LEGO fans build ships brick-by-brick at Virtual LEGO Shipbuilding Contest

 by Ben Slomowitz

Chris’s creation, the “Liberator,” won first place in the 16+ age group for the first competition, “Building a LEGO Ship.” | Photo courtesy of Kalmar Nyckel Foundation.

Ships ahoy! LEGO fans of all ages were all hands on deck at the sixth annual LEGO Shipbuilding Contest, presented by the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, a Wilmington, Del. based organization centered around the Swedish ship of the same name. 

The event was held virtually for the first time this year instead of being at the organization’s Maritime Center Campus; last year’s contests took place days before Delaware went into a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, putting them far out at sea. 

The foundation had begun accepting submissions on Jan. 27, closed on March 1 at 5 p.m, and announced the winners on March 6 at 2:00 p.m. Contestants had sent in 180 LEGO creations by the due date.

Sam Heed, the foundation’s director of education, said he was inspired by a LEGO shipbuilding contest at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Norfolk, Va. So he visited the museum to see it for himself and went on a professional tour.

Heed added that the museum was generous to partner with the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation to help with the contest during the first three years before the foundation did it entirely on its own.

“You can’t replicate or fake that kind of family engagement where you have kids of all ages, and then you have their parents, and everybody is just so enthralled with it,” Heed said, “and because it’s shipbuilding, I’m thinking, ‘You know, we really need a Saturday community event that has an educational aspect that’s on a weekend and a Saturday in the winter.'”

Three various competitions were held at the contest: the first competition was “Build a LEGO Ship at Home,” the second was “Design a Virtual LEGO Ship,” and the third one was an “Advanced LEGO Kit Design Challenge.”

For “Building a LEGO Ship at Home,” participants could create their own physical LEGO Ship, take a picture of it, and submit it online. The round had four age categories: 0-5, 6-9, 10-15, and 16+

The first-place participant in the 0-5 age group was Nathan, 5, who created the “Double-Decker Seaplane.” The runner-up, Kate, 5, crafted “Shippy.” 

In the 6-9 age category, Tommy, 9, won first place with “The S.S. Blue.” Katie, 9, earned second place with “Tubetacular!”

Those that were between 10-15 years old did not go home unnoticed. Noah, 11, won with the creation of the “U.S.S. Hartville,” and runner-up Jacob, 15, earned second place with the “Kalmar Nyckel.”

Finally, the 16+ age group got their chance in the spotlight. The champion Chris, 47, created the “Liberator.” The contender Martin, 47, earned second place with the “Red Falcon.”

A photo of the “U.S.S. Hartsville,” crafted by Noah. He was crowned the champion for the 10-15 age group also from the first competition, “Building a LEGO Ship.” | Photo courtesy of Kalmar Nyckel Foundation.

Those that won the first competition received a $40 LEGO gift card, while runner-ups received a $20 one. Both of these prizes were mailed to them the week of March 15.

In “Designing a Virtual LEGO Ship,” contestants can create their own LEGO ship online using “,” a downloadable software that’s free-to-use by everyone and includes every LEGO brick that’s available. 

Unlike the first round, there were no 0-5 age group participants. 

In the 6-9 age group, Samuel, 9, won first place with the “Ghost Pepper.” The runner-up for the competition was Ethan, 9, with “The Atlantis.”

The top dog of the 10-15 age group was Drew, 14, who had invented the “Black Momba,” while two qualifiers, Austin, 11, and Carter, 11, crafted “Queen Anne’s Revenge” and “Catamaran Carter,” respectively.

There was only a first-place titleholder for the 16+ age range: Rabadan, 16, with “Greek Sarkoleve ‘Naturgewalt.'”

The second-round prizes were the same as the previous one: first place champions earned a $40 LEGO gift card, and the runner-ups earned a $20 one.

Finally, the “Advanced LEGO Kit Design Challenge” required more skill. Those wanting to take their creations to the next level had to recreate either the Kalmar Nyckel or the U.S.S. Delaware attack submarine using the “” software entirely from scratch.

The first champion that won the challenge was Nico, 10, who recreated the U.S.S. Delaware, while the second victor was Matteo, 8, who replicated the Kalmar Nyckel. The two received the 2021 Kalmar Nyckel CAD Designer Award and a $100 LEGO gift card.

According to its website, The Kalmar Nyckel Foundation’s purpose is to teach visitors the history of the real Swedish ship of the same name, which means “Key of Kalmar,” referring to the hometown of Kalmar, which is in Sweden. 

The foundation’s website explains that the Dutch began building it in 1625 and took many Swedish settlers when it launched in 1637 to a colony called New Sweden, later becoming part of the Delaware Valley when the United States formed. 

According to The Swedish Colonial Society, the former governor of New Amsterdam, Peter Minuit, led an organization called the “New Sweden Company,” whose mission was to create colonies that would help link Florida and Newfoundland with trade, primarily throughout the Delaware River. The company would benefit from the then-ongoing fur and tobacco trades in North America. 

Once they landed in present-day Wilmington, Del., the Swedish government purchased land from the Lenape and Susquehannock tribes to form New Sweden’s colony. 

Matteo recreated the Kalmar Nyckel vessel using the “” software. He was one of two contestants that won the third round of the contest, the “Advanced LEGO Ship Design Challenge.” | Photo courtesy of Kalmar Nyckel Foundation.

By 1655, however, the Dutch had taken over New Sweden by conquering Forts Trinity and Christiana, located in Northern Delaware, during the Second Northern War, which became part of the New Netherlands.  

The West Jersey History Project, an organization “dedicated to helping, promoting, and publishing historical research about West Jersey,” as stated on its website, found documents written by the Upland Courts, New Sweden’s governing bodies, between 1676 and 1681. According to these documents, the Dutch gave up what they absorbed from New Sweden to England in 1674.

Eight years later, in 1682, William Penn chartered Pennsylvania, a British colony that would later be where the Founding Fathers formed the United States. According to the book America: A Concise History, the territory allowed people, including Quakers, to seek religious freedom to those persecuted in England because they refused to serve in the military or pay taxes to the Church of England.

The foundation will be offering socially-distanced physical tours and cruises aboard the replica vessel beginning May 1 to Oct. 1. In the meantime, they are offering virtual and private field trips to students, youth group members, and adults, but only by request.

The LEGO Shipbuilding Contest will commence as usual next year with hopes of returning to being in-person, and the foundation will announce the winners on March 5.  

Contact Benjamin Slomowitz at

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