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Seven Guys and a Boat

Eight a.m. on a Sunday morning in February. It’s dark, cold and rainy, a strong northwesterly wind batters Medemblik Marina in the North of Holland. Not exactly the circumstances favoured by most sailors. In the shimmering daylight, seven guys are preparing an X-35 for a day’s training on the Ijsselmeer—up against the elements.

As the boat passes the harbour heads, Cor Boots and Jean Paul Drabbe prepare the foredeck. Not a place for the faint-hearted, as working conditions are tough here. Beating up-wind at six knots, Marc van der Plas needs all his attention to trim the main, whilst Otto Ambagtsheer needs to catch his breath at the mast. George Rietbergen and Maurits van Oranje hike out as far as they can, their eyes firmly fixed on the Genoa, as the wind might require a quick sail change.

Having coached many professional sailors Gerard Verduyn stands calmly on the helm. His years of experience prove to be essential in getting the other team members in good shape for what is to come in a few weeks’ time. The 2008 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta comes first on their agendas.

It all started eleven years ago when a group of seven friends decided that it was time for a change. A change from family day sailing in Dutch weather conditions to competing in exotic regattas around the world.  Jan Paul, Cor, Otto, George, Maurits, Marc and Gerard had known each other for many years but never really raced together.

That all changed when they entered the St. Maarten Heineken regatta as a team in 1998 for the first time. Since then they have not missed a single year competing in many of the Caribbean’s great regattas.

Over the last ten years, six marriages, 16 children and senior business positions did not stop the guys from attending. The ‘call of the Carribean’ has proven so strong that 44 hours of non-stop travelling from Brisbane to St. Maarten couldn’t stop Otto from being part of the experience.

Supported by long term sponsors Oger (men’s retail brand), Scarlet Telecom, and car manufacturer Audi, the squad underwent a metamorphosis from a fun team to very serious sailing addicts. Technique and communication are the watchwords, concentration and anticipation the key factors. The position of each crew member is determined and great attention is paid to optimizing boat handling. Gerard continually impresses upon his crew that success is not a coincidence.

The hard work has paid off in the past; in the early 2000s, the team took second place twice in racer-cruiser division. Over the last years, the level playing field has become very competitive, changed as experienced local sailors with excellent equipment entered in the same class.

Today’s lousy conditions on the IJsselmeer only prove that this crew still understands that there’s no glory without guts. They are determined on giving competition a tough time. As well, they are keen on some very serious fun after mooring…

For information on the St. Maarten Heineken International Regatta March 6 – 9:  www.heinekenregatta.com.

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