The Netherlands was the first Western country to develop pleasure boating on a large scale; the first yachts were built as early as 1600, and Amsterdam's first yacht harbour opened in 1622. Pleasure boating was introduced to England by King Charles II after being presented with a yacht as a gift by the city of Amsterdam in 1660. But it was not until 1815 that the first ’yacht club’ was founded - in London. And the Netherlands was slow to follow. The first Dutch water sports association would only open some forty years later.
The British took the lead
England's first yacht club was quickly followed by more, and sailing clubs soon began appearing in France and Sweden. In the Netherlands, the pleasure boating waters were somewhat calmer, until foreign boating clubs began contributing to organising sailing events and competitions here, and interest in sailing, boat racing and rowing in the Netherlands began to grow.
Prince Henry (Hendrik in Dutch, also known as ’the Seafarer’ or ’the Navigator’), second son of King William II, took it upon himself to found a yacht club in this country ’to generate and encourage more and more, the zeal and passion for the perfection of shipbuilding and everything to do with the nautical world.’ And with these words, the first general meeting of the Royal Netherlands Yacht Club (KNYC) was held on 21 February 1846.
The Royal Sailing Association in Amsterdam
But the KNYC would not last long. Its goal of becoming a national organisation with members in all parts of the country proved too ambitious. Many water sports enthusiasts never felt at home in the Yacht Club, and eventually local initiatives to set up local associations began emerging. The Royal Netherlands Sailing & Rowing Association was founded in Amsterdam in 1847, followed closely in 1848 by the Royal Amsterdam Rowing and Sailing Association De Hoop. The Royal Rowing & Sailing Association De Maas appeared shortly afterwards, in 1852. All in all, some 20 sailing and rowing associations were founded in this country in the nineteenth century. In the 20th century, another 350 followed.
Prince Henry's ’own’ yacht club ended with the prince's death in 1871. Yet it can still be said that he did achieve his goal in founding the association: the promotion of water sports. Organising competitions was an important activity. Following in the wake of races on the Meuse and the IJ in Amsterdam organised by the KNYC (1846), the Royal Netherlands Sailing & Rowing Association also organised a race on the IJ in 1848, heralding the start of a long line of ’club sailing races’ that continues to this day.