We respect any human propelled water craft. It takes effort and physical strength and a mental endurance to keep paddling a boat to reach a destination. Our admiration led us this past weekend (in unusually warm, 27C, un Dutch October weather) to Amsterdam to watch the sloeproeien race.
Sloeproeien can be traced back to the days when the Dutch ruled the high seas in massive ships. These ships could not always land to resupply or to check out unchartered lands masses. Each ship had one or more sloep boats that could be rowed by a team of men to the shore either to pick up resupplies or to make contact with locals. The size and number of men needed to paddle these sloepen often varied.
Today, these sloep boats are used throughout the Netherlands (mostly with a motor) to negotiate the thousands of kilometers of Dutch canals and waterways. There are clubs located throughout the Netherlands that still celebrate the original use of these boats with teams that use the traditional oars to paddle the vessels. These more than 200 active teams meet throughout the season to test their skill against each other. Each race is different and can be held either on the high seas or like this weekend in the Dutch canals.
Each year on the second weekend of October the sloeproeien teams test their skills in Amsterdam on a 26 km course through the city. Sounds easy enough but when the weather is nice it brings not only the boats of the sloep race out onto the already busy Amsterdam canals but hundreds of personal water craft. It is a spectacle to watch these teams work their way through the busy canals all the while trying to clock the best time at the finish point.
We started our day by taking the bus that stops right outside our house 397 into Amsterdam. The start point for the sloep race was at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam ,one of 397’s bus stops.
We walked to the bridge overlooking the canal and were instantly caught up in the excitement of the race as we watched sloep rowers head out on the 26km course.
This year 145 teams participated. The numbers on the front of the boats are the start position of the team and are based on overall times from the entire season. The slower the boat the lower the number. So in this case boat number one is the slowest of the season and started first for this race.
We headed to the official start point. We were surprised to see we didn’t need to fight a crowd to get a front row view of the start point. Mostly race families and participants were at the start point. We felt like honored guests with our front row standing view of the excitement.
After watching several team starts we jumped back on the 397 bus and headed towards another area of Amsterdam to watch the teams fight their way through the busy canals.
The location we picked was more than half way through the race. The benches were already filled with local spectators. As we picked our spot to view the race I noticed many of the Amsterdam tourists continuing through the busy streets dragging suitcases to unknown locations, unaware that if they stopped for a few minutes they would be treated to a free boat race. Our spot above a bridge entrance was a perfect place to view the rowers as they would have to turn and enter a smaller canal.
As the first boat passed under the bridge the excitement of spectators built to crazy levels as the teams fought for position and time on their way through the busy canals towards the finish line.
To experience the race from start to finish I would suggest watching this YouTube film that was posted of this race. If you have a sharp eye you might even see the Cedar Journal team watching from our location on Herengracht. Clue- 8:25 to 8:34 on the clip.
We headed back to the finish point at the stadium and watched as the boats were being lifted out of the canal and onto the trucks. The teams consumed well deserved beer for their efforts. We appreciated the hard work of the teams as we made our way back home on bus 397.
If you ever visit Amsterdam in October we would suggest watching this free event along the canals.
© The Cedar Journal, 2018, all rights reserved.