What is a Lemsteraak?

Over the centuries, a particular form of sailing barge was developed that worked well in the shallow waters of the Netherlands. These barges were used for fishing and transporting goods along the coasts, and also inland on lakes and canals.

The Dutch lake now known as the Ijsselmeer, used to be a shallow bay (Zuiderzee) open to the North Sea. The sailing barges needed to skim through waters often less than 4 or 5 feet in depth to perform their work so were built with shallow and flat bottoms.

They had no problem sailing away with the wind, but due to their shape trying to sail towards it meant the barge would be pushed sideways making progress difficult or impossible. Their solution was movable boards (leeboards) on each side which could be lowered into the water when required, and would act similar to a keel on a deeper draft sailing vessel.

There are quite a few different developments of the Dutch sailing barge, each with their design focused on specific geographical requirements and having unique class names such as Bol, Botter or Tjalk. They were originally built of wood, then iron and more recently in steel.

One particular type known as a Lemsteraak, is considered to be the most beautiful and seaworthy.  Lemsteraak were a culmination of development and innovation from centuries of working under sail. They were and remain a very desirable form.

For example, on a Lemsteraak the leeboards are dynamically angled and shaped to reduce sideways movement more than a traditional flat board. Although they are shaped much like an airplane wing, it is interesting to note that the Dutch understood this fluid dynamic long before the shape was given to wings and aircraft first took to the skies! Also the shape of a Lemsteraak is very rounded, allowing water to flow freely under the hull. This shaping of leeboard and hull is time consuming and expensive but the result was a fast vessel.

After the Zuiderzee was closed off by a huge dam in the 1930’s, the newly formed lake slowly changed from being salt water to fresh, bringing to an end the fishing industry in the area. Many of the working sailing barges were laid up, and after a little while began to be used for another purposes,  leisure!

From around the 1950’s converted sailing barges began to appear. These were very beautifully finished and featured homely interiors. They still retained many of the features of their working ancestors including their sailing gear, with a mast that could be lowered to pass under the many bridges in the rivers and canals.

A particular feature was a huge outside seating area at the stern, where entire families could be together when sailing or at anchor. The working sailing barges had became yachts and were sailed by wealthy individuals and families. The most desirable form of sailing barge for conversion was the Lemsteraak.

Today there are many converted as well as newly built Lemsteraak sailing in the Netherlands. Their design still remains the most suitable form for the area, and are also popular in other parts of Europe.

There are few sailing boats that are as versatile as the Lemsteraak. They are very stable and sea-kindly due to their wide and rounded  hulls. They are also usually flat underneath, so they could  sit upright on the sands when the tides went out. A boat that is both capable of crossing the North Sea or English Channel, and also sailing up the estuaries, rivers, creeks, canals and under bridges to get further inland than any other is a very desirable feature for those who sail for leisure. This versatility being just as important in the days when they were used for transporting cargo and fish.

Sailing barge Drifter was built on the banks of the Ijsselmeer  in 1976  by the shipbuilder Blom. It is now used in the Falmouth area for short cruises and day sailing.

For further information see the website www.sailingbargedrifter.co.uk