A Preview on the Finnish Steamboat Summer 2019

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Steamboats arriving to Savonlinna

When the snow seems to be melting away my thoughts are more and more occupied by the forthcoming summer. When the Finnish steamboats are still mainly surrounded by ice, it is actually a good time to write a brief preview what is going on in the Finnish steamboat scene next summer. A couple of years ago (2015) I wrote an article on Sail in Finland site. Now this current article you are reading is a bit more fresh and covers next summer only.

Lake Saimaa

The steamboat regatta

The main event for the lake Saimaa steamboats and crews, the Saimaa regatta (in Finnish, Saimaan regatta), will be held at Joensuu on July 6th. Perhaps it is necessary to point out that this event is not a steamship race (as you could expect from a regatta) but an annual gathering. In my estimate, there will be over 15, perhaps even 20–25 steamboats participating in this regatta, so this is a good place to see many steamers at one place and time. And main part of these steamers are owned by private people and families and they are not always open to public, so that is another reason to travel to Joensuu.

The event normally starts with ‘a convoy sailing’: the steamboats are gathering outside the port, steaming on a line (more or less…) and then arriving to the port one by one. On one occasion there was even a live commentary ashore (by Antti Aho) when ship began to arrive. Every ship was presented to public and some short history tale was told. Let’s hope that something like that would be coming also this year. When all the steamers have moored to the port, there is a moment of joint steam whistling by all the ships. After that all the city of Joensuu will know that the steamboats have arrived. So if you are interested in steamers on lake Saimaa, save the date! Try at least these at Joensuu:

  1. Visit s/s Saimaa. The beautiful Saimaa (1893) is the only state-owned steamboat in Finland. Everything is polished and shining.
  2. Visit all the other steamers as well. Ask crews about history, technique or anything that comes into your mind. Most are willing to share their knowledge and stories.
  3. Hold your ears during the joint whistling!
  4. (Bubbling under) The mooring of old steamboats is always a show. Anything can happen so don’t miss this.
  5. (Bubbling under 2). I will be—if nothing strange happens—aboard s/s Hurma so come to say hello and have a chat!
The state-owned s/s Saimaa at Nuijamaa in the summer 2018.

Steamboat cruises on lake Saimaa

The best opportunities to have a steamboat cruise on lake Saimaa are at Savonlinna, where the local steamboat company owned by Janne Leinonen has three different steamers for cruises. Punkaharju (1905), Paul Wahl (1919) and Savonlinna (1904) start their daily ‘scenic cruises‘ (departure from Savonlinna harbour) in the beginning of June (and lasting until the end of August). The first cruise departs at 11 am and the last at 7 pm. The one and half hour cruises cost 20 € per person, children 10 € each and family package is sold for 50 €. The cruises head for the archipelago of Savonlinna and in the best case you might see a rare Saimaa ringed seal. I was working on those vessels a couple of years ago and saw 13 seals during the summer, so I confirm that is possible, though not probable. The best weather for seal spotting is a windless day, when the head of seal is best spotted while they are swimming around.

The core thing on scenic cruises is—not-so-surprisingly—to look around and enjoy the Finnish lake scene. Of course there’s also bar aboard with a possibility to buy drinks and small snacks. On sunny weather the steamboats might get quite full, especially during the Opera Festival.

s/s Punkaharju

Besides the scenic cruises, some of the three steamers is sailing scheduled route traffic to Punkaharju which is famous for its beautiful scenery. The route traffic is not daily so it is best to check the dates from the shipping company website. The route takes 2,5 hours on one direction and if you have had enough of steam travel after that (I doubt), it is quite convenient to take a train or bus to come back from Punkaharju (ask more from the crew or beforehand from the company website). One tip if you are staying at Punkaharju and want to visit the Opera festival at Savonlinna (and if there is route traffic on the very day): take a steamboat from Punkaharju to Olavinlinna castle (the venue of the Opera festival). It is quite an experience to arrive to the castle from back door and with such a stylish means of transportation.

Outside Savonlinna the possibilities to have a steamboat cruise are quite limited. s/s Wenno has cruises in Puumala on Mondays during the July and that is all that there is to be told. Of course, there are also other steamers that offer charter cruises, check the site of the Finnish Steam Yacht Association.

Lake Päijänne

The steamboat regatta

The regatta of lake Päijänne will be held at Sysmä on July 20. I have never myself been on the regatta events in Päijänne, but I presume that these events are quite similar to those at lake Saimaa or lake Näsijärvi. So if you’re somewhere around Päijänne on that time, save the date. More information can be asked through the Facebook event (linked above).

Steamboat cruises on lake Päijänne

The steamboat cruises open for public on Lake Päijänne are provided by s/s Suomi at Jyväskylä. The season begins at the end of June and goes on until the end of August. There are two possible cruises for a steamship enthusiasts: lunch cruises (2pm–5pm) and evening cruises (6pm–9pm) but it is good to check from the company which cruises are run with the steamer (and not a motorboat).

s/s Suomi at Jyväskylä

I am not familiar with the steamboats offering charter cruises at lake Päijänne so none are mentioned here…

Lake Näsijärvi and lake Pyhäjärvi (Tampere)

The steamboat regatta

The main event of the steamboat summer of the lake Näsijärvi in 2019 will be held at Mustalahti harbour, Tampere, on Saturday 31st of August. Steamboat Näsijärvi II will celebrate its 90th birthday (I’m part of the crew). At the same weekend there is also a bigger “Lake Festival” on the same harbour and Särkänniemi Amusement Park area, so probably there will be quite a lot of events and things going on at the same time. The details of the Lake Festival are yet to be decided.

In any case, I hope that the regatta at Näsijärvi will host all the steamboats and steam launches of the lake: Näsijärvi II, Visuvesi, Häme, Suntti, Kotvio II and one small steamboat. It is also possible that Alina will be carried to lake Näsijärvi from the lake Pyhäjärvi. We shall see. At least there will be short steamboat cruises available for public for a small price, music and food.

Steamboat cruises around Tampere

Näsijärvi II will continue to do charter cruises in order to keep the ship going. During the regatta (as described above) there will also be cruises open to public, so follow the Facebook page of the ship for further updates. On lake Pyhäjärvi, Alina will do charter cruises and probably some public cruises as well. Besides that, Wellamo (normal home port in Valkeakoski) has some plans for cruises that start from Tampere.

s/s Näsijärvi II in Ruovesi. Picture: Teemu Puumalainen

On lake Näsijärvi, Tarjanne will continue its route traffic.

Lake Oulujärvi

The northernmost steamboat in Finland (and in Europe), s/s Kouta and its crew have been working hard to make the ship known to public: it seems that the work is paying off. The website and videos are wonderful and so is the steamer itself, too. Check these out.

Kouta has scenic cruises open for public from the beginning of July to the beginning of August (3.7.–2.8.). If you are visiting Kajaani during that period, I recommend you to spend a couple of hours on lake Oulujärvi with Kouta.

Sea

The steamboat regatta

The official Finnish steamboat event of the sea will be held at Turku on July 25.–27. At this point, the details of the event are still unknown but it is most probable that you can spot many steamers of Helsinki and Turku at the event.

Steamboat cruises on sea

s/s Ukko-Pekka has scheduled steamboat traffic between Turku and Naantali and besides that makes evening cruise from Turku. In Helsinki area, there is no scheduled steamboat traffic (at least that I’m aware of), but at least Norrkulla, Lokki and Turso are available for charter cruises.

All Quiet on the Western Front

The offering of the steamboat cruises in Finland is pretty much the same that it has been for a couple of years now. The steamers, routes and schedules remain the same (the crews as well…).

During my 20 years in ‘steamboat business’, I have seen mainly slow decay of the commercial steamboat cruise offering. There are exceptions, but the overall picture is still a bit troubling.

Perhaps there is a need for new concepts and experiments around the steamers. But don’t get me wrong, traditions are something to be appreciated on this scene—there are unique steamers on unique routes (but of which the marketing is sometimes obsolete or almost non-existent). Luckily there are some new ideas and ways of doing things as the case of Kouta, for instance, shows.

The ‘steamboat culture’ is quite unfamiliar to public, so at least there is a need to more public events and marketing. At the moment the marketing efforts are quite modest. And of course: it is quite understandable that the private steamboat owners have enough to do with the maintenance and running of these old ladies, but I would expect more from the commercial steamers. And as I have already said, this doesn’t apply to every commercial steamer.

Even though I am a bit worried about the state of the (commercial) steamboat culture in Finland, I hope that there will be a lot of guests and passengers aboard these old ladies this summer. Besides, sailing with a wood-heaten steamboat can be considered as ecological travel these days.

Somer remarks: The timetables and route information described above are taken from the steamboat companies’ websites 24.2.2019 and I don’t responsibility about any changes in those, so please check the companies’ websites yourself before planning a journey. Edit 27.2. Changed the steamship to steamboat as it is perhaps more accurate term referring to Finnish steamers (of which none are ocean going). The main picture of the article: Tapio Kilpinen.

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