The "Live-Anywhere" Boat - Cruise 2014, Part IV, Delfzijl & Surroundings
Updated September, 2014

"Molen Adam" in the Middle of Delfzijl

We arrived in Delfzijl early on a Saturday evening and parked outside the marina on an enormous float normally reserved for commercial vessels. The harbor master had said on the phone that they would not have room for us, and in any case there was no one there, so we decided to stay where we were until someone kicked us off. I also had an idea that not much would happen on the weekend, and so it turned out. We shared our "float" with (among others) a large fishing vessel from Urk and a brand new catamaran windfarm support vessel. No one seemed to mind our presence.
Our Neighbor, the Windfarm Vessel

On Sundays nothing, but absolutely nothing, happens in Delfzijl except church services. Carl said wonderingly, "It's like Boqueron on a Wednesday," but Barbara went off to find a church. She was a little late in the day so the only group with a service still in session were the Baptists. She found them very warm, and soon hatched a plan to play and sing with their organist.
Sheep on the Dike, Delfzijl

The Delfzijl Baptist Church is called the Havenlicht, or "Harbor Lights" Church, and so she decided they needed to know the old Methodist hymn, "Let the Lower Lights be Burning," so she taught it to the organist and sang it the next Sunday in the church.

Delfzijl, by the way, should be pronounced "DELF-tzeyl" according to all the rules of normal Dutch pronounciation, but the locals say "delf-TZEEL." Zijl is an old word for "lock" (as on a canal, not something with a key) and the North German equivalent is -siel, pronounced "SEEL."

Retired Tugs on the Old Eems Canal

The northern Dutch spoken here and northern German (Plattdeutsch) are very close, and the national boundary is an accident of history.

I thought it would be pushing our luck to stay on where we were into the week, and I discovered that the other marina in town not only had a berth for us but ws significantly cheaper than the one I had considered, so on Monday morning we cast off and went through the

Live-aboard Boats on the Old Eems Canal

lock into the Eems Canal. By 09:15 we were in the berth in the Abel Tasman Motor Boat Club that was to be our home for the next three weeks. We had not really planned to stay so long, but we were enjoying ourselves and there didn't seem to be any real hurry.
Our Neighbor, a Converted Workboat

We found one minor problem; there was literally nowhere in Delfzijl to change money! None of the banks would do it, and although we could get euros with an ATM card, we wanted to exchange some cash, too.

There was also the matter that Carl wanted to go to Amsterdam to spend a little time witih Stan and Ken, friends from Boqueron, before flying home. Since the Delfzijl station was closed for renovations, that seemed to mean a trip to Groningen, the provincial capital, where I could both buy his ticket and exchange money. So on Tuesday I took the short trip on a train.

I accomplished both goals, but found the world has changed since we were last in the Netherlands. Instead of tickets there are smart cards with a chip in them; one puts money on the card, and then checks in at a machine before boarding a train and checks out again at one's destination, and somehow the electronics figure it all out. Americans like to believe they have an advanced civilization, but sometimes I am not so sure.

The Main Hall in Groningen Station

On Wednesday morning we walked sadly to the station to see Carl off on the train to Amsterdam. His plan was to spend that afternoon and the next day there with Stan and Ken, and then to fly back to Puerto Rico on the Friday. I later heard that he made it, but have not heard any details, which is perhaps just as well.

Carl is a good shipmate and a great friend, and we were sorry to see him leave. His departure also marked a significant point in our adventure; we were now in Europe, on our own, and we didn't yet know what we would make of it.

The Tower of the Farnsum Church, From Our Berth

Sunrise, Delfzijl

It was good that we were in no hurry to leave Delfzijl. One thing led to another, and it is actually a good base for exploring the region.

Just across the canal is the little town Farnsum, now pretty much incorporated into Delfzijl but still with its own recognizable center. We unfolded our bicycles and rode through the town, enjoying its church and windmill. Our berth is on an old piece of the Eemskanaal, now no longer a through route, and Farnsum is on the way to the new locks and the wholesale house Datema, where I made a couple of trips to buy charts.

A Little House on the Way into the Town Center

The Belgian author Georges Simenon, who wrote in French and is often considered a French author, is said to have conceived his first detective story, with Commissaire Maigret as its hero, during a stay in Delfzijl. Whether this is true or not I could not say, but it is certain that at least one early story takes place on a canal.

In commemoration, the Delfzijl town fathers commissioned a statue of Maigret, and it stands in a small park at the edge of the canal.

We learned which bakery suited us best, and which butcher had the best sausages. We also learned how to shop and which supermarkets had the best selection and prices.

We found a very pleasant Italian restaurant and had a good meal there for not too much money. I enjoyed watching the traffic in the harbor and the activity in the shipyards that were just next to our marina.

The Statue of Maigret

With the exception of a few fishing boats, the traffic on our branch of the canal was all pleasure boats, but the new canal, south of Farnsum, is busy with inland freighters that are usually about 85 meters long. Some of these are bulk ships, many are tankers.
The Oude Eemskanaal

The Dutch authorities are very concerned about situations where small craft and large ships operate on the same waterway, but to us this did not seem to be an issue. We stayed out of the big ships' way, and they made room for us when necessary, just as everywhere else.
Barbara In Her Berth

The Small Canal Through Farnsum

Just inland from Delfzijl is the little village Appingedam. Most of the town dates from the 17th century, but the church was built in the 13th and has been beautifully restored. We heard that on a certain Saturday there would be a display of old engines, so we rode our bikes over to see what was happening.

An 85-meter Long Freighter Heading into the Eemskanaal Lock

We did not really know where to go, but as we rode along the Damster Diep close to the village we saw a field across the canal with lots of people, several engines, and restored boats moored alongside, and we figured we were close to the right place.

It turns out that a young man named Jan Brons developed an internal combustion motor at about the same time as Rudolf Diesel, and the display was at the site of his former factory, now a museum, in Appingedam.

Farmhouse and Barn Combination Typical of Groningen Province

It was really less a formal display than a fraternity party of engine enthusiasts, who brought their favorite engines, large or small, beautifully restored or works-in-progress, and ran them, and discussed each others' work, difficulties, and successes.

There were also boats, many of them powered by Brons engines, some of them familiar from our Delfzijl neighborhood. One category that was new to us is what one might call miniatures. By that I don't mean models (there were those, too), but small, maybe 15-20-foot, versions of full-sized tugboats, with room for one or two people. Of course, they also had antique engines.

A group of radio-controlled model tugboats was running around in the canal as we arrived, and they were also fun to watch. These were mostly big models, maybe 30-40 inches long, of very sophisticated modern tugs.

Some of the engines on display were running large machines. We saw a reciprocating sawmill, mounted on a skid frame with its own engine, that was fun to watch as its blade went back and forth and the log carriage advanced by very slow degrees. I would like to have it on Chebeague, where we have plenty of pine logs for it to saw out.

Farnsum Church

Polished Brass in a Converted Tugboat

A Brons Marine Motor From the 30s

There was also a threshing machine, run by an enormously long belt from a tractor (antique, of course), that was coupled to a baler, so the wheat would go into a hopper and the straw was made into bales and spit out the back of the machine.

We bought burgers and beers from one of the organization booths providing food, and then it started to rain so we went into the museum to see all the engines on display there. One notable example was connected to a screw-pump and had spent its working life in a pumping station for one of the polders, as the diked off areas where the water has been pumped out are called.

Lots of People Came to See the Engines on Display

Tucked into one end of the building we were surprised to see a model of the very thresher we saw operating outside. This one was actually threshing wheat and making tiny straw bales; these were for sale, for decorative purposes, I expect.

We talked to some of the exhibitors, and to some of the boat people, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Eventually, however, we decided we had seen about what there was to see, and so we headed off to see the village center and the church.

Threshing Machine and Hay Baler

As we came to the square by the church and stopped to lock our bikes to a convenient railing, we found there was a singing group in a cafe on the square. This was nice, and we listened for a bit before going to look in the church. Then we noticed groups of people wandering around in similar outfits; evidently something was up.

In fact, without knowing it, we had wandered into the Appingegdam "Shantyfestival," an annual three-day fest of groups singing sea chanties (loosely defined). We never got a count of the groups, but there must have been more than twenty, from all over.

Sawmill Powered by an Old Stationary Engine

The venues were all bars and cafes, and the groups typically did a 25-minute gig before moving on to a different spot.

We found a schedule and saw that a group called the "Chanting Lads" were due to perform at a place called "Joey's Bar," and although neither the bar nor the group had a very Dutch name, the place was close, so we thought we would try them.

The bar was very pleasant, with the bartender's nephew (about 3 years old) "helping" him wash glasses, and the Chanting Lads turned out to be excellent, singing in good, close, multi-part harmony.

A Beautful Old Roller, With Chain Steering

Although, of course, we have no way of knowing what else we might have missed, we were very glad of our choice, and after their set we suggested some other songwriters (Gordon Bok and Stan Rogers) whose work would fit, we thought, very well into their style and repertory.

We rode happily back along the canal in the late afternoon, just a little tired and well-contented with our lives.

Working Model of the Thresher, Spitting Out Wheat and Straw Bales

One reason our marina is cheaper than others is that all the work is done by volunteers, and even the Harbormaster job is done by senior members in rotation, with each on duty for a week or so at a time. An additional custom is that some of the members, many of whom are retired merchant marine officers, gather in a sort of clubhouse behind the Harbormaster''s office for coffee every morning.

Barbara went to one of these sittings and announced her intention to learn Dutch, and from that time on the morning coffees became Dutch immersion classes for her. Her spoken Dutch did indeed improve.

Radio-Controlled Models, Mostly Tugs

On the advice of the Harbormaster on duty when we first arrived, Coen van Veenhuizen, we set off late one morning on the 12-kilometer (or so) bike ride to Termunten and Termunterzijl, just south and east of Delfzijl. Part of the trip was along the dike protecting the land from the ocean, and we were surprised by the sight of several gravestones set up on the landward side of the dike. These turned out to be all that is left of Oterdum, a village that had to be abandoned when a combination of rising sea levels and sinking land required new and higher dikes.

The bodies had been left at peace in the graveyard, but the stones were put back in their former position at the new higher level.

Termunten is a tiny village, with a small yacht harbor and its own lock, and the usual rows of immaculately-kept brick houses.

It also has a beautiful church, built in the 13th century but largely demmolished in the 19th and 20th. The church, like many others hare, stands on a little hill, called a wierde. These hills were built up originally in what was mostly more-or-less salt marsh to gain some dry ground, both for people and for animals. There are still several towns around Groningen with names ending in "-wierde."

The Appingedam Church

The windmill in the center of Delfzijl stands on the original wierde, that dates back to maybe 500 BC.

We rode back from Termunten by a different route, by back roads with fields on one side and modern chemical plants and ships loading on the other. We have consistently seen industrialization and agriculture right next to each other, with apparently no disadvantage to either.

The "Chanting Lads" in "Joey's Bar," Appingedam

Canal Through Appingedam

Several people from the marina were very kind and helpful to us, but perhaps Coen van Veenhuizen, who had been the duty Harbormaster when we arrived, takes the prize. He stopped by the boat one day and offered to take us for a trip around the area in his car; we made a date, and spent the whole day traveling around Groningen and northern Drenthe provinces.
The Road Out of Appingedam Heading Toward Delfzijl

Years ago, when an academic conference took us to Groningen, we rented bicycles at the railroad station and rode south to find the nearest hunebed, in the tiny village Noordlaren. Hunebedden are megalithic stone structures dating from about 3,000 BC, and the current theory is that they are burial chambers, and Barbara, in particular, is very interested in them.
Houses in the Village of Termunterzijl

Knowing of this interest, Coen and his wife Marianne took us first to the village of Borger, where there is a very large hunebed and an associated museum. It is indeed very impressive, made of enormous irregular boulders, brought by the glacier from somewhere in Norway or Sweden. I am sure the glacier had no trouble moving them, but it must have been quite a chore for the hunebed builders.
Termunten Church on its Wierde

Termunten Church

There is certainly still an aura of mystery around the hunebedden, around this ground that was sacred so long ago.

This country is all peatbogs; the peat was dug out, dried, and used as fuel for heating. The whole area is criss-crossed by small canals originally dug to move the peat out to market. We were almost always either driving along a canal or over a bridge.

Pump at the Hunebed Museum

The Hunebed Museum, Borger

From Borger we went on to Orvelte, a village that is preserved as a sort of museum of earlier ways of life, much like Mystic Seaport, in Connecticut. It seems that in these waning days of summer there is an event about every weekend everywhere you go. In Orvelte there was a fair; the village green was filled with booths offering artisanal handcrafts and all kinds of old stuff.
Barbara at the Hunebed Museum

We might have made a killing with the contents of our attic and the storage areas of the shop. The village was lovely, with traditional farmhouses and barns with thatched roofs. There was also one field with alpacas grazing; not everything was still traditional in every respect.
Ornate Thatched Roof, Orvelte

Mill at Bourtange

We went also to the fortress village Bourtange, first built in the late 16th century by William of Orange during the revolt against Spain to control the road from Germany to Groningen. Because it was built after the invention of artillery, its fortifications consist of rings of moats and earth embankments.
Fortifications, Bourtange

It has been restored to its condition in the middle of the 18th century and is great fun to see. We did not think we had to pay to see the insides of the buildings, but just enjoyed the grounds and walked on the ramparts and ravelins. We also enjoyed a break at the little cafe on the former parade ground.

It all made a wonderful day, with the unfamiliar Dutch scenery whisking by us between stops, and at the end of the day we had a delicious dinner at a little restaurant next to the marina in Termunterzijl.

Coen and Barbara Admiring the Wooden Gears of the Bourtange Mill

We learned that there is considerable competition between Appingedam and Delfzijl, and if Appingedam had its "Shantyfest" on one weekend, Delfzijl had its Harbor Days on the next. The commercial port was packed with boats that were mostly open to visitors, and there was a model boat basin set up in the town square by the windmill. There were also, of course, groups singing chanties at various locations around town, here mostly on outdoor stages.
Barbara, Coen, and Marianne

We watched the radio-controlled tugs running around, and went aboard a few boats, most notably a high-speed catamaran windfarm service vessel, ASP Thames, that is similar to the ship moored near us when we arrived.

After our trip, Coen and Marianne were off to their vacation house in the Pyrenees, but Coen's place was taken by Henk Kemminck, another retired merchant officer who is a pillar of the regional Protestant Church establishment.

Radio-Controlled Boats at the Delfzijl Harbor Days

Henk is not only an elder of his own church, but the principal adviser of the Seafarers' Mission in Eemshaven, the new commercial port for Delfzijl. He was endlessly kind to us, advising us as to practicalities and excursions we might enjoy.

We also managed to work on the boat a little; we lowered the dinghy and put the engine on it so we could run it in the fresh water and flush the salt out of it. I changed its oil, and then washed, deflated, and stowed the dinghy below. We still have the little rowing pram available, but we won't need the dinghy while we are in the canals.

We also did some entertaining; staying in the same place for a while, we met people, of course, and one evening Aldert, from Wyvern II, our next-door neighbor, came for a beer or two, and later Bob and Janice, from the only other American boat we have seen since leaving the US.

The Restored Coaster Anda

The Saturday night before we were to leave was the Captains' Dinner at the boat club, a gala occasion to which we were invited thanks to Barbara's cultivation of the coffee circle. The meal was a traditional Dutch specialty featuring the kapucijner, a type of gray pea unique to the Netherlands. After the meal there was dancing and much consumption of beer; the dancing was, interestingly, all 60s revival, foxtrot, waltzes, and disco. We had great fun, and spent the later part of the evening with our new friends Jack and Linda, of whom more later, in the next installment.
Misty Morning

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part V