Sweden is a maritime country, it is well known for its seamanship traditions. Since ancient times, seamanship was the main livelihood of this country. When a 19th Century sailing ship known as Gerda was dynamited in 1959, it seemed as the era of this ship was over. Yet five decades later, this elegant wooden vessel with square sails on each of its two masts has returned to the port of Gävle, Sweden. But the revival of the legendary ship was only possible with help of the European Union funds. As it is well known, the European Union finances a variety of projects related to culture and heritage, because it not only promotes tourism, but also creates new jobs and helps preserve history and traditions.
The new ship is a close copy of the Gerda, which spent 60 years hauling cargo around the Baltic and North Sea. It is also the first wooden sailing brig to have been built in Sweden for over a century and owes its existence to enthusiasts and numerous sponsors.
Scandinavia’s last commercial brig made its maiden voyage in July 1869, travelling from Gävle on the Baltic Sea to Grimsby, England. She later enjoyed a busy career, with several different owners, crisscrossing the seas laden with coal, timber and iron. After 60 years of service, the ship became a financial burden. The Gerda was retired in 1936 and turned into a ship-museum in Gävle, but she was scrapped in 1959, because it was too old and dangerous for visitors.
In 1984, a small group of maritime fanatics decided to build a copy of their favourite old ship. This project involved hundreds of people and groups further afield. The main workers were volunteers or local unemployed. Moreover, about 300 private companies also came on-board as sponsors, supporting the project with funds, materials or know-how.
Without a manual, the designers and builders often had to consult a scale model and old photos. The new ship’s keel was laid in September 1995 in Gävle, at a yard not used for shipbuilding for three decades. The finished vessel, Gerda, was launched in July 2000. However, even many people contributed, the costs were bigger than expected. Therefore, the represent of European Regional Development Fund allocated €780 000 to the Gerda project in order to make Gävle project real for the 2000 to 2006 period.
The new Gerda has 30-metre masts, ten beams and 625 square metres of sail. It is the only brig in Sweden today, making short voyages from Gävle and longer trips around the Baltic. Since her launch, she has carried several thousand passengers and made over 100 stops along the Swedish east coast. The new brig is not an exact copy of the original, as she is designed for passengers rather than cargo. Additionally, besides 16 sails, she also has modern facilities such as a 500-horsepower diesel engine and satellite navigation. Very popular with the public and media, she is now a sort of floating youth hostel, capable of feeding 100 guests a day and accommodating 25 passengers overnight. The Association Briggen Gerda ably supports her, with more than 1 000 paying members.
The Gerda ship visits ports in the Baltic Sea as a representative of an old sailing tradition in commercial shipping. She also represents Gävle as an old maritime city, attends events and offers sailing trips to the public in ports she visits.