Started Sailing

My Life Under Sail

by Han
(Brittany, France)

Here I will give you a summary of my sailing life as an introduction, less because it is so interesting than because Alex asked me to act as one of his "experts". It's up to you to decide if I am, so don't spare me your comments.

My first baby-picture was taken in a little hammock in my father's sailing boat, then sailing in a disused river-arm just south of Rotterdam. It was in the spring of 1943, under German occupation.

I am the last heir of the traditions of generations of North Sea fishermen (an ugly sentence, I know!) because my sons lack my fanaticism for the noble art of sailing. One of those traditions was: if you're going to be a fisherman, you don't learn to swim. That sounds stupid in our modern ears, but in the old days it was normal for two reasons, a: your heavy clothes drew you down before you could shed them, and b: a skipper who could not swim was more careful.

My first own boat was a canoe I built myself, with the help of some friends and my father.
After some paddling I decided this was nothing for me, so I rigged it and sailed it to pieces in two years.

Followed a long line of dinghy-like boats, until I met a famous Frisian boat builder who recognised my abilities and offered to give me sailing lessons in his own tjotter (a round-bottomed traditional Frisian all-purpose boat). Until then I had sailed light boats with centreboard and shrouded mast, now I had to master a heavy (150 stone) oak boat, somewhat more than 15 feet long and 8 feet wide, with sideboards, a 30 feet high-unshrouded mast and enormous clouds of sail. Pier let me helm it from the first moment on and man, that meant work and it demanded a lot of physical power! I had to learn to steer the boat by using the fore- and mainsail and had to ignore the helm. To test me, Pier (at the most inconvenient moment) lifted the rudder from its hinges, dropped it into the water and ordered me to go and get it "because it's too damn expensive to loose! On the double, sunshine!" When he was through with me, he said: "you finally know how to sail a real boat; come and have a drink, next time I want instruction from you."

Until then I only sailed the lakes in Holland, now I knew enough to tackle the rivers, an art in it's own right.

Through the years I have sailed most of the traditional Dutch flat- and round-bottomed boats and ships, up to over 50 tonnes deadweight; not only on the inland waters but also at sea, and I'll never find a more demanding kind of ship or a more rewarding.

I sailed the waters around England, Scotland and Ireland, as far north as Norway; also the Channel and south around Brittany (where I now live), the Iberian Peninsula and around the Mediterranean as far as Greece.

I never learned enough to instruct Pier, but I had a lot of drinks with him until his death. Man, an unbeatable sailor!

If you want elaboration on any subject I wrote about, please let me know. There is so much to tell, and not enough time to tell it.


Comments for My Life Under Sail

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Mar 14, 2009
Great Story!
by: Alex Dotsch

Hi Han,

Thank you for that awe-inspiring story. Do you have that photo of you in the boat when you were young?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I look forward to you sharing more of you experiences in the future. As well as this I look forward to reading you answers to some of your questions in the Ask The Expert section.

Thank you so much for your contributions to the site so far!

Best Regards

Mar 15, 2009
Thank you...
by: Han

Dear Alex,

Thank you for your kind words; writing is a pleasure in itself for me (I write a lot of essays about our life in Brittany in English and Dutch) but it is all the more rewarding when people appreciate it.

This famous picture has never been in my possession; as I was busy going hither and tither it was with my parents and after their demise it was with my sister; but when she died some years ago it was not in her estate. So I fear it is lost forever. And I am a poor archivist, I lose everything in the course of the years.

However, apart from my eyes my brain is still in perfect condition so not to worry: all my memories are still there.

However, apart from my eyes my brain is still in perfect condition so not to worry: all my memories are still there.

Which brings me to the last paragraph of this mail. I once promised you to describe my thoughts and feelings on the subject sailing; but when I re-read this morning my contribution to the sailing stories, I had to conclude I had written a kind of C.V. and not what I promised you. So this afternoon I'll write and send you "my life under sail, part II".

Happy reading,


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