by Christer Westerdahl
It is the first week of June in the Year of the Lord 1350. The preceding winter has been one of the hardest in human memory. At last the early summer winds from Lake Mälaren and from inland have become mild.
We are standing at the wooden waterfront of Vambafjärdingen in the inner town of Stockholm. The quay or wharf is also called the upper Skeppsbron. It is situated at Fiskartorget, the Fishermen's Square. But this Tuesday morning the fish mongers have already left the quay with their boats. The goods are being brought into our ship by the crew and some landsmen for the transport to Torneå in the inner Bothnian Sea. I will now describe the journey, how sailing is performed, how rapidly it is possible to travel at sea and how the harbours look like at this time. And I will retell the stories of the journey.
Our cargo consists of wrought iron pieces, osmundar, iron implements, such as axes, barrels with German beer and some wine, salt from Lüneburg, flour from the Mälaren valley, cloth from Flanders and Brügge and hemp from Reval or Rävle, Tanskanlinn, the Danish fortress, Tallinn. Most of it is owned in large or small parts by the crew itself, and in particular by the merchant, Master Thomas.
All the goods are supposed to be sold or traded at the midsummer market of Björkö or Torne. Perhaps it will be possible to sell also later during the summer in some place in the neighbourhood of Torne, such as Kalis or Kem. Local fishermen along the Norrland sea route or what is known as krokota seglatsen, `the crooked route´, have also been considered as possible customers. This is tradition.
It is true that some parish ships from this part of the Bothnian Sea, Norra Botten, have reached Stockholm already at the end of May, or recently, in the very beginnings of June. Some have already had time to turn and go back. But the demand is great. Master Thomas is well aware of that. Possible sales certainly exist during the whole summer. Furthermore, a return cargo of dried and salted fish and Lappish products, such as hides, leathern manufactures and furs, is always attractive in the Swedish capital. People up north know Master Thomas and skipper Jon. Several birkarla families expect us about this time. They are prepared to receive them as honoured guests. In this same manner their own heads of household and their sailors have been received during several months of stay in Stockholm.
They have passengers on board with correspondence of various kinds, in karvstockar (carved wooden sticks), to be handed over personally at its destination. Some of them have no part in the ownership of the cargo. Among them are a few monks or friars, a Cistercian and a Franciscan. We will get to know them a little later.
Some of our passengers are themselves people from the inner Bothnian Sea. They had gone to Stockholm in pine boats built during the winter. Having sold their boats in town just a month ago they are now returning back. Because of our cargo of salt and for other reasons as well it is imperative to be on our way somewhat ahead of the Carelians who regularly arrive about Midsummer's Eve. For they carry salt from the White Sea in their sacks which will drive prices down. But they cannot transport any large amounts in their long, narrow boats. They use to row along the inland waters in the woodlands by way of the Ule älv river and to some extent the Kemi älv river.
Four other vessels have just left the town for Torne. Progress is slow, however. It is now high time to leave. On a weak southerly breeze the ship is steered out with its great square sail from the inner roads of Stockholm. On the port side or to the north the large island of Lidingö is being passed. The helmsman is presently a young ledsagare, a pilot from the parish of Vätö. Thus he buys his passage back to his home island. The pilot is only 15, but used to the waters. He has himself sailed the parish ship down to Stockholm several times. The route is anyway not a difficult one.
The winds freshens slightly before the Stäksundet or Stegsundet strait north of the island of Rindö. A log chain has recently been put out in the water here and it somewhat impedes the passage. Having passed this barrier the sail catches more of the wind and the ship is fairly rapidly being run past the open basin of Koggdjupet, across Trälhavet, the Sea of Thralls or, as it is also called, Esthavet, the Estonian Bay. These waters are also known as Vira sund to all sailors in the Baltic Sea.
The voyage goes on without any hindrance by way of the taut homespun woolen (vadmal) canvas. It has recently been lined with linen from Hälsingland. The ship runs past the strait at the northern rock called Stendörren, the Stone Door, and Djäknesäcken at Stavsudden. The latter point is furnished with a staff put in a cairn at Stabo, or Stavsudden.
Skipper Jon checks the water level in the hold. Nothing alarming really, but he knows that we will have to use the newly installed alder pump regularly. Passengers and crew alike will have to work it. And although the seams will tighten by themselves they will have to make adjustments during the journey, if the weather turns foul.
Our journey goes on up to the straits of Oxlösund and Bockelsund opposite the entrance of Krampe sund. This was once an important passage inland where the inner route from Roslagen now lets out a couple of small log boats and a single tiny sail. Here the sea opens up a little. But the wind is still from the southwest. It abates suddenly and in a quarter of an hour starts to blow steadily from the opposite direction. This is straight against the bow. The progress stops completely. So now, thinks Master Thomas, is the right moment to find a suitable haven to wait for a new southerly breeze.
If we are lucky, explains the skipper, you will by way of such an unceasing wind in this area be able to reach the inner parts of the Bothnian in 6-10 days and nights. This is, however, seldom the case. Skipper Jon has himself only once as a young man been present on such a voyage, in spite of frequent tours during 20 years. It was then on board a larger craft on a similar voyage.
Then you may have to sleep on board for several nights to be able to exploit the favourable winds incessantly. The skipper does not remember exactly for how long this unique journey lasted. He guesses for a round eight days. At least up to the Bjurön junction. On the other hand, this journey was undertaken later during the summer, when more stable conditions usually prevail at sea.
By now he is, he says, particularly happy to get away from the city anyway. Rumours have been spread around of a severe plague coming from Norway. Such diseases are hard to escape inside a town. Sea winds are always salutary in comparison with the unhealthy and stale airs of land. It can be said that they blow away any disease. A fresh southerly or south-westerly is moreover a boon to any Bothnian passage, although less so for the southern waters of the Baltic.
The wind now intensifies with such strength as to make it necessary to turn rapidly sideways. Some of our passengers lose their foothold on the deck but regain it by running backwards. The ship slides into a small bay, protected from the northeast. The anchor is thrown into the water and the ship lies still in calm water. The island is Köpmanholm, the Island of Merchants. The bay is of a proper size for a couple of small ships. This is in fact the very bay where Norrland traders often used to rest or to sleep at night on their way to Stockholm. Hälsingar, sailors from the large province of Hälsingland, are known to put up here. Our party goes ashore from the towering stem. There is nothing to do except to relax.
In the evening several Finnish storbåtar, small coastal craft, arrive from the east with fresh news. They are loaded with wooden vessels and food. Many ships have foundered in the south-westerly gales of last week, the Finns excitedly tell the meeting group from our ship. They have been thrown towards the rocks of the Western Åland islands and in the Archipelago of the inner routes to Åbo town. According to a report the traffic bound for Visby has suffered heavily. The skipper can confirm this on the strength of recent rumours at the capital.
These Finns have a name of their own for this island. They call it Tampeleipe pois, which in their tongue means ”farewell to the bark bread”. Thus it is clear that they are looking toward their visit in Stockholm. Especially this goes for a young Finn, called Pekka. He is a namesake of brother Petrus of the party and they seem to be about the same age. Pekka was born in inland Finland. His only contact with boats before this journey were the log boats, or haapiot, made along the lakes, They are rather peculiar, he relates. They are of aspen tree trunks, which are heated and expanded. Using root fibres they are sewn together with the side planks. Our skuta crew thinks that this is an interesting way to make a boat, but still a primitive one.
The company now decides to stay until further notice. They have to wait for better winds, even if the contrary winds seem to be fairly weak now in the evening. During the night the skipper takes the small boat and walks with his pilot into the trojenborg, the stone maze on the island, each of them spitting over his left shoulder for good luck, without looking at his partner. They seem reassured when they return to the fire holding their rosaries tight. The Cistercian brother Olaus recites a few prayers at the cross of this haven and blesses the ship. He uses holy water from the Grey Friars of Kidaskär (Riddarholmen) kept in a glass capsule. Many vows are made in the darkness, to be fulfilled only if the remaining journey goes well.
In the early morning the wind turns steadily on toward the southeast. This is almost the best direction possible. It seems to stabilize there. The skipper gives the order to weigh anchor just after sunrise, the passengers still rubbing their weary eyes. The ship swiftly arrives at Rudma Revnäs. At this point the party can observe a train of small craft running out to due east, probably all bound for Finland. With the wind now straight abaft the ship runs into the Björkö sund straits, where the pilot is supposed to get off. Unfortunately the wind suddenly veers to the north once more.
Our pilot says that with a somewhat smaller ship and less cargo we could have followed the old fairway by way of the Väddögraven canal at Kistad and Älmstad. But at this level of water you can only haul smaller craft overland there. Skipper Jon appears doubtful anyway. He adds that there may even be too few people on board to row with this cargo all the way along the Häverleden strait inland. There are still contrary winds to be expected and they run all along the length of the waters. And out there the sea opens up towards Singa island while you are heading for Söderön. In this constantly turning weather you may have to row with your sails hoisted for a long stretch.
Moreover there are other decisions to make. For one thing, it may mean bad luck to resort to such extreme measures so early during the voyage. The very worst case would be to end up in that little hole of a town called Östhammar where Stockholmer merchants and sailors are not well seen. For another thing, beer may be more expensive than what is reasonable,
And if you cannot twist around to the strait of Medelör or Öregrund or the Kullboda bay inside Gräsö island you will stay where you are. It will mean that you will lose more time and taste for work before heading on to the portage Dragedet at Snäcksundet inside Kallerö ferry site. On a sailing ship this is really bad, since only winds from the southwest would be able to carry you out to Grepen bay, provided that they are not too strong.
Skipper Jon grunts and says that if you do not beware you might be blown straight over to Finland. It means arduously trying to avoid all the coasts and blind skerries on a route that you do not know. And no pilots would be available. This is, however, meant as a joke.
No one has ever heard of such a funny way of running a real sailing ship. Many Östhammar sailors are known to have started their northbound journeys at Kallerö, but no one else. Probably there will be some of them to meet at Torne. But the portage is used only for small boats or for the King's snäckor, or levy galleys. It is only possible for the latter to roll overland thanks to their numerous crews. But south western winds mean bad luck, anyway, the skipper concludes and crosses himself.
It is now finally decided by him that the ship will stop and the crew will rest. The wind is now steadily on the north and it will not be possible to return and get around the island of Björkö to the other side at the straits of Samnäs, waiting for the wind to turn. The young pilot moors the ship to the solid rock and leaves with the blessings of the company.
This is a critical moment indeed. Still they are in the very beginning of their long journey. No one feels that they should be unduly excited at their present apparent misfortunes. But it must not go on like that.
The crew accordingly casts anchor well inside the small bay on the outside of Björkö. The party now settles down on land to wait for a fair wind. A small log cabin stands on the shore. This is the sea inn. Inside a couple of Franciscan friars are seated, praying for a good run eastward. They are on their way to fishing in Åland and Tjockekarl (Kökar). They are expected to preach at Mörskär during High Summer. They want to cross the Sea of Åland with the first available craft. The weather now appears very unsteady. In the afternoon everybody is summoned on to the ship to be able to depart but the northerly winds prevail. It is only possible to disembark once more.
A night and another day of waiting is passed by our ship party, not too impatiently however, since the monks make pleasant and knowledgeable company. Many good fishing stories have been preserved for another generation at the fireplace of the inn. On the third day of the voyage an Ostrobothnian skuta passes against the wind. It is obviously going to try the Marsund fairway in Åland very close to the wind. Apparently it makes better headway at sea, where the wind seems to veer to the east. The skuta turns to the northeast, well within its regular run to Marsund.
Skipper Jon immediately decides to row our ship across the sound to the island of Arnholm (Arholma). The run northward is clearer on that side. All men on board! It suddenly starts to blow persistently from the southeast, the sail is hoisted, and the craft straightens out on the fairway for the Northern Arm (Norra Armen). The wind is well suited for a ship to follow the coastline northward. At this junction a stage vessel leaves to cross the sea eastward to Signilskär and Eckerö. Presumably it is in the service of the king or the bailiff of Åland, judging from the colours on her bow. There seem to be experienced people at her rudder.
Master Thomas is inquisitive about this alternative route by way of Marsund and asks the skipper. The skipper explains that you can certainly as well take that route to the inner Bothnian as the one that is followed now. The problem is to find pilots. This route is called Östvallen, the Eastern Wall or sida, coastline. As has been observed earlier it goes by way of Marsund and Åland, then to the fairways of Vacka-Finland. The skipper himself has visited an excellent haven there called Lökan. In this area there was a good market at that time on St. Bartholomew's Day.
The Östvallen route is seldom used by people on the eastern side, except perhaps when they are turning back home from the inner Bothnian. If you are sailing in our direction you must then cross the open sea without knowing your landfall at the western coast, that which is called Västvallen. Quite a number of Ostrobothnians use it, though, such as the one that left at Arnholm and that finally caught the carrying wind out at sea. On this side you seem to get some help northward by the currents.
The long and low-lying Björkö and Väddö lands are swiftly left to port. The wind now strengthens considerably and the skipper steers proudly into the Fogdö strait to the east to continue inside the chain of islands. The wind is somewhat weaker inside but it still runs the ship quite smoothly. A Singa farmer, hailing the ship, comes onboard to lead the further passage to the immediate north. His little skiff is made fast in the stern. The waters are dangerous, he says. Many shoals lie under water and they will need some pilotage up to the Grepen bay.
This run goes well up to the point where Grepen opens up in earnest. Here a violent northerly gust shakes up our ship badly, enveloping the company in running foam and spray. There is scarcely room for warping the craft into Långvik bay on the western Gräsö lands. But the turnover succeeds with some extra luck. The weather changes in a moment to a regular northerly gale. The Singa farmer joins the company in mooring the ship and preparing for a longer stay than expected. He is afraid of going back alone in this weather.
They will have to spend the night in the ship. But before that some work is to be done by the whole company. The skuta is capsized slightly with hawsers hung from the pines, pumped and bailed. At last it is caulked in a leaking seam. When back on the keel the ship is to be tightened furthermore with the contents in an old anthill. The anthill is carried down from the forest in a barrow to the small launch and strewn out under water along the waterline of the ship. The ship is slightly tilted to port. Part of the contents of the anthill is rapidly sucked into cracks in the planking above the waterline on the port side, where the leaks were found.
The night is cold and gusty. In the morning several Gräsö islanders come onboard to buy salt. Some axes and a little hemp are also exchanged for train oil, fresh sea-fowl and half a cask of Baltic herring. The train oil will be used for the ship's hull. At noon a bunch of ice-floes are sliding past the ship into the bay and slightly later the whole of Grepen appears quite white from the ice. This northerly gale has apparently brought together all the Bothnian ice inside the immense funnel of the bay. After the unusually long winter, there is still a lot of ice to gather.
But the ice appears to be fairly rotten, although it thunders ominously outside of the sheltered bay of Långviken. Soon the entire mass disappears rocking up and down violently on to the Sundbo lands in the southwest. The wind strengthens on anew. The dwarfed firs bend down before it. The sea breaks in sudden white cascades of foam around the point of Djursten. Lars, the Singa farmer, observes the changes all the time. He is gazing out over the sea to find out if any gale-driven skuta would be approaching. And there seems to be something out there!
Sure enough, in a few moments a small vessel rushes swiftly past the point into the roads of Långviken, followed by screaming sea-gulls. The crew members anchor in the bay and disembark, overdriven by fatigue. Their legs are trembling and they are drenched to the skin. But they are still hungry and restless. They change and hang up their soaked rags around the camp fire. Two of them bail their ship. The fire will soon be blazing under kettles of seal meat. Recently they have caught kutar, young seals.
These men come from Ostrobothnia, Österbotten, and from the big village of Mustsor. A due northerly wind has run them without rest across the sea for four days and nights, although at times weaker and superseded by south-westerly gusts. But they had seen the ice in front of them already before the Grepen bay. They had thought of finding a haven at the Sidlände flatlands in the west. The Ostrobothnians knew that this was a dangerous coast, much like their own. However, since the distance to the ice appeared to be about the same, they had tried to go on in the same direction as before. They drifted on, just watching out for upwater shoals and rocks, kallar. Soon the white mass had disappeared and they found themselves well inside Grepen.
The skipper of our ship tells them that several ships from the Lake Mälaren area inside Stockholm last spring had been met by the ice and the current out there. They had been obliged to run for their lives into the straits south of Kullbodan. The last part was difficult because then they had to go against the wind. But these people had certainly been out too early. You ought not, like some Finns and Bothnians, challenge any reasonable favours of the saints. At least you should not do it from the south and in this area. It is one thing to run before the prevailing wind, and quite another to run against it, exploiting the occasional contrary winds. And here the prevailing wind is always coming from the northeast.
In the evening a small ceremony is performed at the wooden picture of the Crucifixion at the harbour bay. A small candle from the Guild of the Holy Body is kindled with some difficulty. Our monks officiate. The skipper invokes his favourite saint of shipping, St. Clement. The merchant prefers St. Nicholas. And the sailors pray with closed eyes to St. Olav of Nidaros. It gets quiet, everybody sleeps, except the watch. Some people are close to the fire, which slowly dies down, when even the night watch falls asleep.
The easterners soon weigh anchor at sunrise with the Singa farmer onboard. His little skiff keeps bobbing up and down in their wake. Another two ships pass the bay going southward. The northern wind now blows quite fiercely. It is obvious that the voyage cannot be continued this day either.
Another group of rotten ice-floes pass by the entrance to the bay, blocking it up completely for a short time. Briefly, a hail-storm rages. The company of our ship huddles around several fires. They spend their time by playing backgammon. Some listen to the Gräsö islanders who stay on and tell ghost stories in the slowly fading light. Some are quite hair-raising and concern corpses which have landed on the other shore of the island in the autumn. Some of them have been buried recently. They did not look nice at all. Probably one had been already drowned a year ago.
Did the drowned man come from a Carelian ship? A Gräsö man believes that he has recognized the peculiar kind of fur coats that they used to wear. He has once sailed with a skuta managed by hälsingar to Torne and Karlö. At Karlö they had met Carelians in their long, narrow boats. One of the taciturn Torne farmers confirms this, but he cannot understand how a Carelian ship – nor for that matter a corpse – had been driven so far southward. It is, of course, not quite impossible that he had been frozen into the ice. That has happened before. But still! From Ule älv to Viggan! On the other hand he has never heard that the Carelians return back home by way of the coast. They have always been known to take the inland route along the eastern lakes and rivers. Only in the case of a very early winter with frozen inner courses could he imagine a Carelian sailing back this way.
The clouds begin to disperse during the night. Something is in the air. Skipper Jon feels next morning that the wind veers to the west. He rouses the company at an early hour. At noon the wind is more to the southern side of the windrose. After having conferred with his guild brother, the merchant, he decides to await events. The western sides of Gräsö and Viggan are dangerous after all. It is better to ride as long as possible up the coast on a constant wind. In the evening it is almost calm.
The following morning the wind is still very weak but it comes from due south. But the ground swell still come from the north. Some boats on their way through the strait apparently meet problems at the narrowest point where the winds are compressed. Thus it seems to be a suitable moment to leave Långviken. Everybody is summoned onboard and some of the Gräsö people assist in warping the ship towards the entrance. The islanders and their small boat is hoisted aboard and the wind fills the sail. It promises to be a sunny day. But its still misty. Only a slight swell encounters the hull out in Grepen. The Gräsö lands are followed to starboard. At about half of the observable land contour the islanders put their boat into the water and set up sail for the land.
The run is pursued in a somewhat more north-westerly direction. It is important to catch sight of the low Sidlände lands in the north-eastern corner of Huldanäs or Hållnäs. There are dangerous underwater rocks in these parts, but it is imperative first to see the land. The sun is coming through much more clearly now. Just after noon Röhäll, the red rock of the horn, is sighted. The skipper now heads on due north about one veckusjö to seaward (1 vika or vikusjö = c. 8,3 kms). If the wind now veers more to the southwest, he explains, he will try to get closer to the Gästrike and Hälsinge lands to port. He is still anxious not to blow all the way to Finland. The southerly wind keeps steady. He therefore decides to go on at sea. Now the western coasts are just a bluish notion at the port horizon.
The land visible to the south is the promontory of Gårdskär. It is as low as the Sidlände lands. It can be observed from the colour of the sea water that it is mixed with the brown spring flood of the immense Dalälven river. They are so far out at sea now that the moving sand banks outside of the estuary cannot trouble them. The point of Utvardnäs and the islands of Eska and Igga may now possibly be seen, although hazily. Inside these two islands the ancient sea route still runs. In the straits are found good havens. Some of them could be of some interest to sailors returning from the inner Bothnian. Otherwise they are mostly used by smaller boats and skiffs. If you are a pilgrim bound for Nidaros you take this route, preferably with a stage boat. The same goes for those who want to visit St. Stephen of Alir.
It can often be as arduous when rowing it as to make it a suitable counterpart to the land route, worthy of a conscientious pilgrim. On several islands and rocks along the channels stand big wooden crosses consecrated to these saints and to the Virgin.
A skuta from Torne bound for Saxland or Reval had better particularly to avoid the neighbourhood of Hambrungi or Hamrånge, remarks Master Thomas. Here the ships of the King may lie in wait. They may want to have a look at the cargo. And in some cases they may put somebody onboard to accompany the ship to Stockholm or suchlike. Nobody is formally allowed to go directly to a foreign harbour without paying his special tolag to the Castle of Stockholm.
”There are few people”, says Master Thomas, ”if I am not too mistaken, who follow these duties and restrictions all the time, if they can avoid them. Possibly the people of Lule and some others on the western side and the people of Mustsor on the eastern. But in their case it is perhaps only because of the bailiff who is stationed there. In spite of this northern skippers may choose the eastern route only to avoid control.
The others will, like hälsingar and ångermän, the people of Hälsingland and Ångermanland, think that it is too short and too expensive a trip to Stockholm. A longer journey pays off handsomely -and is at the same time more dangerous. 5t is is indeed far safer to exchange your goods with other products at the peasant markets of northern Uppland. Rather than to be fleeced at Stockholm, or to be searched on the journey back from abroad with jingling silver coins at your belt and a hard-ridden but necessary cargo.”
Clearly, many boats are not intended to sail long distances. Their boats are accordingly small and less suited for the great seas than those of the northerners,
Often foreign ships get through all the way to the inner Bothnian with the same goods that our ship presently carries. A larger craft looking rather like a small kogg is passed by our ship beyond a small promontory. This point is recognized by skipper Jon as Gasholmar or Gåsholmarna. Possibly it could also be Kungsön or Kusön with one of the best protected havens along this land.
The skuta lies low in the water and is apparently heavily loaded, if not leaking from the recent gales. One of the disadvantages of cogs (koggar), states the skipper, is their tendency to spring a leak in the flush-laid bottom, where the corners are weak. But still you get almost five times as much cargo into such a hull as in a normal Nordic ship of the same length. But here the planks are safely clinkered upon each other in the old and time-honoured way. And pump and bail you will have to, anyway!
It is now evening and the weather has turned calm. The wind suddenly swells in the square sail of the ship. Skipper Jon intends to go as far northward as possible, at least to the southern point of the island of Helgön. Now the wind veers and starts to blow in earnest from the north. It comes in short, but violent gusts. The skipper then turns the rudder to port and steers straight into the land. A possible night harbour could be the strait inside Kungsön island or the haven of Västerhamn at Kungsö kalv, depending on what you can reach first.
The low land ahead in the southwest seems to be Kungsön. Brother Benedictus knows his way. He has preached here in Korshamn, the Harbour of the Cross. The skuta now glides to leeward behind a wooden point. This must be Österhamnen, the Eastern Haven, Master Thomas comments. On the other side is Västerhamnen. At the farthest end of the small bay lie four fishing boats hauled up on the beach and a fire is burning. The men around are fishermen from the Granö islands in the parish of St. Stephen of Skog. They are drying their nets and seem to be very friendly. A welcoming exchange follows, of recently caught sik, lavaret, and some Baltic herring. The food is being smoked handsomely for a shared evening meal.
In an increasing wind the youngsters of all the vessels make company for a late visit at Västerhamnen, where the fishermen have observed several craft entering the haven. The forest terrain is rough and walking is difficult among all the boulders. One of these ships is probably a garpaskepp, a German Hansa vessel, according to the men of Skog. Sure enough, in the basin lies a rather big craft with a castle both fore and aft.
But no sailors have disembarked and no one seems to pay attention onboard. However, a person with an iron helmet is clearly seen silhouetted against the evening skies in the west. He is standing on the castle aft. The other ship is anchored out at the promontory and is also dark and quiet. The Skog people considers this to be a Gotlander, possibly a German one as well. It may well be that these ships travel in company. There is indeed something awesome about these dark ship contours without people. A little disappointed the company returns to the thickly grown and swampy spruce forest and to the inviting fires on the other side of the island.
In the early morning the ship's company weigh anchor and works with poles and oars to get away from the harbour. It is time to continue. The signs are good. The southerly wind blows moderately once more. Skipper Jon wants to find an exit to seaward, since according to the fishermen and to brother Benedictus there are several dangerous shoals to leeward. The exit goes well and soon the ship turns at sail beyond the point and heads towards Helgö island.
The contour of its forested lands is looming vaguely at the horizon. The real name of this dark and important sea mark must never be mentioned at sea, but everybody knows it. The sailors cross themselves incessantly during the passage. They invoke the Holy Virgin. Mary´s storehouse, the Hälsinge sea, is being passed. On the northern side stands a big wooden cross, well known to most people on board.
The crews of the German, the garpaskepp, will now do well to avoid Söderhamn, the southern harbour, of this province. There are several swift ships of the king in the neighbourhood. The snäckor, the levy ships, of Alir are now prepared to go to Stockholm with their duties and taxes and possibly they will continue to the east. In this place you can also find a market, but only during High Summer, at Olsmäss, the Mass of St. Olav, 29th of July.
Lots of people are out fishing in the skerries over here. Even the priests of Norrala are at sea with their nets. They greet the Stockholmers at a distance. But this is no time, really, for talk. It would have been preferable to meet the fishermen at the Svartasund strait, inside the point of Skatön. Or perhaps at St. Olofsvik (Olsvik) outside of Norralir (Norrala). But if you just want to exchange salt with some small items it is clearly better to do so during the return voyage if there is anything left. Besides the crown ships will have left this coast at that time.
The northern entrance to Alir is blocked in case of war. A log chain is usually also put out at the narrowest part of the strait leading to the market site in southern Alir, Söderala. Is there a war on? No one knows for sure, but the King of Sweden is supposed to be in the east.
Presently the harbours of St. Olav and St. Clement lie due north. They are all found in the long island chain extending far out to the east. The most important haven is called Modermagen, Mother's Womb. At this junction you can sometimes get ledsagare or guides to pilot you to the south. It is the same at outer Arnön and Bergön in the north. The best preaching harbours are, however, the two small fishing camps called Gudshamn, God's Harbour, situated inside the islands. Brother Benedictus has been there for two occasions during the preceding early summers. At these sites the nets and other equipment are blessed before the rush to the skerries. In these waters you always use to meet sailors and fishermen from all directions, from inland, from the south and sometimes even from the east. Skipper Jon steers on towards the great chain of islands. The wind from the stern is steady but not very strong.
The inner sailing route runs closer to the mainland. It is mostly used by small craft, and particularly by oarships. This includes the snäckor of the King. There is also found the station of the largest royal ship in Bothnia. This is the common snäcka of Sunded. Its main basis is the men of the Enanger and Njutanger parishes. At times it is used as the leading vessel for the whole Bothnian fleet on its way eastward. Now it is probably idle, although its crew has put terror several times into the hearts of Russians and Carelians. Once the pride of its land it is now considered to be old, decrepit and leaky.
Straight north is presently the powerful, high and woody land of Arnön island. This is one of the best landfalls of the Bothnian Sea. On its southern side there are several good harbours. Hölvik (Hölick) is the foremost of them. On the inside there is another haven, Arnösund, which was once a strait. Nowadays you can only haul overland, and only small boats. It is much easier to reach from the north, however. Our skipper does not like harbours with entrances facing the northeast. They are awfully hard to get out of, without warping. Northeast is definitely the prevailing wind direction here. It is still possible to sail directly by way of the inner waters into the rich parish of Rogstad, where the tax is collected for the crown. The yeomen farmers of Rogstad dress like knights. And they furnish a proud ship for the King as well.
Maybe it will now be possible to anchor in the Koggsundet straits. This is the passage between Arnön and the low island called Bålsön. But according to old belief staying at night close to Bålsön means real bad luck. This site is anyway not safe if it starts to blow up in the early morning. However, close to the small islet of Koggören at outer Arnön is found a good site. The crew lowers the square sail and moors our ship to a pine tree on the rock. A few fishermen from Rogsta hail the company. The most prominent person seems to be a tall fisherman and farmer who has recently returned from a pilotage run down to Alir and Hambrungi. They offer butter and fish to the monks, who eagerly bless them.
The same favourable wind prevails in the morning. The voyage starts anew and in a very short time the fishing harbour of Bergön is being passed. Here some ships of the King still collect the taxes of inner Bothnia, mostly in kind but also in coins. From here you can go straight inside the heart of the parish. The guarded stone towers of Rogstad are the first store houses. The tax collection is usually brought from here to Hambrungi or directly to the Castle of Stockholm, Tre Kronor.
The King's men from Rogstad and Mustsor on the opposite side watch over all trade in the immense inner area of the Bothnian. In recent times they have got some good support from the bailiff of Angermannaland in the north. It has been reported that bad coins have come in by way of Carelians and Russians in Torne and even found their way into the tax collections. This led at once to a total prohibition against the Carelians at any market site of the inner Bothnian. Nowadays the King's men sometimes lie in wait in the skerries. Particularly they guard the route at Karlö (Hailuoto) at the eastern side or in Angermannaland, inside Hemsön island or at the strait of Härnösund.
Before noon our ship runs into the strait between the outer islands of Jättundal to repair the pump. A new alder pipe has to be finished before proceeding. There is a good haven on the southern side. It is situated on the outer route, where fishermen often exchange goods with cargo ships. Some of the fishermen, however, are themselves merchant burghers from the towns of Mälaren. They all use fairly large vessels and possess salt of their own. Anyway, the hälsinge farmers also deal in some trade in the south and in the east, and many have ships. So the interesting goods are not the same everywhere.
At Jättundals holmar the company get their first greetings from the far north. Two quite small but swift skutor from Kalis arrive in the straits and sail like neighbours alongside our ship. They are loaded with tar, glue and reindeer hides. The people on board know that no Carelians have arrived as yet at Torne. But several Northmen are already at the spot staying with their birkarla colleagues. They have gone down on the last snow, bringing loads of dried berenfisk, dried cod and small ware, maybe also some Flemish cloth. Master Thomas swears quietly. He has got a lot of cloth this time. But he can rest assured. There are many different colours and he has plenty of good quality stuff. Skipper Jon reminds him that beer and wine are highly persuasive if there would be too slight a natural demand.
The people of Kalis have also heard rumours of a plague in Norway. Evidently it is serious, since neither visitors from Björgvin (Bergen) as yet have arrived in northern Norway, nor on this side. After having received the blessings of the monks the party of northerners leave the straits. The monks have told them of the power of miracles and about the holy woman Birgitta, in particular noting her connections to the great men of this world.
Our new pump pipe is now installed. The voyage continues much as before. The wind is steady but the sky is darkening. The coast here goes straight north and there are almost no dangerous shoals out at sea. Inside the strait of Jättundals holmar there is another good harbour of the mainland, called Jättundals hamn, which commonly is visited on the return voyage from the inner Bothnian, if you need a night haven right here. Skipper Jon was there when the archbishop, His Grace Hemming of Uppsala himself went by. It happened just four years ago. He had the King's helmsman, styroman, Master Jon Langer of Norrala, at the rudder. Many fishermen from southern places, not the least from the coast and the towns of Lake Mälaren use to go there, before they spread out along the coast in the north.
Just when our ship is passing Haddhamn, another fishing and stage harbour on the mainland, the wind gets unstable and veers to the southwest. It is soon rising fiercely and a cold and heavy rain whips the faces of the ship's crew who stays on deck. Visibility gets poor. The skipper now tries to find shelter on the mainland. The island of Brämön is still visible. There is a storm haven here, called Jungfruhamn, the Harbour of the Holy Virgin. Mary is supposed to watch here over pious sailors and fishermen. But the entrance is narrow and hard to find. It may also be hard to get out of if the wind veers more to the southeast.
It is marked by two great wooden crosses. Inside is also an alms box on a pine tree. It is supposed to contain contributions from grateful seafaring people happily escaping the fury of the wind. There they can see the first cross!
Some distance before entering our company observes two boats, presumably stage boats, disappearing behind a wooded point. Inside the harbour of the Virgin there runs an inner route. It is possible for small boats to go to Njurund and the Harbour of St. Olav at Selanger by way of this route which follows the strait inside Björkön but it is exceedingly narrow and must be rowed along in all possible winds. Moreover it turns squarely at one place. Brother Benedictus says he made it once.
If you really could go north from here it would be much better to anchor at Brämön or the Kalvsundet strait in the south. But now our ship is already inside the entrance and the ship is pushed with stakes and oars along the bank of the channel into the Harbour of the Virgin. The company remains here during a freezing cold and windy night. A watch is kept at the camp fire on land all the time, while clothes and sails are being dried. The dark forest all around appears eerie and threatening.
Despite some misgivings they can safely proceed one hour before noon the following day. The south wind is strong and steady. The journey goes by way of the strait of Brämön, past the wide expanse of the Alnö fairway to the long promontory of Åstön island and the well-known Skarpudden point. Inside of this point a fishing market is sometimes held at St. Bartholomew's Day. This is an excellent storm haven. The high lands on port means that we are entering Angermannaland. Our ship rapidly enters the straits of Härnösund, where the Cross Market, Korsmässan, harbour is found. But we pass it and soon we are continuing inside the great islands at the entrances of the Angermanna river fiord.
Here the lands are high and the fairways are clean, deep and well protected. A magnificent landscape is spread out before their eyes in the evening sun. It is easy to take one's bearings in spite of the fact that the contours of the wooded coast run into each other. The voyage proceeds in an even southerly breeze to the barren point of Rotsidan and the huge promontory lands of Nordungarad, with its steep and rocky islets. The aim of Skipper Jon is now to reach the excellent haven of Ulvösund strait. Here you can enter in several places owing to the direction of the wind.
Using a smaller boat you could even extend the inner route by hauling your boat at a portage, draged, at Skede inside the promontory of Skag. This is where the present stage route used to go. The usual harbour at this junction is, however, Svartsundet strait at Skag, where you can also get a ledsagare or guide for the dangerous passages of the inner Bothnian. For the following coast is quite different, shallow and only gently sloping, full of sand banks and boulders.
Skipper Jon also knows that ledsagare have also been found formerly at another stage site inside Skag. This site has got a small chapel and is still inhabited all year. But the people who live there now go to Skag for their tasks in pilotage.
At the inner entrance to Ulvösund he decides, although it is now almost midnight, to go on to Skag.
Here are good fishing waters, enough to sustain quite a number of foreigners. The new land running northward from Skag has, according to tradition, not been cultivated before the last two hundred years or so. However, there are a number of farms claiming unbroken links to pagan times. People are independent and stubborn in their ways and beliefs. Once only Lapps and sorcerers had settled this land, even on the seaboard. Sailing people had to cross themselves intermittently while passing by. Even at sea Lapps and Finns are hard to manage. To disembark here would be most unwise.
Svartsundet is soon reached, about time for a late and tiring supper. An Ostrobothnian skuta lies a little further out at Haraskär. Otherwise the basin is empty. No pilots are to be found at the fishing booths. They appear all to have got piloting tasks along the inner Bothnian Sea. Now the skipper will have great need of brother Benedictus of Uppsala who has himself written down parts of this route to the north, with harbours, some distances and landfalls continuing all the way to the estuary of Uleälven river and Karlö island. During the night the company sleeps onboard the ship. In the morning, however, a local farmer gets onboard to ask for a favour. He wants to send a notched billet to a well-known merchant in Torne, recording transactions of train oil in the area. It is accepted by Master Thomas who knows this merchant personally.
Our night stay is enlivened by a good story told by brother Petrus. The King once had one of his new ships built inside this chain of islands. It is not far away from our present haven. Petrus does not know which king. It is not uncommon anyway these days that the King and his men build ships for their fleets made of good Bothnian pine. Besides the best ship tar is made from these pines. German tar is too weak for these big slow-growing trees.
There was a poor old women living alone in a simple cottage close to the slipway when the ship was built. For the sake of the mercy of God she got permission to take her firebrands from the waste of the yard. It was much easier for her to take it from there than to go out into the forest with an axe herself. She was old and very tired, and thankful for this small privilege, which did not disturb their work in any way. However, it meant a lot to her. She greeted the carpenters every morning and every night with a pride and a forbearance that made them all admire her despite of her simple rags and her broken back.
When the old shipwright suddenly died, however, the King called in a new and fairly young master, who arrived from Stockholm. The King wanted a shipwright who was more skilled in the urban arts and he added castles at both ends of the ship. He made the ship grow on the slipway. It was now by far the largest of any ship yet built for the King up north. This young man was impetuous and sure of himself. When he heard about the arrangement with the old woman he forbade her to take the waste wood that she had been promised. Faced with this unnecessary greediness she just left the place, only muttering something. The old hands felt sorry for her. They went out to her cottage in secrecy to give her some extra firewood. But no one was there. She had simply disappeared.
Now the ship was ready to be put into the water. But she couldn't be moved. Despite the use of intricate systems of blocks and tackle she could not be hauled even an inch down the slipway. The shipwright was angry. He called in assistance from all the villages and hamlets around and tried forcibly to push her forward. At least a week was spent in futile efforts. The villagers went home. Then one of the old hands went to the shipwright and told him that he thought that this old woman had put a curse on the ship. Given the Grace of God they might find her and bring her to the yard to help them. But then the master must give her back what she had been promised. The old man told the master that the woman had disappeared. So they would have to find her first. The dejected master complied. Two carpenters were selected to bring this news to her.
The King was now wondering what was happening up north. He was anxious to have his new ship brought to Stockholm. A small sailing vessel was sent up the check the progress on the ship. Its crew had to return after a new futile effort to haul her into the water. Having heard these sad news, the King went to the Great Church of Stockholm. He kneeled there before a picture of St.Thomas of Canterbury. He promised that if they got his new ship into the water he would give St. Thomas a large contingent of wax candles for every journey that they sailed her.
Up north at the ship yard the master collected together the carpenters and told them to go home. There was no use waiting for a miracle. In the summer they would probably have to scrap the ship on its own slipway. But he had to wait for direct orders from the King.
All the people hade now left the place. The only people left behind were cleaning up the nearby woods to collect what was still there of iron and tar barrels and the like. Suddenly one of the last carpenters on their way in his boat was hailed from the shore by a breathless boy. He cried and had some difficulties in finding his words. The old woman has come back, he said. The carpenter yells to his brethren in the other boats to return to the slipway.
It was true. At the slipway were standing the old woman and the two carpenters who had been sent to fetch her. With natural grace she had accepted the apology from the young shipwright . She was standing quite still for a long time. The carpenters flocked around her and welcomed her back. But she did not say much. Maybe she smiled a little.
Villagers from the neighbourhood were still streaming in when she suddenly went to the stern of the ship. There she finally raised her arms and a tremendous stir went through the whole group of people. The ship moved instantly downward the slipway. In fact, she moved without anyone touching it or doing anything with the discarded tackle around her. Some of them who were standing at the stem claimed to have seen two big men on each side suddenly appearing before the ship holding her back with their bare hands. Now they let her go, turned their back to the ship and walked towards the end of the slipway. She just followed them. And at last both men disappeared with their heads in the water.
So, at last the ship was christened St. Thomas. She was rigged and sailed to Stockholm. There she was a lucky ship for a long time, concludes brother Petrus. ”There is a lot to be said about this ship as the Tower of Babel and of sorcerers living in the forest,” says the skipper. But Petrus denies that this woman was Finnish or Lappish. She was an ordinary woman, she was just one of these God's poor creatures. The real assistance must have come from St. Thomas, by the Grace of God. It was good that a King had to humble himself once more before him. As to the master shipwright, he was cured from his greediness.
In a split second our crew hoist the sail and get out in a brisk south-western wind. The weather is clear. Good visibility is a great boon if you do not want to follow the coast inside the low and extremely dangerous islands. That inner route leads to the parish of Grundasund (Grundsunda) and to its two good havens beside each other, Byviken and Själnösund. The latter is more of a fishing camp, even for some easterners who regularly come here. Boats are visible far out at the point of Järnäs. The number of sighted boats seem to increase further north.
This excellent wind runs the ship swiftly and smoothly past other fishing sites, such as Snödan (Snöan) island and the evil shoals closer to the mainland. The landmark rock of Bonden can soon be seen to starboard with its cloud of sea-fowl. The air is now crystal-clear. Our ship rapidly approaches the mouth of the Umeälven river and the water turns brownish. It is necessary to keep out from the inner route, mainly used for stage transport and fishing purposes with smaller vessels. Those who manage this route are mainly the farmers of the great parish of Uma, thus rowing the King's men or those of the church.
The largest island in the group ahead is called Holm. The fairway is supposed to be in the middle of the channel between it and the mainland. At Holm some fishermen and seal hunters have now settled for good with their cattle. According to tradition the first were in fact Lapps. They are now pilots and rowers for the crown as well, and look for jetsam and wreckage. It is said that the bailiff of Mustsor has helped these men, and they row his people at times. This is the shortest way between Ostrobothnia and Västra Botten, and it is called Norra Kvarken. The only other route for couriers is by way of Åland, Södra Kvarken. But there are even more dangerous shoals and rocks on the eastern side than on this, western, side. A far safer crossing is in fact made on the ice in winter.
After having passed Holm the coast appears very similar to that of the northern hälsings. On the other hand the lands behind are not so high, and it is more difficult to make out the contours. But it is straight and and without any islands, except a few, which appear to blend in with it. The direction is, however, more to the east than is the case of Hälsingland. Skipper Jon does not mind very much.
This makes little difference since no one in the North Baltic sails using a compass. They may have heard about in the southern Baltic, but here only the the position of the sun and the stars at night are significant to a navigator. In other situations of choice completely natural phenomena are used. And they work!
The ship sails past Ratan, a small harbour strait of Bygda parish. This parish takes a special pride in having been Christians for three hundred years. At that time they were the northernmost settlers of all in Stor-Hälsingland, Great Hälsingland. There are a couple of other good havens along this coast, but the best in the north in the parish of Levanger (Lövånger). Skipper Jon now takes the opportunity to reach it. Just before midnight we clearly see the white crosses at the entrance of Avan bay. It is still day-light. Our crew does not dare to enter this narrow passage without some help from land. For this reason they wait outside until the early morning.
A fisherman comes in his boat, has a look at the waterline of the ship and gives some advice. The channel is shallow but not impossible. The skipper is a pious man. He thinks that he has missed too many Masses lately. He sincerely believes that this has been the reason for the former contrary winds lately. But it is no ill-will. This is Sunday, the third after Trinity Day. People are arriving on the bay in their boats from several directions. Strong men help in warping the ship. At the church several small ships, belonging to Levanger peasants, have been hauled up on the beach or lie at anchor. Some of the owners apparently plan to go to Torne as well as our company. High Mass is now attended to by our company, most of them standing outside the little church. The church is full and there is no room for them.
This is the first time that some of the newcomers on board have met Lapps and the scarlet birkarla merchants. The Lapps are evidently here also to sell their reindeer horn handicraft. The Levanger farmers use to bring these products to Stockholm. Some Ulfsby people, left behind by their brethren, make interesting acquaintance. They usually sail to Reval or Rävle in Virland (Estonia), partly because they will find people there speaking or at least understanding Finnish. But they speak dansk tunga, the Danish tongue -in this case meaning Swedish-, fluently. It is about the same to them in Stockholm or in the inner Bothnian.
It is fascinating to listen to them tell the story of the ghastly rebellion of the half-pagan Estonians. It was put down just three years ago. They hade been suppressed and humiliated in a most un-Christian way by their German and Danish masters. One day they got together at a pre-planned signal. During the night of St. George they murdered every German within sight, even clerics. At the same time they sent emissaries for help to free peoples like the Finns and the Swedes. Even the Ulfsby farmers got wind of this at an early date, by way of the bishops' men in Åbo.
The Gotlanders actually had sent some old weapons beforehand. But the King and the bailiffs of Sweden, not to speak of the clergy, hesitated too long. Even if they may have nourished sympathy for the poor Estonians rebellion was too serious a matter to support openly. Besides there were diplomatic reasons for great caution. However, the Finns knew most of this. The Estonians were now not in a better state than simple thralls or slaves. And slavery was once and for all abolished in the Swedish lands. But the Estonians had once -as a free people- even been up here, at Levanger, and even perhaps further north, too. The experiences of their piracy had not been very positive.
The Trälhavet or Estonian Sea close to Stockholm was a testimony to their raids in the south. They used to raid the farms and to enslave young women down there and to sell them as slaves in Estonia at that time. Nevertheless, their fate was a warning to other peoples. It had certainly not been an act of mercy to leave them unaided. The revenge of the iron-clad Knights of the Teutonic Order had been terrible. The open plain area around Reval and on the island of Ösel was still, after three years, no better than a wasteland or a desert. Beneath the walls of Reval more than ten thousand people had been buried or burnt. The townspeople of Reval had used to spit on the corpses while they were still on the ground.
A small Swedish expedition to Reval from Viborg in two large cogs was too late. They had to skulk away with their tails between their legs. The wild Russians who hade been called in at last by the Estonian tribes of the east, had been beaten back, in southern Virland. The even wilder Lithuanians, who still were pagans, had plundered the Order lands right up to the walls of Riga in the absence of the Master, but to no avail.
The Franciscans held divergent views in this matter, brother Petrus comments. On the one hand, the Estonians had killed many monks and nuns. They must therefore be punished. But this revenge was indeed un-Christian and must be condemned. Some Levanger people outsider their church remark that the Swedes and the Finns had better keep a watch on their masters as well. The same thing may happen here as in Denmark, and even worse, as in the case of the Estonians. Now Estonia has been sold by the Danish King to the Master of the Order. Rumours have been heard that the Danish King Valdemar may want to punish the Gotlanders and the Finns for their aid to his subjects, the resistance of these subjects being the reason for his sell-out. Besides he envies the Gotlandic farmers their riches and their independence. It appears that Sweden's King Magnus is stronger at the moment. But who knows the vicissitudes of fate?
Master Torfast adds that the King is by now in Estonia and in south Finland. A number of hälsingar are members of his retinue. They hope to get a plot of land on the Estonian shores. In return they are supposed to guard shipping. Trade has suffered severely from the plunder of shipwrecks. But they have to keep their rights as hälsingar. If any trouble continues they can always take their boats back home.
A whole group of people listen to this discussion with great interest. Many take part by posing questions and make short comments. It is clear that they are eager for any kind of news. There may be other dangers of more current interest. Levanger men who have been to Stockholm retell the rumours of the great plague which has started in Norway. Everybody cross themselves. Master Thomas confirms that they have heard of this, too, but so far nothing has happened to make this pest worse than all others. It might not be more dangerous than deaths and famines in general. May God protect his people! With fish from the inner Bothnian you can stay healthy, if only you get the vital salt. The Levanger people have already got enough for this year. And the north-eastern winds will surely blow away the evil south-western winds. If ever they enter the Bothnian that is.
The crew of the ship now makes haste to get out of the Avan bay. They warp the ship with the help of the small boats. In the narrow passages stakes are used from both sides of the ship. All signs appear favourable for reunion and for trade at Torne. All three ships leave together from the entrance but they soon spread out far from each other. There is a good wind from the south.
Out here a lot of fishing takes place. But most of the boat crews are now inland to empty their nets. At the mighty rock of Bjuröklubb the beach is quite black from boats and from people moving around. Fish are hanging on drying stands and are spread out on the rock to dry. Smoke is curling up from many small smoking cots. Master Thomas relates some stories on this much-feared rock at the edge of the sea, where many ships have foundered.
Before the outer route became the only one some people used the old inner route. It ran along a chain of lakes inside Levanger parish. The first route started just beyond the church where the company has been today. Master Thomas has anyway not heard of anybody from the outside having used this route. But it is still possible for small boats, allowing for some short portages inland. Even the other existing routes are suitable only for small boats, with or without portages. The fairways are very narrow and also shallow. But they are mainly used for the swidden cultivation of the forest lands and for hunting. New lands are being put into use by some tenants of the Franciscan friary of Söderköping. The lay brother and novice Petrus is being left here to supervise and to give advice.
North of Bjuröklubb a large archipelago is dispersed. Knowledgeable men can sail inside the skerries. Skipper Jon himself prefers to pass the coast at a cautious distance of about one vikusjö (appx. 8, 3 kms). Some fishing is obviously afoot here, too, continuing to the outskirts of the mouths of Bure and Skellefta rivers.
Inland is the great parish of Skellefta. You can sail upriver to the church, like at Uma. On the Kåge promontory north of Skellefta guard has been kept lately against the Russians. Not very long ago the Novgorodians still had armed people up here, although these lands were settled all the way by Swedes and Finns. The Novgorodians were few, and they got little support from the east, however. Still farther north is a mixture of Swedes and Finnish-speaking people. There are also some Carelian setters but their allegiance is Swedish. It is said that they keep very much to old ways.
A good wind is blowing. The journey of this day ends up at Romelsö, an island seemingly empty of people. On the southern side Finnish fishermen are supposed to camp during the summer. The crew casts anchor in a protected strait inside the island. Almost immediately three people row out to them in a boat from the mainland. They want to buy salt. Two of them are Lapps.
It is evident that spring has not advanced as far as in the south. The birches have burst into leaf, but it is not yet the time of the great spring floods of the rivers. As has been already said, fishing is excellent here: Baltic herring, sik (lavaret), and now the salmon ascend upriver. At midsummer almost all sea fisheries are suspended in favour of the rivers and their mouths. The market of Torne feeds mainly on fresh salmon.
Just after noon the following day the company meets a powerful contrary wind and has to get into a wide but sheltered strait at Buskö island. This land is north of the parish called Byske or Bredo-Byske. The water inside the sound is quite calm in spite of the storm rising at sea. Occasional gusts are felt but nothing that really bothers. This northerly storm does not last long. It has been spent entirely the next morning. The wind now veers to the west. How immensely suitable!
The ship is being rowed to the outer part of the basin, called Grubban, the Pot, to wait for the proper wind. Here it leaves the coast and the estuary area of the Pita river, the first of the big rivers of the innermost part of Bothnia. Upriver is both a chapel, a church and a market site. They are used by settlers as well as by Lapps from the vast interior. Many new settlers arrive these years and assisted by the retainers of Sir Nils, Councillor of the Realm. All the skippers of the Bothnian have been part of this process.
Skipper Jon now wants to reach Torne as soon as possible. He steers straight ahead into the inner Archipelago of the coast. Here the main route runs between the mainland and some large, wooded, islands. The first is Trundön, then comes Alnäset, with its well sheltered haven, Alhamn. The ship sails past the mouth of Lule älv river, where the water is all-ready strongly coloured grayish brown near the beaches. Fishermen are out in small groups almost everywhere offering salmon to sailors. The lands inside are much like a huge archipelago with a lot of boats making communication possible. On some of these inner islands can be observed quite extensive fields and clearings. Smoke is rising from recently built cabins and pirtit. The Finnish word is pronounced pörten in dansk tunga, Swedish. The company is told from the boats that almost all sailing people already have been in Stockholm. There is not much business to be made, no immediate needs to fill.
North of the Lule lands the coast turns almost straight east-west. The right sailing route runs still runs between big islands, but it is well marked. At first Björkön is passed, then the Siksundet strait, with the island of Bergön and finally the narrow straits of Kompana sund, with Storön. All these straits form good harbours, but havens are anyway plentiful up here. The junctions are marked with crosses. And the birkarla companies have dug at the channel at Kompana sund to make it somewhat broader. One meeting boat is managed by a red-clad figure, presumably a birkarl, like those whom the people of the skuta met at Levanger church. Our ship is soon escorted by another skuta from Lule. It is very late and our weary crew is allowed take a short rest at a warping site, Hamnen under Korset, the Harbour beneath the Cross, at Sjuskäret, in Finnish Seitsenkari. Most people here talk Finnish.
A little before midnight they arrive finally at Torne. The skies are still quite bright. Even at this late hour the market site is bustling with people. It is situated on Björkön, an island of medium size outside of the river mouth proper. Still, there is a mighty current and the crew has to make fast the the vessel not only with an anchor but also with strong land-ropes. Tents are put up under the homespun reserve sail on the beach. No unloading is yet made. But soon two candles are burning for the company in the small wooden chapel to the Honour of St. John the Baptist. Keeping guards all night onboard the ship, the company falls into a well-deserved sleep. But is is short and fitful.
Commerce begins at an early hour. There seems to be other people from Stockholm and from Uppsala, as well as Russians, Carelians, and Finns from the south, together with Ålanders, Gotlanders, Norwegians and burghers from Åbo, Ulfsby, Raumo, Visby, Östhammar and even a small crew from Västra Aros, Västerås, inside Mälaren. This is indeed an exciting occasion. Bouts of social life, attendance at baptism for pagan Lapps and at regular church services and free preaching by brother Benedictus and his other brethren will succeed each other. The bailiff of Mustsor remains all the time at the market site with his people and keeps some semblance of order. The merchants have paid him for that. But he is also active in tax-collecting and commerce for the crown and as well for his own profit. Five people leave the company for their homes, after a few days at the market. The excellent weather continues for the whole duration of their stay. The first mosquitoes of the year invade the tents. Later, they become as big as horses, Master Thomas complains. On the other hand, when they become less irritant in late summer they are replaced by the smallest variety which is far worse, mäkäräiset or knott.
After spending two weeks at the market site, the cargo has almost completely been exchanged with another, although not so heavy. But it takes a lot of space in the hold, and the upper planking of the ship seems to be bulging. It is time to leave. This time the wind is from the northeast and much stronger and warmer than before.
Progress is brisk, it seems, and the archipelago is now passed on the outside, but the islands are kept well in sight. But since they are fairly low landmarks beyond them are used. The dangerous sand banks at sea are well known by a Torne merchant farmer who accompanies the ship to Stockholm. Skipper Jon therefore steers a course inside them. The Lula and Pita archipelagos are rapidly passed. The company can already see a coast empty of islands. There are only low peninsulas and points. The sea is discoloured by river water far out at sea, particularly at Pita and outside Skellefta. After one of the longest passages during one day that the skipper has witnessed it is possible at midnight to anchor in the shelter of the rock of Bjuröklubb.
Early next morning they warp around the rock and go straight for the southwest.
The wind has slackened a little but it is quite steady. The next night the company finds their night haven as far away as the point of Järnäs. This is north of the Maling forest lands, the great barrier to the north. Before, the coast here was much feared for its sorcery as we mentioned. Skipper Jon is confident but he still wants to be cautious about the prospects for wind directions. We continue the voyage in the morning, somewhat later than usual. Everybody is tired and wants to get home. The wind remains steady and the weather is excellent, bright and sunny. The Torne merchant recommends the Härnösund strait for the next stop. It is, however, still sunset then. So the skipper goes inside the point of Skarpudden in Hägdanger parish. He knows the fine harbour bay of Balkvik. This is, as has been remarked, also a market site at Barsmäss, the Mass of St. Bartholomew. They do not enter the bay proper but stay at anchor just inside the entrance. Even here the water is very calm.
It is raining hard the following morning. The ship sails on, but the sails get heavy and hard to handle. However, the weather rapidly clears up and the sails and the clothes of the crew on deck dry up. The wind veers somewhat to the east. Sailing is soon routine and the sailors relax lazily on deck in the sun. At noon is is stifling hot, and in the evening the first thunder rolls from inland. Having passed Arnön far out the skipper sets his course for the point of Agön and glides elegantly round the horn of the island to follow its southern coastline for a short while towards Modermagen or Storhamn, Great Harbour. Here the sail-yard is furled down and the ship is rowed inside. At the bottom of the bay beneath the cross and the alms-box lies a small Gotlandic ship. Its sailors are all merchants, whom the company has met in Torne. They are friendly and talkative. The Gotlanders have a lot to tell about Russia, where they have often been in earlier days. The night is spent with pleasant talk at a jug of wine, which- miraculously enough- was left over from Torne.
Skipper Jon later states that he is very surprised when the sailing weather still is so favourable on the next day. It should have lasted, at most, for four days and this. Now this is the fifth. It is extraordinary, indeed. This must mean good luck
And exceedingly benevolent saints!
In spite of not leaving the haven very early the two craft are already past the southern harbour of the hälsings at noon and sight the ominous shape of Helgön island. Here the gutar, Gotlanders, part company. It is evident that they have got a much swifter vessel. The wind is now a weak north-easterly, but it unceasingly drives the ship onward. Outside of Helgö we touch an unknown shoal without springing a leak, however. Brother Benedictus hurries to note this new danger in the old sailing route journal. Or was is perhaps a whale? The company drops some offerings in the sea to the Virgin of the Isle. When they do so they are well past the southern tip. But the wind holds on and the company takes a brief nap on deck.
It is soon to be decided whether our crew will dare to take the long leg straight for Grepen bay. Skipper Jon boldly takes the chance, and lo and behold!- at sunset we are safely inside the outer part of Örskäret and with the Gräsö lands to port. This successful day and night is concluded with a happy reunion at Långvik. Some of the old islanders are back to the bay. There is even some business to enact. Two other ship crews lie in the bay. One is from Strängnäs town inside Mälaren and the another one from Gotland. The last of the wine is consumed and the Gotlanders offer German beer. With certain success!
This excellent weather lasts for another day and the wind freshens from the northeast. It is not quite as warm as before. It is as if it wants them to reach Stockholm as soon as possible. At midnight it is possible for the company to cast anchor at the small islet group of Fjärdholmarna. It is situated at the outer roads of Stockholm, just opposite the southern exit at the islet of Lilla Svetjud, Little Svetjud (or Sweden) and Kungshamn, the King's harbour. This has been indeed been the swiftest passage from the north that our skipper has heard of. In six days and nights we have covered the huge distance from the estuary of the Torne river. The northward voyage has taken more than double that time, sixteen days and nights. The company is eager to present their thanksgiving in Storkyrkan, the Great Church of St. Nicholas.
Will there be a new voyage in August or September? No one knows what is waiting for us in the city, where most of us have families and friends. It remains curiously deserted even for early morning. The merchant, Master Thomas, is not well. He vomits over the gunwale and seems to have a fever. Bad luck, says skipper Jon. Now, when he is at home and has a whole ship full of attractive goods…..
Christer Westerdahl, 2002
This reconstruction is based on the material and the discussions in my work Norrlandsleden I-II. All the details have been checked there. Of course, the analysis of the sequence of points in the Danish Tax Register of King Valdema (Sejr)r (Kung Valdemars jordabok) from c. 1300 has played an important role, although it covers some of the southern coasts of the Baltic But a few points are common to both, in the neighbourhood of Stockholm.
The title is a travesty of Harald Wideens Pesten och sydvästen (Plague and the southwest) in Gotländska studier tillägnade Richard Steffen/ Gotländskt Arkiv 1942. Wideen's Swedish title is much more witty and makes a good rhyme. Perhaps we could find a better one in English.
We have only a few witnesses from later times. Without seeing much of the land to port the French author of comedies, Jean Francois Regnard, in 1681 covered this stretch to the north, presumably in a Swedish galliot, in four days and nights: ”Il est assez difficile de croire qu'on ait put faire un aussi long chemin que celui que nous fimes en quatre jours de tem(p)s” (Regnard 1731 Tom I: 97).
The harbours of the sailing handbok on the Norrland coast by M. Nyström in 1788 were discussed by me in Bottnisk Kontakt VIII (Piteå). Here is also found a facsimile printing of Nyström and another report from 1779 on the voyage from Umeå to Stockholm.
Unfortunately the route description by brother Benedictus (Bengt) has not survived. It was very likely the victim of the outlandish soldiery of Gustav Vasa. They shot away chapters of the Swedish Middle Ages as waddings in their cannons.
There are a number of questions to be discussed according to the principle: is it credible that..? For example we can mention the organisation of the crown for transport, the assumed stage or passenger traffic in the inner route, whether the time factor is correct for the advance of the Plague, or if the stay at Avafjärden in Lövånger was feasible, the use of the inner routes at this time generally, the type of and the subjects of the conversation referred to. Much of the reconstruction has obviously modern roots and may be anachronisms.
Some of the names are fictional, e.g. The Harbour of St. Clement, for Storhamnen of Agö island. The archaeological site of Kyrkesviken in Grundsunda parish is not mentioned by name, neither are the localities with St. Olav (Olof)- names in the inner routes between Gävle and Sundsvall. Other place names are inconsistently transcribed, either with modern (Björkö) or medieval (Huldanäs) forms.
The havens of the voyage northward:
The havens of the voyage southward:
publ April '02
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