“If you can sail in Workum, you can sail everywhere” Carolijn Brouwer about the United 4 Sailing

“If you can sail in Workum, you can sail everywhere” Carolijn Brouwer about the United 4 Sailing

Carolijn Brouwer about United 4 Sailing in the Europe Class

Carolijn Brouwer. Photo: Rich Edwards/Volvo Ocean Race

“When I think off Workum I still see our tent at the campsite and the spot for my boat”, Carolijn Brouwer thinks back on her time in the Europe class. The United 4 Sailing was part of her calendar. During that time, she didn’t even dream of the sailing carrier she has now. Three times participation in the Olympic Games, three times in the Volvo Ocean Race and now at the start of an America’s Cup adventure.

It was a long road, with Carolijn always setting the level high and seizing the opportunities she was given. “My father was not necessarily enthusiastic about me going sailing. He was a rower himself, just like my mother. Ideally wanted me to go rowing too, but I still chose to sail. I grew up in Brazil where everybody was sailing during the weekend. At the age of twelve, we moved to the Netherlands. My mother said I had to play hockey, after all, in the Netherlands everybody played hockey. And they really don’t sail in that cold climate she thought. At one point we were exploring the neighbourhood and I saw all coloured sails on the Braassem. A winter training from WSV Braassemermeer. Within two weeks I was also sailing on that lake, in my drysuit and wearing a warm hat.”

In that period, no-one was even thinking about a top sailor when thinking about Carolijn. “I was quite a late bloomer, in the Optimist I did not perform well at all. It wasn’t until I won the Youth World Championship in the Laser Radial in 1991 when it started for me. After the Laser, I switched to the Europe because that was the Olympic boat. The Europe also suited me better. I like it very much because it’s constantly evolving and very detailed. Although I also understand that they eventually made the Laser Olympic, it is a very good boat in which you learn how to sail very well, and tactically you can sail this boat very strong.”

Great atmosphere at United 4

The United 4 Sailing was part of Carolijn’s annual planning. “I enjoyed sailing these competitions. Workum was always challenging with those short waves. And we also sailed against the boys here, that was the great thing about sailing events in the Netherlands. At foreign events, the World Cups of today, we had to sail according to the Olympic rules, so the fleet wasn’t mixed. I think you can learn a lot when you sail in a mixed fleet. Boys usually had more advantage with stronger winds, while we often benefited from lighter weather. I also liked that the atmosphere was a bit more relaxed at the United 4. At foreign events, there was more pressure on your performance. I didn’t feel this pressure so much on the United 4. Not that it was easy sailing here, on the contrary. I still remember how difficult it could be at those events. There was a reason why they were part of my calendar, the great variation in the waterways at the various events, there’s a lot to learn. I have always thought, if you can sail in Workum, you can sail everywhere.”

Sailing full time after studies

Fully into sailing and working on a campaign towards the Olympic Games. She just had to convince her father that sailing was the right choice. “I first had to finish my study, after that my father would have preferred to see me at work at a Shell or something similar. I asked him if it was ok to go sailing full time for a year when I finished my studies. After that year I would decide if I would stay in sailing or go and search for a job. That was in 1998, the year that I became World Sailor of the Year for the first time.” It wasn’t a hard choice, something her father could see now as well.

Carolijn Brouwer at the Spa Regatta 2004. Photo: Peter Bentley

“My father always helped me a lot. I was able to talk to him very well, could always call him to discuss something or to consult with him. My competitive side comes from him, at school, I always wanted to be the best at everything. I have always set the bar high, no matter how difficult something was. At the beginning of my sailing career, I barely had any money, slept in the car regularly and sometimes had to call my grandmother for some extra money when I ran out of fuel after an event in France. Back then those things were very common among sailors.”

Seizing every opportunity

Carolijn Brouwer’s biggest competitor was Margriet Matthijse from the Netherlands. She went to the Olympic Games in Europe in 1996, not Carolijn. The same thing happened for the Olympic Games in Sydney, 2000. A stronger Matthijsse was selected to race for the Netherlands in the Europe. Just before the Games, the Europe sailor, therefore, entered the 470 class with Alexandra Verbeek, finishing in eleventh place in Sydney. It was right before Carolijn stepped into her first Volvo Ocean Race. “I’ve always had this race in my head, at one point I got the chance to sail a few legs.” After Sydney, Carolijn started sailing in the Europe again, preparing for another Olympic campaign towards Athens 2004. “Another Olympic sailor from America was going to sail the Volvo Ocean Race with the Amer Sport Two. But due to her Olympic campaign, she could not sail all the legs of the race. She recommended me to the skipper, and he gave me a cal. That’s how it went back then, you were very dependent on the chances you got. And this was my chance, I made it through the selections and stepped on board as the helmsman.”

In 2004 she got her chance in the Europe at the Olympic Games in Athens. It was the last big event she sailed in this class. After Athens, she got introduced into the high-performance class and sailed catamarans for about 7 years, including another Olympic campaign. After that, she had the opportunity to sail another Volvo Ocean Race with the all-female Team SCA. “It was a chance to prove ourselves as women in the sailing sport. And after the finish in Gothenburg, we knew we were ready for the race. With Team Magenta (SCA did not continue the campaign) we wanted to take part in the next Volvo Ocean Race with a women’s boat, and preferably two. But then the organization came up with the rule that women were also allowed on board. It is a shame we couldn’t finish that campaign with another all-female boat in the race, but this was an opportunity I had been hoping for, for a long time.”

Dream coming true

Carolijn stepped on board the Dongfeng Race Team. And nine months later the red boat came as the winner over the finish line in Scheveningen. “I would never have dreamed that when I was sailing the United 4 in my Europe. I really did not expect to be where I am now. The America’s Cup is a logical next step, then you are talking about the three sailing events in the world you dream of as a sailor.”

Carolijn Brouwer finishing the Volvo Ocean Race in The Hague

A dream coming true: Carolijn Brouwer is welcomed by here local fans in the Hague after finishing first in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 with Dongfeng Race Team. Photo: Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race

Europe still active at the United 4 Sailing

Although the Europe isn’t an Olympic class anymore, the United 4 still races in this class. Click here to register in the Europe, or one of the other classes, and experience the United 4 Sailing like Carolijn did.