Sunday, November 22, 2009


Entering the Black Sea


How many more trips can I make and see the sunset going down on beautiful beaches?
With how many more trips can I see the rain showers coming towards me and hitting COBBER with a sound like ‘knocking on heavens door’?
Two questions I can never answer. If time will come I have to accept and live my life without the clear blue sky. Instead a cloudy mist will take over….The Foggy Dew will appear and never go away again.
Those two questions lead me to paddle to Moldova. And that was before all the dark days will appear…

The first month of the trip was cold and the weather was harsh.Going upstream and passing by 70 locks did ask most of my material and physical condition. But as temperatures rise I started to feel more comfortable: The rhythm of the blades, the wind whispering…COBBER enjoying the scenery.

Saltwater again
It was the beginning of August when I arrived in Tulcea, in Romania. Tulcea is the starting point to go into the Donau Delta, the largest water lands from Europe. It took me four months to reach Tulcea and I did enjoy the different landscapes and cultures along the way. Passing by numerous countries through the heart of Europe. It was time to see some wide open space again: The Black Sea was only a few paddle strokes away…Yopie…!

I headed for Sulina after saying good bye to my friends from the Polica de Frontera in Tulcea.
Brathul Sulina is the water-highway of the Donau Delta. Motorboats and catamarans loaded with tourists and fishermen were passing by in high speed. A vessel from Istanbul was slowly overtaking. It took me the whole day to come to Sulina, the last port from Romania. Half way of the day I stopped in a little village called Gorgova and eat for the second time in my life sweetwater fish. It was sandy and overcooked with a lot of bones. Not my kind of fish. The taste was still in my mouth even many hours afterwards. Terrible!
But this time no fisherman to save me with his home made Vodka.

Basalt blocks were on both sides of the river and it was boring. The kilometers signs were replaced by mile signs. And an empty vessel was coming towards me, this would be the last one today, I thought. The weather was comfortable and in the early evening I arrived in Sulina. I was looking for the border police station, but it was on the other side of the river and not in Sulina town. Stray dogs were welcoming me and El Capitano said I can camp on the premises. An old factory, decayed houses and numerous rusty cranes were accompanying me. That was one of the last nights on Romanian soil. As always the border police officers were friendly and accommodating. They have been a great help along the Donau. And since they are part of the EU, the old canon boats were replaced by top gear equipment.

The next morning I had a day off and prepare myself for the Black Sea. I passed by the Sulina Port Authority and asked them for help for a weather forecast. After asking many persons I was finally led to a stair where a woman was welcoming me. On the wall was a
Fred Flintstone VHF with crackling disturbing noise.
The language barrier was as always around and making myself clear was easy from my side. The lady on the other side was speaking not much English, or nothing at all. I had to look for an alternative to get information. Internet cafés do not yet exist in this remote town and after half an hour discussion I gave up.
I decided to ask the team in Holland to update me by SMS for the weather forecast.
The rest of the day I relaxed on the Boulevard and bought my latest supplies. Horse drawn carts and dusty back roads make you go into time again. In the evening little boats arrived with loads full of melon and the whole town was buying. Including me!

The next morning I had to report at the Pilot boat and get a stamp for exiting the EU. It took ages before they let me go. For most kayakers Sulina means the end of their Journey: the last port of the Danube River. For me it was just a stop-over and have to go North to Moldova. For this I had to pass by the Ukrainian coastline that took me to the river Dnjester.

Mind the gap
I paddled for a while along the pier to find a gap. There must be a gap on the portside so I can make a shortcut and do not have to paddle all up to the lighthouse at the end of the pier. Just after an anchored vessel is the gap. Here I carried COBBER over the stones and had a look into the unknown.
I found my way and then the Black Sea was revealing itself to me.
For four months I have been paddling on rivers and again on saltwater. I felt good. No more forests or towns but a wide open sea. All I wanted at that moment.

The wind was N/NE3 and I paddled through vast fields of lilies. Now and then they wanted to keep the paddle but it saved me from a wet exit. The water was brown and with a light scent of salt. It was quiet and half a mile away a little fishing boat was passing by. Wow!
After a while I left the bay behind me and the lighthouse was slowly fading away. Little sandbanks appeared and the water was getting choppy now and then. Although there was nothing to worry about tide, the rivers spitted out large quantities of water and with the wind coming from the North it gave some "strange" patterns. I paddled in the brown surf and decided to go a little further off the coast: Chocolate with a head of yellow cream.
There I found a nice large swell. Wind was increasing and it got colder. Once around the cape I had to work hard to keep up the pace.

Welcome to the Ukraine!
After a while it was time for a break and I went to the coast. The wind was increasing and the surf was long, very long. It took a while before I had Ukrainian soil under my feet. I celebrated with traditional Hungarian salami as lunch. Welcome to the Ukraine, I said to myself.
It was becoming colder and I put on my anorak, off we went again. The afternoon took away all my energy. I had to Paddle to the Metal to make some progress. Seagulls were passing by and played in the wind. I had to think about "The Lonesome Boatman" from Davey Arthur and The Fureys. Are there also war pipes in the Ukraine?

Then I heard the sound of an engine behind me. Two people were passing by in a motorboat and wanted to know where I am going and where I am sleeping. Question one I can tell, question two I never tell…Snoops around at night I never like! According to them it was protected area. Derzavnayj Zapovednyk.
Then I told them I am on the way to Moldova, a big smile appears on their face and they wish me good luck. Crazy Dutchman!
The rest of the day I was alone and in a far distance I saw a ship. It was heading to Odessa or further way to Jevpatorya? Who knows?
The horizon was first a stripe and then it changed into a forest and later on trees that transformed into branches and a beach. I had enough, I stopped. It was cold and I felt tired.
It was a tough day, that first day on the Black Sea. But I felt satisfied. The mud in my veins will be replaced by salt again, I was thinking.
Paddling at sea was different from being on a lake or a river.
My thoughts were changing again. You have to be more concentrated and alert. I love it:
“My camp will be near the dunes and don't know what to expect tonight?? Soldiers or will there be some smugglers around: Vessels full with illegal vodka finding their way in to the EU…”

Dawn was early coming and I was out of my tent before sunset. The wind was still sleeping and the sea was tranquil. “This is the beginning of a perfect day,” I thought.
Last night I made a decision. If the wind will be strong I will register in Prymorske, otherwise I will cross 15 miles to South Saheny. But first breakfast: A cup of tea, bread, salami and smoked cheese were my starters. The cheese was from goats and smells like it has been on the Barbie. The bread was nice the first day, the second day it was getting dry and the third day it all fell apart. The kayak was full of crumbs. But it kept you going.
I packed and started paddling North again. As expected, the wind was not leaving me alone and Prymorske will be my destination.
After a few hours a shipwreck was having my attention and time for a break. I could not see her name anymore, all rust and beaten up by the waves. Now I just have to go around the cape and paddle westward for a while and then I will arrive and register.
No problem…..

When wrong comes right and right comes wrong
After my break it was only two hours more. Suddenly the brown color of the water was replaced by blue water. No more mud and dirty water from the rivers. The Black Blue Sea.
Upon arrival I am surprised to see so many people. Prymorske is only a spot on the map but the beach looks like a colony of ants. Many Ukrainian and Russian people are coming here to spend the holidays. Natasha and Nikita were getting a suntan, while a woman with one tooth was clapping her hands.
Many people….and nobody spoke English.
Before I started with my trip we made translations in every country COBBER and I would pass by. Explaining why I do this trip and my motivation. In a few minutes there are a dozen of people around me: shaking hands, giving advice and offering a shot….all in the Russian language.

The translation helped a little bit and two Moldovan people came to me and spoke some German. They helped me to a camping and I got permission from the owner to stay there for the night and register at the border police.
Then suddenly things changed quickly and the two people were told to go off. I still said to them; "We will have a drink tonight…”
Police appeared and I had to leave COBBER behind. Still a minute was reserved to change my clothes. I was directed into a LARO (Russian landrover) and armed guards were sitting beside and behind me. No possibility to escape.
We were going to a caserne and told I was arrested, for being illegal in the Ukraine.
I protested and said I just wanted to register….the coming hours were spent with explaining, not agreeing and signing protocols. A poor speaking German translator was trying to do his best although he was not objective. When I wanted to go to the Lou, I had to leave the door open and armed guards were enjoying the smell. Just call it Dutch Comfort.

They had to explain everything ten times and I can not agree with the plan to repatriate me back to Romania. I had to act stubborn: In order to continue my trip. Hours were passing by and they told me I would be prosecuted.
That same night I had to appear in court. The judge was having a good mood:
I got an oral warning and had to leave the country within 24 hours. No fine and no Siberia! Lucky me.

COBBER goes hitchhiking
The next morning I was on the way to the border. The original plan was to let me go back to Romania, meaning I would be further and further away from the original trip. They agreed I could go to the Ukraine/Moldovan border Bohlrad.
Bye bye Ukraine
A kayak in the hinterlands: people were scratching their heads when they saw me. All they can say: Baidarka, the English word for Kayak.
At the border I was lucky to meet some people from a border assistance team from the EU. They gave me good advice and a couple of bob to buy a dinner. Frank, the one from Germany said: Travelers are a special breed and a little bit crazy. I nod my head. How right he can be.
I did get a stamp and turned around towards the Ukraine again. A guard was annoying me for over two hours, always repeating: “Gave me money, gave me money”. Meaning he wants money, a tip. After two hours I gave in and gave him a small Euro bill: I got a chair and a bottle of water and a shed of his cabin. The next hours he said: “You’re a good man, you’re a good man, sweating in the sun”. While I enjoyed the privilege of his shed, money talked and repeated as well. I called him the Ukrainian Parrot.
Then I had to wait for a lift from a truck. The first one I refused. He wanted to tie COBBER under the truck, but I feared for all the pebbles on the road. I didn’t want the kayak to be a strainer. After five hours there was another possibility. Not knowing where to put the kayak with this truckload full of scrap. So soon I was told. He had to go into a cylinder. Strange things were happening in the Ukraine!
Not knowing where I would end up, I took the ride and spent two days with COBBER and a Moldovan trucker on the Southern "Pothole Highways" from the Ukraine. Yee Haah!
With hands and feet we communicated and we had a lot of fun. We shared the meals with fresh cucumber and tomatoes and the always appearing melons along the road. Yummy Yummy.
He dropped me on a highway and I ended up in Bolhorod-Dnistrovskyj. This place is also known as Akkerman. The waters of Kyllyman. Turks, Mongols and many more have been here ruling for periods of time. The white fort is a silent witness, where blood was coloring the Black Sea. I met with a sailor who spoke fluent English and the coming two days I was part of the Akkerman Gang. They have tattoos from their hometown on their arms and acted as bodyguard. We spent hour after hour with talking, fishing and drinking. Ukrainian hospitality!
This water of Kylluman is connected with the Black Sea and a day paddle from my last part of the journey: Dnjester river, or Nistro as the locals call it.
So I was back on the track. I crossed to the other side towards Ovidiopol and am surprised to see a boy with big table tennis bats paddling a big inner tube from a truck…a mile of the coast. Crazy Ukrainians!

As my truck driver said: Ukraine, Always Problem!
I agreed. When I was already paddling upstream the river Dnjester the border with Moldova was closed. Soldiers were telling me full of aggression: I had to go away.
I don't give up. But it's useless. Again I had to paddle back to Hellyman, passing Crosna Cosa and then took another route over the road where I passed by the Starokozace border. Trucks, cars and a tractor did take me back in the right direction. The Grande Final would begin.

The weeks before heavy flooding did strike in Romania and Moldova. Also the river Dnjester was infested. Houses were swept away and vast areas of land had been and were still under water. Dikes were raised to protect towns from the flooding. And I had to go upstream…
The last part of my trip was the hardest. The river was stinking and smelling like a sewer, mud all over and the mosquitoes were whole day around: Moldovan Midges, related to the one from Scotland, only with a Russian Mentality.
The last day I paddled 21 hours in a row to get rid of the terrible surroundings. I made it, after almost five months and over 4000 km of paddling.
My slogan was: Two faces, a world of difference.
I did ask attention and raised money for the SmilesforMoldova foundation. We raised almost 30000 euro to help people with Maxillofacial Prosthetics in Chisineau, the capital of Moldova.
Later on I found out that one of my favorite artists died when I was on the way…
Ronnie Drew from "the oldest boy band in the World", the Dubliners passed away. How many times did I sing his song while paddling towards Moldova?
Don't give up till it's over
Don't quit if you can
The weight on your shoulder
Will make you a stronger man.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kayaking in the OL'days.

Well it's been ages since i wrote on this Blog. After coming back from Moldova a lot of changes took place in my life. Well some good, some bad. Kayaking is still the main part and since a few months i did add guitarlessons to it as well.

Anyway overhere (sorry, in Dutch) a artickle for our newsletter from the kayakclub. It's about the old days and the new modern days of kayaking.

Den ouden EGKV handboekh.

In den blauwdrukh vhan het opleijdingsboekh voor Kanovaarenden van AchthienAchtenderthig. beschreef men:
Men houde de peddel met den rechterhantdh onwrickbaer vasth, opdat men zo een vasdten handth nodigh heeft om voruith te vaahren. ……
Dit was de instructie die men ten tijde van de Jongens van WillemsZoon aanhield. De club heette destijds. Den Eersthen Groningher KanoVereeniging. En was gevestigd Aan den Randen van het Elsborger onland, oftewel de NoordWesthoek van het huidige Paterswoldse Meer. Zijn de tijden veranderd?
Reeds in die tijd wou men in clubverband peddelen en werd er op techniek geprobeerd te varen. Of zoals men zo mooi zei;

Zondag 16 augustus 2009 zal de boeken ingaan als de Tocht der Tochtjes. Maar liefst twee maal vijf kilometer zal moeten worden afgelegd.
Nicolien had hiervoor een nieuwe wing peddel aangeschaft, Bart had het neopreenpak aangetrokken en Allard had de handschoenen aan getrokken. Marlies had voor de zekerheid maar een zeekano meegenomen en Dinie had de pols reeds in het gips gezet om maar geen kraakpols op te lopen.
Robbert en Jörgen (dat ben ik) hadden de spatzeilen maar hoog opgetrokken, terwijl ik zelf mijn hoedje nog maar eens aansnoerde. Want nu moest het gebeuren. kortom een barre tocht bij 25 graden boven nul.

Na vertrek vanaf de Loods zat de TomTom achterin bij Robbert: Allard vertelde feilloos waar we heen moesten. Kijk daar kan een Plezante vrouw met Flaamsche Swoele Stem niet tegen op. Op naar Niehove. Hier werd in de haven eerst maar eens koffie met cake ingenomen om toch goed beslagen aan de tocht te beginnen.
Daarna te water in een metersdikke soep van groen en nog meer groen.
Nicolien gaat als de brandweer met haar nieuwe peddel en we moeten haar zo een halt toeroepen, anders komt er een versnelling in the nauwe planning van deze meermaal vijf kilometer buffelen. WE mogen de krachten niet meteen verspillen in den beginne.

Het waait hard maar we gaan ervoor. We komen langs Pamazielje en dan volgt een uitspraak van Bert……Met houde de peddelsteel onwrikbaar vast.
Marlies steigert en een vergadering voor de instructeurs is al bijna een feit: Wie heeft je dit geleerd???
Misschien was het oud Hollands of werd de instructie verkeerd geïnterpreteerd. maar we weten nu in elk geval dat een peddel met zoveel kracht vast houden met je rechterhand uit de boze is. Al laat Den oudhen EGKV handboekh anders sien.
Hierna blijkt het al beter te gaan en word de hand losser om de steel heen gedaan, we gaan als de wind.
Nu en dan kijken we even over het land en na nog even door doorbijten komen we op het Kommerzijlsterdiep. Hier gaan we onder de brug door en belanden in een wel heeel stil Kommerzijl. Een paar kinderen is het enige wat we horen. De plaatselijke kroeg is open maar toch ook weer dicht. Een kleine wandeling volgt en al gauw zijn we uitgewandeld. Kommerzijl lijkt ten dode opgeschreven, er staan de wereld huizen te koop. Ikzelf durf niet verder te lopen, zo meteen vallen we van de wereld af.
Terug maar weer naar Niehove. We hebben de wind in de rug en gaan als een speer. Al gauw hebben we de kerktoren al weer in het zicht en besluiten toch nog maar even pauze te houden. Even bijkomen van een monstertocht en de krachten verdelen voor dat het laatste stuk moet. We drijven snel met de wind de goed richting op. Marlies demonstreert nog een snelle sleep aan de voorboeg en zo komt de haven in zicht.. Wat een tocht: De voorbereiding is het halve werk, of was het meer-werk?

WE binden de boten op en gaan op verkenning bij het dorp. Appeltaart met Zahne hebben ze ook hier en al snel zitten we lekker op het terras. Daarna snel de kerk in om te biechten dat we hebben gezondigd aan alweer Appeltaart!
Daarna lopen we nog een eindje buiten het dorp en komen wat Quessant schapen tegen, half geit/half schaap lijkt het. Mooie beesten om te zien. Daarna gaan we nog even de ring van Niehove op. Dit terpdorp is een radiaaldorp, gebouwd op een verhoging, zodat men droge voeten hield bij opkomend water.

Daarna gaat het huiswaarts naar den Club. Waar men den Kanoos in den Loodshe neder zal leghen, zodath deze kan bekomen van wer eenh geslaagdhen togcht.
Is er veel veranderd over de jaren?? Waren de boten vroeger van hout, nu zijn ze van polyester. Een dikke wollen trui is nu een hightech millimeter dun sofsshell. De peddel houden we nog steeds vast…niet meer zo onwrickbaer maar nog steeds met vaste hand.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Moldova, the river Nistro

Recently I just did show you all some pictures from the trip from holland to Moldova. It took me five months to complete the 4000+Km trip across Europe. Finally I made it to Moldova, entering from the Black Sea and the waters known as Kyllyman.

The weeks before heavy flooding did attack Romania and Moldova. People lost their houses and cattle did drown. The last few hundred kilometers were terrible for me. I had to go upstream, while mud and Moldovan Midges were giving me a hard time.
The last day i had to paddle 21 hours in a row, to be in time for the deathline: so press and all the other people could welcome me.

But in the end there is the reward. In Voda lui voda I was welcomed by the staff from the hospital, TVcameras and a large crowd who welcomed me. I did ask attention for the SMILESFORMOLDOVA foundation. Passing over twelve countries we did have a lot of attention and we put the project in Chisineau on the map. Other parties are now also picking it up and the Maxillofacial Protetics Treatment Room will be realized with a lot of help. Thank you all for your support.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ukraine and Black Sea

After leaving the Danube, I ended up in the Black Sea, overhere i had to go North in order to reach my last part of the trip, de Dnjester river in Moldova.
The sea looked more like the Brown Sea and I did have some '"adventures" while in the Ukraine. I had been arrested, had to hitch-hike with my kayak for a few days through backcountry Ukraine and then final was back on the track, in Bilhorod-Dnjstovski. That's where I meet some locals. We spend two days with talking, walking, fishing drinking and more drinking.
The lads did give a me home-away-from-home feeling. Or call it Ukrainian Hospitality. And as the bottle did get more empty...we were able to communicate easier. Needless to say that the next day i needed a day off.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Donau too....Two

My fist night on Romanian soil. Moldova Veche.
Paddling the Kazane...the narrow part of the Dunaj
The Biggest dam from cost billions of Dollars but no money left for a kayak friendly jetty.

Sun is setting over Serbia, while camping on the Romanian side.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Donau..Duna, Danube, Dunaj

On the way to Moldova, I had to paddle over 2400 kilometer on the Donau. Passing many countries and different cultures.

The big dam right after Vienna, Austria

Budapest, Hungary by night.

The Kayakclub from Novi Sad, Serbia.

Spending the night on a houseboat just outside Novi Sad


Monday, December 8, 2008

Main and Main Donau canal.

On the way to Moldova, I had to go upstream the Main and Main-donau canal to reach the Donau.
Over 70 locks I did pass. Sometimes with help from the lockmaster and the lock. Later on i had to take the kayak out on my wheels and walk around. This last is very tiresome.
The lock with most difference in waterlevel was Erlangen, Germany.
Over 20 meters.
Take a break
COBBER had a fight with a boulder