I can well remember the time around 60 years ago when Dutch and German coasters carried a short coniferous tree fastened to their masts in the period approaching Christmas. They would arrive at Scottish east coast ports from the Baltic with sawn timber cargoes often stowed high on their decks and hatch covers to make a full cargo. It was all loose boards in those days making cargo handling very labour intensive.
Nowadays, changes in ship design with fewer and shorter masts and no need for derricks, with some foremasts only carrying a navigation light. With fewer crew on board there is less time to attend to such extras as decorative trees!
No doubt many of the trees for this Yuletide purpose were collected from the sawmills from where the timber was loaded. From early December they would be seen hurrying into port on this side of the North Sea in order to get a quick discharge, thus turning round and heading back home with their crews to The Netherlands or Germany for the festive celebrations with their families.
I recalled this traditional custom of Continental seafarers having seen the former Dutch cargo vessel Anja, now registered at Limassol, Cyprus. However, she had been built as the Seabreeze and registered at Delfzijl, at the famous Peters shipyard at Kampen, on the eastern side of The Netherlands in 1995, a busy time for coaster building in that area.
Representative of today’s growing size of short sea trader at 85 metres in length and a cargo capacity of 3,246 tons, her recent trading pattern had taken her to Rotterdam, St. Petersburg, Sutton Bridge and Methil. What hadn’t changed was the fact she had a quick turn round and, according to the international AIS, headed back to Rotterdam in time for Christmas!
Now a short seasonal tale also from The Netherlands. We received a welcome seasonal greetings card from Captain Arjen van’t Hof, his wife Ginny and young son Gian from their home in Maassluis in The Netherlands. He mentioned that during the past year all the family had Covid-19 but fortunately had now recovered.
The illustration on their card showed the harbour tug Maassluis with a large Dutch flag seen flying abaft the funnel and behind the small vessel was the large, powerful deep sea salvage tug Elbe, while above and behind was the back drop of an angry dark grey sky. The illustration was reproduced from a painting in acrylic by Dutch artist Dick van Geldersen.
To finish on a historical note, the Bugsier towage company mentioned recently in Shipping Lines was founded in 1866 in Hamburg not long after the first steam tug appeared at Montrose. With company mergers on several occasions over subsequent years they went on to build their first motor-powered tug in 1923 - a vessel of 40 metres in length. In 1926, they moved their business to Bremerhaven and in 2004 they acquired the towage business of Hapag Lloyd, a major German shipping company. More recently they merged with major tug operators Fairplay and now have a combined fleet of over 100 tugs.
Today the Seefalke, one of the most famous tugs of the 1920s and 30s, at one time thought to be the world’s most powerful tug is currently a museum ship at Bremehaven. She was built by J C Tecklenborg at the same port in 1924 and fitted with a 3,300 hp engine. She was reported to have been used to tow the battleship Bismarck. She was later sunk at Kiel near the end of World War Two, subsequently salvaged and went to work for Bugsier.
Caption: Anja, a more modern version of a Dutch coaster.