Windswept Wijk – getting there in the century storm

1/20/2007 – The Dutch seaside resort of Wijk aan Zee lies on the North Sea, which is a raw and wind-battered place under normal winter conditions. But with the severest storm of the last decades raging over northern Europe it was an adventure – and a dangerous one at that – just getting there. With a slight delay for obvious reasons we bring you a big pictorial report.

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Windswept Wijk

Report by Frederic Friedel

Thursday, January 18, 2007 – the day we had decided to switch editors in Wijk. André Schulz, the editor of our German newspage, who had been on service since Monday, was scheduled to return to Hamburg, while I was supposed to take his place at the tournament, to take pictures and tell stories about the rounds.

But there was a problem. On Wednesday all TV and radio stations in Germany were warning about a century storm that was brewing – with the most intense winds in many decades expected to sweep across northern Europe. On the Thursday morning the intensity of the warnings grew steadily, until they reached hysterical levels. "Do not go out into the open," we were told. "Do not undertake journeys in cars or other vehicles." And "forget any intentions you may have been harbouring of driving from Hamburg to Wijk aan Zee, for otherwise you shall surely die."

Not being blessed with a high IQ, we undertook the trip anyway, crossing northern Europe in the direst road conditions we have ever experinced. 120-140 km/hour winds, accompanied by driving rain. With other crazies on the road, equally determined to tempt fate. Here are some photographic impressions of the six-hour trip to Wijk.


This is what the German autobahn looked like, with trucks carrying precarious loads needing to be overtaken, even though they were swaying and weaving in the hurricane-strength winds.


If you look carefully you can see a tipped-over truck (on the opposite lane), shot through the rain-covered windshield of my car. I saw at least five such trucks on the journey through northern Germany and Holland.


Approaching Amsterdam, where you have to navigate through a maze of highways to circumnavigate the city and head towards Haarlem, to the north of which Wijk aan Zee is located. Hard to read signs in these weather conditions.


On the country roads we often had to stop while maintenance teams with chain saws cleared debris from fallen trees. The mortal danger for drivers was that trees or branches could actually fall on your car or immediately in front of it. We twice saw the results of such occurrences – demolished cars where one could only wonder what had happened to the passengers.


The rain let up a bit as we approached Wijk aan Zee, but the wind actually intensified


The banners that remind you why you are undertaking the journey to Wijk

I would like to remind our readers: the name rhymes with "Mike" or "byke", not with with "meek" or "beak". Incidentally, all Dutch people use the full name, "Wijk aan Zee", simply because there are a number of other "Wijks" strewn across the country.


At the hotel, the road to the parking lot, with the sea faintly visible in the background

The intensity of the wind in Wijk aan Zee had to be felt to be believed. When I unpacked my car it tore something out of one of my bags – I saw something fly about 20 meters into the air and towards the horizon. Just hope it was nothing of vital importance to our work here. André Schulz was at the hotel, having made a taxi journey to the railway station and been told that there was no way he could travel back to Hamburg on this inclement day. No trains or planes, nothing. When he emerged from the taxi in front of the hotel the wind tore off his cap and did what it did to the unknown object from my bags.


Calm at last in the press center of the tournament

In the above picture we see Kathy and Ian Rogers, fraternizing with Mark Crowther, the editor of TWIC. Mark has been providing the games from all important tournaments on the Internet every week for twelve years now – without a break. Cathy is a critical thinker and reading Richard Dawkins. Ian is an "agnostic" and a chess grandmaster.


France's youngest GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrav (right), with his trainer GM Arnaud Hauchard


The big boys: Levon Aronian of Armenia, with Vishy Anand of India


Sergey Karjakin, who just turned 17, with his mother Tatyana Karjakina, who is soon due to provide Serge with a sibling. Prepare for another incredible Ukrainian chess talent.


The other Sergei – Tiviakov, 34 – with his mother Galina, who speaks very little English but has, in the past, supplied us with extraordinary photo reports. You can see some examples of her work here, here and especially here.


David Navara, a great talent with painfully modest manners


The Topalov team: GM Ivan Cheparinov and manager IM Silvio Danailov


Danailov and Cheparinov following the game of their charge in the press center


Many times Dutch champion Loek van Wely showing us his win against Alexey Shirov


Loek's second GM Vladimir Chuchelov, and his (Loek's) wife Marion, who is a professional journaist


The photographer Cathy Rogers in action in the press center


Frits Agterdenbos, who is covering the event for his web site ChessVista


The dramatic backdrop of the playing hall, after the games have ended


Terminator inspired? The mechanical arms are a ubiquitous decoration in the playing venue


Wijk aan Zee photographer Fred Lucas discusses digital cameras in the hotel bar with Mark Crowther, till the wee hours of the morning. Fred told him to get a Fujipix F30 for starters.


The night was memorable, with the wind howling around the hotel, chilling your blood. In the morning I discovered that it had caused sand to somehow penetrate a double-glazed window.


The next morning the weather, obviously embarrassed by its behaviour on the previous day, provided us with beautiful sunshine and light breezes. But in the evening it had started to revert to its evil ways, with the wind picking up and heavy rain approaching rapidly.

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