It is easy to find the house. It is the only house in Noank built of Scandinavian design – the other houses in the village carry the easily distinguished style of New England. I ring the door bell and soon Frederic Anderson, a friendly, tall, trim gentleman in his early seventies, opens the door and welcomes me. He is shortly joined by his Swedish-born wife, Anita.
Frederic Anderson’s ancestors were, for generations, the owners of the Palmer Shipyard in Noank, the old, little fishing village located where the mouth of the Mystic River meets Fishers Island Sound in the southeast corner of Connecticut. Between 1827 and 1914 nearly 700 vessels were launched by the Palmers. The Andersons’ house is on the very site of the shipyard. Fondly remembering his boyhood years when he and his younger brother ‘Chip’ were messing about in boats on the Mystic River, Frederic – Freddy to his friends – keeps a boat docked at their house.
In 2000, during a trip to Sweden, the Andersons saw an article about a boatbuilder, Roland Persson, and his small boatyard, Lilla Kålviks Båtbyggeri, on the island of Orust on the west coast of Sweden. Later, they set out to visit the yard and found docked there an old local type of rowing boat, a Bohus eka – Bohuslän is a province on the west coast and an eka is traditionally built of oak (ek in Swedish). The Andersons were impressed by her graceful lines and Mr Persson’s description of her seaworthiness in the open waters of the North Sea.
A year later, Anita and Freddy were back again, trying to order their own eka from Mr Persson. ‘He explained that he never built boats on commission,’ Freddy says and smiles. ‘Persson was only building boats he was inspired to build and, at the same time, following an old tradition not to use any boat plans.’ Before the Andersons left the yard, they expressed interest in buying the next boat that came from Persson’s hands.
In 2002, on their yearly visit to the boatyard on Orust, the Andersons found an almost complete eka. Although beautiful, they had second thoughts because of her size and weight out of the water. However, after trying a boat that Persson had built a couple of years earlier, ‘she proved to be everything we wished for,’ Anita says. When they asked Persson how much he wanted in deposit for the boat, he said a handshake would do. The Andersons decided to name their boat after Anita’s mother, Göta.
Almost finished, Göta was on display at the Gothenburg Boat Show in February 2003 where she was a great success. Later that autumn, the sad news reached the Andersons that Roland Persson had been killed in a car accident on Orust. The following July Anita and Freddy travelled back to Lilla Kålviks Båtbyggeri to arrange the shipping with Persson’s daughter Christina Andersson, who was now building boats together with her son, Johnny. The Andersons decided to use a small shipping company, Fallen & Lyrstrand Shipping AB, on the mainland of Bohuslän. Christina built a crate for Göta, which was shipped out from Göteborg.
‘Everything went so smoothly working with the Swedes,’ Freddy says, ‘but it became a minor disaster when Göta reached Port Elisabeth in New Jersey.’ Anita explains: ‘Göta had been banged around a lot, so she arrived in Noank with some $1,500 worth of damage to her hull. Luckily, it was only cosmetic damage which was covered by insurance.’
Freddy invites me to go on an outing with Göta. It is a warm, sunny day, and the busy traffic of pleasure boats on the river creates waves that make the eka bob gently up and down. She is beautifully varnished and the reflections of the sun in the water make her sparkle even more. I take the bow seat and, looking aft, see four shiny letters below the stern thwart: G-Ö-T-A.
Oars in tholepins, we start to row upriver. My rowing and sculling experience is from narrow racing shells with a sliding seat, but it does not take long before I am in the ‘swing’. A bit out from land the wind picks up and comes in from starboard, but that hardly upsets Göta at all. Freddy informs me that Göta is 13’9″ long, 5’3″ in the beam, and weighs 385lb. ‘A sturdy boat,’ he says proudly. Göta is well-balanced, easy to row and manoeuvre. During the almost two hours we are out on the river, she gets envious looks from passers-by as her robust Nordic design makes her a remarkable sight on the Mystic River. Göta is a beautiful boat that gives glory to her Swedish boatbuilder, Roland Persson; an appreciation that the old Palmers would have understood.
This article was published in Maritime Life and Traditions, No. 32, Autumn 2006. A slightly longer version, in two parts, was published in the Swedish rowing magazine Svensk Rodd, No. 2 and 3, 2006.