09 December 2019

Book review: Bretagne – 30 Years Of Splendour

Let's start with a little bit of background for this one: a little over three years ago, my friend (of the internet variety) Vitor Francisco got in touch with me as he had an idea for a maritime book (several, in fact!) and he was keen to have my advice on publishers and how to get things started. In the end, however, it turned out he didn't need it: last May, he got in touch with me again, telling me he had found a publisher (G Books International, run by the maritime historian Nico Guns) and that he was about to do a book on Brittany Ferries' Bretagne – amusingly, this was not a project he had listed to me earlier. Later on, Vitor was kind enough to ask me to write a foreword for the book, which I was more than happy to do.

All this naturally makes me not the ideal person to review the book, as I've been involved in it, first in a peripheral manner before it was even a real project, and then later more intimately. But, as I think it's a good book worthy of the publicity, I'm going to do it anyway.

Bretagne – 30 Years Of Splendour isn't your stereotypical ferry book with thorough technical details and an extensive history of the ship down to the smallest incident and route change. Rather, it is the kind of book which I think is sorely lacking in the field of maritime books: one looking at the subject from the passengers' point of view. What is it like to sail on the Bretagne? What do the interiors look like? How is the cuisine? What are the ports served like? Are there any special events related to the ship and its service? This book delivers all these points and more, with plentiful illustrations to go with the text.

There are some things that I would have done differently. There is some repetition in the photos, and I would have frankly removed some of them from the final product, allowing either for the remaining ones to be printed in larger size (though it must be said there are no stamp-sized images here!), or cut down the number of pages, which would have had the advantage of making the book shorter and therefore cheaper to produce. Furthermore, I would maybe have included a look at how the ship's livery has changed over the years; as it is, all the liveries are illustrated, but not in a chronological way. And then there are a few typos, but to be honest they are almost unavoidable (and I shouldn't be the one speak, seeing there is one also in the prologue I wrote).

Overall, I think this is a very exciting book in that it is very different from most existing ferry books (the ones in English, anyway), with a refreshingly different way of looking at things. This is more of a passengers' book than an enthusists' book, and even with the above mild criticism it makes the book very worthwhile and, frankly, I wish there were more books like this out there! (Perhaps I should write some myself? :P)

27 November 2019

Strikebound in Helsinki

The Mariella and Gabriella laid up together at Katajanokka on 26.11.2019 due to the strike, with the Lotus (Danish-flagged and therefore outside the strike) bunkering the Gabriella and slightly messing up my envisioned shot.
The Finnish postal services have been on strike for the past two weeks, after the employer decided to unilaterally move a part of the workforce under a different collective agreement, resulting in pay cuts of 30-40%. When the postal services wouldn't budge from their original position, support strikes quickly begun – for reasons that should be obvious, workers across the board were not exactly keen on a precedent being set for such radical pay cuts made purely at the employers' discretion.

The Finnish Seamen's Union (amongst others) joined the strike on Monday, with Finnish-flagged ships laid up after arriving in Finnish ports. For the Helsinki-Stockholm route, this meant that only the Silja Symphony was sailing, with the Mariella laid up on arrival on Monday and the Gabriella and Silja Serenade on Tuesday.

Need a magazine cover?

Finnlines attempted a strikebusting move by moving the Finnstar, which normally sails on the Helsinki-Travemünde route, to the Malmö-Travemünde route (meaning she never arrives at a Finnish port and is therefore not subject to the strike), and moving the Swedish-flagged Europalink to the services from Finland instead. However, the strike was resolved earlier this morning, before the Europalink even reached Finland.

The Lotus leaving – I was so preoccupied with taking photos that I didn't notice she was moving at first! Alas, she reparted just as the light was getting a bit too dark for really good views.

Of course, the Helsinki-Stockholm ships laid up gave nice chances of photographing ships that are normally not seen together in Eteläsatama in Helsinki (similar unusual pairings could also be seen in Vuosaari, Turku, Naantali and Hanko, but I didn't have time to zoom around the country quite so much).

Line-up of the Finnish-flagged Helsinki-Stockholm ships. Unfortunately, I only realised you could take a photo with all three properly visible through the harbour fence when it was a bit too dark for really good photos.
You wait for five months for a blog update and then two come at once? Worry not, I'm sure we'll be back to the one update per month if you're lucky -pace soon. :P

26 November 2019

Where is this blog going?

A perfectly valid question to ask about a blog that hasn't been updated in almost five months. And, frankly, I don't have a proper answer, although the plan is to wake this place up from it's slumber in some manner.

But let's take things from the beginning.

Unlike this blog, the Mariella won't be going anywhere today, as she is strike-bound in Helsinki. This photo shows her departing Helsinki on 2.3.2019.

For the past months, I have been busy polishing the text, images and layout of my next book The North Sea Bridge – Ferry Connections Between Scandinavia and Britain 1820-2014, which went to printers last week and should be with us before Christmas. I will do a proper blog entry on the book once the actual physical copies arrive. The book being completed is relevant for the subject at hand because I discovered that working on the book, plus various other jobs, and being the main parent of a two-year-old left me with little time or energy to post things here.

But, at the same time, after having been an active ship photographer for well over a decade – and a ship photo blogger for nine years – I find myself less interested in it than I once was. This is not to say that I wouldn't be interested in ships, and photographing them, anymore, but I do feel that my development as a ship photographer has reached a plateau, making the process itself less interesting. Simultaneously, I have less time to myself than before (being a parent and all) and less interest in using that time for going out on the kind of long photo sessions that used to be the norm for me. It doesn't help that, ultimately, the ships calling in Helsinki stay pretty much the same year in–year out (even on the cruise ship side) and I have good photos of most of them already. Thus ships for which I feel going out for photos would be warranted are few and far between.

All this is not to say I wouldn't continue ship photography, but it likely will not be frequent enough to keep the once per week schedule I have tried to maintain in the past. Added to all this is the fact that I have been somewhat displeased with the format of this blog for a long time; I remember talking with the editor of CruiseBusiness.com back in 2015 that I would like to move to a format more based on travelogues and experiences, rather than dry reporting of facts.

As said in the beginning, I'm not sure where exactly this blog will be going. It might be that after such a long break I will end up simply not restarting this blog and this will the penultimate entry (I will do the one about the book in any case). What I am currently leaning towards, however, is finally changing this to a blog that is more about travelogues, other shipboard experiences, and more thematic photo sets (rather than ones about an individual ship). I have some ideas on this front that have been thinking of doing for a while, and maybe now is the time to turn them to reality?

Of course, if the latter way is the way that I'll go, that will likely mean the update frequency will continue to be of the sporadic once-a-month kind, as there will be less material actually worth an entry – but on the other hand, the entries should be more detailed.

04 July 2019

Finnmaid in Helsinki, 25 June 2019

As promised, this week we return to last week's jaunt at Vuosaari and photos of Finnlines' Finnmaid.


IMO 9319466
Built 2006, Fincantieri Ancona, Italy
Tonnage 45 923 GT
Length 218,80 m
Width 30,50 m
Draft 7,00 m
Ice class 1 A Super
500 passengers
500 berths
4 216 lane metres
4 Wärtsilä diesels, combined 48 000 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
Speed 25 knots

The Finnmaid was delivered in August 2006 from Fincantieri's Ancona yard as the second ship of Finnlines' five-strong Star-class (the order for the class was split between Ancona and Castellammare di Stabia). The ship was placed on the Helsinki-Travemünde service alongside the older sister Finnstar (the two were later joined by the third sister Finnlady). Originally, the ship(s) sailed from the Sompasaari harbour close to the city center, but in 2008 switched to the new Vuosaari harbour, some 15 kilometres from central Helsinki, alongside all other cargo- and cargo-oriented vessels sailing from Helsinki.

A series of route changes were made for the Finnmaid and its running mates in 2009: first, in June, intermediate calls as Gdynia were added to some (but not all) departures; then, in October, an additional intermediate call at Rostock was added (as reaction to Tallink's cessation of the Helsinki-Rostock service for the winter season); and finally, in December, the service was split in two, with the Finnmaid and its running mates alternating between Helsinki-Travemünde and Helsinki-Gdynia-Rostock routes. In the long run, this arrangement failed to find the popularity Finnlines were hoping for, and in October 2012 the Helsinki-Gdynia-Rostock route was terminated.

Since then, the Finnmaid's life has been uneventful. In 2014, it was re-registered in Mariehamn (in place of the original Helsinki) and visited the Remontowa shipyard in Gdansk for scrubber installation, and in May 2017 it had the honour of hosting Finnlines' 70th anniversary celebrations, for which the ship visited Helsinki's Eteläsatama and Olympiaterminaali, the terminal normally used by the ships of Silja Line.

The photos below show the Finnmaid departing from Vuosaari in the evening of 25 June 2019 (approximately an hour delayed); and as you can see, the Finnlines cargo roro Finnhawk is also present in the first pic. Photographed from Särkkäniemi. As always, click on the images to see them in larger size.

Which funnel belongs to which ship again?
I admit to quite liking the looks of the Star-class.
Reappearing from behind Pikku Niinisaari. Now if one could get to that island, some beautiful photos would result!
Travemünde awaits!
Kships will return.

26 June 2019

Finbo Cargo in Helsinki, 25 June 2019

This blog has been very inactive recently, as I have been putting the finishing touches on the manuscript and photos of The North Sea Bridge – Ferry connections between Scandinavia and Britain 1820-2014. Today, however, the blog comes back to look at our new Helsinki-Tallinn ferry, the Finbo Cargo.

Finbo Cargo

IMO 9181106
Name history: Midnight Merchant, El Greco, European Endeavour, Finbo Cargo
Built 2000, Astilleros Españoles Sevilla, Spain
Tonnage 22 152 GT
Length 179,95 m
Width 25,00 m
Draught 6,50 m
Ice class 2
366 passengers
214 passenger berths
2 000 lane metres
4 Wärtsilä-NSD diesels, combined 23 760 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
Service speed 22,5 knots
Maximum speed 24 knots

The Finbo Cargo was built in 2000 by Astilleros Españoles in Sevilla, Spain as the Midnight Merchant, one in a series of five sister ships. Although owned by Merchant Ferries, the ship was chartered following delivery to Norfolkline for service between Dover and Dunkerque, but retaining its Merchant Ferries name. In this the Midnight Merchant was joined by the sister ship Northern Merchant.

When Norfolkline took delivery of its new D-class ships purpose-built for the Dover-Dunkerque route in 2006, the charter of the Midnight Merchant ended to them ended. The ship was instead chartered to Acciona Trasmediterránea and renamed El Greco (after the famous Greek painter who worked in Spain for most of his career); Trasmediterránea also took the Northern Merchant under chater as the Zurbaran, and had owned the fifth and final sister Murillo from the start.

Unlike the Zurbaran and Murillo, the El Greco left the Trasmediterránea fleet already in 2007, being sold to P&O Ferries (but immediately resold to a British bank and chartered to P&O) and renamed European Endeavour. During the early part of the ship's P&O career, it alternated between routes, sailing on Liverpool-Dublin, Dover-Calais and Tilbury - Zeebrugge, as well as being briefly chartered again to Norfolkline, until settling on the Liverpool-Dublin route in 2011.

In the beginning of May 2019, the information first surfaced that the ship would have been sold to Rederi Ab Eckerö. While the to-be buyer initially denied any deal would have been done and only said they were only "interested" in the ship, on 6 May the deal was made public, with Rederi Ab Eckerö confirming the ship would be employed by their subsidiary Eckerö Line on the Helsinki-Tallinn route as a cargo-oriented ship. Many (the author included) theorised the ship would get a -landia suffixed name in the tradition of Eckerö Line (like many, my money was on Estlandia, with Eurolandia a potential second candidate), later in May the company revealed the ship would instead be named Finbo Cargo, after an island in the Eckerö municipality.

On 15 May the European Endeavour was taken over by its new owners and officially renamed. A few days later the Finbo Cargo set sail for the Turku Ship Repair Yard (actually located in Naantali, not Turku), where it was repainted in a new livery – I can't really say it is an Eckerö Line livery, as the company doesn't really have a uniform livery, and the big text on the side actually reads Finbo Cargo by Eckerö Line.

Originally, the Finbo Cargo was slated to enter service between Helsinki's cargo harbour in Vuosaari and Terminal A in Tallinn's Vanasadam (Old City Harbour). However, following a public outrage about a cargo-oriented ferry sailing to the city centre in Tallinn, the Port of Tallinn agreed to alterations in Muuga, Tallinn's cargo harbour, so the Finbo Cargo would sail there. Thus, on 25 June 2019 the Finbo Cargo entered service between Vuosaari and Muuga.

As the ship lacks an ice-reinforced hull still nescessary for around the year service on the Gulf of Finland (despite climate change making the winters warmer, ice reinforcements of some kind are still a nescessity), according to Rederi Ab Eckerö CEO Björn Blomqvist the ship will be dry-docked again at a later date – presumably some time next autumn or early winter – to receive proper ice reinforcements to the hull, propellers and rudders. It remains to be seen if the public rooms will receive some TLC at the same time, as they essentially remain in P&O-eta style based on photographs.

The photos below show the Finbo Cargo arriving in Vuosaari on the first commercial crossing from Muuga in the afternoon of 25 June 2019, photographed from Särkkäniemi. As always, click on the images to see them in larger size.

Vuosaari doesn't give the best views, especially during the long approach when the ship is quite far from land and pretty much always seen from the same direction.
Nearer to the harbour and turning towards the quay. And of course the side facing me was in the shade.
And then turning in the other direction...
...to reverse into the quay.
Rush hour in Vuosaari, with the Finnmaid departing as the Finbo Cargo arrives (the Finnmaid was delayed, it should have left an hour earlier).

Next time: likely more of the Finnmaid, as it's been years since I last photographed her.