Days of Yore
Imagine! Sailing, for the fun of it!
AMSTERDAM – Taking a sailboat out, just for fun, was a byproduct of the founding of the Dutch East India Company in 1602. Initially, small yachts were built to chase away pirates (the Dutch word ‘yacht’ means ‘hunt’), take merchants out to sea to greet their returning ships or deliver pilots to them. From there to recreational boating was a tiny step.
The first yacht club opened in Amsterdam in 1622 already. Thirty years later, Oliver Cromwell made England a republic sending King Charles II into exile in Amsterdam. When he returned in 1660 _ with 2 yachts, gifted by the Dutch _ he introduced recreational sailing to England and commissioned 24 royal yachts during his reign. The era of yacht racing had begun but the first English yacht club was not formed until 1815. Others followed suit, in England as well as France and Sweden.
In 1846, Prince Henry (“The Seafarer”), second son of Dutch King William II, founded the Royal Dutch Yacht Club to “increasingly foster and encourage diligence and pleasure in the perfection of shipbuilding and everything related to maritime affairs.” But a national outfit proved too ambitious. Many recreational sailors preferred local initiatives. The Royal Yachting and Rowing Club was founded in Amsterdam (1847) followed by the Royal Amsterdam Rowing and Sailing Club “De Hoop” (1848) and the Royal Rowing and Sailing Club “De Maas” in Rotterdam (1852).
Prince Henry died in 1871. And with him, his national yacht club. Yet his passion for sailing was not wasted on the Netherlands where 20 sailing and rowing clubs were launched in the 19th century and 350 in the 20th century. Today, the Netherlands boasts 1.5 million boating enthusiasts, 500,000 boats and 5,500 kms. (3,660 miles) of navigable waterways. The Dutch yacht building industry and its suppliers make and outfit anything from tiny day sailers to posh mega-yachts. They employ 27,000 people and their 2012 exports were valued at €1.5 billion.
(Illustration: Dutch East India Company shipyard ca. 1750. Stadsarchief Amsterdam)