Touring Ålands Maritime Museums, Part 2: Åland Maritime Museum and the POMMERN
by Kalle Id
Join MaritimeMatters’ Kalle Id for the second installment of the three-part tour of the maritime museums of Åland, this time visiting the island’s main maritime museum and the preserved tall ship POMMERN.
Sjökvarteret official website: www.sjofartsmuseum.ax
Kalle Id’s photo blog: kships.blogspot.com
All photographs are copyright © 2014 Kalle Id.
Sunday, 8 June 2014
The Åland Maritime Museum (left) and the POMMERN (right) photographed at dusk on the evening before my visit.
The Åland Maritime Museum – or Ålands Sjöfartsmuseum in Swedish, the local language of Åland – is located just a stone’s throw from the passenger terminal in Mariehamn’s West Harbour (Västra Hamnen). When cruise ships visit the city (and Mariehamn is second to only the capital Helsinki in popularity as cruise destination in Finland), they usually moor right next to the museum.
The original main entrance of the Åland Maritime Museum, in the center of the photo, was boarded up when the building was enlarged. Currently the entrance is from the less impressive stone building seen on the right in the photo.
The museum was established in the 1950s, mainly to preserve material from the age of sail. Åland was one of the last strongholds of tall ships, with the local shipowner Gustaf Erikson known as the King of Sailing Ships. In 2012 the museum building was enlarged, which allowed the addition of sections dealing with machine-driven seafaring, safety at sea and shipbuilding. The signage of the museum is extremely good, with all texts available in Swedish, Finnish and English.
In contrast to the usual ‘do not touch’ museum mentality, you can climb this sailing ship’s mast in the museum if you wish.
The section dealing with the age of sail is by far the best part of the museum. Local shipowners had donated various utterly fascinating objects to the museum; the most extensive of these is the Captain’s Cabin of the Gustaf Erikson barque HERZOGIN CECILIE. The ship floundered off the coast of Devon in the UK in 1936, but much of her original interiors could be salvaged and these have been beautifully restored and displayed.
The main saloon on the HERZOGIN CECILIE’s captain’s cabin, preserved in loving detail.
Located above the HERZOGIN CECILIE’s captain’s cabin are the steering gear of the PASSAT, creating a genuine arrangement, albeit using parts from two different ships.
Another of the more fascinating age of sail displayes is a genuine Jolly Roger from the golden age of Caribbean pirates. The flag is one of just two of its kind still in existence. In addition to the exhibits themselves, the various displays of the museum offer detailed information on the various Ålandian shipping companies and the people behind them.
Although bleached with age, you can still make out the skull and crossbones motif on the Jolly Roger.
In the grain trade, the Ålandian great windjammer naturally often rounded Cape Horn. Resultingly, a room in the museum is dedicated to the Amicale Internationale des Capitaines au Long Cours Cap Hornies, the association of sea captains who have sailed around Cape Horn without the use of engines
The section on more modern, motor-driven seafaring, housed in the new part of the building completed in 2012 unfortunately does not manage to maintain the fantastic level of the age of sail section. There are simply fewer interesting items on display, and less information on offer, from the age of motor-driven ships. Perhaps this is because of the importance of passenger shipping for Ålandian motor shipping, and the blasé attitudes held by most Finns towards passenger ships. And this is a shame, as the stories of the great Ålandian passenger shipping companies – SF Line, Rederi Ab Eckerö and Rederi Ab Sally – and the people behind them are utterly fascinating.
The main display in the motor-driven seafaring section is dedicated to various ship models. While these are interesting, there is disappointingly little information on why these models exactly are relevant.
The ferry display is, unfortunately, disappointingly small with very few actual interest exhibits.
The Safety at Sea section of the exhibition includes an unexploded torpedo (hanging from the ceiling on the left) fired during the World War II by Russian forces on the Finnish steamer ARCTURUS, transpoting evacuated children.
The preserved sailing ship POMMERN, one of the survivors of Gustaf Erikson’s flotilla.
Moored outside the museum is the largest, and arguably most interesting, of the Åland Maritime Museum’s displays: the four-master barque POMMERN, a preserved member of Gustaf Erikson’s once-largest-in-the-world fleet of sailing ships. When most of the world’s shipowners begun changing from sail to steam and diesel after the end of the World War I, Erikson realised large sailing ships were avaliable to buy very cheap, and the ships could still be operated profitably on the grain route from Australia to Europe. The POMMERN, originally the German MNEME, was one of Erikson’s acquisitions, bought in 1923. She was operated on the grain run until the beginning of World War II. In 1952 she became a museum ship, permanently moored at Mariehamn’s West Harbour (Västra Hamnen).
A view aft from the forecastle of the POMMERN. The ship is named after the German region of Pomerania – in keeping with the tradition that a ship should not be renamed (to do so would bring bad luck), Erikson usually retained the previous names of ships he acquired.
The cavernous hold of the POMMERN is an impressive sight in itself.
In addition to the lovingly restored original interiors – which really drive home how spartan the life onboard the romantic sailing ships of old was – the POMMERN’s holds host a series of exhibitions about the ship’s history, and the history of Gustaf Eriksons sailing ships in general. In the name of all honesty I must admit that I did not pay as much attention to the displays onboard the POMMERN as I should have; the displays in the main museum were so extensive that I was rather exhausted after them.
The crew quarters of the POMMERN are a far cry from what today’s sailors can expect. It tells something of Gustaf Erikson’s skills as a businessman that he managed to sell cruises on his ships to the general population – which in essence meant having crew members who paid him to work on the ships, instead of the other way around!
End of Touring Ålands Maritime Museums, Part 2: Åland Maritime Museum and the POMMERN.
To be continued in part 3, where we visit the fascinating privately-owned Lasses Sjöfartsmuseum.
Special thanks to Heidi Viktorsson, Rami Wirrankoski, Hannu Hillo and Matti Pietikäinen.
Kalle Id, MaritimeMatters' Helsinki correspondent, is a Finnish maritime historian, photographer and journalist, with a Master's Degree in history from the University of Helsinki. His early-age exposure to ferry travel led to a lifetime fascination with passenger ships, both the cruise ferries of his home waters and the cruise ships and ferries of further afield. Kalle maintains his own ship photography blog at kships.blogspot.com. Contrary to the popular belief, he writes under his real name.
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