It all began with an e-mail: “Come to Amsterdam and wish Rembrandt a Happy 400th birthday.” It seems Crown Blue Line (CBL) was promoting its charter boats in Holland. I’d no idea you could bareboat in Holland, yet discovered the company has two bases there—one in Strand Horst, 35 miles east of Amsterdam, and the other in Sneek, about 60 miles north of Strand Horst. I also learned Holland is crisscrossed with waterways. But is there anything to see? All I knew of The Netherlands I’d learned in Amsterdam. The rest of the country was terra incognita—literally.
CBL, however, was not unknown. Having chartered from it in Scotland and France, I knew what to expect. The fleet of 29- to 49-foot, purpose-built, single-diesel cruisers features bow thrusters, loads of interior space, good amenities, and not much speed, but great fuel efficiency. They’re also singularly homely, mainly because their flanks are festooned with slabs of super-heavy-duty rubber and chain-hung black fenders that allow them to collide with docks, locks, and other boats with near impunity. Most important, they’re simple to operate, essentially stupid-proof. Our party being three—my friend Celia DeVoe, photographer Anna Clopet, and me—CBL fixed us up with a 42-foot, three-cabin Royal Classique S.
DeVoe and I met up with Clopet in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, then took a cab to Strand Horst, a 100 euro ride. We arrived at the charter base around 3 p.m., DeVoe and I punchy from our overnight flight, and were directed to our home for the next five days. While we were stowing gear and looking around, a young chap arrived to give us our check-out. It took all of 15 minutes, covering engine starting, gear shifting, and thruster activation. The word engine was never uttered, much less its location—testimony, I presumed, to the bulletproof nature of these boats.
Docking directions and points of interest were equally sidestepped, and as for provisioning, we learned the nearest place to do so was an hour away in Harderwijk, where the stores closed in an hour. Considering our total comestibles consisted of salt and pepper, we hurriedly cast off and firewalled the throttle, yielding maybe 7 knots—the same speed you get if you run at half-throttle. Fortunately we had a beautifully rendered “chart”; unfortunately it had no scale. Yet the numbered waterway buoys corresponded to those on that chart, and besides, the attendant’s last words as we’d pulled away were, “If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to call us.” Then I realized that he hadn’t told us on what channel. Then I realized there was no radio aboard. With the light rapidly fading and the waterway jam-packed with tacking sailboats, I thought to myself, “This is not the way to begin a cruise.”
We reached Harderwijk in 45 minutes but couldn’t figure out where to dock. So we laid up against a seawall and looked for the dockmaster. Instead we found a bartender at the nearby pub who informed us in fine English that we could leave the boat there as long as we were gone by 8:00 the following morning and that the local market was open for another half-hour. Thank goodness we’d reserved bikes. Too bad we’d forgotten to load them aboard. So we hot-footed it into town and returned an hour later with a dozen overloaded plastic bags.
This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.