Beginner’s guide to Åland’s ancient underwater relics

Beginner’s guide to Åland’s ancient underwater relics

An amazing cluster of sunken beauties awaits in the low-saline waters of the Baltic Sea archipelago.

Our diving guide, Jan-Ola Karlsson, shares a story about his great-grandfather who was a sailor from Mariehamn. “He helped rescue some of the crew when the Plus sank one stormy night in December 1933,” Karlsson says with pride.

That tragic night, two schooners, the Plus and Fred, sank around midnight just as they were approaching port for winter maintenance. The Plus was a mighty, three-masted, 70-metre rig that now slumbers 17 to 36 metres beneath the sea – and is today the site of one of Åland’s most popular dives.

Åland is an autonomous region of ­Finland made up of over 6,700 islands. The archipelago is scattered with an astoundingly high concentration of wrecks: the total is estimated to be 1,200, but only 600 have been discovered so far. The wrecks are also remarkably well preserved thanks to the Baltic Sea’s low salinity – keeping shipworms at bay – plus strict diving legislation protecting ancient relics.

Built in 1903, the Pommern is now a museum ship.

The oldest shipwreck in the archipelago dates from 1580 and was found in Götby in 2008. Åland made worldwide news in 2010 with the discovery of a mid-19th century schooner carrying a cargo of 162 intact champagne bottles and five beer bottles. Some of the champagne bottles were auctioned – a bottle of Veuve Clicquot sold for 30,000 euros in 2010 – and Stallhagen, a local microbrewery, even launched a beer recreating the original recipe of the 200-year-old brew found on the wreck.

In addition to being a great diving destination, Åland’s inspiring scenery, friendly hospitality, and fresh local food offer visitors plenty to see and taste after a rewarding dive.

The underwater deadeye from the Plus schooner

Deep down

Divers have access to 50-100 wrecks in Åland’s fascinating waters, and 85 per cent of these ships rest at an accessible depth of 10 to 40 metres. Underwater visibility can be as high as 15 metres, though usually six metres on average. The best times of the year for diving in Åland are spring and autumn. Permits can be obtained from local diving centres or the Åland Maritime Museum.

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Text and photos by Hernan Patiῆo 

This article is published in the May-June 2017 issue of Blue Wings.