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All aboard for a trip to Amsterdam

City breaks by self-drive boat are the latest way to see the Dutch city. Jason Burt played skipper

Our trip to Holland coincided with the release of the film The Boat That Rocked. Maybe our holiday should have been entitled "The Boat That Docked .... Eventually". Taking a 12-metre long, four-metre wide, seven-berth Pénichette houseboat for a week as complete nautical novices, with three excitable children, along the waterways of Amsterdam, seemed ambitious. It was.

Our craft was called the Delft. And on the Delft we were not very deft. Well, okay, I wasn't. My wife, Laura, took to the task like a duck to water. Once my pride was swallowed and once we had got to grips with what we were doing with locks, bridges and so on, it was plain sailing. Sort of.

We had arrived at our base, Loosdrecht, south of Amsterdam, late on Saturday – and went straight into a rescue mission. Another boat had got lost in the series of inter-connecting lakes and Jan, who was to show us the ropes, commandeered our vessel to guide it back home. It added a little drama and a little apprehension.

The next morning there seemed lots to digest, from how to get the boat going, operate the heating, make sure there was power, water and so on – to simply trying to tie and untie the right kind of knots to moor the vessel.

The Pénichette was impressively well-appointed. Specially designed to reduce the wash, it was comfortable, wide and each of the three double berths had an en-suite shower. The kitchen area was roomy. It felt luxurious.

We were given a week's route as part of our Captain's Handbook which involved cruising up to Amsterdam, down to Gouda and along to Utrecht before arriving back in Loosdrecht. Easy. Except we quickly calculated the number of locks (14) and lifting bridges (48), factored in how new we were and multiplied this by the number of children on board. It came to a big number. But we set off anyway and were determined to reach Amsterdam and see how we felt when we got there.

Within minutes we hit our first lock. Literally. Having offered our apologies, we somehow made out way through and started following the course of the river Vecht. It was picturesque. We spotted herons, moorhens, cormorants, and even a duck with a fish in its bill.

The first night we spent in Weesp, a small historic town, and prepared ourselves to try to reach Amsterdam the next day. That meant crossing the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal, the commercial waterway, and keeping an eye out for tankers, tugs and so on. Inevitably, we met one as we tried to squeeze our way through, but made it even if the adrenalin was pumping.

Feeling a bit more confident and given it was not the height of summer, we thought we'd try to get as near the heart of the city as possible. We surprised ourselves by making it to the Oosterdok, and after a little negotiation, with the help of a local fisherman, were allowed to stay in Museum Haven.

For the next two nights, we stayed in Amsterdam. The children loved it. We were soon wending our way through the city streets on hired bikes. The Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, and Vondelpark all provided important memories. Another to visit from this month is the newly opened Hermitage, a small dependence of the museum in St Petersburg.

By now we had abandoned the circular route and turned around to go back the way we came. It was with relief that we arrived at Loosdrecht. But we were a little sad. We'd got to grips with everything and a second week would have been brilliant. That's got to be a testimony to a good holiday.

Compact facts

How to get there

Jason Burt was a guest of Locaboat Holidays (0845 450 5229; locaboat.com), which offers a week on a Locaboat Penichette in Holland, for up to five people, from €1,323 (£1,127). Other destinations include France, Holland, Germany, Italy, Ireland, and Poland. Return train fares from London to Hilversum with Rail Europe start at £89 per person through Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; raileurope.co.uk).