Moored up

I think Stockholm is one of my new favourite cities. It has a peculiar layout, scattered across a number of islands, and a subtly European feel to it too. I know of course that it is in Europe, but technically so are we, and there is nothing remotely European about the English. Anyway, people in Stockholm seem to be much more continental somehow, with a flat-dwelling café culture, and an unregulated attitude to their city which sees old men in boiler suits fishing from the bridges, and kayaks, pedal boats and sailing clubs lining the waterfront where people swim in the summer. One of the islands has cliffs along its Northern edge, and some of the streets slope up and down so steeply that walkways run horizontally across from street level to the upper floors of buildings on the same road

I think the thing I like best about Stockholm though are the boats that line the waterfronts. I am hopelessly romanced by boats. Here many have little stands in front of them, telling you a bit about the history of each one. The thing you forget about boats is how old they can be, being as sailors are old-fashioned and tend to repair things rather than throwing them away and buying new ones. Some of the boats in Stockholm were built in the 1890s, and most seem to be from the first part of the 20th century. There are converted trawlers, freighters, little tugs and pilots; old passenger steamers, military gunboats and minesweepers. Even a lightship. Some have thick, reinforced hulls for icebreaking, while others have sunk then been salvaged and repaired (one had gone down with three crew who were never found). Most have been stripped and rebuilt at least once or twice.

And a past comes with stories, often incomplete, which makes them somehow even better. The Blomas, a big old freighter with a high prow, ended its professional days as a bootlegger. The notice in front of the Carmen, a converted steam trawler built in 1915, reads ‘Very little is known about her early history, but there are bullet holes in her engine room’. The Klara Lust, a very fast Dutch tjalk, was reputedly once owned by S. Hearts, an American adventurer who used her for smuggling in Africa, fitting a sort of wheel assembly to the underside of the hull so he could navigate shallow inland channels where coastguard boats couldn’t follow.

One of my favourites is the Itapoa, otherwise a run-of-the-mill motor-cruiser. In 1960, when newly-built, her owner sailed her to Ghana, where he planned to register her. Unfortunately, no-one had ever registered a ship in Ghana before, and there was no registration office. Undeterred, the Ghanaians promptly opened one, with a permanent staff of a single official, to administer one boat. Complications only arose some time later, when he wanted to migrate again and register the Itapoa somewhere else, and it was pointed out that without her, the office would have to close and the man would lose his job. The noticeboard by the boat in Stockholm only says that it all ended well, but does not elaborate further.

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