ENKHUIZEN – At Stofberg Shipyard, the Netherlands’ rich maritime history stares you in the face.
Since its founding in 1793 – that was the year Marie-Antoinette died on a Paris guillotine – the yard has built classic boats, work vessels that typically hauled potatoes, fish, peat, people, animals, manure and whatnot across shallow Dutch waters.
Today, Stofberg Shipyard’s halls hold about 50 boats for maintenance and storage. Many are flat-bottomed wooden or steel craft with port and starboard sideboards instead of keels. The oldest – the Dolphijn, a 7m fishing boat built in 1868 – is getting a refit that includes the heat-bending of 1.5-inch (4 cm) thick planks of Danish oak into matching skin strakes.
In the Netherlands, classic sail and motorboats are pure nostalgia.
The country boasts official registries of many hundreds of them and their history. Classics aficionados make serious investments to preserve the character, style and materials of old boats. But Stofberg also builds new classics, a trend that took off in the Netherlands in the middle of the 20th century.
Stofberg Shipyard’s painstaking work requires extreme wood and steel working skills. It hosts on average 2 to 5 interns annually. “Most are students of Amsterdam’s Wood and Furnishings College,” says Pim Stofberg, who co-owns the yard with his brother Jan Willem. The college (enrolment 3,000) is a post-secondary vocational school founded in 1929.
Renewal projects are major undertakings.
A recent project was an 11.5m “Lemsteraak”-class sailboat. It was given a brand new bilge beam, with new ballast. The Mitsubishi diesel was overhauled and put back into its place as the owner was so attached to that engine. The engine room was completely cleaned and repainted. The tanks were overhauled, along with the propeller shaft. A new rudder was made and the cockpit was taken apart and rebuilt.
“We used the existing wood for this, for sustainability’s sake,” Stofberg tells this newsletter. “I warned the family that buying another ship would be cheaper, but they insisted on renovating theirs.”
His yard grants owners a limited possibility to work on their boats themselves. One owner spent 5 years doing that while the yard carried out major repairs.
“We worked on the bottom, replaced the engine, removed the superstructure that dated back to 1911 and built a new one. We also removed, refurbished and reassembled deck parts,” says Stofberg.
He is not a total puritan. He has been known to use modern building materials, such as adhesives, stainless steel screws and even a roller jib for a skipper with reduced muscle strength. “If that makes sailing more comfortable, it should be possible,” says Stofberg.