With so much focus in the yachting press on
how big or fast a boat is, the recent launch of a 40ft catamaran in St Maarten
was a reminder that sometimes what counts is simply how important a boat is.
Under the supervision of local multihull legends Dougie Brooks and Pat
Turner, some 30 volunteers moved the yellow cat from the house where it was
built, across tyres laid out on Simpson Bay Beach – ‘the old way’, and into the
Caribbean Sea. It was a day of mixed emotions. Celebration that 30 years’ work
had just been completed. Sadness that the man who gave those 30 years could not
be there to see his work achieved.
AM ‘Spam’ van Spanje built boats since he was in Indonesia. “Small
racing cats and sail boats,” according to his daughter, Wanda. He came to St
Maarten in 1962 where he was the first airport manager. “My dad was involved in
a lot of things. As well as being married to his job, he was involved in
politics, schools and the Rotary. There was a lot of things he did for people
in the community,” Wanda explains.
When you combine a passion for boats with a passion for the island, you
get a boat that takes 30 years to build. “He befriended Peter Spronk from South
Africa, who was very well known for his cats and trimarans,” Wanda continues.
“Peter did a design for my dad and my dad spent every free minute he had on the
boat. He took his time because he was very precise. Of course, he damaged his
hands with the fibreglass coating. It took three layers in different ways and
for months he couldn’t work on the boat because it damaged his hands to the
third layer of the skin. They never really healed.”
Were there times when he despaired of the monster he’d created? “No,”
replies Wanda without hesitating. “He always looked forward to doing it. He’d
mainly been doing it alone but he had help from Dougie Brooks, who’d built
boats in Grenada and St Maarten with Peter Spronk.”
When the latter passed away in 1997 the boat’s launch was always going
to be tinged with regret. But a further twist of fate was to make the moment
even more poignant.
“Two years ago, she was supposed to be launched,” says Wanda, “then my
father would put the cabin in and she would be ready. But he passed away the
month before, in October 2003.”
As a result, the boat was put up for sale. From her conspicuous position
underneath their house on Simpson Bay, the boat was well known and there were
many willing buyers. Not all welcome – “One buyer wanted to turn it into a
houseboat,” says Wanda. “Dougie said, “No way! Spam and Peter would turn in
The new owner is a friend of Brooks, who took time off from his
post-Ivan work in Grenada to take the hull to the JMC boatyard on the French
Side where it will be finished.
For Wanda, the handover was something of a painful relief. “I know the
new owner, I met him,” she admits. “He fell in love with the boat and that was
very important to me.” But, “It’s my dad. I always hoped he’d see it in the
water, but he never did. I was very happy to see it go in the water but also
very sad because it had finally found its destination.”