Well, so far we have arrived in Amsterdam and sold Mjojo and bought the Good Old Water Rat, and continued to settle in A’dam, that most pleasing of cities and next thing was to start converting Water Rat into a house on the water, which occupied us for the next 20 odd years, and finally was more or less finished about a month before we finally left Holland and went to live in France – also another story worth telling, probably I have already told in this blog, have a look at the various posts, there are 201 after all, and you will find various accounts of our lives in La Douce France.
The first job we had to start the conversion of the Water Rat into a house was to take up the planks that were on the floor of the hold, and grease all the steel-work on the inside of the hull bottom. So, that is what we did, heating up the grease so that it ran nicely into the corners and so on under the hold floor. Whilst as a barge, she was a relatively small vessel, this was still a hell of a big job as far as we were concerned – but in due time it was finished and we could put back all the planks that were the hold floor and start to consider how we wanted to convert her into a house.
All of this took a very long time, as we were far from fanatical about it all, and also we had to earn our livings as well – in my case that was as a model maker, chiefly working for museums and similar, and Lotty was a teacher at the International School of Amsterdam. Also, we wanted to enjoy ourselves and use the Water Rat to see the Netherlands, so we chugged happily around the country enjoying ourselves with the freedom that she gave us. We could – and did – fill her up with water at the fuel bunker ships along all the major canals, and at night we could simply head for the side of the river or canal and tie her up to a handy tree and enjoy ourselves in the quiet country side.
As we had the engine running at the same speed all day long, she was very economical with diesel fuel, and considering that she had what was in effect a large truck engine, our fuel costs were not unreasonable. We also became really expert at dealing with the many locks we encountered, or bridges that had to be opened for us to pass under them, and on a number of occasions we ventured out into what was in effect the north sea, the Ijsselmeer to the north of Amsterdam, where on occasions we found ourselves in a dodgy situation as barges are not really designed to sail in rough water – one of the drawbacks of having a vessel with a flat bottom, waves get under it and push you over………
Anyhow, happily this never happened to us, though we did have our teeth clenching moments.
One of the things about the Water Rat was that as she wasn’t laden with cargo, her bows were actually out of the water, so on one occasion whilst in a very small canal in Friesland, and found our way blocked by a bridge that had a sign on it telling us that it would next open in June……. And this was in April! So, as it was not really possible to reverse for the many kilometers to the larger canal that we had turned off. I thought about it for a while, and came to the conclusion that the only solution was to set the bows up on the canal bank and turn on that fulcrum. So, I did just that, scaring the hell out of a flock of sheep who were grazing in that field when suddenly a very large steel thing came at them, and managed to get about 8 or so meters onto their field. Anyhow, it worked OK, and we sailed without a care back to the bigger canal.
Maintaining our mobile home was an annual event, every year we went to a beach on the tidal river Lek, and when the tide went out we ensured that the Water Rat was nice and high and dry, and over a couple of tides we would tar the whole of her ides, up to and over the water line. Then every alternate year, we had to go onto a slip and do the same, as well as under her hull… As you can see in the photos, this was a hell of a lot of work – she may have been a small barge, but she was still damn big!
Slowly we converted her… clad the walls inside the hold with tongue and groove pine, installed a working kitchen, built a shower and lavatory, created a bed (raised) for us and a decent cabin at the bows for Jake and generally made her into a civilised home… And the finishing touch we finally achieved about 3 months before we sold her and left the Netherlands and moved to France, which was installing an efficient oil fired central heating system.
At about this time, I created a steel and copper model of the Water Rat for the Maritime museum, the model was about a meter long…
Well, in a way, that is the story of our various house boats, after that we lived in boring houses… Well not really – In France we lived in a ruined granite mine and in Australia we have actually built our house from the ground up, with our hands… Anyhow, that is it for now.