In early 1985, Expo 86 officials were invited to Chemainus on Vancouver Island to observe the construction of the brigantine Spirit of Chemainus. Shortly thereafter they invited S.A.L.T.S. to prepare a proposal to construct a similar vessel as a working exhibit at the Expo ‘86 site on the north bank of Vancouver’s False Creek. The Old S.A.L.T.S. Shipyard became a highlight of the Worlds Fair as an ever-changing exhibit, witnessed by local and international visitors. It was one of the few exhibits to receive funding from the Expo organization. With a limited six month time frame to build and launch the vessel at Expo, it was decided to prepare the keel and frames beforehand. This was accomplished at the Whaler Bay Shipyard near the south end of Galiano Island under the direction of Greg Foster and a crew of both experienced and trainee shipwrights.
Pacific Swift under construction in Vancouver at Expo 86
The building of the Swift at Expo ’86 allowed S.A.L.T.S. to reach back 200 years to recreate a symbol of Canadian maritime excellence. Vessels like the Swift carried Loyalists to the Maritimes and across the Great Lakes to settle Upper Canada. Millions of visitors watched as the hull was planked and decked in Douglas Fir, and over 30,000 people, reputed to be the largest audience at a ship launch in Canadian history, were on hand for the launching of the vessel on October 11th, a few days before Expo ‘86 closed.
Over the next two years, the interior of the Swift was finished, her engine and rigging installed. The course sails were finished in the first week of her first offshore voyage in July 1988, with S.A.L.T.S. trainees and crew sewing the final stitches en route to Hawaii. She then traveled through the South Pacific and on to New Zealand after reaching Australia in time for Expo ’88.
The Swift design, a square topsail schooner based on the brig of 1778, had been under consideration by S.A.L.T.S. for several years, as a small to medium-sized vessel for sail training. The date of the original is significant, as it placed this design within the time period generally recognized by maritime historians as the zenith of traditional sailing vessel development. Speed is apparent in the Swift’s lines, but is not emphasized to the exclusion of safety as in so many vessels of later date.
The marked dead-rise, rake of stem, and basic proportions, identify the her as a distinctive forerunner of the Baltimore Clipper type. Safety was her legacy from the past, characterized by buoyant ends, straight floors and low working rig on raked masts. Yet she looks forward to an age obsessed with speed as seen in her light displacement and build, raked ends, extreme dead-rise and over-sparring. That the original Swift was in fact considered a radical design for the time is supported by the alterations made following her capture and purchase into the Royal Navy. Her ballast was increased and rig reduced.
This conservative approach was taken with the new vessel, increasing the ratio of ballast to displacement within the context of well-fastened softwood construction, and shortening the rig.
Another reason for choosing the design was the Swift is a moderate example from this important period (1770-1840) in maritime history, when small schooners of the Swift type were being built by the hundreds all along the eastern seaboard and on the Great Lakes for packet or fast merchant service as was the Swift, or privateering, pilotage, or for fishing. She has all the romance of the justifiably famous Baltimore Clipper, and retains the elegant bow- and stern-works of an earlier age.
The Swift’s design was also judged well suited to sail training owing to her type, rig and size. As a light-displacement merchant schooner, she offers adequate space for accommodation without the onerous ballasting of a more full-bodied shape. This favourably affected her construction cost as well, by way of lighter build, and resulted in more easily worked gear on deck and aloft.
She has proven to be a show-stopper wherever she goes. The Swift successfully completed four offshore voyages between 1988 and 1995. Since then she has hosted S.A.L.T.S. coastal trainees on voyages up the B.C. coast and around Vancouver Island.