Classic | Sweden's sparkling jewel of the sea
Lill-Yrsa, Skerry Cruiser from 1931
From the chill Scandinavian seas to the temperate waters of Versilia - the 30-square-metre skerry Lill-Yrsa was restored recently by the GNI-Gruppo Nautico Italiano of Viareggio, a company founded in 1989 by Marcello Porciani that's worked on a number of prestigious craft, including Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's yacht.
The year-long project restored Lill-Yrsa to her original condition, and she immediately made a fine show at her post-refit debut during the 5th rally held by the Historic Sail Association, which she has been a member of for some years under the name of Hook, given to her by her previous owner. During the restoration her current owner made sure that her original Swedish name, Lill-Yrsa ("Little Bear") is now once again proudly emblazoned on her transom. Launched in Sweden in 1931 and built from a design by the great Finnish naval architect Gustav Estlander, she measures 11.80 metres. Her hull is made entirely of enamelled cedar, and she has Oregon pine decking and a White Spruce mast. Her copal-finished interiors may be tiny but there's still room for a pair of bunks.
Eighty years after her launch, Lill-Yrsa still bears her original sail number of S-143, referring to the class she is registered in by the Svenska Skärgårdkryssare Förbundet. In fact, she belongs to a special class, the Skerry Cruisers, which first appeared over a century ago and is still very popular in the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Australia and the United States, but remains practically unknown around the Mediterranean (there are only three examples in Italy).
In the early nineteen hundreds the stretch of the Baltic Sea between the Scandinavian peninsula and the German coast saw the appearance of a type of sail craft called skärgårdskryssare in Swedish and Schärenkreuzer in German. The name derives from the Swedish word “skär”, given to the tiny islands that stud this stretch of water. These yachts were then called Skerry Cruisers by the English. This title was just an anglicised version of the original name, but it became the most commonly known term for this kind of craft. The Skerry yachts were long and narrow, with a rather tall mast, and displayed striking performance when beating. They were especially suited to the jagged Scandinavian coastline, and were codified in 1908 by the Sweden Sailing Association, resulting in the Square Metre Rule, split into nine classes - 15, 22, 30, 40, 55, 75, 95, 120 and 150. Its rules were officially adopted in 1925. In the meantime the 30- and 40-sq.m Skerry craft were accepted as an Olympic class during the 1920 summer Games at Antwerp in Belgium. The great naval architect Uffa Fox was impressed by the performance of the 150 sq.m “Singoalla”, a yacht designed by Estlander and regarded as the fastest craft in the Baltic. Intended for pleasure use with an emphasis on family enjoyment, the Skerry cruisers also acquitted themselves well in long open-sea voyages and races - special mention can be made here of the exploits of Tre Sang, a 30 sq.m Skerry that in 1946, helmed by Royal Marines colonel Herbert George “Blondie”, distinguished herself in the RORC championship. This showed that this type of yacht could handle ocean races and confirmed the experience of Uffa Fox, who one summer a few years before had sailed 2,000 miles on Vigilant, a 22 sq.m Skerry, from Cowes to Sandhamn, Sweden, then returned to England and the final destination of Lowestoft.
The criteria governing the allocation of the Square Metre Yachts (better known as Skerry Cruisers) into the individual classes (15, 22, 30 etc.) are based on four basic measurements - displacement, length just above the waterline, average width and keel length - that can be increased in proportional incrementations. The sail and the sail area are calculated by adding the mainsail area to 85% of the triangle formed by the deck, bow stay and mast. This total must reach 30 metres, for example, for the Skerry 30s. There are also minimum limits for the cabin dimensions. All in all, these yachts are little jewels that will please the expert eye.