper and crew tested and retested everything and remained baffled. By now, of course, my wimp was having a field day. I was going to be stranded in Holland for ever, or spend thousands of pounds in repairs and getting my boat home. Wimp is particularly vitriolic when I am in messes of my own making but the support of good friends is a huge help at such times.
Gerard, Rik and Fred – an engine room full of lovely Dutchmen!
Soon, I hope, my imp will return, boot out the wimp and inject some get up and go back into this queasy shell. I would quite like my appetite to return, along with my desire to sketch and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. My valiant crew have a plan; we will head south tomorrow (oh, god, all those lifting bridges!), gently, keeping an eye on oil levels, and make our way back to Oosterschelde where the north sea crossing is shorter than it would be from Ijmuiden. The weather looks unhelpful for a while – too much wind for us, so we will use the time to get south and then go across when it’s right. By then, we’ll know if the gearbox is ok. If it isn’t… well, we will just have to deal with it. In the meantime, if you’ve any suggestions for my next adventure, keep it under wraps until the imp returns!