Götheborg sets sail for China

An exact replica of the Swedish East India Company's 18th century vessel, the Götheborg, set sail on Sunday for China on the same route as its predecessor 260 years earlier.

The ship was watched by thousands of onlookers and surrounded by hundreds of small boats as it departed for Cadiz in Spain, its first port of call.

It will then continue to Brazil, South Africa, Australia and Indonesia before reaching Guangzhou and Shanghai in China around August 2006.

“It’s amazing, the whole city watched us leave, there were people everywhere, maybe 20,000. It’s very exciting,” Rickard Fornander, who managed to secure one on the coveted passenger places, told AFP by mobile phone from aboard the ship.

The itinerary is similar to that of the original Götheborg but organisers will be hoping for a happier ending. The original ship sailed for two years and was returning from China in 1745 with a full cargo when it ran into a rock at the entrance to Gothenburg port and sank.

Sweden’s East India Company was one of the most profitable enterprises in Swedish history, giving its owners an average 100 percent return on capital between 1750 and 1770.

In 1984, a group of Swedish explorers plunged into the cold water in the harbour to find what was left of the wreck, and came up with a huge amount of porcelain shards and an idea: to build a replica.

The group gathered support from thousands of Gothenburg citizens and hundreds of small local companies as well as large corporations to cover the 250 million kronor (27 million dollar) cost of the project.

Eighty people, crew and working passengers were onboard the Götheborg as it sailed on Sunday.

“There are 20 very professional people in charge of the trip, and the other 60 help to share all the tasks on board,” said Fornander, who is travelling as far as Cadiz.

Also onboard were 70 kilograms of salmon, 150 kilograms of beef, half a ton of potatoes, 150 kilograms of cheese and plenty of other supplies for the 50 days to southern Spain.

“And then we have to fill up again,” said Magnus Gustafson, one of the two cooks onboard, who is looking forward to 12-hour working days, seven days a week, to feed everyone during the voyage.

The Götheborg is expected back home in September 2007.