Heleen de Coninck lives on the water: ‘This boat just showed up on Funda’

27 Feb 2020

Climate scientist Heleen de Coninck (43) lives on a house boat in the Ooijpolder with her husband and daughter (3). She's not planning to leave any time soon, even though she now works four days a week as a Professor in Eindhoven.

‘To be honest my husband and I weren’t really into boats – we didn’t even have a sailing license. But we did want to live outside the city. We found this boat by accident, it just showed up on Funda. It’s in an ideal location, only 15 minutes cycling from the city. Especially in winter, I feel such a calm settle over me as I cycle over the Ooij. Sometimes, we see kingfishers right outside our window. It’s so different from the small Amsterdam apartment we used to live in. We’re not planning to leave any time soon, even though I now work four days a week as a Professor in Eindhoven.’

‘To be honest my husband and I weren’t really into boats – we didn’t even have a sailing license’

‘Our boat is a 1928 inland barge from Veendam; it was used to transport grain, among other things. Now the hold is our living room and kitchen. The hold – behind the wheelhouse – is our bedroom, and our daughter’s bedroom is at the front. It was a really difficult job to get it all to fit: there isn’t a single straight corner on board. We were lucky to find a good carpenter who could deliver custom-work, like those angled plates against the inner wall – they really emphasise the boat’s shape.’

Living space

‘Altogether, we have approximately 90 m2 of living space. It’s enough for us, especially since we have an additional 1100 m2, the plot of land where the boat is moored. There’s even a small bicycle shed.’

‘We try to live as sustainably as possible. We have solar panels and a solar boiler. We heat the rooms with a pellet stove, which is better than the wooden stoves on most house boats. Our bathroom is connected to the sewage system on shore, and our electricity also comes from the shore.’

Rhythm

‘The nice thing about living on the river is that you live in rhythm with the water level. This makes you very aware of how changeable the natural environment is. At the moment, the water level is quite low – the boat wouldn’t even be able to sail out of the side channel of the Waal, where we are moored. The gangway from the shore now slopes so steeply down, I think the incline may be as much as five metres. And the view is quite limited at the moment – we can’t even see over the dikes.’

‘It was very different during the floods two years ago. Then only a tiny slice of dike separated us from the Waal. We need floods now and then, because the boat has to be inspected every seven years, for insurance reasons. This means it has to be taken to a boatyard in the Maas-Waal Canal. Towed, actually, since the engine hasn’t been switched on in forty years. When we bought it, we had the bottom completely replaced, which took two weeks.’

‘We then found out we had a problem: the water level had dropped so much that the boat didn’t fit into our small side channel any more. So we were moored for six months in the Waalhaven near the Honig factory, among the real skippers.’

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