Dorus Jansen has been the constant factor at WSR Argo for nearly four decades now. Committees came and went, but Jansen kept the boats afloat and the society going. Now he will be retiring at the end of April.
'I like to start early as that means I can still do something with my afternoons and evenings.' Jansen is standing in his workshop with a view out over the Rhine. He strokes a boat that is waiting for another coat of lacquer - an old, wooden coxed pair where he has fixed the interior and prow. The radio is playing. 'I can't work without music.' The clamps are hanging in a row on the wall, the floor has been swept, and there is a chairman's hammer that needs patching up on the workbench.
As a young man, Jansen worked in furniture factories on shop interiors and window frames. Jansen, who is a born and bred Wageningener, applied to work at Argo when he was 26. 'I had to look after thirty-two boats but that didn't take me long. Then I started finishing off factory shells. Later I got to do the fun bit myself. Then you create moulds and give your own interpretation of existing designs. For instance, a raised head so that less water splashes into the boats out on the Rhine, with its waves and currents.' He would carve his initials into the bow and write his name and date under the deck.
Parties in the canteen
It is still the case at Argo that you have to really go for something if you want to succeed, but apart from that there have been a lot of changes. 'The only entertainment in the early 1970s was baking pancakes in my workshop, which was no more than a shed. There was no canteen and no showers. It used to be more about the sport for the students then than it is now. Their only goal then was rowing as fast as possible. Now they have got their racing bicycles, they go on holiday, they spend more time studying and they hold parties in the canteen.'
Boats have increasingly fancy equipment that Jansen has to look after: speedometers, fixed shoes, a loudspeaker system for the cox. 'But it hasn't helped us to win any more prizes', he laughs. Furthermore, Jansen is in charge of maintenance of the building, rafts and winches, and he repairs the ergometers. He also teaches students how to use the lifeboat, which he checks every morning. He cares a lot about the rowers' safety. He is rather concerned about this now that his successor is getting far fewer hours.
Jansen grew up with water and had his own boat for many years. He still enjoys being on the water. Just a few more weeks to go, and then he will fly to Canada - at long last for a period of more than six weeks - where he and his wife have an apartment close to his brother-in-law.
If it was just about the pleasure he would never have wanted to stop. But his back is getting stiff, his shoulders are bent and one hip is worn away - it is time to call it a day.