80 Years of the Folkboat
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 Sahlen, 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.
Summer 1941: The final plans are published by the SSA
April, 23 1942: TheLaunch of the first prototype as soon as the Nordic winter recedes and the Gothenburg harbour is free of ice. To jumpstart the class, Sahlen 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 behaviour 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. The boat was very much seen as a cruising boat as much a racing boat, and this is very much the case in current times, with extremely active cruising sailors. The Folkboat started an era of small cruising boats.
1957: A key milestone was the first boat launch in Germany. Germany is now the largest Folkboat sailing nation with 13 fleets and over 455 active boats sailing within these fleets. This being said it took until 1967 for the German sailors to start an Association, and this was the real beginning of their ability to host major Folkboat regattas, of which this current year the Gold Cup is hosted in Kiel.
1958: The UK entered the Folkboat arena. This said the UK had requested changes to the original Nordic design. These changes were innkeeping with trend of the time, and the British Folkboat derivative was born, in many shapes and forms. It was much later in 1983 did the GRP Nordic version really take off as a distributor had been appointed which allowed freer flow of the true Nordic boat into the country.
1960-1970: 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 long keeled 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 derivatives, mostly built in fiberglass popped up in multiple countries. This being said, we all agree any copying is really flattery, and the Folkboat continued to grow albeit at a slower rate than anticipated.
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 GRP did not sail faster than wood. It just required less elbow-grease for maintenance. And that popular trend continued until today. Erik was instrumental in getting the volume of boats into Europe. The long lasting appeal to the racing community is that due to the robust GRP construction applied in the early manufacturing of the boat, a 1976 boat is as competitive as a 2022 boat. This demonstrated by the age of the last Gold Cup winner being a 1979 boat.
1976 – 2000: These years saw new fleets emerge and establish themselves, particular countries of note would be Finland, Estonia and The Netherlands. The former hosted the Gold Cup in 2015 which was a massive success. With emerging Folkboat Nations always supported, we will see the 2023 Gold Cup hosted by Estonia for the first time, but at the fantastic 1980 Olympic venue in Tallin. We expect events to be hosted in The Netherlands soon. This year also will see the other major recognised International event ‘The Sessan Cup’ hosted in the UK. This demonstration of commitment to support emerging Folkboat sailing countries is second to none. From 1976 – 2000, really saw class development and expansion to provide longevity to the class.
July 2000: Another anachronism is set to occur: the approval of aluminium as building material for class legal spars. Soren Backman, a test engineer with Saab Aerospace, spent years behind powerful computer workstations, designing an aluminium 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 aluminium, repeating the GRP 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 effectively made from aluminium.
2000 – 2022: The past 20 years has seen further boats built, fleets in Estonia, Finland and The Netherlands established. We have had new aluminium mast manufacturers enter, with a true tapered variation.
The 75th Anniversary of the GC was hosted in Kerteminde, the sailing club with the greatest numbers of wins of any club whose sailors have participated in the event with 9 Cup wins. The 75th attracted 80 entrants, with 6 countries represented (Sweden, Germany, UK, Finland, Denmark and Estonia).
The large country fleets of Germany, Sweden and Denmark still have between 30-50 boats competing at their National Championships and it is still very much an event on everyone’s calendar to participate and win.
The boat has not changed its athletics or beauty. In the past twenty hears we have seen many sailors come in to the boat, from Olympic Gold Medallists to family day cruisers. The wide appeal still is in existence. Due to the amount of boats build and still in circulation, we believe to top 5,000 it makes a very buoyant second hand market, with boats to suit all budgets. Most countries associations host active brokerage and new boats are still being produced by Haubold Yachting in Germany and Europa Composites in the UK, continue to refit all ages of Folkboats.
In summary the Folkboat has influenced generations and been passed down to many sailors, the qualities in 1942 are still the qualities today, whether you cruise the boat or race the boat, you cannot help but fall in love with this timeless classic. When speaking to professionals, ex Olympic sailors or club racers all say one thing, the challenge to sail a Folkboat fast is a thrill, as it is sailing at its purest with the simple two sail configuration, it takes you back to the basics of yacht racing. One thing I always believe is true the boat has always been the focus and as the title really translates, it is the ‘peoples boats’ – ‘Folkboat’.