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De Vrouwe Christina: Dutch maritime history
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De Vrouwe Christina: Dutch maritime history

Tristan Rutherford
29th October 2019

Joe Krijnen’s discovery of a submerged airplane wreck ranks among his best sailing stories. “In 2002 my father Henri Krijnen discovered the vintage Feadship De Vrouwe Christina on Sint Maarten,” explains Joe. “A few years later we met off the Honduras coast. Here we asked local fishermen to recommend a secret dive spot.” 

 As De Vrouwe Christina’s design is based upon a traditional Dutch barge, Joe and Henri Krijnen were able to anchor its 1.09m draught against the recommended reef before diving in. As Joe recalls: “The sea was initially cloudy and milky. Then it cleared like a ghost story.” The wrecked Cessna light aircraft, encrusted with coral, formed a seabed home for queen conch and Caribbean reef squid. On such dreams are stories made. 

 In fact De Vrouwe Christina boasts generations of stories gleaned over six decades. At 28m in length she remains the largest of all the 1950s Feadships. Thanks to her six transatlantic crossings she has cast a stately white silhouette over destinations as diverse as South America and Ibiza. 

However, her backstory is quite literally double Dutch. In the mid-1950s the famed medical professor, Crawford Failey, approached Feadship with a unique brief. He wanted a classic yacht that could both sail the Atlantic and motor along the Intracoastal Waterway, a 5,000km flow of inlets and canals that ribbons from the Gulf of Mexico to New England. The only boat that fitted the bill was a traditional Dutch sea tjalk.

De Vrouwe Christina proved a miraculous build. After her delivery in 1957, Professor Failey found her shallow draught perfect for exploring the Bahamas, where 700 islands are separated by starfish-strewn sandbanks. Sadly three decades later she was being used as a houseboat off Sint Maarten, although she still held her head aloft as the largest yacht registered on the Dutch island. In the early noughties, a website listed her for sale. Over 4,000 nautical miles away in Amsterdam, the advert was seen by Henri Krijnen. 

“My father was intoxicated by the romance of the unusual,” says his son Joe. “But he also craved comfort and quality, which describes this Feadship in a nutshell.” Henri Krijnen purchased De Vrouwe Christina sight unseen. “Then he caught the next KLM flight to Sint Maarten”.

The decision to refit on Sint Maarten had far-reaching effects, both positive and negative. “When you buy a yacht little changed since 1957 you don’t know what’s underneath,” says Joe. Concrete had been used as a crude ballast, which had almost punched a hole through the hull. Grade A steel had to be laser cut in Holland then shipped to a group of skilled Canadian welders, who replaced the 4mm thick hull coating with an 8mm metal skin. 

“The strong hull and updated keel means you can basically take her anywhere,” says Joe. As well as the Canadian welders, a master cabinet maker was found on Sint Maarten. He crafted gorgeous new interiors in birdseye maple, a rare knotted grain found in sugar maple trees from America's far north. The yacht’s original art deco animal carvings by famed Dutch sculptor Anton Fortuin were left untouched and complement the interior remarkably well.

Henri Krijnen’s explorations took in Panama, Alaska and America’s Intracoastal Waterway. His daughter, Joe’s sibling Sylvia, has kept her father’s diaries from the trips. “Dad’s favourite activity was to write up his journal in the lounge seat in the shadow of the boom,” she explains. “The Intracoastal Waterway is unique in that you cruise from luxury homes in Florida to vast nature in Georgia an hour later.” 

Her father Henri’s most evocative memories concern American hospitality and the country’s nature. “One marina owner took him in the back of his truck to a mad shrimp dip restaurant deep in the bayous.” 

Sylvia’s own stories from aboard De Vrouwe Christina are those one could only glean from a private yacht. “I remember cruising in Virginia best. Dad used to have two Softail Harley Davidsons on board but this time we used his fold-away bicycles to explore. We cycled through fields of cotton like extras from Gone with the Wind.”

Henri Krijnen was considering an even longer voyage when he returned De Vrouwe Christina to Holland for a second refit, which was completed in 2017. “He was talking of bringing her to Indonesian waters,” says Sylvia. In this instance America's Intracoastal Waterway called louder. Krijnen took her back to the United States, where she remains moored today. 

The Krijnen family also wanted De Vrouwe Christina to belong to the Feadship Heritage Fleet. This meant the recent refit took place in the SFR yard that neighbours Feadship, under the latter’s watchful eye. Brand-new electronics and plumbing were added alongside a redesign of the crew quarters to offer more comfort and privacy. The engine room was also overhauled with the exception of the Perkins engines, which were thoroughly serviced. She’s now a “brand new old lady” with a comprehensive service and ownership history that dates back to 1957. 

“The Heritage Fleet is a club that unites Feadship owners,” explains Joe, “but it also brings together like-minded people who share tips on restoration, technology and history. More importantly, De Vrouwe Christina occupies a trusted place at the heart of Feadship history so we feel it’s important to stay close to the mothership.” 

Now the tale requires a different author. “Our yacht is a living legend that deserves to be loved,” says Sylvia. “However my brother Joe and I have young families and are bound by school holidays. When we took ownership in 2018 we contemplated keeping her, but with great sadness we decided to pass the boat’s heritage on to an owner that can continue her legacy and enjoy her on a more regular basis.” 

The story of De Vrouwe Christina encompasses seafaring adventure across four continents, plus tales of abandonment and resurrection. It’s up to a new generation to write the next chapter.

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