Onboard historical vessel Vega
- Written by Scott Murray
History comes alive aboard Scandinavian Galeass Vega
Many search for this enticing dream yet few achieve the success of The Historical Vessel Vega. One of the most elegant sailing vessels ever built to carry cargo Vega is not a modern wooden fishing boat converted to sail, but the real thing straight from the annals of history. With hundreds of meters of sail, rich hand rubbed woodwork, and fine craftsmanship everywhere, Vega is truly one of the last surviving originals from the golden age of sail.
“The rigging is so accurate I feel transported back hundreds of years”, said one dock side admirer. “There is something to learn everywhere I look. Things even my catamaran can benefit from.”
Despite being a true vintage antique Vega possesses all the amenities of a modern luxury yacht. The longer aboard the more you began to appreciate all of the details that make life more comfortable or simply more enjoyable. A tasteful blend of period design and functionality, this is rustic elegance on a completely new level. Here the appointments are true period pieces; functioning antiques, still in daily use. Understated elegance is found where ever you look on this magnificent vessel.
“Of course, as a sailor, actually sailing this piece of history excited me the most,” says Captain Shane Granger. “Having heard many tales of how badly the old boats sailed, I did not set my expectations too high. That was soon to change as Vega’s small crew effortlessly set her sails and she paid off like a thoroughbred soon reaching over 8 knots on a modest monsoon breeze.
“One of my fondest memories is of setting the great square sail and raffees as our course changed to off the wind. Over 160 square meters of sail went up with surprising ease. No sooner had we tallied and belayed, as the old sailors would say, than the boat was running along with the easiest motion I have ever enjoyed at sea. Going below for a short siesta I was gently rocked to sleep as Vega forged along her route like the stately lady she is; the real thing from keel to truck - alive, well cared for, and still sailing.”
The History of Vega
Some time before 1893 the Norwegian brothers Ole and Johann Nerhus built a very special boat in their Nerhuson shipyard. Launching her they could never imagine that over 100 years later she would be the last of her kind and one of a select few in the world to be officially classified “Historical Vessel”.
Vega was built to the highest standards of the finest woods to the exacting specifications of Capt. Nils Vagan as she was destined to be a deep-sea stone carrier, and be certified for Artic waters, a classification few vessels were strong enough to merit. To this end, her construction was a blend of North Sea cargo ship and navel man-o-war. Both her scantlings and construction are strongly reminiscent of wooden navel ships of her period.
In 1905 she was sold to Alfred Olsson of Bergkvara, Sweden and after being refit in Mr. Olsson’s boat yard was relaunched to become the legendary “Vega of Bergkvara” under the Swedish flag.
Over the years Vega’s sailing rig was changed back and forth between that of a cutter and a traditional Galeass ketch. The Galeass has been around for over 300 years, and is well known as eminently seaworthy, extremely good in bad weather, and easily managed by a small crew.
Vega’s past is rich with tales of adventure and intrigue. Small Baltic traders like Vega carried many types of cargo and made some very impressive voyages including immigrants to North America and cargos to the Mediterranean, Africa, and the Caribbean. Some even rounded Cape Horn to trade with Chile.
Vega eventually became the last of the working limestone carriers called “stone fishers”, eking out her living in the small fiords and inlets of Scandinavia but her days as a working cargo vessel were ending.
In 1994, Vega was sold. During 1995-96 she under went a complete keel to truck hull refit, then given a new engine and complete new drive train. Her cut down pole mast was replaced with one reputed to be from 1876 and she was rigged with a running topmast. When she once again entered the water she was as strong, or stronger, than she had been when launched.
Since then Vega has seen a lot of sea miles including the roaring 40’s between South America and South Africa, an Indian Ocean cyclone, and the great Sumatra tsunami.
Scandinavian heritage meets Balinese craftsmen
Vega has been lovingly and knowledgably restored by her current owners while fully respecting the authentic interior feel and exterior style of an age long past. The rigging details alone would enhance any maritime museum in the world.
When the current owners purchased Vega, she was as strong as ever but her interiors, typical of a small cargo boat, had few amenities. In 2006-07 they began skillfully blending the classical style of the 1800’s with the craftsmanship and traditional skills of Bali. Using all recycled teak and other exotic woods they created an interior that is both stunning in appearance and eminently comfortable.
That year they were able to complete about half of the work planned. Between 2008-09, Vega returned to Bali and work was again undertaken. In the interim major improvements were made to her electrical systems and electronics as well as a new suit of tan bark sails designed by James Heckler and built by Sean Lidgard from a special “Tall Ships” cloth.
As the interiors progressed the rigging was completely overhauled in the traditional manner to a very high standard. Modern materials were blended with traditional methods of rigging to create what appears to be a completely classical vessel yet has the strength and durability of long lasting modern materials. All lines and rigging materials employed are Lloyds and Veritas approved or made to there exacting standards.
Even though Bali boasts a large community of craftsmen it was often necessary to teach these skilled craftsmen the tricks and techniques for constructing traditional rigging elements. Blocks, dead-eyes, bulls-eyes, and hearts were all made from recycled iron wood often so hard it had to be worked using metal lathes and tools.
Capt. Shane Granger is not new to historical boats having Adventuredirected the restoration of such famous period vessels as the 1670s' ketch Adventure and consulted on the Clearwater, Maryland Dove, Pride of Baltimore, the 1992 Columbus ships, and other historically accurate vessels. He also trained crews to sail several well known historical replicas. Granger studied under Capt. Irving Johnston and Mr. Jim Richardson and was skipper of the Class “A” Brigantine Stargate in the 1982 & 84 Tall Ships races.
More recently, he consulted on the sailing qualities of two well-known Indonesian phinisis. “The hulls were both right, but the builders learned after the demand for sail was lost. Their rigging is guesswork and whatever the client wants. I am not surprised that most of them cannot sail (although they could sail with only minor changes and a bit of re-rigging.). The real problem is finding skippers and sailors who can sail them.”
Asked the most important lesson he has learned about sailing, he said, “Sailing on sail balance alone, the way the old timers did it; sailing without a rudder if you will. On modern boats the rudder forces the boat to change course, even against the sails. Old ships rudders were small - just enough to give the boat a nudge toward the new course. The rest was a matter of proper sail use. A good boat should steer herself on just about any angle she is capable of.”
Shane, more of a historical rigger than a boat builder, even though he has done both jobs, finds the sailing of historical boats fascinating. “Not only do I have to figure out how they did it, but why they did it that way.”
A completely green refit
In 2009, the historical vessel Vega underwent a complete refit of her interior spaces, hatches, and deck structures employing massive exotic hard wood through out. This restoration was carried out using recycled hard woods from broken up Indonesian sailing ships and traditional Balinese houses.
Even though Vega is documented as a “Historical Vessel”, and active in support of conservation, sacrificing trees for what many consider “pleasure” was out of the question. With the boating industry under criticism for its use of tropical hard woods for pleasure craft Vega’s owners wanted to prove that a reasonable alternative exists to provide the exotic woods currently used for pleasure boats.
Many believe recycled timber is only suitable for framing and rustic decorative uses. Vega’s refit proved that a first class finish can be attained using recycled wood.
Wood slowly cured is stable and does not expand or shrink after fitting. Joints can be made to very precise tolerances. Well cured wood accepts glue readily, bonding with incredible strength. The final finish far surpasses that of uncured wood. Above all, well-cured wood is more resistant to rot.
Vega actively promotes productive conservation efforts, and advocates practical answers to this pressing problem. If nothing positive is done, including replanting forests as they are cut, reducing rampant logging, and recycling timber, within a few years quality wood will be an almost nonexistent resource.
One of the most effective ways of reducing the stresses on tropical rain forests is to reduce the demand for that wood. Advocacy groups agree that recycling wood is one way to reduce the demand for new cut trees. Recycling provides employment and conserves valuable resources, is profitable, and a very satisfying endeavor (http://www.sailvega.com).