Classic boats in Estonia

Remembering the history of the Baltic states one hardly can expect to find any of the pre-war classic boats in today´s Estonia. Boats and ships were destroyed during the world war and those survived were confiscated by The Soviet Union when Estonia was occupied. During the fifty years period after the war until re-established independence in 1991, the boats were forbidden for people.

Estonia has long traditions in shipping and fishing – since the last icetime about 10.000 years ago the finno-ugric people have utilized the Baltic sea. Boats and ships were built in seaside towns and villages. Fishing and trading have been important for economic life. Many villages and towns had several ocean going ships and men worked at sea.

Sailing as sport begun in the middle of 1800´s. The first yacht club was founded in 1820, but it could function only couple of years. Anyway, it happened 20-30 years before Sweden and Finland got their yacht clubs. At the beginning of 1900´s the country had several boat clubs and sail yachts participated international competitions. Cooperation between Estonia and Finland was close in 1920´s and 1930´s.

Motor boats and sailing yachts were built by several boat yards – e.g. Otto Eggens was one of the most famous.

The second world war finished boating and sailing, and occupation by the Soviet Union made impossible to own boats or to go at sea. Some sailing clubs had, however, the right to keep sailboats which were used for training purposes.

The sailing competitions of the Moscow Olympic games 1980 were organized in Tallinn, which had important input into the image of sailing as sports in the country. Regained independence in 1991 opened possibilities for everyman´s sailing – now Estonia has companies building boats, several well maintained guest harbours, Tallinn city has hosted Tall Ship´s Races, the Estonian-Finnish sail competitions have increased, and Estonian boats have participated in classic wooden boat festival Viapori Trophy.

General interest in boats is seen also in building new boats by traditional ways – wood is natural material. There are several enthusiastic groups constructing ancient one-log-canoes, large barges used in lakes and rivers, and old-style fishing boats by traditional methods.

This summary is by no means complete, and I´m sure there are more interesting classic boats to be found in Estonia.

Peipsi lake barge

Since 1400´s until the second world war large barges were used for transport all kind of products in waterways inside the country. Ships were large, carrying even 200 tons cargo, with huge square sails and oars.

A group of active people in Tartu town begun 2005 building a barge using old methods. The barge, named as Jõmmu, is now sailing along inland waterways and serves i.e. as summer theatre. The same group has started building a new, bigger barge, which is supposed to be launched 2012.

More of barge is found here

Haabjas - one log canoe

In the middle of the country, where small lakes and marshland dominate the landscape, at least two groups are producing the ancient one-log canoes by traditional methods. The large aspen log is hollowed out, heated by open fire, forced to spread little by little. With great skill and a little bit of luck, the log does not split and finally there is a boat. This is the original method used by Finno-Ugric people from time immemoriable. The boat is steady, easy to paddle in shallow waters.


Fishing boat at lake Võrtsjärv


Class L6

In 1958 Mr A. Kiselev, working at Leningrad, designed a new class for an off-shore yachts, which was named as L6. The first boats were built in 1963 and the last one in 1978. In total at least 110 L6 boats have been constructed. L6 was one of the most important training and racing yacht in the Soviet Union. The total length is 12,6 m, deplacement 8,3 tn and sail are 70 m2. Just proper yacht for seas.

Several L6 boats still exist in Sankt Petersburg, Black Sea and Baltic states. L6 yachts are actively used in off-shore races. L6 yachts have been seen in the Finnish harbours, and e.g. in Tall Ship´s Races and regattas on the Gulf of Finland.

At least five L6 boats still exist in Estonia (register of Estonian Yachting Union). One L6, "Erna" is in good condition in Pärnu town, and has Pärnu Yachtclub as home port. Another one, " Nele" , has been renovated at the boatyard in Haapsalu.


Hai boat (Shark boat)

In 1930 the famous Finnish boat designer Gunnar L. Stenbäck was asked to design a new class, suitable for serial production. Result was Hai-boat (Haj in Swedish, Shark in English). For more information about this boat, look here Hai-boat

The Estonian sailors bought Hai-boats in 1930´s, and one of those first boats exists still. It´s owned by the Estonian Maritime Museum in Tallinn.

Vanemuine - Albatross V

An outmost interesting is the yacht by name “Vanemuine”. This 18 metre ketch has layed on shore several years on Saaremaa-island (Ösel), behind the Saare Paat boat yard. The yacht is – probably – constructed by the German Abeking & Rasmussen in 1936 for the famous publisher Dr Julius Springer in Berlin. By the help of the German Freundeskreis fur Yachten the yacht very closely to Vanemuine has been found in the catalogues of Abeking & Rasmussen, made in 1936 for Dr Springer. The Springer-family had several yachts at Wannsee in Berlin, all with the name Albatross. It´s possible that the boat named Vanemuine, which is now in Estonia, can be Albatross V.

After the war the Soviet Union confiscated Albatross V, as they did for many other vessels, and the yacht was placed first in Pärnu and later in Tallinn. She sailed under the new flag and named as Vanemuine until beginning of 1980´s. The boat was in need of complete repair but lack of resources didn’t make that possible, and the yacht was transported to Saaremaa in 1999.

Today the yacht would be a magnificent sight at sea in full sails, but her destiny is to decompose on shore.

Lot of fascinating stories and legends are told of Vanemuine. According to one persistent legend the boat was given by Adolf Hitler to the Japanese ambassador in Germany at the end of 30´s. For what reason - a good question ? Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels are also mentioned as owners of this boat. It´s told that in 2001 the famous art dealer and owner of art gallery, Mr Rudolf Springer of Berlin, tried to get the boat back to the family, but he didn’t succeed. There has been during the 2000´s very colourful discussion around the boat Albatross – Vanemuine on Estonian webb pages


Large scale shipbuilding begun in 1800´s. Villages and towns at seaside earned their living at sea. Fishermen needed and they built many types of fishing boats and trading vessels. Larger ships sailed on oceans bringing welfare to owners and villages. Good example for strong shipping tradition is the village Käsmu, east of Tallinn. At the end of 1930´s 54 sailships and 15 steamers were registered into the village, among others large barques. In the Käsmu bay about 40 overwintering sailships could be seen in 1930´s.

The village has strong community spirit which is supported by the interesting museum – highly recommended to be visited. More of Käsmu village here


Not very much is left of the magnificent sails ship fleet. At Sõru harbour, south Hiiumaa, stays three masted schooner Alar. Ship was built on Hiiumaa 1937-39. The ship tried to escape at the end of war to Sweden, as did many other vessels, but the German fleet captured the ship. The second effort in summer 1944 succeeded. The ship sailed under Panama flag and later under US flag named as Alar. Since 1969 she stayed in harbour in Denmark and was transported into Estonia in 1998.

Sõru has exellent guest harbour and new community centre, which hosted e.g. the foto exhibition about Viapori Trophy in 2008 (see chapter Exhibitions on these pages). 



Indemnity schooners built in Finland

After the war Finland had to pay huge indemnity to the Soviet Union. Among other material the list included 500 new ships, of which 91 had to be wooden three masted, 500 tons depl schooners.

As far as is known only two of these wooden schooners exist anymore: Vega and Meridianis.

Vega was built in 1952, and she has been most of the time in Estonia. Because these ships have specific importance to Finland, the Estonian Republic donated Vega to Finland, and she was transported 1997 into Pietarsaari (Jakobstad) where she is to be repaired and will be sailing again.

Meridianis was built 1948 in Turku, and stays now at Klaipeda harbour as restaurant.


Galease Iris

The galeas Iris was built 1956 in Finland, but was bought into Estonia and after extensive renewing is  serving as a charter ship in Tallinn.

Schooner Kajsamoor

Schooner Kajsamoor was originally North Sea trading vessel built in Haugesund, Norway, 1939. She sails now under Estonian flag on Baltic waters See

Blue Sirius

This Norwegian fishing vessel, built 1909, was bought into Estonia couple of years ago. She is used as tourist ship along the coasts.

New projects

In Hiiumaa island a new project has been started. Purpose is to build a wooden schooner, which was previously used to transport logs and firewood. The Estonian name for these ships is "halulaev".

Also an old Soviet-era wooden ship (lestalaev) is to be repaired.

More informaton about both projects is found here


Traditional workboats

On Ruhnu island, in the middle the gulf of Riga, a specific type of boats were used long time until 1930´s. They measured up to 14 metres and were especially constructed to manage on the shallow waters of Riga gulf. The boats carried one or two masts, with diffent types of gaff sails. These boats were called Ruhnu jaala, a certain type yawl.

The first boat Vikan was built 2002-2003 at Haapsalu, west coast, in connection the Rannarootsi Museum. Vikan is a nice looking agile boat. Another same type boat, Runbjarn, was finalized in 2009, and has been sailing along the coasts.

More to be found here

More information is added when found !