For three days this coming weekend, Uppsala in Sweden will become the centre
of the universe for Finn sailors. Sixty years ago in 1949 the first Finn was
launched there by its designer Rickard Sarby in his attempt to win a design
competition to select the monotype dinghy for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
That attempt was of course successful and the class has grown since then to
be one of the most successful and famous sailing dinghies of all time. This
weekend in Uppsala the class will celebrate 60 years of Finn sailing at an
event that is one of the highlights of the circuit in 2009. For many sailors
a trip to Uppsala Kanotförening (Uppsala Canoe Club), is a kind of
pilgrimage, going back to the birthplace of the class.
The club in Uppsala still has a strong Finn fleet and built its reputation
on the traditional sailing canoes found in Sweden and almost nowhere else.
Sarby was already an expert in designing and sailing these craft when he
penned the lines for the Finn. In fact the Finn's design follows many of the
principles of the sailing canoe, although these were double ended. In crude
terms the Finn was basically a double ended canoe with the aft section
sheared off to make a transom. And of course with only one mast.
Rickard Sarby was man of few words, so very little is documented about him
before the Finn came along, but he was a fascinating person, multi-talented
and self-educated with extraordinary gifts and creativity. He was born in
1912 in a small village called Pesarby, which is about 50 km north of
Uppsala (which is 70 km north-west of Stockholm). The name of the village
actually gave rise to the family name. He was the youngest of four brothers
and one sister. His only formal education were the six years he spent at
Swedish elementary school.
But Rickard came from a very talented and creative family, each one being
artistic or musical in some way. When the family moved to Uppsala in the
1930s, Rickard was educated as a barber. For many years he ran one of the
biggest barbershops in Uppsala, which became famous because of its
imaginative and prize wining Christmas window displays.
Soon after arriving in Uppsala, Rickard was also introduced to canoe sailing
and skate sailing by his oldest brother Ernst, who was an enthusiast and a
driving force of Uppsala Kanotförening.
Uppsala Kanotförening was founded in 1916 as a sport club for elite canoe
paddling by a young engineer Sven Thorell, who would later become one of
Sarby's main opponents in the design competition for the 1952 Olympics. The
club house is situated 9 km south of Uppsala on the shores of Lake Ekoln,
the northern part of Lake Mälaren, an ideal area for small boat sailing and
The club became a unique breeding ground for small boat sailing, as well as
skate sailing, and it was in this environment that Rickard was in his
element, designing and racing sailing canoes. He was an innovator in boat
and sail building techniques including producing laminated waterproof paper
sails at a time after World War II when sail cloth was hard to obtain. He
also designed the original flap bailer that was later commercialised as the
All this experience came to a head in the Finn. His approach was to sketch
full size drawings while also building scale models. The first Finn was
built in double diagonal planking, which proved to be fast, and suitable for
amateur building, but later, boats were also built from baking layers of
veneer strips over a shell, and he also built some fibreglass hulls.
Sarby's legacy cannot be overstated. His design was so perfect that it has
remained at the forefront of international and Olympic competition for six
decades, while undergoing a continuous development in rules and technology.
However, the hull shape, developed from the Swedish sailing canoes, and
controlled by a strict set of class rules, remains untouched to this day.
Combined with the Swedish Nationals, the event this coming weekend has drawn
79 pre-entries from 11 nations, for what will be the largest Finn event in
Sweden for 18 years. It will be both a celebration of the Finn and the man
who brought it into existence. No story of the Finn is complete without
mention of its father, who put considerable effort into the class in the
years following the initial design.
Rickard Sarby died in 1977, but his nephew Bert Sarby, and the original
owner of Finn No 2 is expected to put in an appearance over the weekend in
Uppsala, along with the original Finn No.1, preserved and looked after by
the local maritime museum.
Nine races are scheduled from Friday 14 to Sunday 16 August with, of course,
the usual Finn dinner and parties, held in conjunction with the Ekolns
Segelklubb, the neighbouring club which is co-hosting the Swedish
Championship for the Two-Crown class as part of the weekend.
– Robert Deaves, IFA