Our flagship ‘La Bohème’ is an ‘Icon of Sustainability’. Launched in 1913, she was the last Swedish schooner built for sail alone, with no engine until 1926.

A 34-metre topmast gaff schooner, she is one of the world’s oldest great wooden trading schooners having been in continuous operation for more than 105 years. ‘La Bohème’ has a feminine charm, a swan-like grace and a quick and lively response to a breeze.

From Poland in the east to Norway in the west she worked commercially for over 50 years as a Baltic trader carrying a range of cargoes throughout the greater Baltic Sea. She sailed through two world wars, countless storms and miles of sea ice to deliver such cargo as Swedish pink granite bound for the Empire State Building in New York, Polish coal for Denmark, ball bearings destined for the German military and Norwegian saltpetre for making dynamite.

Built from sustainable Scandinavian pine and Baltic oak, she is rigged for short-handed voyaging and will outlast four similar sized steel and diesel vessels, delivering exceptional long-term economic benefits as a research vessel.

Her former owner of almost 50 years used her for private weekend voyages with friends, exploring Sweden’s myriad fjords, vast inland lakes and nearby Kattegat.

Leading the fleet: Cover photograph on a book of Swedish classic boats

A unique feature of this vessel is that she has been extensively documented in a treasure trove of historical papers, dating from 1913.

There is a digital archive of hundreds of photos, capturing the vessel’s life and including 20 years of major maintenance work, racing events and life aboard. Documents include newspaper articles, programs, certificates, manuals, books and paintings.

La Bohème was designed and built to handle rough Baltic seas, with their short steep swells and unpredictable weather. Her classic Swedish (fish form) hull, wide and blunt at the stem, and tapering towards a relatively narrow stern, was regarded as providing the fastest cut-through in short steep seas. With her long, low working sail plan, she can hold her canvas when others are forced to reef. Without her 30-ton load she seems light, and jumps easily to a breeze. Hers is a dry deck in seas that would normally see other helms coursing water.

Still going strong after 105 years, she is an ‘Icon of Sustainability’

La Bohème’ has benefitted from being meticulously maintained. Over the last 20 years previous and current owners have spent many hundreds of thousands of euros on extensive works to help ensure she sails through another 100 years.

Since Oceanic Research Institute Founders acquired her in early 2013 she has undergone a full hull re-caulking by German shipwrights. In 2014 she was completely refastened by 4th generation Danish shipwrights. La Bohème was also fully repainted, re-oiled, re-signed and generally refurbished, during Danish summer of 2014. ORI Founders, Earle de Blonville and Jennifer Gidley spent months in Denmark doing much of this refurbishing work themselves.

On deck, we sanded back to clear wood her three deckhouses, deck storage boxes, and stern seating areas and recoated them with several coats of Le Tonkinois, a trusted finish of environmentally friendly natural oil-based ‘varnish’ developed in China more than 300 years ago. It never fades or cracks, and can be easily recoated each year.

Dr. Jennifer Gidley on the sander (above left), admiring her finished work (below left) and celebrating renaming La Bohème  (right)

Below decks, all cabins, galley and saloon were made much fresher with an undercoat and two topcoats of Hempel’s white – replacing the traditional Swedish ‘hospital green’ (left image below) – creating a much more pleasant feeling of openness and freshness (right image below).

Before

we painted the saloon (2013).

After

we painted the saloon in 2014.

The grand La Bohème

saloon after we painted it (2015).

Earle giving topsides a first coat of Hempels white (left) and relaxing between coats (right)

La Bohème will operate as a fully equipped Research Expedition Vessel (REV) for Oceanic Research Institute‘s climate-related scientific field research and educational purposes in the South Pacific and on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

As the Oceanic Research Institute Flagship, she will carry 14 scientists, filmmakers, artists and crew in comfort. On short journeys, she can be handled under sail with only three experienced crew. The saloon offers ample space for 50 people for cocktails, while on deck there is space for 100 people for functions for our sponsors.

Impression of La Bohème when fully equipped as ORI Pacific Flagship

In today’s throwaway world, La Bohème represents the timeless maritime values that saw the unknown world circumnavigated and both poles explored purely under sail in hand-made wooden craft. This historically significant Swedish schooner is a valuable piece of maritime history, with a bright, sustainable future as Oceanic Research Institute’s REV in Australia and the Pacific islands. She is almost infinitely sustainable, and will use 100% renewable energy with zero carbon and acoustic emissions for ORI’s research operations.