The young man tasked with directing Donso Shipping Meet attendees around the island promised me a train would be arriving at any moment to take me to the event.
Except there weren’t any railroad tracks near Donso’s ferry stop. Just a big patch of asphalt and a pile of bikes. I assumed, despite the locals’ faculties with the English language, something must be getting lost in translation.
But sure enough, a few minutes later an electric cart decked out in full locomotive regalia pulled up and passengers piled into the mock train cars hitched behind it.
Nor-Shipping has free transit passes to bring eventgoers from Oslo Sentralstasjon to the exhibition hall in nearby Lillestrom. Nor-Shipping this was not.
It isn’t London International Shipping Week, either, with its events and parties dotting swanky hotels and restaurants across the City of London.
But for a few days every other year Donso, an island 40 minutes by water from the centre of Gothenburg, throws open its doors for Donso Shipping Meet.
It is a humble affair. The local sports club gives up its football field and basketball gym and tents are erected to host an exhibition space, a banquet and panel discussions. Throughout the event, local schoolchildren explore the space in hopes they will make their way into shipping.
The only other venue this year was the Donso Missionskyrka, a church 10 minutes walk from the club along narrow streets lined with classic Scandinavian wooden homes.
It was enlisted to host the commercial and financial event — when I pointed out the oddness of venue and subject, I was told business and religion are not far from one another on Donso.
Donso is Donso
The whole thing can feel like an especially well-attended wedding, but that belies how big a deal Donso is to Swedish shipping. Some described the island as the backbone of the industry in the country, even if it lacks the prominence of Norway or Denmark.
Someone else told me that it has possibly the highest concentration of shipowners on Earth.
Most of those own coastal tankers — another head-scratcher as Donso is car-free by law — whose offices dot the waterfront alongside the Donso Maritime Training Center, inaugurated during the event.
Two of them, Sirius Shipping and Furetank, docked ships in Donso’s deepwater harbour to show off to attendees.
Aboard the 9,200-dwt Sirius Olympus (built 2006), a senior member of the Backman family, the clan behind Sirius Shipping, stood chatting with the ship’s captain and welcoming people aboard.
Even if it were possible, it’s hard to imagine a shipowner sailing up the Thames for London International Shipping Week. But Donso isn’t London. And it’s not Oslo. Donso is Donso.