Göte Sundberg : 21 August 1928 - 31 October 2013
A tribute from Hanna Hagmark-Cooper:
Captain Göte Sundberg from the Åland Islands passed away at the age of 85 years. Göte was director at the Åland Maritime Museum between 1980 and 1993 and a long-standing member of ICMM.
Göte was born and raised on the Åland Islands, and the sea was an intrinsic part of his life from early years. His father had been a seaman before turning farmer and Göte grew up with stories of the sea. With these stories came a yearning for the sea that could not be denied, but due to the war Göte had to wait until 1946 before he could sign on his first ship, Gustaf Erikson’s four-masted barque Viking. The voyage down to Australia in one of the world’s last cargo-carrying windjammers was a voyage of a lifetime, an experience that he cherished for the rest of his life. After the Viking, more ships followed and in due time he became a sea captain – the finest profession of them all. Even after retiring from the sea, he always introduced himself as Captain Sundberg.
After 20 years in active service, Göte went ashore and became headmaster for the Seamen’s Academy in Mariehamn. During his time there, and in his capacity as local councillor, he fought a hard battle to save square-rigger Pommern from being turned into a floating school. Thanks to Göte’s efforts, Pommern, another one of Gustaf Erikson’s famous ships, was preserved in her original state as a cargo carrier, which makes Pommern unique in our times.
Göte’s involvement in the preservation of Pommern continued during his directorship at the Åland Maritime Museum and until his dying day. One of the proudest days in his life was when he received the World Ship Trust’s Maritime Heritage Award in 2004. The award was presented to him by the Finnish President Tarja Halonen at a ceremony appropriately held at the Åland Maritime Museum.
Göte had a profound interest in Åland’s maritime history and was a fountain of information. He was a keen researcher and during his lifetime he wrote more than 100 books and articles on the subject. His next book was to be on Gustaf Erikson’s sailing ships, a project that kept him busy until the end. The day before he passed away he was discussing the project with his sons. He had it all figured out; he was going to record his texts and his sons would then transcribe them. He estimated it would take a year to finish the manuscript and was very eager to get started. Unfortunately, that was not to be, but the family tells me it is their intention to see the project through.
As director of the Åland Maritime Museum, Göte became a member of ICMM, a very active one. He attended all the conferences he could, a tradition that he passed down to his successors, me included. He saw the value in people from big and small maritime museums coming together to share each other’s knowledge and enthusiasm, forging friendships that would last a lifetime. And after retiring from the museum, he kept in touch with many of his international colleagues.
For me personally, Göte is closely linked to the museum. That was where our paths first crossed. When I took over the directorship in 2004, he gave me support and showed me respect, despite me being 45 years his junior, female and with no sea-going experience. He could see that although we did not have much in common on the surface, we both shared a passion for Åland’s proud maritime heritage and for telling people near and far about it.
I remember once offering him my seat in the office, which he kindly refused with a twinkle in his eye and the words: ‘Oh no, that’s the director’s seat, and I’m not the director here’.
I am happy he got to see the opening of the extended and renovated Åland Maritime Museum in April 2012, with its new exhibitions and facilities. I am also glad that I could take part in his funeral and on behalf of the Åland Maritime Museum and ICMM put down a wreath and read John Masefield’s fitting poem Sea Fever as a last goodbye from all his friends at maritime museums worldwide. I miss him.
Hanna Hagmark-Cooper : Director, Åland Maritime Museum
Kevin Fewster remembers:
A few years ago Gote visited me in my office at Greenwich. My secretary went down to meet him and his party and when they reached my office door she declared that ‘Mr Sundberg is here to meet you’. He corrected her; ‘Captain Sundberg.’ I was reminded of this story in the reply I received from Gote’s son, Marten, after I’d emailed Gote’s family conveying the heartfelt sympathy of everyone in ICMM following Gote’s passing.
Marten’s email also mentioned that the day before Gote died a local filmmaker was visiting the hospital and showed his new documentary about Herzogin Cecilie for a group of patients and some friends of Göte. Afterwards, said Marten, ‘Göte, lying in his bed with extra blood and pain killers, [gave] a little speech about Åland maritime history.’ Surely there could be no better demonstration of Gote’s intense pride in his own seafaring roots and also, I’m sure, in the great maritime traditions of the Ålands people generally.
Gote and I had been the inheritors of that great maritime linkage between the Ålands Islands and South Australia – Gustaf Erikson’s grain race ships – the last deepwater commercial sailing ship trade anywhere in the world.
I first met Gote when I visited Mariehamn in 1988 while director of the South Australian Maritime Museum in Port Adelaide. Being a very young museum, it felt particularly special to share this unique link with another maritime museum on truly the other side of the world. I was especially pleased when Gote showed me to my accommodation – a room above the museum with a portrait of Gustaf Erikson hanging on the wall above the bed-head.
I was able to return the hospitality when Gote came to Australia later that year to attend the ICMM meeting in Sydney. For him this trip was, I suspect, the journey of a lifetime, allowing him to re-visit the South Australian out-ports from where the grain race ships had operated. He contacted me early this year when he was writing an article about the trip, hoping that I might be able to put names to some of the faces in the photos he wished to include in the article. I was delighted to hear from Marten that Gote had managed to see the article appear in print before his death.
Gote was a long-time member of ICMM and keen attendee at our congresses, both when he was Director of the Ålands Maritime Museum and in his retirement years. In many respects he epitomised the best in ICMM: the ability to meet colleagues from across the globe to share professional expertise which, in course, leads to strong personal friendships. He will be greatly missed.
Kevin Fewster : President, ICMM