Royal Netherlands Navy frigate Abraham Crijnssen
Photograph taken by Pim van Wijngaarden
In 1986, the Royal Netherlands Navy frigate Abraham Crijnssen visited Albany, New York, in honor of the City’s tricentennial.
When Paul Grondahl, an Albany Times-Union reporter who is now director of the New York State Writers Institute, covered the arrival of Abraham Crijnssen, he offered readers detail and wit. The frigate was commissioned in 1983 and named after a Dutch naval hero. It served with other NATO navies, ready to protect sea lanes in wartime.
The turbine-powered (Rolls Royce) frigate, which could reach speeds of 32 miles per hour, bristled with guns, torpedoes and anti-submarine weapons. Unlike U. S. Navy ships, it carried beer for the crew. Grondahl concluded “Abraham Crijnssen came steaming up the Hudson . . . with enough firepower to blow Rensselaer (a city across the Hudson from Albany) off the map and enough of Holland’s flagship beer, Heineken, to inebriate half the population of Albany.”
Recently, my friend Lotfi Sayahi, a University at Albany linguistics professor, was invited to a conference in the Netherlands. I told him about Abraham Crijnssen’s visit to Albany and then went to find Grondahl’s article.
In the hunt for Grondahl's article, I found something equally delightful - - the website museumships.us and its founder/creator Pim van Wijngaarden.
Pim was aboard Abraham Crijnssen when it visited Albany. In a recent e-mail, he recalled the frigate came to the United States for more than the Tricentennial. “We were there for Fleet Week, Independence Day and the Statue of Liberty centennial, events all rolled into one awesome unforgettable week.”
In addition to the visit to Albany, Pim has a more enduring connection to the City. He met his wife, a SUNY Albany grad, on the trip. After concluding sea duty, Pim served in the Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C. He left naval service in 1992 and has since become the embassy’s IT Manager.
The idea of a website about museum ships crept up on Pim while he worked at the embassy and traveled around the United States. “I found myself visiting museum ships more often,” he recalled. “I wanted to volunteer aboard one but it wasn’t easy to find a museum ship berthed in the Washington, D.C. area.”
Pim has since become a volunteer on the Liberty Ship John W. Brown in Baltimore Harbor. But before finding this ship, he thought, “What can I do to help museum ships if I cannot find one where I can volunteer?”
|Battleship USS Iowa is now a museum ship|
in San Pedro Harbor, in Los Angeles
With his love of ships and IT talents, he started building the museumships website in 2014. The website has a dedicated page for 375 ships worldwide, of which about 120 are in the United States. Pim plans to keep adding pages until he runs out of ships.
The 120 US ships are docked in harbors on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and along the Great Lakes. The remainder are found along the Gulf coast, in coastal states farther from the ocean and in states far from big water, such as Arkansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Smaller museum ships include torpedo boats, tugboats, fire boats and light ships. Larger ships include Great Lakes ore carriers, the ocean liner Queen Mary, aircraft carriers and battleships.
|The four ships at the Buffalo Naval and Servicemen's Park,|
USS Little Rock, USS The Sullivans, USS Croaker and PTF 17,
are all included on the Museum Ships website
(photo by Matthew J. Starr from a postcard of the Park)
Pim adds ships to his website after he visits them, reads about them or hears about them from website visitors. He tries to visit as many ships as possible. He researches each entry and works with ship curators and social media people to fact-check entries and obtain appealing and informative photographs.
When Pim hears from museum ship staff “that they love and appreciate what I do to get the word out,” it inspires him to build the next page.
Despite finding the personal contact with such people “incredibly rewarding.” Pim finds “sad moments are unavoidable as well.” “Nothing lasts forever,” he continued. “Salt- and freshwater are hard on wooden and steel ships.”
Lack of funds, a proper berthing space, dwindling volunteerism makes it hard to keep a ship open. “The museum submarine USS Clamagore (SS-343),” Pim continued, “at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina is in a death knell right now and might be reefed soon. Also, the former USS Ling (SS-297) in Hackensack, New Jersey is not out of the woods yet, but at least seems to have dedicated volunteers.”
Both are Balao-class submarines; Ling is in nearly original WWII configuration, and Clamagore is even more historically significant. She is the only remaining GUPPY III converted boat. The U. S. Navy modified World War II submarines under the “GUPPY” (Greater Underwater Propulsive Power) program to improve submarine speed, maneuverability and time they can run submerged.
The museum ships website is a gift that gives twice. It will help a prospective visitor determine if a ship is open and if specific pandemic safeguards are in place.
If a ship is closed because of the pandemic, weather or if a person does not wish to travel, they can come to museumships.us, drop anchor as an armchair mariner and enjoy a generous slice of maritime history without leaving the house!