Summer time is a busy time for Curaçao’s top Sunfish sailors. The ones that can break loose from family, friends and work duties attend the world championship, this year held at the Buffalo, New York Canoe Club August 23 through 29.
For 2008, it was only veteran Wim van der Gulik who was able to mingle among the 72 participants from all over the world. Van der Gulik was not the only sailor from Curacao present, but also represented all islands of the south and east Caribbean. Travelling the US in his RV, accompanied by his wife Gonny, it was easy for him to make a stop in the beautiful state of New York and test his skills against the world’s best Sunfishers, as he has done many times before.
Being past his seventieth birthday it was quite an achievement to sail and finish all twelve races, which he did! Van der Gulik gathered 479 points, worth a 53rd place. Paul Foerster from the USA was crowned the new world champion.
In Curaçao the Sunfish sailors who stayed at home were preparing for the local championship at the same time. After two weekends and eight races Jürgen Schneider is the new champion.
Schneider recaptured the prestigious title after 27 years.
“Is it a Guinness world record?” asked race assistant Alex Roose at the prize giving ceremony on September 14th at organizer Theo Frerik’s Pro Sail Curaçao clubhouse. Maybe it’s not, but remarkable it is, for sure!
In 1981, at the age of 18, Schneider won the local battle for the Sunfish crown for the first time and in 2008 he did it again, adding his second title at age 45. In the years between he worked, lived and sailed in the Netherlands, being the moving spirit of the Dutch Sunfish Association. Recently Schneider came back to his roots where his Sunfish career started: Curaçao.
“It was not easy,” says Roose. “A mixture of very experienced sailors with several young and talented ones provided plenty of competition.’ The Sunfish, sometimes called the "old age" boat in Curacao, has changed its name to be an "all age" boat: the 2008 winner is in his forties, the runner up Ard van Aanholt only 14, while number three, the experienced four-time national champ Niek Kort, is in his fifties. Among the 26 participants in the championship, there was an age difference of 59 years between the youngest and the oldest sailor!
For 34 consecutive years the championship has been held in “Spanish Waters,” where Randall Swan triumphed in 1986 in the Sunfish senior Olympics. Winds of 20-25 knots are common all year long, but in September it can differ. And it did! Traditionally the races are held during two weekends with totally different weather conditions. This year was no exception.
During both weekends, four long races and four so-called short track races were sailed. The average of two short tracks together do count as one long race. In fact six long races are adding to the total. For the youth, a "sunfish double" class is allowed. Maximum age is 14 and the combined weight is not allowed to pass 90 kg/198 lbs.
The Sunfish spirit once again showed to be very much alive and continues to be the largest one design fleet as well as the Optimist. With the participation of very talented young sailors, the future of the class looks bright in Curacao. There could be a significant change next year during the worlds 2009 in Nassau, Bahamas. Forget about Wim, Niek and Dolf—but watch for Ard, Kevin and Alexandra, and all the other young Curaçao talents!
The final results:
1. Jürgen Schneider, 2. Ard van Aanholt, and 3. Niek Kort.
1. Kevin Otterdijk, 2. Alexandra Siebels, and 3. Jarrick Bijsterbosch.
1. Just van Aanholt and Deion van Rooijen, and First Lady: Barbara Brandt.
Els Kroon is a Dutch former teacher who now lives and works as an award-winning free-lance photojournalist on Curaçao.