03 April 2017

Express (Viking FSTR) in Helsinki, 3 April 2017

We are living exciting times in the Northern Baltic these days, with new or radicaly redone ships entering service left and right. The Express, aka Viking Line's "Viking FSTR" has been performing test runs in and out of Helsinki Eteläsatama (South Harbour) for the past two days, and today the weather was good enough to warrant heading out and photographing the latest newcomer.


IMO 9176046
Name history: Catalonia, Catalonia L, Portsmouth Express, Express
Built 1998, Incat Hobart, Australia
Tonnage 5 902 GT
Length 91,30 m
Width 26,00 m
Draught 3,73 m
836 passengers
120 cars
4 Caterpillar diesels, combined 28 800 kW
4 waterjets
Maximum speed 48 knots
Service speed 30 knots

The Express (marketed by Viking Line as the "Viking FSTR", pronounced "Viking Faster", to avoid confusion with the Viking XPRS, pronounced "Viking Express") was completed in 1998 by Incat, the Tasmanian specialist fast catamaran builder, as the Catalonia for the Uruguyan fast ferry operator Buquebus. However, instead of Buquebus' home services linking Uruguay to Argentina, the Catalonia was, as the name suggests, meant for services in the Mediterranean. However, before entering service, the ship secured the Hales Trophy, awarded for the fastest Transatlantic crossing, on delivery voyage to Spain. (The Hales Trophy should not be confused with the Blue Riband of the Atlantic, which requires for a ship to carry passengers in regular liner service, whereas the Hales Trophy is awarded simply to the fastest ship). Less than two weeks later, however, the Catalonia lost the Hales Trophy to another Incat-built catamaran, the Cat-Link V.

Almost immediately after arriving in Spain, the ship's name was amended to Catalonia L, after which it entered service linking Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca. Subsequently it also sailed on the Ceuta-Malaga-Algericas -route. From the 2000 summer season onwards, the ship was chartered during summers to P&O European Ferries as the Portsmouth Express on the Portsmouth-Charbourg -route. During the winters it reverted to Catalonia (now again without the L), but spent at least some of the winters simply laid up. For the 2003 season the ship was no longer renamed for the summer service, instead being marketed as the "Express". In late 2003, this became the official name.

From 2005 onwards, the Express spent summer seasons sailing on the Cairnryan-Larne and Troon-Larne routes with P&O Irish Ferries, occasionally making night-time crossings from Larne to Douglas (on the Isle of Man) with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. Winters were spent laid up.

The pattern was finally broken in 2015, when the ship was sold to Nordic HSC, a shipowner associated with Gotlandsbåten, the new Swedish shipping company wishing to challenge the existing state-subsidized operator Destination Gotland on the routes connecting the Swedish mainland to Gotland. During the 2016 summer season, Express sailed for Gotlandsbåten on the Visby-Västervik and Visby-Nynäshamn routes. While passenger numbers were good, Gotlandsbåten failed to make a profit and the company decided not to resume operations for the 2017 summer season. Instead, the Express was chartered to Viking Line, who will use her on the Helsinki-Tallinn line for the duration of the summer season, starting from 10 April 2017.

The photos below show the Express passing through the Kustaanmiekka strait both outbound and inbound during the operating trials she carried out during 3 April 2017. Photographed from Kustaanmiekka. As always, you can see the images in larger size by clicking on them.

Outbound for the first run of the afternoon. This was the first time I've ever heard a ship in the Kustaanmiekka strait before I saw it. The Express is loud.
Coming back after circling the Harmaja lighthouse.
Viking's latest marketing visuals (in Finland) use multicoloured balls, so these have also been painted on the ship alongside the FSTR marketing name.
Heading out again, this time from a slightly different vantage point.
I also photographed her return from this tip, but my last location was poorly chosen and the photos were nothing to write home about.
Next time: I will be attending a press conference onboard the Princess Anastasia on Wednesday, so in all likelihood the next entry will be new interior shots from that ship.