The "Live-Anywhere" Boat - Cruise 2014, Part VIII, Leiden
Updated January, 2015

Sunrise over the Clerk's Bridge

Leiden is not a very big city, in either sense of the word. Its 120,000 inhabitants are very densely packed in, and the city center looks today just about the way it does on maps from the 17th century. Including the suburbs, which are technically separate towns but seamlessly connected to Leiden, the population now is almost 200,000.

About anything one needs is available in the old (formerly walled) city center, and so within easy walking or cycling distance.

The Transients' Harbor

We arrived in Leiden on October 7th, but the winter rate did not start until the 13th, so we had to pay for 6 days at the regular transient rate. Although the bridge attendant who doubled as harbormaster was concerned that we might be upset, we were not very bothered. The rate is in any case very low by US standards.

We did discover that the water on the wharves would be shut off in November, when the weather started to get colder, but that there would be water all winter on the Singel, the old moat just outside the former walls. On the 28th we moved and tucked ourselves into a corner, but it turned out that we would move again.

On Monday, November 3rd, the first day in November that the bridges were operating, two large charter boats came into the Singel and insisted on mooring in their usual places. Complicating the situation, along with us, were another hotel boat, a converted freight boat whose owner (or at least inhabitant) could not drive it, and a British yacht. The harbormaster was a little upset, but we (the various skippers) worked it out ourselves.

For a little while there was something like a game of muscal chairs, as we moved and rafted to another boat for a while, then the hotel boat moved, then the bigger clipper Korevaer moved into her preferred place and Vrouw Dina berthed ahead of her, and then we moved back to where Korevaer had been.

A Typical Street Near the University

We all helped each other with lines, and after a couple of hours all was well.

We had already acquired a long extension cable with a European shore-power connector on one end and an American on the other, so we could still hook up to a power pole, and after hunting around we managed to find the right kind of coupling for the water taps, so we were all set. We did have to buy a longer water hose, but that was not a great expense.

St. George on a Gate by the Former Arsenal

Back when I was more actively involved in building and designing boats, I had flown to Europe a few times to attend METS, the annual Marine Equipment Trade Show in Amsterdam, and since we were living 25 miles away this year, it seemed as though I should go again, so I did. There were some interesting new things, but mainly I discovered where to buy stuff in the Netherlands, which distributors handled what.
A Fine Example of the Iconic Dutch Drawbridge

The Small Mill De Put on the West Edge of Town

METS brings many Americans to Holland, of course, and one of them this year was our good friend J.B. Turner, the managing owner of Front Street Shipyard and the man in charge of Lyman-Morse when Barbara was built there. We had planned to meet in Amsterdam during the show, but our communications were not all they might have been and that did not work out. Instead, however, he and Nicole, who does Front Street's PR work, drove down to Leiden and we walked around the town a little and then had a very good dinner at an excellent Indonesian restaurant.
The Gravensteen, the Former County Prison

Our stay here is letting me catch up with some boat issues that have been accumulating but were hard to address while we were on the move. One of these is a leak in the high-pressure hose that leads from the current propane tank to the regulator. The leak was very small, but it was definitely there. Since the propane locker is on deck and there is no way for vapors to get below, there was very little danger, but the need to turn the gas on and off at the tank was inconvenient.
A Plaque Near the University

Nothing available locally would fit, of course, so I ordered a replacement (and a spare) from a U.S. distributor and had it forwarded to us, and that solved that problem.

I was also, as usual, concerned about the generator, which had been overheating. I thought it was time that someone with some experience had a look at it, so at METS, I got from Robert Westerbeke the names of two distributors in the Netherlands. One of them was in Warmond, just next door, so we did not have a hard choice to make.

The Charter Tjalk Vrouw Fortuna Moored for the Winter

A Farmer's Stand at the Market

In Leiden, the period from the mid-16th to the early 17th century is often referred to as the "Golden" era, the time when the city reached a peak of population, wealth, and influence. The new cloth woven in Leiden was very popular and huge numbers of weavers were required to meet the demand. Later on, however, the boom collapsed, and the population declined, from perhaps 70,000 in the later 17th century to 30,000 in the early 19th. Like some American cities, Charleston South Carolina, in particular, comes to mind, Leiden has preserved its original architecture simply because there was no money available to do anything else.
Uiterstegracht, A Former Canal

The decline and relative poverty of the city spared it from the building boom of the newly industrial 19th century, and the city center, the area inside the 17th century moats and ramparts, is as good an assemblage of renaissance buildings as one can find anywhere. It was not until around 1900 that the population had recovered enough that the city fathers began to lay out planned districts of workers' housing outside the former walls, first De Waard and De Kooi in the East, followed by Tuinstadwijk and Burgermeesterswijk in the South.
The Harbor on the Old Rhine

By this time the city had a planning department, so these districts were not just allowed to grow, but were carefully laid out on paper with lots of open space and small but well-built houses.
One of the Harbor Swans

Our berth in the Singel lies next to a sidewalk and strip of grass much frequented by dog-walkers, principally from the grass-less streets of De Waard; one of these introduced herself to us as Liz Bijl, a freelance artist. She invited us to dinner immediately, and became our guide to the quarter, introducing Barbara to the near-by thrift shop and readily providing information about the best butcher, or the whereabouts of a good hardware store or bakery. She and her partner, Jacob, have become our good friends.
The Waag, or Weigh-house

Like several other Dutch cities, Leiden has many hofjes; the word means "little courtyard," and describes traditional alms-houses or old people's homes. Typically, a solid door from the street leads into a courtyard with grass and usually a flower garden in the middle, surrounded by small apartments. Sometimes there are two or more such courtyards. Generally founded in the late Middle Ages, often originally run by a religious order, they are still in use today. Some, indeed, are still used as housing for the elderly, but others are student housing or just small but high-class apartments.
The Morspoort, Gate at the West Side of Leiden

The Zijlpoort, on the East Side of Town

On one of my train trips to Amsterdam for METS, I also had to go to the U.S. Consulate to have a paper notarized, so I folded my bicycle on the platform and took it with me on the train, but generally, any train trip has to start with finding a place to leave one's bike. The railroad station has a good-sized covered "garage," but it is not nearly big enough; bikes are jammed in between others, their brake and shift cables forming an almost impenetrable web. The ride from our berth to the station is under fifteen minutes, but one has to leave a half-hour just to be sure of finding a "parking" place.
Part of the Railroad Station Bicycle "Garage"

Everything in the Netherlands is very regulated, and, although our application has been approved, getting our temporary residence cards is proving to be a slow process. We have, however, received a letter from the city of Leiden, "in their capacity as owners of the relevant water body," granting us a winter berth for our "boat named Barbara," and this makes us happy.

A Corner of the Singel, the Old Moat

In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas is celebrated as Sinterklaas on December 5th. Like the American Santa Claus, he owes much of his present form and tradition to a book published in the mid-nineteenth century. Unlike Santa, however, he is a somewhat aloof figure, riding on a white horse, and the actual distribution of presents and tiny sweet cookies (pepernooten) is done by his servants Zwarte Pieten, or "Black Peters."
Barbara In Her New Berth

Across the Singel From our Berth

It is the Pieten who go down chimneys and leave coal or sweets in the children's shoes, and who throw pepernooten to the crowds.

In some versions of the story, St. Nicholas arrives from Spain by boat, so he tends to arrive by boat in any city where this is possible. He was due to arrive in Leiden at noon on November 22nd, so we went over to the Beestenmarkt to see what was happening.

The quays and bridges around the canal were jammed, mostly with parents and their children, and we joined the throng .

Restaurant in a Courtyard

The Former Swine Market

Eventually things started happening; a band arrived on a boat, followed by some boatloads of Zwarte Peeten, then another band, these in Black Peter costumes. Finally the crowd was pushed back a little by a group of friendly but determined police, the drawbridge (one that is normally never opened) was raised, and an antique tugboat arrived with Sinterklaas standing in the bow.
One of the Many Former Almshouses in Leiden

The saint was formally welcomed to the city by the mayor, and of course there were speeches. From our behind-the-scenes vantage point we saw a slightly nervous-looking white horse being led down the street by a groom, and we sensed that something was about to happen. Soon Sinterklaas mounted up and Saint, bands, Peeten, and all started off on a parade whose route we could only guess, but that led initially down the New Rhine.
Sinterklas Arriving by Boat

We circled around by a different route and caught up with them later, principally for the pleasure of hearing the band in Black Peter costumes again.
A Boatload of "Black Peters"

Across from us there is an old flour mill, the Meelfabriek, now closed, that (or so we are told) used to produce most of the flour consumed in the Netherlands. It is a huge complex of buildings, and we are thinking about how we might arrange a tour before it is converted into apartments. Some benighted authorities are apparently talking about demolishing it, but that would be a real pity, as it is a major city landmark.

A friend who has lived her whole life in Leiden tells us of seeing the Singel, where we are berthed, full of barges with grain from France for the mill.

Oranjegracht, The Orange Canal

The Old Flour Mill Across From Us

Along with the hoppers for loading flour into trucks in the bays on the ground floor, one can see the remains of the hose rigs used to suck the grain out of the barges into the storage silos. Seeing them reminded me of the floating grain elevator in the maritime museum in Rotterdam. With big hoses on one side and several smaller ones on the other, it was designed to lie alongside a ship anchored in the river and transfer her cargo of grain to several smaller river-ships (barges) that would carry the grain on to its final destination.

Back when we first met our friends Aad and Nicoline , we were building Barbara, and we said that when the boat was done we would come and tie up at their wharf. So early in our stay in Leiden, Nicoline (who had never cooked a turkey) proposed that we come and cook Thanksgiving Dinner at their house, and we agreed, with the stipulation that the event should be on Friday, so as not to interfere unduly with work. So it was that on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving we took in our lines, headed out through the Clerk's Bridge, and turned left in the Zijl for Warmond.

We were secured alongside by 10:45, and about 11:30 Willem Houweling came aboard to sort out the generator. As always with a good mechanic, it was an education for me to watch him. He attacked parts of the engine that I thought were inaccessible, took the raw water pump off, and cleaned out the whole raw water system. After 4 hours the generator ran perfectly, and he also tested the compression and gave me some maintenance tips. Of course, I thought: "Why didn't I do that?" but the simple answer is that I didn't know what to do, but now I do. It is never too late to learn.

Courtyard Near the Pieterskerk,/i>, the St. Peter's Church

The Gateway to the Grounds of Leiden Castle

On Thursday, Aad made us new hinges for the radar mount, with me helping in very minor ways. It was a great pleasure working in his shop — just about like being at home in my own place. Whatever we needed was right to hand. And I really enjoyed watching Aad think out the problem and make the parts, with no waste motion. You simply chop out two pieces of 8 mm 316 stainless plate, bore out some 25 mm 316 rod, turn delrin bushings to fit, weld the rod parts to the plates, and there you are. We installed the hinges the next day, and all worked perfectly.
Poetry on the Walls

Meanwhile he was doing small jobs for other people, and another friend was in the shop using the Bridgeport milling machine to modify an ornate drive sprocket wheel for a motorcycle.

On Friday, Barbara and Nicoline went to the supermarket and then cooked a splendid dinner, while Aad and I installed the new hinges and then did some dismantling of trim on his house so a wharf specialist could fix the bulkhead at the edge of the canal. We moved the boat a little so the boat that was in the slip could get out and the tug and barge could get in.

Leiden Castle

The turkey was a great success. Thanksgiving Dinner was delicious, and a real festival. We met two new couples, long-time friends of Aad and Nicoline, and the only sad part was that our good friend Henk had a bad cold and could not come, although his wife, Marijke, did come for a while and visit. We sent them a CARE package the next day, however, so they did not miss out entirely.

Willem Houweling thought that our generator would start faster with a check valve in the fuel return line, so that fuel would not siphon out of the engine when it was idle. Unfortunately, the only valve he had was too big for our return line, but no problem.

Barbara and Nicoline, with Turkey (Rudy Photo)

Aad just turned down and threaded the ends where hoses would normally go and turned two adapters with one end that screwed onto the valve and the other fitted to our hose. So what could have been a complicated problem involving a good deal of frustration and a trip or two to a hardware store turned into a half-hour of work.

Saturday was also the day of Aad's family's Sinterklaas celebration, and Nicoline conceived the idea that they needed a real Saint, and that I, properly bearded, should impersonate him, while Barbara became Zwart Piet. I was not sure, as this is, of course, not my tradition, but I was assured that all I had to do was mumble and look severe, so we agreed.

Thanksgiving Dinner at Aad and Nicoline's (Rudy Photo)

At an appropriate time, Nicoline came down to the boat with an armful of costume pieces, and we put them on and went up to the house. I carried a big book (half of the Oxford English dictionary, Compact Edition), looked at people, thumbed through the book, affected to find their names, shook my head resignedly and scowled. Barbara alternately threw pepernooten to everyone and whipped people with a piece of soft pipe insulation standing in for a rod. Despite our ignorance, it went over all right, or at least people were kind.

I had been wondering where we could buy a Christmas tree here, but on the Sunday the answer turned out to be Aad's brother Freek; Aad and I went to his house nearby and had coffee (of course) and bought two small trees. Then we joined Aad and Nicoline for a dinner of the last leftovers from Thanksgiving.

Monday we retraced our steps to the Singel and started in on another social round. Our friends Jacob and Liz came to dinner and Barbara made a soufflé that worked beautifully. We also entertained several of Barbara's colleagues (who are also friends, which maybe does not go without saying).

Sinterklaas with Miter Askew (Rudy Photo)

The Oude Singel

Barbara's Christmas Tree

Meanwhile Leiden was working hard at being Christmassy. An ice rink was set up on a barge in the New Rhine, and next to it a floating market — a connected row of barges filling the river, with wood chips on their decks and rows of wooden prefab huts selling food and presents. It is a bit of an odd feeling to walk under the bridges.

In the middle of all this we were summoned to Hoofdorp, a small village near Schiphol Airport, to be photographed and fingerprinted for our new ID cards. We have made this trip a few times now, so it is pretty routine, and the good thing about this summons

Jacob, Liz, and Barbara, with Soufflé

is that our application for temporary residence has been approved and there is ony the technicality of getting our cards.

One day there was a knock at the door and when I answered (Barbara was off at work) I found a young man who introduced himself as a reporter for the local paper. He had heard, he said, that there were two Americans living on a boat in the Singel, and he thought he ought to check this out.

Floating Ice Rink in the New Rhine

Kerstmarkt – Floating Christmas Market in the New Rhine

He asked a few questions, came back the next day by appointment when Barbara was also at home, took some pictures, and wrote a nice article for the Leidsch Dagblad , with a good picture.

Providence works in mysterious ways; Barbara one day bought some cornflakes for some cooking use, and of course one cannot buy just one cup of cornflakes.

Anthonetta, from Gouda, Berthed Across From Us for Christmas

Rembrandt's Grammar School

We don't eat cornflakes as a rule, so they sat around, but they found their purpose.

A pair of coots has adopted us; when they see me outside the pilothouse (or sometimes even if they don't), they hurry to the boat with their metallic skreeks and I toss them a handful of cornflakes, which they seem to love.

On New Year's Eve we went to a party given by Liz's neighbors Ruud and Joke, a gathering of about a dozen interesting people. Everyone brought food, and it was a huge feast. We had been hearing fireworks all day, but at midnight we went out to watch, and the whole city was alight, with bangs and skyrockets everywhere. There was no traffic, which was good, because people were setting off rockets in the middle of the streets. So we said a festive good-bye to 2014.

One of Our Coots, with Cornflakes

Two Exotic Foreigners in Leiden (Photo: Martijn Schenk, Leidsch Dagblad)

To see our track in Google Earth click:
here for Leiden to Warmond and back.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Cruise 2015, Part I