Dutch Barge Westlander

During the second half of the nineteenth century, greenhouse horticulture grew strongly in the Westland, and growth also led to problems here. Increasingly large quantities of cultivated products had to be transported to auctions and to markets in the surrounding towns and, conversely, the greenhouses required an increasing flow of raw materials such as soil, sand, manure and peat. The local infrastructure was too limited for this growing transport offer. People had to rely on water transport. That water consisted for the most part of ditches and narrow canals with many fixed bridges.

Around 1880, the first wooden ships were built, which, in terms of dimensions and design, were adapted to the waterway and purpose of use. The model of the 'Rijnland goat' may have been taken as a starting point. Important points in the development of the Westlander were: a low creep line and good handling. The ships could be rowed or boomed and 'weighing' was also common (pushing the ship from the shore with a barge). The sailing equipment was simple because the waterway imposed restrictions on the use of sailing power. Not long after the birth of the wooden Westlander, the use of iron and steel also came into vogue in small shipbuilding and soon the hulls were built of iron/steel. Plechten and prow sometimes remained made of wood for a longer period of time and Westlanders that were built around 1920 with a wooden prow are still sailing.

Around 1920 usable small marine engines became available and this development was taken up energetically by the Westland skippers. When the Westland was opened up for freight transport by car around 1960, the construction of new Westlanders was quickly over. Westlanders are ships that vary in length from 9 to 19 meters and in width from 2 to approximately 3.25 metres. The tonnage varies from 6 to 35 tons. A striking feature of the ships is the lack of gangways along the hatchways and the hatches that almost always run from side to side.

The most characteristic of a Westlander is:

  • low air draft: with lowered mast, an empty ship of 15 meters can pass under a fixed bridge of 1.5 meters;
  • the sailing area also limited the draft when loaded to about 1 metre;
  • little sheer: over 3/4 of the length this is only a few centimetres, but suddenly rises sharply towards the bow and stern;
  • extreme length-width ratio: with a total length of 15.3 meters, a width of only 2.5 meters is not unusual;
  • strongly sloping, almost straight stems and sterns;
  • the bow makes about 30 degrees with the waterline, the stern about 60 degrees.

Other characteristics
A Westlander further distinguishes itself from other commercial vessels by:

  • The bow ends in an almost vertical plane with a short iron projection, like a kind of ram.
  • The rubbing strike consists of a fairly small square profile; under the gunwale the bulwark is thickened with a narrow iron strip.
  • A Westlander has no side decks along the hatchways. The den consists of the gunwale, a heavy angle line, on which there is always a wooden bow and above that the stitching leather (made of wood and removable for differences in load, but also to reduce the difference in height when loading and unloading).
  • The hatches that almost always run from ship to ship initially followed the deck curve. From the 1930s, flat shutters were used for cost reasons. Often there was no cloth over the shutters, revealing the characteristic iron triangular handle in the middle of the shutters. The hatches were secured, as with a Kagenaar, by shackle hooks and at least two shackle slats, so as not to lose any valuable thin manure or to take in water.
  • An elegant low deckhouse, trimmed along the edges with an angle line, iron shutters, sloping sides and a landing on the deckhouse. The small, often oval, deck windows are trimmed with sturdy semi-circular flat.
  • The deckhouse served as a day room, with simple interiors, a stove and benches, sometimes a (folding) cage. Only rarely was a Westlander inhabited.
  • The tiller runs low above the aft deck and almost up to the deckhouse, so that steering could be done from the deckhouse.
  • For standing steering, the tiller can be raised behind a clamp. Especially with the larger Westlanders, a control hatch (bollestable) was made in the aft deck, so that steering could be done with the hip.

It should be noted with regard to the rigging that, for most of the smaller Westlanders 'in operation', sailing was only an auxiliary power. If possible, a triangular mainsail (not a gaff, but a short upper blade) was set before the wind.

  • The rigging is simple, often there was not even a jib. There are therefore no winches to be found.
  • The forestay was placed on the stem. Old photos show that this was often done with a damselfly block and talreep through the stern. The mittens were tensioned with triangles and a binding.
  • The landing is on the deckhouse. Both mast and boom rest on it in lowered condition and do not protrude beyond the deckhouse.
  • The scale, the counterweight at the bottom of the mast, is such that the mast can be lowered and set by one man. Its own weight is often required to stop and initiate the movement.
  • In order to keep everything as low as possible when lowered, the lommel of the boom is often located next to the mast in the jack. The mast bolt also rests on the mast tube, so that - after the plates had been removed from the scale - the mast could be placed next to it.

Sailing area and use
As mentioned earlier, the Westlander is completely adapted to a sailing area with shallow small waters and many low bridges. It is said that the round bilges serve to moor at shallow sides. The ships were mainly built at Westland shipyards such as van Waveren, van Dam, van der Plas and van Straaten. These shipyards also often had barges for rent.

The main sailing areas were:

  • own canals in the Westland: transport of 'mist' (slurry), vegetables, sand, peat;
  • the shipping on the South Holland islands (beets, pulp, potatoes) with the largest Westlanders, who occasionally also transported cargoes further into South Holland;
  • the area around Leiden, Stompwijk, Zoeterwoude, Katwijk and Hazerswoude. There were also shipyards in that area where Westlanders were built: Boot in Leiden and Van Beeveren in Zoeterwoude.

With the exception of the very largest, Westlanders - due to the low freeboard and narrow width - were not suitable for open waters such as the Zuiderzee, Waddenzee or the estuaries in South Holland and Zeeland. Ships were often adapted to the applications that the skipper had in mind and the Westlanders were no exception. The resulting variation is sometimes such that they almost seem to be separate types of ships. From large to small: the Westlander, Westland barge and the two / triplets.

  • Large Westlander, also called a "Westlander van Overmaas", between 15 and 19 meters long. Often no weighing holes fore and aft, sometimes a spindle in the front for the anchor line; the front hood continues in the sides into a widened pot lid on which the bollards stand. Almost always fully rigged with jib and mainsail with gaff. Was usually used for transport to and from the South Holland islands and sometimes for freight throughout the interior. Hardly ever for transport in the Westland itself and on other smaller waters.
  • Westlander, the most common length of around 14 metres. There are weighing holes, the (single) bollards are on the widened pot deck as with the large Westlanders. After a few years of use, that pot lid sometimes rusted through and disappeared.
  • Westland praam, The pram is a variant of this with a length of approx. 12 metres, especially intended for thin manure. Due to their high weight, the pleats (as float boxes) had to be longer and the hold shorter. There is no question of stitching, the load had to be locked in order to prevent it from transferring when it tips over. There is no gunwale next to the fore and aft decks, but the checkered plate deck runs the full width. That's where the bollards are.
  • Motor Westlander, A Westlander, which is equipped with a built-in engine in the raised aft cabin. The old (riveted) deckhouse was placed on the foredeck as accommodation.
  • Westlander with engine stern, A Westlander of 13 to 22 meters with a motor stern, including a pierced iron rudder. The horizontal steering wheel could be adjusted in height for deck cargo and low bridges. Sometimes the upper part of the head (as the highest point) could be folded away in order to reach a certain auction, for example. If the ship was equipped with a low buoy and a completely continuous deck, it was referred to as a milk barge. 

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