The museum ship s/s Sankt Erik.
Practical aspects of the restoration process of an operational ship.

Leif Malmberg
Chief Technician s/s Sankt Erik
The Maritime and Vasa museums
Stockholm, Sweden

Sankt Erik.

Built in Stockholm, Sweden in 1915 as "Isbrytaren II". Renamed "Sankt Erik" in 1958.
Undergoing restoration at the museum pier adjacent to the Vasa museum since 1980.


Length  58.09m.  191 ft.
Breadth  16.99m.  55 ft.
Draught  6.50m.  21 ft.
Gross Tonnage  1441
Net Tonnage  432
Total capacity (Ihp)  4000
Aft (main) engine (Ihp)  2800
Fore engine (Ihp)  1200
Crew (approx.)  30
Machinery - Two triple expansion steam engines, four Scottish boilers, oil-fired since 1958.


The icebreaker Isbrytaren II (Icebreaker II) was built in 1915 at Finnboda Shipyard in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1958, after her last major refit as an active icebreaker, she was renamed Sankt Erik. Sankt Erik was Sweden's first big seagoing icebreaker, although she was mainly intended to keep the archipelago channels into Stockholm open during wintertime. Sankt Erik was owned by the city of Stockholm, but as the government contributed towards the building cost, the State was entitled to requisition her for service outside the Stockholm area when needed.

Sankt Erik was constructed as a classic Baltic icebreaker. The stem was angled to slide up onto the ice, which was then crushed by the weight and force of the vessel. She had a fore propeller, powered by its own steam engine, that flushed water and crushed ice along the rounded sides of the hull. Sankt Erik also had a heeling system; water could be pumped from tanks in the sides of the hull, making it possible to "rock" the ship and thereby reduce the grip of the ice.

Sankt Erik remained in service until 1977, when it was decided that she should be scrapped. During her many years of service, the State had built its own fleet of modern icebreakers.

The combined efforts of several maritime societies led to the rescue of Sankt Erik. Instead of being broken up, she was given to the Maritime Museum in 1980. One of the main reasons for saving Sankt Erik was her two triple expansion steam engines. Today they are the most powerful working steam engines left in Sweden. Sankt Erik was moored at the museum pier close to the present Vasa museum together with the lightship Finngrundet, which had become a museum ship in 1970.

The restoration of Sankt Erik. The early years, 1980-1987..

Sankt Erik was in fairly good condition when she was handed over to the museum. She had been kept in commission until 1977 and most of her equipment remained on board. However, the paint on her topsides was flaking and her wooden decks were leaking badly. The deck planks had been covered with fibreglass and the wood was rotting under the leaking cover. This had also affected the state of the cabins and accommodation, water penetration had damaged wood elements throughout the ship. Also, many steel surfaces, especially those in the vicinity of the leaking decks, were more or less corroded.

At first, no proper plan was made for the restoration of the ship . After documentation and slight alterations for safety reasons, the ship was opened to the public. The museum's Education Department arranged for school parties to visit Sankt Erik and a small crew was engaged to look after the ship. There was not much money available for maintenance or restoration work, so for the first years it was a matter of keeping the ship from further deterioration. There were definitely no plans for taking Sankt Erik to sea again; it was clearly stated that she was to be moored at the museum pier for ever.

1988. The first big restoration projects. The replacement of the boat deck and overhauling the main engine and one boiler..

When the building of the new Vasa museum started, Sankt Erik had to be moved as she was moored almost on top of the building site. The move to a nearby graving dock,(she was still kept afloat), eventually led to the ship being closed to the public for the time being.A survey had been made a few years earlier and plans for the restoration were forming.

Three alternatives for the future of the ship were proposed:

  1. Keep Sankt Erik as a permanently moored exhibit.
  2. Restore her to seagoing condition and use occasionally.
  3. Apply to the government for permission to sell Sankt Erik.

The result was a mixture between the first and second alternative. The main engine and one boiler were to be reconditioned and restoration was to be continued in a more ambitious way .

The leaking decks were considered to be the most urgent problem, so the decision was made to start from the top, with the replacement of the boat deck. As a result, the old deck was ripped off, the steel stringers were replaced, the steel deck beams epoxy coated and a new pine deck laid. The new deck was caulked with a synthetic rubber material and varnished.At the same time that work on the new boat deck was progressing, rusty steel plates on the deck-houses were replaced.

The work on the main steam engine was reasonably straightforward, but as many components had to be taken apart it took quite a long time. Few alterations had been made in the engine and boiler rooms for the public's sake, so almost everything was intact. Nevertheless, the engine had not been run for more than ten years, so a major strip down was necessary. However, the engines and boilers proved to be in better condition than was anticipated. Between 1989 and 1990 the main engine and two boilers were restored to running condition.

When finally the time came to return to the museum pier by the new Vasa Museum, Sankt Erik was able to make the trip under steam after 13 years as a "silent" ship.

1990-1995. Restoration of the captain's saloon and the galley. The first cruises..

Work continued on the steam engines and boilers. The fore engine was overhauled and with her second steam engine once more in working condition, Sankt Erik no longer needed the assistance of tugs when coming alongside.

The new boat deck made it possible to start restoring the captain's saloon and the galley, situated below the new boat deck. When the saloon had to be dismantled, which was necessary because of the renewal of surrounding steel components, remains of the original wallpaper and linoleum were discovered under the layers of hardboard and wood panels, which had been added on in the saloon during several rebuilds.

At an early stage of Sankt Erik's restoration the decision had been taken to restore the ship as she appeared in 1977, her last year as an operative icebreaker. In effect this meant that she was to appear more or less as she did in 1958, when Sankt Erik had her final significant refit.

However, the captain's saloon was to be an exception. Much of the original furniture and fittings had been saved, so the saloon was reconstructed to look as it did in 1915. A new linoleum and wallpaper were made with the old samples as patterns. The furniture was stripped and French polished, the sofas were upholstered in new leather and replicas of the combination electric-kerosene lamps were made.

The reconstruction of the saloon proved to be both complicated and costly. No proper construction drawings existed, so measurements and all detailed work had to be figured out from one photograph which showed the saloon as it appeared in 1915.

Today, the saloon is used for social functions aboard in conjunction with the restaurant at the Vasa museum.

The restoration of the galley, just aft of the saloon, was fairly straightforward. The result is a mixture of styles from 1915 to 1977, which is not all surprising. Most ships will of course change during a long working life with several rebuilds in the process, and retain the fashions from different periods. Unfortunately, the leaks in the old boat deck had more or less destroyed the white painted wood panelling covering the steel bulkheads, and cupboards and work surfaces were badly warped. More seriously, the steel plates under the tiled floor had rusted away and had to be replaced. The tiles could not be saved, as they were impossible to remove intact from the concrete floor put on top of the plates. Fortunately, a sufficient number of replica tiles were found to complete the reconstruction.

Materials for the rest of the galley were easier to source. The original cupboards and doors were dismantled and rebuilt, and new wood panels installed. The coke fired stove was given a new funnel and a general overhaul. It was important that the galley was restored to working order, as it was to be used when Sankt Erik put to sea and for special occasions when moored. Co-operation with the caterers of the Vasa museum made it essential to install a small, modern kitchen in the galley's former pantry. All modern appliances, such as dish washer and oven are concealed and cannot be seen by the public.

Since the completion of the galley it has been used quite extensively during the various cruises undertaken with Sankt Erik. It is interesting to note that the galley and the coke fired stove work perfectly well at sea, and that producing meals for a crew of thirty is quite straightforward. The galley must have been nice and warm even during the hardest winters, as it is situated above the boiler room and enclosed on one side of the ship's funnel.

In August 1991 the first Stockholm Water Festival took place. This festival, which is now in its 7th year, is intended to promote Stockholm's position as a place for water activities and has attracted big crowds every year. It seemed a good opportunity to promote Sankt Erik and during the first festival the ship steamed around the harbour of Stockholm on several occasions, with only the crew aboard.

However, as it was important to show the reconditioned aft and fore steam engines to the public, the aft (main) engine was run slowly when the ship was moored, allowing people into the engine room under supervision.

The first Water Festival was very successful for Sankt Erik. Visitors appreciated seeing the big steam engine running, so plans to improve the facilities for visitors were discussed.

The next step forward was to renew the certificate to carry passengers, so that visitors could actually experience the ship in operation.

It has to be pointed out that there are a number of smaller, privately owned steam ships conveying passengers in Stockholm, but Sankt Erik is the only one big enough to let many visitors have access to the engine room and to other parts of the ship which would normally be out of bounds to passengers.

In 1994 Sankt Erik made her debut as a passenger ship. During the water festival in August more than 750 paying passengers were taken on eight cruises around Stockholm harbour. Some of the cruises were undertaken at night, giving passengers and crew the opportunity to watch the amazing firework displays.

In order to obtain the certificate, safety equipment which certainly did not belong to the period to which the ship was being restored had to be installed. The most important safety measure was the installation of a fire detection alarm system. This was not only a safety device to protect passengers, but also a very important improvement to protect the ship when moored at the museum pier.


Early in 1995 a new auxiliary diesel generator was installed. There was already one in working order, plus a small steam generator, but running those meant exposing the engine room crew to a lot of noise. It also made it difficult to have guided tours in the engine room, as it was hard to hear what was being said. However, the extra navigation equipment and the modern appliances in the galley made it necessary to produce more AC. The new generator was housed in a separate compartment in the lower hold. This meant that it was hidden from view, but still accessible for maintenance. In fact, no special efforts have been made to hide additional equipment from anyone. More often it is just a case of finding practical places to put things. One drawback of installing additional equipment is that the installation proves to be very complicated, as nothing is allowed to be removed just to simplify the fitting of new equipment. The main object is of course still to restore the ship to 1977 specifications. Bearing this in mind, the old auxiliary diesel generator is still maintained and run regularly.

1995 - 1997. Sankt Erik's longest voyage. The replacement of the after deck. The start of the restoration of the aft accommodation..

At the end of 1994 the museum was approached by a Swedish company, who wanted to charter the ship for a six week voyage during the autumn of 1995. Their ambition was to celebrate the company's centenary jubilee by visiting subsidiary companies along the entire coastline of Sweden. Sankt Erik was to carry the company's exhibition to commemorate the occasion and to be used in harbour for social functions.

From Sankt Erik's point of view this would be a chance to show the ship to the public at large; it would also be a good opportunity to test the ship properly and it seemed possible to make a small profit on the cruise.

One of the biggest drawbacks with the earlier cruises was that they were very expensive for the museum. In the same way, the cost of running the engines moored at the museum pier was so high that it could only be done in greatest moderation. Also, Sankt Erik needs a crew of 20-25, which involves further expense, as additional crew members have to be engaged. A prolonged trip with a settled budget plan seemed a very attractive proposition, provided that it could be accomplished along the lines of the museum's everyday policy of handling the ship.

The decision to make the chartered autumn cruise was taken and spring and summer were spent preparing the ship for the 3.000 nautical mile long voyage . In early June, Sankt Erik made a trial cruise to NynSshamn, a small coastal town 70 nautical miles south of Stockholm. More than 400 paying passengers enjoyed cruising through the archipelago on two occasions.

The voyage took Sankt Erik from Stockholm up to LuleΠin the extreme north of Sweden, back south and along Sweden's west coast, further on to Oslo in Norway and finally back to Stockholm again. The trip lasted 52 days and 13 harbours were visited. Apart from the guests that enjoyed the hospitality of the chartering company, almost ten thousand visitors came on board during the opening hours organised by the museum. This was an important aspect when discussing the terms for the trip. An essential requirement for the museum to agree to the voyage was to give the public every opportunity to visit the ship.

On the 1st of October Sankt Erik was once again moored at the museum pier by the Vasa Museum. The ship was still in a seaworthy condition, showing that an 80 year old steamer could well be used at sea if handled properly. Of course, incidents had occurred as well as break downs, but nothing that could not be handled by the crew or repaired during the voyage.

Financially, the trip had been as successful as could be expected. Costs for preparations and running the ship had been high, but many of the expenses were in the form of investments which would have been necessary anyway for the future use of Sankt Erik.

Another important result of the cruise was that many new crew members were introduced to Sankt Erik, as it is impossible for the restoration team to undertake all operational requirements when the ship is at sea.

Maintaining the skills needed to run a steamer like Sankt Erik is a vital task for the museum. This goal is perhaps reached more easily if the crew is compensated for its efforts, rather than if it is done on a voluntary basis. Apart from the fact that the upkeep of the steam engines needs skilled craftsmen, it is equally important that our visitors are given the opportunity to watch these traditional trades being performed. During the year, two people are normally working full time on the regular maintenance of the engines and boilers.

The return to the Vasa museum was the start of the biggest restoration project so far: the replacement of the after wooden deck and the rebuild of the aft accommodation. The after deck had been causing a lot of trouble for a number of years. When the museum acquired Sankt Erik, the pine deck was covered with fibreglass and leaked badly. The leaks caused damage in the cabins of the aft accommodation, situated under the deck. The situation was exactly the same as with the boat deck, only unfortunately on a much larger scale.

A few years earlier, the fibreglass cover had been removed and we had temporarily replaced the deck planks which were worst affected by rot. The pine deck was laid on steel plates and we knew that in many areas the plates had rusted a lot.

The decision was made to try and retain as much as possible of the original riveted steel deck, because it was partly visible from below and is an important visual and technical feature of the ship. In order to obtain a strong and leak proof foundation for the wooden deck, a new 8mm steel deck was welded on top of the old one, with spacers placed between the old and new deck plates. The old riveted deck was first patched and all the rust was removed. Both the old and the new steel decks were heavily coated with epoxy primer.

The manner in which the new wooden deck was to be laid had been much discussed. One drawback with the old deck was the number of holes drilled for the deck bolts. As the underside of the deck was partly hidden by the ceilings, potential leaks were hard to detect. In order to avoid leaks, we had decided to use a stud welder and to weld stainless steel studs, which would act as bolts, onto the new steel deck. When the deck was laid, the studs were spaced in the same manner as the original deck-bolts, with additional ones added for strength.

The biggest disadvantage with the method was that it was a bit slow and that the stud welder was expensive and needed careful setting up to work well. We found that it was only possible to fit one plank at a time, even though several could be prepared for fitting. When we tried to weld studs for fitting several planks, we found it difficult to get the seams tight enough. The planks also had a tendency to lift, making it hard to get the nuts and washers on. Working efficiently, a shipwright could be expected to prepare and fit 70 feet of deck planking during a day. One further drawback with laying deck planks onto steel plates is that it is impossible to use clamps. Instead, we manufactured adjustable struts to hold the planks down, and used wedges as well as transverse props to get the seams really firm.

Material for the deck was ordered well in advance, to ensure good quality of quarter sawn pine in lengths of 25 feet. We also supervised the planing and seaming of the planks to avoid bad knots and shakes as much as possible. Apart from the stud welding and the use of epoxy paint on the plates, the actual laying of the deck was done traditionally. The original deck had been bedded down on red lead paste, which is not allowed any more. Instead, we used wood tar, sometimes thickened with talcum. Very few machine tools were used, we found it quicker to use adze, chisel and hand plane for most jobs. The first deck plank was fitted in March, 1996 and the actual laying was completed just before Christmas . The deck measures roughly 2.500 square feet and although most of the planks were prepared in advance, many parts such as covering boards and framing around trunks and bollards had to be made by the shipwrights as the work went on. The deck was then trimmed down and remaining bad knots and blemishes were square berthed.

The preferred method for caulking the seams had also been discussed when the deck was planned. The synthetic rubber filler used in the seams on the boat-deck had not been completely successful. Small leaks had occurred and repairing the seams was messy and difficult. We decided to follow tradition and use oakum and pitch ( Marine glue) for the seams. This was totally in line with the restoration policy, as the seams of the original deck had been done in this manner. Another important consideration was the strength and stiffness that traditional caulking adds to a wooden deck. The leaks occurring in the boat deck may well have been caused by the absence of oakum in the seams and not by the synthetic filler itself.

Three threads of oakum were caulked into each seam, followed by paying up twice with pitch. This was to make sure there were no air bubbles or low spots in the seams. At the time of writing, a shipwright and an apprentice are doing the final chores on the deck. Fittings are bolted down and the whole deck is treated with raw linseed oil and fine pine tar.

The aft accommodation had to be partially dismantled to enable the new deck plates above to be welded. Everything that was to be removed was carefully documented by taking hundreds of photographs and making detailed drawings. The accommodation consists of 15 cabins for deck crew and engine room staff, plus day and mess rooms, toilets and wash rooms. Some cabins had been added in the forties and, as in the galley and saloon, a combination of styles and materials were evident.

The restoration work was started at the same time as the deck laying. Storage space and workshop facilities became extremely strained and the work force was really to small for these two big tasks to be tackled simultaneously. The aim was to restore and reuse as many as possible of the existing components. However, it was soon apparent that many structural elements had deteriorated too much to be reconditioned. The ceiling of the ship's sides in all cabins had to be dismantled in order to inspect and treat the inside of the steel hull. Also, all floorboards were lifted and the underlying steel floors exposed. This steel surface was all right where the floorboards were made of wood. However, in the cabins and mess rooms towards the stern, some sort of filler had been applied instead of wood.

The two inch filler was removed and we discovered that the steel plates underneath were badly rusted in many places. The greatest damage had occurred on top of the various tanks placed under the accommodation. New steel plates had to be scarfed in and this slowed the rebuild a lot. The top of the aft ballast tank was so badly rusted that it would have to be replaced entirely. As this is going to be an expensive and time consuming operation, it has been left until later.

Meanwhile, the restoration of the engineers' cabins in the forward starboard side of the accommodation continued. The false ceilings and the ceiling planks lining the inside of the hull in the cabins had to be replaced. Leaks from the old after deck had rotted the wood to a great extent. The ceiling on the inside of the hull was surprisingly tricky to replicate. It was made up of two layers of T and G boards. Sandwiched between the boards was a thin, coarse matting, which served as insulation material. The matting was in surprisingly good condition, but could not be reused as it had been very much compressed between the two layers. When analysed it was found to be made mainly of cow hair. After a long search a factory in Finland was found, which produced the same sort of matting for use in Russian railway carriages. However, we had decided to do the restoration as faithfully as possible. Nothing was to be omitted and if modern materials were used or added, they were to be scrupulously documented.

The restoration of these cabins is very time absorbing. Everything must be taken apart and many years' layers of paint and muck removed. The furniture, mainly oak or mahogany is mostly intact, but literally falling apart. Bunks, cupboards, desks and chest of drawers will all have to be rebuilt. Keeping track of all the bits and pieces is also important. Everything removed from the accommodation is kept stored in four 20 ft containers on the museum pier, according to a carefully made up plan. When things are removed to be attended to, it is of course essential to mark them properly, making it clear to which cabin they belong. Plans are indeed important, but not always easy to follow. Sometimes we have had the most astonishing mix ups of parts belonging to different cabins to sort out. It is also difficult to decide what to keep and what can safely be thrown away. This problem is usually solved by saving everything until the pieces are either reconditioned or new parts have been made.

Summary of the restoration work..

It is of course impossible to describe all aspects of the restoration work done aboard Sankt Erik in twenty minutes. I have just given the broad outlines, trying to recapitulate the museum's policy, the practical manner in which we work and the way the restoration has evolved as experience and knowledge have hopefully been gained during the years. I have described only briefly the work done on the steam engines and boilers, mainly because I do not have the expertise to do so accurately. No doubt, the two big steam engines, the complex engine-room and vast boiler-room are among the ship's greatest assets. They most certainly deserve an appropriate documentation.
During the years, a number of smaller restoration projects have been accomplished, unfortunately too many to mention. Also, our other museum ship, the lightship Finngrundet has been partly restored and regularly maintained by the same work force.

When the restoration work started, no facilities existed to accomplish the task. At first, only a small workshop was installed in one of the cabins. Later on, a modest shed was erected on the pier and used mainly for metal work. A few years ago, two 40ft containers were welded together and a reasonable workshop for wood working was thereby created. Another 20ft container serves as paint shop and additional containers are used for storage. The limitation in buildings given by the pier itself, means that much work has to be carried out in the open whenever possible. One considerable problem is that the pier gets cluttered and access for visitors is hampered.

The policy of restoring the ship to the way she looked in 1977 has been fairly consistent.. It is also important to bear in mind that we now consider preserving the necessary skills for running and restoring the ship as essential as the ship itself. Had the decision been taken to preserve Sankt Erik as a permanently moored exhibit, it is doubtful if she would still exist as a museum ship today. The restoration of the ship to seagoing condition has been expensive and labour intensive, but it has opened up possibilities which have been vital for the preservation of Sankt Erik

The future..

At present, the further restoration of Sankt Erik is of more concern than the maintenance of the ship. The aft accommodation will take at least a couple of years to complete. Apart from this big project, two boilers will need to be re-tubed soon, and there are of course a number of restoration projects of a less complicated nature to deal with. Hopefully, we will eventually reach the point when maintenance takes the upper hand of restoration.

The operational use of Sankt Erik is very significant. It gives the ship a particular character and enables us to display the steam engines in the best possible manner. Maintaining a certificate to carry passengers is equally important, but will be both expensive and complex. The current demand for the ISM code, (International Security Management), is good example of the very exacting documentation which must be accomplished. Also, yearly inspections will of course be required to keep a passenger certificate.

Looking perhaps not so far ahead, our expectation is to take Sankt Erik to Flensburg in Germany this summer, to take part in a meeting for steam ships (Dampf Rundum). En route, we will call at several coastal towns and make at least four day trips with passengers.

With this paper I have tried particularly to give a practical and quite basic account of the restoration of Sankt Erik. No attempts have been made either to glorify or belittle the work done over the years. Hopefully, the presentation will convey that the maintenance of a museum ship in operational condition, will no doubt raise the standard of restoration and add to the possibility of future preservation.

Sankt Erik Illustration 1
Sankt Erik Illustration 2
Sankt Erik Illustration 3


The museum ships and the public.(Not included in the presentation).

The ships are open daily during summer and school holidays and at weekends for the rest of the year. Access is either through the gates leading to the pier or direct from the Vasa museum. Two museum ships guides are in attendance to care for the needs of the visitors. Guided tours, both for adults and children, take place daily. During school holidays, some sort of special attraction for children is planned regularly. In recent years, we have also organised special days for visitors, when we have focused on the restoration of the ships. Parties may also rent the saloon and make bookings for special guided tours. Apart from the ships themselves, an exhibition describing the history of icebreaking is available in Sankt Erik's forward hold.

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Version 1.01, 7 July 1997