The Steamer BOHUSLÄN
BOHUSLÄN is the last passenger steamer on the Swedish west coast as well as Sweden's largest steam engine-operated vessel in regular traffic.
|CARLA-MEDIA AB, Lysekil|
She was built in 1914 at Eriksbergs Mekaniska Verkstad for Marstrands Nya Ångfartygs AB (Marstrandsbolaget), servicing for more than 40 years the route Gothenburg - Lysekil - Smögen - Gravarne (now Kungshamn). When the islands along the coast were connected with the mainland by ferry or bridges, the competition from buses and lorries became too strong, and the steamer was put in so-called "shopping traffic" in the Sound and later on between Strömstad and Norwegian ports. In autumn 1963 she was withdrawn from traffic and two years later was sold for break-up.
At this stage she was rescued by a group of enthusiasts who in 1965 founded Sällskapet Ångbåten (The Steamboat Society). Following an extensive restoration the steamer was back in its home waters already the following summer. Ever since then BOHUSLÄN has been sailing each summer the waters she was built for once upon a time, modernized where so required, but other than that restored in all essential parts with the original engine and boiler and with saloons in almost the same condition as they were at delivery in May, 1914.
The steamer BOHUSLÄN does regular tours during the height of summer and is available for traffic on order in early summer and autumn. Sällskapet Ångbåten operates BOHUSLÄN without any contributions out of public funds. All income is from traffic and membership fees. A crew of 12 - 15 are required on each trip, they all work on a voluntary basis and entirely without pay. In winter time, members do the necessary maintenance and restoration work to keep this museum vessel in fine condition.
The flagship of Marstrandsbolaget
During the first half of the 20th century there were two major shipowners who supplemented and partly competed with each other for traffic from Gothenburg along the coast up towards Strömstad. One of them was Marstrandsbolaget, operating the line Marstrand, Lysekil, up to Smögen and Gravarne, now known as Kungshamn. The other was Bohuslänska Kusten, an Uddevalla shipowner with lines via Marstrand to Uddevalla, as well as a coast line off the large islands up to Lysekil, Strömstad and Oslo.
BOHUSLÄN, built in 1914, was not only the youngest but even the most elegant of Marstrandsbolaget's vessels. In summer time she kept the express route going: She left Stenpiren in Gothenburg at 7 a.m. and arrived at Gravarne at 2 p.m., turned around almost immediately to be back in Gothenburg at 9 p.m. A number of interjacent jetties were called at on the way, amongst them Marstrand, Lysekil and Smögen. Of course, this left not much time for loading and unloading goods. Thursdays were lay-days - coal was bunkered and stores were replenished. - During winter time BOHUSLÄN was a work horse like all others, longer lay-times at the jetties, more time for heavier loads.
For more than 40 years the steamer operated along the line Gothenburg - Lysekil - Smögen/Gravarne. In summer sun, in storms, fog, snowstorms and icy waters the steamer made its trips, 6 days a week, all year round. For 33 years Captain Carl Johansson was in command, his nickname being "Calle Skjorta" (Calle the Shirt) - in summer he used to stand on the bridge in his shirt-sleeves. He made more than 9000 voyages, with no radar, no automatic equipment, but with a compass, clock and a strong helmsman as his navigation aids.
The crew consisted of about 20 persons: the captain, two mates, two helmsmen, three sailors, a chief engineer, a machinist, two stokers; the supplies division consisted of: a restaurant-proprietress, a cook, two stewardesses (one in the restaurant on the upper deck, one in the after-saloon), as well as a steward in the fore-saloon, the second-class passengers' dining room. When more passengers than usual were expected, as for instance on summer Sundays, two or three extra stewardesses were called in. During the fifties many of the islands were connected with the mainland by ferry or bridges, the old coast steamers were outclassed by buses and lorries. The old boats were sold one after another, often for break-up, but occasionally to other traffic areas. Now only one of the passenger steamers is left, the BOHUSLÄN.
After World War II the traffic along the coast changed. The islands were connected to the mainland by car ferries and bridges. Passenger transport was taken over by buses and further on by private cars. The goods were transported by lorries and the business for the steamers of Marstrandsbolaget disappeared.
But another trade was opened. Taxes on liquor and tobacco were increasing incessantly (even if they were very low compared to today). The sea between Sweden and the neighbouring countries was international waters and made it possible to sell these articles tax-free (a new word for the Swedish people) on board the ships in international traffic.
Many old steamers started so-called “shopping traffic” on different lines in the Sound. After rebuilding BOHUSLÄN to hold a duty free shop on the main deck and the poop deck/ the aft deck was changed to a cafeteria, she was started on the Landskrona-Tuborg line.
The authorities did not appreciate that the Swedish citizens could avoid taxes on liquor and tobacco so easily. The definition of the Sound as international water was changed and by that the golden days were over. It was still profitable to buy various articles ashore in Denmark, but the number of passengers was too low for the big fleet.
But there were more neighbouring countries. BOHUSLÄN was put in service between Strömstad and closely located Norwegian harbours like Halden and Sandefjord. However the joy was short lived. The definition of “international waters” was changed gradually. Eventually you had to travel between Strömstad and Kragerö to be allowed to buy the desirable articles – a route much too far for BOHUSLÄN. After a summer on the route Strömstad – Sandefjord in 1963 without duty-free shopping, she was layed up in Marstrand awaiting an uncertain future.
In late winter in 1965 BOHUSLÄN was towed from Marstrand to Ringön in Gothenburg to be scrapped. Was this the end of life for a 50-year-old?
The Museum Steamer BOHUSLÄN
It is said: “The darkest hour is before dawn.” and dawn came with a young school boy, Ingvar Kronhamn, who started “Rescuing BOHUSLÄN”. In April 1965 “The Steamboat Society” was formed with the aim to rescue and preserve one of the few remaining passenger steamers on the Swedish west coast. The point of aim was BOHUSLÄN and there were very few other objects to choose from. (Uddevallabolaget’s GÖTEBORG survived some years still at a quay in Strömstad, later to be scrapped 1975 in Hälle).
The scrap dealer is said to have paid 40 000 SEK for the “scrap” but asked for 60 000 SEK to part from it. A collection was started by selling shares in the newly formed “Ångbåten Ekonomisk Förening” (The Steamboat Economic Association”). The shares cost 100 SEK each (to be compared with the petrol price at the time, 0,75 SEK/litre.) But against the odds it was a success.
After a year of intense restoration work, the steamer was sailing again in its old waters the following summer. And since then BOHUSLÄN has sailed along the west coast every summer, modernized due to security demands, but mainly carefully restored with the original engine and boiler and the saloons almost in the condition as on delivery in 1914.