Kalmar Nyckel

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Career (Sweden)
Name: Kalmar Nyckel
Owner: New Sweden Company
Route: Gothenburg, Sweden — New Sweden, North America
Launched: c. 1625
Acquired: 1637
Status: Requisitioned by Swedish Navy, 1644
Commissioned: 1644
Decommissioned: 19 June 1651
Fate: Sold into merchant service, 1651.
Fate unknown.
General characteristics [1]
Type: Pinnace
Length: 141 ft (43 m) (sparred)
93 ft (28 m) (on deck)
Sail plan: Full-rigged pinnace
Crew: 40 sailors & 28 soldiers (in Naval service)
Armament: 12 × 6-pounder cannon
2 × swivel guns

The Kalmar Nyckel (Key of Kalmar) was a Dutch-built armed merchant ship famed for carrying Swedish settlers to North America in 1638 to establish the colony of New Sweden. A replica of the ship was launched at Wilmington, Delaware, in 1997.


The Kalmar Nyckel was constructed in about 1625 and was of a design called a pinnace. The ship was named after the city of Kalmar, which purchased the ship in 1628 as its contribution to the Royal Swedish Navy. When Sweden decided to establish a trading colony in the New World under the direction of Peter Minuit, the Kalmar Nyckel was chosen for the voyage. A smaller vessel, the Fogel Grip (Griffin Bird), accompanied her.

The ships sailed from Gothenburg in December 1637, commanded by Jan Hindriksen van der Water, but encountered a severe storm in the North Sea and had to divert to the Netherlands for repairs. They departed on New Year's Day 1638, arriving in North America in March 1638.[2] They built a fort on the present site of the city of Wilmington, which they named Fort Christina.

A second voyage, which departed on February 7, 1640, and arrived at Fort Christina on April 17, brought additional settlers for New Sweden. One of them was Reorus Torkillus, the first Lutheran clergyman in New Sweden. The Kalmar Nyckel made four successive round trips from Sweden, a record unchallenged by any other colonial vessel. She later served the Royal Swedish Navy in the Swedish-Danish War, then was used as a merchant ship. She was lost at sea in the late 17th century. There are conflicting reports on where she was lost. One says she sank off the coast of the city of Kalmar, while another says she was lost in the North Sea off the coast of England.[3]

The modern Kalmar Nyckel[edit]

The Kalmar Nyckel leaves Lewes, Delaware, for an evening cruise
The Kalmar Nyckel leaves Lewes, Delaware, for an evening cruise
Career (USA)
Name: Kalmar Nyckel
Owner: Kalmar Nyckel Foundation
Port of registry: Wilmington, Delaware
Builder: Allen Rawl, Wilmington, Delaware
Launched: 28 September 1997
In service: 9 May 1998
Status: in active service, as of 2012
General characteristics [1]
Displacement: 298 long tons (303 t)
  • 141 ft (43 m) (sparred)
  • 93 ft (28 m) (on deck)
  • 89 ft (27 m) (at waterline)
Beam: 25 ft (7.6 m)
Height: 105 ft (32 m)
Draft: 12 ft 5 in (3.78 m)
Propulsion: 2 × 180 hp (134 kW) Caterpillar 3208 diesel engines
Sail plan: Full-rigged ship
7,600 sq ft (710 m2) sail area
Speed: 9.25 knots (17.13 km/h; 10.64 mph) under power
12.5 knots (23.2 km/h; 14.4 mph) under sail
Endurance: 6 days
Capacity: 49 passengers
Crew: 24

In 1986, a group of citizens of Wilmington, Delaware, established the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, whose primary source of funding is from the taxpayers of the State of Delaware, plus donations from corporations and individuals. The foundation designed, built, and launched a replica of the Kalmar Nyckel. The modern ship, designed by naval architects Thomas C. Gillmer, Melbourne Smith, Joel Welter, and Ken Court, was built at a shipyard in Wilmington on the Christina River near the original 1638 Swedish settlers' landing site at Fort Christina. She was launched on September 28, 1997, and commissioned on May 9, 1998. The re-creation measures 94 feet (29 m) on deck and 131 feet (40 m) overall, with a 25-foot (7.6 m) beam, a 12-foot (3.7 m) draft, and a displacement of 300 tons.[4]

The ship is operated and maintained by a volunteer staff, under the leadership of a paid captain, boatswain, and chief mate. In November 2006, the captain of the Kalmar Nyckel, David W. Hiott, who had commanded her for nine seasons, died from the effects of recurring melanoma. Captain Lauren Morgens took over on April 1, 2007, with Sharon Dounce as Port Captain/Relief Captain. Volunteers maintain the ship, run the education program, and sail her from port to port.[5]


In 1986, composer Benjamin Lees was commissioned to write a symphony to honor the founding of Wilmington, Delaware. Lees named the resulting work Symphony No. 5: Kalmar Nyckel. The piece was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2003, following release of a recording by the German orchestra Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz.[6]

Ship's cats[edit]

Toolbox was the senior ship's cat and official warrant officer with the title of 'Captain's Assistant.' The offspring of a feral cat, she was born in a toolbox while the ship was under construction in 1997. She has always lived on the ship and therefore has the greatest accumulated sea time of any member of the crew. A celebrity in her own right, she is the star of two books.[7][8]

Unfortunately due to her failed eyesight, Toolbox retired from her position on the Kalmar Nyckel in November, 2012. A retirement party was thrown in her honor, and many past and present crew members came to celebrate her 16 years on the ship.[9]

In addition, a number of other cats have served with the Kalmar Nyckel at various times, including Clew Garnet, Lagan, Sven, Timmynocky (nautical equivalent of thingamajig)[10] and Diddy. The current ship's cat is called Chester, a full-grey American shorthair.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Kalmar Nyckel Guidebook" (PDF). kalmarnyckel.org. 2012. Retrieved 28 September 2012. 
  2. ^ Johnson, Amandus (1911). The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware, 1638–1664. Philadelphia: Swedish Colonial Society. 
  3. ^ Henderson, John R. (2007-09-05). "A History of the Kalmar Nyckel and a New Look at New Sweden". Ithaca College. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  4. ^ "The Kalmar Nyckel Ship Specifications". Kalmar Nyckel Foundation. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  5. ^ Weslager, C. A. (1989). A Man and His Ship: Peter Minuit and the Kalmar Nyckel. Wilmington, Del.: Kalmar Nyckel Foundation. 
  6. ^ Fox, Margalit (2010-06-07). "Benjamin Lees, 86, Versatile Classical Composer". New York Times. p. A-19. 
  7. ^ Mayers, Barbara (2007). Toolbox: Ship's Cat on the Kalmar Nyckel. Bay Oak Publishers, Limited. ISBN 0-9741713-9-5. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  8. ^ Ireland, Charles E. Jr. (2006). Toolbox. Wilmington, Delaware: Cedar Tree Books. ISBN 978-1-892142-30-6. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  9. ^ "A ‘Purrrfect’ Retirement for a Servant of the Sea". http://townsquaredelaware.com/. Town Square Delaware. 30 January 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  10. ^ "Terms beginning with 'T'". DIY Wood Boat. Boating Terms and expressions. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 

Other Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°44′13″N 75°32′12″W / 39.736878°N 75.536786°W / 39.736878; -75.536786 (Kalmar Nyckel)