Like many families living in downtown Amsterdam, we don’t own a car. We have bikes, and a boat. We used to have a small canal boat that we often use to go around Amsterdam, and sometimes even to do groceries (one local supermarket has a mooring just outside its door). But early in 2011 we acquired a 28-foot, Swedish Maxi Fenix sailing boat, and decided that it will be both our summer house and the mean to explore the Netherlands’ water. We started using the boat on weekends, when we know the weather will be great for a short sail, but on the summer of 2012, a family tradition was born; we decided that we would only travel out of of the country outside of summer, and instead, we will spend at least one week each summer just sailing around the Netherlands. It will be a sort of roadtrip, only via water, and the choice of next destination will depend on current weather, tide and wind. It requires plenty of flexibility, and the possibility of getting caught in a bad weather is pretty high, considering we have quite a volatile weather system with lots of rain here. It’s so different with the usual trips we take where I would do a lot of planning months ahead. On a sailing trip, you have to live the moment.
The Kid was already loving being on the boat. She loves all the snug little compartments, beds and how we all live so close to one another on the boat. Staying at the marina also allows her the freedom to run around in nature, get to know the other marina children, go fishing, or just to explore. The marina playground ecosystem is not as political as the town’s playgrounds; almost all children with their parents’ boat moored at a marina are not familiar with the territory, and they readily play with any other children they found (and they learn to say goodbye to them when they have to leave as well). On some lucky harbours, she even find friends on a neighbouring boat.
We usually have a general idea of the route we wanted to take for the trip, taking into account the wind direction prediction of the following week, but the actual route we take day-by-day is planned the evening before. Sometimes it is more sensible to stay put in a place for an extra day or two, and sometimes we need to leave as soon as possible. The usual routine is to spend 4-8 hours a day sailing, before we would find a new town to moor our boat, and to explore the town; find a place to eat, or a grocery store to replenish supplies, and for the Kid to either plunge in the water to swim, find a local playground, or see what’s interesting in the area.
This way, we have been able to have a look at quite a number of Dutch coastal towns, each with their own charm and quirks. We have spent the nights in sleepy fishing villages, beach town lined with casinos, a town with jazz festival next to the marina and even the posh village where the royal family keeps their boat in the same marina (with the view of a castle from the boat). But our favourite place to sail to is the island of Texel in the north. In the summer, the place is a paradise for children. There are beaches to swim in, open spaces with sheep and cows, bike lanes criss-crossing the whole island, farms where you can pluck your own berries and other fruits. Close to the marina is a huge playground where families could also do their BBQ, and some shallow water teeming with crabs. The Kid loves nothing more to join the other children and fish for them with pieces of bacon or ham (once they’re done they threw the crabs back in the water). I will need to write a separate post just about this island.
Of course, it’s not always perfect condition, sometimes we needed to sail through a bad weather against the wind, which makes the whole trip really bumpy, or that the wind is so strong from one side that we needed to sail with a steep heeling angle (we call it the ‘washing machine’), or that the rain would pour down and everything got wet. It’s part of the experience, and even though it’s not always nice when we’re in the middle of it, we could always look back to it and know that we’ve been through it together as a family.