Marmaduke Redux

Marmaduke Surfaceblow was a much beloved character in a monthly column in the trade magazine Power Magazine. I very much enjoyed reading the stories. Marmaduke was a fictional character who was a ship’s engineer who became an engineering consultant. Marmaduke traveled the world and solved various power problems. The problems probably were actual technical problems that were sent to Marmaduke author Steve Elonka and he turned them into stories where Marmaduke was the hero. To make the stories work there was an entire Marmaduke universe (marmaverse) with a cast of associated characters. I started reading the stories in the 1980’s when I worked for ABS, but only later realized that Marmaduke touched closer to home than I could have ever expected.

So, as this year’s Christmas present, here is a story of the Waterpomptang family.


Wim (Willem Fokko) Waterpomptang, originally a blacksmith, but became a Chief Engineer in the Dutch Merchant Marine (this would be Hoofdscheepswerktuigkundige Waterpomptang) and mostly sailed to the Great Lakes and the Mediterranean. No fan of the English, but loved the Scots. Referred to as Oudopa by his descendents. Passed away in 1992.

Wim Waterpomptang, President Emeritus, Watt & Fulton, Ship Surveyors and Engineers

Started as a sailing engineer at Holland America Line and then started to work for an American Ship surveying company in Rotterdam.

Transferred to the United States with his family just before the Bicentennial.

Joined Watt & Fulton in 1980 and bought the company with his son, Willem, in 1993.

Owns a 28 foot Olson Sea Skiff named “Froetjers” and drives a 1993 Dodge K car. Hates cars. Keeps his boat at the Molly Pitcher.

Nicknamed “Bolle” by his old friends (Means “round one”). Called Pa by his kids and Opa by his grandchildren.

Any stranger he meets he calls “My Friend”. Anytime somebody says something that makes no sense he says: Rotzooi! (A not too rude word for mess, mix-up or confusion)

Loves his wife Truus and bacon, hates to travel. Drinks Lairds and cold beer. Is distrustful of people that eat porridge and oatmeal for breakfast. Hates melted cheese.

Willem (Willem Fokko) Waterpomptang President Watt & Fulton, Wim’s son

Sails and iceboats. Aerospace and Ocean engineer and Professional Engineer. Is somewhat autistic and sometimes has trouble figuring out what people mean. Helped by his partners and office staff in maintaining human contact.  Nicknamed “Dutch Uncle” due to his inability to behave tactfully. Married to Anne Gardiner, fortunately of Scottish descent.

Marina (Marina Gretchen) Waterpomptang. Economist and Environmental Scientist with a Masters degree in System Engineering from Columbia.

Daughter of Willem. Works for the company as a independent consultant. Travels the world and does weird things, sometimes for W&F.

Will (Willem James) Waterpomptang

Son of Willem. Mysterious Character. Also an engineer but now works as a lawyer in mysterious acquisitions and deals. Married to Shruti a big data engineer from India.

Polara (Polara Ruth) Waterpomptang

Daughter of Willem, marine biologist, artist and environmental activist.

Watt & Fulton, an ancient Ship surveying and engineering company, founded by descendants of James Watt and Robert Fulton and world renown for dealing with the thornier maritime issues.

The company used to be based in New York City, but moved to Red Bank, NJ after the Whitehall Club closed.

­­Today W&F is located across the railroad station above a packy store in the Mexican section of town.

So, to combat Christmas overload and midwinter cold, in this story we will dream about Spring.


There was no wind whatsoever, but the temperature was perfect. Mid 60’s and a water temperature of about 55. Froetjers was tied up at its special bulkhead spot at the Molly Pitcher and Wim Waterpomptang was going through his customary pre-check of the boat’s engine and systems. The Froetjers wore its gleaming spring coat of fresh paint and varnish and Wim had finished placing all the gear in its traditional location. Over the years Wim had figured out exactly where every bit of gear was stowed on the classic 28 foot Olsen Sea Skiff and it gave him an immense sense of satisfaction that everything came together so quickly. Wim saw Willem and Will come down the dock just when everything was stowed. Willem was smiling when he boarded the Froetjers. “It looks like my timing is perfect”, he said.

“As usual”, Wim grumbled.

“We would not know how to get the boat ready properly anyway Opa”, Will smiled.

Will ran the fan and fired up the engine. The 30 year old big block V8 fired up without hesitation and immediately settled down into its characteristic burble without a hint of smoke.  While Wim was Froetjers’ Owner, and Master next to God, he did not really enjoy driving the boat and would rather have others do it, preferably his grandchildren.

Will eased the boat out of the slip. “What does it look like Opa?”, Will asked.

Wim sniffed, while he loved to fish, neither he nor the other Waterpomptangen were skilled fisherman. “Well, people on the dock say that when we get to Rumson Reach we may have to move the stripers away to keep the boat afloat in water”

“Hope springs eternal”, Willem said, and he started rigging some rods. They would do some trolling, so one rod with a red tube lure and one with a green tube lure and then see which one worked better.

Rigging the rods took only a minute, and Wim poured black coffee for his son and grandson. While Wim’s wife Truus never warmed up to coffee without cream, Wim took great pleasure in the fact that all his children and grandchildren only drank black coffee without sugar. “Sugar and cream are a nuisance on boats, ships and salvage jobs”, he would state too often.

Willem and Wim took a seat in the deck chairs in the cockpit and sipped their coffee.

“Yesterday somebody stopped by at the boat and had an odd question for me”, Wim said.

“He told me he also owns an Olsen 28 and is trying to get it US Coast Guard certified for 12 passengers.” “He wanted to talk to me because somebody told him that we were marine consultants and that I also own an Olsen 28. Apparently he is getting his approvals in place, but is totally hung up on the structural review. The Coast Guard wants him to pass Lloyds Wooden Ship rules and his boat is much too lightly constructed to pass those rules.”

“Did you check if the boat could pass on satisfactory prior service?”

“Funny you mention that”, Wim replied, “but apparently once the Coast Guard discovered that the boat was so much lighter than Lloyds rules, they became very gun shy. The guy asked if we had any solutions”

“Actually, I may have a solution”, Willem replied, “How much is he willing to pay?”

Wim leaned forward out of his chair, “Rotzooi Will, if I charge the guy for that, I will never be able to show my face at the dock and at Olsen’s boatyard”.

“Well here you go again Pa, an immigrant to the United States who worked day and night to make a success of his business, and to provide his children with good educations and now you are willing to throw your investment away just because you want be the nice guy on the dock”

Wim did not even react, it was always best to let Willem get his snide remark in, because in the end he loved providing a solution more than getting paid for it anyway.

After a few seconds Willem continued “There is quite an interesting solution to this problem, but it will require a little story. When I was working as a yacht designer, my boss showed me the Herreshoff rules for wooden boat construction, he swore by them when we designed wooden boats. Nat Herreshoff used those rules for his own boats and tons of those boats are still sailing. His rules are good. Actually, they are a paragon of structural elegance”

Wim stared at the receding shape of the classic shingle Monmouth Boat Club, where Willem’s Hankins skiff was peacefully bobbing on its mooring whips and scratched the back of his bald head, raising his Watt & Fulton cap, “This is the late 19th century Wizard of Bristol, America’s Cup winning yacht designer, Nat Herreshoff?”

“The one and the same. I spent enough time in the bilges of this boat to know that almost certainly old man Olsen used the Herreshoff rules to build this boat. The Herreshoff rules result in much lighter boats, but, because he was so much smarter than everybody at Lloyds combined, his boats never failed, and outperformed everybody else’s designs”

Wim harrumphed, “smarter than Lloyds, that, by itself, is not too difficult. So why does the Coast Guard not use those rules, Willem?”

“Who knows? But the trick is to convince the Coast Guard that these rules should be used”

“I think I can solve that”, Wim replied, “Willem can you get a copy of the rules and ask Marina to take some measurements in this guy’s boat”

“I can take the measurements”, Will said not wanting to burden the company with unbillable work.

“You could, but that won’t be any fun, Marina also needs to learn about the Herreshoff rules, let her figure it out. Who knows when it will come in handy for her 30 or 40 years from now.”

Wim went on, “Then, when we have a little write up on that, I will send a nice note to the Coast Guard and lay out the situation. The Coast Guard will not immediately accept it, but it will work if we shame them into it a little. The technical reviewers may have never heard of Herreshoff, but if you explain who he was and that he was one of America’s greatest naval architects, they will understand that using those fusty British Lloyds rules is plain un-American.” Wim smiles, “Most of all, the Coast Guard is smart, and once you introduce them to a wheel that has worked for about 100 years, they will probably not want to reinvent it.”

Wim, emptied his coffee, got up and said: “let’s get some fish”

The fishing was quite good (it was a green lure day) and next weekend the family was ready to try again. Instead of Will, who was on some type of mysterious trip for some mysterious client, Marina drove the boat, with Polara as co-pilot.

Willem was ready to pour some coffee when Wim said: “We can have coffee, but I also have 12 year old Lairds. It is a little nippy today.”

“Don’t mind if I have a little bit” Willem replied, when he took his first sip of this ancient local nectar he asked, “Since when do you carry such fancy hooch on the boat?”

“Yesterday I came aboard and there were three bottles and a note in the cockpit. The note said: The Coast Guard accepted the rules. Thanks, here’s one for Bolle, one for Willem and one for Marina”

“I don’t think Marina heard that, let’s drink yours and I’ll take the other two bottles homes.”


May all the fishing be good in 2020