Today in Transportation History – 1876: A Finnish Yachtsman is Born

Yacht designer Gustaf Estlander was born in the city of Helsinki in what was then the Grand Duchy of Finland (an autonomous region of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917). Estlander demonstrated a strong enthusiasm for water transportation early on in life; when he was about 18, for example, he used a canoe to sail from Finland to Sweden.

In 1898, Estlander graduated as an architect from the Helsinki-based Polytechnical Institute (now part of Aalto University). He subsequently helped establish the architectural firm of Estlander & Settergren, which earned acclaim for designing a wide range of homes and other structures in Helsinki in the Art Nouveau style.

Starting in 1914, however, Estlander set aside the creation of buildings to instead focus full-time on the design of yachts. By this time, he had already drawn up plans for approximately 60 sailboats. Estlander even used one of these vessels – a yacht called Örn – to compete in the sailing regattas at the Swedish locality of Nynäshamm during the 1912 Summer Olympics.

Colibri, c. 1919

Estlander gained widespread renown for the style and speed of the yachts that he designed. A major milestone in this regard took place in 1917 when he sailed his yacht named Colibri to first place in central Sweden’s Sandhamn regatta in the Baltic Sea. As a result of this victory, Estlander acquired a much larger-than-before number of yacht design commissions from clients throughout northern Europe. Over time, he began receiving commissions from as far away as Singapore.

In the early 1920s, Estlander served as the owner of a German shipyard in the vicinity of Berlin and the chief designer of the yachts built at the facility. These vessels proved to be popular on northern Germany’s inland lakes. Later in the same decade, Estlander became a citizen of Sweden so that he would be eligible to design the nation’s entry for the 1927 Scandinavian Gold Cup races in Oyster Bay, New York. Estlander’s creation, known as May Be, won that year’s Gold Cup for Swedish sailor and tycoon Sven Salén.

By the time Estlander died in Stockholm in 1930 at the age of 54, more than 1,000 yachts used across the globe had been built according to his drawings.

For more information about Gustaf Estlander, please check out

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