Heeg: more than eels and Polyvalk sailingboats

Shipping links with London made way for water sports

A view of life on board the Korneliske Ykes II, a replica of an original Hegemer eel barge, which was launched in 2009.
A view of life on board the Korneliske Ykes II, a replica of an original Hegemer eel barge, which was launched in 2009.

HEEG (NL) - Heeg is one of the most charming water sport centres in Friesland. It is a village bustling with the activities of numerous water sport companies, hotels and B&Bs and party organisers. Something they are experts at in Heeg is creating a good atmosphere, for young and old alike.


For centuries, the fishermen of Heeg exported eels, otherwise known as elvers, to London. There, on the Thames near Tower Bridge, their +/- 18.50 m long wooden sailing barges had a permanent berth where the live eels were unloaded. Each barge transported between 7,500 and 10,000 kg of eels in its water-filled central well.

Frisian eels
Frisian eels are - still - born in the Sargassozee (Bermuda), where the larva grow into elvers. Then they swim to the Frisian waters where they eventually reach adulthood.

Smoking eel with farmer Ygram Ykema from Sandfirden.
Smoking eel with farmer Ygram Ykema from Sandfirden.

The number of eels in Friesland and the surrounding waters dropped rapidly due to the construction of the IJsselmeer Dam [Afsluitdijk] in 1932. The Zuiderzee, which until then had contained salt water, was halved in size by the creation of the Wieringermeer and Flevoland province polders to form the current IJsselmeer. This is now the largest freshwater reservoir and recreation area in the Netherlands. Heeg is separated from the IJsselmeer by just one sluice and bridge, in the dyke at Stavoren. The town, which is on the route of the famous Frisian skating marathon, is just a two hour sail away.
Dykes, sluices, pumping stations and a lack of living space have caused the number of eels in the north of the Netherlands to plummet since 1932. The fact that the Zuiderzee became a freshwater lake did not bother the eels since they can live in both fresh and salt water.

 

Freerk Visserman.
Freerk Visserman.

De Helling wood construction museum
In 1938, the trade in eels between Heeg and England came to an end. After the last original eel barge had been dismantled in 1945, it seemed as if the lively shipbuilding industry in Heeg had gone forever. However, local enthusiasts have made sure that their nautical, cultural heritage has been preserved. In the De Helling wood construction museum at It Eilân in Heeg, a real wooden eel barge was built, using entirely traditional methods and craftsmanship.

Smoked eel: a delicacy
Heeg is a Mecca for anyone who loves both traditional sailing ships and smoked eel. There have always been eels in Friesland, despite the construction of dykes, Country reclamation and the presence of sluices. As a result, you can still enjoy that rare delicacy on the outskirts of the village, on the shores of the Heegermeer lake (a glacial valley dating from the ice age).

International water sport
The economic importance of the eel for Heeg has now almost disappeared entirely. These days, the village’s 2,000 or so residents are involved primarily in boat building, boat hire and boat trading, and in goods transport. These activities are also still carried out at an international level. You will find sailing and motor yachts from Heeg throughout Europe, from classic to modern, and from steel to polyester.

The Korneliske Ykes II The Korneliske Ykes II

The Korneliske Ykes II

The Korneliske Ykes II The Korneliske Ykes II
The Korneliske Ykes II The Korneliske Ykes II
The Korneliske Ykes II