History of the Kuiper Brandaris regatta

Harlingen, beautifully located on the Wadden Sea, is the home of 80 historical sailing ships for many years now. Clippers,Tjalken, Aachen, old sailing barges from the last century and the century before that. They’re all ‘flatbottom’ or ‘roundbottom’ boats, with no traditional keels but “zwaarden” (wooden lee board) along both sides of the hull. In a flat-bottomed boat, the bottom, or bottomsurface, is straight in the cross-section, while connecting the sides with a clear bend in this area. So these ships have an angular 'kim'. To the group of flat-bottomed boats are considered: Botter, Pluut, Schokker, Bons, Vollenhovense Bol, Wieringer barge, Blazer, Hoogaars, Hengst, Schouw, Grundel and Punter.

In a roundbottom boat, the rafters, or ‘inhouten’ Iike they are called here, are curved in cross-section, smooth lines of wood, to the keel. It is said that such a ship is 'stationary nowhere'. To the group of round-botommed boats are considered: Tjotter, Fries yacht, Boeier, Tjalk, Lemsteraak, Wieringer bol and Staverse jol.

In the seventies of the 20th century, a few enthusiastic people started refurbishing these old sailing ships.One of the initiators was Herman Brandsma. He discovered that there were people who loved to work between tar and ropes, but also people who liked to sail on the Wadden Sea for a week. So, he introduced the “Brown Fleet” into the harbour of Harlingen. “Brown” because of the brown sails the classic sailboats (workboats) used to have. Those were the days of the tanned cotton sails, dipped in tannins, usually derived from tree bark. The process was used to protect the sails from rot, mold and mildew and gave the sails their brown colour.

When Herman introduced the Brown Fleet, Harlingen was a shabby and dilapidated town. Now, 35 years later, this industry has become a profitable branch. Every season (march/april - october) the historic sailing charters transfer huge amounts of people over the Wadden Sea. This branch has become of a huge importance for the economy of Harlingen as well as the Islands. Of course, much has changed. Living and sleeping together in the hold of a ship is ‘not done’ anymore. Today, guests require cabins with large beds, sinks, showers, toilets, well- equipped kitchens. The exterior of these ships remember us to the early days when freight was transported over sea, lakes and canals. But the interiors are a surprise to many guests who come aboard for the very first time.

Chartering people is not the only activity of these old traditional sailingships. Throughout the year they meet in several regattas. Today the Kuiper Brandarisrace is generally regarded as the largest sailing event for classic sailing ships in The Netherlands. Again it is Herman Brandsma, “who else”, who was the creator and organizer of this unadulterated piece of Dutch sailing glory. In 1994, he started the first regatta to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Brandaris lighthouse on Terschelling. Twenty years later, this race has become a sailing event of unparalleled beauty. Every year 80 sailingships, together with 2,000 crewmembers, battle each other as well as the elements. This not only provides a great spectacle, but also proves that historical sailing is still alive. Therefore this race is also a tribute to the professional sailing and sailors from the past.

Wind and especially the flood on the mudflats are key factors that ask for full attention of skipper and crew until the end of the race. Besides it’s a good habit, where possible, to outmarch each other while sailing into a densely field. In the past years responsible and disciplined boating has ensured that few accidents happened. Yet the KNRM lifeboats of Vlieland and Terschelling are standby to provide assistance. Also ‘the all seeing eye’ of  the Brandaris lighthouse is watching during the entire course of the race .

For all of his exceptional work, Herman Brandsma, ‘the King of the Wadden’ received a Royal Distinction (Member of the Order of Orange Nassau).

It’s obvious, sailing the Wadden Sea is an adventure. This Sea, behind the islands, is a maze of drying ground and wild water streams. To quote from the ‘Riddle of the Sands’: 'The chart may look simple to you but at half flood all those banks are covered; the islands and coasts are scarcely visible, they are so low, and everything looks the same'.

(text by Hans Timmer)

De Brandaris (c) Odysseus 2003