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Ups and Downs During the 29th Piet Dijk Race to Klein Curacao

“Kuaresma,” the six weeks preceding Easter, is a perfect time for sailing races around the ABC islands, situated near de border of Venezuela in the utter south of the Caribbean. Winds are stronger here than anywhere else in this beautiful part of the world. That’s the reason why the late Piet Dijk initiated a long distance race 29 years ago.

The 30 NM course to  and from the small uninhabited island of “Klein Curacao”, situated at about 5 miles south east of the most eastern part of the Curacao, was a great way to “ stimulate local sailors to do more than just some rounds in Spanish Waters and tracks close to the coast,” as Dijk stated in 1978.  Since that year the Piet Dijk race has been organized for Cruising, Racing-Cruising and Racing yachts by Watersport Vereniging Jan Sofat (WSVJS) under the auspices of the NASAF.

Because of the expected unpredictable kuaresma-winds and the length of the course the start is early in the morning.  Despite—or maybe thanks to—that early start, spirits are always high and the competitors, all eager to win first place, head from Spanish Water via Barbara Beach to open sea in an eastern direction. Another 30 miles to go!

This year the start went smooth but out at sea conditions required sturdy sea legs and an iron stomach. Just before East Point the sailors unexpectedly encountered waves of more than 10 feet high, which made Jan Ackermans and his team of sea scouts on their J-24 Chamba II decide to turn around and give up the race. The first time in Ackerman’s 40 year’s sailing career! The die hards on the seven continuing boats got rewarded for their perseverance. Further out at sea the waves turned to quite normal again. Except for some rare wind shifts and strong currents near Klein Curacao the sea conditions stayed acceptable.

The small island had to be rounded from the port side, along the stranded tanker at the North Eastern coast where the sailing ship Krisnic also ran aground last year. Downwind the yachts returned to Spanish Water without any problems enjoying the strong winds, some of them flying their spinnakers. Curacao Marine 1010, the fastest boat in the racing class, nearly made it to a new record. At 5:16:04 Sergey Boer’s team was just a few minutes short of the best time ever: 5:08:26, sailed by Karel van Haren’s team on the Henderson 30  Ibis, the former RBBT in 2005. The Marvin, with Gareth Weber on the helm, was the fastest boat in the Racing Cruising class and won the race overall.

At the prize giving ceremony organizer Jan van Zon mentioned the trend that the monster race has been sailed faster and faster through the years. NASAF official and co-organizer  Ivo van Dooren has kept record of the sailing times since 1984. The summary shows that the same boats improved on their own earlier records several times. Both Jan Ackerman’s Chamba II and Karel van Haren’s Henderson Ibis can be found five times on the list.

No new record this year, but also no damage on the yachts, despite the heavy circumstances at sea. “It was an excellent race to try out new skills and tactics on the long stretches at sea” said Van Zon in the crowded but cozy WSVJS club at Spanish Waters.

The race committee already looks ahead to next year’s 30th edition of the race, which has to be special in every way. Sponsor Tiny Dijk, Piet Dijk’s widow agrees. Since her husband died, and actually before also, she likes to be involved in the race. She always can be found around at the (early) start and at the prize giving ceremony, enjoying the fact that more and more young sailors take up the big challenge of this long distance race, no matter if they get sea sick once and a while…

Els Kroon is a Dutch former teacher who now lives and works as a free-lance photojournalist on Curacao.

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