The Dutch are the boating people. There are 6000 kilometres of navigable waterways in Holland. There are a lot of bridges on the canals and most of them are fixed. The depth of the canals should always take a notice and it is better to have a canal map when travelling in Holland by boat. No wonder that most of the boats are motorboats or sailboats with folding masts. Dismasting Suwena is rather huge a project and thus we chose so called mast-up route (Staande Mast Route) through the southern Holland.
We could also go south from Amsterdam through the town of Haarlem and travel during the daytime. The 15 mile detour would add 21 bridges and one lock plus a waiting time for each of them. We however decided to travel from Amsterdam to Gouda directly and that meant a night voyage through Amsterdam.
Staande Mast route enables sailing boats to sail from Amsterdam to Willemstad in southern Holland. We received a guidebook about the route from Sixhaven marina. It can also be downloaded as PDF from internet. The booklet is in Dutch but there is a short English overview as well.
In the north the route starts from Singelgrachtbrug bridge that can be contacted on VHF channel 22 for opening. At the same time the boat is reported for the night convoy to bridge keeper. There is only one convoy every night. The convoy leaves only after the busy railway traffic over railway bridge to Amsterdam’s main railway station has ceased for the night. Accordingly this means that the convoy usually starts between the midnight and 2am. There is also one northbound convoy and participation is likewise reported on VHF channel 22 to Nieuwe Meer lock keeper.
There are a plenty of room alongside the canal between Singelgrachtbrug and the railway bridge for mooring and waiting for the convoy to leave. It is possible to arrive already early in the evening and take a little nap before the night time adventure. However the report about participation to convoy should be made before 11pm. If the trains are late the waiting time can be quite long. There is however a notification about opening of the railway bridge on VHF channel 69.
Our convoy started already at half past midnight. The four mile trip through nightly Amsterdam was great experience. The opening of the railway bridge was a starting shot for passing the 11 bridges and one lock. All the bridges were opened in turn very smoothly and we had to wait at maximum 5 minutes at some bridges. Bridge keeper moved from one bridge to next for opening them. Our convoy consisted of four boats: one German, two Dutch and Suwena. Usually the convoy takes 1.5 to two hours depending of the bridge openings.
It was exiting to drive by own boat in the middle of the night on Amsterdam’s canals. There were surprisingly many people still out in city both walking and cycling. The city was awake and the life was bustling around us. Only the street lights illuminated our way together with some light from people’s homes. The convoy through Amsterdam was really great experience.
When the convoy arrived to lake Nieuwe Meer the boats separated into different directions. We tried to enter the first two marinas but the water was too shallow for Suwena. Of course we could also have stayed at the waiting pier immediately after the lock. It took a few moments of pondering and we decided to continue forward. We drove 1.5 miles across lake Nieuwe Meer and still half a mile on the canal until we arrived to the railway and road bridge leading to Schiphol airport. Schiphol bridges are opened at 5am and the next time at 12.30pm. When we were making her fast we noticed that the German boat from the convoy was in front of us. They planned to be awake until the bridge opening at 5am and to rest for the night on the other side of the Schiphol bridges. Instead we were thinking to have a two hour nap while waiting for the bridge. The plans changed quickly when the body reached horizontal position at 3am. Suddenly we were in no hurry and thought that we’ll continue after noon next day, we would still have a full day on the canals ahead. Just like we thought when closing the eyes, the Germans knocked on our door at 5am and kindly reminded to us that the bridge is about to open. They had no way of knowing that we changed our plans under the blankets.
The Schiphol bridges might be opened for commercial traffic during other times as well. We were hoping for a cargo ship to arrive all morning. Well, they did arrive but all of them were able to pass under the bridge and thus we eagerly waited until the noon.
Our journey continued just on time at half past noon and from there started a trip of 23 opening bridges. After Schiphol the next five bridges were opened when boats arrived. However the next six bridges are in the town of Alphen aan den Rijn. The canal guidebook tells that the bridge keepers will also gather a convoy of boats otherwise the opening bridges would intervene town’s traffic too much. It seemed that two boats were enough to form a convoy and all the bridges opened very quickly. The town looked charming and for the moment we already thought about stopping there for a day. Nevertheless we decided to continue towards our original destination Gouda.
We were glad to arrive at the railway bridge of Gouda already at 6pm. The railway bridge is opened every two hours and 6:30pm was the next opening time. There were already ten other boats waiting for the bridge and one of them was already the familiar German boat. It is exiting how boats are going in different timetables still meet up several times.
There was no movement in other boats and from the dense Dutch VHF traffic we could only understand the word, problem, so we continued waiting. We never found out any reasons for the delay but the bridge opened at next scheduled time at 8:30pm.
We had planned to stay in WV Gouda marina that is located shortly after the railway bridge. When entering the harbour we were shocked that the marina is in the middle of industrial setup. Also the depth of water was barely adequate. The only suitable place for Suwena would have been to moor alongside the huge steel barge. Even if the water depth on the canals of Gouda was uncertain we quickly selected to go forward towards the centre because of the WV Gouda marina was so rugged.
The passage to Gouda is on the Nieuwe Gouwe canal and soon we were waiting for the next bridge to be opened. Our journey stopped shortly after the bridge because the lock leading to the canals of Gouda centre was closed already at 8pm. We moored her alongside the waiting pier of the lock of Ir. De Kok van Leeuwensluis. It was funny that behind Suwena was the already familiar German boat. We had however arrived at the second cheese milestone of our travel plan, the town of Gouda.