“When I left school, I had to decide on what I wanted to do next. I didn’t need to think long about it: I wanted to go to sea! My training was paid for by Wagenborg on condition that afterwards I would serve on one of the company’s ships. So that’s what I did: in 1967 I joined the Spaarneborg in the steel harbour at IJmuiden. I served for a total of twelve years on various ships, including the Rijnborg , Markborg , Merweborg and Nassauborg. None of them was the same and I gained a lot of experience.
In 1981 we were unloading timber at the Wagenborg terminal in Delfzijl and I was told that they needed somebody there. I was taken on immediately and was assigned to the team responsible for loading and unloading the drilling pipes that were stored there for NAM. After a few years I was asked if I wanted to join Wagenborg’s stevedoring department. In the mid-1990s, that became Wagenborg Stevedoring, where I still work today. This is my 50th year.
For me, working for Wagenborg is still a great big adventure. I’ve seen a lot during those 50 years, and I’ve been able to work on a lot of great projects. My time on board ship is something I’ll never forget and that I often think back on. I made a lot of friends and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. A great deal has changed since then. Smaller ships have been replaced by bigger ones. That’s also reduced the amount of physical work. Ships have become more modern. Although I have to say that in the 1970s the Rijnborg and the Scheldeborg, adapted for the timber trade, were way ahead of their time. What hardly changed at all in the 12 years that I was at sea was the mutual respect among the crew. We either did everything together or we didn’t do it at all.
“Working for Wagenborg is still one big adventure for me.”
My most memorable experience was during a trip aboard the Spaarneborg with a load of fertiliser from IJmuiden to Goole in the UK. You might think that that’s just an easy crossing that takes no time. Nothing could be further from the truth! We’d hardly got beyond the breakwaters at IJmuiden when a force 12 storm came up out of nowhere. Returning to port wasn’t an option. We spent the next 36 hours in the wheelhouse with our life jackets on, and with waves crashing over the bow and the hatches. Even though we weren’t making any headway, the foreship kept disappearing under water. It felt like it took several minutes to come back up each time.
The Spaarneborg will always be my favourite ship, because she’s where I started. She’s the ship where I really learned what it means to be a mariner. Hard and heavy work. It was a nice area to operate. We’d put into places in England where only one or two ships came each year. The whole village would be out on the quay to welcome us.”