For the SAIL AMSTERDAM event I coincidentally happened to be in the city for a family reunion weekend; prior to this weekend event I stayed with my sister in Amsterdam. As the only one who emigrated, this trip is an expensive one that I could not make each year. This year I decided to be there, as we are all getting older and some of us already are hitting the eighty-year old bar, scary enough! As a warning to all of us, one of my cousins – just a few years ahead of me – had already passed away by a massive heart infarct. Memento Mori!
SAIL Amsterdam is an event organized by the City of Amsterdam and the SAIL Foundation with its partner, ACE Concept & Events and takes place every five years. The goal as explained on its website:
• Promoting the city and Port of Amsterdam, the North Sea Canal Area and the municipalities within the Area.
• Fostering interest in classic sailing ships, round and flat bottoms, training ships and the like.
• Inspiring enthusiasm in younger audiences in regards to sailing at sea and inland, and also in Dutch seafaring and its history.
Amsterdam has a centuries-old harbour and was the trade centre for all of the Netherlands in its early days, as most would know. The Red Light District adjacent to the harbour in the heart of old Amsterdam is well known across the world, which is a by-product of seamen and other travellers coming to the city for a brief stay and in need of sexual relief after long days away from their usual go-to-girls. The Dutch of course deal with this phenomenon as a matter of fact and out in the open, as with anything. No, no photos here of that; you will just have to visit.
The Netherlands is often called Holland, which are the names of the two most important provinces in the nation (North – and South-Holland), where the astonishingly rich merchants’ home were located on its canals, and where the Rembrandts of that time plied their trade, documenting the wealth and importance of these nouveau riches. The fact is that these are only two of 12 provinces that currently make the nation: the Netherlands started as a republic of seven provinces that were more like merchants’ fiefdoms.
Holland’s history as a seafaring and trading nation is not as pretty as the pretty looks of the city may lead us to believe.
“The Trade Companies were the most feared merchandizing competition around the world, specifically for the trade in spices and, to our shame, also of slaves in its day, as early as the 1600.
The United East Indian Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie; VOC), referred to by the British as the Dutch East India Company, was originally established as a chartered company in 1602, when the Dutch government granted it a 21-year monopoly on Dutch spice trade. It is often considered to have been the first multinational corporation in the world and it was the first company to issue stock. It was a powerful company, possessing quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, strike its own coins, and establish colonies.
Statistically, the VOC eclipsed all of its rivals in the Asia trade. Between 1602 and 1796 the VOC sent almost a million Europeans to work in the Asia trade on 4,785 ships, and netted for their efforts more than 2.5 million tons of Asian trade goods
By contrast, the rest of Europe combined sent only 882,412 people from 1500 to 1795, and the fleet of the English (later British) East India Company, the VOC’s nearest competitor, was a distant second to its total traffic with 2,690 ships and a mere one-fifth the tonnage of goods carried by the VOC. The VOC enjoyed huge profits from its spice monopoly through most of the 17th century.
(My addition: little of the wealth was turned over to the local population. When rebellions broke out among the locals, the Dutch army suppressed those in bloody fashion.)
Having been set up in 1602, to profit from the Malukan spice trade, in 1619 the VOC established a capital in the port city of Jayakarta and changed the city name into Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). Over the next two centuries the Company acquired additional ports as trading bases and safeguarded their interests by taking over surrounding territory. It remained an important trading concern and paid an 18% annual dividend for almost 200 years.
Weighed down by corruption in the late 18th century, the Company went bankrupt and was formally dissolved in 1800.
After their advances in the East, the Dutch merchants went also westwards. From Wikipedia: From On June 3, 1621, it (the West Indian Company) was granted a charter for a trade monopoly in the West Indies (meaning the Caribbean) by the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and given jurisdiction over the Atlantic slave trade, Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America. The area where the company could operate consisted of West Africa (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Cape of Good Hope) and the Americas, which included the Pacific Ocean and the eastern part of New Guinea. The intended purpose of the charter was to eliminate competition, particularly Spanish or Portuguese, between the various trading posts established by the merchants. The company became instrumental in the Dutch colonization of the Americas.”
So far Wikipedia; thank you, writers.
In modern times, all major cruise lines stop in the region at the terminal at IJmuiden (the Felison Cruise Terminal) just before the locks of IJmuiden, which form the connection between the Noord Zee North Sea) kanaal (canal) and the Noord Zee. To enter the waterways, ships have to go through locks, as the level of all inner waterways in the Netherlands are tightly controlled, so the tides and extreme climates have no effect. The North Sea Canal is 272 meters wide and 20 km long (11 nautical miles).
Like most, also the Dutch got smart at their peril, through a severe flood in 1953 that caused many deaths: dyke breaks after extreme windstorms and a flash tide flooded the country in its south west corner. The Dutch invented extreme ways in controlling the water in response top this national disaster. I still remember the trucks going door to door to collect clothing and bedding and other donations for the victims; although I was a four year old, I was crying over having to part with my beautiful, wool cape.
Anybody interested in the ingeneering feats should visit the Delta Werken and the Afsluitdijk: engeneering marvels that closed off open the waters connected to the Noord Zee (North Sea) and the large dyke that blocked off the inner sea – IJsselmeer. All ships coming from the North Sea and the Channel must pass through the locks to access the waterways of the hinterland: the nations beyond and the Rijn (Rhine) river.
The terminal in Amsterdam (Passenger Terminal Amsterdam) is fantastically situated in the city centre. Both terminals offer a high level of service and easily meet the requirements that shipping companies place on docks. What’s more, the terminals are located just a short distance from Schiphol Airport. “The good connection with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is ideal from IJmuiden”, explains the captain of the Prinsendam. The surrounding region is another reason for shipping companies to choose Amsterdam and IJmuiden as a port of call. As far as possible, the greatest compliment for the ports was made by the captain of the L’Austral (Compagnie du Ponant): “Sailing into Amsterdam continues to be one of the best experiences for a captain and his passengers.”
The SAIL event has become the maritime event of peaceful and enjoyable social-cultural happenings for locals and visitors alike, with the traditional Tall Ships and other programming in and around the IJ-haven, including a host of big and small events. Quoted from the SAIL website:
“The Port of Amsterdam has been SAIL’s nautical partner from the outset. The inaugural edition of SAIL took place in 1975, organised as part of celebrations marking Amsterdam’s 700th jubilee. Entitled ‘SAIL Amsterdam 700’, the event saw ships from all corners of the world invited to moor in Amsterdam. And they were pleased to make the trip! Over the decades, SAIL has evolved from a celebration for Amsterdam into a celebration for everyone! The ships go on to visit other cities over the world, although this year’s even – the ninth in Amsterdam – was the best ever with the most tall ships visiting since its inception. The SAIL Amsterdam Foundation worked together with SAIL Event Partners for the very first time.”
In the days when Tall Ships remain in Amsterdam harbor, many other events – classic music concerts on the classic ships, pop and jazz shows, special contests for the young, demonstrations by the Dutch Navy, and fireworks shows make Sail Amsterdam a fantastic and unique festivity. Sail Amsterdam is a free event. You may watch the ships’ parade from different spots in the city. All concerts are also free and so is admission to the ships to visit them.
The most fun part of the event for me was to see all those other traditional and heritage ships and smaller boats, and anything that can float and was registered (=allowed to participate in the fleet) cruising along in the waters and accompanying each of the Tall Ships to their mooring spot in the Amsterdam Port. The comparison of a giant engulfed by a large swarm of bees came to mind. Especially fun was watching the one ferry that remained active during the sail-in parade, darting across the IJ between ships and boats, right through the mayhem, to take its passengers across. It must have taken skill to not run over others.
An enormous fleet of flotsam and jetsam was swarming the stars of the event, many starting from the point after the docks of the port of Ijmuiden all the way to their docking sites in Amsterdam Port, a trip of about ½ hour per car. The maximum speed limit for boats on the North Sea Canal, IJ, and IJhaven (Oranjehaven) during the SAIL-In Parade (19 August) was 6 km/h.
The Tall Ships that attended can all be seen on the website of Sail and are spectacular, worthwhile looking at and reminding ourselves of their history.
My sister and I decided last minute that since this event is here, we probably should make an effort to attend. We have not a moment regretted that decision. Actually, she and I went twice. First to see the float of 70 tall ships on their sail-in parade and then to send them off.
We left home early to ensure we even would have a spot to watch from; we crossed the IJ on the ferry with hundreds of others with the same idea, to watch from the island across from Centraal Station. We ended up sitting on the cement, on the terraced patio in front of the Eye building, where we clung onto to a spot on the floor by the waterfront of about 2 square meters, defending our spot against all invaders that begrudged us our first-row seats. We had miscalculated that the Eye might be open and its patio, but it was closed for a private event: for special Burghers only. Well, I guess we were not special.
Together with thousands of other celebrants, we sat and sat for hours. This was when we had some snappy responses to those who tried to impinge on our spot (some mother who thought that her brood was special) and we told them to go somewhere else, as this place was full. After 3 hours, when my behind was beginning to feel numb (we had not brought any folding stools, or pillows) the first ships sailed in about 2 PM. The Dutch ship Stad Amsterdam was leading in full sail mode, impressive. Yes, it made my breath halt in my throat and my heart fill up with pride, against my expectations, as I am pretty much a sceptic on nationalistic feelings. I even have Canadian citizenship now, but – you can’t take Holland out of the woman.
Hours later ships were still coming in, 70 ships in all — a very large number at that pace of 6 km/hr. By this time at 6 PM my body protested and we went off to eat and sit in a real chair on the patio of a restaurant, further down the waterfront. From here we saw the tail of the Sail-in while eating and drinking in comfort.
The sun was off and on hiding behind the clouds during the day and it had spattered a bit with some drops earlier, but now the sun was out steady. We walked along the ships docked already at this side of the IJ and had a little chat with the sailors on the Tarangini from India, officers by the looks of their uniforms and proud of it! They were very open to chatting; the pleasure was mutual.
My second time was when the ships were all moored off a day or two later. A good friend of mine and I went to visit the ships to take in the sights and enjoy the atmosphere; some ships were open for visitors. As there was no line-up to get on as with other ships, we happened to visit the ……. . bumping into the captain, a short, thin man in his early fifties, the size of my friend, not more than 5 feet 2 or so. His relatives were visiting, apparently his wife and some others, children included. He was sure a proud man, but completely remaining in his role.
On the front deck of the ship a statue of the virgin-mother Maria was temporarily attached to the steering house, with a protective roof made of fresh flowers.
I held the camera over my head (portholes were too high for me to have a peek) and snap a photo from the kitchen, curious what it might look like, and saw later that the cook was making some treats.
Other ships were having private parties for invited guest only. It was a lively evening and at the end of every day, fireworks.
There was plenty to eat and drink at mobile kitchens with instant patios and at existing cafes on the various quays that hosted the ships. To my embarrassment I have to say that we did not go any further than the first quay with the Bim Huis concert hall closest to the Centraal Station, as the event was just too large to see all of the ships and to wander along all of the quays.
In spite of the many visitors, the quays are wide and accommodating and it was very comfortable in my opinion. We had some snacks and some glasses of wine in several locations along the route.
Of course, when in Amsterdam, do as they do and take public transit. Even if you don’t want to, there is no choice: no vehicle traffic is allowed at the event and to all of its venues. Extra ferries were put in service and extra access to walking routes, as all roads were now open for walkers/closed for cars (only emergency vehicles).
It was lovely: it relaxed the general mood and slowed down the crowds who apparently enjoyed it all as much as I did: not one incident or hostile remark from others and only friendly responses. I hope we can do that more in my small city of Kelowna within our city core.
The third time, my sister and I sent the tall ships off on departure day. We experienced the wind-down of the event: the crew climbing into the wands, balancing on the beams and tucking in the sails, manoeuvring like fearless trapeze artists to make the ship ready. Captains of different ranks whistling their specific tunes, with crews responding telling us the code. Goodbye bands on deck were playing salsa and mambo to the crowds. Finally, with all hands on deck, and girlfriends dancing on the quay before sailing off, the final goodbyes; there they went, to a next port and new loves….
On that day, the crowds were stupendous, and even the Crowd Management officials had trouble keeping things moving along. By sheer luck we had elected to have a beer and escape the crowds a bit, by withdrawing at a patio table of a café on the quay, right across from the ships that were a lot of fun to watch a few moments later. These ships had brought their own bands: the South American Guayas from Ecuador and its neighbour the Arc Gloria from Columbia.
The crews visibly enjoyed the spectacle and all the attention from the crowd, especially from the young nubile maidens that were lined up on the quay and were handing them flowers, papers with addresses, kisses, etc. Oh, how I wished to have been young…I would have been there in that line-up. We saw the responses from the young handsome sailors, joshing with each other while standing on board at the “all hands on deck” signal, just as cute as anything in their pride of their conquests, and this sceptic – me – loved seeing that. Oh, the promise of love is international and universal…
It was overall a very festive and unusual atmosphere in Amsterdam, in spite of the sometimes overwhelming crowds and the slow pace of everything, much like a big family party, as if we all knew each other. It brought the world together over ships from Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, Ecuador, Colombia, Poland, USA, Chili, Russia, Czech Republic, Sierra Leone, India, and Australia.
If there was any discord, it might have been the presence of the Chilean ship Esmeralda, under protest of former prisoners and their relatives who were picketing and has a banner strung in front of the ship; with the question: Where are our relatives?
The Esmeralda was notorious for having been an instrument of the Pinochet regime that had thrown over the democratic government of president Allende (of course we all know, aided by the American CIA) and on which many political prisoners were tortured and killed, to never been seen again.
Of course, our marine force enjoys the free advertising by SAIL although no visible signs are offered. Sailing also engulfs military interests and right in the harbour is the Ship Museum. Quite a few of the Tall Ships participating were training ships, run by countries, no doubt subsidized by their governments, I am sure, and indirectly used as an enticement to “join the marines”. Although sailing is not any longer part of current warfare, military training, precision and quick follow through on commands were obvious, necessary to operate the ships and keep them functional.
The old Port of Amsterdam is lined with many old buildings along the quays where ships were unloaded and loaded; these three-story packing houses were storage facilities in the olden days, but now have been converted, or were rebuilt, to modern apartments – of course a very desirable spot to live, and not cheap. It area has become a gentrified area with new restaurants and other shops appearing, such as Jamie Oliver’s place, called NINE.
All in all I enjoyed Sail very much, even with all the crowds.