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The Kuiper Brandaris Race, from Harlingen to Terschelling

The Kuiper Brandaris Race is a race for traditional and not so traditional sailing ships. Every year in the third weekend of October, the Wadden Sea between Harlingen and Terschelling changes into the battleground of this regatta. A true spectacle for participants and spectators. How did this race come about and how do you take part, even if you are not a ‘real sailor’?

The origin of the Brandaris Race, on the Wadden Sea

The Brandaris race was first organised in 1994. In that year, the Brandaris lighthouse celebrated its 400th anniversary, and to celebrate, a competition was organised for the traditional ships that visited Terschelling so often.

Herman Brandsma, once a skipper himself on a traditional sailing ship from the port of Harlingen, took the lead and organised a competition in which 50 ships took part in the first edition. Originally, almost only traditional sailing ships from Harlingen participated. This has changed over the years and now there are 80 starting places for traditional clippers, Tjalken, Aken, Skutsjes and other ships. They no longer come only from Harlingen.

What do you have to do to win the Brandaris Race?

Winning is a matter of sailing to Terschelling as quickly as possible. Whoever reaches the other side first wins! This sounds very simple, but it depends on the weather, wind and tides whether this is the case. Just like in the Wadden Sea Race, you need a bit of luck and not too much of a hangover.

Each race starts with an official palaver in a designated pub in the harbour. Most of the boatmen had seen the inside of it just a few hours before. In this palaver, details are announced, the wind and weather forecasts are made and any special circumstances are discussed.

The skippers quickly finish off with a cup of strong coffee and then everyone is on their way to their own ship. There is a lot of activity in Harlingen harbour. On all ships the crew and guests are busy with the final preparations.

Preparations for the Brandaris Race

What does a Brandarisrace weekend from Harlingen look like?

On Friday, it is very busy: ships from ports such as Enkhuizen, Makkum, Stavoren and other ports around the IJsselmeer set sail for Harlingen. This makes for a pleasant bustle. It is quite a task for the port authority to give everything and everyone a place.

Preparations for the Brandaris race on Friday evening

On Friday evening, the skippers will confirm their registration in cafe ‘Het Noorderke’. This is where we catch up, reminisce about victories and make predictions for tomorrow, and everyone gets a starting number. Even in the year 2021, this is still just a square board with large sticky figures, which you attach somewhere on your ship or hold up in the air at the moment supreme!

After the crew and guests are on board, there is a tour of the ship and a brief explanation of the competition tactics. The extra sails are hooked up and the tasks are divided. There is a pleasant tension in the air, felt throughout the port. As evening falls, crew members and passengers still arrive from all over Europe and sometimes further afield.

On Saturday the start of the Brandaris Race is in Harlingen

On Saturday, as described, the palaver takes place first thing in the morning, at the same place where the registration was a few hours earlier. On Saturday, as described, the palaver takes place first thing in the morning, at the same place where the registration was a few hours earlier. Herman Brandsma, the inventor and organiser, addresses everyone, reports the latest details and then it is time to head for the ship and towards the Wadden Sea.

The starting ship leaves for sea, and on the other side at West-Terschelling, the finishing ship is also getting ready to leave for position. As soon as everyone is back on board the competition ships, the first sailing ships leave the harbour. One more round of practice and the very last preparations, secret sails, traps, extra ropes and signs & gestures are practised.

At 10.30 a.m. it is time for the big clippers to appear at the starting line, and as soon as the starting signal is given, the race frenzy begins. You can hear the rattling of winches, the shouting of commands over and over again and the sound of sails flapping from all the sailing ships.

Mainsail hoisting on the Waterwolf

After ten minutes, it is time for the next group of ships to start and so it goes until everyone has left. What is exciting about this race is that all the ships start close together on the water. Who will be the quickest to cross the starting line when the signal sounds?

Sailing tactics during the Brandaris Race

Sailing is hardly ever done in a straight line. On a normal sailing trip, you will not be bothered by other large sailing ships that are very close by. That is different in a sailing race. You cannot just turn left or right, so you have to think about your tactics. Sometimes the ships pass each other very close. This makes a sailing race like the Brandaris Race even more exciting!

The Waterwolf on its way to the finish

The finish of the Brandaris Race on Terschelling

The finish ship ‘De Holland’, the old ferry between Harlingen and the islands of Terschelling and Vlieland, lies in ‘de Meep’, the water off Terschelling. It is just a matter of holding up your race number visibly, and as soon as ‘De Holland’ is passed, the ship’s horn sounds and cheering ensues from the deck.

Everyone who has passed the finish line sails towards the harbour of Terschelling and looks for a place there. An enthusiastic mood prevails in the normally quiet harbour. Everyone is busy taking down sails and recounting the race. They will also follow who is still in the race and where, and of course it will be time for a drink. Soon the port is full and it is busier than in the high season. It is a coming and going and visiting of each other’s sailing ships. Do some shopping, take a walk on the beach or taste a local speciality.

The prize-giving ceremony of the Brandaris Race

At 20.00 hours in the evening it is time for the prize-giving ceremony, which will take place in cafe ‘De Bras’ in the main street of West-Terschelling. A little beforehand, the great migration out of the harbour begins. Crew members and guests flow from every ship. One was still in his sailing outfit, the other with a fresh perm. So far it has been speculation, comparing start and finish times and a lot of guesswork. At 20.00 hours it becomes clear who was really the fastest in each class, at least according to the Brandaris race committee.

The 27th edition of the Kuiper Brandaris Race

This year was the 27th edition of the Kuiper Brandaris Race and both the Waterwolf and the Lotus participated. The Waterwolf won the second place in the ‘Big Clippers’ category, but after an exciting battle they narrowly lost the first place to ‘De Eensgezindheid‘ from `Enkhuizen. The Lotus finished sixth among the Tjalken this year! Even though she won previous editions in 2013 and 2016.

Sailing along during the Kuiper Brandaris Race

Would you like to step aboard and sail the Brandaris race yourself? You can! In addition to the experienced crew, there is plenty of room for guests, even those with little or no sailing experience. Enthusiasm is all you need. So come with your colleagues, family or friends and experience what a real sailing competition on a traditional sailing ship is like. Contact us and ask about the possibilities.

This post is also available in: Dutch German