Meet the Verwers

Apologies we are so far behind, but we are making progress – albeit slowly.

Meeting

We left our tale with a tap on the wheelhouse window.

As we stepped out of the wheelhouse onto the aft deck we could see Trien Verwer draping a large blue banner from her balcony. Trien with her late husband Maarten had last owned and operated Catharina Elisabeth for the Verwer company. It would seem we were moored almost below her window, and the banner must surely be that from the historical pictures we had seen!

In no time at all, Trien, a sprightly lady of 89 years, was standing beside Catharina with her son and daughter – Maarten and Afra – along with their respective partners Ina and Jan.  Without much difficulty, she was on board and soon down the stairs into the salon where we all sat down to swap stories over freshly-brewed coffee.

Our correspondent, Maarten, with his sister Afra and Catharina Elisabeth's son Maarten, the second skipper of Catharina Elisabeth. Alkmaar in the mid-1950s.

Our correspondent, Maarten, with his sister Afra and Catharina Elisabeth’s son Maarten, the second skipper of Catharina Elisabeth. Alkmaar in the mid-1950s.

Catharina Elisabeth, 91 years old, in the centre front. Trien is front extreme right. The extended family at the 175th Anniversary of the Verwer family company in 1952.

Catharina Elisabeth, 91 years old, in the centre front. Trien is front extreme right. The extended family at the 175th Anniversary of the Verwer family company in 1952.

We negotiated the language differences pretty well – fortunately for us mono-lingual English-speaking Aussies, Trien was the only one with little English and everyone else chipped in to do the translating.

It was a fascinating discussion, and we learnt a bit more about Catharina and the Verwer family.

Perhaps the most surprising story was that about 12 months ago, an old skipper who still lived locally had alerted the family that he had spotted a barge called Neo Vita nearby, and he recognised that she was Catharina Elisabeth. The Verwers then made contact with Paul and Marianne (from whom we had bought Neo Vita). This explained why the advertisement for the sale of Neo Vita included some old photos of the barge. But we were unaware of this link during any of our meetings with Paul and Marianne. Last year the Verwers also found out that Neo Vita had been sold, and new owners were taking her away. They hurriedly drove to Middenmeer, only to learn from the Havenmeester that Neo Vita and her new owners (us!) had just left. We probably were cruising past them as they travelled from Wormerveer.

Through a lengthy search for our barge’s history, amid a desire to piece together her fascinating past, we came full circle, and Catharina Elisabeth was reunited with her first family.

Too soon, it was time for us to part, and as we were escorting the family off board, they presented us with the Catharina Elisabeth banner, last used 53 years ago at the 175 year Jubilee Celebrations. It seemed too precious a part of her for us to accept, but they insisted that it belongs with Catharina. Very touched, we accepted and promised to keep the banner with her – although Trien made sure we understood that we were not to put the banner in a washing machine as it was now too fragile to withstand any rough treatment!

L-R: Ian, Lisette, Ina, Afra, Maarten and Trien

L-R: Ian, Lisette, Ina, Afra, Maarten and Trien

The Model

One of the very special things we learned was that the same old skipper who had recognised Catharina, made models of the barges that had worked around Zaandam. One of these was a scale model of Catharina Elisabeth, in her original form, built entirely from memory. This model is in the local Zaanse Schaans museum. We had been there a few days previously and just missed out on going into the museum as we had to catch our water taxi back to Zaandam.

A few days later, armed with this new information, we made another trip to the museum, this time arriving early enough to buy tickets and go inside. It was a small but very well designed and informative collection of the history of the area – the windmills, the people and the industry.

One of the displays was of the commemorative porcelain tile tableaus that workers used to present to their company on significant occasions. One of these was one presented to the shipbuilding company that built Catharina in 1915 to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary.

Commemorative tile tableau for the shipbuilder that built Catharina.

Commemorative tile tableau for the shipbuilder that built Catharina.

It was proving tricky to locate the models, and we had almost given up, when we noticed a cabinet in the section that described how Zaandam and the local area was involved in the business of processing rice, wheat and cocoa.

There was a display of the barges that were involved in carrying the rice to the warehouses.

Barges involved in the trade of rice on the river Zaan around Zaandam

Barges involved in the trade of rice on the river Zaan around Zaandam

And there was Catharina Elisabeth.

Catharina Elisabeth as she was built to carry cargo from 1916 to 1961

Catharina Elisabeth as she was built to carry cargo from 1916 to 1961

The much larger mast which was mainly used to lift cargo in and out of Catharina's hold

The much larger mast which was mainly used to lift cargo in and out of Catharina’s hold

A much more spartan wheelhouse in those days

A much more spartan wheelhouse in those days

The model depicts her very much as we had imagined she must have looked in her working days – a really special treat.

We were enthralled, and after taking a number of pictures we dashed back out of the museum just in time to meet Maarten and Ina who had invited us to see their barge, moored just a short distance away. Aphrodite was built to their specifications, and designed for long cruising – they have taken her through the Netherlands, Belgium and France. She was beautifully kitted out and we were lucky to see her as Maarten and Ina are selling her, to change to a motorhome style of travelling.

We had a lovely chat over a coffee on Aphrodite, and then hopped on their spare bikes and cycled to their house in the nearby town of Zaandijk. We then kicked on to a very friendly Greek-style restaurant in Wormerveer, close to where we had been moored when we first met the family. We had a great evening – from the ouzo presented to us as a welcome drink, to the food prepared by an Egyptian chef, and served by a young Afghani. We were astounded to discover this young man had a truly encyclopaedic knowledge of cricket, in all its forms. Maarten and Ina watched on bemused as we chatted about sixes, one-dayers and Dennis Lillee.

Maarten and Ina with Aphrodite - there's the number to ring if you are interested!

Maarten and Ina with Aphrodite – there’s the number to ring if you are interested!

We finished off by making certain that we had Maarten and Ina write in our copy of the book that describes the history of the barge families of Wormerveer.

The Wormerveer Skippers

The Wormerveer Skippers

The Verwer chapter "Water was there before the road" with the paragraph introducing our Catharina Elisabeth highlighted

The Verwer chapter “Water was there before the road” with the paragraph introducing our Catharina Elisabeth highlighted

We hope that we can meet them again in the not too distant future.

 

 

6 thoughts on “Meet the Verwers

  1. Wow – what a great story. We have some information about our barge now so hopefully we can find out some of it’s history too. I will have to find the paperwork, but I think it was built in Groningen and was called “two brothers” (in Dutch of course). If you have any tips of how to find out the history I’d love that. Looking forward to seeing you soon. Deb

    • Hi Deb,
      There are a couple of ways that can get you well started. I’ll send a separate email to you, but if you go to the Catharina Elisabeth tab (http://eurmacs.com/?page_id=18) you’ll find a link to a useful database. You’ll need the ‘brandmerk’ of Condor which should be on your Kadaster papers.

  2. Hi the EurMacs,
    A most interesting post!
    Have just inspected CE in Veurne and apart from the camel tethered to the stern and the family boiling a large pot of goat over an open fire on the foredeck all seems to be in order. Immigrants!
    😉
    Shaun&Lynn

    • OK so long as they leave the camel. Been trying to work out how to fulfil the Belgian requirement for an ‘auxiliary means of propulsion’ – perhaps towed by camel would pass?

  3. “…perhaps towed by camel would pass?” – oar not?

    Will try and find Peter & Winny and pass on your message. Leave for Fintele today.

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