‘La Bohème’ is the Flagship of the Oceanic Research Institute (ORI) based in Ballina, NSW Australia. She is one of the last great Baltic trading schooners in continuous operation for more than 106 years. A secret, because beyond the western fjords of Sweden, she is unknown – having never appeared at the classic Baltic regattas. So, she is a real discovery.
Launched in 1913, as Tärnan, she has sailed through two world wars, countless storms and miles of sea ice to deliver a range of cargoes from Swedish pink granite used in the Empire State Building, to Polish coal to make ball bearings for the German military and Norwegian saltpeter used to produce dynamite.
A 34m Swedish topmast gaff schooner, ‘La Bohème’ has a feminine charm, a swan-like grace and a quick response to a breeze. Her former owner of almost 50 years used her for private weekend voyages with family and friends, exploring Sweden’s myriad fjords, vast inland lakes and the nearby Kattegat.
‘La Bohème’ benefits from being meticulously maintained over the last 20 years by two owners who have spent around 630,000 euros on very extensive works to help ensure she sails through another 100 years. In 2013 she underwent a full re-caulking of the hull by German shipwrights and in 2014 was completely refastened as well annual antifouling, painting, oiling of brightwork and some deck planks renewed.
She is currently able to accommodate 16 in four cabins and the saloon in typical Scandinavian style bunks. She has ample space below for 50 people for cocktails, and deck space for 100 people for functions. She is suitable for upgrading to MCA Code 2, with minimal works needed for day charter, sail training and a range evening functions, moored or under weigh.
In addition to solid timbers throughout, ‘La Bohème’ carries a full wardrobe of Dacron sails (2009), plus handmade traditional standing and running rig, all in excellent condition. Her Volvo Penta MD100B engine (2005) and variable pitch drivechain are in good condition and deliver consumption of 10 litres per hour at 6-7 knots. She can be handled under sail with just three experienced crew.
This historically significant and rare Swedish topmast schooner is a valuable piece of European maritime history, with a long, bright future ahead of her as an Oceanic Research Vessel. ‘La Bohème’ will be the Oceanic Research Institute Flagship for the Pacific region in support of the UN Decade for Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).
Of course, we can never really own a great classic boat: we can only enjoy being the caretakers of maritime history. And in doing so, we become a part of that history, a privilege that ensures the vessel is kept alive with all its stories and significance for future generations.