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Gaffers sail through the Netherlands, 2014

Dutch OGA member, Fritz van der Mark has summarised the ‘Cross Country Tour’ which took place in the Netherlands, 2014, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Association. A fleet of about 70 British, Belgian and Dutch gaff rigged vessels sailed from Zeeland to Den Helder. Throughout the two weeks cruise, the yachts with their tall topmasts and long bowsprits were a great sight in the waters of the Netherlands. 

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Dutch section of the Old Gaffers Association (OGA), an international fleet took part in the Netherlands Cross Country Tour (NL10) that took place in late July and early August, 2014. The foreign guests were introduced to the Dutch rivers, canals, lakes, bridges and locks in an intensive way. Regattas, city tours and visits with a maritime character were part of the well filled programme. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Old Gaffers Association in 2013, a group of 20 ships participated in the International Round Britain Challenge (OGA50). Eight Dutch yachts were part of this very successful event. After completing the Round Britain Challenge three of these ships sailed a second time to Cowes to be present at the jubilee celebrations. During the three to even five months the journey lasted, special friendships between many of the crews grew. A number of Dutch participants thus hit upon the idea to organize a new event on home water. The 10th anniversary of OGA Netherlands in 2014 could serve as the official motive. Because the Dutch coastline is not too long, it was decided to start in Zeeland and sail through inland waters following the ‘Staande Mast Route’ to Amsterdam. On the IJsselmeer and part of the Waddenzee the sails could be hoisted again.

Only the gaff is the same
Membership of the OGA has only one condition: the rigging must have a gaff. The mere difference in dimensions of the vessels resulted in a diverse fleet. By ferry a few trailerable boats came over, also from the Netherlands a number of trailer sailers were present. The biggest competitor was the 38 ton smack ‘Brandaen’. In between were all sorts of vessels: with hulls of wood, steel, polyester and even one of ferrocement. The smallest was the 18-foot sloop ‘Snoopy’ who last year completed the Round Britain Challenge. The oldest yacht was ‘Fanny of Cowes’. She was built as a fishing boat in 1872 and therefore only three years younger than the clipper ‘Cutty Sark’. One of the most outstanding participants was ‘Witch’. This 12 meter cutter was built in 1898 to serve as a ferry on the west coast of Scotland. Many of the yachts have been restored by the owners themselves and some ships have been in the same family for several generations. Members of the East Coast OGA come to the Netherlands quite often, for example to participate in the biennial Dutch Classic Yacht Regatta in Hellevoetsluis. For yachts of the English south coast, which usually go on holiday to France or the Channel Islands, the invitation was a good opportunity to consider a crossing to the Low Countries. All these factors together resulted in an unexpectedly large British participation of 34 ships. This turnout was well-deserved for the organizers who had prepared an extensive programme. A ‘guidebook’ contained all the routes and ports to be visited, also historical descriptions of waterways and cities were included in the booklet. Yawl ‘Bonita’ was built in 1888 by Crossfield Bros. in Arnside, North West England. She has a very pronounced clipper bow, is 10.3 metres long, beam 2.5 metres, draught 1.2 metres. Very typical of that time is the elliptical stern, the round cabin roof and the round cockpit edge. The ship was originally built as a racing yacht without cabin or accommodation, it was added after about 20 years. This is probably why the hull is still in such good condition. The transition to a much smaller rig, so early in her life, has led to a situation where the body is exposed to much less power.

It was somewhat striking that the largest ships had a small crew, the advantage was that guests without a bunk could easily find a warm welcome there. Aboard the gaffers smaller than 12 metres the permanent crew was larger. Especially when sailing on inland waterways it was attractive for the British to invite family and friends. Three of the smaller yachts were English, even when crossing the channel, they were sailed by solo sailors. There was a fourth skipper that sailed the greater part solo. Without examining any further, these four seem to be the more senior captains of the fleet. The OGA is trying to pursue a European character. On this tour this was initiated, because a number of English sailed along on Dutch ships. The advantage of course is that the English ships can stay at home and that at a next occasion the Dutch hosts can come over as a crew during an English event. In this way a lot of time can be saved and more events can be visited. 

The Zeeland waters
In the last weekend of July, the fleet gathered in the East Harbour of Wemeldinge. A number of English and Dutch gaffers was in the Zeeland waters earlier and had participated in the ‘Van Loon Hardzeildag’ on the Veerse Meer. A welcome reception was followed by a mussel meal and a ‘Open Mic’ night. The participants of the OGA50 Round Britain Challenge 2013 saw famous ‘acts’ that were supplemented with surprising contributions from the youth. During the weekend several participants arrived, and the small harbour basin was filled up. The skipper of good old Yawl ‘Bonita’, the oldest (except one) yacht that took part, wrote in his blog: ‘The day started with us movingBonita’ into the inner harbour where all the other gaffers are. There is a very jolly atmosphere here. There are so many old boats packed in there is very little space. Getting ‘Bonita’ in needed some luck and a lot of skill on the part of the foredeck crew and several willing helpers, but all went well and the second photo shows her in her berth. Getting her out again will be tomorrow’s problem!’ On Sunday, the first regatta started: ‘The four hours of the gaff’. Searching for the best courses, the fleet was introduced to the mussel beds, installations that catch mussel seeds and the shallow sand banks of the Oosterschelde. The small trailer sailer ‘Sepia of the Solent’ sailed the longest distance. 

Introduction to the Fixed Mast Route
On Monday morning the serious part of the tour began: the trip to Dordrecht. Conditions were really bad: heavy rain with wind reduced visibility significantly. Virtually the entire distance of 37 miles was headwind. The encounter of fast sailing  barges was completely new for most British skippers, the big locks  of the Krammer and the Volkeraksluizen were challenging. After passing the railway bridge at Dordrecht the fleet moored at the Wijnhaven. The British quickly learned that a tide table is not very important when sailing in the Netherlands. However  knowledge about the times of opening of the bridges is crucial. During the trip to the north, Gouda was visited. Most of the participants spend a peaceful night at anchor in the Braassem or Kagerplassen. Since most of the fleet sailed together, it was an impressive sight. This resulted for example in a ‘thank you email’ from residents living on the border of the Spaarne in the center of Haarlem where the fleet spent the night: ‘For us residents of Houtmarkt it was a breath of fresh air to have something else on our doorstep but large polyester or steel motor yachts’. The English yawl ‘Gwenili’ was built as a wooden yacht in 1910 at the shipyard A la Gorce Fil’ in Bordeaux. From her early history nothing much is known. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939 she sailed with a number of young men aboard from Brittany to England.

Finally sailing again
A night was spend at the new Amsterdam Marina, afterwards the fleet sailed to the village of Durgerdam. The smaller ships moored at the marina, whereas the larger ships anchored in the bay. The next day there was some excitement in the fleet: finally sailing again! The first of a number of regattas started that morning. A full circle round the isle of Pampus (a former fortress) was part of the job, the finish was in front of the harbour of Edam. During the Lady’s race to Hoorn the next day the continuing beautiful weather with light wind, accompanied the fleet. There, a visit was made ​​at the ‘Centrum Varend Erfgoed’ with a highly prized guided tour in the museum and boat trips with the botter MK63 owned by Peter Dorleijn and two restored ‘spekbakken’ part of the Foundation ‘Hoornse Schouw’. The next day the old port of Enkhuizen was the aim of the trip. That evening a great OGA anniversary was celebrated in the building of the Enkhuizen Maritime School. The director of the school held a welcoming speech. The foreign guests were impressed by the professional approach of the education which trains students to become for example master of  all commercial sailing vessels, worldwide. Recently part of these classes is also given in English.

Stormy ending
The tail end of hurricane Bertha disrupted the final days of the tour. The beautiful summer weather had passed by and the planned visit to Workum was skipped by the majority of the fleet. The gaffers sailed directly to Den Oever, passed the locks and sailed through the salt water of the Waddenzee to Den Helder. Upon arrival the former naval complex Willemsoord turned out to be a safe harbour. In the harbour a visit was paid to the restoration project of the cargo boat ‘Nordlys’, after ‘Tres Hombres’ the second sailing ship of the company Fairtransport that wants to transport cargo emission-free. Already a few days earlier a number of English skippers decided to go home before the predicted strong southwest winds. Later it turned out that this was the right choice. Due to bad weather most gaffers had to make quite a lot of hours motoring through the Noord Hollands kanaal, the already familiar Fixed Mast Route through the southern part of Holland and Zeeland and the Kanaal door Walcheren up to Flushing. The crossing to England was made from Belgian or French ports. The first gaffers of this group reached the English coast only 10 days after the event was finished.

Comparative sailing behavior
In an effort to compare the sailing behavior of the English fleet with that of the Dutch it can be stated that Englishmen and women are generally used to navigate a lot more on the sails. Furthermore they also seem to have more endurance. During the tour the distances were relatively small, but the British have been introduced extensively to passing bridges, locks and busy shipping traffic. Most Dutch sailors let all the ships that come close pass carelessly. The English, however react with some stress when in the distance a floating object comes closer. In any case the guest skippers practiced a lot on the maneuvering their vessels by engine in small areas. There was a lot of praise for the good organization of the event that is definitely worth repeating.

Contributed by Frits van der Mark, Dutch member of the OGA