Different Takes on Familiar Wakes

Different Takes on Familiar Wakes - A Belgian Barge Cruise
Different Takes on Familiar Wakes
How two experienced sailors are giving a neglected barge, and themselves, a new life on well-known waters.

By Jeanine Detz — October 2001

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• Part 1: Belgium Cruise
• Part 2: Belgium Cruise continued
• Belgium Cruise Photo Gallery

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• De 4 Vaargetijden

Every time someone visits me in New York for the first time, I discover something new in the city I have known for more than 20 years. Sometimes it’s a great restaurant just a block away from my apartment, but often the reward is much greater, like the penguin room at the Central Park Zoo. It’s easy to become numb to your hometown’s treasures, but spend a day pretending you’re a tourist and you’ll definitely see them in a different light. If your home is a small European country, it’s all the easier.

Northern Belgium, or Flanders, is an area with a flat but picturesque countryside and cities rich in history, architecture, and art, where meandering rivers such as the Leie, Schelde, and Meuze as well as intricate canal systems connect charming towns to medieval cities. As beautiful as the area is, five years ago there were no Belgian charter boats. The waterways were well-traveled, but the traffic consisted primarily of tankers and sluggish barges hauling cargo. Surely this country that has more than 400 beers and at least one chocolate shop in every town is an ideal place to vacation. Maurits and Olga Karreman thought so and figured water was the best way to do it.

Experienced sailors on commercial vessels for more than a decade, both had plenty of time under their belts on most European waterways. Although neither had ever worked on a passenger ship, they’ve ended up making their living doing just that. In 1997, after months of research and business plans, the Belgian couple determined to buy a barge, refit it to carry passengers, and start their own charter operation on the waterways of their home country.

A year later the duo found their baby: a 30-meter (about 98-foot) freighter built in 1928. Her history includes 50 years transporting sand and gravel, a deliberate sinking during WWII to prevent her seizure by the Germans, and 20 years docked with her cargo areas filled with junk collected by her retired owner.

The ship’s metamorphosis began with the replacement of all of her underwater plating. Only the original frames were kept to retain the hull’s shape. Next the cargo areas were transformed into four cabins and the original captain’s quarters were remodeled to become a galley and the owners’ private apartment. The creation of dining and adjacent seating areas completed the work below. Outside, a deck with overhangs and an enclosed pilothouse with an added seating area were constructed. Finally in 1999, after 14 months of work, Olga and Maurits Karreman christened De 4 Vaargetijden ("four sailing seasons" in Dutch). She has been carrying passengers, instead of cargo, through the same waterways she traveled more than 50 years ago ever since.

When I first stepped aboard Vaargetijden on a Monday evening last May, she was docked in the harbor of Oudenaarde, a small Belgian city a 11š2-hour drive west of Brussels. With her bright red hull and shiny white deck, it was hard to imagine her workhorse past. Photographer Robert Holland and I were greeted by Boef, the boat’s resident sheepdog, and then led below to our accommodations by Maurits.

Each cabin is simple and clean, with twin bunks, a dresser, and an en suite head. A casual ambiance is intentional: The owners wanted their floating home to retain her freight barge heritage. Brass accents combined with ample use of wood result in unpretentious spaces where you can imagine anyone being comfortable. I sure was as I quickly nodded off to sleep that evening.

Next page > Belgium continued > Page 1, 2, 3

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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