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The Rus-project
(Finland) —
Voyage 2001

Viking ship
Heimlosa Rus

Fredrik KOIVUSALO, captain of the Heimlosa Rus
July 9, 2001

Arrival of the Viking ship Heimlosa Rus in Finland in the summer of 2001

In 1996 the Finnish Viking ship Heimlosa Rus set sail, left the harbour of Turku and began its voyage around Europe. Each summer it has had a mixed international crew and the ship has attracted attention wherever it has sailed.

Upon our arrival on the 24th of June at Wyborg, where the boat has been wintering, we notice that everything worth selling has been stolen from the ship. Among others, all navigating equipment is lost. The only remaining piece of equipment is a worn-out hammer. The square sail, rig, oars and things that are of use on Viking ship only are untouched. To those who know more about Russian customs, this does not come as a surprise.

I know from personal experience that our ship requires just the simple rig and the oars in order to be seaworthy. The only thing we had to do was to launch the ship and go on planning our voyage. Over the years we have been through a lot, and a few Russian thieves will not stop the Heimlosa Rus. We have again got a chance to prove that a primitive technique is not so vulnerable as modern techniques.

Two Russian Viking enthusiasts help us to prepare the ship. One of them, a big and strong fellow, who we called Attila, gives us a shiny and steely Viking helmet, which he has made himself.

While launching the boat, we give the hull a treatment called “myrning” (Swedish). It is an old technique that is used to seal a leaking hull: Immediately after launching, a box that contains anthill material is steered directly under the ship. Then the box is opened and the material gets sucked into the holes and fills the leaks like wad. — It works. The boat leaked now significantly less than at the previous launchings.

Before sailing we had time for a guided sightseeing tour of the fortress of Wyborg, which was built by Swedes in the 13th century. It those days it was the most important frontier station of Sweden in the east. The fortress is reconstructed and nowadays open to the public. In the inner parts of Wyborg City, there are several architecturally interesting buildings from the time before the Second World War, but they are in a dreadful shape and need renovating.

We depart on the 26th of June after regular bureaucratic paperwork and manage not to take a pilot with us — by customary bribery. Russian authorities, according to hearsay, have demanded that a German couple who arrived in Russia by canoe should take a pilot with them and pay the pilote fee!

A Russian sailing boat escorts us and the steersman asks us to follow him because he knows how to get out of the harbour. He deviates from the navigable channel, but we follow him. As a consequence, we row aground, and a part of the rudder breaks. Fortunately the steering capability is preserved.

In the early evening, we arrive at the last frontier station of Russia, Vysock, where the passport control takes place. Five Russians, who do not have a Finnish visa, now leave the ship. The remaining 10-man Finnish-Swedish-Russian crew now has to sail to Santio in Finland, without stopping, and without going ashore on the way to Santio. It means a voyage of 40 sea miles on an open and unprotected sea. Fortunately we get a north-east wind, which allows us to sail the whole night. At 2.00 am we come to the coastguard station of Santio in Finland where formalities are through in a matter of minutes.

Mostly one has to row, but occasionally we can raise the sail. Before leaving Wyborg, we sewed the logo of the project on the sail. Our logo is the ancient Finnish “Ukkokirves”, which corresponds to the ancient Scandinavian Torshammer. Some mythologists see in it the tree of life up-side-down. A Finnish writer Timo Heikkil has written a book “Ukkokirves”, where he deals with the mythology of this symbol.

We sleep a few hours. Then we continue the voyage to the island of Lapuri, where we arrive after two hours of rowing. The wind has now turned to south-west. The south-west wind dominates in summertime, and from now we have headwind for the rest of the voyage. Visiting the uninhabited island of Lapuri, which is just 5 sea miles from the Russian border, is essential to us. Someone has told us there is a bear on the island, but this does not keep us from going ashore. In the strait between Lapuri and mainland goes an ancient nautical route to the east. The strait creates a natural haven which still todays is used as an anchoring place for boats that seek for shelter. According to an old tale, there is a Viking treasure on the island. Inspired by this tale, Manu Toronen was diving in the strait in the 70’s. In 1976 he found a wreck of a boat, which later on served as a model for the Heimlosa Rus. The wreck is still located in a depth of four meters, off the north-east shore of the island. Over the years its structure has been pretty accurately solved by diving.

Our visit to the Lapuri island is one of the highlights on our long European voyage. When we sailed into the strait and went ashore, it felt as if a millennium-long tradition had been repeated. Fifty meters into the woods, there is a small wet valley. Here the spring, which the legend tells about, has probably been situated. Here the ancient sailors replenished their water supplies. We do not see the bear, but we find its waste: bear droppings and leftovers like seabirds eggshells.

We boil porridge over a campfire on the beach. Someone presents an idea that here the Heimlosa Rus would have a good resting place — an honourable home. We play with the idea of sinking the ship next to the thousand-years old sister ship.

In the evening, when the south-west wind has calmed down, we row away. Amid headwind we favour rowing at night, when the wind is usually calmer. Rowing at night is heavy for the crew, because the day-rhythm is disturbed, but if we rowed at daytime we would never reach our destination.

On Thursday the 28th of June, at 3 o’clock in the morning, we reach Kotka and go ashore in the harbour of Sapokanlahti. We sleep for few hours. A visit to the sauna is also on the program. Radio-, TV- and newspaper interviews make the day hectic. Max and Aleks fish in the harbour and they get a bucket of roaches, which are fried for the dinner. Some of the roaches are salted, and dried. I repair the rudder.

In the night we leave again by rowing. At 2 am we go into the natural harbour of the south-east end of Lngo. Lngo is located off Pyttis. The high south-east part of the island is called Bksudden (= Beacon cape). The peak of the cape is high and here is a place from the 12th century where signal fires were kept. The southern coastline of Finland is in Snorre Sturluson’s saga (the 11th century) called by the name Blegrdskusten. The name is related to signal fires for navigation. The signal fire place that I found has a form of a stone circle, with a diameter of about four meters. It is too dark to have a proper photo of it. It is located on a high place, and the sailors coming along the coastline from the east could see the fire from a distance. The cape is surrounded by large quadrant rocks. Combined with the moonlight, this creates a spooky atmosphere. A lonely sea gulf shrieks like a mad woman in the quiet night. — After making tea and having a small snack we continue the rowing.

At 6 am, just as the wind is rising, we arrive at the harbour of Tallbacka, in the archipelago of Loviisa. We hoped this small haven to be a peaceful place, but there is heavy traffic all the day, and we get no rest. The crew is becoming tired and I notice overstrain in some of the members. This is usual after rowing and staying up a succession of nights. It can be manifested by irritation at trivial misfortunes. Esko Pesonen is tired of being the cook and travels back home. Henri Bergius has to leave us for a trip to Spain.

In the morning we get a tow to Loviisa. The route is shallow and narrow, and the rudder gets again a hit from an underwater rock and breaks just like in Wyborg.

On Saturday the 30th of June we participate with the Heimlosa Rus in a competition for peasant style boats in the inlet of Loviisa. We get a magnificent (false) start using full sails, but in only one half-hour we are in the last position. The referee boat tows us away from the inlet of Loviisa a bit further to west. We set for Kabble, our next destination, but the headwind is much too strong. In the archipelago of Pern we berth at a small island, which has no name in the nautical chart, at the lee shore to wait for the night and a calmer wind. It turns out that on the other side of the island there are a few inhabited summer houses. I walk there and explain that we have come ashore, because we are too tired to row against the headwind. People in the summer cottages come up to acquaint themselves with the boat, and we spend a nice afternoon together. — We thank the family Schauman for the kind encounter and the warming brandy.

At 8 pm the wind has calmed down and we row to Kabble. There we have a short break in the new cafeteria. Erik  V. Troil from Troil Marin Co. joins the crew for twenty-four-hours. We arrive at Bockhamn at 1 am. Bockhamn is a well protected natural harbour. It turns out that the harbour is full of boats. Far into the bay we find a muddy place where we manage to berth. Besides a lot of people, there are also a lot of mosquitoes in Bockhamn.

Sunday the 1st of July is a beautiful day with a weak south-west wind and we make a long daytrip. As our route turns to north towards Sibbo, we can raise the sail. We sail to Kalkstrand, where we stay for the night. During the night we experience the first rain. So far we have slept every night under the open sky with elk pelts as our mattresses, but now we curl up under a tarpaulin on the beach.

On Monday morning we sail to the Bay of Sibbo. Here we take down the mast to be able to go under bridges further up the river of Sibbo. The ancient castle Sibbesborg, or more specifically its ruins, is located by the river on a hill. Again we get a chance to make a historic visit. According to an old folklore, a Viking named Sibbe built the castle. There are finds showing that the Danes have done construction works in the region in the 13th century. As we stand on the high hill and imagine the water line being four meters higher, like it was in the 13th century, we conclude that the castle has had a significant strategic position.

The original idea was that we would sail to Helsinki and drop the anchor in the eastern coast of Laajasalo, where we had applied for permission to build an ancient harbour. I few days earlier I had got a message that the building committee had dismissed the application, so we had to change our plans quickly. I know that a bit further away along the river of Sipoo, next to Marino’s boat construction yard, Viking boats are possibly welcomed. So we steer for the Marino’s boatyard.

We arrive at Marino’s boat yard at noon and are met by some jounalists. We have now six tough twenty-four-hours and 140 sea miles behind us. The crew is worn out. We clear the boat and haul it up. In the next few days we tar both the inside and outside of the Heimlosa Rus. Black tar, which we have ourselves burned during the spring, gives her a nice face lift.

An one-decade historic era of the Rus-project is coming to its end. The project has been run with volunteers, and no public grants or tax revenue has been used to promote it.

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