Nearly 260 years later, Sweden launches replica of ship that sailed to Asia

Friday, June 6th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) -- Amid thunderous applause and cannon salutes, a full-size replica of an 18th century merchant ship was launched Friday in Sweden almost 260 years after the original sank in her home port.

The Gotheborg will embark on an international goodwill trip next year, visiting ports from Cape Town to Shanghai.

With King Carl XVI Gustaf presiding on Sweden's national holiday, the 530-ton frigate slid down a wooden ramp into the harbor in Goteborg, Sweden's second-biggest city.

As its stern cut through the calm water of the harbor, the sun glinting off its white paint, the crowd of tens of thousands erupted in applause and cheers.

The launch was broadcast live on Swedish television. A Chinese delegation was to attend, but canceled its visit because of the SARS outbreak.

The original Gotheborg sank while approaching the port on Sweden's west coast in 1745 after returning from her third voyage to Asia. All sailors survived, but the ship was lost.

The replica sports modern improvements like toilets, showers and refrigerators. It also has Global Positioning System computers, radar and two 550-horsepower engines to help her maneuver in busy ports like Singapore and Hong Kong.

Modern conveniences aside, the ship is practically identical to the original.

"The biggest challenge in the construction was to integrate modern technology in an 18th century ship," said Annica Magnusson, a spokeswoman for the foundation overseeing the project.

The project took nine years, 149,000 cubic feet of pine and oak, 56,000 nails, 10,000 bolts, 25 tons of rope and $39 million collected from 130 sponsors, visitors' fees and souvenir sales.

Before her maiden voyage to China in October 2004, some 80 crew members must be hired and trained.

The mission has changed since the original Gotheborg set sail for Asia.

The 14 cast-iron cannons only shoot blanks for salutes as the ship enters ports of call. Instead of being stacked with iron, wood and tar, the cargo hold will be nearly empty, except for some symbolic gifts like Sony Ericsson cell phones and Swedish crystal.

The carved figurehead lion and the 130-foot pine masts bearing 16,000 square feet of hand-stitched linen sails represent the Scandinavian country's commitment to peaceful commerce.

"I think that this will give Sweden an edge and a profile in China," Industry Minister Leif Pagrotsky told television network TV4 after the launch.

To rebuild the ship, shipwrights, blacksmiths and carpenters rediscovered techniques that were consigned to history as merchant ships turned from wood to steel.

"We had to start from scratch," said master shipwright Joakim Severinson. "We had to research what materials to use and which methods to use to put the parts together."

Severinson and his colleague, Anders Waestfelt, came up with the idea of recreating the ship while excavating the wreck of the Gotheborg in 1986.

No drawings or technical details existed of the Gotheborg, one of 37 ships that made 132 voyages for the Swedish East India Company, which was modeled after the larger Dutch and British companies.

Sverinson had to rely on clues from the wreck and drawings of other ships from the era found in France, Britain and the Netherlands.

"She's clumsy," said production manager Bjoern Florin, who normally designs modern tankers. "It's a cargo ship, so she doesn't sail very well. But she's very stable."

Thirty crew members will be professional sailors. The other 50 will be deck hands from various backgrounds, chosen to join some legs of the 44,000-mile journey from Goteborg to Shanghai.

The ship will make 13 stops, including London; Cadiz, Spain; Recife, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa; and Freemantle, Australia.