Heeg: more than eels and Polyvalk sailingboats

Shipping links with London made way for water sports

A view of life on board the Korneliske Ykes II, a replica of an original Hegemer eel barge, which was launched in 2009.
A view of life on board the Korneliske Ykes II, a replica of an original Hegemer eel barge, which was launched in 2009.

HEEG (NL) - Heeg is one of the most charming water sport centres in Friesland. It is a village bustling with the activities of numerous water sport companies, hotels and B&Bs and party organisers. Something they are experts at in Heeg is creating a good atmosphere, for young and old alike.

For centuries, the fishermen of Heeg exported eels, otherwise known as elvers, to London. There, on the Thames near Tower Bridge, their +/- 18.50 m long wooden sailing barges had a permanent berth where the live eels were unloaded. Each barge transported between 7,500 and 10,000 kg of eels in its water-filled central well.

Frisian eels
Frisian eels are - still - born in the Sargassozee (Bermuda), where the larva grow into elvers. Then they swim to the Frisian waters where they eventually reach adulthood.

Smoking eel with farmer Ygram Ykema from Sandfirden.
Smoking eel with farmer Ygram Ykema from Sandfirden.

The number of eels in Friesland and the surrounding waters dropped rapidly due to the construction of the IJsselmeer Dam [Afsluitdijk] in 1932. The Zuiderzee, which until then had contained salt water, was halved in size by the creation of the Wieringermeer and Flevoland province polders to form the current IJsselmeer. This is now the largest freshwater reservoir and recreation area in the Netherlands. Heeg is separated from the IJsselmeer by just one sluice and bridge, in the dyke at Stavoren. The town, which is on the route of the famous Frisian skating marathon, is just a two hour sail away.
Dykes, sluices, pumping stations and a lack of living space have caused the number of eels in the north of the Netherlands to plummet since 1932. The fact that the Zuiderzee became a freshwater lake did not bother the eels since they can live in both fresh and salt water.


Freerk Visserman.
Freerk Visserman.

De Helling wood construction museum
In 1938, the trade in eels between Heeg and England came to an end. After the last original eel barge had been dismantled in 1945, it seemed as if the lively shipbuilding industry in Heeg had gone forever. However, local enthusiasts have made sure that their nautical, cultural heritage has been preserved. In the De Helling wood construction museum at It Eilân in Heeg, a real wooden eel barge was built, using entirely traditional methods and craftsmanship.

Smoked eel: a delicacy
Heeg is a Mecca for anyone who loves both traditional sailing ships and smoked eel. There have always been eels in Friesland, despite the construction of dykes, Country reclamation and the presence of sluices. As a result, you can still enjoy that rare delicacy on the outskirts of the village, on the shores of the Heegermeer lake (a glacial valley dating from the ice age).

International water sport
The economic importance of the eel for Heeg has now almost disappeared entirely. These days, the village’s 2,000 or so residents are involved primarily in boat building, boat hire and boat trading, and in goods transport. These activities are also still carried out at an international level. You will find sailing and motor yachts from Heeg throughout Europe, from classic to modern, and from steel to polyester.

The Korneliske Ykes II The Korneliske Ykes II

The Korneliske Ykes II

The Korneliske Ykes II The Korneliske Ykes II
The Korneliske Ykes II The Korneliske Ykes II
The Korneliske Ykes II



Lemsteraak: magnificent
sailing on inland waterways
and the sea

Fishing boat becomes a royal sailing ship

Lemsteraken van Heech by de Mar in Heeg op het Wad.
Lemsteraak of Heech by de Mar in Heeg

LEMMER (NL) - Once the Ijsselmeer dyke has been completed in 1932, when the salty Zuider Zee became the freshwater IJsselmeer, the open fishing barges of Lemmer were transformed into pleasure craft or they were scrapped. Gradually the extremely luxurious Lemsteraak cabin yachts were developed. These were round-bottomed boats for the upper class with a price tag of around 600,000 euros.

The Lemsteraak even became a royal yacht. On 15 June 1957, the 19 year old princess Beatrice, now queen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, was given a traditionally built Lemsteraak as a present. It was a present from the Dutch people, represented by the ‘Varend Nederland’ committee. The queen’s Lemsteraak, referred to as the ‘De Groene Draeck’, is a luxury pleasure yacht design based on the centuries-old fishing design used to fish the Zuider Zee. The Lemsteraak is extremely seaworthy, and that is an essential characteristic for example for fishing herring. It is a fast moving sailing ship. A characteristic feature is the large volume of the foreship. Traditional shipyards in Lemmer and other places, built wooden and steel barges, for example in Workum, Hindeloopen, Sneek, Makkum, IJlst, Joure and Echtenerbrug.


The Skûtsje Museum in Earnewâld

Frisian flat-bottomed boats (Skûtsjes) and sailing them

De skûtsjeschippers hadden vroeger geen vaste ligplaats: ze waren overal thuis, in het Fries ‘Oeral Thús’, de naam van dit snelle skûtsje.
The skûtsje skippers did not have a permanent berth and were at home anywhere. The Frisian translation is ‘Oeral Thús’ which is also the name of this fast skûtsje.

EARNEWÂLD (NL) - Anyone who tours Friesland within the dykes in a flat or round-bottomed boat simply must explore the magnificent marshes of the National Park known as ‘De Alde Feanen’ (Frisian for The Old Fens) and set a course for the Skûtsje Museum in Earnewâld. The museum provides a wonderful insight into the racing of freight ships and regular service barges developed and constructed in Friesland, known as skûtsjes, since 1750. What the visitors find most interesting is the uncompromising struggle by the master mariners, their women and children to earn a living. Once you have visited the skûtsjesmuseum, you should definitely cross the road to the Frisian Agricultural Museum [Fries Landbouwmuseum] and the National Park Visitors Centre of the ‘De Alde Feanen’ National Park.

The skûtsjes families transported manure, peat, sugar beet and mud, earth from the dug up knolls [terpen] in the north and heart of Friesland, which were open to the sea until far into the Middle Ages. Anyone who wants to find out about the history of the 5,000 year old knolls and the excavated areas should sail to Burdaard on the Dokkumer Ee and then cycle to the Hegebeintum knoll. There they will find a visitors’ centre and a reconstruction of the way in which people used to dug up the very fertile centuries-old rich terp soil. It is absolutely worth a visit!

The terp soil was intended for the sandy ground behind the Dutch dunes which is now the site of the famous Keukenhof in Lisse and the surrounding tulip fields. What the passengers of the skûtsjes, which are now more than 100 years old, experience as nostalgic and romantic used to be an adventure which often ended in disaster for a skûtsjes family. Life in the tiny cabin of a skûtsje was extremely tough. You can get a sense of this on board an authentic skûtsje in the Skûtsje Museum.

 In het Skûtsjemuseum in Earnewâld proef je de sfeer van weleer.  In het Skûtsjemuseum in Earnewâld proef je de sfeer van weleer.

Experience the atmosphere of days gone by in the Skûtsje Museum in Earnewâld.

Sailing traditional  Frisian cargo boats [Skûtsjesilen]: eleven races
Friesland has two active skûtsjes sailing races: the SKS, the oldest, and the IFKS. Together they organise no fewer than 50 races on the Frisian lakes in the summer. In the case of the SKS a skûtsje represents a village or town. In the case of the IFKS the boat represents a private individual and sometimes a village.

The main battle in the case of the Sintrale Kommisje Skûtsjesilen (SKS) organisation is of course the championship. This is awarded to the master mariner who finished with the fewest (penalty) points. This is calculated at the end of the series of eleven races with the worst race being deducted from the total. Penalty points as a result of a protest cannot be regarded as the worst result and therefore do not count for the ranking.

The skûtsje that has the fewest number of points after the last race is the champion. If two or more skûtsjes have the same score, the order of arrival in the last race determines the outcome.

The Dutch sailing fleet: from farmer’s barge to royal class tall ship

Departure harbours in the Netherlandsand Germany!

Friese Tjotter
Frisian Tjotter

WOLVEGA - The Netherlands have a flourishing traditional sailing fleet consisting of many kinds of passenger ships which can be found in sailing locations around the world. These vessels, which are the pride of Friesland, are used at education, instruction and training institutes and by organisations, businesses and families, as well as at Sail events right along the European coast. The vessels are used not only by groups, but also by individual sailing enthusiasts and those who care about our nautical-cultural heritage, whether for day trips or journeys for longer periods of time.

Maritime heritage:
restored or new
Most traditional sailing boats and motor boats, whether restored or replicated partially or in full, are made from steel and are based on models from the period extending from the 17th to the 19th centuries, when sailing was used for international freight and passenger transport, for fishing and in agriculture. Every year, real size authentic replicas are reproduced at Frisian and foreign yards based on drawings by specialised Dutch shipbuilders.

Major differences:
from farmer’s barge to tall ship
The sailing ships, including imposing tall ships, completely fulfil today’s requirements as regards comfort and safety, subject to the approval of official, internationally recognised certification bodies. Just as the ships differ greatly - ranging from a completely open farmer’s barge measuring 11 metres in length, with a 49 m2 sail and without any sleeping accommodation to a brigantine measuring 62 metres in length, with a 1,300 m2 sail and five star cabins - so do the differences as regards comfort and fittings.

Cabins for a number of people with adjacent shared showers and toilets and a cooking area are the norm. The ultimate in luxury is currently a cabin with a double bed and en-suite shower and toilet, plus underfloor heating. However, due to the limited amount of space in the round hull of what is a relatively narrow vessel, most tall ships have two-person cabins with a bunk bed. Cabins as big as hotel rooms can only be found on cruise ships which operate on intercontinental routes.

The crew and the passengers:
who does what?

The crew of the smaller passenger ships consists of at least a captain and a sailor. The guests on board almost always help out with the sailing. A lot of them cook and clean. These are people who chose an active holiday or a teambuilding sailing trip. In reality you can determine how much work you want others to do for you, for example in the form of an on-board chef or catering services en route. A luxury sailing cruise ship has at least 5 crew who are responsible for looking after both the vessel and the passengers. Nevertheless, anyone who wants a more active role is more than welcome to join in.

Classic sailing:
a unique experience for everyone
Sailing on a traditional sailing ship is a unique experience. The atmosphere of olden times is calming and romantic to some and inspiring to others. Action, excitement and relaxation follow the same course. Landlubbers become enthusiastic sailors. Individuals become a team, as if by magic. Everyone becomes keen to help out wherever necessary. The confrontation with the weather and the wind and the Country and the sea is a recipe for an action-packed adventure: hoisting and lowering sails, reefing, steering, navigating, in and out of sea locks, falling dry on the mudflats at low ebb or tying up in a historic harbour town. In between there is plenty of time to sunbathe on deck or relax in the comfortable cabins or salon. In any case, on a classic sailing ship no one day is the same.

The sailing areas
Each ship has its own sailing area which has to do with the seaworthiness of the vessel and its crew, as well as with the specialist expertise of the shipping company or the captain. Boats from Friesland sail mainly on the IJsselmeer, the rivers and lakes, the Wadden Sea and the Dutch North Sea and the German North Sea and Baltic Sea. The departure harbours are in the same sailing areas and that minimises the journey time to the boat while maximising the sailing pleasure. Frisian sea-sailing vessels can be found not only along the Western European coast but also in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic Ocean and in the Caribbean.