ALAMEDA -- Boat building and sailing were not just a heritage and livelihood for Svend Svendsen. They were an abiding love that endured from his childhood in Denmark to his life in Alameda, where the boat shop he launched a half-century ago remains a thriving waterfront business.
Svendsen died May 27 after battling cancer. He was 81.
"He was a true legend in the sailing community," said Brock de Lappe, the harbor master at Alameda Marina.
Svendsen initially opened his business as a one-man shop in 1963. It's now a full-service yard on Clement Avenue, offering services that range from dinghy sales and repairing keelboats to complete retrofits of commercial vessels.
Along with founding Svendsen's Boat Works, Svendsen constructed the first Nordic folkboat made of fiberglass in 1975, a move that helped make him famous among Bay Area sailors.
Rigged as a sloop, the first folkboats were built of wood in Sweden and designed as compact vessels that could be easily maneuvered. Shifting to fiberglass helped spread the boat's popularity and today thousands are sailed and raced around the world, including on San Francisco Bay.
"He had a huge impact on sailing and on folkboats in particular," said Hilary Andersen, the president of the San Francisco Bay Folkboat Association. "He was a friendly and warm person who created a community wherever he was. People gravitated toward him."
Building folkboats out of fiberglass likely saved it as a design for future sailors, de Lappe said.
"If Svend had not done it, the boats probably would not have survived as a class," he said. "That's because fiberglass is easier and cheaper for owners to maintain than wood."
Descended from Danish fishermen, Svendsen was born in 1932 in Espergaerde, Denmark, the fourth of six children to Anna and Jens Svendsen.
"He spoke often of his favorite childhood job, delivering fresh baked bread on his bicycle -- through all weather conditions and driving snow storms," said Nancy Svendsen, his daughter-in-law.
When the Nazis occupied Denmark in 1940, Svendsen delivered messages for the Danish underground hidden in the bread, she said.
Svendsen graduated from a boat-building college before coming to the United States in 1956. He briefly worked at a dockyard in New York, then made his way to the Bay Area, where he worked for yacht builders in Sausalito and Oakland until he opened his own business.
Svendsen met his wife, Suzanne, while on a skiing trip in Lake Tahoe. The couple married in 1960 and raised a son and daughter together.
Along with sailing, Svendsen enjoyed golfing and was a fixture on Thursday mornings at the Chuck Corica Golf Complex on Bay Farm Island. His skill led him to pro-am tournaments in Hawaii, where among those he shared the green with were Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
"Given his down to earth nature, Svend's golf picture wall of fame was often fascinating to those who just met him," Nancy Svendsen said.
Svendsen was a longtime member of the Young Scandinavian's Club in San Francisco, and he was a member of the St. Francis Yacht Club since 1974. He was named the club's "Yachtsman of the Year" in 2004.
Svendsen's fellow sailors plan to create a trophy using a folkboat model that was autographed by him and present it during upcoming single-handed races of the vessel, de Lappe said. The races have been taking place locally since 1969.
Sailors are also expected to race in Svendsen's memory following his memorial service June 15 at the Encinal Yacht Club.
Svendsen's survivors include his wife, Suzanne Cole Svendsen; son, Sean Svendsen and wife Nancy Svendsen; daughter, Sabrina Svendsen Baltutis and her husband Larry Baltutis. He is also survived by three grandchildren.
Svendsen hoped others would be inspired by his love of sailing, especially children, de Lappe said.
"We need to get all the Alameda kids out on the bay," Svendsen once told Alameda Magazine, adding: "The wind's going to blow every afternoon out there. You're going to have fantastic sailing."
A memorial for Svend Svendsen will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. June 15 at the Encinal Yacht Club, 1251 Pacific Marina, Alameda.
Tax-exempt donations (ID 94-3156600) in his memory can be made to the "Svend Svendsen Memorial Fund," c/o Encinal Sailing Foundation, 1251 Pacific Marina, Alameda, CA 94501.