Birgitta Ström and her husband Ralph have been regularly visiting Kobba Klintar since they first met in the early 80s. At that time Kobba Klintar was privately owned. They were often there and took care of the buildings when it was necessary. Rather like house gnomes. In time it became their favourite place.
“The Kobbarna are so close to Mariehamn. You can get there in ten minutes and you have the open sea on the other side. There’s something mysterious about it all. What I really love about Kobba Klintar is when it’s six in the morning and the sea is as smooth as glass. I can swim round the island then. And then just sit and look at the glassy sea.”
The café on the Kobbarna opens for the season as early as on Midsummer’s Eve and there is a dance on Midsummer’s Day. Coffee, pastries, sandwiches, beer and wine are served from Wednesdays to Sundays during the high season. In addition, it is always open when the flag is hoisted.
“Running the café is voluntary work. From the start you had to transport all the water and everything up from the boat’s berth alongside the hill to the house. We didn’t have any wheelbarrows or anything. It became much simpler as time went by and there were paths and electricity from the power station, of course.”
The Ålanders are rather proud of Kobba Klintar and are delighted to show it to friends and acquaintances, especially those who have seamen in their family.
“For the seaman, this is the Ålander statue of liberty. When they came home and saw it for the first time in, say, a year, they cried, and when they left and saw the Kobbarna disappear behind them, they cried as well. Plenty of seamen have sat here and told us that. Old gentlemen have sat and cried. When they were seamen going out into the world in those days, they couldn’t imagine that sometime in the future they would be sitting here on Kobba Klintar and drinking a glass of wine.”
The pilot station’s enormous foghorn looks like a three-storey trumpet. The engine that pumps up the pressure in it – an old hot bulb engine – still works. It is usually started once a day during the high season, often at 1 pm when there are the most people on the island. The noise is deafening.
“The last time the Tall Ship Race was held in Åland, we saw a huge sailing ship go by at 7 o’clock in the morning. It was a Danish ship. So I told my husband that he should put the foghorn on. The seamen were probably not that pleased because they were all chased up on deck to stand and salute when they passed the Kobbarna. But for us, that’s the sort of experience you never forget.”
In the machine room there is a puppet figure standing over the engine with an oilcan in his hand. It is by the artist Juha Pykäläinen and represents Ralph oiling the engine. People get a bit alarmed when they look through the window into the machine room. When the machine is running, the man moves.
“There was an elderly lady that I stood and helped support a bit, the steps being steep and everything. She was really interested – her husband had worked at sea. While we were talking her friend went down to the machine room where the man stands. And she talked and talked. She definitely couldn’t see very well. She came back to her friend and said: ‘What a surly devil! He won’t talk to me.’”
Some years ago the beacon on Kobba Klintar was rebuilt. The beacon is a navigation marker in the form of a large pyramid-shaped tower. The original from 1862–1863 was torn down in the 1950s. The new beacon stands in the same place, is the same colour (it is painted white) and is the same size as the original beacon. In fact, it is large enough for us to have been able to make use of the interior as a conference venue. It even has a panoramic window out towards the sea. The building holds 60 seated and 140 mingling guests and provides a fantastic view through the panoramic window when the ferries pass by outside.
For example, you can hire the beacon for work meetings, christenings, religious services, weddings and concerts. Last summers you were able to listen to chamber music there.
“Some companies that moved their work meetings here have asked us immediately after the meeting to book them in again for next year.
“Visitors to Kobba Klintar are often interested in the lives of the pilots. They ask what conditions were like for pilots and seamen at that time. It’s difficult to imagine what an exposed place Kobba Klintar is and how frightening the sea can become during the autumn and winter – the same sea that laps calmly against the pier during the summer.
“One visit I’ll never forget was an old lady who was involved with taking in the boys who survived the shipwreck of the three-masted sailing boat Plus in 1933. Her husband was the pilot at Kobba Klintar while she was on the island next door, which is called Korsö. That particular 13 December, St Lucia’s Night, twelve members of the crew of the Plus died just a few nautical miles from our home and a hundred metres from Korsö after thirteen months at sea. Only four survived. You couldn’t help remembering the story she told, and her involvement. It was really touching. She cried, told the story and laughed alternately because she felt that it was such a delight that at least the boys had made it.”
Story told by Birgitta Ström, Friends of Kobba Klintar