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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

25 May 2017

❖ REMEMBERING THE LIFEBOAT HERO ❖

DORUS "OPA" RIJKERS,
Helder, Holland.
Extraordinary lifeboat captain.

Photo date 1927 celebrating his 80th birthday.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.© 
Theodorus "Dorus" Rijkers (1847-1928) was a famous Dutch lifeboat captain and folk hero, most famous for his sea rescues of 511 shipwrecked victims over a total of 42 rescue operations, and at least 25 before joining the lifeboat-service.
      'Opa' Dorus received his nickname Grandpa (Dutch: Opa) while still a young man; he had married a fisherman's widow who already had 6 children. The nickname began as a joke, Dorus soon started acting and looking like a grandpa, and from that time on he became primarily known by his nickname.
      Dorus gained most of his fame as a result of his service to the Noord-en-Zuid-Hollandsche Redding Maatschappij (NZHRM) one of the two main Dutch lifeboat-societies at the time. 
      However his life-saving career began in 1872 before he joined the NZHRM, while acting as captain of his own boat. While at sea, he saved all 25 crew members of the barque Australia from drowning at sea. Because of this incident, Dorus gained a reputation as a rescuer, that preceded his joining the NZHRM as a volunteer. On the basis of his reputation, he was granted the position of coxswain upon joining the NZHRM without having to prove his qualifications. His rank of coxswain entitled him to immediately command his own boat and crew.
      Although Dorus joined the NZHRM as a volunteer, he worked so many hours that it precluded him from taking on other paid work. Dorus and all of his crew members received a sum for each trial and each service.
      During his nearly 30 years service, Dorus saved hundreds of people from drowning at sea,  becoming legendary long before his retirement. In the waters where he served, he saved such a large number of people with such effectiveness that the survival statistics increased dramatically. At the end of his career, although he remained active, his role became more symbolic in nature.
      In 1888: Dorus Rijkers met King William III of the Netherlands after rescuing sailors from the German barque Renown. The King gave Dorus a gold medal of honor and smoked a pipe with him.
      1911: Dorus retired at age 64, after which he received only a very small pension. He struggled to make ends meet by eating simple food and living plainly.
      1922: During an interview with Dr. L.A. Rademaker, editor of the Hague newspaper Het Vaderland, Dorus complained about his situation. He claimed that he had been forced to sell the gold medal of honor in order to buy himself a bicycle. The Dorus Rijkers Fund for the Heroes of the Sea was created after Dorus' plight and that of other retired life-savers.
      1928: Dorus Rijkers died at the age of 81. He was given a funeral that was so grand that it resembled a state funeral in size and style. There was music, a big parade, thousands who came to pay their last respects including a large number of Marine Officers, also high ranking government officials, among them representatives of the Ministry of the Navy. The grandeur of his funeral showed the great public esteem in which Dorus was held at the time. Rijkers had become a national hero and was by far the most popular Dutchman of those years (according to a poll that surveyed many people in the Netherlands during the 1920s.
      1935: There is a huge statue erected in honor of all the Netherlands sea-rescuers. This statue is sometimes mistakenly assumed to be in honor of Dorus. In fact, a separate, smaller statue of Dorus was erected in 1939. One of the rescue boats of the KNRM still carries his name with pride. Dorus is generally acknowledged as one of the greatest rescuers of all time. 
A photo of that vessel named for the hero,can be viewed here
      
      

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