The Construction of the Harbour in the Swina River Estuary



In 1720, the town of Stettin passed to Prussia giving it a port at the Oder river, which could be reached from the Baltic Sea only via Wolgast, a Swedish Town at that time. Hazardous navigation through the shipping lanes and, more significantly, Swedish customs duties, presented problems for seafarers and merchants alike. and it was therefore a prime concern of the Prussian State to make the Swina, another arm of the Oder river estuary, navigable again. The first attempts began in 1729/1930. However, the Prussian King granted a fund of only 1000 talers for the project. Efforts were made to remove the sandbanks using long rakes and fascines and piles were erected to encourage the natural clearance of the river. However, all these efforts were completely destroyed in one single November storm. Nevertheless, as time progressed, Stettin's predicament position was gradually improved by the easing of customs restrictions, the use of pilots and, later on, by navigational aids. Many plans were hatched, but they all failed more or less because of the inordinate cost of the project.
The development of the harbour itself started in 1740. An attempt was now made to conquer the river by using mattresses on the eastern bank and by dredging. The area between the northern main bulwark and the embankment in the east was left open and dredged out thus creating the "Osternothafen" (Eastern Refuge). This work was carried out by farmers from the areas of Pudagla, Wollin and other Pomeranian areas who were at the same time the ones to suffer most. Since the work was carried out exclusively in summer, the most important season for the farmers, protest was widespread. But all objections were quashed. National, military and political interests prevailed. The test phase of the harbour construction was successfully finished in 1746. All vessels headed for Stettin were now required to make for the harbour at the mouth of the Swina. Sandbanks and dunes built up behind the eastern mattress and these were planted with willows and alders. The western side of the Swina river mouth was, however, left untouched. Improvements were limited to dredgings at the "Weißer Berg" (White Hill) near Ostswine and to repairs. The average water depth was now 9 to 13 feet. From 1751 on, a town bulwark was constructed step by step. Finally, the construction of the western mattress began in 1755. As happened at the eastern mattress, silt and sand were washed ashore. This formed he foundation of the "plantation", which later became the Spa Gardens. The more the mattress was extended, the more land was gained. In 1780, harbour construction was deemed complete. According to Burkhardt, the amount spent on harbour construction between 1739 and 1780 amounted to the considerable sum of 517. 220 talers. The period following was characterized by temporary repairs, dredging, and setbacks. In spite off all this, the harbour remained alive. After only 3 inbound and 12 outbound ships had been registered in 1739, the records of 1747 already stated a total of 627 ships. In 1776, 1242 ships arrived at the harbour, and in 1805 the total reached 2181. The ongoing progress in harbour construction at Swinemünde was reflected in a corresponding decline of the Swedish harbour at Wolgast. The consequences included diplomatic and military countermeasures. During the war from 1757 to 1762, Usedom island and the harbour of Swinemünde were under Swedish occupation from October to December 1757, from July to December 1758, from August to December 1759, and from March 1760 to December 1761. The Swedish troops sabotaged the new harbour wherever possible. They even scuttled ships loaded with stones in the Swina river mouth in order to make the harbour completely unusable. They blocked the harbour again in 1806 and were followed by the victorious French troops. It did not prove possible to restart effective work until after the wars of liberation. In 1818, construction of the moles was finally started. The construction work progressed so well that even larger ships were able to enter without problems after the completion of the harbour in 1823. The current made the shipping channel between the moles deeper and deeper. In 1823, the water depth measured 19 feet and in 1862 it varied between 23 and 60 feet. The side effect of enabling more and more ships to continue directly to Stettin brought considerable economic loss to the town of Swinemünde which had grown up with the harbour. However, work on improving navigation continued unwaveringly and included the renewal of the bulwarks from 1830 to 1852, the erection of several beacons on the moles and in particular the construction of the lighthouse near the Osternothafen harbour between 1857 and 1859.

 In 1880, the "Kaiserfahrt" (Emperor's Navigation Channel, a channel rectifying the Swina river towards the Szczecin Lagoon) went into operation. This continued the unfavourable trend for Swinemünde and forced both the port and the town to adopt a complete new strategy.
Illustrations, from top: The eastern mole, The lighthouse at Swinemünde, the "Navarino" - the ship of the Russian Tsar, , the entrance to the harbour with both mole heads.
R.R