Ajaloolise puupaadikultuuri pärandiväärtusest Lahemaa paadiehituse ja viislaiu näitel / The heritage value of historical wooden boat culture on the example of Lahemaa boat construction and viislaid-type boat


  • Ave Paulus
  • Aleksei Kelli
  • Anti Kreem




Lahemaa region has been one of the main historical seafaring centres in Estonia. Nearly 50 wooden sailing ships were built there (Õun 2019) and hundreds of captains and steersmen trained, thus advancing marine culture. Every coastal village had its own boatwright. Marine culture traditions were abruptly cut off during the Soviet occupation that destroyed Estonian wooden boat culture. The main heritage of traditional coastal fishing and marine culture – a wooden boat – is no longer seen on the sea.

The authors unravel the essence of wooden boat culture, exemplify the break of tradition on the example of a unique viislaid-type boat, and provide legal solutions to help revive the wooden boat heritage.

The authors define the nature of the historic wooden boat building tradition through its heritage values, drawing on the fundamental principles of heritage theory, and on the legal framework for the protection of heritage and intellectual property. Historical boat culture is conceptualised through the prism of its authenticity, based on the analysis of the boat as a heritage object and boat building as creation and tradition. The case study which exemplifies the analysis is Lahemaa’s unique viislaid-type boat, its construction tradition and the cultural break therein. The article defines the tradition of boatbuilding in the context of heritage protection and maps an initial intellectual property strategy to ensure the survival of the boatbuilding tradition. The article summarises the authors’ specific conclusions and suggestions in this area.

In their interdisciplinary approach to cultural heritage and wooden boat building, the authors draw on their previous research and practical experience in the field of cultural heritage, historic wooden boat building and law (see Paulus 2017a; Paulus 2017b; Kreem 2017; Paulus 2017), developing it further and adding new aspects, such as legal analysis. Sources include previously unpublished data on viislaid-type boats (including manuscripts, photographs, technical drawings).

For a more comprehensive mapping of the situation, several Estonian wooden boat masters were contacted and asked to explain why they were activein the area under study. The main focus was on boatbuilding traditions and values, administrative regulations and the use of intellectual property instruments in the context of the wooden boat construction tradition. To protect the business interests and personal data of the interviewees, the results are presented as a generalisation without identifying specific individuals. Any sensitive information remains with the authors.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the ICOMOS Venice Charter and the 20th anniversary of Nara Charter, ICOMOS adopted ICOMOS Nara 20+: on heritage practices, values and the concept of authenticity in 2014. This document reaffirmed the importance of the role of vibrant cultural traditions and heritage communities in defining, practising and developing heritage. This document emphasised authenticity as a meaningful creation and evolving cultural tradition, heritage as a keeper of cultural identity, the importance of heritage practices as carriers of history and identity values and as guarantors of sustainable development.

The article describes one specific example of a wooden boat culture – a viislaid-type boat unique to Lahemaa. This is a unique type of boat, the distribution area of which has been described by authors’ recent research (Mäss et al. 2017) only in the Lahemaa region and in Northern Estonia from Viimsi-Prangli to Karepa and Toolse. It is the largest dual-masted fishing boat (from 6.5–7 meters to 12 meters), with a unique stem and often also stern, as described by previous researchers and by locals. In the early and mid-20th century the boat was still present in descriptions, photographs and paintings. Unfortunately, to the authors’ knowledge, currently only two examples of the ever-popular Northerncoast boat type exist. One is a historic boat preserved as a nelilaid-boat in Rootsi-Kallavere Museum. The second is a new Viimsi viislaid-type boat Suur Leenu built by the boat master Anti Kreem as a model of the boat type as a result of the authors’ 2017 study (Mäss et al. 2017).

The solution proposed by the authors – observing the wooden boat culture in the paradigm of cultural heritage protection – creates the preconditions for its promotion in a way that preserves both the authenticity of the tradition and enables new creation so that it is protected and valued as a cultural heritage and enjoys intellectual property rights. Perhaps it is time to clarify the cultural tradition of wooden boats, the construction of historic ships and wooden boats in the Estonian legal space.

The Estonian Maritime Safety Act defines historical boats through the concept of a copy. The authors suggest that the concept of an example of traditional type should be followed instead. The new boat created is, as a rule, an original creation. This complies with the contemporary paradigm of cultural heritage protection. The observation of the boat construction tradition in the paradigm of cultural heritage protection creates the preconditions for its promotion in a way that preserves both the authenticity of the tradition and the new creation.

The creation of a historic wooden boat has many links to intellectual property. Both the boat itself and the drawings on which it is based may be copyrighted. Boat details can also be protected with patent and industrial design rights. Trademarks and geographical indications may be used to promote the boat tradition.

The protection of the intellectual property is not prioritised in the practice of the Estonian wooden boat tradition. Boats and skilled labour are the main objects of trade. Know-how (e.g., boat drawings) is sometimes also sold. One possible reason for not prioritising IP is that the construction of historic woodenboats is of no economic importance. Last but not least, attention to the intellectual property also creates the conditions for the commercial exploitation of the solutions created on the basis of the tradition.

Keywords: wooden boat, viislaid-type boat, cultural heritage, heritage value


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