Gaff Schooner "Iris" Routes

ACROSS THE BALTIC SEA ON BOARD GAFF SCHOONER “IRIS”

The only gaff-schooner sailing under the Estonian flag has, depending on the season, many different home ports. In spring and autumn “Iris“ is anchored in Pirita port in Tallinn, from midsummer until the middle of August it stands in Pärnu port making shorter cruises on Väinameri sea as well as longer ones to Riga, Aland and Gotland. In addition to exciting main programs for merry goups of land lubbers on board of the historic wooden sailing ship the port-towns and destinations of “Iris“ offer plenty of interesting to see.

UNESCO World Heritage city Tallinn with a fully-preserved old town has more experiences to offer than one can record in a few days. The golden hanseatic times have left its mark on the city with the abundance of art and architectural heritage, as well as the medieval milieu of the old town. One of the most original and rare buildings is for example the Tallinn City Hall with the Town Hall Square, first mentioned in written sources in 1322. This more than 600 years old building hosts various prestigious exhibitions and concerts, the town hall square has the Old Town Festival, many fairs and bigger events. A worthy site to see is the city wall with its canon towers, which in the 16. century formed one of the most powerful defensive structures of the time. Of the towers the 38 meter tall Kiek in de Kök has to be mentioned – the most powerful canon tower on the Baltic sea, and the 20 meter tall but extremely massive Fat Margaret – with limestone walls several meters thick and having 155 fireing holes. The first of the towers has a permanent exhibition about the history of Tallinn, the second hosts the Estonian Maritime Museum. The 13-14. century Toompea castle towering over the city on the steep limestone bank offers a site no less breath taking. This one of Estonia´s oldest architectural complexes contains the 48 meter south-western canon tower Long Herman, which after the gaining of independence in 1991 is the symbolic residence of Estonian national flag.

In addition Tallinn can boast with many preserved medieval guild houses, merchant houses, several centuries-old churches. Oleviste church - once the highest building in whole Europe, Niguliste church-concert hall holding one of the most famous XV century artworks – Dance Macabre by Lübek master Bernt Notke, and the Alexander Nevski Cathedral reminding of the czarist times - these are all only some of the memorable sacral buildings worth to see in Tallinn. With all its cultural events, festivals and galleries, Tallinn is an inexhaustible source of experiences for weeks.

The two-masted kaljas "Iris“ can give a good panoramic view of the city from the sea – with all its churches, hotels, towers and lesser buildings. A closer look will also be given to the grim-looking abandoned Patarei prison complex. A good destination for a longer cruise is Naissaare island in Tallinn bay, which surprises with sandy beaches, beautiful nature and interesting abandoned military sites. Due to its position the island has been a strategic point during Danish, Swedish, Russian, Estonian and Soviet times, and it has preserved a part of each period. Permanent settlement became into being here in 1469 and until the XX century most of the population consisted of bilingual Estonian Swedes – farmers and fishermen. The peaceful community suffered greatly in the First World War, when the whole population was deported because of the builiding of a naval fort in 1913. Despite the fact that some of them returned after the war Naissaar was turned into a closed military border area again by the occupation forces of the Soviet Union.

Besides abandoned military buildings and small farm houses of the Estonian Swedes Naissaar is full of scenic nature – to protect the valuable habitats and species Naissaare Nature Park has been established. The landscape here rose from the sea only 7000 years ago and consists of shallow coastal embankments interspersed in the middle and eastern parts with young swamplands and extensive forest patches. The most outstanding coastal embankment is the Savikalda cliff near Põhjaküla settlement. An original plant community awaits botany fans in the Danish royal garden on the east coast. The species-rich seminatural communities that developed due to the tradition of grazing and mowing are now vanishing, but Naissaar can boast with more than 140 species of lichen. The guests arriving on board of “Iris“ can have a look around the island on rented military trucks or get to know the local nature and sites in a more intimate manner.

From Lohusalu port south of Tallinn "Iris“ sails to the Pakri islands. Small- or East Pakri is only 3 kilometers from Paldiski – the once proud location of czar Peter I naval fort and former strategic base of Soviet Union. The island was inhabited in 1345 when five Swedish families bought the island of Great- or East Pakri from Padise monastery and started to grow rye here. This is where the Swedish name for the islands Rågöarna ("Rye islands“) comes from. Even during the Estonian republic (1918-1940) Pakri was a flowering rural center with over a hundred farms, but with the Soviet occupation the civilians were driven out and the islands turned into an airforce bombing polygon. With the military base also the road-dam over the islet of Langgranne uniting the two Pakri islands was built. For getting to know Small-Pakri a 12 kilometer hiking trail has been built, which goes past limestone banks up to 17 meters high, junipery alvars, artillery trenches dating back more than a century, firing holes and other military objects. On the background of the solitary beauty of Pakri Landscape Reserve guests notice the contrastive dilapidated militray barracks, the machinery and steelworks left behind by the Soviet army and the wrecks of three ships sticking out of the strait between the two islands. The road-dam takes you to Great-Pakri with ease. Here bomb craters and military buildings are interspersed with untouched landcape as well. On the southern tip of the island the ruins of Kivikiriku church, built in 1890 with a cemetary commemorate the earlier times. On the pebbly north-western cape you can visit a small lighthouse from 1920 and get to know the plants on the alvar meadow – Wild Thyme, Mouseear Hawkweed and European Stonecrop. When walking around the island enjoying the sites and nature beware of the steep and slippery banks and do avoid making a fire near military chunk.

The Estonian summer capital Pärnu is home port to "Iris“ from midsummer's day until the middle of August. Pärnu is the oldest settlement spot and is known today as the most popular resort in whole Estonia. Pulli settlement found here was dated by the archeologists to be more than 9000 years old. The abundant archeological findings are all exposed in Pärnu Museum, which in addition to ancient history has a good permanent exhibition about the middle ages and more recent history. Hanseatic city Pärnu can also boast with a very rare historic finding – namely the 14. century one-masted trading ship koge. Koge was extensively used by the hanseatic merchants all over Northern Europe, but unlike Peipsi lodi, it was meant for longer voyages and not only on the inland bodies of water. At the moment a replica of the hanseatic koge is being built in Pärnu. In addition the city has a lot for architecturally minded people – be it the 15. century prison-fortification Red tower, the baroque St Elizabeth's church from the 18. century, or the numerous merchant houses from the times of the Great Nordic War. Luscious green park-town of Pärnu with its alleys, sculptures, spas and bustling night life is suitable for active vacations as well as long walks and quiet thinking.

From Pärnu "Iris“ can sail to many destinations according to the group's wishes, the most popular destination so far has been the little Ruhnu island near the Latvian border. Despite the fact that the first seal hunters reached Ruhnu already 7000 years ago, it has been first mentioned in 1341 in the Letter of Privelege by the bishop of Kuramaa, which granted the local coastal-swedish farmers special rights under the autonomous Swedish law. Ruhnu has remained a community with strong agricultural traditions until today – the locals raise Estonian native cattle and sheep, local farms produce many milk products using traditional methods. But it would be unjust to call the history of Ruhnu boring – according to the preserved church chronicles the island was pillaged by pirates in 1676-77. During the Great Nordic War it was the battleground of Russian and Swedish troops, and as it appears the god-fearing little island is not a stranger to murders, blasphemy or tax evasion. Of the sites it is compulsory to see the St Magdaleena Church with pieces of many clerical artwork. The church was built in 1643, which makes it the oldest preserved item of wooden architecture in all Estonia. Guests are also welcome to Ruhnu Museum reflecting the history of this small island. As for wildlife Ruhnu continues to be home to Grey- and Spotted Seals and also to the endangered Natter jack toad. After a long voyage the people arriving on the schooner "Iris“ can feel the sturdy ground under their feet again and study the diverse cultural heritage of the island. Back in Pärnu it is possible to continue the vacation in the idyllic resort or to head towards the nearby Soomaa National Park to see another historic vessel – the dugout.

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