Dutch Boating in 1964

My grandfather was planning to retire as a ship’s Chief Engineer in 1964. He and his wife had mused about getting a boat to cruise the Dutch waterways. That vision was adopted by the extended family and resulted in this design.

As a yacht designer I have occasionally shot myself in the foot by telling a potential client that the best design is the smallest boat that can do the job, while the client was thinking in terms of getting the largest boat he could afford.

I had nothing to do with the design of my grandparent’s boat, but when I look at the construction drawing it is clear that my self-destructive professional tendency has a genetic origin.

This boat was the absolute bare minimum that could do the job.

The steel hull was a modification of a standard design by a commercial builder and there are various Dutch notes on the contract drawing that make subtle modifications. I remember my Father and Uncle discussing their experiment in how narrow one can make a head (W.C.) and still be able to pull one’s pants up.

In Holland the hull type is called a vlet, and while it could be built in wood (or even better; plywood) it was a natural shape to weld in steel inexpensively and in those day boats in this hull shape were extremely common in sizes ranging from 12 feet to 50 feet.

The builder delivered the bare hull, and my father and uncle installed the major systems to an extent that the boat could run and my grandfather finished the interior outfit once he retired.

The final construction was quite close to the design, but there were a number of modifications and refinements.

The design drawing shows a Bernard 11 Hp 1 cylinder diesel engine with a Verhey reversible propeller. A really classy set-up, but it was later decided to fit a 10 Hp Albin O-21 two cylinder gasoline/kerosene engine with a reversing transmission and a fixed propeller.

This engine would start on gasoline, but once warm could also switch to tractor kerosene. The vessel was actually fitted with two fuel tanks, but the boat was never run on tractor kerosene. Even with Dutch gasoline prices, the 10 Hp engine never burned enough to make the complication of two fuels worth its while. The engine actually never ran full throttle. The boat would hit hull speed at 6 or 7 horsepower and do about 5 knots. More power simply resulted in squat and a larger wake.

I don’t know why the Albin was selected. Quite possibly it was the cost of purchase, but it was a lovely engine. Maybe it was selected because it had a full electrical outfit with a starter/generator (Dynastarter). It was a very quiet motor even though it had a dry exhaust if I remember correctly.

As a four and five year old I often joined my father and uncle to work on the boat. I do remember my uncle letting me paint the bilges with red lead using a bokkepoot brush.

That is me with the safety goggles.

The boat was named Froetjers, which was a bastardization of a line in the Doris Day song: Que Sera. The song goes: “The future is not ours to see, que sera, sera”. To my grandfather’s Dutch ears that line was sung as: “The froetjers not ours to see” and an American passenger nicknamed my grandfather Froetjers when she heard him sing the song and it stuck. I sometimes wonder if the passenger actually nicknamed my grandfather “Fruit Juice” and he and his crew misunderstood that too.  Fruit Juice is not a good name for a boat, but a name that refers to an uncertain future is pretty good. When I bought a sailboat in United States many years later, I also named her Froetjers, but in the United States that name was too confusing. (On the radio: “Please identify yourself again”. “Let me spell it: Foxtrot, Romeo, Oscar ….. Oh forget it.”) I do have an iceboat named Froetjers; it has no radio.

For over 10 years the boat cruised the Dutch rivers and canals,


Often grandchildren (ie, my siblings and I), and even adult guests, accompanied my grandparents on extended trips, and my grandmother managed to cook very impressive meals on the two burner propane stove.

Guests slept on the cockpit benches under a canvas cover. Initially the canvas cover extended over the top of the frame, but that resulted in puddling and rot on the top canvas of the cover and after a few seasons we installed a plywood roof over the cockpit with the canvas drop sides mounted underneath.

I only remember one significant addition to the vessel and that was a small propane powered refrigerator mounted high on the forward starboard side of the cockpit. Those propane refrigerators are very elegant because they have no moving parts and refrigerators of that type have attractive qualities that may become significant again when used in a trigeneration set-up.

My grandmother thought it was disgusting to drink cold coffee and would always make fresh coffee. As a sailor, my grandfather did not care, and he had a regular routine of saving a cup of black coffee and leaving it on a small ledge behind the refrigerator so he had an extra shot of caffeine with his pipe later in the day.

When my father and his family moved to the United States, my grandparents decided to sell the boat and move from Zuid Holland to their ancestral Groningen.

When I look at the design today, I see a lot I really like. I actually would only change one thing and that is to substantially widen the stern of the boat and raise the aft run a little to prevent raising the transom drag too much.  A larger water plane aft would increase stability, but, more importantly, would reduce trim when too many people were sitting in the cockpit when underway.

Somewhere I even have a photo of the boat that has my grandfather standing on the foredeck. He looks very nautical and in command, but he was actually standing on the foredeck to balance the weight of a dear great aunt, who never refused any of my grandmother’s cooking, sitting in the cockpit.

Vletten were originally designed to be rowed (and sculled) and at low speeds a narrower transom felt like it worked better, but with power at higher Froude numbers that was of no benefit.

The most famous rowing and sailing vletten are the Lelievletten, which is the standard Dutch Seascout boat and they are still in use today.

At about the time that Froetjers entered service, Dick Lefeber did figure out that beam is cheap and he designed the very successful line of Doerak vletten that had much wider transoms. However, overall, while not bad looking and incredibly popular, they were not as elegant as Froetjers.



Froetjers was not a fancy boat (except for the brass portholes, bell, and scoop vents which were kept meticulously polished), but my grandfather would never allow a spec of rust to live on the boat and kept the equipment in tip top shape, which made the boat sell very quickly in 1976. We have no idea of her further history. I would be nice to think she is still putt putting around Holland, but that would make her steel hull over half a century old. Not unusual in fresh water, if the subsequent Owners kept up with the maintenance.