It is with great sadness that we inform you of the death of Bernard Heppener on Friday 22nd June 2012.
Bernard was born on 13 July 1934 and joined the Royal Netherlands Navy in 1955 as a midshipman. He became an officer in 1958. He left the RNL Navy in 1984 with the rank of Commander. In the period April 1978 and June 1984 he was the Captain of URANIA, only interrupted three times for short periods when he was on holidays with his family. He participated in every Tall Ships Race during this period. In 1982 he won the Cutty Sark Friendship Trophy during the race Falmouth-Lisbon-Vigo-Southampton. In 1984 he commanded URANIA for the first half of the Trans-Atlantic Tall Ships Race from Saint-Malo-Las Palmas-Bermuda. He then joined the race management team and continued from Bermuda, to Halifax, Quebec and Liverpool.
During his URANIA period he became very enthusiastic about sail training in the Tall Ships Races. When he retired from the Navy in 1984 he became the driving force behind plans to found the national sail training organisation. STA Netherlands (STAN) was founded in 1985 with the Delfsail Tall Ships festival in 1986 as the first main project. Delfzijl was the formal feeder port for the Tall ships Races 1986. Bernard was the chairman for STAN from 1985-2003. In this function he chaired the ABEL TASMAN project in 1987/1988, an ambitious sail training voyage around the world on a 90’ schooner with trainees, organised to participate in the Bicentenary Tall Ships Race in Australia (Perth-Adelaide-Melbourne-Sydney).
Bernard Joined the STA Sailing Committee as an ‘Overseas Member’ in 1992, together with Bo Rosbjerg and Gunn von Trepka. The Sailing Committee became the Racing Committee of ISTA in 1995 and Bernard continued as a staunch member. He was a close friend of the Vice Chairman of the Committee Robin Duchesne and, together with his other committee chums Peter Creek and the late Brian Evans, they made a formidable force to be reckoned with.
In 2003 Bernard handed the Chairmanship of STAN over to Robin Snouck Hurgronje but remained the Country Representative for the Netherlands in the International Council for Sail Training International. In addition to his work with STAN and Sail Training International, he was also was three times the Director of Sail Amsterdam.
Bernard’s considerable experience as a skipper in many Tall Ships Races meant that his wise counsel was constantly sought and his views listened to. He was never afraid of making his opinion known or, having taken a position, arguing his point. He did not always see eye-to-eye with some of his fellow members but would not be put off by this and would robustly stand his ground. As a result he was hugely respected as a member of the Committee who believed passionately in the sail training ethos and the benefits it brought to young people. He carried this passion and commitment into all his work and was instrumental in developing Sail Training Association Netherlands into one of the most effective and dynamic sail training member organisations.
Having finished as a sail training skipper, Bernard kept his connections with the Tall Ships Races by deploying on the circuit as part of the race management team. On numerous occasions he joined the team as a member of the committee and played an active part as a vessel inspector, as a communications officer and starting in 2008, as Chairman of the Race Committee.
Bernard became the Chairman of the Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge 2009 and did more to make this event a success than anyone. As with all events that he was involved with, he brought with him his robust sense of humour and a determination to make sure that everyone enjoyed the experience of the Races, from lowliest trainee to loftiest captain – normally in that order. His common sense and vast experience was always hugely valued by those who worked with him and his willingness to ‘roll up his sleeves’ and do some serious work meant that his contribution to the team was invaluable. Bernard also made time for his family and was a dedicated husband, father and grandfather. He will be greatly missed by all of us.