By Terry van Velzen
Ernest Kervel, for insiders Ernie, past away in Hospital on October 18th 2010 on the Island of Aruba. Ernie was President of ISCA from 1983-1984, a long time member of the ISCA World Council, and chairman of Aruba’s National Sunfish Class Association for many years.
I met Ernie approx 45 years ago on the island of Aruba, were he was amongst others good friends with Jan Walig, Gijs van Omme and my father Theo van Velzen. When notified of his recent passing away, I immediately felt the urge to write some words on paper. Since Jan and Gijs knew Ernie quite well, I asked their help to share their memories with us. Here is our contribution to a man with a mission: sailing Sunfish.
Ernie, with his sparkling keen eyes, has been hooked on sailing for as long as we can remember and has always been the driving forces behind organized sailing on Aruba, which at one time was extremely popular. Gifted with an organizational talent, he was able to get people together, at work as well as in social life. Ernie’s enthusiasm was very catching and together with his social humor and his warm smile you couldn’t get around him. Ernst Kervel was long time President of the Aruba Sunfish Club, which acquired world attention by organizing Sunfish Worlds three times on Aruba. The publicity they received in magazines all over the world was enormous, praising the Arubans on their efforts to make it a once-in-a-Life time experience. The last time this event took place in Aruba was in 1987, and Ernie always kept the dream alive that one day he would again bring the Sunfish worlds to Aruba. Unfortunately this dream will remain unfulfilled.There are many story and myths about Ernie Kervel, which all started when he came to the island of Aruba in 1947. He discovered that sailing was quite a popular sport even among the Arubans. When the first Sailfishes arrived on the island, sailed by Americans working at the Esso refinery better known as Lago Oil, Ernie started sailing the boat as well. Later the Sunfish arrived and replaced the Sailfish. In those days Ernie was working for Maduro Trading Company and immediately saw the commercial potential of the boat. He acquired exclusive rights to import the boat to the Island under the name “Ernie’s Sails and Yachts supplies”. That’s when I met Ernie since my father bought one as well and I was allowed as 8 year old to learn sailing in the Sunfish. The Sport became very popular then and Ernie and his Aruban friends took part in their first World Championships. In total Ernie sailed 17 Sunfish world championships which makes him a real Master although he never came close to winning. In 1974, he organized the Race for the first time on Aruba and 107 participants from all over the world came to the island. A perfect organization with attractive local conditions including palm trees and beautiful white beaches made the event extremely popular with the sailors. Ernie was asked to repeat this event which eventually ended in organizing a second and third Worlds on Aruba in 1980 and 1987.
In the mean time, a few Aruban sailors with Dutch origin, including myself, moved back to the Netherlands. Together with other Dutch sailors the Sunfish was successfully introduced in the Netherlands, establishing the Sunfish Racing Class Nederland in 1980. Ernie was proud of this fact and regularly honored us by attending Sailing matches while on family visit in the Netherlands. Besides Jan Walig and Gijs van Omme also our world famous Class Secretary Greta Dekker-Bruning became good friends with Ernie. The last time we saw Ernie in the Netherlands was during the 2007 European championships in Workum. Although not in best health, Ernie participated in the Regatta with high spirits..A small miracle knowing that a few years earlier he was suffering from early dementia until a clever neurologist discovered that he had a rare cerebral disease, making recovery possible after a complicated and risky neurosurgical operation.
Ernie did not only sail Sunfish. He had a Ocean 505 racer and also regularly sailed ocean going yachts in the Caribbean. During one of these trips he had a narrow escape. During a night time regatta race between Aruba and Bonaire, while steering Ernie was washed overboard by a freak wave which hit his boat. He was sailing a “Dragon class” open race boat while of course not wearing a life jacket. Why should you. Luckily the owner of the sail boat, Mike Hagendoorn, who was asleep at that the time, noticed that the boat dramatically changed course and nobody was on the tiller. By a miracle he was able to return to the spot were Ernie might have fallen out of the boat and discovered him in the middle of heavy sea during a pitch dark night. Ernie had the luck of a devil. Ernie Kervel. Family man, hockey player, witty, always a smile, always energetic, if not hyperactive and always interested in people’s stories. The best companion one can imagine. His last lines written in the introduction of the 1987 Sunfish Worlds program:
Of course, it is the sailors, who finally make it happen and make it exciting. I hope they, themselves, realize this as well and see in the competitor also another sailor who made the same race possible. Sail with that in mind. Sail fair. Sail to win.
Ernie Kervel a life time sailor! Sail on……………