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The Wadden Race, the not-for-all race on the Wadden Sea

The annual Wadden Race takes place in the first weekend of November on the Wadden Sea. Given the harsh weather, this is an additional difficulty in this sailing competition. The traditional sailing ships that can and dare must reach four ports in the Wadden Sea from Harlingen within 24 hours. To name: Den Oever, Texel, Terschelling, Vlieland and back to Harlingen

Start of the Wadden Sea race 2021, photo by Arthur Smeets

Guaranteed there will be sailing during the freezing night. So without engine and without light on the water. The weather is usually erratic, it is certainly cold and the wind is Dutch and unreliable. This race is not for fun. This competition separates the real skippers from the fun-loving ones. Accomplish this rugged journey and it means something to the enthusiastic sailors among us.

The purpose and rules of the Wadden Sea Race

Sounds pretty hefty, but what exactly is the goal? The aim is to call in at all the aforementioned ports as quickly as possible and to make sure you get back to Harlingen port in one piece, be it [letterlijk]lleft around or right around.

No competition without rules, although for this regatta they are fairly simple, the more difficult the task! Here are the most important rules:

  • In every harbour, put a man overboard to find the code word as quickly as possible, take a selfie with it and call the competition control.
  • Call at the following four ports: West-Terschelling, Oost-Vlieland, Oudeschild [Texel] and Den Oever, within 24 hours.
  • Keep 4 hours of rest, although this is not obligatory, these 4 hours will be added to your end time.
  • Engine use is mandatory when entering and leaving ports.
  • The Journal; The race committee provides each ship with a journal, in which all relevant passages of the race are mentioned. For example, when important buoys have been passed, what time ports have been reached and other details. This journal must be handed in after the competition together with the photos of the code words.

If you want to know exactly what the rules are, you can read the competition rules.

What is the programme of the Wadden Sea Race?

This competition is not just about who has the fastest ship. It is about who knows the Wadden Sea and his own ship best. Whoever understands this area and its treacherous sides and has the best tactics in hand has a good chance of winning. Would you like to be updated live on the position of the participating ships and see images of the different sailing ships? Check the facebook page of the Wadden race.

Waddenrace 2021 on the Lauwerszee
Waddenrace 2021 on board the Lauwerszee

On Friday, the Wadden race preparation begins

On Friday evening, the palaver is in the KNRM rescue house, in the port of Harlingen. Here the latest news, weather forecasts and rules are discussed with the skippers of participating ships and the race committee. All participants are given a journal to fill in during the race. This is also where the predicted routes are handed in. Skippers and crew have, of course, plotted the best route for their ship. Handing in is on the hope of victory.

On Saturday the Wadden Sea race begins

Often after a short night, the race starts at 08.00 on Saturday morning. All ships leave the port and hoist their sails as quickly as possible. Then the competition field spreads out. Depending on how big the ship is and how deep it is, they set off for their first chosen port.

Crew during a Waddenrace
Photo credit: The Wadden Race

As soon as the first harbour comes in sight, the sails have to be lowered and the engine started. The runner’ is disembarked as quickly as possible and the ‘man overboard’ signal sounds over the deck. The runner sprints to the port office, where there is a code word, takes a selfie and runs back. Often on the phone with the competition committee.

In the meantime, the ship has been prepared for leaving and everyone on board is ready to get the rider on board, leave the harbour and hoist the sails again in no time.

This way, all ports are visited on the rough Wadden Sea. The first ships often return to Harlingen shortly after midnight. Others take longer and the arrival of the ships often lasts until late Sunday morning.

Sunday morning the race is over

As soon as the ship is in, the skipper goes to the KNRM office and hands in the log together with the pictures. The race is discussed for a while, with calls from ships still underway on the VHF radio in the background. Back on board it is time for a party. Seeing the sun rise is a fact of life for most whether you finish first or last. The only difference is the degree of sobriety.

The sun during the Wadden race
Photo on board the Balder

When all participants have arrived, all data is collected and in the evening the award ceremony takes place in cafe de Lichtboei in Harlingen. If anything reminds you of a scene from a pirate film, it is here. Most still have salt in their beards, faces weathered from the cold, a twinkle in their eyes and everyone is full of stories. The victory is celebrated with a glass of beer in hand. Because participating is a victory. Whether you have won or not.

What are the tasks on a sailing ship during the Waddenrace?

It is clear that this is not a pleasure trip on any sailing ship, or a competition for lazy water sports enthusiasts. So what should a crew do, if a race is not spread over two days like many other races but has to be completed within 24 hours? Little time for loafing!

1. Two skippers

A second skipper must always be present. They can help each other, take turns and make crucial decisions together.

2. Deck crew

On Friday evening, the tasks are divided. Depending on the size of the ship, crews are made and distributed throughout the ship.[een of twee masten] In an ideal scenario, there would be two people available for each task, so that alternation is possible.

3. The Runner

The one who jumps off the ship in every port and searches for the code word and takes the obligatory photo.

4. The navigation

As a large part of the race takes place in the dark, an experienced person and a good navigation programme are a must. This person tells the skipper when to lower the sails for the harbour, what course to sail, when to tack, etc. The skipper must be able to sail blindly on this person.

5. The chef

Nobody functions without food in their stomach and make no mistake about this task. The ships are lying in the water at an angle because of the raging waves and everything is rattling and moving. The stove is more often than not at a strange 30-degree angle, with sliding pans and rolling pots. The cook makes sure that the crew on board does not get cold, has a good base and is not short of anything.

The ships of Lotus sailing and the Wadden Sea Race

Sailing ship De Lotus has participated in the Wadden Race more often in recent years. Given her shallow draught, she is a good candidate for this hellish sailing competition. In the last five years, the best performance was a second place. This was in 2017 after a 17-hour journey. An achievement of which we at Lotus sailing are still proud!

Participating in the Wadden Sea Race

The Waddenrace is not for the faint hearted, so do you think you can handle it and make yourself useful on board? Then contact us and who knows, next year you may be sailing along on one of the few ships that participate in this race.

This post is also available in: Dutch German