Amsterdam diary: a birthday boat disaster

Dreams do come true. This week, No.1 was turning the ripe old age of 21; so, No.2 and I concocted a foolproof plan which involved conceding to No.1’s demands by renting the bloody boat. This task proved quite difficult – we told her we were taking her for a birthday dinner on Monday evening, when we were really taking her for a boat picnic, thinking the element of surprise would add to the overall excitement. However, there were a couple of occasions during the week leading up to the big day where we had to actually exert physical restraint to prevent No.1 from flouncing off and renting a paddle boat by herself because we were “unadventurous shites”.

The company we went with was called Canal Motor Boats – we didn’t choose them for any reason other than that they were the first result to show up on Google. The location on Google Maps seemed to be on the outskirts of the Jordaan;  so out of uncertainty, but mostly laziness, we got a taxi there from Dam Square which came to about a tenner. We justified this by assessing the route the taxi man took and concluding; “Ah sure you’d never walk this”, (even though you probably could). Despite the fact that the taxi left us at a harbour with absolutely no restaurants to be seen, No.1 remained unsuspicious. We let the cat out of the bag, unveiled what was once a raspberry cheesecake but now looked a squashed pigeon, and much crying, hugging etc. was done.

The exact location of the rental place was Zandhoek 10A. Whatever company you go with, I’d seriously recommend renting a boat. It is hands down, the best way to see the city. Instead of peering into the canals from the side of the road and seeing the steeples of a few churches popping out from behind an Albert Heijn, cruising along the canal makes everything seem so much bigger and grander – particularly after sundown when the lights along the bridges start to come on. I definitely indulged in a bit of Titanic whereby I stood at the front with my arms flung out – curiously enough, Leonardo DiCaprio was nowhere to be seen.

We rented the boat for just two hours due to the cost – although our stomachs thanked us for it afterwards. The first hour is 50, the second; 40, the third; 30 and then 20 euro per hour after that. The boats themselves would comfortably fit about eight people, and are really quite easy to manoeuvre. Despite the rental guy explaining the simplicity of steering; I somehow got lumbered as Admiral because I’m “the one with the driving licence.”

The rules of the canals are similar to the rules of the road in that you try your best to stay on the right-hand side, however after that it’s a dog-eat-dog environment. The guy warned us that the huge organised tour boats WILL NOT stop for you, regardless of whether you’re gunning straight for them. He gave us an old oar to bat away any potential collision partners. After a cautious first hour, cockiness got the better of us and we started eating, lighting cigarettes and not paying a huge amount of attention to any oncoming or surrounding water traffic. Needless to say, an accident ensued. However, I would like to point out that it was NOT my fault whether or not I was on tiller duty at the time.

So, the arches under the bridges are really tiny, and it’s not very easy to see far into the distance. The rental boats also travel at about a quarter of the pace of any of the other vessels. Chatting away, heading for the right-hand tunnel, as instructed, we see this enormous bully of a tourist transporter, stuffed to the rim with Chinese and American people flashing cameras wildly. We start to feel a bit uneasy and try to get out of the way. The boat is now about 15 seconds away and our little ship is a bit tired. We have a choice; full whack nose-on-nose crashing or a wallop against the wall. We choose the wall. It’s fine though, No.2 is assuming a battle stance at the front of the boat armed with the miserable little oar and holding it like a javelin. However, No.2 evidently over-estimated her strength. The wall shoves the oar right out of her hands, and she falls flat on her back, defeated. We smack the wall, of course. Myself and No.1 are incredibly distressed and also sprawled across the bottom of the motorboat. The enormous bully boat glides by and all of its occupants are laughing at us. We can presume that we will be starring in numerous Amsterdam photo albums around the globe and can probably expect some sort of postcard commercial deal in the near future.

Next time, we’re getting a bigger boat.

Follow Caoimhe's Amsterdam adventures here: @OConnellCaoimhe