- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
No major city has a handier ocean beach than The Hague's unpronounceable Scheveningen, a scant 10 minutes away. We sailed the Zomerzon within sight of the North Sea and parked her for the night. By night Scheveningen jumps, in a Dutch way of course, with Indonesian restaurants, European nightclubs and at least one jive joint presided over by an ample pianist named Pia Beck, also known as the Flying Duchess. By day the Dutch go down to the sea and change their clothes in bathhouses on wheels, held over from those prudish days when no nice Netherlander lady would appear in a bathing suit in front of males. The bathhouses were pulled out to the breakers where the girls could dunk without notice in the Noord Zee.
On a sunlit summer Sunday, Connelly and I sailed down to Delft, that decorous home of Delft porcelain and of William the Silent, and visited the place where mercenaries rendered William silent forever. Even a boat with a three-foot draft can't sail the shallow Delft canals, so we docked her at the entrance to town and strolled down the red brick, beech-shaded sidewalks of Oude Delft—streets made famous by Vermeer in his paintings. We crossed the red brick bridges with their white keystones and looked in at the courtyard of the Prinsenhof where Everyman, the Dutch predecessor of the Old English morality play, is played out of doors in summer. In an adjoining churchyard we had tea at gingham-covered tables spread on a grassy lawn. Geraniums decorated the lead-glass windows, and the leaning tower of the Oude Kerk rose on a slight bias in the mackerel sky.
We set a northward course towards Amsterdam, bought pungent sausage and smoked eel when we were held up at a sluice. Then in mid-canal we bartered with a vegetable barge, and when we tossed them American cigarets, a shower of cucumbers and tomatoes flew across the water and cascaded on the housing of the Zomerzon.
In the ebb of the sun we reached the Kager Plassen, a collection of lakes fringed with reeds and ducks and dotted hither and yon with green fields (called polders) reclaimed from the sea, where Guernseys grazed. The mills were still, the sun glinted gold and a farmer passed, rowing three sheep in a boat. Houseboats that are homes were tied up at the shoreline, youngsters played badminton on the polder and far across the meadow, because you couldn't see the river's path, it seemed that sailboats were slipping across the grassland. Our wake made black silver swells that were a roller coaster for the ducks but scarcely ruffled the dignity of a bosomy swan who followed with her brood. And behind them came an old bottar, a keel-less fishing barque with zwaarden (swords) on the gunwales to prevent her making leeway. And along the banks men had parked their motorbikes and sat on camp stools waiting for the eels to bite.
Cruising the rim of the giant Haarlemmermeer polder, we passed the flower market of Aalsmeer to starboard, and then to port, Holland's Schiphol Airport, which is part of the polder and probably the only airport in the world which sits 13 feet below the level of the sea. Adjoining Schiphol is the Aalsmeer "De Vlijt" shipyards, and so it is totally possible to land in Holland in something like 11 hours out of New York and be aboard your own chartered boat 10 minutes after leaving customs. About the most useful move is to write in advance to the Water Travel Dept., ANWB, 620 Keizersgracht, Amsterdam.
The Aalsmeer yards offer two 36-foot cruisers with skipper-attendant and room for six. The deck house is completely enclosed, and the skipper's quarters are forward, separated from the passengers. Two 37-foot cruisers are offered unattended by the Alkmaar shipyard of Nicolaas Witsen and Vis.
None of these cruisers will be able to manage all the bridges of complex Amsterdam, which we were forced to invade gingerly, with a dead engine, until we were sure the housing would slip under the low permanent spans. We were not, I hasten to add, able to go down all the watery avenues open to the flat-top, glass-capped, underslung, sightseeing boats of Amsterdam. But we did slip down the Gentlemen's Canal lined with its handsome consulates and shade trees and pulled up with what I thought was a great sense of regality at the wharf of the Hotel Europe. Done up in city clothes, we ascended to the hotel's glassed-in dining bay which hangs over the canal. Waiters in swallowtails brought dinner, and as we dined, the thousands of electric bulbs that line the Amsterdam canals in summer came on in a dizzying string of pearly light. As dessert was brought in, the moon came up over the rooftops. Looking down at the canal with the endless strings of bulbs reflected in the water, I could see the Zomerzon. Nestled against the wharf, bathed in moon-glow, she waited with the dignity of some floating Hispano-Suiza parked in front of Maxim's. I'll bet she never looked so good.