March 7, 2013

From wings to water

Tech. Sgt. Hollie Hansen
162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Royal Netherlands Air Force Lt. Col. Maurits Schonk will be competing in the Gaastra 52 World Championship regatta off South Beach in Miami, Fla., taking place March 4-9.

Known to many at the 162nd Fighter Wing by his call sign, “Skunk,” Lt. Col. Schonk is a lifelong sailor, “I started doing small regattas in a small dinghy when I was six. I became several times a Dutch champion while sailing. When I was 18, I quit sailing and went into pilot training for the Air Force,” explains Lt. Col. Schonk.

Now Commander of the Netherlands Detachment in the 148th Fighter Squadron, Lt. Col. Schonk trains the Royal Netherland Air Force F-16 pilots here at the Wing. Though he is happy to have returned to Tucson in 2010 for pilot training, the dry climate has affected his ability to train for sailing competitions. “The only bad part about this assignment is no water,” states Lt. Col. Schonk, though this fact has not held him back.

While visiting his home in the Netherlands last summer, Lt. Col. Schonk competed in races using his own sailboat and brought home a trophy for the Northern Netherlands Championships. “Everybody wanted me to go back to the United States,” he joked.

The upcoming regatta, widely considered to be the Formula 1 of water sports, is a competition between 8 teams, represented by 6 nations, in a boat class designated as the Transpac 52. Also known as the TP 52, the boats raced are 52-foot long, lightweight sailing yachts, used for competitive racing and were originally developed to race across the ocean at high speeds.

Though he has never worked with the other members of his racing team, he has competed against many of them. The 14-member Gaastra Pro Dutch All-Star team will begin training together early Saturday morning, only three short days before the first race. “I will fly in on Friday. The rest of the crew is flying in from the Netherlands. We will meet in Miami and train Saturday, Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, we will start the races.”

When asked how sailing compares with flying an F-16 fighter jet, Lt. Col. Schonk states, “It’s basically the same, you work with multiple F-16s to compete against an enemy. Here, you are with your team in one boat, competing against other boats. You’re going slower, but since the boats are high tech, the feeling is the same. Speeds can reach about 25 knots, which is fast for a sailing boat. You still need the situational awareness as to what is happening, “ he said.

Though the last day of races falls during a UTA weekend, Lt. Col. Schonk is absolutely dedicated to his military life. “I will fly home early in the morning [Sunday], and I will be at work for Drill to brief the maintainers,” he said.

For more information on the regatta, you can go to

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