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Sailing is a Family Tradition in Curacao

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Are sailors born or made? That’s a question that Curacao’s
Cor van Aanholt and his wife, Marjolein, might answer, “both”. Their four
children, Philipine (13), Ard (11), Just (9) and Odile (7), have certainly been
on the water since they were born. But, a father who is a celebrity in the
sport of sailing with titles such as Sunfish World Champion to his credit is
the one who launched them.

“My grandfather
had a summer house on a lake in Holland,” says Cor, describing his own start
into sailing. “We’d go there for family vacations. My brothers and I learned to
sail a Flit. It’s a two man boat that is 12-feet long with a wooden jib and

It wasn’t long
before the brothers went from cruising to racing to competing in local
regattas, and then national championships where Cor won his first title at age
12. Their father, though he didn’t know how to sail, was a driving force and
much enjoyed race organization. In fact, he passed away when Cor was age 18
while officiating at a sailing event. The year before, Cor had won Kiel Week in
Germany sailing Lasers. In addition, he was a teenage business owner by this
time, along with his brothers, of a sailing and windsurfing school on the same
lake they all learned to sail. The year was 1976.

“Back then, you
could be in the top with just active weekend sailing,” Cor says.

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As the top Laser
sailor in Holland, Cor was invited to sail in the Sunfish Worlds. “I saw the
boat two days before the regatta and ended up placing 2nd,” he says.
The next year, 1980, he won the Sunfish World Champion title.

Cor quit
competitive sailing in 1982 and embarked on other aspects of the sport,
including international judging, trying his hand at catamaran sailing by
competing in the Dart Worlds with then new-wife, Marjolein, and ultimately
moving to Curacao in 1994 where he found an active group of Sunfish racers.
This spurred him back into competition, where in 1996 he placed 5th
in the Sunfish Worlds, held that year in Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic.
Cor’s last big competitive push was to represent the Netherlands at the 1996
Summer Olympics in Atlanta. After this, his thoughts turned towards family

In 2001, Cor
founded the Optimist Club of Curacao with two other parents.

“We started the
Optimist Club to get the kids sailing, yes, but also because it was a family
thing we could all do on a Sunday with friends,” Cor explains. “We’d have 60 to
70 kids at a time out sailing. It wouldn’t all be competitive. We’d do social things,
too, like moonlight sails and treasure hunts.”

Today, the Club
owns 15 real Optimists and 45 look-alikes for training, all based out of the
yacht club in Spanish Waters. There are two training cycles, one in the Fall
and one in the Spring. Kids move through a series of levels from basic bronze
to advanced diamond where their sailing skills become honed. Over 250 kids have
completed the program over the last four years, some of them aging out of
Optimists and sailing Sunfish or windsurfing. To meet this next generation of
demand, the Club has purchased a fleet of Splashes. These 12-foot single sail,
single man boats are the fastest growing step up class from an Opti in Europe.

Instructors up
until this point have been knowledgeable parents, college kids on traineeship
from Holland and local teachers with a sailing background. The Club’s
membership fee, which includes all activities, is $350 a year.

“We’ve reached a
turning point this summer,” Cor says. “To take the program to the next level and
for the kids to reach a higher level in international youth sailing means
employing a professional coach. We need to decide this. As a father, it’s hard
for me to coach, too. It should be someone else.”

Whether founder,
coach or father – or all of these rolled into one – Cor van Aanholt and his
family have put Optimist sailing on the map in Curacao and assured that kids
not born into the sport have the opportunity to make themselves into sailors.

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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