In late 19th and early 20th century Sweden, many sailing clubs had an annual lottery boat. It was a way to bring money to the club through ticket sales, while at the same time helping local boatbuilders by commissioning them. The finished boats were often exhibited in a central town square. They would draw the crowds there and on the water too, when racing started each summer. Albert Andersson designed many of these lottery boats, but Bel’Rose, said to be inspired by the lines of Nat Herreshoff’s celebrated Gloriana, and built in Gothenburg in 1894, was different. She marked the end of an era.
Today the clipper-bowed Bel’Rose, one of the most beautiful boats in Sweden, is sailing again. After nearly two years of restoration she is born anew, 126 years old and without any of today’s common materials like plywood, epoxy or laminated timbers.
In the small village of Mölle in southern Sweden, Bel’Rose is a yacht of legend. Many villagers and visitors have stood on the pier over the years, watching Henrik Bager sail her alone on the Öresund, the sea that separates Sweden from Denmark, with the dramatic mountain of Kullaberg in the background. An exotic picture, as if from another time! Bel’Rose has overcome a lot in her life, and it has been a long time since she was so close to her original self.
“This has been one of the largest projects I have undertaken in my life,” said owner Henrik Bager. “Today I almost find the fact that Bel’Rose is back in the sea uninteresting. The most important thing is that we have succeeded in this together and that everything has been done by the rules, with the right kind of wood and in the right way. That’s what’s unique.”
The brothers Martin and Mathias Ravanis, who run Nyhamns Såg & Båtbyggeri, the ‘Saw & Boat Builder’s Yard’ in Bräcke, northwestern Skåne, specialise in this sort of ultra-traditional wooden boat restoration. In 2018 they won the Classic Boat Award (Restored Sailing Vessel under 40ft) for the sailing herring boat Bessie, and they have also built a number of new wooden boats, all in traditional style. For them the renovation of a racing yacht like Bel’Rose is not that different.
“We have been working the same way we always do” said Martin.“We preserved all we could and tried to recreate as much of the original design as possible.”
“My respect for the skilled craftsmen who built boats like Bel’Rose more than 120 years ago is immense,” said Mathias. “They are lovely boats with great refinement, yet the boatbuilders only used simple tools and never compromised with wood quality. Our work today is driven by their methods and techniques.”
Working with Bel’Rose, Martin and Mathias only used natural-grown, curved and quarter-sawn oak from a nearby estate, pine heartwood from Värmland in northern Sweden and Oregon pine from Canada, together with copper bolts and rivets, bronze screws, raw linseed oil, Swedish tar and varnish.
Bel’Rose was built in 1894, at a yard run by Petter Eliasson at Lindholmen in Gothenburg. Her design is from the well-known Swedish naval architect Albert Andersson and she was built on behalf of the Gothenburg Sailing Society, GSS, as the lottery boat of the year. The winning ticket in 1894 went to Sigvard Reuterskjöld.
FROM WORK BOATS TO YACHTS
This was the turning point between traditional fishing boats and yachts built for racing. Before, the lottery boats – and more or less all new-built wooden boats – were based on a refinement of fast traditional ones, like pilot boats. But with Nathanael Herreshoff’s Gloriana, built in 1891 in Rhode Island, USA, everything changed.
“Reuterskjöld owned a traditional boat and now he wanted a super-modern yacht, a Ferrari,” said Henrik.
It is rumoured that Albert Andersson worked with Herreshoff in the USA for some years, and that Gloriana was a role model for Bel’Rose. Whether or not that is true, there is no doubt he was inspired by the famous American yacht. Gloriana won all eight of the races she entered in her first year and stood as the model for all other racing boats in Sweden for the rest of the century.
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