We are at the big rivers from Holland, something very different than the canals of the UK. While looking over the rivers at the new boats old memories pass by. After a dig in the old photo books i found pictures of how it once was, it was hard work and bitter work.
Many boats didn’t have an engine they would get towed by a tug over the rivers. When the rivers were frozen, all boats were towed by an icebreaker. Here they go under the bridge at Zwijndrecht.
My father, mother, uncles and aunts were on the rivers, it was a special life. You lived and worked on the boat, on the back of the boat was the home of the skipper and family and on the front was the home of the matroos. Some had no matroos there the family worked, meaning often that wife and husband worked as a team. Us children where on the boat until we reached school age than the authorities came and took the kids into a special intern school. These schippersinternaat where not always that wonderful and my mum had some bad experience, so our kids went with my mum on the land. Yet every school holiday we went on the boat and many weekends as well.
The Alvracht 3 was the first boat my father was schipper on i can remember it well. Most of my memories were from the Alvracht 15. One of the first boats with a double engine and double propeller. We were fast but so went the time on the rivers first the boats without an engine disappeared than the more smaller boats. The time for the ‘particulier’ (private owned boats) became hard, jobs were taken by the companies. The Alvracht was one of them companies they owned the boats but the families would stay on the boats, it worked the same as the particulier.
Not anymore at the end of my fathers career we no longer could stay on the boat in our holidays and that broke our hearts. As boaters you had to work through the nights to make the deadline and them deadlines became closer and closer meaning you had to cruise through the nights it became a 24 hour job. The competition became hard when more and more companies moved in.
The duwbakken came in, these are boats ( square ugly tanks) pushed by a boat again a square thing with very powerful engines. The Alvracht 15 worked for a short time as a push boat the front would fit into an other boat making her capacity double, however this did not last long. The old girl is now long gone but my memories will stay.
These days you see big boats very big boats on the rivers many loaded with the containers as the market moved on. They work continu dienst (continuous) 24 hours 7 days one shift sleeps the other works, no family on board anymore. Yet it pleases me to tell that the particulier did survive and there are still smaller boats on the rivers going to places that the larger boats can not get to. They still work as a family team while one sleeps the other works. The woman are equal different yes but equal their work was just as much respected as that of a man, they have to, the work can not be done without the woman. They earn the money together making them compatible and their earnings go further as their work is their home, thinking about the housing market.
There are still boats on the rivers the size of the Alvracht 15. When i see them going pass i remember all the good times all them moments but most of all the way of life. This way of life was not always respected but that is a story for an other time, for now i am back at the rivers. I end here with a poem which i wrote for my parents when they were 40 years married they gave me many good memories on the boats.
Herinnering aan puur geluk
Het geklots van water wordt even verstoort door geroep
de kooi is klein, maar warm, maar zo veilig
De stilte wordt weg gevaagd door zwaar geronk
de motor is gestart
langzaam gaat het zwaar gebrom over in een eentonig gerommel
Als je dan je hoofd tegen de hout muur houd, trilt heel je lichaam mee op het gerommel
je stem verandert in een vreemd getril
Kort erna het geplof van touwen
de motor klinkt zwaar voor de eerste afzet
de schroeven verschuren het water
je hoort het roer draaien op de roef
door het raam zie je de balken van de bolders overgaan in de gevel kade
het geklots wordt nu harder en de motor komt weer tot rustig gerommel
de wal beweegt langzaam aan je voorbij