Join us on our travels around Europe aboard our Dutch Tjalk Francoise

  • Jill Budd

    After 6 years aboard our Narrowboat Matilda Rose in the UK, we took the plunge and shipped her across to Europe. After 2 years in Europe we knew we didn't want to return to the UK so took the plunge and purchased a 1902 20 mtr Dutch Tjalk called Francoise and are now continuing our travels of the waterways of Europe in a buxom wench

  • January 2018
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A blog from Mrs misery arse; messing about on the river

Posted by contentedsouls on 03/12/2017

I know I’m not doing very well with this blogging at the moment – sorry. I seem to have gone into hibernation; just pack me a tea chest full of straw. I do suffer from SAD and, to be honest, much as I love the Netherlands and the people, I am struggling to cope with this relentless grey sky and constant rain. When, very rarely, we get a frosty sunny day I am charged with energy and enthusiasm, but the rest of the time it’s a bit pants.

On the upside, we get to meet up with our fellow Thunderbirds team, Jill and Gary and their dogs Gem and Chula (blue boat, Norderzoon in the pics) as we both have transport and also our Dutch friends at No 70 with their dog Diesel, but I crave some sunlight now. I am rubbish at ‘grey’.

Trundled into the supermarket and adjacent DIY store yesterday and put my shopping list on the counter of the latter; turned around and the shopping list was gone – the young man, seeing me searching, said a lady had walked off with it. I wonder what she will make of a British shopping list but, more intriguingly, my menu plan for the week; we had Gill and John coming out to join us but they went down with stinky fluey colds so had to cancel, all my food ideas were on the back of the shopping list; I wonder if they will be trying out Yorkshire puddings this weekend.

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Onwards to find Pirammima

Posted by contentedsouls on 10/11/2017

On the Saturday morning we set off to catch up with Veronica and Richard for our long planned cruise together.


After a bit of remote mooring we headed into the city of Leeuwarden where we also managed to catch up with Petra but failed to catch up with Jill and Gary. A great city, with the most amazing hardware shop (where, incidentally, I bought the most amazing pair of working gloves – strong, but with huge sensitivity). The weather was ridiculously foul and it chucked it down with rain a lot of the time which, somewhat, curtailed our adventures. We (that would be me) thought that we would have, at least, ten days to play together; but I hadn’t reckoned on the Dutch efficiency. When Nieko booked us into the yard for the beginning of September he meant just that – the 1st of September so our trip together was somewhat curtailed. Hey ho, next year.

Here’s some pics


What this extraordinary cavalcade was about I have no idea; but nobody doused us in water!


The artwork is on the undersides of the bridges – sadly we had to leave to get to the yard


G reversed MR up a side cutting and we banged pins in to get just one extra night of peace and quiet before cruising in the last Kilometre for our lift out the next day.


You all know how we spent the next few weeks! One pic for those that missed it or have just joined us.


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Gondelvaart (water ‘pram’ carnival)

Posted by contentedsouls on 05/11/2017

Whilst Graham and the team were rescuing MR, I stayed on in Aldeboarn and was fascinated to watch the amazing amount of work that was going on in the village in preparation for the Gondelvaart festival. Gondels are basically floating, flat, iron platform barges built over 100 years ago. They have neither superstructures nor engines and were built to shift peat. Once a year the gondels are dug out of little inlets and reeds, dusted off and superstructures created, to turn them into carnival floats for the last Friday in August. Well in advance of that date, work commences in the village with herringbone road cobbles being carefully removed and lighting cables being laid. Guys turn up to remove any weeds on the mooring walls and the entire (not inconsiderable) length of the main canal street is pressure hosed, cleaned and polished to within an inch of it’s existence. The guys on the water platform cleaning the mooring walls kindly lent G their platform when they went to lunch so that he could use it to finish cleaning our rudder in safety.


Each street in the village picks a theme for their gondel and then dress their houses accordingly. For example, our friends’ street picked the great Dutch Bake Off for their Gondel so all their houses were displaying menus of local delicacies. Other streets were draped with scarecrows, dreamcatchers, etc. The amount of work that went into these displays for weeks before hand was a m a z i n g.


On the day of the actual festival, a massive market and food stalls open from the lunchtime with all kind of bands and entertainers. The most incredible of which, for me, was a band of drummers that moved around the village all dressed in primitive skins (G says like something out of Mad Max – I’m not familiar). The beat was totally hypnotic and I followed them about like a rat following the Pied Piper.

As dusk drew in, all the lighting went out and the drummers climbed onto an unadorned gondel from our left – beat their way down the canal to the waiting, dressed gondels, at the other end of the village which then started their slow passage towards us; towed by little tugs – sometimes two huge gondels to one tug. We did, of course, dress Francoise for the occasion.


Pulled by the tugs, they ‘steered’ with punt poles and boat hooks. A lot of my night pics are out of focus, so I can’t show you them all, but you get the idea. Our seats had been put up outside G & G’s house first thing in the morning (perks of being friends of canalside dwellers) so we could watch in comfort. Supper and wine courtesy of G & G too; an amazing and unforgettable day.


Even writing this so long after the event has brought a lump to my throat but, for me, the most amazing thing was that they towed them down to the very small turning circle by Francoise; turned them and came back the other way whilst more gondels were still coming down – so then they were coming in both directions on this narrow canal with it’s tiny bridge holes. Such skill. I wish I’d been up on that bridge to watch the turning; if only I’d known – maybe next year.

The next day we waved our goodbyes and it was, almost, as if it had all been a dream as we passed the gondels being dismantled and put away again for 10 months; the cobbles being taken up again and lighting removed. Within 48 hours it would be as if none of it ever happened – the cost and the work for just those few hours. Incredible.


The blow was softened by the fact that we had a hot date to meet up with Veronica and Richard on Pirammima who had returned in time to do a bit of cruising with us before we headed into the yard at Franeker.

See, I’ve nearly caught up again now!

With apologies to Gerrit and Gezina for any inaccuracies in this post.

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The recovery of Matilda Rose

Posted by contentedsouls on 31/10/2017

We clearly needed to get MR out of where she was and sorted back to her beautiful self. With heartfelt thanks to Graham’s son Antony, Andy and Sarah, the intrepid crew moved her, polished her and repainted the roof. Putting in massive cruising hours over 4 days and moving her to Rugby boats at Stowe Hill where, within a few weeks, she quickly sold. The survey was all good, as one would expect, and she is now owned by people who will live aboard, so give them a wave if you see them. A part of my heart left with her when she was shipped out of France so now I am just glad that she has someone new to cherish her.

Whilst hatching the rescue mission, our lovely friends, G & G at Aldeboarn, asked around the village and came up with the option of two moorings at the end of peoples’ gardens where Francoise, the menagerie and I could stay in his absence. I had a ball with Gezina making pickles and stuff and also offers from the local bar to drive me to the nearby nature park and phone when I was ready to be picked up. It was such a joy to have some lovely female company over the two weeks – poor Gerrit had to put up with the giggling. We made it up to him though by taking them (and their dog Diesel) on a day trip to one of the islands in weather that we should probably not have been out in!!!!!!!!!!!!


These sailboats are Skutjes practicing for the racing season. The races are extremely popular and people just turn up to watch in anything and everything and just beach their boats to watch. some are then able to hoist their grandstands! Amazing spectacle – I only took six zillion photos.


By the time G returned from the MR rescue it was nearly time for the annual Gondelvaart and that was an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.

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Highlights from the missing bits

Posted by contentedsouls on 28/10/2017

We arrived at the fabulous village of Aldeboarn in time for the school children’s leaving ‘do’s’. Needless to say, with the usual Dutch passion for water, this involved boats and making sure as many people as possible got very wet as the kids doused everyone with water pistols and anything else they could lay their hands on. We quickly managed to get revenge for our soaking by plugging in our deck hose and drowning the lot of them. This could have backfired on us badly, being mere visitors and British at that, but it actually had the reverse effect and endeared us to the villagers who went out of their way to help us thereafter. It also made lifetime friends of Gerrit & Gezina whose house we were moored outside at the time (hereafter referred to as G & G).


We loved this little village and ended up returning to pick Sarah and Andy up here; leaving their car at G & G’s. In fact, we returned here more than once. A quirky little place with a nice little bar, small supermarket and second hand shop.


Once we collected Sarah and Andy, we were off on long daily cruises. Trying to ring the changes with big lakes and smaller canals. The trouble with long cruising days at the height of the holiday season is that, by the time we could prise Sarah off of the wheel, most of the ‘favourite’ moorings had been taken (no Sarah, we are not cruising through the night – this is not the BCN challenge). None of our stops were shoddy though.


At one point Sarah reckoned that she saw more boats in one day than she had seen in most of her life. As always our time together flew passed, but I think they both left having thoroughly enjoyed a bit of pirating in the Netherlands.

The only downside was that they informed us that they had been to check out MR on our behalf and that the boatyard she had been brokered with wasn’t doing MR or us  any favours – I will not say more on here. A recovery plan was quickly hatched for a couple of weeks on.

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Thunderbirds are go!

Posted by contentedsouls on 22/10/2017

We stayed in the water at the yard overnight in order to sort out the paperwork empty our bank account and say our goodbyes before leaving Tuesday morning. I will not miss either the steps, the lack of dog walking or the bloody wind turbine; but I shall miss the friendship and companionship freely given plus the amazing amount of knowledge and professionalism available in Nieko’s yard. Dwaine and Susannah offered me lifts to get provisions and directed me as to where I could get what. Dower came with us and negotiated a deal with an elderly, non English speaking, elderly Friesian gentleman to help find me a 2nd hand bike that fitted and suited me – which G then left me to cycle home on in the dark. I went shopping on it the next day and somewhat overloaded the panniers, falling off it in the yard as I came to a halt. I’m still rubbish at landings but, hey ho, I didn’t smash any wine and the holes in my knee and thumb are healing.

Back into Leeuwarden again where we had parted company with Veronica and Richard, we moored parkside opposite Jill and Gary on Noorderzon whom we had been trying to catch up with, but narrowly missing each other, for quite some time. so we cycled around to their side for tea and cuddles with their dogs and they delayed their departure so we could all go out and have dinner in the Irish bar. That was the first time I’d drunk Guinness in years and years – it used to be my drink of choice – jolly nice it was too.


Then we moved out onto the free Marrekrite moorings joining Noorderzon. Next morning G was down the forepeak ‘ole when he heard a loud bang and clambered out to see a pusher tug with a gondel (flat platform for loading stuff onto) drifting towards us, sideways, with the tug engine on fire. My immediate reflex reaction to this was a selfish, ‘nooooo, not my new paintwork!’.


The wind spun him and drifted him against the reeds on the far bank and we could see him making a phone call/calls. He had shouted to a couple of Dutch guys on the towpath our side that he had no fire extinguisher and no anchor (he did have a spud pole but that was adjacent to the on fire engine). I shouted Gary from next door and the 3 of us set off on Francoise to the other side of the river armed with fire extinguishers to get him off. By the time we reached him, he’d made an almighty adrenaline fuelled leap across the gap to the bank and, try as we might, the 3 of us could not operate the boat in shallow waters and get in with the fire extinguishers – as we were alongside to his burning engine (but not close enough to be effective or leap across) it did occur to me that there could be something on there that could explode. Somewhere around here Gary shouted that the fire fighters had turned up, but they were on the wrong side of the bank!


Given that the chap was safely on the bank and no longer in danger, we returned to pick up the young, fit, professionals. The easiest and quickest way to do that was to pull alongside Noorderzon so that they could ferry themselves and their equipment across her and onto Francoise so we could take them back across to the stricken vessel (I’ve always wanted to use that expression). It was at this point that the other Jill woke up and appeared in her dressing gown in time to see her boat being boarded by hunky fireman – I bet she had to pinch herself!

With the three of us free to position and crew the boat and leaving the fit young professionals to do what they were trained for, it was considerably easier (sorry, the words ‘fit’ and ‘young’ keep cropping up). Let’s face it, between us three we sported one knee replacement, one hip replacement and someone that would probably benefit from one of each!


Fire dealt with, the skipper had to be recovered from the bank, there was no way he was going to leap back on. We tried to push the gondel into the bank but, due to shallow waters, all we achieved was more holes in our new paint. We still had the dinghy, but no battery for the electric outboard and the rowlocks for the oars had broken away, only being lightly re-attached with super glue! So the oars were unearthed and the boss fireman was despatched down our rudder into the dinghy with distinct instructions not to row hard – his crew were, at this point, in hysterics.


He dutifully returned with the skipper and both returned up the rudder and we returned to our original mooring where the rest of the fire crew were waiting to pull us in – plus a couple of policemen. It was then necessary for everyone to shake hands with everyone – which took some time – and big fusses made of both our and Jill and Gary’s dogs whom we let out because, as you can imagine, were all going a bit nuts from having had their boats invaded.  


More than enough excitement for one morning before coffee! Should we rename Francoise, ‘Thunderbirds’, European rescue?

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Back in the water after 5 1/2 weeks

Posted by contentedsouls on 16/10/2017

It was Friday 1st September when we came out of the water and the first week, largely, disappeared on fire watch and the associated dismantling and re-assembling of our sleeping and cooking arrangements (but you already know that). Then the weather turned nasty on us, so work continued inside and G even patched the hole in our ceiling  (which he pulled down last year whilst trying to source and fix a leak around the window). By the 3rd week we were able to get into a pattern, with G outside working and me sorting dogs and our food for the day; then working outside with him after lunch, before getting us both fed and walking Muttley again in the evening. This seemed to be the most efficient way of working as I, obviously, do not have G’s strength to wield heavy power tools for very long to do the rubbing down. You would think we would both have slept well, but we didn’t really; it was just head down and work. Even walking Muttley gave me little respite as the options were to turn left down the road to the sewage plant and back, or turn right up the road to the town bridge and back. Neither option was traffic free. I think, in those first 3 weeks, they only respite was Friday evenings when the yard owner put on a crate of free beers at 5 o’clock and everybody knocked off early and nattered about boats, life and the meaning of the universe. Given the number of boats coming in and out of the yard (not just on the hard); Friday evenings introduced us to diverse and ever changing crews. Due to our presence, and always a few other non-Dutch speakers, the language swapped seamlessly into English – imagine the French doing that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



When I said the weather turned nasty, I meant it. G enquired if I was cold; sometimes a girl has to go a bit OTT to get his attention (I haven’t learnt the art/skill involved in lighting the Old Dutch stove that we put in last winter and, even if I had, I would have forgotten over the summer). How many times we went up and down those bloody steps I’ll never know; not to mention the intermediate and low ones that we went up and down and dragged around with us as we painted.P1240263P1240265 - CopyP1240266 - CopyP1240266P1240268 - Copy

By the end of the 3rd week we had pretty much finished our ‘out of the water’ stuff, although we had plenty more we could do. Looking around the yard at the boat of fellow ‘large crane’ sharer, it was clear we wouldn’t be going back in a rush


His rudder was unattached, his engine was up the corner of the hangar and his new cooling system needed welding on under the entire length of the boat before blacking/painting. Given our previous experience of boat dismantling for fire watch, I was intrigued how this was going to work (he lives aboard too) – simples; they flooded him!!!!!!!!!!!! Just a ‘small’ matter then of him pumping himself out afterwards. He was such a nice chap and never stopped working until late into the evenings; very aware that he was the one we, and two boats due in shortly, were waiting for. He was still working on his engine at 10.30pm when I trotted across to the loo one night. Getting the crane in just for Francoise was not financially viable for us.

The upside of this was that we could back off a bit and have some fun. We had a look around Franeker and it’s Planetarium on a day when a festival was on with loads of cars and tractors. Then went out with two sets of friends who had turned up and moored in Franeker. We had dinner out with Jean, Phil, Annie and Mike and combined a visit to Harlingen chandlers by taking the latter with us and having a look at the seaport and a spot of lunch.


G bought an electric outboard for the dinghy and borrowed a battery so he could go out for a test drive – happy to be back on the water in any way that he could!


Our good Dutch friends Gerrit and Gezina from Aldeboarne came out for supper with us and delivered our new debit cards (one of many things which we have had delivered to their address). Now, because of the gap in this blog, you know nothing – yet – of these amazing warm and lovely guys who have done so much for us; you will.

Friday 6th October turned out to be good news day with 2 bits of, potentially, amazing news; one I can’t tell you about until later this week (no, I’m not pregnant); the other was that the big crane had been booked for mid day on the Monday 9th – provided that the strong winds abated. Poor old Dower was going back in minus his engine which would be fitted in the water; he was still slapping paint underneath as the crane arrived. Gerrit and Gezina came out to watch the excitement and although there was a delay in the crane’s arrival, the lift out itself was uneventful. I hadn’t realised that the setting up, counterbalancing, etc of the crane took soooo long – on our arrival that process had already happened and we were lifted straight out. We then had to disappear along the river for a bit (which gave Gerrit another chance to steer Francoise) whilst they put Dower’s boat back in and oiked the other two out. A long, long day.


Just to finish; some of the sights seen whilst up on high.


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High rise living–life in the boatyard

Posted by contentedsouls on 12/09/2017

After a few lovely days (way too few) cruising with Veronica and Richard on Pirammima, we had a phone call calling us in to the boatyard Friday 1st. When we booked this lift out from France (way back in March) for the 1st week in September, the last thing I expected to happen was a lift out on 1st September! It’s not how these things normally work. So, here we are, roughly 15 feet up in the air with our fat bottom waving in the, not inconsiderable, winds and in a fair bit of chaos.


The lift out itself was smooth, efficient and without drama


Muttley and Daisy have no problems with the steps, but G has to carry Mr B up and down twice a day for the serious stuff; in between we have taught him to pee on the rear deck (drains and can be power hosed off) and are using dry nites bed sheets – I strongly suspect we won’t be able to ‘unteach’ it but you do what you have to. Life on the hard was never going to be easy with animals, but the people who own the yard have done everything they possibly can to make life as easy as possible.


G is pleased to announce that he finally has a big one; even more brilliant as our neighbour on the hard has a particularly little one – ours is the big shiny one!!!!!!!


Work progresses quite well; the professionals are doing the 3 overplates whilst we are doing the more routine reparation work. What we hadn’t banked on was us both doing 2 1/2 days of fire watch (one of us to each welder), which we hadn’t factored in and the chaos of having to take up floor boards after removing beds and pantry contents. It has, therefore, been a bit stressful and ‘ate’ the first week. We have a first coat on our bottom now but torrential rain and high winds are not helping. Might be here for awhile. Just the one fire and yes, those are two holes in the hull under the pantry floor (photo 6) where he cut the old plate out. G said he couldn’t service the genny in the rain under an open hatch and wasn’t impressed when I showed him a solution (photo 1). I even offered to hold the umbrella.


Fun and games, but all pretty much within the anticipated budget and a huge boost when we found the original registration numbers; Hz1477N, original name Hoop op Welvaart. Then L2227N, renamed Pax. Beyond thrilled as now we can research her entire history.


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Cruising in and around Tjeukemeer

Posted by contentedsouls on 12/08/2017

Having picked Veronica and Richards’ brains for some of their favourite places, we set off into the Provence of Friesland in search of the larger waters which have moorings on little islands, encountering more acres of nature paths en route. P1230035P1230040P1230058P1230073P1230078P1230079P1230080

Everything here is to tidy and pristine. This is such a wealthy country; that’s a new complex being built below – all thatch roofed and with different roof pitches and balconies. That kind of build doesn’t come cheap.


How’s this for a free mooring; the island of Marchjepolle with our very own beach; even Baxter managed a deep paddle to lift some weight off his old bones (he’s on a lead because he’s developing a tendency to wander in the wrong direction), whilst Muttley made great friends with the cutest little Shar Pei off another boat and had a ball making holes in the beach. They are very casual with dogs here; nobody expects anyone’s dog to be aggressive so there allowed to lay outside of their respective boats on the banks. It’s quite common to walk Muttley passed a line of boats and have 2 or 3 jump off and join us for a little way.




I Also made a trip into Steenwijk on the kayak thinking I might visit the Jumbo supermarket, but it was closed. I frightened myself a bit on the way back because I wasn’t 100% sure of my route and it is ridiculously easy to get lost. A completely different perspective from down low and there are so many different waterways and junctions. In the UK and France we used to say, ‘you can run, but you can’t hide’; well you can hide here!


I love the way they duckboard all the marshy bits in the nature park so that you can walk at anytime of the year without getting muddy boots. This stork was quite unperturbed by our presence; they are huge when you get close to them.


The diversity of craft here continues to astound me – there seems to be little or no snobbery; everyone gets out on the water on anything they can. I have to admit I am growing a terrible urge for something with sails as a nice little holiday home up here for the summer. Look at this little beauty. Yeah, I know it’s too much maintenance and expense to run two boats and our joints are not up to it either; but a girl can dream.


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Leaving Flevoland and into Overijssel

Posted by contentedsouls on 30/07/2017

A considerably calmer day for a Meer crossing; so no need to pack glasses, remove mirrors, pictures etc. I came across the strangest of smart estates (definitely bungaloid dystopia) where this lady was actually polishing her railings!


Leaving Ketelmeer for Grafhorst we had to go up 5 metres to reach sea level (that’s really weird), so I was able to pack away the snorkels and periscope for a bit. At the entrance to the lock was a bridge (not lifted) and we went in behind 3 cruisers who wouldn’t move up; we couldn’t rise the 5 metres without crunching ourselves under the bridge and the bridge keeper wasn’t going to stop the traffic to lift it. There were lots of long words over the loudspeaker (the Dutch really do like long words – why use 5 letters when you can use 25) of which we understood not one single word before eventually the man on the tannoy and me on the front of Francoise persuaded them to shuffle up sufficiently for us to clear the bridge as we rose. In all honesty it would have been quicker for either him to lift the bridge or us to wait for the next lock!

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Again flat calm with a huge diversity of craft. We were momentarily bewildered by this apparent ‘no through road’, before we realised that the channel lay sharp right. That thatched hay barn was quite something. By this time I had gained a really bad earworm, “don’t pay the ferryman” – there are ferries of all shapes, sizes and propulsion at every turn.


We continued on to Grafhorst where we were able to meet up with my long time Facebook pals Veronica and Richard. So brilliant; we had planned to meet up and travel with them at the end of August when they returned to Friesland but we are so ahead of ourselves that we managed to meet up before they left – and there was I worrying about getting to Franeker by September! We also managed to meet up for lunch a couple of days later in Blokzijl and they brought us presents of the Marrekrite mooring flag and the Friesland Provence flag (water Lilly leaves – not hearts). Purchase of the Marrekrite flag entitles you to thousands of free mooring places in Friesland (think GOBA in the UK).



It was leaving the town that I encountered my first bruggeld payment; man with ‘fishing rod’ swings a clog at you and you stick two euros in his clog. I can’t help wondering what would happen if I put my Mum’s old bus pass tokens in – probably the next bridge would land on our heads!


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