King Charle’s Crown


Thursday-Monday, August 2-6, 2018

As mentioned in the previous post the pretty island of Aspo served as a strategic defense for Sweden’s naval base, Karlskrona. Named after the Swedish King Karl (or ‘Charles’) XI who founded the base in late 1600s, Karlskrona (Karl’s Crown) grew into a thriving port. Only a 20-minute ferry ride–a happily FREE ferry ride, this city became our off-island excursion four out of the five days we stayed at Aspo’s boat club.



We had read about the stellar maritime museum located here, no surprise considering this area’s history; so, on our second day of touring we made it our first destination.



I know I have a tendency to yada-on and on about our museum visits, so I’ll endeavor to maintain a quick walk-thru…

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its naval history, Karlskrona spreads across three islands, Trosso, Bjorkholmen and Stumholmen (the Naval or Maritime Museum being on the latter),all protected by the fortresses on surrounding islands:Kurrholmen, Godnatt, Koholmen, Ljungskar, Mjolnareholmen, and the two sisters mentioned in the previous post, Aspo and Kungholmen.


One reason for the immediate success of Karlskrona came from King Charles XI (1655-1697)


forcing burghers and merchants to relocate there by pulling their licenses to trade in their own boroughs. Instant populating of a town, especially when considering the folks needed for the new dockyards and shipbuilding industry. From its founding in 1680 Karlskrona’s dockyard and navy base became one of Sweden’s largest employers.

Sweden’s military prowess owes a lot to Gustav Eriksson Vasa I (1568-1607) who became king in 1523 after rebelling against the Danes. To counter Denmark’s stronghold on the region’s trade and to defend against Danish invasions, Gustav began building a fleet of fighting ships and a strong army. His imposing Renaissance castle (below) is the one we visited in Kalmar earlier this summer.


A partner in Gustav’s efforts was the German Hanseatic League, which wanted to protect its prosperous trading routes and bases; thus, it supported Sweden’s growing military might with loans for shipbuilding and the hiring of mercenaries. This is a bit ironic considering 120 years earlier Denmark formed the Kalmar Union, an agreement with the Swedish and Norwegian aristocracies, to protect themselves from that League’s dominance…

Add in the British and Dutch whose foreign policies were guided by ensuring that none of the Scandinavian countries would control trade in the Baltic and you have, well, a squabbling mess of warring factions. And, of course, Russia’s navy created by Peter the Great (1672-1725)


had to join the fray. A great cartoon of the time would be these rulers huddled around the board game RISK throwing dice to see who invaded whom. Some things never, ever change.

So, is it surprising that Sweden chose ‘Dominum Maris Baltica’ (supremacy in the Baltic) as their guiding principle in international strategy?

British and Dutch shipwrights initially influenced Sweden’s shipbuilding methods. For example, King Charles X (1622-1654) recruited Francis Sheldon (1612-1692) from England in the 1650s. Sheldon, known for his temper, quit in 1672, only to return five years later to work in Sweden’s dockyard. (He designed the KRONAN, a ship whose recovered artifacts we saw in Kalmar). Eventually, his quarrelsome personality got the better of him and he exited the scene in 1686 (after being arrested and discharged from the Swedish navy) only to pop up as a senior shipwright with the Danish navy. Now that’s what I call hoisting a middle finger…

But, Sheldon left quite a legacy amongst Master shipwrights, with his sons continuing to play important roles in Sweden’s maritime industry. His son Charles Sheldon (1665-1739) built 59 ships during his reign as Master shipwright.


It was during his time that the prominent Swedish inventor and industrialist Christopher Polhem (1661-1751)


built the innovative dry dock at Karlskrona. In non-tidal waters the building and launching of ships becomes more difficult as you have to continually keep water out, as opposed to water that ebbs and flows.

Completed in 1724 it is known as the Polhem Dry Dock. FYI:King Charles XII (1682-1718)-note the pouty-lip resemblance to his dad-


wanted to connect the east and west coasts, and Polhelm began to design it; yet this waterway-the Gota Canal (aka ‘Divorce Ditch’ among boaters due to the number of locks one goes through to reach the end, and, no, Max and I haven’t taken it)-didn’t come to fruition until 100 years later.

Another key figure was Fredric Henric af Chapman (1721-1808). King Gustav III (1746-1792) commissioned a new fleet of ships in preparation for war with Russia (during Catherine the Great’s rule). Thanks to his standardizing of production and mathematical methods, Chapman cranked out 10 ships of the line (the latest battle ship at the time that would line up opposite enemy ship to unload a barrage of fire power) and 10 frigates (faster and lighter and used for escorting and patrolling) in three years. Previously it would take several years for just one! As a museum guide later told us, forget Henry Ford:  Chapman was the true father of automation.

Thanks to King Adolf Frederik (1710-1771)


this historical knowledge was preserved. Recognizing the importance of collaboration, in 1752 he designated three cities–Gothenburg, Stockholm, and Karlskrona–to maintain an inventory of ship models and construction drawings. However, his creation of shipbuilding repositories is likely overshadowed by the unfortunate fact that he ate himself to death. 

The exhibits featured not only models of ships


but also other inventions, many of which never went beyond the prototype stage, such as this wooden submarine (attributed to a pupil of Polhelm) powered by four paddle wheels.


The dockyard employed an international crew of craftsmen, many of whom were illiterate and/or didn’t understand Swedish. Which is why visual art-scaled models, paintings, and drawings-provided the instruction of how to build the ships.


Karlskrona gained a reputation for its shipbuilding, resulting in espionage by other countries. Proof of such was found relatively recently at Denmark’s Naval Officers’ Bureau: a November 1721 copy of the above dry dock plans. For those countries lacking tidal waters (like Sweden) this document would prove invaluable.


By now my brain was overloaded with details of shipbuilding. Time for upstairs with its exhibits on life aboard in the early days with displays depicting such gruesome events as amputating a sailor’s leg (note the expression on the guy holding the leg…)


And the Cold War years (the political climate is fairly chilly now with regards to Russia and the other Baltic countries).


With Max checking out the buffet lunch (he loves those buffets like I adore pizzas), we opted for a lunch break


before entering the next exhibit: the submarine hall highlighting submarines.

Here two subs, the high-tech HMS Neptune and Hajen, aka ‘the Shark’, filled the room with a timeline of Sweden’s 110-year history of submarine development lining the walls.

We could walk through the large sub


and see part of the smaller one but what caught my eye were the black-and-white photos placing Sweden’s evolution of its submarines within the larger context of key events, both in Sweden and internationally.

I barely noticed the submarine drawings as my eyes alighted on the array of images. For each decade there were at least three or more photos documenting notable occasions (and, it was interesting to note many highlighted women). Below is just a sample:

1909 The first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature:  Selma Lagerlof 


1936 Unemployment and homelessness during the Depression in the U.S.


1950 North Koreans flee to South Korea during the Korean War


1958 Apartheid in South Africa with separate stands for blacks and whites


1961 Margit Claesson becomes the first female bus driver in Sweden


1967 Sweden switches to right-hand traffic at 4:50 AM (its neighboring countries drove on the right).


In addition to the photos the description of life aboard both fascinated and made me thankful I wasn’t on one:  The first submarine had no bunks, no way to prepare hot meals, and-even worse-no toilet. Yet, I also learned the early subs would patrol on the surface, diving only briefly to engage the enemy.

Today, two crew members do ‘hot bunking’, i.e., one sleeps in a bunk when the other is on duty, have hot showers once or twice weekly, and eat every six hours. Still, you are submerged in a metal sausage floating in the ocean.

Exiting this exhibit we went for a quick stroll by two ships docked outside, then left with a boatload of info swimming in our heads.

Yet, we did visit another maritime building a few days later. Max had read about the Ropewalk, once the longest one in Europe and still Sweden’s longest wooden building.


Since 1692 tradesmen made rope here from scratch to use as lines aboard their ships. The building we were going to see stretched to more than 300 meters long and had been in operation until 1960.  We had seen a display about this trade on the Maritime Museum including photos from the 1900s (the one below shows men getting ready to spin the carded material).


Intrigued, we thought it would be a mistake to overlook this site.

Because the island of Lindholmen is part of Karlskrona’s active naval base, we needed to use our passports to book the tour. Transported by the hop-on-hop-off boat, we were met by a volunteer guide associated with the Karlskrona Dockyard Society. His organization was responsible for a lot of the preservation of these historical naval structures. A current project is the construction of a square-rig hull to demonstrate the shipbuilding techniques before the use of modern equipment.

*In 2017 the 2009 marketing idea to install webcams overlooking Karlskrona backfired when a local noticed the comings and goings of Sweden’s fleet of five, non-nuclear subs. After a bit of a spat, the town agreed to remove them. We had spotted radar-deflecting ships like the new ones built at Bath Iron Works when on the ferry from Aspo but, once on the base, we couldn’t take photos of the vessels.

Since only two tourists had signed up for the visit-that being we-the guide treated us to a private tour. This meant we peppered him with questions, the poor guide, as he unraveled the process of rope-making. We even had the opportunity to make a piece of rope using a contraption we’d seen in the historical photos.


It’s easy to forget the pipeline of supplies needed to equip a navy, but standing in this building quickly brings the importance of trades, such as rope-making, to the forefront.


Because the materials shorten as they’re twisted, the building’s length matched the specification for making the standard length of rope. He pointed out the measurements noted on the wall, with one dating from the origins of the building.


**Rope on boats is renamed a bunch of different terms. If just sitting there, it’s just a rope but once it’s used for a specific task it becomes a ‘line’. (

And, trust me, there are a LOT of those terms… A line for pulling sails in/letting them out is a ‘sheet’… rope running up the mast is called ‘halyard’ and ‘downhaul’ for pulling it down… The lines, sometimes steel cables, keeping a mast in place are ‘shrouds’ or ‘stays’ specified ‘forestay’ and ‘backstay’ depending on whether fore or aft… Ropes for tieing up are ‘docklines’ or ‘warps’. And, there are ‘anchor lines’ fender lines’, etc. Two exceptions of a rope actually called a ‘rope’ are ‘bolt rope’ (attaches to end of a sail) and ‘bell rope’ (rings a ship’s bell) But, it does start out being called ‘rope’! Hence, our standing in the Ropewalk.

Several different raw materials were used, and he pointed out one of them, hemp in its natural state.


Like making yarn, the men carded it, spun it by walking backwards, then wove it together.

The last step is what we did, which is twisting it, bringing one end of the contraption towards the stationary end as the rope shortens.


We discovered our guide was one of the few authentic ropemakers as he demonstrated what constitutes a satisfactory rope:  letting it hang to create a loop, then bringing his hands together to create a circle. If the rope hung evenly and didn’t twist, we’d passed our exam


with his final test:the old rope trick :)


Handing it to us with Max exclaiming how he loves that tarry smell (me, not so much).

Running a bit long due to our questions, we quickly went through a second construction building, along with a quick walk-by the Polhem dry dock.


Hurrying back to the ferry for our pick-up, we thanked the guide and wished our time had been longer. I have to admit I almost passed on joining Max for this tour and am so thankful I didn’t. Plus, the rope trick was pretty special :)  

During our trips into Karlskrona we strolled around other parts of the city. On Friday and Saturday the Skargardsfest Festival was on. Begun to celebrate some specific event or another, it is now held annually just because, as one Swede told us, who wouldn’t want a party? Made perfect sense to us. 


We also stopped by one on our way back to the ferry to Aspo (which we always seemed to be running to catch).


This festival promoted environmental issues including a recycled fashion show, the best being an outfit of stuffed animals serving as large odd-shaped pompoms.


And, although comprised of teens and twenty-year-olds, some of us oldies enjoyed the occasion.


Our last stop had been on my list since landing in Sweden. Although New Zealand, United States and Australia rank highest in  per capita consumption of ice cream, Sweden’s right up there. I had to try it, right?

So, we located a shop that always had a line the door and added ourselves to the queue (I have to say people are very patient line-waiters In this part of the world; makes for a very relaxing and refreshing standing time, one I hope will rub down some of my normal impatience).

Thinking I’d go for gold, I ordered three scoops only to watch in dumbstruck horror that their ‘single scoop’ amounts to a packed three! Once my eyes popped back into my head and my mouth changed from an extreme 0 to forming words, I was able to stop her at two scoops. And, THAT is how I ended up with the largest ice cream cone I’ve ever held. 


And what a delectrable mess that was :)


And, I did share with Max, the professed, non-sweet eater. Uh-huh, right…

The next day we untied our lines and left Aspo and Karlskrona, a perfect blend of island-city touring.


Oh, and that smelly rope? That rope remained just ‘rope’–no way was that being employed on JUANONA–so, it proudly hung on the stern in Max’s backpack, which had also acquired that sweet-smelling aroma (sweet according to my husband).

Next, onwards to another celebration we’d been looking forward to all summer…

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