German canals - bulletin four





Since our last communication, life on board 'Deneys Reitz' has been a kaleidoscope of whirlwind action. This episode starts with a fond farewell from the old friends of the Brohl Boot Club on the Rhine, with promises of a return as we whiz down that great river in September. On hearing of our possible return accompanied by the legendary “Peg-Leg” Hamilton, hopefully recovered from his broken ankle, Helmut, the chairman immediately set about putting in advanced orders with the brewery.

One of the most significant conversations of the long, noisy and finally oblivion-inducing Saturday evening spent with these delightful German piss-artists was a solemn discussion on matters of high moral import.

The conversation went thus:

Don: "What do you call the “stoff” in your sanitary 'arrangements'?"

Helmut: "Es gibt grauwasser, schwarzwasser und auch trinkwasser"

Don (pouncing) "Was machen sie mit ihre 'Schwarzwasser'?"

Helmut (looking uneasy) "Don, meiner lieber freund, villeich ein anderere bier, sie haben nur zwanzig getrunken; wenig fur ein Samstag nacht in der Brohl Bootclub"

A delicate problem resolved by yet another sanitary disaster

The problem is: - Germans are very careful with their environment - but they eat and drink an extraordinary amount - there are no pump-out arrangements at harbours on the Rhine - so where does it all go?

We have a pretty good idea, but nobody will say out loud and this leaves us with a great moral dilemma - do we:

- Exercise extraordinary self - control for more than thirty days?

- Buy a chemical toilet?

- Pump the whole bloody lot into the rivers and canals with gay and profuse abandon, assuming it will all end up in Holland, just like we suspect the Germans do? (NB: When we get to France, no problems, anyone who has spent a night gagging in the Port de Plaisance in Boulogne will know exactly what they do with their excreta!)


We were just about to consult with June Barnes, our retained Sanitary Sage and Expert on the Excision of Excreta, when the problem was taken from our hands, so to speak.

It happened like this:

Many people, including grandchildren have visited the boat. Some of them are closely related to Charlotte. Followers of this series will remember that Charlotte and her relatives have the potent capacity to block the mightiest of sanitary machines. Remember the damage wrought by her slim, attractive daughter Lucy, whose exploits are legion - not only did she stop up the boat for a whole day, but is rumoured to be a major benefactor of the “Dyno-rod” company at many of her places of work.

Back to the main point. Charlotte announced one evening that the bloody toilet was blocked again. Afficianados will remember that step one in rectifying the problem involves her going into the toilet wearing rubber gloves, closing the door and performing heroic acts too gruesome to mention. On this occasion, she emerged looking wan (not flushed, that's too much like a German joke) and announced that 'It hadn't worked'. Time for Don to move to Step Two, Dismantling the Toilet Pump.

This inevitably messy performance resulted in the usual flood of gruesome liquid, but on reassembly, the bloody thing was still blocked!

Time for desperate measures - time to dismantle the whole ding tooting toilet. This two person operation is too grisly to describe, even to case hardened consenting adults. Suffice it to say that Charlotte felt it necessary to remove most of her top garments to reduce the risk of widespread contamination.

Spanners and screwdrivers were applied with zeal, and finally the whole toilet was laid out in its constituent parts, together with several gallons of a hybrid liquid somewhere between schwarzwasser and grauwasser - let us call it braunwasser.


Still no sign of the blockage, which lay deep in the pipe between the toilet and the copious 'holding tank' in the bowels of the boat.

By this time we were losing our legendary cool. Then we remembered the several yards of stout plastic pipe stored in the bilges. Just the job! We would show the bloody toilet - stick a few yards of stiff pipe up it! So Totty knelt by the hole through which the toilet normally emptied itself into the tank and guided the tubing into the pipe, whilst BT pushed and heaved. After a couple of yards the tubing hit an immovable blockage. Nothing would shift it. BT (who by this time was approaching a state of uncontrollable rage) tried one last, desperate ploy. Blow down the tube. For just a moment it looked as though this move had worked. Then in one mighty explosion, there occurred an awesome example of the phenomenon known as 'Blowback'.

Decency dictates that we draw a veil over subsequent events, but we can report that BT is recovering with the aid of antibiotics. Suffice it to say that the toilet sits in disgrace reassembled in its compartment, sharing the space with a brand new Camping Gaz Platinum Mark Two Chemical Khasi, brought by car and train by BT's son Alasdair (Dr Harold Shipmate) and his wife Sarah.


Maybe, after all this emotion we will leave our incisive analysis of Germans and Germany to another time.


On the boating front, we have now progressed nearly as far as Strasbourg, covering approaching 1000 miles from Northern Denmark, through the German Baltic Sea to the magnificent Hanseatic city of Lubeck and thence through several canals to the mighty Rhine. After jousting with awe- inspiring barge trains and a current that reduced forward progress to a crawl, we turned into the luscious, curvaceous and viniferous Mosel, thus through Luxembourg (our question about this micro- state is Why?) and on to the French canal system at Nancy and the unexpected beauties of the Vosges mountains. Next comes Strasbourg and a dash down a large part of the navigable Rhine to Holland, where the boat will be left for the winter, hopefully not in pools of German schwarzwasser.

Petition from the old boat

The boat has passed us a formal petition, reminding us of its glorious heritage as a lifeboat, of the brave rescues it and its crew have performed; of the time it went into the Atlantic in a hurricane to rescue the crew of a sinking yacht in the disastrous Fastnet Race. In a voice cracking with emotion, it has spoken of the lift of the ocean swell at the harbour mouth and the lash of salty spray. Finally, it has pleaded with us to take it away from the company of plastic pleasure boats crawling in inland waterways and through subterranean tunnels. At this point the old engines, sobbing bitterly, have joined in the litany. "We cannot continue to go so slowly", they weep.

We have been mightily affected by all of this and have toyed with other routes to the Mediterranean next year.

Who's for joining us across the Bay of Biscay in 2006?

Yours aye.