Galley Guys in Holland - on the canal

Greg Nicoll

As the result of some scheduling issues, career commitments and just bad timing, our sojourn to Holland became a guys only trip. Here is what we would tell our wives that they missed by not joining us on our Le Boat trip in Holland.

Roster for the trip: 

* Captain John Armstrong on the wheel 

* First Mate Robin Ball, navigator, tactician and sous chef 

* Deck Crew Greg Nicoll, lines and bollards, plus some cooking and storytelling

Our boat for this trip was a Vision 1503 / 3 cabin, an upscale luxury canal boat designed exclusively for Le Boat for use on rivers and canals. Capt. John had great fun manoeuvring the boat with the joystick steering and bow thruster. The overall length of the boat is 61 feet and you might think at that size it would be hard to sneak under low bridges or ease into narrow locks but that was not the case. Considering that the boat only does about 5 knots because of the governor you can’t get into much trouble. No boating experience is required to charter one of these boats, but for our Canadian Yachting readers it be no trouble and each of you would feel comfortable inviting your non-boating friends along for a good time.

Would the ladies have been happy with our boat? Absolutely, we had three cabins each with two single Euro beds, large windows, television, adequate locker space, a private en-suite bath with shower and electric-flush toilets. These three amigos did not have the opportunity to use the wall mounted fold-down beds in each of the rooms - probably great for young kids - but they were not needed for these more than experienced warriors. The touch screen control panel easily regulates all of the power requirements including heat and air conditioning. The brochure says that the boat could handle up to 10 persons, but I figure it would be great for three couples with plenty of room and lots of privacy. Le Boat has a whole fleet of different size boats to accommodate groups of 2 to 10 and with different types of budgets.

Galley Guys in Holland - Patisserie

One of my favourite things to do on a canal trip through Europe is to pull into small towns and villages and go grocery shopping. My French is minimal at best, my Dutch is totally not existent, have never attempted German and my competency in English has been challenged too often. But off we went with our backpacks to seek out cheese shops, patisseries, wine shops and if we are very lucky a stroll through the town’s open market and haggle with the locals. 

Personally I love asking questions, reading labels in other languages and guessing what might be inside this box or that package. Everybody was helpful and language was never a problem. Back at the boat we prepared some great feasts from these shopping ventures in the galley which is very well equipped with: a large refrigerator, gas stove, microwave, lots of counter space and all of tools that you would need. It’s probably bigger than a lot of downtown Toronto condominium kitchens. The big daily choice was to eat either in the main salon or to grill and dine up top on the sundeck. It is always fun to raise your wine glass and greet all the villagers walking and cycling down the paths alongside the rivers. They always wave and smile back to you. They love Canadians.

The only daunting part of our trip was after we left the Le Boat base in Vinkeveen and were entering the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. As we were new to the boat we did not know how fast it would accelerate as we had to cross the North/South shipping lanes, wanting to head north toward Amsterdam. There is a lot of commercial boat traffic going both ways and we had to wait for a big opening between boats. We made it with ease and laughed amongst ourselves at our trepidation and then settled in to our journey up the main canal. Our first stop was in the town of Weesp, a town of about 18,000 people with a protective historical centre and buildings dating back to 17th and 18th century. It may be a little touristy for some, or quaint as the ladies would say, as they would have enjoyed the fine restaurants and upscale shopping. Meanwhile the guys partook in some “Eten and Drinken” at outdoor pubs along the canal. 

One suggestion from the Galley Guys is to make sure you get a good roaming package for your smart phone. There are two advantages, one is you can monitor the weather radar as sometimes Dutch weather can be fickle, the second is that many of the bridges have cell phone numbers printed so that you can call ahead to the bridge keeper and have a nice smooth timely ride down the rivers and canals. One day in particular we saw a storm front crossing the English Channel on the weather radar and decided that this would be a good day to stay tied up. It was easy to persuade my two travelling companions to hop a train and spend the day in Amsterdam, one of my favourite cities in the world. Many of the canals and rivers are paralleled by train routes that run very frequently which makes it easy to travel around Holland. Other travellers I had met on our journey had taken their Le Boats down the canal right into the harbour at Amsterdam and had a floating hotel to call home while visiting all that’s great in this beautiful city visiting famous museums, art galleries such as the Rijksmuseum and the special places like the floating flower market. The team at Canadian Yachting has a favourite pub in Amsterdam that is just off Dame Square called the Amsterdam Café. Also known as the smallest pub in the whole city and a trip into town would not be complete without having a beer with Louis the owner and snacking on some Amsterdam Frites, French fries covered in a rich mayonnaise sauce. Please don’t mention this to our wives. (picture)

Galley Guys in Holland - Eten and DrinkenAs boaters we are continually attracted to water in so many different ways. Water is a way of life in Holland, it is a nation born of the sea, a manager of rivers and a builder of canals that crisscross the pastoral flatlands that make up this beautiful country. Several times I have travelled across Holland by car and was not be able to touch or appreciate the incredible engineering, the beauty and the spirit that makes up this country’s water system. As much of the flat land has been reclaimed from the sea through a series of dikes, canals, locks and various other engineering marvels. The majestic windmills of Holland are, and were, actually a system for pumping water and maintaining the proper water levels. We were amazed to see many beautiful homes built adjacent to the rivers and canals and sometimes below the high water mark. I assume that flooding is not an issue and the river keeps a constant level.  It might be a guy thing as we often discussed the water systems on our trip, where as I think our wives may have been most impressed at the beautiful lushness of the green pastures and fields and the flora along the banks of the rivers, or maybe it’s the other way. In the large urban cities, it is easy to get the impression that the Netherlands is a country of bicycles, however on the river system you see a country that appears to be obsessed with boats. All along the shores and around every bend, in front of everybody’s house there are docks and boats of every description. Beautiful and elegant, homemade wooden skiffs (some old and rickety), powerboats, sailboats, row boats, lee boards were everywhere; what fun it was to turn every corner and discover someone’s interpretation of what the perfect boat should be.

By North American standards Holland is an old country and as we cruised we saw some incredible estate homes and as the Dutch would have it, beautifully manicured lawns. On the River Vecht heading south toward Utrecht we overnighted in a village called Breukelen and you could see where in the 17th century many wealthy Amsterdam merchant families built their huge mansions on the river. There was such a feeling of elegance in this village and we took advantage with a great proper dinner in a local establishment.

This Galley Guys trip was in mid September and still there was a fair number of boats moving up and down the canals and rivers. I would think that in the height of the summer season it could be very busy and may be difficult to get prime dock space, and there may be some waiting for your turn at the bridges, but the journey is the attraction. Friendly people, warm smiles make Holland a great destination for a boat trip. Our short trip was great fun and we only wish that we could have taken one of the 14 day “one way” trips to Woudsend and experienced more of the history and Northern regions of this very unique country.

Galley Guys in Holland - preparing dinnerGalley Guy Tips: The taxi ride from Schiphol to Vinkeveen is about 70 Euros. Keep some Euros handy on the boat as some of the bridges and locks charge tolls. The maps are metric and sometimes the bridge heights are in decametres. Some canals are too narrow and some bridges are too low so plan ahead. Read your maps carefully. Rent bicycles and go exploring. Don’t eat too many Amsterdam Frites. The wake from the canal freighters are not a problem. Laugh a lot. Wave back!

Photo Captions:

Photo 1 - Our Vision 1503 / 3 cabin on the canal.

Photo 2 - Galley Guys in the patisserie.

Photo 3 - Eten and Drinken on the canals of Weesp.

Photo 4 - Galley Guys preparing dinner aboard the LeBoat in the galley.

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