When the 1700s come to the rescue

Published on May 9th, 2023

At 47-meters, the Götheborg of Sweden is the largest ocean-going wooden sailing ship in the world. Launched in 2005, it was based on an 18th-century merchant ship and built using the tools, methods, and materials of that time.

While the ship is typically utilized for tours or European expeditions, it recently was also the closest vessel to a sailboat that had made a distress call after losing its rudder. Here’s the report from the sailors that made the call:

On April 25th at 01:00, we left Cherbourg and set sail for Camaret (the tip of Brittany).

We are two experienced sailors on board (Simon and me) with the objective of bringing the boat to Southern Brittany.

At 15:30, we were at sea, more than 50 nautical miles from the coast, when our rudder broke. After sending a PAN-PAN call on the VHF radio, the three-masted sailboat Götheborg quickly responded to our call, offering to tow us to Paimpol (France).

We repeatedly emphasized that we were aboard a small 8-meter sailboat, but the response was the same each time: “We are a 50-meter three-masted sailboat, and we offer our assistance in towing you to Paimpol.” We were perplexed by the size difference between our two boats, as we feared being towed by a boat that was too large and at too fast a speed that could damage our boat.

The arrival of the Götheborg on the scene was rapid and surprising, as we did not expect to see a merchant ship from the East India Company of the XVIII century. This moment was very strange, and we wondered if we were dreaming. Where were we? What time period was it?

The Götheborg approached very close to us to throw the line and pass a large rope. The mooring went well, and our destinies were linked for very long hours, during which we shared the same radio frequency to communicate with each other.

The crew of the Götheborg showed great professionalism and kindness towards us. They adapted their speed to the size of our boat and the weather conditions. We felt accompanied by very professional sailors. Every hour, the officer on duty of the Götheborg called us to ensure everything was going well.

The next day, as we approached the French coast, we radioed for another boat to help us enter the port, but no one responded positively. Around noon, the Götheborg approached us as closely as possible and stayed by our side until the arrival of a French rescue boat to ensure that everything would go well for us before letting us go.

This adventure, very real, was an incredible experience for us. We were extremely lucky to cross paths with the Götheborg by chance and especially to meet such a caring crew.

Dear commander and crew of the Götheborg, your kindness, and generosity have shown that your ship is much more than just a boat. It embodies the noblest values of the sea, and we are honored to have had the chance to cross your path and benefit from your help.

We thank you again for everything you have done for us.


David Moeneclaey (skipper of the sailboat Corto)

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