Crew catch up: Jan Van de Laar

25 July 2016

Sailing into The Netherlands on the penultimate race of the series in first place was a very special moment for Dutch round the world crew member Jan Van de Laar.

Jan, 32, a visual effects producer for films from Tilburg in The Netherlands, signed up to the ocean adventure to push his limits to the extreme and confront tough times.

Jan has worked in visual effects for 15 years in the film industry including on the James Bond movies.

Here, he talks about the last year on board Visit Seattle, and the success of his Jan Op Zee Schools Project with hundreds of schoolchildren in The Netherlands following his journey through a special educational programme set up by his schoolteacher sister Nicole.

Before the race it is hard to imagine how big it is going to be
It has been a long year and so much has happened. I dived in and have embraced everything that has come towards me.

I say yes to so many things and like to be in the middle of the group of crew. I said yes to too many things – rigger, medic, Watch Leader, and organising the crew and doing the crew fund. In terms of sailing, it has ticked all the boxes. Now I feel I could sail safely anywhere in the world by myself. That was one of the main goals I set at the beginning.

Personally, I am not sure how much I have learnt about myself yet. It's quite complex and at the moment we are still very much in the race, so I need a few months to process it when we finish.

If you haven’t changed then you didn’t get the most out of it
I always started the race with the idea of being open and that has changed me, but I am just not sure how yet.

It has been a gradually growing process on board Visit Seattle
We have had our ups and downs from Leg 1 – 6 which didn’t help with our confidence, but after crossing the Pacific, especially for the round the worlders, we felt we could do anything.

Then we have had more time to focus on improving our boat speed and sail changes, and we have tried to inspire our Skipper more and more. That combined with some luck and good positioning added up to a very successful time on the Panama to New York race and we won our first podium, coming third.

Gradually, people started to want to race harder, and sail to win.

I told my watch I would push them harder and if things were not going fast enough I was going to tell the crew and drill them harder.

We have looked each other in the eye and said ‘there is more in the team’.

By inspiring each other, we knew we should be able to get on that podium.

There is always a good vibe on board and the team try to be friendly across the fleet
I said to my team several races ago that we would win this race into The Netherlands, but I don’t think anyone believed it.

It goes to show that you can do anything and push so much harder than you can imagine.

As Watch Leader, I went three times beyond what I thought I could do, and also pushed my team as hard as I could. We were always thinking about how to make the boat go faster and how to be stronger ourselves. There is no option of failing - if something needs doing, it has to happen. If something is wrong with the rig you have to go up and fix it even if you are in the middle of a storm. If something is wrong in the group you have to fix it. I have learnt that you don’t have to fix everything yourself as Watch Leader though. You have to initiate it.

The success of the Schools Project has been a big part of my journey
With massive support from my sister, the project has gone massive.

Because I didn't want to keep this amazing sailing adventure just for myself I started a project for children at primary schools in The Netherlands. Teachers can sign their group up through Facebook and receive instructions on how to follow me during the race.

I send assignments and questions during each leg of the race which are linked to the parts of the world we are sailing in at that moment. They can work on these assignments with a couple of kids together or with the entire group to learn lots of interesting things about the world and develop all sorts of new skills.

The diversity of the assignments is huge, researching wild animals in Australia or helping with shopping lists for the victualling in South Africa are just two simple examples. Learning how to use the internet and social media is of course a great bonus.

When I have a bad day and things are tough on board, knowing the children are following me so closely inspires me to not give up. Reading all their messages has been a big help for me and the other crew on board.

End of an epic year
I will sail forever now, but I am not sure what I will do professionally. I have many different types of interests. I do know I don’t want to sit behind a computer for the rest of my life so I will need some time to think about what will be next after the completion of the journey.

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