History of the schooner commemorated at the annual Sea Festival One of the most prominent landmarks of the coastal Lithuanian city of Klaipeda is the schooner Meridianas by the river Dane. It is one of the very few remaining wooden schooners manufactured and delivered by Finland to the Soviet Union as war reparations after the Second World War. This retired schooner serves now as a lovely riverboat restaurant in Klaipeda which many city dwellers may have visited, but of whom only few have been acquainted with the history of the vessel. The Embassy of Finland commemorated the origins of Meridianas by attaching a memory plate to the ship at the annual Klaipeda Sea Festival on the 22nd of July.
Meridianas symbolizes Finnish shipbuilding traditions and the difficult task of fulfilling war reparations
The Moscow Truce that ended the war between Finland and the Soviet Union in September 1944 oblidged Finland to pay war reparations worth of 300 million gold dollars (with the money value of 1938). The reparations were to be paid in products and this is how the story of Meridianas began:
the list of products included 90 three-masted, seaworthy 45-metre wooden sailing ships, such as Meridianas. "Finnish ability to build wooden ships had been much valued for many hundred years, and the peasant ship carpenters were heirs to this tradition, still building wooden schooners in the 1930's", researcher Jouni Arjava explained at the commemoration event in Klaipeda.
However, the task was not going to be an easy one given the post-war conditions. A special shipyard was constructed to Turku in order to manage such a large scale project and shortages of material and qualified labour posed major difficulties in keeping up with the manufacturing requirements. "All resources available had to be mobilised in order to fulfill the tight schedule - the credit for achieving this has to be given to all those involved", Mr Arjava emphasised. "Building nearly a hundred highly-equipped wooden schooners as late as the mid 20th century was an exceptional event. The long traditions of peasant shipbuilding were succesfully combined with modern wood building techniques". Meridianas was built in 1948 in Turku and the last one of the required schooners was delivered in 1952 - the year by which Finland had managed to pay all her reparations to the Soviet Union.
The wooden schooners were distributed to different locations around the Soviet Union and used as cargo and training vessels. Since most of them have perished, Meridianas and her sister vessel Vega are one of the few remaining proofs of the post-war effort. Vega was donated some years ago by Estonia to the Finnish coastal city of Pietarsaari for restoration; the work is not expected to be completed for several years. In the meanwhile Meridianas has the sole honour to represent Finnish shipbuilding traditions that were put to test in the dire circumstances of post-war Finland, as Mr Arjava summarised the significance of the vessel.
Text and pictures: Ms. Terhi Honkonen, Embassy of Finland, Vilnius