Friday, May 23, 2008

Sailing in the Netherlands

Highlights from sailing: speaking German with students, seeing some of the most beautiful villages and old brick houses, and being out on the sea in the sun

I just got back from a five-day sailing trip with twelfth-grade students from school. German schools are divided into classes, and usually older students go on class trips. They can choose where they go. I know some kids who are going to Barcelona, Prague, Rome....but the class which invited me to join them was going sailing in the Netherlands.

We left Friday around noon, drove about 7 hours north through Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands and arrived at the harbor (on the IJsselmeer, a huge dammed-off lake) in the evening. We got all our supplies onto the ship and had dinner.

The ship was called the Alliantie, and it had five sails (with a total surface area of 360m2), and was 38 by 6.3 meters. So a big ship. Our group was 21 students, three teachers (including me), the skipper and his wife (who stayed in the front in their cabin, never really had anything to do with us), and a mate (a young woman from Switzerland, who was in charge of telling us how to raise the sails, move the sails, take down the sails, clean the deck, etc.)

Even the first night while we stayed in the harbor I was really excited because the kids were a lot of fun and we just sat around talking, some students were playing the guitar and singing, some were playing cards or chess...and I brought the game Apples to Apples and we played that for a long time. It was just great.

Day One was pretty miserable and rainy. I don't have a lot of extra clothes here, so I had borrowed rubber boots and raincoats from other teachers, but I didn't have rainproof pants and I spent a lot of time warming up under deck. It was really cool to watch the students put up the sails and work together, but it was just too windy and wet to be much fun. I guess it's just a problem of not having the right clothes.

That evening we docked in a town called Enkhuizen, which was really beautiful. I had never been to the Netherlands and was really won over by their charming little villages. There was a jazz festival going on, and although it was still drizzling, I walked around for a while and looked at all the houses, got a pastry, some postcards and a cheese knife. (haha, that was my souvenir present for myself)

Sunday it had stopped raining and the sun came out. Although it was still pretty windy, I wasn't complaining. As long as I was dry I was happy. So most of us spent the time above deck, sitting wrapped up in the sun and enjoying being on the water. And it was beautiful.

That night we docked in Lemmer, and I'm running out of adjectives because all of these towns were just gorgeous and totally like something out of a fairy tale. We just don't have houses like this in the US!

Monday we sailed to Hoorn, where the Dutch East India Company had its seat. (And Cape Horn is named after this town in the Netherlands.)
By the way, I could not get over how crooked the houses were. They all looked like they were about to fall over! (The Netherlands is mostly below sea level, and they have made dikes and irrigation so that a lot of the land has been reclaimed from the sea). Below is me trying to stand as schief as the houses.

Every morning we had breakfast at 8:00, got up on deck around 9:30 to prepare the sails, and usually left the harbor around 10:00 am. We would sail until around 3:00 to 5:00 pm and then dock in the harbor. Then we could shower, walk around town, there was always a crew of students who made dinner and then washed the dishes and everything, and then at night we could walk back into town. I went out with the teachers. The students would get a crate of Heineken every night, but there really weren't drinking problems and they were really good students.

For me this trip was not only a chance to see a totally new place and some really beautiful villages, but my favorite aspect was probably spending so much time with students. I don't really know any of the students at my school well, and especially not any of the older students, so it was nice to spend so much time talking to them.

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