How long has the boat been around?
The boat is a special type of rowing boat produced in Sweden known as an eka. This specific eka, Harpsundsekan, has been around since 1953, when the Harpsund residence was acquired by the Swedish government as their official retreat – similar to Chequers in the UK or Camp David in the US.
Tage Erlander, who was Sweden’s prime minister at the time, was the first to take to the waters in the Harpsundseka.
Erlander was also featured in one of the first famous images of the boat at Harpsund, when he shared a boat ride with the Soviet Union’s de facto leader Nikita Khrushchev alongside an interpreter.
Since Khrushchev and Erlander’s famous boat tour on the lake at Harpsund, it’s become a tradition that visiting presidents or prime ministers join the Swedish prime minister for a boat ride – and Johnson was no exception.
Many commented on the fact that Johnson chose not to wear a life jacket on the boat, although the majority of Harpsund boat passengers have gone without – prior to 2014, no lifejackets were worn on the boat, as seen in this image of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme and German chancellor Willy Brandt in 1970.
Johnson is not the first British prime minister to visit the Harpsund boat – Harold Wilson is pictured visiting the pier where the boat was moored in 1969 (although it’s not clear whether he actually went for a row).
David Cameron is, however, pictured on the boat. He joined former German chancellor Angela Merkel, Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte for a tour during an EU meeting at Harpsund in 2014.
The reasons behind the tradition aren’t clear – but maybe the fact that it gives Swedish and foreign officials an opportunity to talk privately, away from the press and their advisors – is one of the reasons it has survived.