Meeting In The North Atlantic (TBT)

In 1954, my great-grandfather, Hendrik Fokko van Hemmen, was Chief Engineer on the M/V Prins Frederik Hendrik of the Oranje Lijn, and my grandfather, Henk van Hemmen, was deck engineer on the Dutch flagship, the SS Nieuw Amsterdam.

On November 1, my grandfather was asked to make a repair to the steam whistle valve which was malfunctioning.  Together with a fitter they worked on the valve and when they thought it was fixed my grandfather went to the wheelhouse to ask the mate to test it.

The mate wanted to wait for a bit because the 22 knot Nieuw Amsterdam was overtaking a much slower vessel on the horizon and he didn’t want to cause any confusion.  My grandfather took a pair of binoculars, looked at the vessel on the horizon and recognized it as his father’s ship.  Hearing that my grandfather’s father was ahead, the Captain decided to alter course to come up astern of the vessel on the horizon and say hello!  (Meanwhile on the Prins Frederik Hendrik, the watch was shouting “the Nieuw Amsterdam is going to ram us”, but my great-grandfather quickly found out what was going on)

The Nieuw Amsterdam pulled up alongside and my grandfather took the picture above.

Note the horizon in the picture. The Nieuw Amsterdam, at more than 30,000 GT, dwarfed the 1,300 GT Prins Frederik Hendrik. The Nieuw Amsterdam wheelhouse is level with the top of the Prins Frederik Hendrik masts.

On the short range radio my great-grandfather told my grandfather to buy his buddies a beer.  This resulted in hundreds of crew members waiting in the passageway near my grandfather’s cabin when he came off watch, and a hefty drink bill that my grandfather presented to my great-grandfather when they caught up with each other in Rotterdam.

By the way, the whistle didn’t work when the Nieuw Amsterdam passed the Prins Frederik Hendrik. Pretty embarrasing.