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Dutch love of sailing united at Festival of Sails

By Festival of Sails Media on 13 Dec 2012 24-28 January 2013
The S80 Merak at the Festival of Sails
The S80 Merak at the Festival of Sails
Photo © Teri Dodds

Dutchmen Bas Huibers and Eric Swaan reunite from opposite ends of the globe once a year at the place they first met. It's not a love story, but a love of sailing story that began when Netherlands based Swaan responded to a 'crew wanted' notice for Geelong Week in 2008.

The original arrangement fell through and Victorian yachtsman and countryman, Huibers, generously stepped in, offering Swaan a ride on his S80 called Merak. And so began an annual pilgrimage that will continue at next January's historic Festival of Sails, January 24 – 28.

"What initially looked like a once in a life time opportunity has now almost turned into a tradition, with this year being my fourth time sailing in the exciting S80 class," wrote Swaan in an email from the Netherlands.

"At first, I had declined the kind invitation but soon thereafter I experienced two very tragic situations which made me realise I should live life to the max as it might change dramatically or even end suddenly. Because Geelong Week sounded great, I got on the plane and flew over for a fantastic regatta."

Bas Huibers is the immediate past commodore of the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria and has been an Australian resident since 1994 having emigrated from the Netherlands for work. He is heavily involved in the S80 class, an Australian designed eight metre one-design boat crewed by up to five, which is the largest and most active keelboat fleet on Port Phillip.

"Eric is a committed yachty. Back in 2008 he flew in for the week from the Netherlands and he had a lot of fun. So much that he has been back in 2011, 2012 and he has just booked his tickets to join us again for the 2013 event," said Huibers.

Despite being offered Vegemite every year by the jokesters on Merak, Swaan's decision to leave behind the cold weather each January is a simple one, made even easier by the fact he has a very understanding wife.

"When I came back home after the 2012 edition of the Festival of Sails it was extremely cold, minus 23 degrees Celsius with a wind chill factor taking it even further down. This is another great reason for participating in the regatta - I get a break from the cold weather, even if it is only for a week!"

A co-worker originally brought the Festival of Sails to Swaan's attention, likening it to the UK's longstanding Cowes Week of the southern hemisphere. Through the official crew bulletin board operated by organising club, the Royal Geelong Yacht Club (Crew Registration), Swaan signed on and is now Merak's international rock star, flying in a couple of days before the event starts and home shortly afterwards, but not before celebrating another ritual.

"After the regatta ends, we have a great tradition on the delivery back to Melbourne, which we call the Mussel Cup. We 'race', with all means of propulsion, to Portarlington for lunch at The Grand and after getting back to the city in the evening, I fly out the following day," said Swaan.

As well as catching up with the crew on Merak and other Aussie friends, Swaan espouses Geelong's great weather and sailing conditions, the exciting S80 class and a very well organised event with lots of shoreside activities.

"The S80 has its own division which makes for some very close and exciting sailing. Finishing the passage race within seconds of each other is quite spectacular!" he added.

Merak has been a regular entrant in the S80 class during the Festival of Sails since 1999, Huibers only occasionally missing the highly regarded regatta and major event for Geelong that is a drawcard for interstate and international entries, sailors and their families.

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