…and tall kings three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones and one white tree.
JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers
Sail Amsterdam 2015
The biggest nautical event in the world, and the biggest event in the Netherlands in 2015 was ‘Sail Amsterdam’. This visit of tall ships takes place every five years, and the city and harbour are given over to a huge festival. Our cruising plans for several weeks were influenced by this gala event. First, almost all moorings within cooee of Amsterdam were either booked or ferociously expensive; second, navigation in the region, around the actual event was a bit restricted; third, it was a grand event that we wanted to experience.
So from our northerly mooring in Alkmaar, we took the train and bus down to the shore of the Noordzeekanaal that connects the North Sea to Amsterdam, in order to watch the sail-in.
Along with a few other people and an enormous fleet of all sizes and types of pleasure boats. To us on shore, it seemed to be mayhem. Vast numbers of smaller vessels of every shape and size worked their way up to meet the tall ships and the other historic vessels that were invited to participate in this wondrous event.
Led by the wonderful old-style sailing ship Stad Amsterdam, and followed immediately by the modern Royal Dutch Naval frigate De Ruyter, we watched, entranced, as the fleet of tall ships paraded past us for two hours – before we needed to leave for another meeting with the Verwers. The colour, music, tooting of horns and sheer majesty of the ships gliding past made for an atmosphere both festive and majestic.
One of the highlights for us was to watch our friends from “Petra’s Island” Petra and Klaus, cruise past us on Harmonie. As a historic barge, they were part of the official parade of boats.
Almost buried in the maelstrom of small and large boats around them, Klaus later confided that it was exhausting work keeping a steady course and speed amongst all the traffic – but a hugely memorable occasion. Watching all the bustle, we were firmly of the view that it was not the kind of cruising we would ever enjoy.
At the end of the Sail-In, all these ships and the attendant visitors had to find somewhere to moor. So it was incredibly busy in the harbour, as this time lapse video shows.
Not for the faint of heart – or those who last year narrowly missed colliding with a commercial barge, in this harbour, on a quiet day!
Visiting the Tall and not so tall ships
The next day, we took the train into central Amsterdam, and to the port area, to visit on board some of the ships. We visited about four of them, two modern vessels and two replicas – and one historic barge. While the modern vessels were impressive, the replicas were more interesting – at least that was our view.
We spent some time aboard the Halve Maen (Half Moon), a vessel commissioned by the Dutch East India Company in the early 17th Century.
At the time, the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) was the first true multinational corporation, and scaled for the population and economy of the time, is the largest multinational there has ever been. The company paid an average annual dividend of 18% to its shareholders for over 200 years. Wish our superannuation was invested in something that good now!
The VOC wished to see if there was a passage to the East Indies via a westerly route (to become the search for the North West Passage) and so commissioned the Englishman Henry Hudson to take the Halve Maen to the west to see if there was a way through. So, in 1609, Henry Hudson became the European discoverer of the Husdon River, and the first to explore New York harbour.
The Halve Maen returned from this voyage, and her fate is not established definitively, but she was sent to Batavia (Jakarta now) in the East Indies and was lost in a fight with the English in about 1618. A replica was built in 1909 for the 300th anniversary of Hudson’s voyage to North America; this was lost to fire in 1934; this second replica was built for the 2009 400th anniversary.
From there we moved onto the Nao Victoria, a replica of the first ship to circumnavigate the globe as part of the fleet commanded by Ferdinand Magellan. Originally, an 85 ton carrack she was crewed by 43 men. Setting out with four other ships in September 1519 with 270 men, Victoria alone returned almost exactly three years later with only 18 survivors. A truly epic voyage!
The replica Victoria was built in Spain for Seville’s World Expo and has completed a round the world cruse emulating the first circumnavigation.
It was getting late, so we did not spend a lot of time on board, but is was interesting to see how these old ships were steered. The helm was operated not by a wheel, but by a vertical lever, the whipstaff, which was pulled port or starboard to move the tiller. The ship’s wheel was not invented until early in the 18th century – credited to the British Royal Navy.
An Indian Meal
After a long walk and a visit to one of the modern tall ships, we wended our weary way to Harmonie as Petra and Klaus had kindly offered to host us for the evening. We sat and chatted, had a huge Indian meal, delivered to the dockside by a bicycle, and then walked, trammed and trained back to Catharina in Alkmaar.
A long but very interesting day. We could have easily spent much more time at this fabulous event.