Once controversial Kalmar Nyckel tall ship celebrates 25th anniversary

Betsy PriceCulture, Headlines

a boat that is floating in the water

Delaware’s tall ship, the Kalmar Nyckel, sails to the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation Tuesday. Photo by Deborah Webb.


The Kalmar Nyckel celebrated her 25th anniversary Tuesday with the crew sailing Delaware’s tall ship through the 4th Street drawbridge to its foundation’s shipyard, and then giving a two-cannon salute after the national anthem was played.

About 200 people watched it sail past and then use its engines to back into position at the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation’s dock. 

After a short ceremony, the crew and guests had birthday cake and cupcakes.

The arrival also marks the start of the ship’s 2022 sailing season, with public sails offered on weekends in May and throughout the summer in Wilmington and Historic New Castle.  The ship also will offer free deck tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the May 21 Day in Old New Castle; noon to 4 p.m. on Memorial Day; and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Fourth of July.

The official birthday program began with the national anthems of the three European nations involved in the building and sailing of the Kalmar Nyckel, which in 1638 brought Swedish settlers to the rocks at today ‘s Fort Christina.

They established the colony of New Sweden, the first Swedish colony in what would become the United States.

The ship is a full-scale replica of the flagship from the 1638 expedition. Built by the Dutch and sailed by the Swedish, it was, Finnish Consulate envoy Bill Eaton joked, powered by Finns below deck “rowing and rowing.”

“No one’s happier about those Caterpillar diesel engines than the Finns are,” he said.

Wilred Muskens, honorary counsel to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, was quick to good-naturedly fired back: “OK, the Finns were down rowing, and we thank them for that. It’s wonderful, wonderful. And we paid them really well for that.”

But both Eaton and Muskens referenced the war in Ukraine and the pressure it’s putting on the region.

Finland and Sweden both have decided to apply to become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, even though Russian President Vladimir Putin — who doesn’t want NATO to expand  — warned them not to. He threatened to use nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles against a European country if they did.

Eaton pointed out that in 1939 when Finland was attacked from the East that both Sweden and the U.S. provided assistance.

He also said that parliaments in Stockholm and Helsinki this week are discussing discussing whether or not the nations should call themselves by a different name, “that being allies.”

But Eaton wouldn’t allow the seriousness of the issue to dampen the crowd’s good cheer.

“I will point out that ice hockey will continue to be strongly contested,” he said. Eaton ended his short talk by offering a traditional Finnish salutation: “May the winds be favorable.”


Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki recalled standing at the shipyard in 1997 watching the ship.

Its cost had kept increasing and had been controversial, he said, but when it floated into the river, Purzycki reecalled saying then, “It was magical. Nobody’s asking what it costs now.”

At the time, Purzycki headed the Riverfront Development Corp., which was charged with turning the polluted industrial wasteland on the west side of the Christina into the office, apartment and entertainment area it is today. 

The Kalmar Nyckel Foundation was the first of the new sites on the river, he said. 

“There was nothing down here at all,” he said.

Because the ship and foundation became catalysts for educational, social, tourism and economic development in Wilmington, Gov. John Carney said he was declaring April 26, 2022, the Kalmar Nyckel Tall Ship of Delaware Day.

The Kalmar Nyckel Foundation since has grown to include a two-story maritime center that  includes displays honoring the city’s ship-building history as well as a mock deck of the ship visitors can climb on.

The center offers a variety of hands-on programs for children and adults, as well as team building and community events.

On Tuesday, The ship floated into sight with the 50-plus member crew arrayed in the rigging. 

When the U.S. national anthem began to play after they docked, the crew members hung onto the rigging with their right arms and extended their left out, palm open as a salute.

The official ceremony ended with the crew, clad in pale-blue polo shirts, crossing a white gangway to return to shore amid applause.

The ship will sail to Norfolk, Virginia, in June with a stop in Solomons Island, Maryland. She will also have a trip north to New England in August and back to Wilmington for fall sails in late September and October. 

For more on the ship’s sales, tours, charters, program and volunteer opportunities, go toKalmarNyckel.org.

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