Hendrik Jan

Ship details: A ninety foot canal ship (the former Ijmuiden 17), owned by Fietje Donselaar, fitted out in the canal Sparne (in Haarlem) by Steph Willemsen and Bob Peeters. During 1970, the Hendrik Jan was partially rebuilt in the Sparne canal by a couple of illegal immigrants from Angola, the former Portuguese colony. Bob Peeters had promised the illegal immigrants that if they managed to get the station on air off the Dutch coast the ship would be taken after a short while to the Portuguese coast, and then onto the Angolian coast. By Christmas food and water had run out for the Portuguese on the Hendrik Jan and local people collected food and water for them. A few days into the new year 1971 the illegal Portuguese immigrants were arrested. The Stichting Radio Operatie never made it on air, and the Hendrik Jan never went into International waters.

Planned offshore radio station: S. O. R. (Stichting Operatie Radio) in 1971

Planned location: International waters off the Dutch coast

Noord-Hollands Archief, collectie Fotopersbureau De Boer – 1971-01-05 – zendschip Hendrik Jan (Bob Peeters) – Radio SOR – NL-HlmNHA_1478_09081K00_11

Hans Knot reporting: We spoke with Steph Willemsen many years later about the story of Radio SOR, the Stichting Operatie Radio, and the Hendrik Jan.

In Willemsen’s own words, it all went like this: “After the grounding of that ship, the matter was not yet settled for us. One of Reverend Toornvliet’s staff members had an acquaintance in Haarlem who owned a ship that could potentially resume the broadcasts. This was the Hendrik Jan. I can immediately say that the idea was nice, but the whole thing was a flop. The lady in question was too enthusiastic, and despite various warnings that such a boat was not suitable, she insisted, and the project failed.

I was asked to provide broadcasting equipment and recorders. Fortunately, I was wise enough to make all the equipment ready for broadcasting on land and not bring it on board yet. Later, I had no regrets about this. I remember that it was soon asserted that if the ship were anchored in the North Sea, it would drag its anchor at the first breath of wind. The ship was simply too small. According to an engineer, it could only accommodate a mast of 20 meters in height, and aside from the fact that the ship was less than 30 meters long, it was also top-heavy due to a completely different superstructure. This resulted in a complete loss of stability. It was a beautiful yacht for inland waters but certainly not suitable for use in winds of force 4 or more.”

There was a rumor that some illegal Portuguese individuals were involved in the project from the Hendrik Jan. When we asked Willemsen about it, he replied: “It does indeed seem very much like it, but it’s not quite accurate. The police in Haarlem, where the ship was moored, knew that these men were legally residing in the Netherlands. They had terminated their lease at the boarding house to join forces with the owner of the Hendrik Jan, Bob Peeters.” Then, deviating from the question: “the man who was supposed to sail the boat was led to believe that he was the owner of the Hendrik Jan. By the way, that ship never left the Spaarne in Haarlem. As I mentioned before, I had everything ready, the transmitters and studio equipment. I had tested it all, and it could be received at a reasonable distance. Since we realized that it wouldn’t work with the Hendrik Jan, we started looking for another ship ourselves.”

Willemsen quickly skipped over our last question, which was reason enough for us to dive into various newspaper columns again to see if there was anything about the Hendrik Jan. In early January 1971, the first reports were read: ‘Clearly disproportionate, the former fishing trawler Bruinisse 41 is frozen in boredom in one of the marinas on Jan Gijzenkade near the Noorder Spaarne in Haarlem, tied to a jetty not designed for non-seaworthy vessels. The Hendrik Jan becomes a broadcasting ship. Not just any pop cannon, fueled by advertising gunpowder, but a non-commercial charitable pirate broadcaster, the free radio station of the Operation Radio Foundation, simply Radio SOR.’

The then 36-year-old Bob Peeters, the project’s initiator, reported that 106 men were diligently working on completing the station. A total of 100 men were said to have worked behind the scenes in the administrative sector, and in addition, there were 6 young Portuguese, consisting of freedom fighters and deserters, led by the Portuguese rebel Maria Sino Garcia.

Peeters himself declared: “Radio SOR would be a freedom station with a Christian, humane, social, and peaceful focus. According to the initial plan, the 21-meter-long ship with a mast towering tens of meters was supposed to leave Haarlem around March 1971 to storm the seven seas as a floating radio station. The North Sea would serve as a test base. After that, we would deploy ourselves worldwide, wherever necessary, in charitable fields.” The project had a budget of 180,000 guilders, of which one hundred thousand was earmarked for Mrs. Oosterveld, who had previously bought the ship from the previous owner. The Foundation, which had never been passed through a notary, would pay this amount in weekly installments of 500 guilders if the ship was ready for broadcasting. A little arithmetic quickly reveals that it would take at least seven years to repay this debt.

According to De Telegraaf, the Portuguese were working hard: ‘The crew is already sleeping on board the (still) drafty and damp Hendrik Jan, where intensive work is being done during the day. A brand-new central heating system is ready on the quay. The wooden paneling is already in the ship. The crew has also exchanged 1970 on board the ship for 1971. Someone from the neighborhood brought one chicken for the boys and 25 guilders. With the seven of them, they quickly made a meal out of it.”

Peeters: “With that 25 guilders, we bought oil. The late Reverend Toornvliet saw potential and instructed Mrs. Oosterveld, who was his secretary, to buy the ship. He thought he could bypass the legal loopholes by bringing ‘The Good News’ from the North Sea. Later, Toornvliet, for financial reasons, came into conflict with the SOR, jeopardizing the charitable plans. Fortunately, Oosterveld had already ordered the transmitters and equipment, and we could proceed with the plans. Therefore, we negotiated the buyout procedure with her.”

“Toornvliet was a good minister, but you couldn’t trust him. Because he could preach so well, we decided that we would broadcast his programs but he would have to pay for it. And: “if we pray, the money will come naturally,” Toornvliet told us at the time.” The newspapers reported that Bob Peeters had ordered a transmitter from England for 20,000 guilders, which was supposed to yield 180,000 guilders. The transmitter, built for India, was said to have a power of 3.5 kW, providing a radius range of 360 km.

Peeters had more plans. A special hydraulic mast would be installed so that during heavy storms, the mast could be lowered to prevent it from breaking. In early January, the engine was offered for revision to a machine factory, and Peeters announced that they would sail to underdeveloped countries to convert people. Following the American example, with a jingle, a record, and a short talk, the SOR’s message would be brought to the people. The Portuguese issue — at that time, there was a severe crisis in the country — would also be extensively highlighted off the Portuguese coast.

Of course, Peeters’ ideas were interesting, but the first report immediately raised the eyebrows of the true offshore radio fans. At the end of the article, it was stated that they were not even able to pay the 150 guilders in weekly mooring fees. How could the ship ever function as a full-fledged radio station in the North Sea? As mentioned earlier, the Portuguese, according to rumors, were staying illegally in the Netherlands. They were deserters from the Angolan army and individuals from the pacifist resistance who had fled Portugal. They had registered with the police and were staying in the country on a temporary residence permit. They had managed to get a job with difficulty, but when they heard about Peeters’ plans, they were quickly persuaded to join the project, as they would also be fighting for the Portuguese cause. A few days after the first reports about the Hendrik Jan appeared in the national press, the ship’s owner safely stored the engine and other parts to prevent Peeters and his Portuguese crew from setting sail to start programs. It was long realized that they could not pay the promised weekly 500 guilders.

The ship was, in fact, not seaworthy at all and was in danger of sinking in the first storm, even a few hundred meters off the coast. The Portuguese also realized that their Messiah, ‘Capitano Peeters,’ was not the great savior after all and decided to go into employment in Velsen. Peeters did not let it go and immediately started looking for another boat that had an engine. He found it in IJmuiden with Mr. H. de Boer. Peeters himself claimed that he could buy the boat for 25,000 guilders, but De Boer reported that the ship would cost at least 40,000 guilders. In the end, the Hendrik Jan was towed away and scrapped by the shipyard owner. Peeters was left with a hangover, although he had managed to outsmart Reverend Toornvliet’s organization and gain publicity with his ‘fake’ offshore radio project.