From the Åland islands an entire fleet of small cargo boats loaded with merchandise for the big cities. Butter, meat, wool, wood, chalk, fish, train oil and live cattle were among the most common goods. Some of the merchandises were traded in for desired goods like iron, salt, fabrics and grains but much was also sold for money.
During the mid 1800's, the rich farmers of Åland began showing an interest in shipping. Shared shipping companies were commonplace where some ten owners shared both the risks and the profits of the vessels.
In the beginning only the Baltic Sea was trafficked but when the economic situation grew better, the farmers built even bigger ships. Now the route of trade went all the way down to the Nordic Sea and the Mediterranean. In 1895, the bark Preciosa from Eckerö, was the first of the Åland owned ships for a historic journey to cross the Atlantic.
By the end of the 1800's, the shipping trade had become a real national movement. Now even farm hands and milk maids could buy shares in ships and dream about large profits.
The Åland shipping era
After the WW1, the shipping business experienced a global high in the economic situation. The steamships were going strong and took care of most of the trade. Most shippers decided to get rid of their large deepwater sailing ships.
Two Åland shippers went in the opposite direction - Gustaf Erikson and Hugo Lundqvist bought several of the best deepwater ships to very affordable prices. Gustaf Erikson invested large amounts and became the last big sailing-ship shipper in the world.
In 1935, Gustaf Eriksons fleet contained of 15 steel square-riggers, 8 North Sea sailing-ships and 6 motor driven sailing-ships. The fleet of Erikson received attention and admiration in the entire world. The large Grain races, between Australia and England are legendary and have been recalled in many books.
The renewal of the tonnage
When WW2 begun, the Åland fleet contained of some 80 ships, at about 200.000 dwt. The war took many ships and when peace finally arrived, there were only 19 steamships at 70.000 dwt left. These ships were now old-fashioned. The renewal of the tonnage was obstructed by the high war compensations that was demanded from Finland.
During 1950 there were some careful new investments. The shipping companies now begun specializing in trades like oil and freight. Not until 1960 and the energy crisis in 1973-74, could the fleet be drastically expanded and rejuvenated.
Today the shipping is the base of the Åland trades and is more than 40% of the BNP. 13% of the Åland people work at sea.
The flourishing passenger ships
The development of the car ferry- and tourist traffic to Åland is a fascinating example of entrepreneurship, visions and go-ahead spirit.
The ferry lines were first introduced in 1959 by s/s Viking, the first car-ferry that trafficked between Finland, Åland and Sweden. The premiere ride took place June 1st between Galtby-Mariehamn-Gräddö. Viking was 99 meters long and could carry 88 cars.
The development of the ferries exploded. By the end of the 1970's and in the beginning of the 1980's, six new car ferries were built for Åland owned companies. The ferry tonnage has successively been renewed and the
ferries have grown bigger and more luxurious. Today the are floating entertainment palaces where the guests can enjoy the very best food, music, pleasures and recreation.
Learn more about the Åland shipping traditions
If you want to get acquainted with the proud shipping traditions of Åland, then visit The Åland Maritime museum. The unique collections of this museum are world famous.
Here you may step into the authentic captain saloon from Gustaf Eriksons flagship Herzogin Cecile, that sank outside Devon in England 1936. Several items were rescued from the shipwreck, among others the captain saloon that has been rebuilt in the museum. The emphasis of the museum
is of the shipping era, but you'll also get a good insight into the cargo boat sailing and the modern shipping.
Down below the museum is the museum ship Pommern, the only four-masted steel bark in the world that has been preserved in its original state. Here you'll really feel the wings of time. Stand down below the large masts and look up! Then imagine how it felt to take down the sails way up there during a storm at the Northern Atlantic.