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stepping stones of maritime history


On March 6, 1883, 17 ships of the fishing fleet of Moddergat (North Friesland) were wrecked during a heavy storm. 83 fishermen lost their lives. Of the 17 ships, three have never been found:

Chart with locations of strandings and groundings.

At the beginning of each season, the fishermen made a joint trip to the grounds north of the island of Borkum, to fish for plaice. The ships remained there for three weeks in a row. The ships were not seaworthy enough for such an extended stay at sea, but the earnings were so good that the fishermen took the risks for granted.


At the close of winter in 1883, the beautiful weather caused unrest in the village. It was too early to go fishing. But still, at the beginning of March, a fleet of 22 ships sailed to the fishing grounds near Borkum. On March 5, all ships arrived at the grounds. The weather was good, with a moderate wind. It was, however, not te be. A storm gathered on the horizon, eventually it would develop into a severe storm from the north-east to north-west. Fishing continued throughout the day. The catch was disappointing. At the end of the day a tempest headed their way, bringing hail and snow. Few skippers decided to return to Moddergat. The rest remained and waited till the foul weather would blow over. With the wind building up a strong swell, the fishermen realized their predicament and ran for safety. They sailed towards the island of Schiermonnikoog. But the wind still increased. Vessels lost their rudders and became were out of control. All the men could do was to ride out the storm.

The next morning, on March 6, only the direction of the wind had changed, making it even worse for the fishermen. The swell was running amuck and produced extremely high waves, some say up to twenty meters. On board of the ships flushed with water, the crews managed to hold on for a long time. At seven o’clock in the morning the first ship went down. Later a second vessel capsized. Even then the weather was getting worse by the minute. Ship after ship fell prey to the waves. Only five boats made a safe passage into the Wadden Sea. At the end of the day seventeen ships had stranded on the nearby islands of Terschelling, Ameland, and Schiermonnikoog, or grounded on a sandbank in between.


The W.L 16 "De Twee Gebroeders" was commanded by the skipper and owner Hendrik Jans Pilot. It was a 32-ton barge, built in 1875, worth f 5500,-

The perished crew consisted of:

  • Hendrik Jans Pilot, (-1883) 61 years, married. Surviving relatives: wife Eelkje Williams Mans 60 years, Anna 23 years, Gooike 17 years.
  • Jan Hendriks Pilot, (-1883) 31 years, married. Surviving relatives: wife Mesina Thijns Dubblinga 32 years, Wietske 9 months. Jantje was born after the disaster and named after his deceased father.
  • Willem Hendriks Pilot, (-1883) 29 years, married. Surviving relatives: wife Aaltje Annes Groen 25 years, Willemke born after the disaster and named after the deceased father.
  • Minne Thijns Dubblinga, (-1883) unmarried 22 years, lived with two sisters. Trijntje 36 years, Minke 27 years.
  • Jacob Aatzes Koudenburg, (-1883) son of Aatzes Lieuwes Koudenburg, from de W.L 5, unmarried.

The location of this vessel's beaching is completely unknown. The washing up of any wreckage is also not registered anywhere. The craft disappeared without leaving a trace.

MasterHendrik Jans Pilot
People on board5
Tonnage32 ton


Search for the lost ships of Moddergat, August 2018. Stichting Maritieme Archeologie.


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