Tender Loving Care and the revival of a historic Dutch lady

When I first fell into the boating world, one of the first things other boat owners told me was that “a boat is a hole in the water you drop your money in” and B.O.A.T stands for “bung on another thousand”. Nevertheless, when I became enchanted by a very elderly and somewhat neglected Dutch sailing barge, all the warnings fell on deaf ears.

To be honest, the survey, by a British surveyor who worked in the Netherlands, was quite good and finished his report by complimenting her as a “nice little barge”. Work to be undertaken below the waterline was fairly minor and thankfully was the responsibility of the vendor. While she was out of the water for survey, a couple of small steel plates were replaced by a single, bigger one and her hull was cleaned and treated with 2-pack epoxy protection. With her engine and filters fully serviced she then completed the journey from Vlissingen NL to Fambridge UK in a smooth 23 hours. The three delivery skippers almost skipped off her deck, faces beaming from the adventure.

As I excitedly settled in below decks, little did I know what work was ahead of me! The priority was to ensure safety, so upgrading of gas and electrics were paramount. The electrician’s gasp of horror as he opened his first access point was swiftly echoed by louder ones as he worked his way down the boat. In the end, he was to become almost part of the furniture for some time, phoning at regular intervals to check I was safe, as he completely rewired, upgraded and installed everything needed for safe and sustainable living.

One of the attractions of a 119-year-old barge for me was her sense of history. Very little record of this was passed on with her ownership, but a framed print handed down from a previous skipper was awarded to my care and encouraged research. The first breakthrough came with the discovery of her original registration number etched on her hull, coated into oblivion by many layers of aged paint. This was to begin the unravelling of her extraordinary story – a project which continues to this day.

With this sense of historic legacy came a responsibility to restore her in keeping with her original look, as far as possible. Obviously, having had a houseboat conversion, she cannot qualify as being true to her design as a load carrier – my living space was once full of farm produce, peat and manure! However, my choice of colour follows a Dutch historian’s advice and the restoration of the rigging and leeboards maintain her traditional look.

Having painted the whole vessel from top to bottom, inside and out, utilities having been made safe and furnishings refurbished, my attention turned to the next major project – the rig. This had been the only part of the little ship that the surveyor had roundly condemned. The neglect of several years, or perhaps longer, had taken their toll of the whole set; wiring, blocks, gaff, boom and mast were all in a poor state. Gaff and boom were stripped back and repaired, the one-ton leeboards were craned off, sanded and varnished, but after much prodding and probing, the 12-metre mast proved unworthy of saving.

Carpenters were duly engaged and I settled in for a long, summer wait. Optimistic quotes for delivery time stretched out with every communication. Weeks turned into months. My patience, never great at the best of times, wore paper-thin.  Finally, a delivery day was announced and a crane booked. A long, low-loader arrived early that sunny morning laden with, what was to me, the most beautiful piece of Douglas fir in the world.  Thankfully the yardmen craned her aboard, placing her gently as a feather on a pillow. Soon she was pinned, wired, erected and proudly flying her new “working barge” fluegel at the very pinnacle. Long-folded and stored sails were resurrected. Finally, Drie Gebroeders was ready to return to the waves.


to see more of her story and photographs/videos of the work carried out visit http://www.theolddutchbarge.co.uk

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