Dave the motorhome is nervously edged into the corner of a sandy car park looking our over Nordzee joining the North Sea (N52.46905 E4.57323). Town-sized oil tankers fill our windscreen, moving surprising quickly. We passed ‘No Overnight Camping’ signs on the way here, we think (they were in Dutch) so we may get shifted, along with our Belgian neighbour.
Last night a security guard collected our €10. Ju asked about some banging tunes coming from the town and he mistook our interest for fear. ‘It finishes at 9, and I walk until 3am, and navy guards walk all night’. Cool, a small army protected us and we slept like children.
This morning we had time to kill. Waiting for the museum to open at 12, we walked Charlie, wrote a bit more book, ate breakfast and chatted. On the chime of midday, we were in, €6 a piece handed over and commenced a nautical odyssey, if a building-based one.
The museum was a wonder. Five hours later we walked out just as the doors were being locked, having taken a short mid-match breather in Dave to feed Charlie and ourselves.
The place starts staid, intricate models, stodgy texts and swords tell of Dutch naval history, which seemed to mainly consist of fighting England. ‘United Kingdom’ threw us a few times, the Netherlands also being a United Kingdom. The signage also seemed to have a common theme: ‘hey, we had no money for a decent navy, but we had one anyway’.
Outside in the fresh air, the fun started. We were stood atop the 1966 Cold War era Tonijn submarine, all 1 million kilos of it. Get in! Inside felt surprisingly spacious, until we though about a crew of 60 odd in there. Two ex submariners are inside, they spoke English, one pointing out which of the fold down beds was his. We mucked around with the periscopes (there are two, one with two eye lenses for navigation and one for a single eye for attack). The food, which they described as ‘something you’d never get’ lasted 7.5 weeks then they needed a ship or dock to stock up. They’d both been to Glasgow and Edinburgh, preferring the former for its Chinese food ‘hmmm, spare ribs’.
Next up, a minesweeper (they lay them too; seems they can’t make their minds up) floats in the adjacent harbour. This one, Abraham Crijnssen, is special for one reason. When the Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies in WW2, the boat was stationed there. Not fancying handing his boat and crew over, the skipper had other ideas. Crazily (did they have relaxed drug laws back then?), he camouflaged the boat as a tropical island, using nearby foliage. During the day he anchored off the nearest island, and crept along at night. Refreshing the branches a few times, they managed to sneak off to Australia! On deck a couple of actors hilariously ponced about telling the story, interjecting a few English words just for us.
We tried to do a half job on the Schorpioen floating next to it, a whacking huge iron monster of a ramming ship. Apart from the leather seats and bath tub captain’s quarter opulence, the interesting fact here is the ship was once surrounded by hundreds of meters of barbed wire. Serving as the head quarters of the women’s branch of the Dutch Navy, the spiky metal was deemed necessary to fend off unwanted suitors! Our attempt to wander off was spotted by an over zealous official who busily waved us back on.
Finally escaping, we took in a quick tour of Kojak, the bulbous shiny grey head which held massive gubbins for a state of the art 3D radar dish. The thing span round 20 times a minute causing a force 7 wind inside. As we popped out heads inside, a fan, some vibrating floor, flashing lights and bouncing speakers created a great atmosphere.
What? There’s more? By this point flagging, the museum to the dock itself got short shrift. By far the most interesting bit for me was the exhibition on Somalia and their pirates. The Dutch navy, no longer needed for Cold War duty, now concentrates on peace missions (Bosnia and Kosovo) and obviously play a big anti-piracy part. Captured shot-up sniffs lie about with a load of information on the reasons for piracy (failed state, desperate people, enormous ransoms), tactics and efforts to halt them. One poster tells how the pirates aren’t choosy about targets, attacking a German Navy supply ship and Dutch frigate in 2010, both times being nabbed. Oops.
Once we’d finally finished at the museum we drove here. Our ‘All the Aires’ book said it was an official parking place but was written 3 years ago. Since then signs have gone up. Ah well, it’s 9pm now and the lighthouse opposite is blinking. The small hill of WW2 bunker has disappeared into the grey and a thousand other lights shine out. Maybe we won’t get shifted, fingers crossed.