Underwater for 70 years. Ester the most successful boat at the beginning of the century!

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Ester is the story of an exceptional recovery of a vintage boat, forgotten underwater for more than 70 years, the 1901 Formula 1 of the sea miraculously survived the icy waters of the Baltic Sea and is now sailing in the Mediterranean. Designed by Swede Gunnar Mellgren to win against the Finns at the Tivoli Cup, Ester is an auric sloop, in many ways revolutionary in its day.

Ester at Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez in 2019, winner of the first day of racing © Ingrid Abery
Ester at Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez in 2019, winner of the first day of racing © Ingrid Abery

Ester, born to win

In 1901, Gunnar Mellgren was assigned the task of designing a racing boat to defend the Tivoli Cup against the Finns. From his pencil came modern, unique and spectacular lines. Ester had a flat shape, with a thin fin keel, influenced perhaps by the lines of more modern racing yachts by British designers Charles Sibbick (designed more than 300 boats, almost all of which were one-off designs commissioned by princes, aristocrats, members of parliament and yachtsmen from the UK, Europe and the U.S. His most famous client was the Duke of York (later King George V), who ordered him to build a yacht in a week) and Linton Hope (a British architect and yachtsman who won two gold medals at the 1900 Paris Olympics). That year, the Finnish boating magazine Frisk Bris wrote that Ester was a very strange but among the most beautiful yachts ever created. The Swedes managed to retain the Tivoli Cup and Ester continued to race with great success throughout Sweden for a decade. Ester gained some fame and during one season won all twenty-nine regattas in which she participated. This formidable reputation reached as far as Gothenburg (a city in southwestern Sweden, opposite Denmark), where many boats were reluctant to engage in the futile race for the Röhss Cup, which Ester won accordingly.

Esther sailing in 1901
Esther sailing in 1901

Lost underwater for over 70 years

Ester disappeared from the race courses during the Great War and did not reappear again until 1935. Renamed Brita and donated to the Örnsköldsvik SS (a sailing association), itachieved success again in a midsummer regatta on the island of Ulvön (central Sweden) in 1937 before suffering a terrible fate . A fire hit it in late 1937. The damaged yacht was towed to Örnsköldsvik (opposite Vaasa Where the story of Relax began.). Unfortunately, Ester never reached her destination port, but sank en route before reaching Normanön.

Ester was found resting on the seabed in an upright position at a depth of 50 meters
Ester was found resting on the seabed in an upright position at a depth of 50 meters

Ester: The story of a recovery

For more than 70 years, Ester lay on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, lost but not forgotten. In 2012 three Swedes Per Hellgren, Bo Eriksson and Jan Olof Backman managed to locate the wreck using sonar. The sunken yacht was clearly in a very fragile state. A custom-made reservoir was lowered by a crane mounted on a catamaran into the water, 50 meters deep, and anchored around the hull. Gently, Ester was lifted out of the mud, which was clinging to the hull and sucking in her keel, holding her steady. As the mud was swept away with air, through pipes surrounding the hull, the crane subjected to a 6-ton load finally managed to break the water seal and Ester was freed. Although it was clear from the discovery on the seabed that that wreck was the mythical boat, undisputed winner of the regattas of the turn of the century, as the deckhouse and deck emerged from obscurity there was a realization of the enormous restoration work it needed.

Esther is brought back to the surface in the waters of the Baltic Sea.
Esther is brought back to the surface in the waters of the Baltic Sea.

Ester: Restoration

In 2018 Ester was completely restored. The main warp was replaced and the deck was entirely redone new. The restoration paid special attention to originality, replacing where possible with deck materials and equipment equal to the original designs. Only a few exceptions were made when modern materials offered a significant advantage. For example, high-quality stainless steel was used to replace mild steel frames and hollow rivets. Modern glues have replaced vintage glues. The woods used are the same, or similar, as the original design but in a more sustainable key, for example, sipo mahogany has replaced Honduras mahogany. The team worked with the Comité International de la Méditerranée (CIM) to determine which original aspects were to be replicated as such and which were not and required further investigation or interpretation.

It took four years of work to restore Ester
It took four years of work to restore Ester

James Barbaro

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