Skip to content

Demise of a Dutch botter

We bring the second part of Fritz van der Mark’s research into the demise of a Dutch botter. The article is primarily a reconstruction of the English period of this botter, the family who lived on board for more than 12 years and the sad fate that the ship finally had waiting for her. 
Botters in English hands introduces us to Roy and Rosalind Elroy who purchased ‘HK23’ and sailed her to England, naming her ‘Windhaver’.

Botter living
In the early 1960s, Rosalind Elroy (like Mike Peyton) wrote ‘About Boats’ columns in the Guardian. These formed the basis for the book ‘Botter Living’, published in 1966. This was described by Peter Dorleijn in Tagrijn 2005. It tells the story of the search for a botter, the crossing and conversion of fisherman to cabin cutter and sailing houseboat. Part of the information for this article has been analyzed by ‘Botter Living’. When after a year and a half living on board, the cabin is ready in November 1960. Rosalind writes:
‘The cabin starts to look like a home, although it still seems large and bare after the cosy little fore cabin’. The coal stove is lit and does not go out until the next spring. The first five years of life on board, the sailing trips on weekends and holidays, will be discussed. The facilities on board are simple. The cabin was heated with a coal stove, cooking and lighting were on gas. There was a small water tank that could be filled from the shore with the aid of a hose. Only the sink of the kitchen block had a transit through the hull. In the front was a toilet area with a camping toilet.

Renovation into a living ship
Two weeks after arrival the barge is dried at a wharf in Maldon. It turns out to be difficult to find a good berth. Eventually an old quay just above Wivenhoe was found, during the Second World War artificial harbours to be used for the landings in Normandy were build there. In July the fore cabin was ready and they are going to live on board. By sailing they explore a part of East Coast Rivers that summer, in the autumn the livewell was demolished and the construction of the cabin was started. A cold winter follows, an old oil stove is unable to provide enough heat and cannot burn at night. At the beginning of May their first child Caroline is born.

During the following summer there was no sailing, the cabin had to be finished first. That was achieved in the beginning of November. The exterior of the botter had to be tackled next season. As it often happens with traditional ships abroad, the ‘classic standard’ is released. The hull is painted dark green, the leeboards white on the outside and bright yellow on the inside, all the ironwork becomes silvery. Spars, tiller and timber are varnished, from Harderwijk an ordered new pennant arrives. Because of persistent leakage Roy decides to treat the deck with a special kit and to double it with thumb-thick boards. 

Childbirth on board
Two years after the first baby, the second one announces itself. The midwife comes to visit and agrees to a delivery on board. She said that she had experienced in much worse conditions in shelters during the war. Roderic was born at the highest of the flood. Rosalind writes:
’The midwife wrapped the baby in an old army blanket instead of the shawl waiting by the fire. She was in her element and probably expected the all clear signal to sound at any moment ‘.

Windhaver, what’s in a name?
A lot of attention was paid to the coming up of a name for the botter. Roy explains: We fancied something Dutch but that people could easily pronounce and spell. Rosalind spent time browsing and checking the Dutch/English dictionary and came across windhaver meaning wild oats. We not only liked it but there is a saying in Britain about ‘sowing one’s wild oats’ when you are young. The analogy is not perfect but the venture was seen as quite reckless by some! However when we took her to Holland no one had a clue what Windhaver meant and assumed it was English.

The sailing
With the ‘Windhaver’ they sailed regularly on the East Coast Rivers and the Thames Estuary for a long season. During the holidays the North Sea was crossed twice, on the last occasion the trip lasted three weeks and a number of Zeeland ports were visited. Roy says:
‘We continued to use ‘Windhaver’ very actively, the sailing season actually became longer and longer. We have learned to enjoy the estuaries in the winter. We visited places we had not yet seen such as Great Yarmouth and carry on the Broads as far as possible with a fixed mast. The sails were very old and we had had the fore sail re-sewn but the canvas of the main was going. In 1970 we had a new main sail made and did what we could to keep her in working order. We would have been happy to replace a few planks or frames, but it was an overall thing. The ship became more and more vulnerable and with two children and more and more things on board we decided to look for something else.’

‘Windhaver’ had a berth at Woodbridge in the Deben for the last 2 years. Eventually in 1972 the Ellwood family moved to Newcastle, after living on board the botter for 13 years. Through a real estate agency the ship was sold in 1973 to a certain Granville. It turned out to be possible to trace Roy Elwood, now 93 years old and still full of lively memories of the botter. Many data and photos could be added to the ‘Windhaver’ story.It turns out that Roy became familiar with sailing from an early age. He says that during the last part of the war he sailed on a destroyer, who escorted convoys to Russia. In the fifties he regularly rented a yacht on the south coast with friends and sailed along the coast, to the Channel Islands or Brittany. As a young couple they lived the countryside and moved to the east coast because there was more space and there would be more classical gaff rigged vessels suitable for living. They did not find the suitable ship there, but they never regretted it.

Botter as art gallery
Granville was not long the owner, in 1975 the painter Paul Bruce took over ‘Windhaver’. He used the botter as shelter for the weekends. In addition, he sailed from Woodbridge with a 20ft Hillyard cutter. For 25 years the botter would be in the corner of the quay at Woodbridge. ‘Windhaver’ never sailed again. Bruce wanted to have the mast removed, but the boss of the adjacent yard convinced him to abandon it. It is also known that the artist, member of ‘The Artists of the Deben’, held exhibitions on board the botter.

MK 63 meets Windhaver
To visit the East Coast Rivers, Peter Dorleijn made the crossing with his botter MK 63 twice. The first time was in 1986, when he saw the ,Windhaver, ‘in reasonable condition’ at the quay of Woodbridge. That was in the period that Paul Bruce was the owner of the botter. In 2003, the writer was now on board as a crew member, we saw the wreck of a botter against the muddy bank opposite Woodbridge. The hull was painted in bright colours. We heard it was the ‘Windhaver’:
‘One evening we row with the dinghy to the other side of the Deben, the botter is in deplorable state. The hull is gray, the hull dyed pink. At port is a hole of a few square meters. Peter notes that the port and starboard leeboards have been swapped. There is a thick layer of mud inside. That does not stop Paul from researching. He finds a remarkably cool cast iron hob. As true guardians of the Dutch heritage, we drag the plate aboard. Just then I see a Land Rover approaching the grassland at high speed. It seems sensible to no longer postpone the sailing. When we row away we get to hear that we have nothing to look for here and that the ship is ‘private property’. The hob is transferred to the cabin on board the MK 63. Peter sleeps restless after this adventure and dreams of pursuit by the police ‘. Back in the Netherlands, the hob finally got a place aboard another botter. Over the years, the further deterioration of the botter on satellite images can be followed. In May, 2018 the news came from Woodbridge that at low tide, only the mast, falling backwards on the remains of the wreck, is clearly visible.

Words and images contributed by Fritz van der Mark
with thanks to Peter Dorleijn (Zwaag) and Roy Elwood (Newcastle, UK)