Welcome to Sail Freighter Fridays! This article is part of a series linked to our new exhibit: "A New Age Of Sail: The History And Future Of Sail Freight In The Hudson Valley," and tells the stories of sailing cargo ships both modern and historical, on the Hudson River and around the world. Anyone interested in how to support Sail Freight should also check out the Conference in November, and the International Windship Association's Decade of Wind Propulsion.
NOTE: This week's post is a guest post from Captain Shane Granger of the Historic Vessel Vega. The Vega has operated in the Pacific, between remote islands, since 2004, and was built in 1892.
In early 1890 cement factory owner Johan Carlsson commissioned a sail powered cargo boat to service small villages along the coast of Sweden. That boat was named Vega, after his eldest daughter. At that time Sweden and Norway were one country so Mr. Carlsson looked to the ship builders of Norway for his newest Jacht (Jacht or Jaght being generic names for small sail powered cargo boats).
Outstanding among Norwegian ships of the time were those of Hardanger fiord where a tradition of building strong swift sailing vessels was already well established in the late 1400’s. The finest Hardanger jachts of the day were designed and built by Ola H. Nerhus. According to Lars Nerhus, great grandson of Ola Nerhus and himself a boat builder, “By 1891 Ola Nerhus had an unrivalled reputation for strong well-formed ships and quality workmanship. He was the designer and surveyor for most prominent [ship]yards in this region of Norway.”
From the beginning Vega was conceived to carry heavy concentrated loads and be certified for trade in the Arctic, a task most wooden boats shunned. Vega’s intended cargo demanded a strong full-bodied vessel with exceptional load bearing capacity for her length and beam. Due to existing tax, harbour, and pilot regulations Carlson specified she be a bit short of sixty feet between perpendiculars with a sixteen foot beam yet be rated at 55 tones to meet the demands of his cement trade.
Similar regulations meant for the first few years of her life Vega was rigged as a traditional cutter, rather than the well proven two masted galleass with its more versatile sail area and smaller crew.
Faced with the age-old conundrum of how to make a small boat carry the same cargo as a larger one Ola Nerhus did a splendid job designing Vega, one that would eventually win him an award for design innovations at the great Oslo exhibition of 1898. Our surveyor once commented, “Vega’s frames are more reminiscent of a naval man of war from the early 1800’s than a merchant ship.” Those frame sets consist of between 4 and 6 grown oak ribs tightly trunnelled and bolted together with only enough room between them for ventilation. 130 years later Vega is among the select few officially classified "Historic Vessel", a long way from the dilapidated state we discovered her in.
Vega 1892 is a small “Mom & Pop” charity that operates on a purely volunteer basis. A large group of friends, who want to make a difference but wish their assistance to go directly into the hands of those who need it most, donate the tools and supplies we deliver each year based on lists given to us by the teachers and health workers we assist. Meggi and I volunteer ourselves and Vega, since that is all we have. There are no big companies throwing money at us. In many ways we are like a glorified DHL, delivering what we receive each year, or purchase with funds donated by friends.
Our mission has always been simple and straight forward. We cannot save the world but we can make one small part of it a little bit better. Indonesia is a nation with over 17,500 islands. Many of the smallest islands have fallen through society’s cracks and been neglected, or are so difficult to access it is impractical for government to support them. Those are the forgotten people we have assisted for almost two decades. Every year we sail our 130-year-old wooden boat almost 6,000 miles to make those deliveries.
For the past 20 years, until COVID struck, Vega delivered roughly 20 tons of new educational and medical supplies annually to remote island communities in Eastern Indonesia and East Timor supporting 22 rural schools, 122 midwives and 18 health posts. Some of those communities are so remote that when we leave they do not see another outside face until we return. The supplies we bring help save lives and improve education for the children on these remote islands.
You might enjoy spending a few minutes exploring our website to discover more about our work. What we accomplish on microscopic budgets will amaze you.
Shane Granger is the captain and owner of Historic Vessel Vega.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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