For many years, sailing was a pastime enjoyed only by a happy few, namely those who could afford it. Boyers, tjotters and Frisian yachts didn’t come cheap. Hendrik Bulthuis, who came from the Frisian village of Burgum, Netherlands, changed all this.
Bulthuis was a barber by trade but he had a crush on sailing and boatbuilding and in his free time he liked nothing better than sailing on Bergumermeer, Bergum Lake. Actually he wanted to become a craftsman in wood but ‘one could never make enough money to sustain a family’ so he became a barber. He was very skillful and one always could ask him for advise, if it was for a car-repair or making a speach or poem: he was an atractive actor in the local theater. He even wrote play’s!
In the early twentieth century, Bulthuis was looking for a way to build a simple and cheap sailing boat. The bending of the thick boards was particularly expensive as this required great skill and craftsmanship. Bulthuis managed to build a boat from thin boards that were easy to bend and could be nailed to a mould. These moulds also served as the boat’s rafters: the cross bar that give a boat its strength. Bulthuis named his first design BM, after the Bergumermeer where he so liked to sail. He build it in his chicken shack at the back of his barbershop and house.
Bulthuis first designed the 16m2 after taking the lines of a boat wich he liked very much: the 7.1 m from Germany! In the beginning of yachting in the Netherlands he frequently sailed one of a friend and after some time he was allowed to take the lines of her. He wanted to build one like that but just newly implemented tax-regulations prevented to do this on the small budget of a barber. Yachts of 6m or longer or with more sail then 16m2 had to pay taxes to prevent that ‘everybody’ could use the pristine waters of Holland for pleasure-sailing. So he just stayed clear of these measurements and designed the 15,9m2! Here he invented the stripplank method for homebuilders. That is to say: the use of stripplanking AND leaving the molds in the hull! This way you didn’t have to put in the steamed ribs and saved time, material and hours building. This is known as the Bulthuis-Method. The easy way to build your own sailboat! This was in 1924! About 400 of these were build in cheap pine.
Because he was a very social caracter and could not accept that only rich people could sail boats he wanted everybody to be able to build his own boat. For about 100 guilders (€44) one could build a 12m2, complete with sails and keel, rigging etc. For a small price one could copy the molds at his house on a piece of cardboard, copy the original plans at the townhall where they had a modern blue-print copier, and with some well intended advise went home to start the build. The fastest build was in 7 days! This picture below show the original paterns for the 16m2 one could copy.
To educate the community in sailing he started with the towns children building model sailing boats as the picture below shows. They even raced them at the Burgummer Lake near the village.
Later in 1931, the KNWV, Royal Dutch Watersports Alliance took his 15,9m2 and made it into the 16m2 we now know as enlarged BM. First in mahogany and later also in GRP and even some steel ones for the navy to be used in the tropical waters in Indonesia: the wooden ones did not last very long! The GRP boats were mainly build for boat-rent companies and sailing schools all around the country. Almost everybody was sail-trained in these versatile and easy boats, including me! More then 20.000 (!) were build; about 5000 for racing! In Holland it is still a vivid sailing class with still young and old people racing them furiously.
Years later this method was used to build 22m2 and 30m2 sailboats! The designs were not of Hendriks hands but inspired by the easy way of building. Both classes are still around and active.
Hendrik also designed the beautiful Bulthuisjol. It looked like a child of the 12m2 and the 16m2 but more slender then both. Only three of them survived and one has been restored. She is called ‘Nutshell’.
Below is a picture at the Museum with the Bulthuisjol at the left and 16m2 at the right.
Another design where his daughters often sailed in was a sailing canoe. She was very vast but tender; one could easely capsize her.
He has inspired many people to build his boats: here is an old picture of a BM (the smaller one) being lowered from the loft of a 4 story high apartment in Amsterdam where it was build:
Hendriks has a statue at the Burgummer Marina and a sqaure was named after him at the Burgum village.
Hendrik Bulthuis had achieved his goal: in just a short space of time, he’d made sailing popular across all classes of society. Bulthuis himself didn’t get rich from his successful designs; he continued to cut hair in Bergum. He died at oldyears eve in 1948 at the age of 56 after a short sickbed.