Kalmar Nyckel opens up the sails to recreate 17th century ships
On Aug. 9, the Wilmington based Kalmar Nyckel sailed into Lewes to allow residents and visitors a chance to tour, and even take a sail, on a recreation of a 17th century ship.
“As a recreation of a 17th century ship, we are accurate,” explained Deb Hofmann, an active crewmember and a volunteer for the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation. “We know that from records and from 17th century art that our naval architect and ship builder studied extensively. Our woodcarvers embellished our ship with things that meant something to us and meant something to them. We know the original one probably had the same kind of embellishment of something that was important to them.”
Hofmann, who was part of the first crew training class for the vessel, said that she did not know anything about sailing before becoming a volunteer for the foundation.
“I came down to the shipyard because I was interested in the colonial history of Delaware, and I ended up signing up to be in the first crew training class, along with about 300 other people. I was part of the crew that helped bring the ship to life in May of 1998,” she said.
“What is it like to be an active crewmember? It’s a lot of things. Sometimes there is the romance that one thinks of in terms of Hollywood movies. There’s lots of hard work. Sailing can be hot and sticky; it can be cool and beautiful. It’s thrilling to be under sail.”
On Sept. 2 and 3 from 3 to 6 p.m., the public may tour the Kalmar Nyckel free of charge. Public sails will also be offered, for a fee of $60 per adult, and $40 for children 17 or younger.
“We take all ages,” said Hofmann. “I think the oldest person I’ve sailed with as a passenger was probably 91, and the youngest was probably 3 to 6 weeks, in a baby carrier. We will usually have a crewmember who speaks to those passengers who are interested about the history of the ship. So they will speak to the history of the first Kalmar Nyckel and answer questions about this one.”
The recreation of the Dutch vessel has eight sails and eight miles of rigging. It has sailed all over the East Coast, as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as North Carolina.
“Expert historians and educators come from Stockholm to the Kalmar Nickel,” noted Hofmann. “They come to learn how a 17th century ship is sailed. They come to know how to steer a ship without a wheel and to use a whipstaff, which is an old method. They come back and come back and bring other people with them, because they’re learning more and more.”
The ship was built in Wilmington by volunteers, including Hofmann, who said that there is nothing more thrilling than sailing on the Kalmar Nyckel and recognizing what it must have been like to be a passenger on the original in the 1600s.
“It’s a fantastic thought when you realize that people traveled across the ocean in a ship exactly like this. This tiny little vessel — I’ve seen it come up the Delaware River to Philadelphia, next to huge freighters and tankers. And this is a tiny little ship, but it sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and back to Sweden four times and then served in a war as a scout ship.”
According to Hoffmann, everyday visitors can also participate in sailing the ship, if they’re interested.
“They can certainly sit back and watch everybody else, or they can pull it and experience that, and then they can say, ‘OK. That’s enough for me. I’m not doing any more,’ and just enjoy the ship and enjoy the sail and the feel of freedom when you’re under sail and knowing it’s the ship, the water and the wind. What they did long ago, and how they did the things they did — it’s amazing, when you think back on history.”
Throughout the year, the Kalmar Nyckel has an education program that reaches out to schoolchildren all over Delaware.
“We have a fantastic history program that goes out to the schools of Delaware that teaches history, and it also brings school children to our shipyard and teaches them why the colony of New Sweden was important and a little bit about the colony, the economics of the 17th century. It’s a great education program here.”
Hofmann noted that the foundation is a non-profit and heavily relies on the kindness of those in the community.
“We welcome support in time and in monetary donations. We live from hand to mouth oftentimes during the year. We’re always looking for people who would like to support us in any way.”
She added that she hopes those in the Lewes area will take advantage of the opportunity to sail and enjoy a piece of history.
“I love it for the history and I love it for the thrill of sailing today,” she said. “We’re very, very special. Our experience is special for the public who come onboard. There isn’t anything else like it.”
For more information on the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, its education program, or to reserve a ticket, call (302) 429-7447 or visit www.kalmarnyckel.org.