Czech replica of historic brig sets sail from Suez

La Grace, photo: Filip Koubek & Josef Dvorský jr., www.lagrace.cz

A replica of a 17th century brig known as La Grace which belonged to the first Czech naval captain, Augustine Heřman, set sail for the first time this weekend from Suez, Egypt. The wooden replica, which recreates all the atmosphere of the historic original, was the dream of a group of Czech sailing enthusiasts. Built in an Egyptian shipyard, the new La Grace remarkably took relatively little time to complete.

La Grace
A little earlier I spoke to the ship’s Captain Josef Dvorský on a line to Suez. He told me how it all came together.

“Construction took only two years almost to the day which I think has to be a world record: similar projects usually take four, six or even eight years to complete. The wooden parts of the brig were built by locals, while the electronics were done by Czech experts. The planning of course took much longer: three years of searching in archives, preparing blueprints and so on. The masts are from fir trees from the Czech-Moravian highlands. Famous Czech seafarer Rudy Krautschneider helped us chop those down.”

According to Josef Dvorský, the new La Grace will serve multiple purposes: on the one hand it will allow valuable training for young cadets, on the other be available for unique holiday opportunities for tourists. He said in order to pay for itself the brig needs to generate an annual revenue of around seven million crowns (the equivalent of around 370,000 US dollars). Josef Dvorský again:

Dan Rosecký, Josef Dvorský (right)
“Wood vessels have a soul and have a sense of history and the new La Grace is a perfect replica down to the very smallest detail. It can be used, without the slightest change, as a sailing ship in historic films. Of course, it also has to meet all international safety standards so it is packed with the latest electronics and technology. It has not only sails but an engine too. So, it’s a bit of both: if you want to play at being a pirate, you can, but in the evening you can also retire to comfortable quarters – the best of both worlds.”

The original La Grace bought by the Augustine Heřman who emigrated from Bohemia and operated a merchant in New Amsterdam, had an exciting history. In the 1640s Herman spent several years as a privateer. In the employ of the Dutch governor of New Amsterdam, his six-gun La Grace attacked Spanish vessels and successfully seized their booty. Josef Dvorský once again:

La Grace
“La Grace was also a corsair ship. Heřman worked as a merchant who imported goods from like indigo or tobacco from the Caribbean, but he was also granted the right to operate as a privateer, harassing Spanish ships. Although La Grace was only a brig it defeated two Spanish frigates and seized Spanish gold. So it was fairly successful and famous.”

The new replica can be manned by a crew of 30 and a minimum of four, including the ship’s captain, navigator, chief engineer and cook. The Czech team will spend the winter months on the Red Sea conducting tests and adding final touches; in the spring they will sail for Greece and in the autumn, the Caribbean.

Photo: Filip Koubek & Josef Dvorský jr., www.lagrace.cz