WWII Concrete Barge Houseboat Renovation #5
Wrecking a houseboat (and your nerves)
After the complete makeover of the lower deck of our concrete barge, it was time to do the upper deck. The main question was: strip the existing walls and roof, or go all the way and tear the whole thing down. We chose the last option, and decided to go ‘full monty’ and demolish the upper floor without damaging the completely renovated lower floor. In this blog I’ll share some of the most nerve wrecking days of my life.
Looking back, the whole process of getting the renovation license was just a piece of cake. Ok, it took 9 months, 6 drafts and about 286 emails with the Building and housing supervisory service, but in the end our design got the stamp ‘Approved’. Having your houseboat actually demolished was the hard part. No pain, no gain. I know, but this whole event really pushed the limits.
On the morning of Demolishing Day the conditions were perfect: no wind and no rain. I felt pretty nervous though. Of course I knew the concrete barge floated well, but sailing in open water is a different story.
The concrete houseboat sails again
It had been over 60 years that she had sailed for the last time, ending up in the Eastern Docks of Amsterdam in 1953. Originally the ship was built to transport diesel from England to France after D-Day to supply the allied troops. In 1943, the year the boat was built, nobody ever thought that it would be used as a houseboat. Let alone that an Amsterdam artist would build a complete concrete building on top of the original hull. And let alone that some other Amsterdam dude (yes, that’s me) decided to have this 100.000 lbs construction removed again. So the ship was towed through the calm waters of Amsterdam to the demolition place. It turned out to be the calm before the storm.
Delicate brutal power
It started all very subtle, peeling of the roof layer for layer. First the roofing felt, then the insulation, beams and the stucco. All in an amazingly delicate way, but with the brutal power of a huge industrial excavator. No problems so far. But then the walls had to be broken down. And did I mention that we had just renovated the complete lower floor? The bedrooms fully furnished, the plush toys of our toddler laying defenceless in the cot when the battering began.
We need a bigger excavator…
The walls are thicker, stronger and heavier then anyone expected. They simply won’t let go of the concrete hull. The years of experience of the demolition team and the heavy equipment do not impress at all. The walls were still standing. A bigger excavator needs to be brought in. The metal beak of the gripper grasps the living room wall and starts tilting. No movement. The excavator shivers, the wall does not. The boat is pushed down by the enormous pressure that she has to endure. Finally something cracks and with a huge bang the wall collapses. For a moment we fear that the ceiling of the lower floor comes down. Pwew, the hull seems still to be intact.
Professional houseboat demolition
The following hours are nerve wrecking. Every time a piece of a wall comes down, I’m scared the lower floor might get damaged. But all goes well and the demolition men proof to be the professionals they claim to be. After a long, long day, the houseboat is 2,5 meters lower and about 50.000 kilo of concrete, wood and rubble are removed. She has come up about 50 centimetres and looks exactly how she must have looked when she was tugged from the UK to France after D-day.
In a strange way this was also a kind of little D-Day, luckily without any casualties. On the way back I feel kind of sorry for the hippie style building that was broken down. At the same time I can’t wait to start building our new home for my family. Sometimes you have to destroy something before you can rebuild something and start again. And sometimes that goes with a big bang…