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Ships That Built the West: The Scandinavian Navy, Wapama and Vaerdalen

Santa Barbara, CA. February 1, 2022 – The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum (SBMM) is pleased to present “The Ships That Built the West,” a free presentation with Olaf Engvig on Thursday, March 17, 2022, at 7pm PT. This webinar presentation, about the role of the development of the lumber trade and lumber schooners on the U.S. West Coast between 1880 and 1945, is free, but registration is required, and donations are welcome. Mr. Engvig will sell and sign his books on Saturday, March 19, 2022, from 11am-3pm. Register to participate in the Zoom at: Register HERE

Engvig’s book, The Ships that Built the West:  The Scandinavian Navy, Wapama and Vaerdalen, shares the maritime stories of the  Scandinavian captains, seamen, and ships that helped to build the West Coast, such as the steam schooner Wapama, once the main vessel on display at the San Francisco Maritime Museum. The book and the presentation will also discuss Engvig’s 36-year restoration, completed in 2015, of the Vaerdalen, a Norwegian hybrid ship with a sail and a small steam engine that drives the propeller. 

Prior to the California gold rush in 1849, San Francisco had a population of less than 10,000, but by 1870, the population had grown to 150,000. Housing and other industries grew at a similar pace and the need for lumber increased up and down the Pacific coast. Without adequate roads and railroads, the needed lumber was largely transported by sea; and the growing trade attracted investment in ships and deep-sea sailors looking for more local work, many of whom were Scandinavian; and, at one time, there were 300 lumber carriers known collectively as the Scandinavian Navy. With the Great Depression of 1929, a contracting economy, and growing road and rail transportation systems, the lumber schooner fleet gradually disappeared. Long fascinated by these ships and writing about their importance, Olaf Engvig was determined to save and restore the derelict Vaerdalen, now the last existing lumber schooner in the world. His book and his presentation delve into the stories of these ships, their crews, and Engvig’s own struggle to restore the lumber schooner Vaerdalen.

Olaf Engvig holds a graduate degree in maritime history from the University of Oslo and is an expert on Scandinavian ships and their building materials (wood, iron, and steel). In addition, he has a CMAS 1st Class scuba diving certificate and a master mariner’s license. Born in Rissa, Norway, he now resides in Southern California with his family. He was named Scandinavian- American of the Year in 2015 and is the recipient of two Norwegian royal medals for his work with preserving maritime heritage. He is also internationally known for his work saving and restoring historic vessels.

This event is generously sponsored by Marie L. Morrisroe.

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Since 2000, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum has featured many artifacts and stories to share the history of the Santa Barbara Channel with more than 40,000 visitors annually and provides year-round experiential maritime history and marine science education for local youth. Featuring the impressive First-Order Fresnel Lighthouse Lens from Point Conception, SBMM’s current exhibits explore the History of Oil in Santa Barbara Channel & Chumash Use of Asphaltum, the Honda Disaster, and Wives and Daughters: Keepers of the Light.

SBMM is located at the historic Santa Barbara Harbor at 113 Harbor Way, Suite 190, Santa Barbara, CA 93109.  Visit or call (805) 962-8404 for details. 


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