The water road through Kuleseid – The time before and after the first canal

The people living in Bømlo – especially fishermen and those engaged in carrying trade –had a very rough time sailing around the island to reach the fishing areas at the west coast. They had often enough imagined an easier way when the gales of autumn and winter set in. Even in ancient times they must have played with the idea of a more sheltered route.

Already during the summer 1852 a proposal for a canal through Kuleseidet was launched by the chairman of the Finnås county council – Erik Jacobsen Øklandsnes.

This proposal was approved unanimously by the provincial county and - through a long bureaucratic process – was passed by the Norwegian Parliament in 1854. This resolution also included a grant of 16.300 speciedaler, which amounts to about N.Kr. 3 – 4.5 mill. in today’s money.

This picture shows the first canal and the narrow road for pulling the boats through by hand.

The reason why the authorities decided to allocate such a large amount to this project was not only because Bømlo is a beautiful island – but mainly because of the abundant herring fisheries on the west coast of Bømlo. By using the canal the small fishing boats could go direct without being exposed to the rough weather. Besides, fishing was of great impor- tance not only to the local community, but economically also for the country

When the work was finished in 1856, tovudgruhe Kulleseid Canal system, which consists of two small and one big canal, had a width of 3.8 and a depth of 2.2 meters.

The first bridge – and the first toll money of the island

The first bridge was a simple, wooden construction, which was hoisted by hand and ropes.

The small road along the main canal was used by the crew to pull their boats, because the canal was too narrow for using oars. During summernights, however, young lovers went strolling along the idyllic road.

Today toll money is a familiar concept, but not many of us are aware that it was used 150 years ago at the Kulleseid Canal, for about 10 years. The rate was low, but so was the income for those who paid. Landowners, who had contributed land free of charge, and school children, were not required to pay.

To supervise the Canal and collect toll and hoist the bridge, a Canal Supervisor was engaged. The authorities bought a place on the southern side of the canal and built a house for him and his family. Today this house is a small museum.

Maintenance of the canals was undertaken in due course by central and local authorities.

The home of the Supervisor

The new canals made the Kulleseid area an administrative centre at the island. The first telegraph station was built in 1857, the first post office in 1863 and the first telephone station in 1890. By a council decision in 1896 also the council house was located in the canal area.

Officials such as the vicar, the county medical officer and the officer in charge of law and order (lensmann) were also here.

The first bridge and the telegraph station

150 years ago there were only a few village shopkeepers on the island. Only city citizens were allowed to trade also in rural districts, but from 1842 also common people were permitted to trade. Until 1866 a shopkeeper had to obtain permission from the counsil, which often was refused because of fear of drunkenness among people. In the 1880ies

Sjur Larsen opened the first general store in Finnås, by the canal. He had a bakery in the basement and a carpenter’s workshop and the general store on the first floor.

Jacob Wrede Zahl, the first Canal Supervisor, was succeeded in 1885 by Samson Svendsen, who also was responsible for the telephone and telegraph station, and line inspector. His sons and daughters had to deliver telegrams by rowing boat – often as far as Hiskjo.

Times they are a-changing, and so are boats The period 1927 – 1935

As time went by, both fishermen’s and most people’s boats were too large for the existing canal system. From 1916 onwards plans were discussed, but only in 1927 the enlargement plan was ready to be carried out.

The government Port Authority, which was to be in charge of the project, had to reach agreements with the landowners about cession of the required area of land. Another important question was how to cover the expenditure – the work was estimated at about NOK 22 million – a large sum in an economically tough period.

Total length between the entrance of the eastern canal till the outlet of the western canal is 1700 metres.

  • The eastern canal length 80 meters width 14 meters depth 4 meters
  • The main canal length 600 meters width 10 meters depth 4 meters
  • The western canal length 60 meters width 10 meters depth 4 meters

The opening of the enlarged canals took place on November 17, 1935. Three ships, with flags hoisted, were crammed with passengers, including representatives of authorities and technical staff members. During the passage the sun was shining and guns saluted!

The enlargement project started in 1927 and was finished eight years later. This simple statement may convey the impression of a rather easy task, but when we look at pictures, listen to people who were there at the time, and consider the tools that were available, we realize that this was a tremendous performance.

80 years ago most av the work had to be done by hand even though they had steam for cranes, for rock drilling and for emptying water. The canals were built one by one, the equipment followed from one canal to the next. Today’s amateur divers at Bømlo share a past with long tradition, but the divers of 150 years ago had only a simple boat with a crew of four: one diver, two men producing air for the diver by an instrument with a crank on eash side, and the fourth keeping a signal line to the diver, while looking after his air supply.

Diving boat and equipment at the eastern canal

Because of weather conditions, construction work could take place only during six months of the year, which was one reason why it took so long. All equipment was taken away in the autumn and brought back next spring.

”Rundø” towing punt and barge

If the canals were to be built today, both drilling and blasting would have been done under water. In 1927 equipment for such work was not available, and their way of meeting this challenge was to build dams. To keep the construction site dry, pumps were used.

Old people can remember that they could walk “at the bottom of the sea” picking shells and other exiting specimens!

Stone had to be removed by carriage on rail, driven by hand.

The ground beneath today’s shop and filling station

The new bridge was built a little farther east than the old wooden bridge. To operate the bridge a petrol-driven engine was installed; however the bridge could also be hoisted by hand if necessary.

A small sign on the base of the bridge indicates the year the bridge was completed: 1932.

The most brave – or maybe most thoughtless – of local boys used to stand on the bridge during the hoisting – luckily they never fell down!

The bridge with it’s particular profile

Workmen came from different places – very few from Bømlo. They were lodged in sheds. On the picture side you can see the workers together with their (female) cook.

Since 1972

Improvements both on land and sea – completed in 1935 – made life easier for travellers on sea and land alike, for the next 40 years. The bridge supervisor, Rasmus Nedrebø, however, had to be on 24 hours duty year in, year out. Boats passed by day and night, and when they heard the whistle, he or his wife had to hoist the bridge.

The little cabin for the engine was also used by the supervisor for his side activities: shoe repair and hair dressing.

Modern times demand modern measures. The old bridge could no longer satisfy the the needs of traffic at sea. Also, 24 hours duty did not attract qualified persons.

So, in 1972, the old bridge was removed and replaced by a new permanent concrete bridge. The bases of the old bridge remain with their elegant arches below the bridge

Distance to sea level is 13 metres: sufficient even for most sailing-boats’ masts.

During the eighties the old fenders, made of creosote materials, were removed both from the eastern canal and the main canal. The old fenders were replaced by car tyres – a practical but not aesthetical change. In the western canal the old fenders still remain

150 years have passed since the first canals were built, and this seems to be a suitable moment to take a break and reflect upon the passed and the present. At the time, and for the successive years, the canals were mainly used by fishermen and freighters. Today the Kulleseid Canal has become an important part of tourism in Bømlo. From that point of view the story of the canals reflects the development of the society in general.

Sea transport is no longer very important for the island’s trade and industry – mainly tourists, and seafarers in general, are speeding between and around all the thousands of islands of Bømlo. We may conclude that the Kulleseid Canal is still important for Bømlo, but in a way very different from that of our forefathers’.

Kulleseidkanalen, March 25, 2006

Kjellaug Arnulf


Kolle, Nils: Bømlo Bygdebok, band VI, ”Eit øysamfunn i omforming”, Bømlo kommune, 1989

Foredrag på Kanaldagane 2002 v/Arnold Jacobsen, Kystverket Haugesund

Trygve Larsen som har fortalt frå ”minneboka”

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