Brown fleet sailing

When we speak of the brown fleet, we mean traditional charter ships. But how did these chips come by their name? The reason is simpler than you might think; these ships are called this way because they used to paint their sails. Read on!

Origin of the brown fleet

Sails used to be made from white cotton, and thus were very absorbent. A wet sail could easily double in weight, making it much harder to hoist the sails in rainy weather. By tanning the sails people prevented them from taking up too much water. The sails were immersed in a mixture of hot water and catechu (cutch) in a tanning kettle, conserving them and protecting them from mildew, rotting, and hard winds. Catechu is an organic preservative that contains tannin and also works as a dye. The tanning process coloured the sails brown, and the more often the process was repeated, the darker they got.

 Where can you find brown fleet ships?

Nowadays there are more than 500 brown fleet ships in the Netherlands, especially on the Wadden Sea, the IJsselmeer and the Markermeer. The Orion is one of the oldest of them; she was built in 1892 and has her home port in Monnickendam, about 10 kilometres north of Amsterdam. The Orion has kept many of her original features, but she has all the modern comforts as well.

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