March, 2020 browsing by month


75 years ago In the “Hunger winter” of World War II

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

Seventy-five years ago, March 30 1945 was Good Friday. Near midnight on Holy Thursday eve, two dripping wet crying boys rang the doorbell at their aunt and uncle’s home in the old center of Amsterdam. One of those little boys was me. (Plagiarizing Kamala Harris…  ). My twin brother and I had just turned 8, a month ago.

The winter in Holland in 1944-’45 is still reverted to as “The Hunger Winter”. Particularly in the major cities there was little food. Our father and my brother and I had been staying with our grandparents in Amsterdam. Our three year older sister was living with an uncle and aunt in Alphen at this time. The pastor of our Christian Reformed church had arranged for temporary lodging with families in the countryside for a group of 150 children from our neighborhood and the Christian elementary school.

These are excerpts from my father’s diary he kept ever since our mother had been arrested the end of April 1944.

March 29. Early this morning, Saakje (sister in law) showed up at my office to tell me that Jan and Jaap had been dropped off at their house on the Singel at 11.30 p.m. by a police man. The farmer had received other children and then sent our boys away.

I thought that their concerns about the twins’ behavior had been addressed during my recent visit on the twins’ birthday.

It seems like a very strange way of doing things. Apparently, the driver, who took them back to Amsterdam, had a letter on him for Pastor Kunst. The boys looked o.k. but unkempt. They arrived in tears on the Singel, dragging their blankets over the wet streets. They had one piece of luggage with them. The farmer had put them under a tarp in the back of an open pick-up truck but the boys had not had enough cover from the rain and the cold night. They had left in the evening in a hurry. The driver had dropped them off at the Police Station on the Adelaarsweg in Amsterdam North. One of the Policemen had accompanied them to the Police Station near the Koepelkerk where the twins recognized that they were near the Singel and then had the policeman ring the bell at nearly midnight at their aunt and uncle on the Singel.

March 30. Good Friday. Went to see Pastor Kunst. He had received the letter from Wieringermeer and was not very happy with the way this was handled. He had already had other unpleasant experiences with his contacts in the Wieringermeer. Kunst has given them a piece of his mind and accused them of committing an unpatriotic act towards the van Ommen family.

This is the part from father’s diary where our story begins:

February 6. This morning on my way to work, I ran into Pastor Kunst. He was on his way to talk to a barge skipper. Kunst had found a way to place 150 children from the church families on farms in the Wieringermeer[1]. I told him that I would like our boys to go there as well. He would look into that. They needed to be on the dock the next morning at 5 a.m. I had quite a job making the arrangements on such a short notice. Jaap and Jan had to be picked up from their grandparents and then I brought them to Siebold on the Singel, for the night, which was just a short walk to the dock. They had to get up at 4 a.m. In the Damrak, near the Central Station, lay a large Tjalk[2]. Straw had been spread on the cargo hold floor. The children were all stretched out on the straw.

The children are in good hands. They are headed for the towns of Middenmeer and Slootdorp. The mood was good and our boys enjoyed the adventure as well. They recognized many of their Dr. de Moorschool friends who they had not seen since July. Jan was a bit concerned that he would not be home for his 8th birthday. One of the children managed to fall into the ice-cold water while trying to board. The father jumped right in and both of them stood soaking wet back on the quay.

The barge took off at 6.30. A tugboat took the sailing barge in tow. I miss them but they’ll have much better chances to get the food that has become so scarce here in the city. It also became a bit too busy for their grandparents. It has become eerily quiet around here now. February 13. We have received a letter from the temporary foster parents of the boys. They are staying with a farmer family Dekens. There are five children on the farm in ages from four to eighteen. They are very happy there. I may come and visit on their birthday.

Jan and Jaap also added their letters. From Jan a very short message, Jaap wrote in more detail. They were locked in the hold for five to six hours. On arrival that night, the children were all quartered in a hotel in Middenmeer. They get to walk one of the horses, there are chickens, pigs and rabbits. They can stay until the end of the war.  The boys had brought each a couple of sandwiches for the trip and since several of the children had nothing to eat, they shared them. Jaap wrote that this prompted one of the older Mulder boys to conclude that our parents were NSB members (the Dutch Nazi party) because they were the only ones who would have access to bread. There were eleven hungry mouths to feed at the Mulder family who live about five doors up the street from us.

Yesterday, I came upon a young boy, I guessed him to be about nine years old, who stood there crying. I asked him: “What’s the matter, young man?” He replied: “I am hungry!” That just breaks your heart. People are coming through the neighborhood begging for bread or something to eat. I read in the newspaper that the death count for the week from January 26 to February 4th is 506. The same week last year was 169.

February 19. I helped unload a barge with a load of tulip bulbs[3], I received a little extra for my efforts and came home with 50 kilos.

February 21. Mrs. Heringa (Anna Heringa-Jongbloed) has died in Ravensbrück. One of the women in Ravensbrück has been released.[4] I hope to be able to get in touch with her.

February 23. I am busy cleaning the tulip bulbs; the flower stem has to be removed otherwise they continue sprouting. It is a good starch substitute, mashed like potatoes with a few carrots; tastes o.k.

Pastor Kunst brought me a letter he had received from the church commission in Middenmeer. In this letter, they point out that the twins did not have it all that bad with their grandparents in Amsterdam and did not lack anything. I am going to see the farmer family this Thursday for Jaap and Jan’s birthday and I will try to clear this up. It is really too bad that this had to happen.

February 27. I left at 7.30 a.m. for Middenmeer. Siebold lent me his bicycle. Mine has given up the ghost. The weather was good, a stiff breeze, via Zaandam, Purmerend. I reached Hoorn at noon where I ate a sandwich. At 3.30 p.m. I arrived in Middenmeer. It is a beautiful modern farm. The boys had gone to Kolhoorn with the horse-drawn wagon. They came home at 6 p.m. They looked fine.

They have found a very good home. Very kind people, they came to the Wieringermeer from Groningen. The children also treat the boys very well. Jan spends the whole day with the farm hands on the land. He has learned the names of all the animals.

I managed to clear up the farmer’s complaint, that had been reported in the letter to Pastor Kunst, to his satisfaction. The next day was their birthday. The boys had dressed in their Sunday clothes. Mrs. Dekens had baked a cake for their birthday.

March 1st. I took off again at 8.30 a.m. The whole farm crew waved me farewell and told me that I could come back any time. Mrs. Dekens gave me six ham and cheese sandwiches for the road and two pears, which I have saved for Rientje[5] and Moe. They also gave me a seventeen-pound sack of wheat. I enjoyed the couple of days I had with them. The wind was strong on the way back, rain showers; I made it back home by 4.30 p.m. Just before Hoorn there was a German road block, but I managed to find a way around it. There is hardly a child left in the Alblasstraat after the transport to the Wieringermeer.

The letter:

R.J. Ridder Accountants

Middenmeer, February 22, 1945 

The very reverend Mr. Dr. P.G. Kunst,

 Dear Dr. Kunst, 

As spokesperson for the church commission, I wish to advise you of the following incident with the van Ommen children, Jan and Jacob, who have been given a home with Mr. K. Dekens, Schagerweg, Middenmeer. These two children were living with their grandparents before they were assigned a home here. From their remarks, it has been clearly established that both boys did not lack anything, but instead were accustomed to what, we would call in these times, festive meals; at their grandmother white bread was regularly served, they had vegetables with every dinner. When they are served potatoes with ham, they insist on having vegetables with it, because that is what they are used to at their grandmother. This is their general attitude and the reason that their foster parents do not wish to keep them any longer. 

As a matter of fact, this sort of boys should never have been sent to us. There are thousands of children who have better reasons to be sent here. No doubt, you will share our conclusions. The Dekens family will shortly be receiving other children from Haarlem in the place of the van Ommens so that fortunately no children will become the victims of this problem.

Would you, please, get in touch with the parents or grandmother to have them send someone to come and get Jan and Jacob?

Fortunately, we have not had any other similar cases to report. 

In anticipation that you will look after this matter, I am, with kind regards, 

Your dv.

Later on, I heard from the boys that they had been a little too inquisitive. With the aid of the five-year-old son, Klaas, they had, for instance, discovered a secret tunnel from the farm that led underneath the road the farm fronted on to the canal that ran parallel with the road. This way the farm workers, who were hiding on the farm from the German forced labor service, could escape to a rowboat that was moored at the end of the tunnel in the canal. They also found an ambulance that was buried in the hay stack to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis.

This story is also part of my books: and 

[1] Wieringermeer was one of the very first “polders”, reclaimed land from the Zuider Zee. About 30 miles north of Amsterdam.

[2] Tjalk is a traditional Dutch flat bottom, lee boards, sailing barge.

[3] Tulip bulbs became a sought-after substitute for potatoes.

[4] Most likely this was Corrie ten Boom, who was released on January 1st. Or Hebe Kohlbrugge released January 1945. At this time Dick van Ommen still does not know any better than that his wife is still in Ravensbrück instead of Dachau.

[5] Rientje is Rennie’s youngest sister and had chronic health problems in that period.

Monday March 30. St. Thomas USVI. End of the line?

Monday, March 30th, 2020

I left yesterday Sunday morning from Christiansted on Saint Croix heading for Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas. A 37- miles fast sail, a reach with a little over 20 knots of trade wind from the east. One reef in the main and my little red storm jib. Averaging about 4 ½ knots. A little bumpy. Listening to salsa music. The Virgin Islands have a large Spanish American community, mainly from Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo.

Earlier in the morning I had a fitting Sunday morning religious program but it has faded in the distance on St. Croix.

The Covid-19 had me abandon my original plan to visit more of the French West Indies islands like Guadeloupe and also Antigua. They do not allow foreign boats to enter any longer. Until yesterday evening I had understood that Puerto Rico was accessible for US citizens. But that was questioned. I’ll have to verify this tomorrow morning on St. Thomas. Cuba, where I had hoped to stop and get dental work done, has also closed its borders.

Without internet here on the water, I am not sure where I left off in my previous blog. So, I’ll work back.

I left St. Barth on Wednesday morning, the 25th for the over 100-miles overnight sail to La Croix. A nice downwind sail during the day but the wind dropped and it was a frustrating slow night with slapping boom and sails. Without my tiller pilot, it is very difficult to steer the helm under engine power. Thursday morning the wind came back. When I got close to my planned anchorage, I dropped the main and when I tried start the engine for maneuvering to anchorage, the starter would not respond. What to do? I had a little room and time left. Checked the obvious, fuse, etc. And when I sailed closer, under the genoa jib, it looked like I would not have an escape route to sail back out against the wind. My call on the VHF channel 16 for local assistance went nowhere. A little later the US Coast Guard control center on Puerto Rico responded. They gave me the phone number for Boat US towing assistance. It was an answering machine on St. Thomas. I had no choice but plan A and do it right. It worked, I got the hook down reasonable clear to shore, so I could row to the world and a wi-fi connection. Because I had been holed up in a remote anchorage, Le Colombier, on Saint Barth since Wednesday the 18th of March.

Pictures of St. Croix: Chickens, roosters everywhere. I could not make myself pay $8.35 for a dozen of eggs. One could make a fortune if they could figure out where these stray chickens laid their eggs, instead of flying them in from the USA.


The chickens and the search for eggs

A flowering flame tree, rare sight in winter.

The Danish heritage





My Gig Harbor friends returned to the United States on the weekend of the 14th of March. I had promised Richard Spindler to bring a bottle of propane along to St. Barth. The gas merchant in Marigot gave me the run around and instead on having it ready on Friday the 13th, I ended up buying it on the Dutch side of the island and sailing it late Tuesday to St. Barth. I went ashore and could not believe what I saw. Hardly a car on the road and all stores and restaurants shuttered. I managed to get a cold beer and wi-fi at a takeout restaurant. Richard then told me that they were in Le Columbier and suggested I’d consider sitting out a blow predicted for Friday. That blow did not let up until Tuesday night. So, here I was for a week on a mooring buoy. It is the most protected anchorage on the island and the mooring buoys are free. As much as I trust my plow anchor there remains some apprehension when the wind comes up. No worries here. I rowed to shore that first Wednesday and took these pictures.

sunset from Le Colombier

the windy side of the Atlantic

my dinghy on beach “Fleetwood” in background





Someone came on to the VHF radio to warn the people on the beach that this was not allowed under the restrictions that went into effect the day before. It looked like I’d be able to leave for St. Croix on Saturday after the Friday strong winds, I deflated the dinghy, then found out that the strong winds were still to last a couple more days.

I could never have imagined that I would not go out of my mind tied to a mooring buoy for a week, but I managed to get much needed chores done. Backing up my laptop, editing a string of video projects. There was no socializing across the bay with other boats. Richard and Dona would stop by and keep the required distance from their dinghy. Once in a while I’d get a knock on the hull when Richard was doing his swimming routine.

I had my favorite radio programs. Mostly in French.

Meanwhile, Monday the 30th., anchored out on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront, my previous blog left off just after the Heineken Regatta on Sint Maarten. The four Gig Harbor couples came back to the anchorage Grand Case on St. Martin and I joined them there from Marigot on March 11. Beautiful bay and protected anchorage. Good bathing beach with the shore line lined with restaurants and bars where one can rent beach chairs and sun shades. It is a short distance from Marigot and a favorite destination for tourists and locals to come out to dinner or lunch to some of the best restaurants there on the island.

The next morning the nine of us took of for a day cruise to Pinel Island on the Clark’s catamaran. This was my very first sail on a Catamaran, bigger than a Hobycat. Compared to “Fleetwood”, this is sailing in comfort and luxury while watching the shore line slide by from your large living room and deck.

At Pinel, Clark’s catamaran in front

Mothers don’t let your daughters to grow up to be slaves to their smart phones!!

Kite surfing at Pinel




We sailed back from Grand Case on Friday the 13th. My friends returned home on Saturday and Sunday. Marlys restocked my provisions with the left overs from their two week cruise, which came in handy while sitting out my one week recluse in Le Colombier.

My free wi-fi options have become very tough to find, with all the restaurants and bars closed. I am sitting on the edge of a drainage ditch behind a hotel, with an open connection.  I have sent an e-mail to the marina in Havana, to see if i might be able to come in and sit through a quarantine. But most likely I’ll be on my way south in the next couple of days. I might try to get to Vero Beach before Easter and park the boat there on their inexpensive buoy moorage and rent a car to come to the Chesapeake. Then I will most likely do a haul out in Green Cove Springs, near Jacksonville. The bottom is getting raunchy. So, keep an eye on my tracker when I disappear from FB and internet.

I will choose my route east or west of the Bahamas depending on the internet predictions. I now have a decent connection to Chris Parker’s shortwave briefings. Which will help me decide when it is time to duck from the Atlantic on to the ICW, while I’m underway.

I don’t see much of a possibility to find the part I need for the tiller pilot on the internet.



Monday March 9 My 83rd birthday on St. Barth and Saint Martin and the 40th Heineken Regatta.

Monday, March 9th, 2020

I left Marigot on Monday February 24th, just a short 25 miles sail. The island, harbor and the town of Gustafia are a delight. Quite a contrast to St. Martin and Sint Maarten. Much cleaner and better run. It is the playground of the wealthy, particularly yacht owners. Every luxury brand store is represented here on the harbor front.

Gustavia harbor

From the Anse Public anchorage

Typical style from the Swedish colonial period




I met up with Richard and Dona Spindler and Jim and Jeannette Drake, who I had met with Richard’s catamaran “Ti Profligate” in Marigot. Richard treated me to a fabulous birthday dinner with the Drakes and several other sailor friends, at “Eddie’s” restaurant. Before dinner he introduced me to a group of local expat sailors from France and the USA at the “Select Bar” a longtime sailor hangout.

L.R. Richard Spindler, Steve Travis, longtime US sailor/adventurer on the island, Luc Poupon, Michel Corre a salty Breton sailor

Meeting the French sailing legend Luc Poupon, at the “Select”, was a treat. He started his trophy collection when I jumped into my new passion in the mid seventies and I remember reading about his and his older brother Philippe sailing accomplishments.  60 transatlantic crossings, with an impressive sailing record, like trans-Atlantic solo record, many others most on “Fleury Michou” see:…/avec-tabarly-on-ne-s-attachait-jam… He started Les Voiles de St. Barth regatta in 2010 which is now one of the most aspired yachting event in the Caribbean. On right is Michel Corre, Breton with several Atlantic crossings, solo and crewed.

I returned to Marigot on the 29th and was treated by three couples of my longtime Gig Harbor YC friends for another birthday dinner at the “O Plongeur” across from the Marina Fort Louis.

L.R. Marlys Clark, me, Janet James, Terry James, Doris Gordon, Tom Gordon, Greg Clark


Greg and Marlys Clark have their Bali Catamaran in a charter program out of the Grenadines and picked up a similar yacht here. Marlys used to work with me in Gig Harbor from 1988 until 1997. They were then living on “Oasis” a motor yacht, moored in Gig Harbor bay. She used to commute to our office on their tender. Greg became a captain on super ocean-going yachts. Marlys worked, until her recent retirement, as the stewardess. An exciting life that took them across the globe on different yachts. They plan to move onto their own catamaran when Greg retires in a few years. We have been together since the 5th on the Dutch side of the island, near the bridge into Simpson Bay, where all the action has been until yesterday. The 40th Heineken regatta. This you tube video

will give you an idea of the excitement.  This regatta is known for some of the world’s top competitors as well the cruising class. In this class, there are many participating with local charter boats. A fourth couple from Gig harbor, Kelly and Shawna Bussey, joined the Clarks party on the 4th.

Greg, Terry and Kelly helped me to the top of the mast on Friday to replace the lamp for the Tri-Color and to replace the windex that lew off in the strong winds on my way from Beaufort.

taken by Janet James from “Dominique”

They left on Saturday for St. Barth, I tried to follow them a couple hours later, but the wind had strengthened and I considered it to have to sail through the starting fleet in these conditions and not having a working tiller pilot. I went to work on the tiller pilot and got the motor running but the compass does not work any longer. I am going to try find a solution/parts today.

I attended the 8.30 mass in Philipsburg at the church of Saint Martin of Tours (same saint as the church I attended twice in Marigot), served by the order of Divine Word Missionaries. This was a very special experience. The congregation, majority the black locals and some tourist, is very much involved in the liturgy and an impressive list of church and social activities. They sing Happy Birthday for any who has a birthday that week, and they have a song for any first-time visitors. The associate pastor is from Indonesia, Yohanes Bally SVD. After a very meaningful sermon, he whipped out his guitar and sang this wonderful song:

Much of the liturgy was sung. With a voice and musical talent, he has to be the envy of many believers and his colleagues.

You hear very little Dutch on Sint Maarten. There is a rare radio program in Dutch. Many Americans and Canadians work here and have retired here. The Dollar is the most common payment method. They also still have their own currency, the guilder. And the Euro is also accepted but less so than with their French neighbors.

The Clarks are already on their way back from St. Barth. I will probably wait here to see them in the next couple of days when they return their catamaran to Marigot.