Very little is documented about Rickard Sarby before the Finn came along, but he was a fascinating person, multi-talented and self-educated with extraordinary gifts and creativity. He was born in 1912 in a small village called Pesarby, which is about 50 km north of Uppsala (which is 70 km north-west of Stockholm). The name of the village actually gave rise to the family name. He was the youngest of four brothers and one sister. His only formal education was the six years he spent at Swedish elementary school.

Rickard came from a very talented and creative family, each one being artistic or musical in some way. When the family moved to Uppsala in the 1930s, Rickard was educated as a barber. For many years he ran one of the biggest barbershops in Uppsala, which became famous because of its imaginative and prize winning Christmas window displays.

Soon after arriving in Uppsala, Rickard was also introduced to canoe sailing and skate sailing by his oldest brother Ernst, who was an enthusiast and a driving force of Uppsala Kanotförening.

Uppsala Kanotförening was founded in 1916 as a sport club for elite canoe paddling by a young engineer Sven Thorell, who would later become one of Sarby’s main opponents in the design competition for the 1952 Olympics. The clubhouse is situated 9 km south of Uppsala on the shores of Lake Ekoln, the northern part of Lake Mälaren, an ideal area for small boat sailing and racing.

The club became a unique breeding ground for small boat sailing, as well as skate sailing, and it was in this environment that Rickard was in his element, designing, building and racing sailing canoes. He was an innovator in boat and sail building techniques including producing laminated waterproof paper sails at a time after World War II when sail cloth was hard to obtain. He also designed the original flap bailer that was later commercialised as the ‘Elvstrøm’ bailer.

All this experience came to a head in the Finn. His approach was to sketch full size drawings while also building scale models. The first Finn was built in double diagonal planking, which proved to be fast, and suitable for amateur building, but later, boats were also built from baking layers of veneer strips over a shell, and he also built some fibreglass hulls.

Sarby’s legacy cannot be overstated. His design was so perfect that it has remained at the forefront of international and Olympic competition for six decades, while undergoing a continuous development in rules and technology. However, the hull shape, developed from the Swedish sailing canoes, and controlled by a strict set of class rules, remains untouched to this day.

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