Everyone knows that the Dutch have both a predilection for boats and a love of partying, so during the first weeks of August, Friesland is in top form thanks to the Sneekweek sailing festival and the Skûtsjesilen regatta.
By Thomas Ansell
This year’s Sneekweek, which began on 3 August, is the 83rd edition of Europe’s largest inland waterway sailing event and will feature more than 40 classes of craft. Through the 12th of August, the scenic Frisian city will be one big party, and each year, the week of festivities kicks off with a firework-and-ship showcase of sailing.
Similar events have been organised by the Royal Watersport Association of Sneek since 1851, and the historical origins of the Sneekweek allegedly date back to the short-lived French annexation of the Netherlands: sailing festivals have been held in the country since 1814. But this distinctly Frisian event can trace its roots all the way back to the Admiralzeilen tradition in the 12th century. The ships would sail in squadron formation to better fend off buccaneers and other challengers, and this defence tactic informs the frantic sailing on display during the modern-day Hardzeildag on the 8th of August, which is considered the highlight of the week. The annual Dutch-Frisian sailing race is also held on Wednesday, and given that the Dutch teams have been more successful in recent years, this year’s competition is sure to be a high-octane (wind-speed?) spectacle.
Sneekweek’s unofficial motto is “honour by day, party by night”, referring to the sailing achievements during daylight hours and the festive atmosphere that takes over the city after sunset. The Sneekweek’s organisers have put considerable effort into creating a packed schedule of music and partying running every evening of the Sneekweek and including a huge final night closing event on Sunday, the 12th of August.
Skûtsjesilen (for those of us who may not speak Frisian, it’s pronounced “scoot-chuh-see-lun”) is another event steeped in maritime history. The flat-bottomed cargo ships (skûtjes) may look incongruous on the water, but they were designed for speed and manoeuvrability. Most of the ships participating in the races harken back to the early 20th century, a time when moving cargo via canal was common. The ships in the skûtsjesilen retain their allegiance to a specific village and family: their affiliation is typically displayed in the form of a logo on the iconic brown and white sails.
Developing out of the 19th century tradition of racing the empty cargo ships when business was slow, the skûtsjesilen has survived some choppy waters across its history, with the event nearly being sunk in the 1950s due to low participation, and the splitting of the association of Skûtsje skippers into two rival events in 1981.
The SKS Championship 2018 runs until the 17th of August across some of the most beautiful waters in Friesland, including the Snitser Mar (Sneekermeer) and Langwarder Wielen. The SKS Championship 2018 website has a handy guide on where to view the racing, with the largest event of the week taking place on the final day of racing in Sneek itself. You can follow the progress of the skûtjes on the SKS website or watch the races live through Omrop Fryslan.
These two sailing-centric events ever August are the ideal opportunity to enjoy the beautiful and historic towns and waterways of Friesland, soak up some Frisian traditions, and witness a fun and high-energy part of Dutch culture.
Photo source: Wikipedia/Baykedevries