Every five years, Amsterdam is host to one of the most beautiful festivals I know:
Sail – a festival that celebrates sailing and tall ships.
For a week, the old dockland area of the Java Island is awoken from its quiet suburban-like stupor and is transformed into a bustling vibrant mass of sails and masts.
Wednesday the ships arrived.
From the vantage point of the Jan Schaeffer bridge that links the Java Island to the “mainland” of Amsterdam an eager crowd had taken up their positions, keen to get the first glimpse of the ships as they entered the city and sailed under the bridge to their berths on the quaysides.
Under a rare glare of late summer sunshine we all stood expectantly, nervous like children.
Every few minutes a cry would go up that the first sail had been spotted on the horizon – they were coming!
Excitement would mount and cameras would be poised and made ready before word would filter through that the alleged mast or sail was but an illusion brought about by the anticipation.
Then, at last, through the pillars of the Ij tunnel we saw the first masts, and a jubilant cry went up as slowly, slowly the ships came into view one by one.
The Sorlandet, a clipper from Norway,was up front and leading the parade.
Mutters all round and bemused looks. Where was the Stad Amsterdam, the ship that always has the honour of leading the parade into her city?
We scanned the horizon, and there she was, behind the Sorlandet being tugged into town and pushed to her berth at the Passenger Terminal.
It turns out that some wise soul on board had handed the helm to Prince Willem Alexander who promptly managed to run the ship aground hence the embarrasing delay.
Oh well, never mind.
One ship that was missing during the sail in was the Russian vessel the Sedov.
111.5-metres long and with and four impressive masts, the Sedov is the largest traditional sailing ship in the world and is truly the star attraction of Sail.
But today she arrived, accompanied into town by hoardes of flower be-decked steam boats whose toots and wails echoed across town and offered a cheerful distraction to the flash of heavy rain that bore down on us all unexpectedly.
All around the harbour a whole host of boats are buzzing and bobbing around in the water – zodiac dinghies, row boats, Aquaramas, speed boats, kayaks, various sail boats, steam boats – the water is truly alive and festive – a wonderful sight to behold.
Every evening this chaotic little fleet heads round to the left side of the island and lines up side by side where, for ten minutes, the sky is illuminated by a fabulous fireworks display that cracks and booms and blazes amid the “oohs’ and “aahs” of the appreciative crowds.
Last night, amid the bobbing heads and bodies I saw a sailor steal a kiss from his smiling blonde companion.
“Enjoy a world of friendships” is the festival motto, which, for sailors on shore, will always mean but one thing I suppose …. 🙂