A national towage treasury in Maassluis
|Nico J. Ouwehand
Dutch National Towage Museum
|Hans de Klerk
Dutch National Towage Museum
At the head of the inner harbour in the city of Maassluis in the west of the Netherlands stands an old town hall. The handsome, 17th century building no long fulfils the civic role for which it was conceived – not since the 1970s when the city opened a new hall. For the past 40 years, the old hall has been the home of the Nationaal Sleepvaart Museum – the Dutch National Towage Museum – a showcase for all things tug-related.
The museum, founded by captains of the towage and maritime industries, was ideally located in what was then the homeport of the Smit Towage fleet.
“That changed in the 1960s with the building of the fourth Zwarte Zee vessel. Her draught was too deep for the harbour,” explains Nico Ouwehand. Nico began his voluntary career at the museum just six months after its opening in 1979. Forty years on and he is still there, along with colleagues like Hans de Klerk, who has served 15 years at the museum. Hans and Nico are joined by a small army of over 40 other volunteers fulfilling varied roles from IT support to tour guide.
Both Nico and Hans have a lifelong relationship with the maritime industry. “My father used to work on the Spido,” says Nico, referring to the Rotterdam harbour tour company that has been in operation for almost 100 years. “I used to go onboard with him and take pictures of ships coming and going from the port.”
“When I was young, I had a neighbour who was first mate on a Smit tug. I used to hear stories from him about life onboard and I received towage magazines from him – that’s how I became ‘infected’ with tugs,” explains Hans.
Taking over the street
The museum has come a long way since its early days.
When we started, we had just a shoebox of photographs and some borrowed ship models. Now, we have over 200,000 photographs and over 350 of our own models.
“The collection grew so much,” rejoins Nico, “that we had to expand into the building next door, which was purchased with the generous donations of our supporters.” The museum has always drawn on the support of the industry and continues to do so today. “The chairman of our advisory board is Joop Timmermans, managing director of Port Towage Amsterdam, the joint venture between Iskes and Svitzer. Arnout Damen also sits on the advisory board,” he continues.
The museum attracts between 3,500 and 4,500 visitors annually.
“Last year we received over 5,000 visitors. This was more than normal because of a particularly popular exhibition featuring Lego tugs made by local model-maker Edwin Korstanje (who featured in an earlier edition of the Damen Harbour & Terminal Journal),” states Hans. “Visitors come from all over the world,” he goes on. “Many Dutch sailors have moved abroad over the years and when they return they like to come here with their families.”
And in all the years our visitors have been coming, we have never once received a negative comment in our visitor book.
A tour of Dutch heritage
Giving the author a guided tour of museum, Nico starts off in the former office of the city’s mayor. “Today, this is where the advisory board of the museum hold their meetings. The painting,” he says pointing to the wall, “is of the Boompjes in Rotterdam from 1910.”
The image shows a thriving River Maas and harbour along with numerous traditional Dutch houses. If the maritime character of the famous harbour city is recognisable still, it’s the only thing that is. Having suffered a severe bombardment in the early days of the Second World War, the same view today would feature modern skyscrapers and the iconic Erasmus Bridge.
From there we move on to the exhibitions room, which, at the time of writing, was featuring an exhibition on the harbour itself, including numerous images of a bustling Maassluis in days gone by.
The museum hosts a new exhibition every 6-9 months.
Damen doet dat
“In 2008 we held an exhibition on Damen, called Dit doet Damen (Damen does that), which was opened by Kommer Damen himself.
“The exhibition room used to be where weddings took place when this was the town hall. Actually, we still get people – usually those whose parents wed here – coming to celebrate their marriage here from time to time.”
The next exhibition, starting in June, will be a special display; on the eighth of that month, the museum will celebrate its 40th anniversary. Nico, who has previously authored a book marking the 25th anniversary of the museum, as well as the book 100 Jaar Wijsmuller (100 years of Wijsmuller), has dedicated the past two years to writing a special book to mark the event.
The room also showcases numerous tug models from the historic Smit fleet – including the 1930s-built Baskenburg, a vessel still in operation today in Italy. Also featured is the Roode Zee, a tug that was lost with all hands during a Second World War torpedo strike.
“The models are built by amateur model makers, but, as you can see, they are really professional,” Nico states, pointing to the astonishing level of intricate details on the vessels. In the room next door, the names of the crew of the Roode Zee feature on one of the war memorials to Smit crew members lost during the conflict. Also there are medals and other honours awarded to crew members who served with the Dutch military forces. From here, we venture, seamlessly, into the building next door where the museum hosts its permanent displays on Rhine towage and harbour towage.
The Rhine exhibition features the significant collection of Rhine shipper Martin van de Geer, which passed to the museum on the death of the collector. The harbour towage vessel, as may be expected, features a number of Damen vessels. The centerpiece though, is the Siberië.
“During the 1920s, she was the most powerful tug in the Port of Rotterdam with 600 HP,” explains Nico. She also featured ice-breaking capabilities, something that would not automatically be associated with operations in the Port of Rotterdam today. It’s clear that times have changed in the years since this National Towage Museum first opened its doors, as they continue to change. It is interesting to speculate on what industrial innovations the exhibitions of the future will display to the museum’s visitors 40 years from now.
Mr. Kommer Damen and Nico J. Ouwehand during the opening of the exposition “Dit Doet Damen”