Sailing into success

Erasmus Alumni Portrait

Although world-class competitive sailing is now a major part of her life, Erasmus University graduate Laurien got off to a rocky start at the age of six when her father encouraged her into an Optimist single-person dinghy. “He hoped I’d enjoy it, but I cried every time and said I was afraid of the sea. When I started to sail in a bigger boat, with my sister as helm, I knew I preferred being on the water with other people,” she remembers.

Laurien Waller

Now, Laurien combines auditing assignments for EY in Rotterdam, with top level ocean sailing as a member of the Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team (ROST). This initiative brings together 15 talented young Dutch sailors and prepares them to take on the best in the world.

Strategy and strength

The 26 year old already has a Master’s degree in Accounting and a bachelor’s in Economics and has returned to study at Erasmus University to become a registered accountant. She says success in sailing demands both physical fitness and mental agility: “Of course, you’ve got to be capable of handling the boat in all weathers, but you’ve also got to be smart. The moment you stop thinking, you make mistakes. It’s all about strategy and strength.”

The highlight of 2021 for Laurien has been the gruelling Rolex Fastnet Race; 700 miles into the Atlantic starting at the Isle of Wight, rounding the Fastnet Rock in south-west Ireland and finishing in Cherbourg.

ROST’s sleek and speedy carbon fibre yacht Van Uden vied for position at the start-line in Cowes, alongside more than 300 other yachts and made good time into the Channel but professional skipper Gerd-Jan Poortman soon realised something was wrong. The yacht had hit massive waves to the west of the Isle of Wight and one of the crucial shock absorbers had broken. Sadly, the crew had to retire from the race and headed back to Cherbourg.

Take the hit, accept it and keep on going

Back in Rotterdam, Laurien is disappointed but philosophical. “Conditions were challenging but exhilarating. We learned a lot about ocean racing and will use that knowledge in the Dutch Championships and at the Kiel Regatta in the autumn. Thankfully no-one was hurt and the boat wasn’t badly damaged. We have a saying in the Netherlands, you take the hit, accept it and keep on going.”

Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team (ROST)
Twirre Bogaard

She will also return to her accountancy classes this autumn to further her business career. “I use many of the skills I learned at university on the boat. Working as an efficient team is vitally important, you have to know how to give good, clear directions to other crew members. We did a lot of group work at Erasmus and that certainly helped, you need to use everyone’s strengths on the boat to the maximum.”

Laurien is keeping her options open: “Becoming a professional sailor would be amazing. Ever since I was little, I wanted to sail the Volvo Ocean Race, that was always my dream. But I’ve got other choices. After I get my diploma. I’d like to work towards becoming a finance manager in a company or maybe even in the yachting industry.”

As Covid-19 forced the cancellation of many offshore races, Laurien’s two-year membership of ROST will likely be extended. That will give her more time to take on the best in the world with some of the Netherlands’ best ocean racers and consider whether to turn professional.

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