In early June, I had the chance to join a tour organised jointly by the Ship Historical Society of Finland and the Maritime Historical Society of Finland, visiting the three maritime museums of the island province of Åland. While three maritime museums for an island province with less than 30,000 inhabitants might seem a bit excessive, Åland has for a long time been an important center of shipping activity. This status is enjoyed by the islands to this day, with two of the Baltic Seas’ major passenger shipping companies – Viking Line and Rederi Ab Eckerö – being based on the islands.
The first museum on our itinerary was the Sjökvarteret (literally ‘sea city block’ or ‘sea quater’) in Mariehamn, the capital of Åland. Strictly speaking, Sjökvarteret isn’t a museum so much as a maritime center that has grown around a shipyard building traditional wooden sailing boats. The area containes two museums, a pub, a chapel, a smithy and handicraft shops. Unfortunately, because of the tight scheduling of our itinerary, we did not have time to fully explore all the wonders of Sjökvarteret, instead focusing on the museums.
The main museum of Sjökvarteret is dedicated to the thing that, in essence, gave birth to the whole place: traditional shipbuilding. The museum illustrates shipbuilding techniques and various traditional boat types used in Åland both by photographs, exhibiting the boats themselves and by showing the building process, as traditional sailing boats are also built within the museum building.
Sjökvarteret’s second, somewhat more obscure museum, is dedicated to historical marine engines. The biggest emphasis here is on hot bulb engines, a now rarely used engine type which is started by heating the betal bulb of the engine from an external source until it’s glowing how, and then using the bulb to ignite the fuel. This engine type was apparently rather popular in the archipelago due to it’s relatively simple construction and the fact it did not require spark plugs not any type of battery.
The history of Sjökvarteret begun in the 1980s, when a group of local enthustiasts decided to build a replica of the galeass ALBANUS, launched in 1908. A plot of land in Mariehamn’s East Harbour (Östra Hamnen) was secured for the project, and the new ALBANUS, a faithful replica of the original, was launched in 1988. Since the ALBANUS, approximately 30 wooden sailing ships and boats have been built at Sjökvarteret; the largest of these is the three-masted schooner LINDEN, which is based in Helsinki. Current plans include building a second ship of the ALBANUS type, built in accordance with current safety regulations so that she can be used for commercial sailings.
End of Touring Ålands Maritime Museums, Part 1: Sjökvarteret.
To be continued in part 2, where we visit the Åland Maritime Museum.
Special thanks to Rami Wirrankoski, Hannu Hillo, Matti Pietikäinen and the staff of Sjökvarteret.
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.