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Sailing ship offers visitors glimpse of past

Photos by Eyleen Gomez

On the deck of the Götheborg of Sweden, a replica ship that sank off Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1745, a group of enthusiasts listened last weekend to stories not only of that ill-fated journey, but of the ship’s history and how the replica came to be.

The Götheborg sailed into Gibraltar last Thursday and has been impressing visitors ever since it docked in Mid Harbours.

It is a sailing replica of a merchant vessel which belonged to the Swedish East India Company.

The ship travelled to China to trade for goods such as tea, porcelain, and spices, which it would then sell in other ports – including Cadiz in southern Spain - in exchange for silver.

After three successful trips to China, the ship met its demise just 900 metres before reaching the harbour of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The ship's sinking remains a mystery to this day, with some speculating it may have been due to a change in the currents caused by the mix of fresh and saltwater from a particularly cold winter.

Others have suggested the possibility of insurance fraud.

Regardless of the cause, the ship ran aground and its crew was able to safely evacuate and salvage some of the cargo before it sank.

In the 1980s, divers began exploring the wreck and were able to uncover a few wooden pieces, some porcelain shards, and other elements, which allowed them to reconstruct the size and layout of the ship.

With this information, a group of enthusiasts decided to build a replica of the ship, which took 10 years to complete and was launched in 2003.

The replica features modern alterations to ensure its safety on the high seas, but its structure and sails are true to those of the original vessel.

Visitors to the ship are greeted with the smell of thick tar and a sight of crew members constantly repairing parts of the rigging to protect it from the elements.

The ship does have some of the original pieces of wood on board, including two pieces on the steering wheel.

In a glimpse into the world of traditional sailing, the Chronicle spoke to Anna Creutz who has sailed aboard in the past but is currently land based.

She described the challenges of operating such a vessel, which relies solely on manual labour and wind power, and the slow and laborious process of setting the sails, which can take hours to complete.

Despite these challenges and the fact modern sailing is easier in many ways, the Götheborg continues to sail the seas as in the past, providing an authentic look into the world of traditional sailing.

One of the most impressive features of the Götheborg is its towering mast, which is made up of a single piece of wood.

This massive structure is smaller than the main mast which is made up of several pieces of wood bound together with metal that was heated up and cooled to keep it tight.

The technique used to construct the mast offers a reminder of the incredible engineering feats of the past.

As people walked the deck of the ship over the Easter weekend, they marvelled at the intricate rigging and the hard work of the crew.

It was clear that this was not an easy way of life. Hands, clothes, hair, everything, were covered in a thick tar, a smell Ms Creutz said stays lingering in clothes long after you disembark the ship.

It would too no doubt linger as a memory for those who crew the vessel, not only the professional crew but those who pay to sail on her also. The ship takes on people keen to experience life at sea under sail.

Visitors also had the opportunity to explore the gun deck, where cannons were fired as it entered the Rock on Thursday.

Ms Creutz explained that firing a cannon was not just a show of military power, but a way of demonstrating good intentions.

Sailors would fire the shots from each cannon to show that they have no fire power left and come in peace. They were greeted in Gibraltar by return, and peaceful, fire by the Royal Gibraltar Regiment from the naval base.

While visitors were not given a tour of the living quarters, the Chronicle was shown where sailors slept in hammocks that were carefully hung tight so they would roll with the motion of the ship, ensuring a better night’s sleep than in a bunk.

Over a dozen people could sleep like this in one room, and while that may appear cramped with minimal amenities, it is a far cry from how sailors slept and lived in the 1700s. Back then, they slept on deck because inside the ship was precious cargo space.

In an interview with the Chronicle, Bjorn Larsson, a 66-year-old retired electrical engineer from Gothenburg, Sweden, recounted his recent sailing adventure aboard the historic ship.

Mr Larsson, who had previously only sailed small boats for short periods of time, has spent three weeks on the ship with a further three ahead of him.

Mr Larsson had visited Gibraltar once before and recalled the long queues and passport checks but it was perhaps the stealing of his sandwiches by an slight handed macaque that made the experience less than pleasant.

This time, however, he was on a sailing vessel and had a much more enjoyable time including going ashore in search of a pub.
On the way to Gibraltar he also was also struck by the number of dolphins he saw.

He described a particularly memorable moment when he and his fellow sailors were standing on the boat's deck, pulling up the sail while the sun was setting.

"We had about 20 dolphins under us," he said. "So we said we skip this and we just stay on here. We don't want to miss this. So it was really nice to see."

When asked about his decision to join the sailing trip, Mr Larsson said it was a "pure coincidence."

As an electrical engineer, he works for a local company in Gothenburg and is on call 24/7 for a week every six weeks.

However, when an unexpected break in his work schedule occurred, he jumped at the opportunity to apply for the sailing trip.

"Must be some sign from above," he said, laughing.

Despite having only a month to prepare for his trip, Mr Larsson was excited to embark on his six-week journey and halfway through his sailing adventure, reflected on the unique experience and the new friends he had made aboard the ship.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity to have done this," he said.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

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