History Helena

In 1875 Wilhelm Georg Fromm gave orders to the yard of Jonker in Kinderdijk to build the ‘Helena’. This ship was designed particularly for sailing on the Rhine, from Rotterdam to Strasbourg. The ships’ type stevenaak came forth from the (wooden) Dortense barge. She belongs to the last generation of sailing ships which were competing with steamships.

Sailing was tough in the early years of the ‘Helena’. Every bridge was an obstacle, as the main mast had to be taken down, and the jib and mizzen were the only sails which were used to move the ship forward against the current. After many years as a two-masted sailing ship the ‘Helena’ was sold in 1911. The deckhouse was replaced to the back of the ship to create more cargo space. The head mast was removed. The mizzenmast was moved to another place on the deck.

The ‘Helena’ was called ‘Antonius Maria’ at that moment in time, was still used as a Rhijn ship but then as a small thugboat instead of a sailing ship. Until another ship sailed into her in the 1950’s. The ship sunk, was lifted and became a barge in the harbours of Rotterdam. From 1961 onwards, she was berthed, and her name changed to ‘Argus’. In 1979 she was almost destined for dismantling. Luckily, she was not dismantled, and almost a decade later Bart Vermeer saved the ship by buying the hull. After a few years it became clear that restoration was to extensive to do in private and in 1998 the Rotterdam Sailing Ship Foundation took on the ship. Bart Vermeer was appointed project-leader and managing director.


Little was known about the specific construction methods for the ships’ type stevenaak. Before the restoration there have been extensive talks with old skippers, ships models and photos were analyzed, and with a bit of luck the old architectural plans were found on the yard of Jonker. It was decided to renovate the ship as accurately as possible. This was done by means of riveting the ironwork traditionally, to rebuild the deckhouse and decorate it in authentic fashion. Also, the original rigging was restored as well as the cargo hold. The ship was carefully restored to her authentic appearance. 

The restoration took years and was monitored by specialists from thee Maritime Museum Rotterdam, Prince Hendrik and The National Maritime Museum and others. Since 2003 the ‘Helena’ sails again. The ministry of Education, Culture and Science has acknowledged the monument to be of great value.