From Escape to Ocean Explorer: The Remarkable Journey of the World’s Only Bottle Boat

The bottle boat at the Southampton International Boat Show 2023.

I bet you have never seen a boat like this before. The vessel I encountered at the Southampton International Boat Show was the Bottle Boat; a bottle shaped boat created by Fons Oerlemans in 1985. Oerlemans was born in Belgium just before the start of the second world war. As a child he was caught by the Gestapo but later escaped and survived twice from bombings on Antwerp Port.

Fons Oerlemans on top of the bottle.

The story of the bottle boat began 5 years prior when Oerlemans made plans to sail across the Atlantic on a raft. However, his original crewmates were not as enthusiastic about the idea. In response, Oerlemans challenged their courage by stating that there were braver women out there who would gladly embark on this adventure with him. To prove his point, he placed an advertisement, in which he got 61 replies. One of which from a Dutch woman named Kee Arens who he has now been married to for 52 years. Because of this trip Kee Arens is in the Guinness World Records as the first and only woman to ever undertake a transatlantic trip on a raft.

Fons, Kee and others inside the bottle boat.

The idea formed when Fons and Kee threw a bottle into the ocean on their raft trip. The way the bottle was carried away by the wind and storms inspired Fons to create a ship in the shape of a bottle. The construction took place in a rented garage in the Antwerp Harbour. The craft was a seven meters long steel storage tank with a diameter of 220cm and weighed 8 tons. Although believed to of been built only for promotional reasons, the boat’s volume actually has very low air and water resistance. After three metamorphoses the bottle boat was ready. Their goal was the break the speed record crossing the Atlantic. It took 6 months, but they successfully crossed the Atlantic. After this adventure the bottle boat became their home until 2018.

Fons and Kee living on the boat.

You can find out more about Oerlemans’ adventures by reading his new book; The Last Adventurer.

About the author

This blog was written by our Marketing Apprentice, Kate Murdoch, who has recently joined the team at Hayes Parsons. Keep your eyes peeled for more blogs that she will be writing for our website!