Vindö Yachts

The following is reproduced from the book 'The World's Best Sailboats' by Ferenc Mate, published by Albatross Publishing House in 1988.

"If you were to ask most sailors to tell you in one phrase how they'd like their fibreglass boats built, they would tell you without hesitation, "Out of wood." Vindö yachts of Sweden has gone and done just that as far as is humanly possible. They have combined the strength and longevity of fibreglass hulls and cockpits and a partial deck with the beauty of a magnificently crafted varnished mahogany house and teak housetops and teak decks, to create some of the prettiest yachts in the world today.

Vindö started building yachts in 1928 on the island of Orust on the west coast of Sweden, an island where boats have been built since the 11th century. Today, there are close to three thousand people working in boatbuilding on Orust, including mastmakers and riggers, sailmakers and makers of Volvo diesel engines, but whatever phase of boatbuilding the people are involved in, they have nine hundred years of tradition to fuel their pride. To help continue the tradition, Orust has established a school of boatbuilding which, with its high standards, is very difficult to get into. Those successful spend their first year in school and the second doing apprentice work in a boatyard.

But those that don't get in don't have to give up the idea of boatbuilding. There are dozens of small yards in the area, some just two-man operations, some very much larger, where there is always room for someone with enthusiasm who wants to learn the age-old secrets of the trade.

The people at Vindö certainly know most of them. Since 1928 there have been close to three thousand Vindös built, of all shapes and sizes. Since the conversion to fibreglass hulls in the early seventies, Vindös have ranged from the little 28 footer, which is without doubt the queen of all small coastal cruisers, to a large 39-foot ketch. As recently as five years ago there were two hundred and twenty Vindös being built a year, but then the Vindös fortune changed.

When the big slowdown of the early eighties came, the old family ownership loyally refused to lay off their longtime workers and so kept on building boats when there was no one left to buy them. When the banks finally put a halt to that, Vindö's doors were closed and new owners found.

Sture Bjorkland, who was manager of a large Swedish shipyard for many years, but whose first love was always sailboats, and Bengt Isaksson are now owners of the scaled down Vindö boatyard with fifteen people working in the shops and sunny sheds just up from the inlet's rocky shores. But of the fifteen who are there, most have been with Vindö over twenty years and the gentleman who builds those magnificent wood houses has been with them now for thirty-five.

And that is perhaps the great secret of the Vindös. The quality of boatbuilding that goes on in this yard would be very hard to find anywhere at any price, but here the wood deckhouses have ben built this way for decades, it's all down to an art, so much so that Mr. Abrahamsson can fit one of those amazing curved housefronts in just three hours. It's irreplaceable skills such as these, perfected over the years, that keep the prices of the Vindös surprisingly low.The other secret, I think, is that the boats are so beautiful. Vindö had the same designer from 1928 to 1978. He passed away at the age of 90, leaving behind a long line of fine yachts. My favourite is the little 29 footer designed eighteen years ago, of which they have built four hundred and sixty two. This kind of classic continuity is impossible to find in the world today; the only other boat I can think of that has survived the years so well is Hinckley's Bermuda 40, which afficionados keep ordering year after year regardless of the price and regardless of its age.But even at this writing, the little Vindö 29 is an endangered species, for many people would prefer to buy a larger boat of much less quality and certainly less beauty, so unless all you lovers of beautiful sailboats rally, these fine little yachts may just pass into history.

One thing that always comes up with the Swedish yachts is: Why do they all use mahogany instead of teak for interiors, and in the case of Vindö, for all the external structures as well? The answer to that is tradition. For over a hundred years mahogany has been the wood used in this region. Besides, mahogany is an infintely better wood for structural use than teak, since it glues and laminates well, whereas teak, with its enormously high oil content, does not. The mahogany in use at Vindö is bought in solid logs, and only the finest pieces with the best grain and colour are used in places where the wood is visible.

And so the amazing craftsmanship of wood boatbuilding lives on in the fibreglass hulls at Vindö. The beauty of the boats is hard to describe and the photographs don't do them justice. But when you're down at the docks that are full of some of the finest all-fibreglass craft the world has to offer, your eyes keep wandering until they find the glowing wood house of a Vindö and you say to yourself in quiet admiration , "Now there is a real boat." And it's hard to look away."