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Even after 25 years, the Raffael’s Van der Velden® rudders still look like new "There's never anything wrong with the rudder system”

22 June 2021

The Raffael, owned by captain Erik Zandstra, has been fitted with a complete steering system by Damen Marine Components since 1996. Although the inland tanker has now been in service for a quarter of a century, the rudders still look as good as new. "It's a system you can rely on: it always does what it's supposed to do."

When the Raffael was on the slipway for inspection last year, Erik Zandstra (50) received compliments for the condition of his ship’s rudders after all that time. “Not bad, eh?”, says the owner of Zandstra Tankvaart from Scharsterbrug in Friesland with a note of pride in his voice. "There's never anything wrong with it.”

The hull of the Raffael, 110 metres long and 11.4 metres wide, was built in 1996 by Santierul Naval Orsova SA in Romania and finished at Damen Shipyards Hardinxveld. Back then, the tanker was fitted with two Van der Velden® HD rudders and a Van der Velden® 2DWK steering system. In 2015, the HP100 control system was converted to HP1000, the rudder system and steering gear are still in their original condition.

Zandstra acquired the ship in 2004 and it has been in operation much of the time since then. He transports xylene and benzene on a fixed route: from Geel (Belgium) to Rotterdam, from Rotterdam to Godorf (Germany) and from Godorf back to Geel. “It's really intensive work, you're on the go night and day", he says. "But I always get the vessel exactly where I want it."

He doesn't even need a strong bow thruster for that. "Most ships have 500 or 600 horsepower bow thrusters, whereas I make do with a little one with just 350 horsepower. That does mean I'm a lot more dependent on the rudder system at the back, but that's not a problem. I can steer and manoeuvre just fine."

The Van der Velden® HD rudders are known for their excellent manoeuvrability. They deliver optimum performance in different operating conditions (high and low water) and under different circumstances. The lift of these hydrodynamic profiled rudders is enormous. The rudders don't have to constantly steer to keep the vessel on course, which means that steering correction is rarely needed. That saves fuel, whilst maintaining speed.


According to Zandstra, there are two reasons why the rudder system has kept going for as long as it has without any problems. On the one hand is its proven quality, on the other hand is the loving way he treats the Raffael. "Of course it's remarkable that it still looks like new, that's not something you see every day. But it's a case of how you treat the ship. You see vessels 25 years old that are full of dents and scratches. If you look at the Raffael from front to back, you won't see many dents. I'm very careful with it."

"As long as you keep everything up to date, you won't have a problem. Ten years ago, the Raffael was blast cleaned and of course the rudders were included. They still look in good condition now: not a lot of rust and no deformation."


Cor de Wit, Service Sales Manager at Damen Marine Components in Hardinxveld-Giessendam, is not surprised. "We regularly hear stories like these", he says. "Our rudders set themselves apart through the combination of a stainless steel bush on the rudder and a plastic bearing bush in the rudder trunk. With that combination, under normal circumstances you get almost no wear.”

“Our regular customers know that if you buy Van der Velden® rudder systems and steering gear, in the normal course of affairs they will last a really long time, nearly the entire life of the vessel. And if an issue does occur with a rudder, it is a fairly straightforward matter for us to repair it. The lower section of the rudder trunk can be relatively easily disassembled and reassembled, and the same goes for the stainless steel bush. You only need to replace those two wearing parts, the thickness of the original rudder trunk and rudder stock will be unchanged."


Every three years, an expert from Damen Marine Components inspects the Raffael’s hydraulics. “The rudder system is always in order”, says Zandstra. "It's a system you can rely on: it always works. Which is a good thing too! I'm very happy with the service from Damen Marine Components, there’s not much to add. I don't have a lot to do with them and that’s a good thing, because it means that everything on the ship is doing what it's supposed to be doing."

In all those years, only the control system has been replaced. That was in 2015, when Damen Marine Components converted the HP100 control system into the HP1000 in order to comply with new legislation for vessels plying the Rhine. “That transition was as smooth as can be. The new system works perfectly too, it's very easy to use."


Now that the Raffael has been in service for 25 years, slowly but surely the question arises how long the vessel can go on for. Zandstra: "That depends on when I retire. I'm 50 now, I've been in inland navigation for 30 years and it would be great if I could start taking it easy after 35 years, when I'm 55. But given the purposes the vessel is used for, it could keep going for another 10 or 15 years. Perhaps even 20."

"The great thing is that the Raffael is a stainless steel ship, so you can not only use it to transport chemicals, as we do, you could use it for all sorts, edible oils for instance. But for the next five years I’ll certainly be staying on the Raffael”, concludes Zandstra.

Which means that the HD rudders from Van der Velden® will have an enthusiastic ambassador for at least that long. “It's great to regularly meet customers who are so pleased with our products", comments Cor de Wit. "They tell their colleagues about them, over the ship’s radio or at a birthday party. That word-of-mouth advertising is the best kind of advertising our firm could wish for, no commercial could beat that. It shows the faith people have in us. And if everything lasts as long and stays in as good condition as on the Raffael, those captains will earn back their investment in spades."