Sunday, August 16, 2009

Willemstad Holland

Friday, August 14: Antwerp to Locks of Kreekrak to Willemstad
Friday was blessed with good weather and fair winds. To avoid riding though industrial areas of the city the Lena was to carry us north from town and drop us on the edge of a canal near the locks of Kreekrak. Our Antwerp departure, at 8:30, was controlled by the opening schedule of a draw bridge at the entry to our boat harbor. From there it was two hours of sailing through a series of bustling channels filled with cargo ships and lined by industrial operations of all types.

Once on our bikes we found ourselves on a long curving earthen dam with salt water on our left and fresh, or sweet water on our right. This is one of the last major protective dams we will see as our course now takes us to more inland locations.

A Word About the Sheep: The miles and miles of levees in this country are either hardened with rock or concrete on the “storm” side and covered with low grass on the top and back, or more protected sides. That creates a monumental mowing challenge. That is where the sheep come in. Farmers contract to “mow” assigned portions of the levees with their flocks of sheep. It is a happy partnership; well maintained levees and fat sheep.

Late morning we crossed a bridge to the island of Tholen and stopped for lunch at a village of the same name. A sign pointing the way to a library raised my hopes that I might gain an internet connection but I soon learned it was some distance away; to far to reach during our lunch break.

We lunched in a quiet square, walked up into the small shopping area. Mary was pleased to find a bright colored Dutch fly swatter to attack the mosquitoes that favored her room. Then, following coffee and coke at the café on the square we were back on the bikes.

It was a day of big country; big levees, big farms and big vistas. These were linked by compact towns at the edge of the well maintained farms. At Oud Vossemeer (Old Fox Lake) we learned that this was the home of the Roosevelt clan prior to their American journey.

Our path came to a halt at an old lock at one point. The lock was crossed by a sliding pedestrian bridge that normally was left open to allow boats to pass. But every twenty minutes or so and operator in a remote location pressed a button closing the bridge so pedestrians and cyclists could cross over. Very quaint!

A Word About Remote Controlled Locks: Operating the hundreds of locks, scattered around the country, would require an army of operators. The Dutch have addressed the problem by creating a central control system for many of the locks. Approaching a lock the ship operator calls the “control tower.” The operator, at some remote location who can observe the lock with a system of sensors and camera, can operate the lock. This way a single operator can operate several locks without leaving the comfort of the control room.

With less than 8 miles to go we stopped in Dinteloord for our afternoon refreshment, arriving in Willemstad by 4:30.

Willemstad is a delightful place; perhaps the best stop to date.

Some of us passed through the town several days ago when the Lena dropped us at the city quay after a passage from Dordrecht. The town sits at a strategic spot on the main passage to the Waal River which, in turn, connects to the Rhein. A four hundred year old “star fort,” surrounds the old town. It appears the fort has been updated many times to reflect changes in battle strategy over the ages. The Germans were the most recent active warriors.

The boat harbor (which is all recreation, not industrial) is reached via a 100 meter channel where the Lena is now docked. Since it is holiday time, the inner harbor is packed five deep with boats of all price, shape and size. Some are quite fancy.

After leaving the bikes we wandered through the busy streets of town along the yacht basin. The place was alive with people and the many street side cafes were bustling. Above the harbor, on the grass covered fortifications, a noisy flock of sheep was busy mowing. Their presence added to the fun atmosphere of the place.

Following dinner I took the computer to town in a successful attempt to capture an wi-fi signal.

Through the night freight barges continued to pass up and down the nearby waterway, sending gentle wakes up the channel where the Lena rested. It was a pleasant stay at Willemstad.

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