Living and Sailing on a Historic Dutch Klipper

- A Woman's perspective.



             falling in love1falling in love2



When Jane met John two years ago, she fell in love instantly... with his Dutch Sailing Klipper Vrouwe Antje. “John was great too, which was a big bonus!” says Jane. Since then, they have sailed and cruised together in UK and Europe. Jane had never even seen a Dutch sailing barge before so Blue Flag thought it might be instructive to discover a woman’s perspective of living aboard and voyaging in a sailing barge - “with apologies,”says Jane, “for any of my less than professional knowledge of the ‘technical jargon’!”


John had lived aboard Vrouwe Antje (VA) on a private mooring on the Itchen River in Southampton since he bought her and brought her across from Holland in early 2004. He loves DIY and had been changing the interior to make her more comfortable to live on and sail, and by the time I met him in early 2005 she looked and functioned really well.


She had been originally converted for living in 1986, and the previous Dutch owner had catered for his large family by installing five single and two double bunks and not a lot else. John replaced the bunks with two proper king sized beds in two cabins – he reused much of the old fittings and structures and both beds are fixed so they don’t move when we are sailing. John changed one of the bunk rooms to an office area with fax machine, computer and printer. We have two wardrobes and a chest of drawers and the rest of the storage space is integrated into the sides of VA.


The previous owner also moved the mast aft about a metre from its original position to give it better sailing performance. He also installed a new mast which was noncounterbalanced so it didn’t go through the foredeck and therefore did not leak. He rigged it with skutsje style sails and rigging – built for speed (well – speedy for a Dutch barge)!


The bathroom had a teeny weeny bath tub, a toilet with a pump thingy and a gas fired hot water geyser (which wasn’t very reliable). That’s it – no mirror, no washbasin; not even a cabinet for all those essential bathroom items! By the time we finished (I had a teensy bit of influence here) it had lovely multicoloured tiling, a shower, a nice pump toilet, a washbasin and two bathroom cabinets! Oh, and the Eberspacher heating system (for the hot water and three radiators) – it’s a very busy little space!


The kitchen is super dooper, and was a real surprise to me when I first saw it because it’s just like a normal house kitchen. John had installed a full size oven, gas hob, dual fuel fridge with freezer compartment and ample cupboard and worktop space, with a breakfast bar! I am sure that the majority of barges have kitchens like this, but for me and my sailing/racing background of plastic boats this was a real novelty on board – I was used to a tiny galley with a wobbly one ringed cooker and a cool box.


The lounge area has a Kabola Old English heater which is great – trouble is, it only has one temperature - bloomin’ hot, so sometimes we’ve sat with it on and every window open, which kind of defeats the object! John has made a further pull out double bed which converts from the sofa, and a projector TV with foldaway screen for watching movies (a normal tv may move around and has a fair bit of glass and breakable innards so we felt it wasn’t practical for a sailing barge). Mind you, even though VA provides a very comfortable and “normal” living space when moored up or cruising on the canals and rivers, everything, and I mean everything, in the whole boat has to be very carefully stowed away and all cupboards and drawers latched firmly shut before going sailing – we learned this the hard way. (More on that another time!!)


Sailing ‘VA’

I had been sailing and racing in the Solent for a number of years, mainly on 30 - 40 foot yachts. I had completed the Round the Island race too, so, although I didn’t have any formal qualifications, I thought I was pretty well equipped to help sail VA. Hmmm, how wrong I was! Sailing a flat bottomed, hundred year old barge, who has a very strong personality and who can get very grumpy and wilful in windy conditions, is a whole new experience and makes for some fabulous stories and adventures! Firstly, before sailing anywhere, we have to put the mast up. This involves a massive amount of preparation.

Firstly, we have a cup of tea, and John runs through the order in which things need to be done. Let’s have another cup of tea, another run through, a few questions from me, and maybe a biscuit for fortification before we start. (The first time we did this, I was a little nervous and procrastination is what I’m best at when this occurs!)


A great deal of the mast lowering and lifting process is (hurrah!) electrically operated, so there’s no need for anyone to have to lift anything by hand. Firstly, we make sure that the mast lifting winch in the bow is engaged, then the electric winch controller has to be plugged in and passed up through the forward hatch, we close the hatch with a wood block holding it open a few inches for the winch controller cable (so no one falls down the hatch!).


We then check around the deck and base of the mast to make sure nothing could get caught as it goes up. All cables and ropes need to be loosened, pulled through rope guides, and spread out so that they won’t get caught and tangled around the mast as it rises. We undo various bolts and shackles and then the middle headsail boom has to have a plastic fender tied to its bottom so it doesn’t scratch the deck as it slides along with the mast. I then press the button to start the electric winch controller and the huge steel cable starts to move around the drum. The mast slowly inches its way out of the cradle and John runs around checking for any cables that may go tight or ropes that may get caught! (No matter how much preparation we do there nearly always seems to be something that gets tangled, and generally it’s something completely different to the last time – surely one day there’ll be a repeat!)


About half way up, we stop and check progress to make sure that all cables and ropes are running freely. I press the button once more and once more the massive winch motor starts to heave the mast up for its’ final lift. Once the mast is up, we place a big iron bar across its base to stop it moving any more and two wooden wedges underneath to support it even further for sailing. We then bolt the A Frame into place and then winch the bowsprit into place ready to sail. We also tighten all of the dangling ropes and make sure the middle headsail sheets are rigged. Finally, we put the flag pole back up and we are ready to go – all in all it normally takes around twenty minutes (barring any major mishaps!!)


(Next issue: Sailing in Vrouwe Antje!)




Date of Build: 1903

Builder: De Boot, Alphen a/d Rijn

Type of vessel: Zeilklipper

Length: 20.63 metres

Beam: 3.96 metres

Draft: 1.4 metres

Air draft: 3.20 metres with mast down, 19.5m with mast up

Headroom: 6’5” except in fore-peak cabin which is 5’11”

Ballast: 15 tons

Engine: CF MAN 6 cylinder 160hp, 1400 hours

Bow thruster: Kalkman electric, 38hp

Steering: Wheel

Generator: 6kw, diesel Silent pack JF Marine Power


• Drinking water : 1200 litres

• Diesel : 750 litres

• Grey water : 100 liters

• Black water : 120 liters

Central heating: Kabola Diesel stove for saloon, Ebberspacher D5W for three radiators and hot water

Hot water: AC or Ebberspacher

Propane:1 bottle in a locker on deck for cooking


• Main cabin with King bed,

• Forward with King bed

• Saloon with double converting sofa bed

• Bathroom: Washbasin, 90x90shower and toilet

•Kitchen: Sink, fridge-freezer , washing machine (in forward office area), breakfast bar, gas cooker with gas hob

Wheelhouse: Open cockpit with sunshade cover

Mast: 17m Non-counter balanced 15in. Diameter at the base

Boom: 16m

Sails: 220 sq. m synthetic canvas. Main and 2 headsails

Winches: 5 AC and 2 manual

1 high torque AC winch-chain-drive to the forward manual winch to lift the mast and anchor.

2 AC winches for the lee-boards.

2 AC winches for the main sail.

1 manual self-tailing winch for the main sheet.

1 manual self-tailing winch for the middle headsail.


September 2007.