The origins of the Tjotter fleet

The Foundation Friese Tjottervloot  owns 10 traditional Tjotters and one Fries Jacht. This is the biggest fleet of Tjotters in  the world. The Foundation aims to:

  1. Conserve and preserve the Tjotter
  2. Promote and get as many people possible to enjoy sailing a Tjotter

What is a Tjotter

Tjotters are authentic Frisian sailing vessels with a length of approximately  6 meters (20 feet). They have very little draught and that makes them very suitable for roaming the Frisian lakes and canals. Almost all the Tjotters of the Foundations fleet are oak built. These boats were formed though the ages by the waters they navigated. The mast can be lowered easily what comes in handy because of the amount of small bridges. They don’t have a keel but a retractable lee board on either side of the hull, this feature makes the Tjotters exceptionally useful in the shallow waters of Fryslân for the draught is only 30 cm (1 ft). In small canals when sailing is impossible the boat is easily poled or drawn.

Tjotters are  gaff rigged with a jib. Sailing a tjotter is demanding, they are only steerable when the sails are in the correct position. They demand for a contentious sailor that listens to the boat and has a feeling for it. Because they are built without a building plan they are not always symmetric. Variations in the rounding of the hull and the angle of the lee boards result in different behavior of the boat on a starboard or port tack. Tjotters seem to have a mind of their own, you’ve got to get to know them, but when you do, sailing them is a fantastic experience.


Built on the eye

The Tjotters of our fleet all differ. They were built by different boat builders who had no drawings but just built the boats on the eye. The craftsmanship of the builder, his knowledge of sailing and his taste defined the final appearance. The sleek boats with their high freeboard were originally meant for sailing regattas. In the olden days the owner of a Tjotter employed a skipper who looked after the boat, readied it and occasionally steered it as well.


The history of the fleet

The Tjotter fleet originated in period from 1946 to 1977. During that time Heit (father) and Mem (mother) Piersma ran a youth hostel. Heit Piersma started giving sailing instruction with 4 Tjotters. Over the years the fleet grew to 10 Tjotters and 1 Fries Jacht. Tens of thousands youth and adults learned to sail in a Tjotter.

Nowadays all Tjotters are used for pleasure only but a few of the boats in the fleet  have a history as a working vessel. More than a century ago in Fryslân the Tjotter was the ”minivan” of the fisherman, the miller and the tradesman and a “car” of the doctor and vicar. In that time not many roads existed and transport over water was the only way to get around. Later on, more “luxurious” Tjotters appeared purpose built for sailing regattas.


The Tjotters of the Foundation Friese Tjottervloot are rightfully at the heart of the Dutch cultural maritime heritage.