The story of Fisksätra Varv

Finally located in a former match factory in Västervik at the swedish eastcoast from 1968 to 1979 and Gränna near Lake Vättern, Fisksätra built motor boats and vessels for customs, the navy and nautical survey. Then, from the sixties onwards, sailboats, cosy double-enders and popular cabin cruisers. Finally, the S30 and Swede 55 cruising squaremetre boats were built in the seventies in impressive numbers.

Swedish GRP-pioneer

The foundation for this was the early decision of the yards principal Torild Larsson for modern series production. Thus Fisksätra became a pioneer of GRP boat building in Sweden as early as the end of the 1940s. A look at the 60-year history of the yard, which ended with the delivery of the last Swede 55 in May 1980.

Fisksätra Salonboat Lady II of 1929, design by Carl Gustaf Pettersson – Foto Sinikka Halme (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Founded in 1919 near Saltsjöbaden, east of Stockholm by Axel Larsson (1889 -1966) as Fisksätra Motorbåtsvarv, the company manufactured in the then customary planked wooden construction method, mostly to designs by Carl Gustaf Pettersson. In 1948, the son of the shipyard’s founder took over the business. One year later, Torild Larsson (1917-99) started working with a new boatbuilding material, glass-fibre reinforced plastic.

Fisksätra Motoryacht Parbleu
Fisksätra Backdecker Parbleu of 1932 drawn by Carl Gustaf Pettersson – Foto Sinikka Halme (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Although glass fibre had been around for a long time as decorative element, it was not until 1930 that it was possible to produce glass threads with a defined diameter as rolled good and usable manufacturing material. The first fibreglass boat was probably laminated in 1942 by Ray Greene in the US state of Ohio. At the end of the Second World War, the renowned Herreshoff Manufacturing Company on the American East Coast built a prototype rowing boat from glass fibre shreds and resin, but left it at that.

Torild Larsson seeing the future

As scion of a family of craftsmen, Torild Larsson knew how demanding, time-consuming and expensive wooden boat building was. Also, at that time, wherever boats were built in Sweden, they were built in wood. August Plym’s prestigious Negling yard was a few bays away. So Larsson choose a different path. But boat builders who spent their working lives with wood, the most beautiful boat building material, were tradition minded folks. And so were their customers. The resistance to the new material was correspondingly large. So Larsson experimented in seclusion in the yard at first, while his employees were still building traditional smart wooden motor yachts with raised foredecks, so-called backdecks, and saloon boats made of mahogany with a separate superstructure behind the steering position. In 1949, Fisksätra delivered the first GRP product to the navy. A few years later, a 9.15 m boat with a 200 hp engine followed for the Customs, at that time the largest plastic boat in Sweden.

42 knot Torpedo boat by Fisksätra – Foto Swedish Navy

If you supply robust and proven workboats to the state you will overcome the prejudices of private buyers some day. This foresight would later pay off for Larsson and Fisksätra.

First Fisksaetra GRP pleasure powerboats

Variety of affordable boats in the sixties – Swedish Classic Boats

After experimenting with resin and fibres, Larsson lifted his first GRP pleasure boat out of the mould in the autumn of 1953. It was called Svalan (Swallow) and exhibited at the Allt för Sjön boat show in spring 1954. Sceptical visitors worked on the product at the stand with ballpoint pens to check its durability. Svalan was 6 m long, reached 20 knots with a 60 hp inboard engine and was soon replaced by successor Figatto, being available as a day cruiser with a built-in engine and as a sporty version with an outboard drive. And there was a remote-controlled version for towing targets delivered to the navy. Figatto 60 followed, matching the then new Aquamatic drive by Volvo Penta introduced in 1959. 25 boats were sold the next season.

Firally and the Aquamatic drive were tested at the course round Sweden – Firally Homepage

From 1962 onwards, Fisksätra laminated the Firally series as recreational and working boats. Over the years, 95 boats were built for the navy, police, the states maritime works and customs. Model for model, Larsson introduced glass-reinforced plastic to Sweden. Fisksätra had so many orders that the premises near Saltsjöbaden became to small.

Fisksätra motorboat Primör 18
Advert for Primör 18 and other Fisksätra manufactures in the Sixties – Swedish Classic Boats
Model, manufactured from – toTypenumbers built
Svalan 1953-556 m planing boat25
Figatto6,40 m planing boat
Figoletto4,25 m planing boat
Fido’s Camping5 m powerboat for 2 persons50
Folkparca6,40 m powerboat, different engines for displacement and planing speeds≈ 600
Firally (1962 – 70)6 m planing boat delivered in different setups205
Bunn (since 1962)8,20 m cabin cruiser
Primör 18 (since 1965)5,45 m planing boat
Primör 23 (since 1966)7,05 m planing

Fimo factory in Gränna

In the early 1960s, production was moved to Gränna, east of Lake Vättern, where Fisksätra laminated motorboats and the first sailing boats on 1,400 square metres in the so-called Fimoverken. These included the popular Fingal and the double-enders Fidra and Storfidra. Fidra was a 6 m double-ender with traditional lines and inside ballast. It was available as an open keel boat, with a cabin, as a power boat and as a fishing boat. It was soon followed by its bigger sister Storfidra.

The 8.35 m Fingal established itself thanks to its successful Gotland Runt regatta debut. The sturdy Fidra and her bigger sister Storfidra met the safety needs of many sailors. The boat type redeemed it in the stormy Skaw Race in 1966. This dispelled the last doubts about the new construction material for seaworthy sailing yachts. In this context, a look at America and Central Europe: In 1955, Clinton and Everett Pearson had laminated their first glass-fibre dinghies in Massachusetts, and four years later, the first plastic sailing boat of the type Triton 28 was ready for the market. In Germany, Dehler built the Varianta 1966 – 82 four thousand times. In 1967, Dufour in France laminated the first Arpege and Nautor the first Swan 36.

50 year anniversary brochure – Firally Homepage
Next facility: Fisksätra Produkter in Västervik

Again, Fisksätra needed more space. So in 1968 the yard continued building sailing yachts in Västervik at the eastcoast of Sweden in a shut down match factory belonging to the Wallenberg group of companies. There were 9 thousand square metres of premises and a 100-metre jetty for rigging and delivering the boats. The facility was called Fisksätra Produkter. In the early seventies, the construction of the S30 cruising square metre boat began here, soon followed by Swede 55, a fairly big boat by the standards of the time. In the autumn of 1975, Fisksätra had orders for 80 Debutant back deckers, 40 Ohlson 22s, 40 Parant motor sailers, 35 S30 cruising square metre boats, 25 Folkparca, 20 Parca 22s, ten Havsfidra, five Swede 55s and other boats. Fisksätra needed money to build all these boats, 261 in total.

Fisksätra Prospekt zu den Touren Schärenkreuzern S30 und Swede 55
Mid Seventies: Fisksätra brochure about cruising square metre boats S30 und Swede 55Archiv Swedesail

Suggested by the Enskilda Bank (also Wallenberg), the Swedish entrepreneurial family Gylling, who had made money with radios and telephones, led by Bertil Gylling, took over two thirds of Fisksätra. Torild Larsson took care of the production of sailing yachts in Västervik, designed new models and 1978 modernised the S30 with a more voluminous and boxy superstructure in the style of Swede 55. The latter was laminated from 1976 with a hull of solid laminate, a clever four-shell construction and sandwich deck in a lightweight, low-torsion design with a core of balsa end-grain (balsa standing crosswise in the laminate), an advanced construction method at the time. 27 boats of this type within three years was a remarkable result at the time, today it is a fabulous success given the confirmities of modern boatbuilding. At the same time, Fisksätra continued to manufacture popular motorboats and common small cruisers to keep the two facilities in Gränna and Västervik busy.

Model, manufactured from – toTypenumbers built
Havsfidra6 m double ender327
Fingal 1964 – 19708,35 m cruiser200
Storfidra 1968 – 737,60 m double ender146
Mustang Junior (1968 – 71)5 m Ausbildungs- und Jugendboot150
Ohlson 22 (1970-77)6,50 m cabin cruiser444
S 30 (1972 – 1979)12,50 m cruising square metre boat304
Parant 25 (1974 – 79)7,60 m Motor sailor261
Debutant (ab 1975)6,20 m Backdecker mit 17 qm am Wind
Swede 55 (1975 – 79)16 m cruising square metre boat27

In the 1970s, Swedish boatbuilding boomed; for example, with the 27-footer Albin Vega (3,450 boats), the 23-foot sister Albin Viggen built a thousand times, the equally popular Scampi 30, the Shipman 28 and the success of Pelle Petterson’s Maxi type back decked boats. On the west coast, Hallberg Rassy, Malö, Sweden Yachts or Vindö attracted German sailors with conservative, high-quality products.

Two Swede 55 ready at Fisksätra Varv in Västervik, Sweden September 1979
Two new Swede 55 in September 1979 at Fisksätra yard – Foto Swedesail

To this day, the long and slender hulls of the S30 and Swede 55 benefit from the experience of the GRP pioneer Torild Larsson thanksto the careful, durable and complaint-free Fisksätra quality. They are robust boats without structural problems.

Supplier of elegant series production boats

Sadly, things did not go smoothly in Västervik. It is difficult to say if due to personal nature, whether the mentality of the investor with once 1,500 employees did not suit to to the comparably small boatbuilding business with a few dozen craftsmen, or if the step into the then booming boating industry was economically disappointing for Gylling. Already in 1977, one year after the takeover, Sune Larsson, the youngest of Larsson’s sons, left Fisksätra.

Fisksätra manufactures Swede 55 and S30 in Västervik ready for delivery – Foto Swedesail

The window to build beautiful and easy-to-maintain series-produced boats like the S30 and Swede 55 according to plans by Knud Reimers was short. Torild Larsson and his colleagues used it in 1971, when the S30 prototype was built, until 79 with 304 copies of the S30 and 27 Swede 55.

As an employee told in Västervik in autumn 1979, the yard had lost one of the two expensive Swede 55 moulds. In 1979 Gylling withdrew from Fisksätra. So the story ended 60 years after the yard was founded, already in the third year since Bertil Gylling took over, with the completion of Gamle Swede as the last Fisksätra manufacture. June 4th, 1980, I cast off at the delivery jetty of the already closed yard with boat #27.

Photo at the top: The later Fisksätra premises in Västervik as match factory in 1927. The information in this article is mostly based on the 50th anniversary brochure in 1969 and an article in the Swedish motorboat magazine “Vi Batägare”, which appeared four years after the Fisksätra closed. Note sources for details. Thanks to Micke Öhman/Sweden.