Finland… well, sort of Finland



Wednesday-Friday, July 18-20, 2018

After a night in Stor Langden, we sailed from the Stockholm Archipelago to the Finnish waters of the Åland Islands.

And, if you ever wonder what we do aboard all day, here’s one activity: monster scenes. Last year we had purchased a lizard and a snake after another boater told us they helped to scare off birds (which can raise havoc with our delicate masthead instruments). Thanks to our friends Peter and Angie our menagerie had increased. So, what to do but set-up and document disaster scenes.

Yes, this is when you can say we have way too much time on our hands…

En route to Finland we noticed a long streak of greenish-brown water separating the usual blue. We crossed it and looked down. At first we wondered what it was but then we knew–algae bloom. And, a ton of it.

For the next hour or so we passed stream after stream of this floating green confetti.

Another disturbing reminder of what we’re doing to our world. Excess nitrates and heat are amongst the culprits.

After six hours of sailing close-hauled in an east wind we arrived at the largest of this archipelago’s 6,700 islands. We were now above 60 degrees latitude, and we had the long days to prove it :)

Since we had decided to sail to Finland only the night before, we hadn’t done any research on the history of the area, only the navigational details. Thinking we had the correct courtesy flag to fly from our strouds, that being the Finnish one, we learned this group of islands is autonomous from central Finland – meaning they have their own stamp, their own government, and their own flag. Oh, and they speak Swedish. Yet, the Åland Islands are part of Finland and use the euro.

Whatever. Easy to remedy the flag situation as we could buy one at the marina. And, since it’s not as if we speak Finnish or Swedish, no problem there thanks to these countries being multi-lingual with English one of their primary languages.

We landed in the capital of the Åland Islands, Mariehamn, dodging the large ferries and cruise ships coming and going from this port.

Approximately one-third of Åland’s 29,000 residents live in this town founded in 1861 during the Russian Empire, hence the name originating from Tsar Alexander II’s consort, Maria. We looked forward to a bit of urban civilization including groceries, hot showers (although JUANONA’s aren’t bad), and an excellent pizza (per some cruisers’ recommendation).

We opted for the west-side marina over the east-side, primarily due to the Pizzeria dockside. And, yes, it definitely served mouth-watering pizza.

Mariehamn straddles a narrow isthmus

with tree-lined streets supplying welcome relief from the hot sun during our walks to town and back,

although we did use the hop-on-hop-off-tourist train after our second run for provisioning,

which took us to areas we hadn’t seen, such as the east-side marina.

Always on the lookout for a respite from our own company, Max read about a maritime museum located up a grassy hill

and a Maypole next to the Marina.

Off we go.

Since the 1920s there was interest in preserving Aland’s sea-faring history. In 2012 a new museum opened:  the  Åland Sjofartsmuseum.  Comprised of four main components: the sailing ship era, engine-powered shipping, ship-building, and safety at sea-with four sub-themes (navigation, cabinet of curiosities, maritime Mariehamn. and the Cape Horn Club) this museum provided an informative afternoon.

It also owns the POMMERN, claimed to be the only four-masted cargo ship in the world maintained in its original condition. She was built in Glasgow in 1903 and originally named MNEME. In 1923 Gustaf Erikson, a Finnish ship magnate, bought the windjammer (renamed the POMMERN by a former German owner), adding her to his fleet of cargo ships. Interestingly, these large sailing ships operated more efficiently than motorized ones on the long offshore runs from Australia to Europe, usually carrying grain. Because Åland remained one of the few ports operating sailing vessels, this little town dominated the grain trade. Pretty cool.

Remaining part of the active fleet until 1939, the POMMERN sat in Mariehamn’s harbor (except for six months in 1944 as a floating grain storage in Stockholm) and was almost scrapped when Gustaf’s heirs donated her to the town.

Unfortunately, the museum is restoring POMMERN’s weather deck, so we didn’t tour her but we did see the rest of this museum, including one of the world’s two authentic pirate flags in existence! ARRRGHHH.

The skull and crossbones motif originated in the Caribbean in the 1700s and became synonymous with piracy. This flag, hailing from North Africa’s Mediterranean coast, is 200 years old. The initial black color has faded but not the thrill of imagining the fear this flag must have generated when sighted through the spyglass. 

But, what makes this museum such a gem is its presentation of information. Yes, one can peer at plenty of ship models,

which to me is, well, a lot ship models.

But, this small museum also lays out a wonderful story of maritime history. In many instances a historical detail is personalized, such as how shipping opened the world to native Alanders:  in 1896 Konrad Karlsson, 13 years of age, hired on as a deckhand for the PANDION. A brief description of his life aboard juxtapositions ‘knocking a ship’s biscuit on the table to get rid of maggots’ (museum quote) with the wonders of spotting a monstrous whale, riding in a rickshaw in Durban, and experiencing sunsets in the trade winds.

The displays provided many interesting facts regarding Aland’s maritime history.  During our 1.5-hour stroll through  several rooms on three floors we followed the narrative of Aland’s sailing past and present.  I’ve picked out some highlights below:

The sailing ship section included ‘sailing peasants’. This described the history of local farmers who traded goods along the Baltic coast beginning in the 13th century in small boats or barrows, each typically co-owned by several families. In the 1700s the locals sailed between Åland and Stockholm. Eventually they changed course making Helsingfors and Abo the primary destinations in the 1800s.

Firewood became a major commodity with the rise of industrialization, and a photo depicted a farmer using his wheelbarrow to load the cargo (and one of the actual wheelbarrows and section of the gangplank stood next to the picture).

The 1900s ushered in the use of iron and steel in ship building. Alander shipbuilders now purchased second-hand vessels from Britain, Germany, and North America requiring year-round sailing to pay off the hefty investment. One local made quite a name for himself, one that resonates today since he was the last owner of the POMMERN mentioned above:  Gustaf Erikson (1872-1947).

He was born in the Åland Islands and came from a seafaring family. He was at sea by age nine and worked his way up to captain. He purchased his first ship, the TJERIMAI, in 1913 and began his second successful career as a ship owner. Throughout the museum we came across his name numerous times, always associated with a prominent ship, most of them being windjammers.

For example, Gustaf Erikson purchased PAMIR in 1931 primarily for the wheat trade. In 1949 this ship became one of the last merchant sailing ships to ever round Cape Horn.

Another notable local was Captain John Ekblom. He completed the first Atlantic crossing of an Åland vessel when he landed in Havana April 1, 1865 after a three month journey.

Reading the descriptions I learned tidbits about the. maritime industry that I never knew of or would have thought to ask about. One of these is ‘sump jerker’.

Boats carrying live fish in the sump or bottom would hire a ‘sump jerker’ when landing in port. With a rope tied to the boat’s mast this poor dock worker would continually tug on the line throughout the night. Why? By rocking boat rocking the boat fresh water would flow through holes in the stern ensuring the fish stayed alive. This job seemed similar to one of those poor construction workers stuck holding the ‘stop’ and ‘slow’ sign while impatient drivers waited their turn to skirt the road work.

With the dawn of a new day the sump jerker’s work was done. The trading started with the skipper auctioning the catch to the fishwives who then sold the fish to the locals. The top photo is from the 1930s, the bottom, from the 1890s, both in Stockholm.

The steward aboard a ship had to balance “hungry sailors’ demands for more food, the captain’s desire for economy, the chef’s wishes, and the need to make supplies last on a passage of unpredictable time” (museum description). Oh, and housekeeping, too. The man wearing the white jacket is Steward Arthur Leman, who did all of the above and served the officers’ meals.

One of the most interesting portraits was of Wilhelmina ‘Mimmi’ Widborn. She sailed as a professional crew on Gustaf Erikson’s ships, including the POMMERN and HERZOGIN CECILIE. One of his longest serving employees, she worked as steward and cook. During her life at sea she rounded the Horn eight times and survived a torpedo attack. Hardy soul.

Another sailor is Ruben de Cloux, one of the most famous captains of his time. He sailed the PARMA, the winner of the 1933 Grain Race, and captained other ships belonging to Gustaf Erikson.

Photos of several staterooms or saloons display some luxurious outfitting for the VIPs  (and, for those unfamiliar with our ‘ship’ JUANONA’s isn’t quite as glamorous…):

Captain Emanuel Erikson aboard the OCEAN’s state room…

Captain Sven Erikson and his wife Pamela (who worked on deck when aboard) in the saloon of the HERZOGIN CECILIE, Gustaf Erikson’s flag ship…

and the room itself,

which was salvaged after the HERZOGIN CECILIE tragically ran aground on April 24, 1936 and eventually sank after several months. She had just won the Grain Race* for the fourth time and had anchored outside Falmouth, England. She then left for Ipswich where the cargo would be offloaded but mysteriously went off course. The rest is history.

*People bet on which windjammer would complete the journey from Australia to England in the least number of days. Any time under 100 days was considered excellent speed in this unofficial Grain Race, with 83 days the fastest sailed by PARMA in 1933. The HERZOGIN CECILIE won the 1936 race with an 86-day sail.

Displays showed how crew enjoyed free time aboard, such as this acrobatic routine by two sailors.

One exhibit highlighted Mariehamn’s first Seamen’s Home opened in 1903 and operated by Stava-Moster for 20 years. She had lost both her husband and son at sea and opened her home in Vasterhamn to sailors when they couldn’t find lodging in the relatively new town of Mariehamn.  Her mothering spirit created a second home for sailors who held her in high regard in spite of her confiscating their wages so they wouldn’t spend it all on drinking.

One rather haunting photograph showed a group of Finnish children aboard the ARCTURUS in 1943. They were being evacuated.

The ship was shot at by the Soviets, but the torpedo missed and now hangs next to the photograph.

In addition to Gustaf Erikson Åland boasts of another shipping magnate, Algot Johannson (1898-1986). An entrepreneur who returned to Åland with money earned from time in the States, Algot Johannson founded the shipping company Sally. Eventually he owned a quarter of Finland’s merchant fleet by 1972. Not bad for a crofter’s son…

Like many museums these days, the Åland Sjofartsmuseum caters to children. In the sailing ship area a rigged mast stands ready for young deckhands to test their sail-hauling ability.

In the engine-powered section I saw a kid checking out the task of loading a ship while preserving her balance. Clever exercise, and one I decided to leave to the young’un.

Plenty of artifacts documented the maritime life. One of the many interesting ones showcased some of the tools of the trade:

Lead line, a lead-weighted line dropped overboard in coastal waters to measure depth (a lump of wax at the end of the weight would also show if the bottom was sandy, muddy, rocky or otherwise)

Log, a line knotted at regular intervals would be thrown overboard with a watch timing how many knots ran overboard to indicate the speed (hence the term ‘knot’ as an indicator of speed on the water)

And, Navigational charting (parallel rulers, protractor)

Of those instruments we now only use the last set but even those are gathering ship dust aboard JUANONA. With the use of electronic chart plotters and digital charts for laptops and iPads, paper charts and old traditions like celestial navigation are no longer the primary tools for sailing the worlds’ waters.

The museum also featured a exhibit on ship building.  After the Crimean War (1856) to the 1920s roughly 300 cargo-carrying vessels were built to meet the increased demand. The building of a ship began with attracting investors- which could be anyone from a business man to a milk maids- to purchase individual shares. Once all shares were sold, construction began. The museum notes “On Åland a coffee pot and a share in a ship counted among the necessities of life.”  Hence the displayed pot.

And last but never least, we stepped into the special exhibit featuring tattoos,

Including photos of the tattooed from the 1930s…

And this century.

Hey, even Barbie got in on the act.

The instruments, both old

and new

looked painful. Fortunately Max and I earned ours the easy way:

Before we headed out we added two more portraits in honor of an American (horror) icon

Then headed for JUANONA and three loads of laundry…

More to come of these Åland Islands…

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