Ever since he was a child, Hans Andersson has been hearing stories about his grandfather helping Estonians to escape to the United States. Bengt Andersson had indeed done so.

For Hans Andersson from Turku, the Tall Ships Races suddenly turned out to be more than merely an opportunity to admire ships.

Andersson had been visiting the ships during the weekend, when the name of the British ketch caught his attention.

– I told my wife: look, we have a painting depicting that ship Prolific at home, says Andersson.

Andersson’s grandmother had often told a story about Andersson’s grandfather Bengt Andersson who left Finland in the 1920’s and began to sail the seas. According to grandmother, grandfather had been sailing as a sea captain on a ship called Prolific, bringing Jews from Estonia to the United States in the 1940’s.

– I had never been able to check whether the story was true, says Andersson.

Andersson’s father rarely talked about his own father. When grandfather passed away in the 1970’s, only a briefcase full of eyeglasses and a painting depicting the ship Prolific were sent to Andersson’s father.

During the weekend, Andersson headed to the ship with his story.

– I told the captain about the painting and he told me the story of the ship. Things began to make sense. The story told by my grandmother turned out to be true, Andersson says, astonished.

– There was a book in Swedish there, where the history of the ship Prolific was described, and also the photo of my grandfather was there. I had never seen a single photo taken of him, Andersson continues.

The original Prolific sank in 1948

The original Prolific was sold in 1948 to Estonian refugees who didn’t want to end up in Russia after WWII. Therefore, the ship began its journey towards the United States in June 1948 with 69 passengers on board. The journey was stormy but after three months of sailing, the ship finally arrived in the United States. The passengers didn’t have proof of identity, so they were left on the ship to wait for a decision on asylum. For some reason, the ship sank that night.

In 2002, the descendants of the crew and owners of the original ship began to raise money to rebuild the ship. More than anything, they were hoping to use the ship for training purposes. The ship Prolific that took part in the Tall Ships Races was finished in 2005 and it resembled the original ship carrying the same name, built in 1891.

In 2015, the ship was bought by a British charity organisation called Ocean Youth Trust South. The organisation works particularly with children and young people.

–  For Andersson, the history of the ship Prolific was new information. It is unbelievable that we came to Turku and met this particular man, says Caroline White from the charity organisation.

Also the captain of the ship, Andy Viney, was very pleased and also surprised by the course of events.  This was the first time that the ship visited Turku under the flag of the charity organisation.

– This is spectacular. We are of course going to keep in touch with Andersson, we now have each other’s contact details, says Viney.

Andersson plans to spend the next few days researching the different phases of the ship. He is hoping to find more information on his grandfather.

– I have always been interested in the sea. Now it turned out that there is indeed some seafarer blood in me, says Andersson.

This article was originally published in Finnish in Turun Sanomat on July 23rd 2917.

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