Sinterklaastreffen 1972

Do the names Patrick Blondeel, Willy Dumarey and Jan Olsen mean anything to you? If you're not a native of Ostend, and more specifically a motorcyclist from this region who was active between the late 1960s and 1980s, I doubt you know who these three people with these surnames are. Allow me to shed some light on them.

Birth of Motortoerisme Oostende in 1968

At the end of 1968, Patrick Blondeel and Willy Dumarey were in fact behind the foundation of a new motorcycle club in Ostend, called 'Ostend Motorclub de Baanduivels', which four years later, at the beginning of December 1972 gave birth to the first meeting of the Sinterklasstreffen.

At that time, at the end of '68, the number of motorbikes circulating in Ostend and the surrounding area was not very large compared with the much larger number of mopeds.

The 'Ostend Motorclub de Baanduivels' lived on until the new blood of the European motorbike revival of the 1970s gave the young club new energy.

Badges produced by MT Oostende for their members

In May 1970, an extraordinary meeting gave birth to a board of directors, establishing Jan Olsen as president of the club, which at the same time inherited a change of name.

The club would henceforth be known as 'Motortoerisme de Baanduivels Oostende', better known in motorcycling circles by the simplified name of 'Motortoerisme Oostende'.

Jan Olsen

Of Dutch origin, the late Olsen was undoubtedly the driving force behind MT Oostende during his time in charge of the club.

In this 1975 photo of the members of MT Oostende (belonging to Roel Ghysel who was the club's secretary for many years), under the red arrow is the president Jan Olsen

It is said of this strong, solid man who could always be counted on, and whose professional life was mainly that of a shipbroker and independent surveyor, that he was a true intellectual endowed with an elephantine memory, but also humble, authentic and modest.

Jan Olsen

A convinced ecumenical believer, he was the father of nine children. This led to the joke circulating in Ostend that he had only been home nine times...

This passionate motorcyclist left this earth on 15 March 2012, at the age of almost 88.

Among other things, he and the members of MT Oostende are responsible for a number of major organisations, including, to name only the best-known at international level: the Sinterklaasreffen (first meeting in 1972); the Zijspantreffen (first meeting in 1975); and the Veteranentreffen (first meeting in 1977).

Sinterklaas reunion 1972 at the Koninginnehof

The very first meeting of the Sinterklaasreffen took place on 2 and 3 December 1972 at the Koninginnehof, situated in the middle of Ostend's famous Maria-Hendrika Park.

This green lung of the city, better known to its inhabitants as the 'Bosje', was the ideal place, with its current surface area of around 37 hectares (equivalent to around 57 football pitches), to welcome the rallymen who had come from all over to take part in this first major MT Oostende motorbike meeting.

Sinterklaasreffen 1972 - What better way to get together with like-minded enthusiasts than in a haven of nature in the Flemish winter?

The park has a rich history and was built between 1888 and 1892. King Leopold II was the great inspiration behind the park, and at the time even wanted to call it the Bois de Boulogne, after the famous landscaped park in the Paris suburbs.

Maria-Hendrika Park was originally built on the site of a dilapidated piece of forest outside the city walls, near the barracks.

Sinterklaasreffen 1972 - Angel face, doe eyes, and wearing a cap emblazoned with rally badges, a very young Herve Bully aka 'Le Grec' (2nd from left); and on the extreme right: Luc Cousin aka 'Bouboule'. A photo that symbolises the unforgettable Vera Club, one of the legendary pirate clubs of that period...

The first plans were drawn up in 1876 by the German landscape architect Eduard Keilig. In 1896, the famous Parisian landscape architect Elie Lainé took over and drew up plans to extend the park.

Finally, around 1913, plans were drawn up for the construction of a swimming pool, the Vélodrome (the very place where the Sinterklaasreffen festivities have been held for ages) and football pitches.

My two rally participations in Ostend

In the 1970s, the French and international calendar of winter rallies organized in December was from year to year always sufficiently full of interesting encounters to skip the Sinterklaasreffen and choose instead to take part in a completely different gathering.

That's why, from my home town of Montlucon where I still lived at the time, I never took the road to Ostend to take part in the Sinterklaas; although I went there twice to take part first in the Keignaert Rally in 1974, and then in the De Nacht van Oostende night rally in 1975.

The city of Ostend has a rich motorcycling heritage beginning in the 1920s with the founding of two clubs: the first named in the Walloon language ‘Auto Moto Club d’Ostende et du Littoral’; the second being ‘Ostend Motor Sport’, created in 1929.

TRANSCRIPTION Vous étes passage Ostende, la Reine des Plages, faites-vous membres de l'Auto Moto Club d'Ostende et du Littoral Section du Royal Automobile Club de Belgique. L'Auto Moto Club d'Ostende et du Littoral Offre, å ses membres de passage dans la Ville, toutes facilités, son service rapide de tryptiques, ses salons de correspondance. Son cercle privé, son restaurant, etc., etc. Itinéraires et renseignements gratuits au secretariat du Club. Adresse telegr.: AMCOL.OSTENDE Compre cheques postaux : 157.997 OUVERT TOUTE L'ANNEE AMCOL inaugurera prochainement ses nouveaux salons dans les magnifiques locaux du Kursaal. l'Auto Moto Club d'Ostende et du Littoral assisté de Son Comité sportif, organise ehaque année: Son Rallye International Automobile d'Ostende, ses courses de vitesse, ses concours de freinage et de ralenti, son kilometre lancé, son concours d'éléganee, etc., etc., dotes de nombreuses coupes, de challenges et prix en espéces : environ 650,000 francs. TRANSLATION You are passing Ostend, the Queen of Beaches, become a member of the Auto Moto Club of Ostend and the Littoral Section of the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium. The Auto Moto Club of Ostend and the Littoral offers its members passing through the city all the facilities, its rapid triptych service and its correspondence lounges. His private circle, his restaurant, etc., etc. Free itineraries and information from the Club secretariat. Telegr. address: AMCOL.OSTENDE Includes postal checks: 157,997 OPEN ALL YEAR AMCOL will soon inaugurate its new salons in the magnificent Kursaal premises. The Auto Moto Club of Ostend and the Littoral, assisted by its Sports Committee, organizes each year: Its Ostend International Automobile Rally, its speed races, its braking and idling competitions, its running kilometre, its éléganee competition, etc., etc., equipped with numerous cups, challenges and cash prizes: approximately 650,000 francs.

Mementoes of the Auto Moto Club d'Ostende et du Littoral circa 1930

The oldest, the Auto Moto Club d'Ostende et du Littoral, had already disappeared a long time ago in the early 1970s; but Ostend Motor Sport was still active and perhaps even proud to still be to this day.

It is also to this one (since renamed 'Koninklijke Vereniging Ostend Motor Sport VZW'), that the late Jan Olsen's MT Oostende has entrusted the organization of their international meeting Veteranentreffen since 2008, reserved for old motorcycles produced before 1975 ; a graceful passing of the torch from one city club to another.

De Nacht van Oostende 1975

If my memory is no longer as effective these days as it may have been in the past, I do not believe I am at all wrong in saying that it is precisely Ostend Motor Sport which was behind the 'organization of this night rally 'De Nacht van Oostende' in 1975; a nighttime tourist circuit departing from the city, taking the roads of this region.

Why am I so sure? Quite simply thanks to the logo of the organizing club which appeared on the trophy that I won on this occasion, probably as a reward for being the participant who came from the furthest away.

(left): badge commemorating the Nacht van Oostende 1975; (right): sticker of the club organising this event

I have no recollection of where or from whom we learned about this particular event. It was almost certainly by word of mouth, via Belgian rallymen friends whom we used to meet at meetings in that country, where we used to go so often with my accomplice Michel Degaine.

On the road to the 1974 Keignaert Rally: my die-hard rallyman accomplice Michel Degaine (l) and yours truly (r); when I still had hair; and long hair at that....

As for what had seduced me and made me want to take part: the challenge of covering the 645km outward journey between Montlucon and Ostend, on a bike more suited to off-roading than grand touring: a 250cc Honda XL.

With the added bonus of having to cover the extra distance from the night rally circuit through the Flemish countryside around Ostend, and in the morning taking the route in the other direction so as to be on time to get back to work on Monday morning.

An adventure in the saddle totalling around 1400-1500 kms round trip, just over 2 days, starting on Friday evening, and with very little rest or restorative sleep.

What immediately fascinates me when I think back on this trip, is that the only vivid images of it that remain with me to this day, are those of Michel Degaine and I, at night in a local bar-restaurant, eating the best dish of mussels with Belgium fries and tartar sauce that I've ever had.

It's incredible what memory can preserve and extract from the past, and still keep visible, despite the thick layer of dust from the weight of years covering our memories buried deep in the drawers of our brains...

Keignaert Rally 1974

Although I can't remember today which of the two main Ostend clubs was in charge of organising the Keignaert Rally, I seem to remember that the meeting took place just a few kilometres from the town, in the middle of the countryside, somewhere near Zandvoorde, less than 10km from Ostend.

Aerial view of Keignaert on the outskirts of Ostend where this rally took place

This one certainly didn't add to the organisational costs and endanger the finances of the organising club for its production

Today, I have absolutely no precise memory of this Keignaert meeting, apart from its commemorative badge: in this case, a very ugly piece of rectangular, light-brown plastic, with the name and year of the meeting engraved on it, which ended up warping and deforming over time.

Certainly one of the ugliest badges (about which many Belgian friends complained) of all those I have collected on my countless motorcycling trips.

This is how I never had the privilege of meeting Saint Nicholas in person at the beginning of December in Flanders. As a result, of course, I didn't get any of the sweets he brings to children, the traditional speculoos or mandarins.

But during these two other rallies in Ostend, I made up for it all by treating myself out of pocket to other tasty Belgian delicacies, such as the local beers; which certainly explains why the excessive intake of these divine liquids has severely limited my memories of these two rallies to the few I have just recounted...

- Jean-Francois Helias