The tiny nation of the Netherlands owes much to water. For thousands of years, the Dutch have subdued and sailed the seas. Sadly, the global pandemic may have permanently docked some of the country’s historic ships at the artificial island of Pampus.
Early settlers claimed Dutch land from the sea. They built dikes, dams, and windmills as they dredged up the area’s soggy ground. Historians say resulting ports like Amsterdam and Rotterdam allowed the Netherlands to become a global hub for art, architecture, science, and trade. The Netherlands’ maritime importance was clear: The powerful Dutch East India Company dominated trade with Asia, Africa, and the Americas for decades.
Visitors to the Netherlands can learn of the country’s nautical past aboard a fleet of antique Dutch ships. Around 400 historical vessels ply the waterways of the Netherlands and beyond. Each year, the boats carry some 300,000 passengers through the miles of canals throughout the country. The oldest boat dates to 1875.
But today, ship owners are struggling to survive amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The high costs of maintaining the boats and efforts to follow new social distancing guidelines have literally taken the wind out of their sails.
Dutch authorities allotted billions of euros to help businesses affected by measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. But boat owners say the financial lifelines aren’t enough to keep them afloat.
“It’s very likely that these ships will disappear out of our landscape,” says fleet representative Joost Martijn. “We can’t sail them anymore with guests, and that’s how we maintain the ships—by sailing with them and earning some money.” He adds, “Now it’s impossible to sail with them because of the virus.”
In June, some 175 old ships and their crews gathered near the island of Pampus near Amsterdam. They blasted their boat horns in unison. Crews called for government support for them and their lovingly restored vessels.
“We need a solution that fits for our line of work, for these ships, so that we can maintain them for Holland and for the world, these beautiful classical sailing ships.” Martijn says.
Keeping earthly things in shipshape is hard work, ever since sin affected everything. Boats, like bodies, now tend toward decay and decline. But God uses even that graciously. He gives us hearts that long for another home—where neither moth nor rust (nor water!) corrupts. (Matthew 6:19)
An online petition in support of the fleet has already registered more than 16,000 signatures.
Boat owners purposefully chose Pampus for their protest. The idiom “anchored at Pampus” means “exhausted” in Dutch. It’s an apt description. After all, it’s hard to know when to abandon a sinking ship.