In 2011, the HSS (Helsingfors segelsällskap) yacht club formed a committee for classic yachts and in 2011, HSS organized the first Finnish Classic Yacht Symposium. In 2023, the Symposium celebrated it’s 10th anniversary. Over time, it become an important national and international event for all those who want to learn about and cherish sailing, yacht design and yacht restoration.
Sail in Finland has documented most of the symposia and this is a small retrospective of the series of events featuring my video video material.
The first Classic Yacht Symposium in 2011 was perhaps more of a HSS club event. It was held in Börshuset, the Helsinki Stock Exchange building. Already the first event had an impressive line-up of international speakers. Yacht designer David Pedrick talked about the history of 12mR yachts and the upcoming Blue Marlin restoration project. John Lammerts van Bueren also made his first appearance, he would go on to become a frequent speaker at the events and later also co-chair the symposium. In 2011 his topic was replicas of famous yachts. While there is no original recording of John’s session, with the help of the original slides and script, it has been possible to recreate the presentation.
In 2012 the symposium was held for the first time in association with the Helsinki Boat Show. The headline features of this event were Kamu Stråhlmanns overview of the works of Hans Groop, one of the most influential yacht designers in Finland. Groop is perhaps best known for the H-boat but his works includes many more yachts as well as being an avid racer on some of his own designs.
As far as I know, there is no original material from the first two symposia. If you have any material to share, please contact Sail in Finland!
2013 Classic Yacht Symposium
The 2013 Symposium was held as a side event of the Helsinki Boat Show in February 2013. The guest star of the event certainly was Halsey Herreshoff, at the time of his visit about to turn 80. In a very down-to-earth fashion, Halsey talked about the Herreshoff legacy as well as his own sailing experiences, which includes a memorable sailing trip to Finland.
Personally, the most interesting session was held by Lars Ström, also known as “Professor” Ström. Lars was the long-time workshop manager at Nautor and was the absolute authority on all things technical about the old Swan yachts. This video is a must-see for anyone planning on buying or restoring an old Swan!
An other session that I would like to highlight is the presentation by Tapio Saavalainen on the Finnish A class, one of the iconic Finnish one-design classes. You can find all of the 2013 sessions on this Youtube playlist:
2014 Classic Yacht Symposium
In 2014, the Symposium was again part of the Helsinki Boat show. One of the highlights from the 2014 session was the presentation by Hans Andersin in the restoration of the 12mR yacht Blue Marlin, the first 12mR yacht to sail in Finland in recent years. No effort had been spared in the restoration and the project also propelled the Red Sky boat yard to new growth. An other presentation to mention is the session by Petri Wilska on the Finnish Hai one-design class.
Still, the most important presentation in my opinion was the presentation by PG Johansson on the history of Baltic Yachts. PG Johansson was one of the founders and shares very detailed insights into why and how the boat yard was founded, what were the main design goals and how the yard grew to be one of the most successful boat yards in the world for high-tech, one-off sailing yachts! Finnish yacht industry history in the making:
You can find all of the 2014 sessions on this Youtube playlist:
2015 Venda Sailing Symposium
In 2015, the Classic Yacht symposium changed a little format as most presentations were held in Finnish. Thus the name also changed to “Venda” which is a Finnish sailor slang term for a tack.
The symposium still had one international guest speaker, Eva Berglund-Thörnblom from the Swedish Maritime Museum in Stockholm. Eva gave a very in-depth presentation on the yacht designed and yacht builder Tore Holm. Tore Holm in well-known and appreciated both in Sweden as well as here in Finland as he has build a number of yachts that have sailed or are still sailing in both countries. Eva’s presentation can be found below, I did not record any of the other presentations.
2016 Venda Sailing Symposium
In 2016, the symposium goes under the “Venda” name for the second time. This time though, the presentations are a mix of Finnish and English as the symposium was visited by an impressive number of prominent foreign speakers. Also this year, the focus was mostly on modern yachts and yacht design.
The keynote speaker was Alex Thomson, famous for his marketing stunts as well as for participating in the single-handed Vendée Globe races. Alex talked about both his past races as well as the preparations for the (then) upcoming 2016-17 race.
The second very notable visitor was yacht designer and self-proclaimed design renegade Juan Kouyoumdjian who gave a very insightful presentation on yacht design.
One the home turf side, it is worth mentioning the panel about Finnish yacht builder Eino Antinoja. One the 1960’s Antinoja was one of the yacht builders in Finland that used Sparkman & Stephens designs and in at least some ways paved way for Nautor in that Nautor’s early success was very much built on S&S designs.
This lead us up to the absolute highlight of the symposium when 95 years old (!!) Heinz Ramm-Schmidt takes the floor and remembers how he became the first Nautor Swan customer. The presentation is in Finnish but with English subtitles:
You can find all of the 2016 sessions on this Youtube playlist:
2017 was a break in the Classic Yacht Symposia, the Finnish sailing federation organized an event instead.
2018 is a bit of a mystery to me. The Helsinki Boat show has the symposium listed as a co-operating event, but I have not been there nor have I found any online information indicating that the event would have been held. If you have information about the 2018 event, please contact Sail in Finland!
2019 Classic Yacht Symposium
In 2019 the Classic Yacht Symposium was back with a vengeance and would now established itself as an independent event. The event language was again English in order to appeal to a broader, international audience. The event distanced itself from the Helsinki boat show both by a later date as well as a better event venue, the GLO Hotel Art in the center of Helsinki.
One of the main topics of the event would be the 12mR class, in anticipation of the 12mR Worlds that would be held in Helsinki in 2021.
An other major topic of the event was the Sparkman & Stephens boat yard. The current owner and President, Donald Tofias gave a presentation on the boat yard past, present and future while John Lammerts van Beuren gave a very personal account of Olin Stephens.
Still, my personal favorite from this event was the presentation by Swedish boat builder Bobby Cyrus on the Swedish “most beautiful” 12mR yacht Princess Svanevit: how he had found her and managed to get her back to Sweden. And it is with pleasure that I note that by the 2023 symposium (spoiler alert) Bobby’s plea for financing of the restoration had been answered and Princess Svanevit is sailing again!
You can find all of the 2019 sessions on this Youtube playlist:
2020 Classic Yacht Symposium
The 2020 event preparations were interrupted by the sudden death of the Symposium’s long term chairman Esko Kilpi. The organization work was fortunately picked up by Kim Weckström and Samppa Vilkuna. To cater for an ever growing audience, the symposium moved into an even bigger space in the Helsinki Musiikkitalo (“Music house”).
The event again attracted a very international group of speakers. Oliver Berking, owner of Robbe & Berking, talked about the activities of the yard which is devoted to restoring and building classic yachts. Donn Costanzo, co-owner of Wooden Boatworks – an other boat yard dedicated to classic beauties – gave a very personal account of how he became a sailor and boat builder.
To highlight of the session was however Pelle Petterson who entertained the audience with one aspect of his sailing and yacht building career, that of meter class racing.
You can find all of the 2020 sessions on this Youtube playlist:
2021-22 the Classic Yacht Symposium could not be held due to covid pandemic restrictions on travel and events.
2023 Classic Yacht Symposium
After 3 years, the Classic Yacht Symposium was back in 2023 bigger than ever. The Paavo hall in the Musiikkitalo was filled to the brim with over 300 registered participants including a large number of foreign guests.
The theme of the event was perhaps more somber than normally with some of the speakers reflecting on the financial challenges of maintaining and restoring the cultural heritage that are the classic yachts. William Collier, owner and CEO of G. L. Watson & Co. Ltd addressed this topic from the perspective of the “superyachts”, Charlotte Hellman, the chairman for the Burre Hellman Family Foundation, brought to us the Swedish perspective and Evelyn Ansel, the Curator of the Herreshoff Marine Museum talked about it from the perspective of cultural institutions.
My favorite presentation fortunately was more positive in this respect. Rüdiger Stihl’s and in particular naval architect Juliane Hempel‘s presentation on using modern 3D modelling and CNC technique to create a never-before built Starling Burgess designed 8mR yacht brings hope that modern technology (finally?) will bring more cost effective methods also to classic and wooden yacht building.
You can find all of the 2023 sessions on this Youtube playlist:
No retrospective of the Finnish Classic Yacht Symposia would be complete without mentioning the efforts of Esko Kilpi to organize and chair the events and turn them into an important international gathering for sailors. His introduction to the 2019 event (video below) summarizes some of his thoughts on sailing and yacht development.
Esko’s knowledge of sailing and his very large and international network were some of the ingredients that made the Symposia possible. I’m sure he would be pleased to see how the event has been taken forward by the new organizers!