Monday, 26 September 2016

September sunset

Thus far, our September has been lovely. Only very recently, it has started to feel like autumn meaning that we are again spending more time at home than at the cottage. But we’ve made sure to see some great sunsets.

There is nothing like a sunset by water. This one was exceptionally spectacular. The photos are in chronological order spanning 45 minutes. The sea was very calm and I was completely fascinated by the reflections. I am sure you can see why.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Swan of the oceans

Once upon a time, more precisely in the 1960s, there was a Finnish paper salesman who felt his job left him with quite a lot of spare time. As he lived on the west coast of Finland in Pietarsaari, a small town also known by its Swedish name Jakobstad, he began to build a boat in his father-in-law’s garage. He then had an idea: to start a business of his own with a vision to build the world’s best sailboats that would combine elegance with excellent cruising and racing qualities.

The hull would be made of fibre-reinforced plastic allowing serial production but the trimmings would be of wood handmade by the best of craftsmen. The boat would be named Swan. Having studied in the USA, he was such a convincer he persuaded one of the best-known naval architecture firms, the American Sparkman & Stevens, to design the first Swan for his company Nautor.

The business had a flying start when the boats began to gain success in regattas. In 1974, a Swan won the first Whitbread Round the World Race – later renamed the Volvo Ocean Race – and the rest is history, as the saying goes. Business flourished and Nautor’s Swan grew into one of the best-known and most-valued brands admired by everyone in yachting. Ever since the company has continued to build fabulously elegant sailboats in Pietarsaari, the current number amounting to some 2000, all designed by renowned naval architects.

Note the arrow brand symbol on the side.

Needless to say, my favourite colour, not to mention the sailor. 
Nevertheless, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Very early on, a fire destroyed the boatyard with a dozen of unfinished hulls. Insurance covered the damages but the firm was driven into financial difficulties when catching up what was lost. A solution was found when the forest company the owner earlier worked for bought Nautor.

The first Swan ever built, Tarantella I, currently owned by Nautor.

Years went by and the Swans built became more and more exquisite, bespoke and unique, in addition to being arguably the safest sailboats on the market. In 1998, a group of investors bought the company the main shareholder and chairman of the board being Leonardo Ferragamo of the Ferragamo fashion dynasty from Florence, one of the sons of Salvatore I posted about here. Since then, Nautor’s Swan has been even more distinctly a luxury brand out of the reach of any regular sailors. Now the least expensive new Swan is believed to be worth a million euros and the most costly some 20 times more.

But there are still quite a number of vintage Swans around, even in our country, the kind you might be lucky to find starting at 100,000 to 200,000 euros. In late July, almost a hundred of them – with the addition of a few dozen from abroad – gathered in Turku for the company’s 50th Anniversary Regatta sponsored by the Oras faucet company from the neighbouring town Rauma. 

Naturally, we went to have a closer look when the boats were moored on both sides of the river Aura. We also tried to see some glimpses of the races and made sure to be watching the parade of sails when the yachts were leaving Turku. Some of them may have been heading straight for Porto Cervo in Sardinia where another Swan regatta, this time sponsored by Rolex, took place last week.

But what happened to the founder of Nautor, Mr Pekka Koskenkylä? He stayed for a few years after selling the company, then moved to Cannes working as an agent for the firm for five years before completely moving on. Later he managed a business in Thailand building Mirabella sloops, the then world’s largest single-mast superyachts.

Just before retirement, Koskenkylä had a motor cruiser built for himself and lived in it with his wife sailing the oceans for seven years. He will be 79 next month living the life of a grandfather in the south of France in the house they built in the countryside there. He was a visionary entrepreneur whose tenacity and attention to craftsmanship and quality was a world apart from the short-term-profit-seeking business thinking prevailing today. If only his fine creation wouldn’t have been steered far beyond the reach of ordinary people.

Incidentally, the opening ceremony of the anniversary regatta was held on board the full-rigged museum ship Suomen Joutsen or The Swan of Finland that used to serve as a school ship for the Finnish navy. It was this ship that gave Pekka Koskenkylä the idea to name his boat Swan in the first place. With the founder present, the circle was beautifully closed in Turku half a century later.