01 January 2021

An update

It probably has not escaped anyone's attention that this blog has been inactive of late. And it is quite likely it will continue to be inactive at least for the immediate future. As has perhaps been evident from the slowing pace of updates, I really just don't enjoy keeping a ship blog in the same way as I used to. I have had plenty of ideas about future entries – there remains a backlog of stuff that was never posted here for whatever reason – but I just haven't felt like actually doing them.

Having made a profession out of my hobby of maritime writing and photography, it is in hindsight inevitable that the parts that I originally did just for fun ended up feeling like a job. During the past year or so I've been trying to, hmm, rediscover my life, breaking old patterns and trying out new hobbies, as well as rediscovering old ones in order to make my life less about work. And I guess I have succeeded, as I find myself getting excited about ships and shipping professionally again, but... this blog was and is a hobby, and all things shipping continue to feel like a job. I really don't want to spend my free time on working. I'm not saying I will never return to maintaining this blog, but it will certainly continue to be on an indefinite hiatus.

In the mean time, if you want more shipping-related stuff from me, you might want to take a look at the first episode of the Roll On/Roll Off Podcast, where I had the honour of being the first guest. If you want to listen to me ramble on about mostly ferries, but also branching over to cruise ships and shipbuilding, while the hosts try to desperate steer me back on subject, this is the place to go.

Meanwhile, on the subject of other hobbies, while this blog has been silent I have started a YouTube channel, which so far has been about my rediscovered model train hobby, but which will likely branch out to other subject in the future. So if you just want to know what I've been up to, you might want to head over to there.

I truly appriciate all the positive feedback I have received about this blog over the years, and I do hope the 559 existing entries on this blog will continue to bring joy to readers. Those are not going anywhere (unless Google screws something up, of course – you never know about that). I will see you around the internet, I guess.

15 May 2020

Gallery: CalMac ships in Craignure and Oban, 5 June 2016

I was originally planning to publish something else this month, but it turns out I really don't have the time to work on a full new entry. So instead you're getting the back-up I prepared earlier: still more unpublished photos from my summer 2016 visit to Scotland. Yes. Because there's just so many Caledonian MacBrayne ferries there, especially if you happen to visit Oban (as I did). So, today we're just looking at the various CalMac ferries seen on 5 June 2016, taken both in Oban and Craignure. Enjoy!

The day started with a trip from Oban to Craignure with the lovely Isle of Mull, seen her swinging away from Craignure and leaving for Oban.
Oban-bound Isle of Mull. Like quite a few CalMac ships, this one looks older than its 1988 vintage to my eyes.
Next up, we returned to Oben ourselves on the Coruisk (a far less nice ship, it must be said), encountering the Isle of Mull again en route, with a lovely backdrop.
Okay, just one more Isle of Mull heading for Craignure.
Next, we relocated to a nice location in Oban and first photographed the Isle of Lewis leaving for Castlebay.
The 1995-built Isle of Lewis previously sailed on the Stornoway–Ullapool route, but was relocated with the delivery of the new Loch Seaforth in 2014.
Sailboat comes in, Isle of Lewis goes out.
Next, it was time for the Coruisk to head out o Craignure.
By looking at just the exterior you can easily judge the Coruisk made for a mismatched pair with the Isle of Mull.
Next up, the little 1986-vintage Loch Striven hopped from the quay where it was resting to the Oban terminal...
...and soon headed out to Achnacroish on the nearby isle of Lismore.
The last encounter of the day was the Clansman, arriving to Oban from a run on (I presume) the triangular route to Coll, Tiree and Barra.
The 1998 vintage Clansman is one amazingly bulky ship. I love how workmanlike it looks!
Tht was it for today. For those of you interested in more CalMac, you might want to read my previous article Travelling on CalMac: a nordic perspective. And if that isn't enough, there is even more CalMac stuff under the tag Caledonian MacBrayne.

19 April 2020

Ferries in the time of corona

The COVIC-19 pandemic has upset many things – but not my work, which is the reason for the recent lack of updates. Now that I finally had the time to write something for here and take a look at photos taken during the last year or so, I thought we'd take a quick roundup of what is and isn't running during the pandemic in my home region, as well as some of the oddities caused by it.

An unusual (until a month ago, anyway) pair in Helsinki's Länsisatama: the Megastar, departing for Tallinn according to normal schedule, passes the Mariella laid up at the Hernesaari cruise quay. Photogrpahed 4 April 2020.

Currently, no services to and from Finland carry passengers, with the exception of freight drivers and other essential movement. Several passenger-oriented services in the Northern Baltic have been completely discotinued, while other remain operational – some with a subsidy from the Finnish state.

International (ex-passenger) services operated
  • Vaasa–Umeå: Wasa Express (Wasaline), with a Finnish state subsidy
  • Naantali–Kapellskär: Finnfellow and Finnswan (Finnlines) 
  • Turku–Stockholm: Amorella and Viking Grace (Viking Line), Baltic Princess and Galaxy (Silja Line), all with a Finnish state subsidy
  • Mariehamn–Kapellskär: Rosella (Viking Line), with a Finnish state subsidy
  • Helsinki–Tallinn: Finlandia (Eckerö Line), Gabriella (Viking Line), Megastar (Tallink), all with a Finnish state subsidy
  • Helsinki (Vuosaari)–Muuga: Finbo Cargo (Eckerö Line), Sea Wind (Tallink)
  • Helsinki–Travemünde: Finnlady, Finnmaid and Finnstar (Finnlines)
  • Hanko–Paldiski: Sailor (DFDS)
  • Paldiski–Kapellskär: Optima Seaways (DFDS), Regal Star (Tallink)
  • Ventspils–Nynäshamn: Scottish Viking, Stena Flavia (Stena Line)

The Viking Grace photographed leaving Stockholm in the morning of 13 February 2020.

Suspended routes
  • Helsinki–Stockholm: normally operated by Viking Line (Gabriella and Mariella) and Silja Line (Silja Serenade and Silja Symphony)
  • Helsinki–St. Petersburg: normally operated by Moby SPL (Princess Anastasia)
  • Stockholm–Mariehamn 22-hour cruises: normally operated by Birka Cruises (Birka Stockholm) and Viking Line (Viking Cinderella)
  • Eckerö–Grisslehamn: normally operated by Eckerö Linjen (Eckerö)
  • Tallinn–Stockholm: normally operated by Tallink (Baltic Queen and Victoria I)
  • Riga–Stockholm: normally operated by Tallink (Isabelle and Romantika)

Birka Stockholm departing Stockholm in the evening of 13 February 2020.

Special routes operated because of the pandemic (all since suspended)
  • Turku–Kapellskär: Silja's Baltic Princess and Galaxy briefly operated to Kapellskär rather than Stockholm between 19-24 March, until returning to the normal route after receiving a state subsidy from Finland.
  • Paldiski–Sassnitz: Due to the Polish borders being closed, Tallink's Star operated on this novel route between 19 March and 18 April with a subsidy from the Estonian state. As the Polish borders have since been reopened for transit traffic, the service has been closed.
  • Riga–Sassnitz: Due to the same border closure, the Romantika operated one round trip from Riga to Sassnitz 17-19 March, with a subsidy from the Estonian and Latvian states.

The Star departing Tallinn for Helsinki on 16 June 2019. Note also the Viking XPRS in the background on the left.

Long-term effects
  • Rederi Ab Eckerö have made all crew (sans 13 people) on the Swedish-flagged Birka Stockholm and Eckerö redundant, as services are likely to be suspended until the summer and layoffs are not possible under Swedish law. Once services are restarted, the old crew members have priority in hiring.
  • Tallink have similarly made all crew on the Latvian-flagged Isabelle and Romantika redundant. At the same time, the company also stated that when restarted, the service would revert to a single-ship service, although a second ship would be restored if and when passenger numbers improve.

Viking's Gabriella is unusually running on the Helsinki–Tallinn route. Initially, Viking ran a reduced corona service with the Viking XPRS, but later received a Finnish state subsidy to run the Gabriella instead (in part due to the Finnish Seamen's Union objecting to the Swedish-flagged Galaxy and Estonian-flagged Megastar getting a subsidy) with essentially the XPRS's schedule. Photo from 17 June 2019.

Meanwhile, despite the pandemic, the construction of the new Baltic ferries Aurora Botnia (Wasaline's Wasa Express replacement) and Mystar (Tallink's Star replacement) continues normally, while reports from China indicate the building of the Viking Glory (Viking's Amorella replacement) has recommenced.

One more Megastar from 4 April, just because I can.

Of course, with the pandemic resulting in permanent closures of, for example, Stena Line's cruise-oriented Oslo–Frederikshavn route, the question does arise also in my home waters if some of the passenger-oriented routes surviving solely on the high income during the short summer season can continue, or if we will see more temporary reductions as one the Riga–Stockholm line, or even permanent closures? Much will, of course, depend of how long travel continues to be restricted, but also on whether or not it will have permanent effects of travel patterns?

08 February 2020

Travelling on CalMac: a Nordic perspective

In 2016, I visited Scotland on two separate occasions and travelled on a small selection of Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) ferries, connecting Scotland's Western Isles to the mainland and each other. An abundance of photos from those trips have been sitting on my hand drive ever since, waiting for publication. For this blog's new concept, I thought I'd finally record some of my impressions of travelling with CalMac. Some ships discussed have of course been featured here before, but today we'll look at them in a slightly different way.

Clansman and Isle of Mull at Oban harbour in the afternoon of 4.6.2016.

The very original plan for my visit to Scotland was that the first CalMac ship I would encounter would be the 2014-built Loch Seaforth. However, an unexpected schedule change for my travelling companion (the design historian Bruce Peter) meant my first encounter with CalMac was quite different: 1984-built Isle of Arran.

My first time seeing a CalMac ferry: the Isle of Arran arriving at Ardrossan.
Onboard the Isle of Arran, bound for the island the ship is named after.
The Isle of Arran was, frankly, surprisingly old-fashioned. Both in terms of exterior and interior design, the ship seemed to be a product of a much older era than the first half of the 1980s (delivered 1984). For a tour of the ship's interiors, please refer to this previous entry.

Returning from Arran, my second CalMac experience was more up to date: the 1993-vintage Caledonian Isles, sailing on the Ardrossan–Brodick route alongside the Isle of Arran, which offers a wider array of facilities, but also looks more up to date on the outside and inside. However, there is certainly a CalMac "house style" when it comes to interior design that – to me anyway – looks dark, brooding and somewhat out of date. The Caledonian Isles also has some strange design choices, like an observation lounge where the windows are so high you can't actually properly see outside when sitting down...

Of course, it should be remembered CalMac are more of a public transport service than a commercial venture, and the interior do work fine, regardless of what you think about the decor.

The Caledonian Isles makes an evening departure from Ardrossan to Arran on 5.8.2016.
The Mariners Restaurant on the Caledonian Isles; a chairs bolted to the floor give the space a decidedly workmanlike feel.
The Caledonian Isles' Coffee Cabin.
Following the initial encounter with the Isle of Arran and Caledonian Isles, Bruce and I headed to Oban, where the main attraction of was the last seagoing paddle steamer in service, the Waverley, but we also had plenty of opportunities to photograph various CalMac ships, and travelled onboard the Isle of Mull and Coruisk.

The Isle of Mull on a crossing from Oban to Craignure on 5.6.2016, photographed from onboard the Coruisk.
The Mariners Restaurant onboard the Isle of Mull. Note, again, the fixed seats.
The Isle of Mull is one of two CalMac vessels with a bar – The Still – onboard, as seen here.
On the Oban–Craignure route, the Isle of Mull and Coruisk made for a very mismatched pair: the 1988-built Isle of Mull has one of the widest selections of public rooms onboard CalMac ships, while the 2003-vintage Coruisk is more of a glorified road ferry, with just one public room and very little passenger space compared to the (then-)running mate.

The Coruisk departing Oban on 5.6.2016. This is an aft view, though it is quite hard to tell on a ship that is essentially (but not quite) a double-ender.
Boarding the Coruisk at Craignure. Boarding procedures varied from skywalks as on bigger ferries to car deck walk-ins such as the one seen here.
The Coffee Cabin on the Coruisk. A somewhat more extensive look at the interiors of the ship can be seen here (though to be honest, there isn't very much to it...).

What surprised me positively was how extensive the onboard product was, at least on the bigger ships (of course, the Coruisk was the only "smaller ship" I sampled on these trips): there is more often than not a (cafeteria-style) restaurant, a café, an observation lounge, a shop and sometimes even a bar. On the other hand, a negative surprise – though from previous experiences with the UK, it perhaps shouldn't have – was how much staff there are in the different venues and how frankly inefficient it all seemed. A cafeteria that on a Finnish ferry would be manned by one or two people had four or five people banging their heads together behind the counter on the Caledonian Isles and Isle of Mull. Of course a contributing factor is the British aversion to self-service, where even a self-service cafeteria needs to have someone to give you your food... which to me, coming from very efficiently-minded Finland, seems utterly wasteful.

CalMac food isn't nescessarily something to write home about, as this Full Scottish Breakfast from the Isle of Mull demonstrates. In hindsight, I'm surprised this didn't come with chips – on the Caledonian Isles, they even wanted to give me chips with lasagna! (I declined).

Of course, my CalMac travels so far have only scratched the surface of their large fleet and varied route network, so my impressions should not be taken as definitive in any way. But it is fascinating – as always – to realise how different onboard products on ferries are in different parts of the world, when on the surface you would expect them to be the same.

For those interested in CalMac and their ships, there will be an gallery of ferry exteriors coming up later.

15 January 2020

Grandma's Place pop-up restaurant onboard the Gabriella, 3.10.2019–3.2.2020

Finally, after the few book entries, we can get to the first proper entry in the new concept of this blog. Earlier this month, I made a short ferry cruise to Stockholm with my family, primarily because our three-year old wanted to go on a ferry again. The ship happened to be my personal favourite of the four sailing on the Helsinki–Stockholm route: Viking Line's Gabriella. I especially like the ship in today's form, as the ship's most recent big refit managed to put in an amazing array of interesting restaurants. Although I had not realised it when booking, one of these – the Bistrotek – offered during our voyages, and for a few weeks more, of the best onboard restaurant experiences I have had to date: Mummola, or Grandma's Place in English, serving "classic home cooking with a modern twist."

Decor to match the theme.
The Mummola (all the nuances of the term don't really translate, so I'm using the Finnish form here) concept is deceptively simple: three starters, four main courses (plus one additional options on Thursdays), and just one desser to choose from. Yet, I felt like I was spoiled for choice – as did my travelling companions, and we ended up dining here in both directions.

What strikes your fancy?
The Bistrotek as seen on the morning of 4 January 2020 – unfortunately without the rag rugs that completed the Mummola look. I really, really like what Viking have done with the restaurant area midships of deck 8 – in terms of layout, decor and the restaurant offerings, this is hands down one of my favourite dining areas on any ship.

First night, I went with the mushroom salad on toast for starters and salmon soup as the main course. The portions being quite large, I couldn't find room for dessert, alas. And what can I say? The starter made me a believer in the concept. Mushroom salad is a tricky choice, as despite being very simple it is easy to get wrong. Viking's chefs made it just right. The salmon soup was equally good: fresh, simple, tasteful ingredients beautifully combined. Nothing superfluous, nothing missing.

Fantastic mushroom salad, on a slice of bread grilled by someone who shares my love criply grilled bread. I'd have this again any time.
Salmon, potatoes, chives, dill, cream, rye bread... you don't need anything else for a great salmon soup.
Both my companions opted for the spinach pancakes, and as our kid couldn't finish their entire portion (I'll return to the subject of children's menu below), I also had a chance to sample that. In contrast with the two dishes I had, the spinach pancake was a more experimental take on a classic dish, a spinach pancake filled with seasoned spinach leaves and accompanied with potato salad. Not really what any of us expected, but certainly very, very good!

The presentation was perhaps the weak point for the spinach pancakes. But I do love the plate, exactly the kind my grandmom would have liked!
As said, we were so taken by the concept we decided to dine here on the way back, too (a contributing factor was the knowledge this was a temporary thing), as both adults in the group felt we really would have also wanted to sample the pike and the dessert offering. So back we went!

If the presentation was a problem with the spinach pancakes, on the pike it was spot-on!
As I could by now expect, the pike was an excellent dish – the fish was perfectly cooked (a challenge with pike, which easily get too dry), and the potatoes, carrots and sauce complimented it perfectly. The oven pancake, however, was a bit of a disappointment. Whereas all of the dishes thus far had had that homemade feel, the pancake itself here was somehow just slightly wrong, coming across as being made somewhere in a factory rather than by hand (regardless of whether it was or not). The rest of the dish – the home-style cloudberry jam in particular – was good, but it wasn't enough to save the last dish from being a let-down.

An oven pancake is a bit hard to make presentable, alas.

Even with the slight disappointment of the dessert, Mummola was still a fantastic experience, and a restaurant in which I would be more than happy to eat again (although I will have to hurry if I want to, there's just two and a half weeks left). Despite – or perhaps because – of the humble inspiration, the dishes were both interesting and tasty, a fresh departure from much of the usual ferry food. The vegetarian in me was also pleased to notice that there was just one meat dish in the entire menu – this is no way made the selection worse, but it did make life easier for those of us who avoid eating meat (however, it should be also noted that none of the dishes were vegan).

I finally got to hug Viking Line's kid's mascot Ville Viking! Photo my Maria Id.

Since I was travelling with a child, I have to raise one more subject: the children's menu. On inquiring whether is was possible to get half portions of the Mummola menu for children, we were told this can't be done (with the exception of the salmon soup, of which a starter version exists and which our kid did have on the second night). Considering the foods served are literally the kind one would expect grandmom to make, it seems very, very odd to me there's no kid's versions of most of the dishes. For example, spinach pancakes continue to be the favourite school lunch dish in Finland (everyone gets free lunch at school), so surely it would be an obvious dish to have as children's version?

Furthermore, while Viking are very good with their offering to kids otherwise (the small activity pack ours got while waiting for food kept them so occupied they initially didn't want to stop to eat, despite telling us a few moments earlier they were very hungry), the kid's menu, branded Ville Viking's taste adventure, is anything but adventurous: for mains, you've got the grand options of (beef) burger with fries, chicken fillet with fries, or salmon with boiled potatoes. Now I admit my hands-on experience is limited to just one three-year old, but based on their food preferences Viking is seriously underestimating children's eating habits.

Final verdict: Grandma's Place – great for adults, somewhat disappointing for children. (Not the outcome I was expecting, for sure!)

Kships will return.