07 January 2022

The Sally Saga: The Rise and Fall of a Shipping Venture

While this blog has been inactive, I have not. So it's time to introduce a new book.

Kalle Id, John Bryant and Joonas Kortelainen
The Sally Saga: The Rise and Fall of a Shipping Venture
Ferry Publications: Ramsey 2021
152 pages

For a time, the Finnish shipping company Rederi Ab Sally were the dominant partner in Viking Line, and for a while they owned numerous other shipping companies in Finland and abroad, including Vaasanlaivat–Vasabåtarna, Sally Line UK and Commodore Cruise Line. And then the whole company seemingly imploded in the mid-80s, being sold to the owners of the main Baltic Sea competition Silja Line. Why?

While Ferry Publications had published two short histories of Sally Line UK back in 1994 and 2001, and a book on the history of Rederi Ab Sally was published in Swedish in 2016, there has never been a book that would gather together the stories of Rederi Ab Sally and the subsequent fates of their subsidiaries under new ownership... until now, that is.

Together with John Bryant and Joonas Kortelainen, we have crafted a volume that explores the full story of Sally, from humble beginnings in investment in second-hand cargo tonnage by the company's progenitor Algot Johansson in the 1930s, to becoming one of Finland's largest shipping companies by a successful expansion into the tanker and ferry trades in the 1950s-70s period, the ill-adviced international expansion and subsequent bust of the 1980s, and ending with the subsequent fates of the Sally-established Sally Line UK and Sally Line Finland under new ownership, plus a shorter look at the later fates of other once-Sally subsidiaries, and fleet lists of Sally Line UK and Sally Line Finland. The text is completemented by numerous photos and other illustrations, including many quality shots that have never before been published.

One reader, who I know is very well-versed in the history of Northern European passenger shipping, was kind enough to reach out to me and comment "I though I knew a lot about Sally. After reading the books, I realised I did not know anything at all."

As per the usual, the book is available from well-stocked bookstores, the publisher's website, or you can contact me directly via email at kalle.id[ät]gmail.com and I will be happy to fix you a copy.

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.