Andries Jacob Print E-mail
Monday, 24 January 2005
 

The origins of hoogaarzen are obscure. The shape is not typical of nearby regions of the Flemish and Dutch coasts – where bows were round, even bluff – and ancient drawings of small Zeeland boats also depict well rounded bows. The earliest evidence of a hoogaars like vessel, in this region, is Erhard Reeuwichs famous woodcut of 1515, which shows a sharp stemmed vessel, anchored near Antwerp’s fish market. The first known painting of a hoogaars, by Ghent artist Jan Porcellis (1584 – 1632), is in the Greenwich Maritime museum and the name (hoochaers) is first mentioned in documents in the early part of the 17th century.

Less than 100 years ago, Zeeland’s fishing fleet included around 800 wooden hoogaarzen. Just one of that fleet – Andries Jacob – escaped destruction or conversion to hoogaarsjacht.

Andries Jacob

New sail plan. Drawn by author and historian J van Beylen

All the early hoogaarzen had spritsails, but not the elegant lofty rig that we are now used to seeing on Thames barges, for the long spriet and flat topsail head is more reminiscent of the rig of a mid-19th century ‘stackie’ barge. In light airs an additional triangular sail, called a gatzeil, was sometimes hoisted, behind the mainsail – this was boomed, but not laces on. The bezaan rig, with its short, curved gaff, was introduced in the middle of the 19th century – probably in Flemish Zeeland. From then on it rapidly gained popularity until, by the turn of the century, around 5 gaff rig hoogaars were being built for every spritsail version. The only exception was Arnemuiden, where fishermen still opted for either rig, in roughly equal numbers.

Hoogaarzen are very distinctive. You might get your botters and boeiraaks mixed up, but there’s no way you would confuse a hoogaars with either. In fact, they are so distinctive that, on first acquaintance, they all look the same but, as you get to know them, you begin to detect definite differences between boats from one part of Zeeland and another, and more subtle variations in individual boats.

Line drawing of Tholense hoogaars — J VAN BEYLEN

Leaving aside jachthoogaarzen, for that is an altogether different story, there were two basic types:- Arnemuiden and Tholense hoogaarzen. On boats built at Arnemuiden, the features that made hoogaarzen so distinctive were most exaggerated. They had a very high bow and pronounced tumblehome and, towards the stern, the tumblehome plank curved to form an S-shape. The bottom planks came almost to a point, at the stern and side planking swept sharply upwards into the sternpost. Another Arnemuiden feature was a very shallow draft, which was at its maximum – around 60 cms – just forward of the mast and tapered to a mere 20 cms at the stern. The idea was if you struck a sandbank only the front section would be fast, thus making it easier to get off. Hence the name hoogaars – high arse.

Whenever an Arnemuiden boat was lost in a storm the spritsail rig was almost invariably blamed, on the grounds that – even when brailed – it had so much top windage that the boat was knocked over. I can’t help feeling that the rig may have been unjustifiably castigated, for everything about the Arnemuiden design points to too little buoyancy and resistance. In other words a recipe for a boat, which would easily broach.

With their more balanced draft, less pronounced sheer and fuller stern, it has been said that Tholense hoogaarzen were “not so dry, but more seaworthy and more handsome” but one can’t really generalise quite like that. Buying a boat was a matter for serious discussion, between purchaser and builder, and prospective owners often made their own stipulations, which influenced the final form.

Dirk van Duivendijk took over Tholen’s small shipyard, in 1871. Its brood und boter was repair work but – as a safeguard against unemployment and also as a matter of pride – the yard built boats. By the time his son, Melis, took over, 35 years later, Dirk van Duivendijk had overseen the production of almost 100 vessels. The vast majority were hoogaarzen – or Duiveland platen as they were usually called in that part of Zeeland.

In 1905, van Duivendijk started work on one of his larger platen – a boat of 14.5 metres long. There is doubt about who ordered this boat for the first recorded name, on its official fishing registration, is J.F. de Waal, but there is consensus that the first person to use it was Veere fisherman, Jan de Bliek, listed second on that document. Perhaps that was a clerical error, or maybe de Waal ordered the boat but did not complete the purchase.

In those days, every fisherman had his doosje – a little box in which he kept ‘the boats’s share’ of the catch. Only he could open it, for the contents were to be kept for hull repairs or new sails and any surplus was to be hoarded, against the day when a new boat was needed. That was the theory, the practice was somewhat different! One ex-fisherman’s wife could not recall ever seeing much in the doosje for, as she said, every year you could count on some trouble – an outbreak of influenza, a man drowned in a violent storm, or a desperately hard winter. Often, by the time a crisis was over, not a cent of the boat’s share was left for ‘you couldn’t let the boat keep the money when you’d a dozen children needing food and cloths’.

Around the turn of the century, a hoogaars cost about 100 guilders per metre length, excluding sails. If a fisherman had managed to raise a third of the money – by selling, or trading in, his old boat – he could go to a yard, which gave credit, make a down payment and live from hand to mouth until the new boat was ready and he began earning again. Others took out loans to finance the whole purchase and, as few banks would lend to fishermen, they went to rich merchants and shop keepers, who became richer still by lending at 2, or 3% over bank rates. This extra outgoing was hard to support and, until the white top mast – sign of a mortgaged vessel – was repainted black, every new owner lived with the spectre of repossession and forced sale.

Hoogaarzen were invariably oak an oak and the first step in a build was to make up the flat bottom from oak planks. Most yards used planks of 2 to 2.5 thumbs thick, but locals say the ‘van Duivendijk built heavy’ – 2.5 to 2.75 thumbs was his norm and often the middle, or keel plank, was over 3 thumbs. Next, stern and stern posts were attached to the bottom and then the really skilled part began. (Until comparatively recently, many Zeelanders used foet and duims, corresponding to English feet and inches, rather than the metric system.)

Another reason that no two hoogaars where alike – nor even exactly symmetrical – is the fact that the shape was governed by the curving of the two lower side planks and that was done by hand and eye. The planks were not steamed, but heated over blazing twigs before being fixed in place. Once the 2 thumb thick lower planks were attached, the remaining thinner planks (1.5 thumbs), were assembled – up to the tumblehome – each plank overlapping the lower one and attached to it by Danish iron nails. The bottom was caulked with hemp but sphagnum moss was used to seal between the side planks and between stem and planking. The resulting shell was very strong even before the massive knees and beams were fastened to the outer planking with wooden nails. Every boatyard kept discarded oak casks in a dry place and used these to make the nails, which were driven in with a heavy sledge hammer.

 

Boatbuilding was hard work, but it was a surer way of earning a living than fishing.

Duivendijk’s men worked in the open and his grandson remembers that, even after the first World War, he had to put in a 12 hour day, 6 days a week. In winter, darkness decreed that his work in the yard ended a little earlier, but that didn’t mean an evening of relaxation – winter was the time to learn boat building skills at evening school. It took about six months to build a hoogaars, with two men working on it full time and others helping out when there was less repair work than usual. Finished boats had to be hauled up the steep dyke and slid down the other side into the harbour and, it was there that Duivendijk’s latest build was christened Vrouwe Anthonie (VE 13)

Vrouwe Anthonie was originally destined to be a shrimper and many fisher folk will tell you that, among a host of hard ways to earn a living at sea, shrimping is the hardest. That opinion isn’t entirely universal for, as one old fisherman said ‘When you were shrimping, you’d at least got a chance of getting warm, by the pot.’ (The cauldron, in the fish well, where the shrimps were cooked). The other warm place was the kot, the tiny cabin near the back, where the crew warmed up their coffee, on a small stove, but he main heat source was three or four men crammed into a 2 metre square space!

De Bliek’s son-in-law, Sander Minneboo took over the boat in 1913 and installed Vrouwe Anthonie’s first engine – a pre-war single cylinder Kromhout – in the summer of 1922. After the first world war, many boats were fitted with auxiliary engines, but this was a consequence of social change, rather than enthusiasm for mechanisation. Even in this remote region, war had altered attitudes, factories were proliferating in the towns and younger people preferred an indoor job and steady wage to the rigours and uncertain income of fishing.

In 1931, Vrouw Anthonie was sold to Adriaan Bekaan (or Pekaar) of Yerseke and became YE 114, Drie Gebroeders.

This was the beginning of a period when, for many fishermen, poverty turned into destitution.

In the depression, of the 30’s, France and Belgium – then the biggest buyers of Zeeland shrimps – stopped importing them and, in a home market awash with shrimps, you could scarcely give them away. Demand for mussels and flat fish held better, but their price halved in a couple of years and even nature seemed to be conspiring against fishermen when, in 1932, a catastrophic disease struck the Yerseke oyster beds. By 1935, practically every doosje was empty and many families were struggling to survive on 5 guilders a week.They ate mussels – often four or five times a week, ‘so long as they could be got for nothing’. Other main meals were fish, sometimes caught by the boat, often, less appetising.

Young children trod for flat fish on muddy shores, older ones tramped to ports, like Flushing and Bruinisse, to glean rejects from the bigger boats – malodorous cod, or herring too bruised to be sold. When they had neither mussels, not fish, they lived on potatoes and cabbage and, sometimes, there was nothing on the table but butterless bread.

There are still people around who speak of Melis van Duivendijk with tears of gratitude in their eyes. In those dreadful times, most yards turned away those who couldn’t pay, but he did their repairs and said ‘Pay when you can.’ They tried to give him a guilder a week, but often could only manage a guilder a month and, though the money was eventually paid off, they still feel indebted.

In the ‘30s many boats were put up for sale at public auction because their owners owed money. Even established firms were feeling the pinch and a debt of as little as 75 guilders, for fuel oil, could be enough to precipitate a forced sale. Hundreds of fishermen lost their livelihoods and only government relief schemes, such as grass planting on the Haamstede dunes, kept them from starving. In the economic climate, it is hard to believe that any boat – let alone an ageing craft, with a 30year old engine – could fetch 3000 guilders, but that is the story now told about Drie Gebroeders. Whatever the price, there is no doubt that she did change hands for fishery records say that on May 4th 1936 she became YE 36 – owner A. Verschuure.

In stark contrast to the ‘30s, the occupation years were a golden time for many hoogaars owners. Large motor vessels were requistitioned, for use in a possible invasion of England, so smaller boats had to cater for an almost insatiable demand for fish. The once despised shrimp became a much sought after commodity and the fishermen wre hard presses to fill railway wagons, shuttling endlessly between Flushing and Germany. In 1940, when exceptional shoals of sardines appeared off the Dutch coast, the price of these little fish reached a guilder a kilo. Eager to make the most of this bonanza, men rushed to fit new engines and, although they cost 4 to 5000 guilders, one week’s fishing was often enough to pay for them! It is surprising that Drie Gebroeders - YE 36 - kept her old Kromhout until after the war.

In 1948, the old boat got a new name, a new engine and a new role. The motor was a 60 h.p., 3 cylinder English built Widdop-type EMXT – fuelled by heavy oil, the name was Andries Jacob, after her owner. He gave up shrimping and general fishing and rigged the boat as a mussel dredger. In this guise, she worked for another 20 years – often going as far afield as the Wadden Sea – until the final entry was made in the fishing registry documents of the last working hoogaars:- ‘Sept 17 1968. Sold to Nimegen – destination water sport.’

For many Dutch ex-fishing boats ‘Sold – destination water sport’ has been a preface to ‘altered beyond recognition’ but Andries Jacob’s new owner, shipwright Piet Dekker, did not want to turn the fish well into a saloon and was prepared to put up with ‘kneeling room only’, in the interest of retaining an original profile. The result of that lucky break is one of the most authentic fishing vessels still in existence.

In 1990, Andries Jacob got lucky again, when she was acquired by Stichting Behoud Hoogaars (Hoogaars Preservation Foundation) who had been looking for an authentic vessel to introduce school children to ‘living fishing history’ and represent the foundation at various boating events. I joined her en route to a boat festival at Blankenburge, in Belgium.

Appropriately, ex-Flushing pilot Jan de Klerk was on the helm, as we locked out into the busy Schelde estuary. He threaded us through giant ships, shepherded by former colleagues, whilst retired boatman Theo Kloet introduced two Foundation members to the mysteries of a rig, which did not include winches and roller reefing. I took the opportunity to explore the boat.

Creature comforts on Andries Jacob are scarcely better than in her fishing days, except that the entire ship’s complement no longer clamber into the kot, for the night. The crawl-in forepeak, once home to the paraphernalia needed for fishing, now sports two narrow bunks, a port-a-loo behind a curtain and a two-ring hob. Loo, hob and VHF radio are just about the only things on this boat that don’t look as though they’ve been there since before the war.

As the traffic thinned, I was allowed to take the tiller and the first though that came into my head was ‘sea kindly’. Andries Jacob was an easy to handle, stable boat, with sufficient eagerness to make sailing fun. I was also impressed by the ease with which she went about, aided by a jib that could be walked across the foredeck and secured on the other end of the overloop. The only criticism I could make was that she was a little too determined to come into wind, but many would call that a ‘Good fault’. The final tack, out of the broad estuary, set us on a fetch to take us all the way the Blankenburge so, when chef for the day, Hettie Verkaart, produced some delectable sandwiches, I gave up the tiller and settled on the kot roof, to wash them down with strong Belgium beer and talk about Andries Jacob.

If you don’t know the company you are in, it can be unwise to start conversations about politics and religion. In Holland, the wooden boat restoration should, perhaps, be added to the taboo subject list, for there is a great divide between the two schools – ‘Don’t replace unless you have to.’ And ‘Don’t stop replacing until everything is new.’ On Andries Jacob two recently replaced timbers, not yet blackened to match the rest, were witnesses to a policy of ‘maintain and refit as necessary’, so I could bring up the subject, with little risk of saying the wrong thing.

When the foundation acquired Andries Jacob, some plank damage and localised rot had to be immediately repaired and, since then, Theo Kloet has replaced some frames and renewed most of the original wooden nails, on one side. The tack we were on meant that the side which hadn’t been refastened was in the water and various steady dribbles were reminders that this must be done soon. Theo thinks that lack of time and suitable volunteer labour may mean that more modern methods will have to be used for some refastening. That would be a pity but, if it does happen, it will give people something to ponder in the future, when they compare survival times for the two methods!

Andries Jacob now lives in her original home port of Veere where, every winter, Theo lovingly treats planking, mast and spars with a concoction based on a secret ancient recipe, which obviously includes shellac and linseed oil. Decks and interior timbers also get an old fashioned treatment – a new coating of creosote – so Andries Jacob even smells like an old boat. Theo also looks out for useable memorabilia and proudly showed us an ancient – but perfectly serviceable – wooden baler, rescued the previous evening from a quayside dustbin. Later in the voyage, spotting a rope which needed attention, he brought out another bit of boating history – a sailor’s horn, with its array of needles embedded in wax.

In her youth Andries Jacob was regarded as a very fast sailer, perhaps surprising for a boat built by Dirk van Duivendijk, whose vessels had a reputation for sea worthiness rather than speed. Today, an age roughened underside has taken the edge off her performance and, in light airs, she can’t compete with hoogaarsjachts, whose new bottoms are glassy smooth. The day I sailed on her, the wind was healthy enough and, with the favourable tide, we fairly romped down to Blankenburge. All too soon, I had to say ‘Goodbye’ to the last of the fishing hoogaars and her friendly crew.

Marian Martin

VROUW ANTHONIE - ANDRIES JACOB

Length 14.46 mtrs; Beam 4.71 mtrs; Tonnage. 18.03 tonne brute, 6.71 tonne nett; Sail area 110 m²; Engine 40 hp Bolinder.

Last Updated ( Monday, 24 January 2005 )
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