THE NORDIC FOLKBOAT
By Dieter Loiber, 2000
Nov. 1939: The Royal Gothenburg Sailing Club desires the creation of a new one design class that offers more room and beam than a Dragon, and cruising accommodations of sorts to small family.
Dec. 1940: The Swedish Sailing Association, urged by shipyard owner and 6-Meter sailor Sven Salen, joins the club’s initiative and announces a design competition
May 1941: The Scandinavian Sailing Association fields 58 design suggestions that were returned but none satisfies the fancy of the jurors. But the top four entries and two others showing interesting details were awarded prize money on a sliding scale from 900 to 300 Danish crowns. After some deliberation, the association contracts Tord Sunden, a Swedish yacht designer, to collate the top four entries into one, following the committee’s strict guidelines. To this date, the question of who actually designed the Nordic Folkboat is hotly contested and keeps lawyers reasonably busy.
Summer 1941: The final plans are published by the SSA
April, 23 1942: Launch of the first prototype as soon as the Nordic winter recedes and the Gothenburg harbor is free of ice. To jumpstart the class, Salen orders 60 boats being built in Swedish yards.
Although many traditionalists turned up their noses at the new and somewhat unusual design sporting a traditional lapstrake hull, a simple Bermuda rig and a raked transom, enthusiasm about the boat’s seaworthiness and well-mannered behavior in strong winds and high seas began to spread through the sailing community. However, the war hindered the rapid proliferation in the early years. Sales began in all earnest in the late forties.
1950-1970: Due to its versatility as a capable racer and weekend cruiser, the Folkboat prospered in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, UK, Ireland, in the Baltic countries, in Australia and on San Francisco Bay. Conspicuously absent in this list is Norway, which fell in love with the Knarr – a pretty carvel-planked longkeeler that came about in 1943 – and shunned the supposedly more plebian Folkboat. But unlike the Knarr, the Nordic Folkboat inspired countless designs for small and seaworthy cruisers, which were sailed across oceans and around the world. These “knockoffs,” mostly built in fiberglass, soon threatened to outgrow the original that remained unchanged for more than 30 years and encountered an increasingly flat growth curve.
1975: Svend Svendsen, an avid Folkboat racer in the SF Bay fleet and a boat yard owner, decides to build a mold from a proven fast wooden hull (US 95 Folksong, a Boerresen-built boat). That mold is used to build the first-ever GRP Folkboat, Pokkers Karl, featuring a white deck and flaming red hull. 1976: Erik Andreasen in Denmark follows suit and manages to get fiberglass boats approved by the SSA, who still governs the class. What sounds like an anachronism – building a clinker boat in fiberglass – may have well saved the Folkboat’s life by helping to reverse the trend of dwindling participation in events. An important reason for new-found prosperity was that Tupperware (nickname for GRP boats) did not sail faster than wood. It just required less elbow-grease for maintenance. And that popular trend continued until today.
July 2000: Another anachronism is set to occur: the approval of aluminum as building material for class legal spars. Soren Backman, a test engineer with Saab Aerospace, spent years behind powerful computer workstations, designing a “bad” aluminum mast that emulates the bending characteristics of the average wooden Folkboat mast. Tests showed that he did such a good job that there is literally no difference in the performance of wood and aluminum, repeating the Tupperware vs. wood experiment a quarter of a century ago. If the proposal is sanctioned by the Scandinavian Sailing Association, Folkboat sailors will be the first ones to buy wooden masts made from aluminum.
How is the class doing in its second millennium? Mostly well, evidenced by more than 4,000 boats that are still raced and cruised worldwide. And where the class has room for improvement the famous 15th-century Italian proverb is muttered by class officials: “Renaissance is just around the corner.”
Email Dieter Loibner, author of “Folkboat Story”, to purchase his book.