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Dutch sailor will miss Bermuda

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Dutch sailor Area “Marcel” Heybroek (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Dutch sailor Area “Marcel” Heybroek admits to being a little superstitious. Last year he was scheduled to sail from Oriental, North Carolina to the Azores on July 13.

“But I did not like the number 13, and decided to leave on the 14th,” Mr Heybroek said.

But bad luck seemed to follow his 40ft sail boat, So Rong, anyway.

Eighty miles north of Bermuda, he encountered a winter storm with 30 to 40 knot winds.

He thought he was weathering the blowy weather just fine, until he woke up on the bottom of his boat, hours later.

“I was laying in front of my oven inside my boat,” he said. “The last memory I have is that I was splashed by water.”

So Rong at anchorage (Photograph supplied)

He had no apparent injuries, other than a bruised buttock.

“I wondered what happened to me,” he said. “It was dead calm. There was no sign of the storm. My sails were flapping so I rolled them in, and decided to do some fishing.”

It was only later when he unrolled the sails again that he saw they were ripped. And looking around the boat there was other damage. His solar panels were dangling by a cable, and he later discovered a leak.

“I thought what happened with me,” he said. “How is that possible, I did not notice this when I rolled the sails up earlier?”

Now the 73 year old thinks he may have lost not just a few hours from his memory, but maybe even several days.

“It normally would take about ten days to sail from North Carolina to Bermuda,” he said. “This was July 29, 14 days later.”

He bought the blue-hulled So Rong in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2019, then spent the early months of the pandemic in lockdown on Lake Worth, Palm Beach, Florida. In the summer of 2020, he left Florida but quickly discovered a problem with his diesel engine. He ended up spending a year in Oriental, North Carolina, undergoing engine repairs.

Sailing off Bermuda in July 2021, he found he needed extensive repairs again.

“The nearest land was Bermuda, but by that time I was already 200 miles off Bermuda,” he said. “So I went back in that direction.”

Mr Heybroek said he tried to make radio contact with Bermuda, but said he became involved in dealing with his leak and missed a radio response. As he drew close to Castle Harbour, the Bermuda Regiment boat appeared.

“They turned up in full force,” he said. “They said you can not come here, you have to go to St George. They guided me to St George.”

When he dropped anchor in Convict Bay, St George’s, his whole platform came off and slipped off.

His first few days in Bermuda were spent waiting to be Covid-19 cleared. When that was dealt with he passed the next ten months repairing his boat. The retiree had little funds, so had to work on it himself.

In the time he has been here, he has become a regular at the Boardwalk Cafe on Water Street in St George. He said the wi-fi there, pastries and coffee, make it a popular hangout for sailors.

It has also been a good place for him to meet people. Mr Heybroek loves chatting with other customers.

“Everyone speculates that the Bermuda Triangle got me, but I don’t know what happened,” he said.

He started off moored in Convict Bay, but has moved to Dolly’s Bay, St David’s.

“You can just see my boat from the old Black Horse Tavern,” he said.

While here, he has been helped by the Mariner’s Club in Hamilton. Many Bermudians have also reached out to him by providing free moorings, transportation and assistance in finding materials to repair his boat.

In fact, he gets a little teary-eyed talking about the kindness of Bermudians.

Once, someone at the Boardwalk Cafe heard him talking about how he needed to move his boat to new moorings, and offered him theirs.

“Their boat was in the UK, so they said I was welcome to use their mooring in Dolly’s Bay for free, as long as I was in Bermuda,” Mr Heybroek said. “With my anchor platform, a Frenchman who was diving there, came by my boat. I said if you see a platform with rollers on the bottom, it is mine. He dove down and came up and said is this the one? So I had my platform back, but there were pieces missing.”

That has now been repaired.

He is originally from the Netherlands, but lived in Grenada, Spain for 40 years.

At one point he ran his own beach restaurant with seating for 500.

“When I sold my business I thought I was ready to retire and enjoy life,” he said. “But you have to be ripe for that moment. After one year doing nothing, I went back and worked the last ten years in a pharmacy.”

Back in the 1980s he built his own sailboat.

“I was originally a tailor,” he said. “I thought, at a certain moment, when you are a tailor, you can put pieces of cloth together to make something. I could build a boat also. That was my old boat. I almost lived permanently on that boat.”

But when he retired, he wanted more luxury. He sold his apartment in Spain, bought a smaller place, and also So Rong.

He described living on a boat as “ultimate freedom”.

He plans to set off for the Azores again next month, when the Gulf Stream currents and prevailing winds will be most beneficial for sailing.

“Now, I have almost no ties with Holland,” he said, “only the language.”

His plan is to eventually end up in Spain again, where he will sell his smaller apartment.

“I thought it would be nice to have a place to come back to,” he said. “Now I realise that the place where you live, and your home is where your heart is, and where you drop your hook. I have a buyer for it, but I have go to back to do all the paperwork. And you have to do it in person.”

Mr Heybroek said it will be very difficult to leave Bermuda.

“I could not afford to live here,” he said. “I can afford it now because I live on the boat. But I have lost my heart to Bermuda. I have so many friends here now, that they drive me around.”

He likes Bermuda a lot, and is glad he came. His hope is to return one day.

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Published April 05, 2022 at 7:36 am (Updated April 06, 2022 at 7:44 am)

Dutch sailor will miss Bermuda

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