The EYE collection contains two versions of a brilliant documentary film about a transatlantic sailing race that took place in 1936. These films, 4000 Mijlen onder zeil and De Zeearend, were made by the sailor and filmmaker Jan Hin.
ocean racing: an elite sport
Ocean races were on the rise in the 1930s, with Americans and Britons taking the lead. There were considerably fewer Dutch participants: in the Netherlands, aquatic sports mainly took place on inland waterways.
The idea to participate in two thrilling ocean races in 1936, as well as the money to pay for that idea, came from Cornelis ‘Kees’ Bruynzeel Jr., the director of one of the Bruynzeel timber factories.
Bruynzeel wanted everything to be captured on film. But the limited space available on board meant that the film had to be made by someone who could not only film, but could also sail. That is why he asked Jan Hin. Hin, like Bruynzeel, was the son of a manufacturer, and had also grown up sailing.
During his youth, Hin had taken part in various sailing competitions, much like his brothers had. With his brother Frans, he even took part in the 1920 Olympics. Having said that, there was hardly any competition at the time: they won the gold medal in the 12-foot dinghy race, and the bronze medal wasn’t even awarded.
the Hin Stocking Factory in Haarlem
But Hin’s situation was slightly different than Bruynzeel’s. Jan was fifth in a family of twelve children: the two eldest brothers were allowed to succeed their father in the leadership of the stocking factory, whereas Jan and his younger brothers had to find their own way when they became young adults.
By 1936, Hin had already taken several detours. He had even briefly joined a monastery in Antwerp. The monastery was eventually closed, but Hin had already been bitten by the film bug. He built up some good contacts in the film world, worked with Joris Ivens and Hans Richter, and made several of his own well-received films.
Nonetheless, Hin was struggling to make ends meet with his film assignments and partnerships. When he was asked to sail on the Zeearend, getting the film financed was still quite a challenge. Things were proceeding slowly, as there was not much enthusiasm from the film distributors, and ultimately Bruynzeel paid for part of the film himself. Multifilm also promised to pitch in.
design and construction of De Zeearend
Bruynzeel wanted to participate in two consecutive ocean races: one from Newport to Bermuda, and the next from Bermuda to Cuxhaven (in Germany). He had a small sailing yacht built especially built for this purpose: De Zeearend, which means ‘The Sea Eagle’.
The Zeearend was designed by Olin Stephens, an American builder of sailing ships who had built up a sterling reputation in just a few years’ time. The interior was designed by the typographer and industrial designer Piet Zwart, who also had designed kitchens for Bruynzeel.
aboard the Holland America Line
The schedule was very tight: De Zeearend was launched in Amsterdam on 25 May, and only a few days later it was hoisted aboard the steamship Veendam in Rotterdam. De Zeearend and its crew sailed to New York aboard the Veendam, a ship owned by the Holland America Line. Meanwhile, the media interest had already begun: the trip was followed in the newspapers, and the AVRO devoted regular radio broadcasts to the race.
in New York
In New York, the Zeearend was prepared for the race at the Robert Jacob Yards on City Island. The start of the race in Newport on 22 June meant that the crew barely had enough time to become acquainted with the ship.
Olin Stephens, the designer of the Zeearend, appears briefly in the film. Stephens was also the designer of another vessel that took part in the race, and that is also featured in the film: the Stormy Weather. Bruynzeel had seen this ship cross the Channel a year beforehand, and was said to have been surprised at its speed. The Stormy Weather had won competitions such as the Fastnet Race in 1935, and the ship would go on to attain a legendary reputation.
Newport – Bermuda
The start in Newport, Rhode Island, began on 22 June at the Brenton Reef Lightship. On 27 June, the Zeearend crossed the finish line at St. David's Head in Bermuda. The Zeearend came in sixth place, with 46 ships initially having started the race. This was a remarkable achievement given the short preparation time: it was a tough and stormy race, with many ships dropping out due to damage.
Bermuda – Cuxhaven
A week later, on 5 July, the race to Cuxhaven began; this was a much greater distance. This race was meant to kick off the 1936 Summer Olympics that were to begin in Berlin and Kiel a few weeks later. There were nine participating vessels.
At 15:30 on 28 July, the Zeearend crossed the finish line at the lightship Elbe 1. It was proudly reported that the Zeearend was first non-German yacht to arrive, but in fact it was the only non-German yacht in the whole race. But that did not spoil the sense of enthusiasm in the Netherlands: the Zeearend was given a hero's welcome upon its return.
4000 Mijlen onder zeil
After the race, Hin was initially disappointed with the raw footage: he had been unable to film the most intense moments, because he always had his hands full with the sailing duties.
Only in February of 1937 did he finish the editing. In the meantime, Charles Felger, who had sailed on the ship as a radio operator, had published a book about the journey, which included Hin’s pictures.
The film 4000 mijlen onder zeil was more than an hour long, and had no sound, even though silent films had already become obsolete by 1937. The length of the film and its lack of sound considerably limited the distribution possibilities. Still, the film was very well received. Multifilm bought the rights, and asked Hin to come work for them.
It was not until 1941 that the film De Zeearend was finally completed. With a duration of about 25 minutes, it was more than two thirds shorter than 4000 Mijlen onder zeil. This shorter length made it a candidate for inclusion in cinemas’ opening programs.
Many sequences, such as the launch ceremony, were understandably shortened. Yet one notable omission is the festive reception that the Zeearend enjoyed in Cuxhaven, which is entirely absent in the film De Zeearend. In 4000 Mijlen onder zeil, on the other hand, this arrival was still briefly included. Hin felt uncomfortable with Nazi displays in Cuxhaven in 1936, and in the 1941 version, he no longer wanted these events to appear in the film at all.
After the Second World War, Hin was involved in the Nederlandse Werkgemeenschap voor Filmproductie (the Dutch Working Group for Film Production); this was a movement that was meant to bring film production in the Netherlands back up to speed after the war. He had a family of ten children to support, and eventually he became a department head at the stocking factory. He never returned to filmmaking after this point.
In 1937, Kees Bruynzeel went on to win the Fastnet Race with the Zeearend. The Bruynzeel company is still a producer of specialized plywoods for the shipbuilding industry.
watch full film
Below you can watch 4000 Mijlen onder zeil en De Zeearend in their entirety.