Celebrate Amsterdam’s maritime past at SAIL 2015

sail wim hazeSAIL is one of the city’s biggest and most unique festivals but it only happens once every five years. Brandon Hartley checks out what is on offer for the 2015 edition.

Amsterdam and boats have gone hand in hand since it consisted of little more than a few cottages and a bridge over the Amstel. Needless to say, the city has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the Middle Ages. During the Dutch Golden Age, Amsterdam’s ports helped it become one of the wealthiest places on the planet.

Flash forward to the early ‘70s when Amsterdam officials were looking for a way to celebrate the city’s 700th anniversary. What they came up with was SAIL Amsterdam, a nautical event in the summer of 1975 devoted to the history of the city’s maritime industry and its culture.

The five-day extravaganza featured ‘tall ships’ from all across Europe, around 500 modern vessels and over 700,000 visitors. By all accounts, it was a huge success; so much so that the organisers decided to host the event again in 1980

Sailing Into the Present Day

Now in its ninth edition, SAIL Amsterdam is held every five years and it’s grown into the largest free maritime event in the world. It’s now a tradition for thousands of spectators line the banks of the river IJ to watch the ships arrive on the first day of the festival.

The 2015 celebration will take place from Wednesday 19 until Sunday 23 August. The fun will begin with the Sail-In Parade, which organisers promise will be the biggest opening event in SAIL Amsterdam’s history. Over 43 tall ships along with five Dutch Marine boats and hundreds more vessels are scheduled to sail in file down the North Sea Canal into central Amsterdam.

If you can’t make it to the shores of the IJ to watch the fleet arrive, you can always tune in from home. The Sail-In Parade will be broadcast live on national television on the 19th. The ships will set sail for Amsterdam at 10:00 and are due to arrive in the city around 15:00.

While the parade itself is a spectacle, what traditionally happens afterwards can be, well, a little less so. Getting all of those boats into the correct spots along the IJ’s quays tends to make the average rush hour traffic jam in Los Angeles look downright orderly by comparison.

Tall ships

SAIL Amsterdam will feature countless boats and numerous events but, as with prior editions, the main draw will likely be the tall ships travelling to the city from ports all across the world. These gorgeous vessels and their photogenic masts harken back to the classic era of seafaring.

The STS Young Endeavour is just one of the dozens that will appear at the 2015 festival. This tall ship hails from Australia and is currently in the middle of a year-long voyage around the world. A replica of the legendary Nao Victoria will also appear. The original ship was one of the first vessels to circumnavigate the globe back in the 16th century.

The Biggest SAIL of All Time

‘1.7 million people visited SAIL Amsterdam 2010,’ SAIL spokesperson Jan Driessen told DutchNews. ‘This year we expect even more visitors because we have an extra (fifth) day.’

In addition to giving the schedule a boost, Driessen and his colleagues have done their best to make this year’s event the biggest and best SAIL Amsterdam thus far. The festival’s grounds have been expanded to cover a wider portion of the city. It’s been divided into five areas dubbed ‘Oceans,’ each with its own unique theme and colour.

Those eager to have a look at the tall ships can head to ‘Orange Ocean’, the spot where they’ll be moored along the IJ. The ships will be joined by a full programme of live music at the nearby SAIL Music Marina and a nightly fireworks display.

In search of calmer seas? Then aim for the ‘Red Ocean’, which will feature educational exhibitions and lectures at various locations across the city centre.

sail at night wim haze

Over at the NDSM Wharf visitors can enjoy exhibits that focus on technology, sustainable shipbuilding and innovation in the ‘Green Ocean’. The centrepiece of this area is sure to be the Volvo Ocean Race Team’s Brunel yacht. Crew members will be on hand to tell attendees about their experiences during their races on the high seas and what everyday life is like on board the ship.

‘White Ocean’, located near the EYE Film Museum, will serve as the home of the Northwave Festival. It offers a relaxing departure from the hustle and bustle of central Amsterdam with food and live music. Finally, ‘Blue Ocean’, over by the National Maritime Museum, will host a series of corporate events and a private ‘Captain’s Dinner’ with the commanders of the event’s tall ships.

The full programme for SAIL Amsterdam 2015 can be found online.