Our lives on a couple of boats – Part One

Just before I left the Roundhouse Theatre in London in 1974 (in itself that is a story worth knowing!  Link to that story) , we decided that we would sail to Australia (as one does) and via a friend we found the ideal boat for this voyage, Mjojo, and lived on her for a couple of years and made various passages around the English coast and finally we set off to sail to Australia, but ran into incredible South Western storms, with waves taller than the mast of Mjojo, so rather than fight our way into this ridiculous storm, we gave in and turned around, and ended up in Amsterdam, where we lived on her (with occasional trips into the North Sea) for about 2 years until the birth of our son.

Mjojo was her name, and she was perhaps the most beautiful sailing boat you could imagine.   She had been designed by an English architect, Rod Pickering, based on a combination of ideas, the boat that Joshua Slocum used when he sailed around the world, the Spray, and the boats that were in use every day in the Indian Ocean, so he had her built on Lamu, an island off the coast of Kenya by the guys there who normally built Dhows for the local sailors.

The building off Mjojo is an epic tale in itself, and well worth reading, so here is a link to the website of Jojo, Rod’s daughter after whom the boat was named:

Mjojo=Little Jojo.       https://islandswift.blogspot.com/2014/08/mjojo.html

In passing I would like to point out that you will read in Jojo’s account, that Mjojo was kept in Amsterdam and started to rot.  This is true, but not while we had her.  We sold her to a local when our son was born (1976) when it became apparent that we would have to stay in Holland as we were told our son would need medication for his entire life – this turned out not to be true, by the way.

Anyhow, here are some photos of Mjojo in all her glory to show you what a beautiful vessel she was – and is.

Just for your information, she was 42 feet long (+bowsprit of 15 feet), beam was 15 feet, she drew 7 feet along her entire keel so she was incredibly stable and was a gaff rigged cutter.  Oh, and she weighed 24 tons, because of the incredibly heavy wood she was built from (72 pounds a cubic foot!).

Anyway, as I said, on the birth of our son we thought that we would have to stay in Holland for his entire childhood, and as I have pointed out earlier in this post, keeping an ocean going wooden sailboat in the fresh water of Amsterdam wasn’t a good idea for a wooden boat – also she was a bit small for us to actually live in if we were staying in Amsterdam.   So we sold her to a German guy who apparently had all manner of plans for her, none of which actually occurred, so she started to rot, poor boat.

We borrowed a flat from a friend in a small town near to Amsterdam and set about looking for a steel barge to live in (and to wander around Europe’s extensive network of inland water-ways in).   After some months, we found a likely barge, called Eerste Zorg (which means First Worry ) a 28 meter long steel barge, built in 1924, registered to carry 120 tons and we could afford her asking price.  So we negotiated with the owner, and reached agreement and then came to great day when we would have to take her over.

Nerve wracking to say the least, as I had never tried to sail such a large vessel, and one that only had an engine as well.    So I went to Papendrecht (just to the south of Rotterdam) to take her over, and the owner agreed to sail with me up to Rotterdam so that I had a chance to see how it all worked.

So that is what happened.

Together we sailed, well, I say sailed, actually it was a question of driving her, up to Rotterdam and once there, the previous owner tied us up to a jetty and went on his merry way, leaving me with the job of getting her from Rotterdam to Amsterdam on my own.  Lotty, my wife, had driven me down to meet the previous owner, and then driven back to Amsterdam.

Gulp!

Anyhow, taking my courage in my hands…  I set off up the river Lek, which leads from Rotterdam to the start of the Amsterdam-Rijn canal, which as its name would suggest, connects the Rijn (Rhine) to Amsterdam.   At this point in its journey to the North Sea the Rhine is called the Lek.

The Lek is a very wide river, and much used by all manner of cargo barges of all sizes, and I quickly realised that my 120 ton 28 meter Luxe Motor (that is the name of its type of barge) is a really small vessel.   I was surrounded by barges of 500 tons to huge combinations of 3000 ton lighters connected up in threes to a sort of super pushing boat hurtling along at upwards of 30 kilometers per hour – to put this in context, my little barge could only manage about 11 kilometers per hour.

Altogether alarming to put it mildly!

After about an hour of this nerve wracking stuff, there was suddenly an explosion below me, in the engine room of my barge, and the motor stopped.   So there I was, effectively in the fast lane of an aquatic motorway with a barge without an engine.

I rushed to the bows, and managed to drop the anchor, which was huge!  Luckily it gripped the river bottom, and I swung around so my stern was pointing down river to Rotterdam, and there I was, stuck.

Various barges honked at me as basically I was blocking the “fast Lane” but there was nothing I could do about it.

After a while, a police boat appeared and came alongside to demand to know what the hell I thought I was playing at, anchoring in the middle of a hugely busy river and holding every one up.

Once one of these cops came on board, and I was able to show him what had happened (peering into my engine room at an obviously destroyed engine), he said to me that I should crank up the anchor and they would tow me to a repair yard to get things looked at.

This caused the next embarrassment for me…  How the hell do you bring up an anchor on such a boat?   I had no idea how to do that, and feeling idiotic, I told the cop this.   So, with the patience of Job, he showed me how it worked, and clambered back onto his boat and gave me a tow rope to secure to my bows, and we hauled up the anchor, see photo below for the size of it, and off we went.

Anyhow, to cut a very long story short, it turned out that the motor was totally destroyed, and it would be necessary to replace it, and as I had bought the barge “as is” I had no claim on the previous owner.  So, I gritted my teeth and told the ship yard to go ahead and bung another – more modern – engine into her.

So, after this exciting start to our ownership of what became the Water Rat (chosen because it is the same in Dutch and English) began.

And for the following 24 years we lived in her traveled around Holland in her and generally had a great life on her.

So, in a following installment I shall tell all about how that all went….

In the mean time, here is a photo of her in all her glory at a later mooring in Amsterdam, along side the Maritime Museum for whom I made models somewhat later…….

If you have any thoughts on any of the above, or sailed on Mjojo or the Water Rat please drop me a line to tell me about how it all went.

2 thoughts on “Our lives on a couple of boats – Part One”

  1. I so enjoyed reading this piece of history especially fascinated to discover how you, Lotty, and Jake became owners of the Water Rat—on which I had enjoyed a delicious slice of lemon cake or two! I look forward to reading more of your blogs Tony! You have lived extraordinary lives!

    Like

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