Götheberg in Singapore news: “The sail worth waiting for” (TNP, 29 Dec 2006)

“The sail worth waiting for”
The Electric New Paper, 29 December 2006

The Gotheborg III, a full-scale replica of an 18th-century Swedish ship, will arrive here on Saturday with four S’poreans on board IT looks like something Sir Stamford Raffles may have sailed on.

IT looks like something Sir Stamford Raffles may have sailed on.

It’s actually a replica of a ship that travelled from Europe to Asia half a century before he did.

And it’s arriving here this week – with four Singaporeans on board.

The Gotheborg was what was known as an East Indiaman, a sailing ship that carried passengers and goods and could defend itself against pirates.

In 1745, it was returning to its home port of Gothenburg in Sweden, after a two-year voyage to China, when, within view of the shore, it struck a rock and sank.

Its wreck was researched by marine archaeologists and the replica was built over 10 years. It cost the equivalent of $50 million.

In October last year, the replica, called the Gotheborg III, set sail to retrace the original vessel’s voyage. Now, on its way back to the city of Gothenburg, it will stop here for a fortnight.

When it left Hong Kong on 12 Dec, the Singaporeans joined the crew of 80. They are navy cadets Oh Poh Huat and Oh Zong Bo, research officer N Sivasothi from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and business student Teo Wei Chuen from the Singapore Management University. The vessel – which is the length of five buses – looks and sails just like the real thing, but if Raffles were to step on board, he would be amazed by the creature comforts. There are washing machines, dishwashers and vacuum toilets.

And he wouldn’t know what to make of the global positioning system, radar and electronic charts.

The ship has two engines too, but they are used only in busy waterways.

The rest of the time it relies on the sails, which can weigh up to 3 tonnes. Mr Sivasothi said: ‘The Swedes have been showing us the ropes, literally. Unfurling sails… like in the old days.’

There are magic moments, and the crew have been keeping an online journal. Sleeping in a hammock on board is like being in a cradle, gently rocked by the breathing of mother ocean, in the words of one of them.

It may seem romantic. But life on a wooden sailing ship involves fighting sea-sickness, getting used to small spaces and working hard at endless maintenance routines – carpentry, painting and sail repairs.

It can also get quite hot. The ship has radiators for heat in its chilly home waters, but no air-conditioning for the tropics.

One crew member, who gave her name only as Jenny, wrote in the journal: ‘Go two decks down and it feels like a sauna. Down one more deck, you could be in Hades.’

East Indiamen at the time of the original Gotheborg had all-male crews, but today women like Jenny scrub the decks and man the sails alongside the men.

At night, the deck becomes a ‘red light district’, though there’s nothing naughty about that. All it means is that a red bucket with a lantern inside provides just enough light for the crew to work without affecting their night vision.

The four from our shores are sure to have plenty to talk about for a long time to come.

Welcome home, guys.

See some of the layout schemes they experimented with here.


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