04 February 2012

Brahe in Helsinki, 28 June 2011

I was going through my achive for photographs taken in 2011 to see if there was anything interesting I had not yet posted (in addition to the dozens of ship model images I took at Forum Marinum, which I'm at least for the moment holding for special purposes). And there was this very interesting old ship: the Brahe of Saimaa Travel, an intra-Finland cruise ship dating all the way back to 1943.


IMO 5345065
Former names: USS PCE 830, HMS Kilchernan, Sunnhordland, Kristina Brahe
Built 1943, Pullmann Standard Car Manufacturing Co. Chicago, United States
Tonnage 1 105 GT
Length 56,49 m
Width 10,09 m
Draught 2,80 m
200 passengers
110 berths
2 Caterpillar diesels, combined 1 735 kW
Speed 14 knots

The Brahe was built in 1943 asthe PCE 827 -class patrol ship PCE 830. The initial batch of the PCE 827 ships were loaned to the Royal Navy on delivery, and the PCE 830 became the HMS Kilchernan. She was based in Gibraltar as a patrol ship and submarine hunter. For images of the what the PCE 827 -class ships originally looked like, there is a gallery at Wikimedia Commons.

In 1945 the Kilchernan was laid up. Following the end of World War II there was a chronic shortage of ships and shipbuilding capacity, due to which conversions of tonnage built during the wartime for other purposes was rather common. In 1947 the Kilchernan was sold (like many of her sisters) to Norwegian owners, in this particular case the Hardanger Sunnhordlanske Dampskibsselskab (HSD). After a brief lay-up period the ship was radically rebuilt at Bergen Mekaniske Verksted as the car-passenger ferry Sunnhordland. From June 1949 the Sunnhordland was used on a coastal mail service linking Bergen to Sunnhordland via Stord. She remained on this service until 1973 when she was withdrawn and laid up.

Soon afterwards the Sunnhordland aroused the interest of the Finnish businessman Bengt Fagerlund, who was looking for a largish cruise ship to operate on the largest of Finland's 10 000 lakes, the Saimaa (which is connected to the Baltic Sea via the Saimaa Canal linking Lappeenranta in Finland and Vyborg in Russia - Vyborg was of course in Finland when the canal was built). In 1973 Fargerlund's new company, Fager Lines, purchased the Sunnhordland, renamed her Kristina Brahe and converted her into a cruise ship.

The Kristina Brahe begun cruising on Saimaa in 1975. The next year her cruises were extended to include Vyborg and in 1982 she also cruised from Helsinki to Tallinn and in 1983 from Helsinki to Leningrad. However, by this time the company was in financial difficulties and Fargerlund was looking for a buyer for the ship. A buyer eventually appeared in 1985 in the form of a(nother) family-owned shipping company, Rannikkolinjat of Kotka, Finland, who at the time had operated only small sightseeing vessels.

Rannikkolinjat established a new company, Kristina Cruises, to operate the Kristina Brahe (that hence retained her previous name). The Fager Lines colours - red funnel and a red decorative stripe on the superstructure - were changed to a white funnel with a teal stripe pattern that was replicated on the sides of the ship. For Kristina Cruises the Kristina Brahe sailed from Kotka to Saimaa via the Saimaa Canal and to various destinations along the Bay of Finland. Two years later, in 1987, Kristina Cruises purchased another second-hand ship, the Borea, which became the company's flagship Kristina Regina. Soon cruises outside Finnish territorial waters become the prerogative of the Kristina Regina, as the Kristina Brahe did not fill the latest SOLAS requirements. However, due to the conditions of the agreement by which Finland rents the Saimaa Canal from Russia, traffic from Saimaa to the Finnish coast via the canal is considered intra-Finland traffic even though the ships pass through Russia and hence the Kristina Brahe could continue sailing on itineraries on both the Bay of Finland and Saimaa.

With the arrival of new SOLAS regulations in 2010, also making the Kristina Regina unable to sail in international service without extensive and expensive modifications, Kristina Cruises decided to invest in a new, larger cruise ship, the Kristina Katarina. The Kristina Regina was sold to become a floating hotel/museum in Turku under her original name Bore, while the Kristina Brahe was sold to Saimaa Travel for further trading.

Saimaa Travel shortened the name of the Kristina Brahe to simply Brahe, gave her a new livery with a blue decorative stripe on the superstructure and placed her on cruises from Helsinki to Saimaa. Now 69 years old, the Brahe still continues in service far from the Great Lakes of North America where she was built. Although her only known remaining sister, the Orient Explorer, is even further from home at Borneo. For those interested, here is the website of her owners SensiBorneo. And here is the website of Saimaa Travel.

Much of the information above comes from Timo Selkälä's website, which also includes a travel report from the Brahe.

The photographs below show the Brahe in Helsinki West Harbour on the evening of 28 June 2011. Click on the images to see them in larger size.

My old photography teacher would be proud of the non-standard crop of this image. She always referred to standard dimensions disparagingly as "engineer sizes". To the right of the Brahe you can see the Enso-Gutzeit HQ by Alvar Aalto, behind it the Uspensky Cathedral and in front of them another old timer, the preserved harbour icebreaker Turso from 1944.
The Brahe seen from the rear - this was not perhaps the best place to photograph her with all the crap on the quayside. I guess I should make a point of getting good images of her next summer.
The aft section was built in sometime during the ship's career with Fager Lines - the earliest images of the Kristina Brahe still show the Sunnhordland's open car deck.


  1. Hi Kalle !
    It look's like You had a good teacher.
    This kind of cropping suits very well for this photo, looks like a "panorama". Sosetimes 10x15-style is good, but not 6x6, beeing too "engineer size".

  2. Hello Tero

    She was not the best in giving constructive criticism, which is probably why I didn't get as much out of her teachings as I could have. Still, something useful has clearly stuck to my mind.