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Harbor Hindeloopen, day 3. It’s six AM, bright as day and I’ve set up office in the “kuip”, the back deck of a hundred and fifty year old Dutch cargo sailing vessel, turned pleasure craft. The “tjalk” was used to move around the many bigger waterways of Friesland and Groningen, the two most Northern provinces of the Netherlands, surrounded by the “IJsselmeer”, what used to be the “Zuiderzee” (South Sea) before a 30 Km dike closed off the often rough waters that flooded the small fishing towns, and the “Noordzee”, (North Sea), the sea that connects the Dutch with all the Scandinavian countries North of here. The tjalk is about 50 feet long, and sleeps ten plus crew. The large sails will be hoisted today as we will sail out on the big body of water of the IJselmeer. We have been rowing two wherries through canals, small rivers, across lakes from one picturesque town to another. As experienced crew, used to racing skulls, this is kindergarten rowing all over again, or as one of the members of our group said, I’m learning to scull a rowboat. And it is, the wherries are wide and stable, which we have found is a blessing when we cross bigger waters, like we did yesterday. A stiff wind whipped up the water and our wherry rocked like a bath tub. We learned to use our starboard and port hand independently to tame the different wave action on each side of the boat. In the too narrow canals we are getting quite adapt to “slipping” the oars and glide under bridges, often laying down flat in the boat, so as to not hit our heads. A long narrow water way required “top half” sculling with tiny strokes to make progress, because there wasn’t enough room for the oars. Meanwhile the cox kept the wherry on the straight and narrow, literally. As rowers we are learning new skills, as people we’re growing new synapses in our brain. Our oldest member who has serious trouble sleeping when at home, is sleeping like a baby, because her brain is so stimulated all day with new sights, language, maps, and activity all day. Or is it the Dutch air?
Moving about water from place to place is not a hike along a trail in the wilderness and yet, the elements of moving forward, scouting, dependence on weather for making progress, using the body, i.e. rowing to move, and the immersion in nature 24-7, make this water travel just as transformational. Our first day looked miserable, with 15 hours of rain and a wind force of 13 ml/hr predicted, but we got out, learned how to use the boats, and rowed, in rain gear we had pulled together, to the next town. It wasn’t a pleasure row, it was a buckle down, manage the difficulties and get there row, as some days on the trail can be, with the glow of triumph and toughness, trembling through our bodies afterward. Talk of growing confidence! The warming spicy Jouertse jenever (gin) after, helped a bit of course. The sunny second day is all the more sweet after such an experience. It’s the contrasts that wake us up to ourselves, rousing our sleeping competencies from the comfort of home living.
It’s a risk taking nine people on a trek like this, not everyone is cut out for the “trail”. So far everyone is smiling. Try eating raw fresh caught salted herring with ice-cream on the side, as one of the members ventured to do. That’ll wake up your senses!