"There will be many who don't know and might be wondering how I have come to be living on an old Dutch barge in Rotterdam at a somewhat advanced stage in my life. Well, I suppose I wasn't so 'senior' when it all started, but I was definitely on the wrong side of forty five, so it wasn't exactly a youthful sense of adventure that drove me to this wonderful floating life.
I first left my home in South Africa at the end of 1998 to follow my husband to the Netherlands. He was working for a film company in Amsterdam at the time but was living in Rotterdam. He'd been gone for a year and decided he didn't want to go back to SA, so being ready for a new adventure myself, I agreed to shut up shop, leave my job and have a go at life in Europe again. No thoughts of boats and barges ever entered my head. I'd been living so long with SA drought and water restrictions the only boats I knew were the canoes on the puddle-that-used-to-be-a-lake in the park. But then when I arrived in Holland, I discovered this whole new world of life on the water. I was like a child in my own wonderland.
|The hold of the Hoop with Sindy as a puppy|
In any event, we bought an old barge that needed renovating some time that year - I forget exactly when. By that time, we'd got to know some people in the Oude Haven, a harbour designated for restoring historic barges and we managed to find a place there. However, this all took some time, a great deal of stress and more money than we'd ever imagined. The strain took its toll and to cut a long story discreetly short, we as a couple didn't survive.
Rescue for me came with an invitation to go back to South Africa to work at my old company. So in the course of 2000, I found myself back in Johannesburg. I loved being in my old home town again, and I was lucky enough to travel all over the country too, but as time went on I knew I had to make a decision about life. I had nothing of my own in SA anymore; I was staying with friends; and the end of my contract was looming.
|The Hoop as she is now. Still in Rotterdam, but|
a different harbour
At the beginning of 2001, I headed back to Holland. This was, I thought, my chance to make something new for myself and of myself. I'd also found myself missing the boats and the barges, so I had a plan. It was to work, save money, buy my own boat and go to France.
A Godsend had come in the offer of a barge to rent. My dear friend, Philip, who saved my day rather often in those early years, had one I could rent. It wasn't very luxurious, he said, but it would be a roof when I had none. It was also a floating home. Since I hadn't had much chance to get a feel for life on the water before I hotfooted it back to South Africa, I wouldn't have cared if it had nothing of life's luxuries at all. As it happened, it didn't, and that's where the story of Watery Ways begins.
|The wheelhouse of the Hoop - where the toilet remained|
throughout my residence
The lovely Hoop on which I lived for a year and a half had no running water, no electricity, and no toilet when I moved on board. The electricity was my first challenge, the water came later, and the toilet remained where I found it for the duration of my occupancy - upside down on the seat in the wheelhouse. But that was all part of the charm.
And I never did get to live in France - although I haven't given up that dream yet...
Thank you so much, Val. You don't do things the easy way do you? If you'd like to read more about that first year of Val's watery adventure, my book is on Amazon.com.