The remarkable life of

Roel Donker

Autodidact Roel Donker can speak very well, with everyone, and in all languages. But he can do that best when it comes to things that interest him, things that he really likes.

Born in 1946

Roel was born in 1946 in Groningen. He developed his own view of life early on. With no more than four classes of elementary school, a mountain bravado and a keen mind, he went to work with several bosses, without often staying long, and finally reported as sailor on the tramp. During his short career as a sailor, Roel finally decided that working for a boss was nothing for him. Own boss, that would be it. But how?

In the electronics business

Autodidact Roel Donker can speak very well, with everyone, always and everywhere. But he can do that best when it comes to things that interest him, things that he really likes. And so the trade in electronics was born. From batteries to printed circuit boards and from computers to calculators, Roel brought it from one to the other and left a pretty penny on this process. Things went well, it went like a train, but as with more things, this trade got boring after a while, and he got to know Katinka – a turning point in his life. Enough reasons to stop trading electronics. But not without a new idea being born …

Roel the alchemist

Until the late 70s and early 80s, important connectors on the printed circuit boards of radios, calculators, early computers and other electronics were soldered with gold. Very small quantities, but still, pure gold. And there were tons of old circuit boards on the market, because everything became smaller, faster and better. Roel came up with the idea to get that gold out. With his already acquired knowledge of chemistry and after less successful experiments, Roel was finally able to “soak off” the gold from those printed circuit boards and to dissolve them in a chemical bath.

When he was able to convert all that dissolved gold back into “fixed” gold – with the help of a female chemist from Switzerland – the circle was complete. Roel actually had a “golden” idea: as a contemporary king Midas he could make his own gold! For months, Roel processed many thousands of kilograms of printed circuit boards under pretty unsafe conditions, and produced gold that he personally sold at the gold exchange in Amsterdam. When the circuit boards became more expensive and since it was very unhealthy work, now that a lot of money had been created, Roel decided to start something new.

A salvage company

With the merits of gold refining, the new idea was born quickly. Roel bought an old naval ship that he converted into a full-size salvage ship, equipped with the most modern computers, sonars, radars, gyrocompasses, a crane, winches, in short, everything that was conceivable was in it. With a good story, a beautiful ship, a good crew and, above all, a lot of courage, Roel saved many ships in need in the 80s, often at night and at ontij. From pleasure yachts to fishing boats: if you were a mountaineer quickly, the earnings were excellent! At the peak of their recovery activities, Roel and Katinka married and celebrated their wedding in style on one of the few uninhabited islands in our country: the Razende Bol, a sandbar between Texel and Den Helder.

The wreck register Wraksys

In the meantime Roel had also discovered computers, and he got the ban of another new idea in which he could combine his passion for electronics and his salvage activities. Together with a Delft engineering company and a group of enthusiastic hobbyists, he developed the largest database ever about shipwrecks in Dutch coastal waters. The database contained more than 100,000 locations of shipwrecks and aircraft wrecks, and unlocked all kinds of information that had been hidden up to now. This is how Roel discovered several hidden locations of shipwrecks that had just sunk after the Second World War – filled with poison gas – for the Danish and Dutch coasts. The navy, the coastguard and various other companies and institutions make use of this unique database, which is currently managed by the Wraksys Foundation.

Trainer, coach and photographer

In the early 90s Katinka Wiltenburg became better at running. In the meantime Roel had sold his salvage company and invested a lot of money in the storage of a coaster loaded with forklift trucks and glossy paper that had ended up off the coast of Egmond. After numerous attempts at storage, the project failed, and Roel got some profound differences of opinion with the tax authorities. Rigorously, as always, Roel stepped out of all current business, buying from his last money an old passenger bus that he converted into a moving photo studio where he developed the photos he made on the many running competitions Katinka did. He sold these photos on the spot, later switched to making videos, and became a welcome guest at national and international sporting events.

Katinka got better and better, switched to the triathlon and when Katinka became a professional she traveled the whole world together. Roel guided Katinka in his own way, and was at the same time a husband, mental coach, trainer and material man. Roel also proved to be an excellent sports photographer, and has made thousands of beautiful sports photos during that time. Roel and Katinka have also further developed their passion for travel and have made long trips to Morocco and Spain.

From advertising letter to artist and then to printers and plotters

Towards the end of Katinka’s professional sports career, Roel discovered something new: cutting plotters. With good equipment and excellent software, Roel had set up a flourishing advertising poster company within a few months, but it was bored quickly. Picking out and setting up everything was fun, but it did not stick.

Then Roel discovered art. Art with big K. From Karel Appel to Corneille. He dived into the world of small print runs, screen prints, cycle and learned everything about various painting techniques, and the trade in contemporary art: ArtART was born. I built a website for him and the trade started. Roel still sells beautiful first editions, and he has an excellent nose for new work by talented young artists. And, as you can see from the picture above, he himself has also experienced a remarkable development as an artist. His canvases are grand, confrontational and daring, because even as an artist Roel does not shy away from the controversy.

From art to printers and plotters turned out to be a small step. As an intermediary, Roel is now involved in the trade in used printers and plotters in the Netherlands.

Een campsite in Brittany

Together with Katinka, Roel eventually moved to France. To a beautiful piece of land at the end of a small road on the hill, and with a view of Scaër. Here they are now the managers of Camping Kerisole, and Roel is more active than ever!