Andy Schell and his wife, Mia, explore the red rocky islands of the Åland archipelago in the Baltic and find a wealth of seafaring stories

Last Cape Horners

The islands’ seafaring tradition continues today. Åland has a top-notch maritime academy in Mariehamn. Nowadays the seamen work on container ships, tankers and Norwegian ships searching for oil in the North Sea.

This tradition is the reason that Åland controlled the very last of the merchant sailing ship trade. It’s the reason the main flag outside the maritime museum is not that of the country, but of the International Cape Horners Association, of which Åland has an active branch. In fact, just after we left, the International Congress, with the few remaining Cape Horners in the world, went to Mariehamn to have dinner aboard the Pommern, the only Cape Horn tall ship in the world to be preserved in her original state. She sailed the route up until the late 1930s.

Old pilot station on the approach to Mariehamn, the capital

Old pilot station on the approach to Mariehamn, the capital

And it’s the reason we got to meet Åland’s last living Cape Horner, the 95-year-old Frank Karlsson, who worked as first mate on the tall ship Viking, another of Gustav Erikson’s ships, and who earned his gold earring (ie rounded the Horn) in 1938. We found him at the old folks home in the village of Degerby, stopping there on a whim on a windy day, solely because I’d seen a newspaper article.

Our meandering course around Åland, the change of plans, these experiences altered our attitudes, opened our eyes to what was around us in the moment rather than what was around the next bend, off the next chart. After one year of fitting out the boat and two of crossing big oceans, it was a chance to exhale and relax.

Bows to the rocks – anchoring in the Aland islands

We had to relearn how to anchor Arcturus in the Baltic. By laying a stern anchor 50ft or 100ft offshore and nosing the bow in towards a cliff or large rock, the bowman can simply step off the boat and tie off to a tree or metal ring. You avoid the need to carry a dinghy and instantly expand your livable space on board by having access to your own private piece of shoreline.

The Swedish and Finnish archipelago is one of the few places in the world where the conditions are such that this is even possible – protected hidey-holes, no tides and steep shorelines. Boats of all types and sizes do this and it feels almost foolish to swing on a bow anchor when there is a bay full of boats moored to the cliffs.

Before we mastered the practice ourselves, we enjoyed watching and learning while other people approached the cliffs and tied up as if it were the easiest thing in the world. Lätt som en plätt, the Swedes would say. Easy as a small pancake.


For more about cruising in the Baltic read Tom Cunliffe’s cruise to Sweden


An extract from a feature in Yachting World May 2015


  1. 1. Outer archipelago
  2. 2. Sauna on the waterfront
  3. 3. Last Cape Horners
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