Home Blog Page 2

Last of Its Species. Along the Poet’s Way with Steamboat Tarjanne

Tarjanne Virtain laivarannassa

The Midsummer trip to 112 years old steamboat Tarjanne gave a lot of video material. Therefore, I decided to compile a short ‘documentary’ of this special steamer’s past and present. I have bother worked aboard Tarjanne and studied its history, so this steamboat is especially dear to me.

Tarjanne is the last of its species: still steaming along its original route. And as far as I know (of course, I may also be wrong), it’s unique also globally.

COVID-19 pandemic hit tourism industries hard in general and Tarjanne wasn’t spared either. The best support for a unique historical vessel like Tarjanne is to book a journey on her. The tickets for the scheduled route traffic can be found from the webshop of steamboat the Tarjanne.

From the Baltic Sea to Lake Saimaa – the Repositioning Cruise of s/s Saaristo

Tarjanne Virtain laivarannassa

In June, I was on a bit different steamboat cruise as I was part of moving the steamboat Norrkulla from Helsinki to Savonlinna, from the Baltic Sea to Lake Saimaa. The name of the steamer was changed from Norrkulla to Saaristo in the destination, so that’s why s/s Saaristo is used in the title.

Background and preparations

Steamboat Norrkulla has a lively history. Originally it was used in the Nauvo (Nagu in Swedish) archipelago (Southwest Finland) as a transport ship by the name of Nagu. It was built in 1911 in Lehtoniemi Konepaja at Varkaus. During the First World War it was forcibly taken in use by the Russian Navy and got the name Nyrok.  After the war (1918), the hull was lengthened and the boat was transferred to Helsinki as a local transport boat. Then it also got is name Norrkulla.

After the road traffic around the Helsinki had improved in the 1930, Norrkulla was left out of people and cargo to transport. Therefore, it was sold to Savonlinna, Lake Saimaa in 1938. There the road conditions were not nearly as good and it served as the last steamboat in local traffic until 1975. Luckily, the steamboat found new owners that started to offer steamboat tours in Savonlinna. The boat also got it’s name Figaro which was influenced by the large opera festival held yearly in Savonlinna.

Figaro sailed the waters of Savonlinna until 2005, when it was sold to Helsinki and it got once again a new name, HöyryJuho (SteamJuho). This name lasted only a year, after which the steamboat was sold once more and the new owners changed the name back to Norrkulla from the 1920s.

However, Norrkulla was sold again in the early summer of 2020 as Janne Leinonen, a CEO of the steamboat company VIP Cruise bought the vessel. He also phoned me whether I would like to be the shipmaster on the relocationing cruise. After a brief moment of consideration, I agreed, why not. Furthermore, when I heard who will be part of the crew, I knew that this would be an excellent trip. The schedule was agreed that we would depart on Tuesday the 23rd of June as the great ‘homecoming party’ would be arranged on Saturday the 27th of June. The weather conditions seemed also favorable which was essential of transporting this kind of small steamboat. (Well, quite hot for the engineers, though.)

The trip was quite long to be a normal steamboat ride, so it took some time to make all the preparations and arrangements. Also preparing for the border formalities took more time as it was ‘the covid period’ and the travel restrictions were in effect. However, the relocation of a merchant ship (as Norrkulla) was approved. We also used a ship clearance company which was of great help dealing with the Russian administration. Thank you Kimmo once more.

The previous owners had already cruised a test cruise (after a major boiler repair, changing the fire tubes) and cleaned the ship. Marita & co (the previous owners) had put their steamer in excellent condition. The idea was to sail first to Santio border station and continue from there to Lappeenranta via the Saimaa canal and from there to Savonlinna.

 

 

Helsinki–Santio–Lappeenranta–Savonlinna. Altogether 243.5 nm which is about 451 km. Background: Google Maps.

Tuesday, the 23rd of June

I arrived with Tero by train to Helsinki in the Tuesday morning and the preparations were well on their way. The engineers Mikko (two Mikkos aboard) and Timo made the final checks in the engine room and Tapsa was buying an additional pump for the engine room. Tero and Risto headed off to get more food and mineral water. The latter was much in need as the temperature was about 27–30 degrees all the cruise. The small local shop was emptied of the mineral water!

Preparations ready, off to Savonlinna! The crew from left to right: Mikko Manka (the author of the blog), Tero Lahti, Risto Luukkainen, Tapio Kilpinen, Timo Turunen and Mikko Manninen. Pic: J. Ekholm.

When all the necessary preparations were made, we did a general tour around the steamboat with the previous owners in order to get use familiar with the steamboat. Finally we were ready to depart in 13:45. The beautiful Helsinki was left behind and the sea trip was about the begin. As a our cruising speed was a little bit under 6 knots, we had a lot of time to admire the views as well. The weather conditions – on the deck – were excellent: a slight tailwind and +27°C. However, in the engine room the temperatures were high: first over 50°C and in the latter part of the trip almost 70°C! During the journey on the sea, the temperatures were generally lower than in the lake and in the canal: the sea was still cold.

Helsinki is left behind. Pic: T. Kilpinen
Kuninkaansalmi strait.
Great cormorants on an island. Pic: T. Lahti.
Timo is checking the views. Pic: T. Lahti.
Pellinki ferry, around 19:45 on Tuesday. Pic: T. Lahti.

We took turns on watch (both on the bridge and engine room) to give enough time to rest for everyone. There was enough of nautical miles still ahead. We converted the public cabins to our use by using some mattress pads to give extra width to the narrow couches.

Risto and Tero resting on the upper deck
Sun is setting in order to rise only after a few hours. The midnight sun. Pic: T. Lahti.

As usually with these old boats, we had some technical challenges, too: the engineers had to make a small reparation to our condenser pump system off the Loviisa coast. However, it was quickly fixed and the journey continued. One of the highlights of the day was the ‘shower’ prepared by the engineers using a mix of warm condenser water and seawater. What a delight after a long day!

Wednesday, the 24th of June.

Wednesday started with a beautiful sunrise near Kotka about 3:40 o’clock. There was barely wind on the sea and clouds on the sky. The heat wave continued.

Sun is rising.
Towards Santio. Pic: T. Kilpinen.
Good morning! Pic: T. Kilpinen.

First port on our journey was Santio in which we arrived at 6:40. There we waited for the border guards a couple of hours. At the same time I called to the guys on the next port, Lappeenranta, and made sure that we got a place there where we could get fresh water and electricity. The old dockyard for old vessels was an ideal place to spend the next night: it is a calm place with good facilities.

The border facilities took a little less than hour and so hour journey could continue towards Vyborg and Saimaa canal in 9:45.

Tapsa polishing the brass parts of the engine order telegraph somewhere on the Russian waters. Notice the Polish texts. We tried to learn Polish all the trip: Wstecz Baczność!
Tero found truly “automatic harness lifevests” of the past decades from the ship stores.

After crossing the border, the Russian authorities contacted us with the VHF in order to recognise our boat but after that we sailed a couple of hours without any sign of life at sea.

Engineers Timo and Mikko on the deck.
Risto removing the “rear view mirrors”. Pic: T. Kilpinen.
Tero keeps a look-out on the bridge. Pic: T. Kilpinen.
The port of Uuras (Vysotsk). Pic: T. Lahti.
Part of buildings were still in a bit weaker state. Pic: T. Lahti.

We bypassed the port of Uuras around three pm. The contrast between the new facilities of the port and some Soviet time buildings was quite strong.

In the bay of Vyborg with the city already in sight, Timo had to make a quick reparation to the auxialiary engine. However, this problem was fixed very quickly. In the city of Vyborg, the Russians celebrated the Victory Day as the celebrations were moved to later day because of the COVID pandemic. Therefore, the flag of the Vyborg castle was a red one as in the old days. Quite a strange sight.

Reparations on the bay of Viborg. Timo is working with the auxiliary engine, Risto is ready to help on the hatch and Tero is observing the situation.
The red flag of the Vyborg Castle. Pic: T. Lahti.
I’m using the binoculars, Risto in the background. Pic: T. Lahti

As we arrived to Vyborg, the temperature rose significantly. The light breeze of the sea ended and the heat of the land was everywhere. You could also notice the heat by looking to the shores: every place to swim was full of people

Viipuri beach. Pic: T. Lahti.
The heat of the land reached the engine room as well.

Before six pm we were at the beginning of the Saimaa canal. The customs formalities were quickly done and we could enter the first lock. In general, the Saimaa canal part was very quick: we could just enter the first four locks, attach the mooring rope, wait for fifteen minutes and on the ‘road’ again. However, before entering the fifth lock, Pälli, we had to wait for a couple of hours for cargo traffic.

Up we go.
Iskrovka is passed.
Towards the lock of Pälli. Pic: T. Kilpinen.
Waiting at the Pälli. Pic: T. Kilpinen

After waiting a couple of hours we got to the lock of Pälli, on which the passport control was made. Then we moved the steamboat a hundred meters where the Russian border authorities made a thorough check of the ship. The young border guard with a mask on was friendly and fast: I really had to run after him in order to keep up with him. The crew had to wait on the quay during the check.

Thursday, the 25th of June

After the check it was already midnight and we could carry on and cross the border back to Finland. At Nuijamaa border station there was another control of the boat and passports – both were quick and efficient. Meanwhile the sun had set and we continued our journey guided by the many lights of the canal. Finally we arrived at the dockyard around 4 am. The canal and Russian waters were behind and ‘only’ some miles (79nm) on Lake Saimaa left. We really enjoyed the sleeping in the silent dockyard.

A canal scene on the early hours.
Arrived at the Kanavansuu dockyard around 4 am.
Preparations for the last day. Pic: T. Kilpinen

After sleeping, swimming and taking some fresh water to the steamboat our journey continued. Goodbye Lappeenranta and once more thanks to the persons in the dockyard for an excellent place to rest.

Saimaa showed its best: it was really warm (around 30–31°C) and sun was shining from a cloudless sky. The last small breeze ended when we reached the Sulkava hillfort and the rest of the journey was made on a dead calm lake. The last part of the trip was excellent time for different maintenance and polishing work (which had been done all the journey, too). Tapsa polished brass parts of the ship as he uses to do and together with Risto they mounted the old compass cover to its place. Before passing the Puumala, the engine officers converted the condender system to be driven with the fire pump: it improved the speed significantly, now we were cruising almost with the speed seven knots. Tero, for his part, prepared the meals as he had done all the journey. Thank you once more for the great meals aboard!

Excellent menu. Tuesday: Lunch: Boiled potatoes, herring, frankfurters, tomato, apple, cucumber and salad. Wednesday: Pasta Bolognese: tomato sauce, tomato, cucumber, ketchup. Thursday: Garlic Chicken with fries, ketchup, tomato, cucumber, mineral water and good company. Pic: T. Lahti.
Omelette and yoghurt as a snack between the meals. I was not hungry on this trip!
Tapsa polishing the old compass cover. Pic: T. Lahti.
Risto and Tapsa after mounting the old compass cover.
Risto taking a nap on the upper deck. Pic: T. Lahti
The consumption of mineral water was high. Here you can see a part of the bottles.

On the Lake Saimaa we could admire the beautiful nature. Puumala and especially Sulkava hillfort are impressive places. The nickname of Puumala, “The Gibraltar of Lake Saimaa” (given before the bridge was built), even inspired us to make a modest movie tribute…

Puumala, the Gibraltar of Lake Saimaa. Video: R. Luukkainen.

Before the new bridge at Vekaransalmi strait, we also saw rare animals: Two ospreys and a Saimaa ringed seal. The latter escorted us for a while before diving back to the depths of Lake Saimaa. Tero who was a first-timer on Lake Saimaa got all the best parts of the lake on this trip!

Sulkava Hillfort is an impressive sight. Pic: T. Kilpinen.
Osprey at her nest and flying. Pics: T. Lahti.
A Saimaa ringed seal escorting us towards Savonlinna. Pic: T. Lahti.
Lake Saimaa is beautiful on the evenings. Pic: T. Kilpinen.
The chief engineer Mikko inspecting the old home waters of the steamboat. Pic: T. Kilpinen.
The last 30 minutes to cruise! Pic: T. Kilpinen.
Arrived in 23:45. Pic. T. Kilpinen

Finally we arrived to Savonlinna just a bit before the midnight. We moored the steamboat on a dockyard where it was not visible to the public as the homecoming party was due to be arranged only on Saturday. Before that, there was a lot of work and cleaning to be done. However, the relocation cruise was at its end. Thank you all the crew! As always on the steamers, the engineers have the hardest time, so thank you Mikko and Timo. And thank you for all the other crew member, Tero, Tapsa and Risto as well. All you enabled the safe and succesful transfer. And thank you Janne, without you the the ship wouldn’t have been relocated at all.

I have to admit, that it was a strenuous journey. But we had a lot of fun, too, and a great team spirit. Therefore, it was a bit sad when the trip was over.

Take a cruise on steamboats!

After the final preparations by Tapsa and Timo, the steamboat was taken to the passenger harbor of Savonlinna on Saturday. A convoy of steamboats (Punkaharju, Savonlinna, Enso and Tippa (waiting in the port)) escorted the steamboat to Savonlinna where there was a great party with an excellent accordionist, a band, a magician and so on. The new (old) name was also introduced before the party.

The event and the number of people attending to it was a reminder how the steamboats—and this steamboat in particular—are important to the locals in the town like Savonlinna which has lived of the lake for centuries. There are a lot of emotions and memories attached to these steamers. The best way to take care of these old boats is to use them actively. Therefore, I hope that people actively board on cruises on these old steamboats like Saaristo, Punkaharju and Savonlinna and all the other steamers in Finland and other parts of world, too. These vessels are part of our cultural heritage.

If you’re interested in Lake Saimaa cruises, you can get to the home site of VIP Cruise here.

The vessel at its new home port. Pic: T. Kilpinen

PS. Our deck hand, Tapsa, was photographed 54 years ago in front of the vessel so we had to take a new picture. I guess he didn’t know over half a century ago that he was to be photographed in the same place again—nor that he would self be taking this steamboat back to Savonlinna!

1966 vs 2020. The steamboat has apparently shrunk a bit in 54 years…

Wonderful Ice Conditions on Lakes

This winter with little no or little snow has been quite awful for cross-country skiing in the Southern Finland. However, the conditions for Nordic Skating have been quite good here at Tampere. The last week offered almost once-in-a-lifetime conditions as the big lakes (e.g. Näsijärvi) got ice cover that was durable enough for Nordic Skating. I had already lost hope for that to happen this year, but a week of “normal” winter frosts did the trick.

First we had a 63km trip on lake Aure, a little over one hour drive from Tampere. Aure is also close to the national park of Seitseminen and the nature there is wonderful. You can watch a video from that trip below:

Even though Aurejärvi was nice, the real highlight of the week was skating from Tampere to Kuru (83km) on Saturday. We had already made an “ice scouting trip” from Kuru to Tampere on Friday—to see that the ice conditions were good enough for a bigger group to skate all the way. The ice proved itself one of the best I’ve ever skated on. And I got the chance to enjoy it twice, first on the scouting trip and then with the bigger group. As always with Nordic Skating, the window of opportunity was short: already on Sunday the ice was covered with snow and the same kind of trip was not possible anymore. However, there are three well-maintained skating lanes on lakes in the Tampere region. On these it is possible to skate even when the other parts of lakes are covered with snow.

I hope the video below catches some of the mood of our skating trip.

Technique and Skating in the Sky

It was quite amazing that despite the ‘heat wave’ of this so called winter, there was still enough ice for a Nordic skating tour. The theme of the tour was ice reconnaissance and improving one’s skating technique. However, a week of temperatures above 0 °C had weakened the ice in such a way that the original destination at the other end of the lake was not reachable.

As the skating area was quite limited—some kilometres—we concentrated in improving the skating technique. A couple of professional skaters that were part of our group gave really good hints how to skate faster and in more efficient way. I have been skating many years, but I experienced a wow effect today after some training. Of course, it will take much time to perfect my technique, but today’s training was a good start.

Despite the training, I also had time to take some video clips and the result is here below. Enjoy the video!

 

Nordic Skating in Hell

Nordic skating is quite photogenic sports (or way of life?). Yesterday we made a day trip to nearby Helvetinjärvi (Hell’s lake –>thus the title of the post) National Park and visited four different lakes. Absolutely a wonderful place: beautiful scenery, silence, beaches, pine forests – Finnish wilderness at its best.

We took quite many video clips with a GoPro and a drone, here’s a short video we edited of the filmed material. Enjoy.

As there was plenty of material, I edited a second video from our skating day. Which one do you prefer?

 

Nordic skating season opened – finally!

I’ve been quite busy this winter: a lot of study and work-related projects have kept me by my desk. I’ve only envied the pics and videos of other skaters as the season started already at October in these parts of Finland.

But today, finally, I personally opened the skating season as we made a 30 km tour on the northern end of Lake Vesijärvi at Kangasala. And it really paid off to leave the office for a while. It was one of the best winter days so far and the ice conditions were great, too.

Today, I also tested some new equipment as I bought new skates and skating boots last April. Specialists at Bear & Water shop sold me new MenM Zwart skates and Crispi Backcountry boots with applicable bindings, which proved themselves worth all the money spent. Great!

As safety of the Nordic skating becomes always an issue in the public debate, perhaps it’s wise to write the basic rules once again here: never skate alone, always have safety equipment with you, don’t assume but test the ice all the time and don’t leave common sense on the shore.

Here’s also a video from today’s tour. It’s a bit lenghty – I know – but I wanted to spare clips for fellow skaters.

A Business Travel to Vienna by Train – Part I: the Purchase Process

For quite a few years in a row, I have been attending to a TourMIS workshop of which the main themes are tourism statistics and trends. This summer I began to ponder, if I should do this trip by train, mainly traveling by land. As the theme of my PhD project is Interrail travel in the 1970s and 1980s and as I deal with different tourism themes and trends in my everyday work, I thought I should try traveling by land myself, too. In addition, the company I am working in, TAK Research, said that it is okay for them if I choose to travel by land, I decided to give it a go.

Purchase process – the First Steps

Being used to buying a flight to some destination it may come as a surprise that buying a train trip consisting of multiple legs isn’t quite easy. The borders of the nation state are much stronger in the railway traffic than they seem to be in the everyday life. For example, on my travel to Vienna part of the connections could be reserved and bought as transnational packages ( Sweden-Denmark; Denmark-Germany and Germany-Austria) but the common picture still seems to be that national reservation systems rule.

Deutsche Bahn (from now on DB) luckily offers quite an handy tool for finding out schedules for different routes. In my case, it offered me a possibility to check the options for a route from Stockholm to Vienna. The first part of my trip, getting from Tampere (Finland) to Stockholm had to be dealt separately. My seminar was to be held in the mid-September (12th and 13th) in Vienna, so I first started to check the route options in middle of the July. DB offered one quite handy schedule, but I couldn’t buy it at once: I had to make a price request. And after that just wait. Which was something that I did.

However, as I hadn’t heard anything from DB in a week – which I considered as a maximum time in today’s travel business – I sent them another messages kindly asking whether my request had arrived and was under some kind of scrutiny. To this message I got a quick (48 hours) response, which stated that “our agents process the requests in an orderly manner after the travel date. You will receive a quote as soon as possible”(italics by me). Okay. In the Finnish Facebook group “Traveling by Land” I was adviced clearly and quickly – thank you for that – that I should buy the different legs of the route separately as the response from the DB might take some time. I followed the advice and started to buy the tickets separately.

Succesful Purchase Process and One Bad Example (by me)

I was pondering a while, whether I should take a turboprop ATR-72 plane from Helsinki to Stockholm Bromma or take a ferry Turku-Stockholm. After checking the Finnish database Lipasto and going through some discussions about the comparison of CO2 emissions of the ferries and the turboprop planes, I decided to choose the airplane to Stockholm Bromma.

After having initially checked the train schedules and flight timetables I bought the flights to mark the boundaries for my train adventures. I would arrive Stockholm on Tuesday afternoon and would leave Stockholm on Sunday afternoon. That was the time window all the train connections should fit. The workshop would start on Thursday so I had to start moving from Stockholm on Tuesday. The idea was to get as quickly as possible to Vienna where I could, before the workshop, rest one night on a comfortable hotel bed. Therefore I wouldn’t mind some heavy traveling on the route.

So, I bought following tickets: IC (dep. 9.07) from Tampere to Helsinki-Vantaa airport (HEL), from HEL a flight (12.45) to Stockholm Bromma where I would be about at the same time due to the time zone difference. At Stockholm, I would have a couple of hours flaneuring around the city and I would take the 16.24 train to Copenhagen. The train should arrive in Copenhagen H at 21.31. There I would have time to eat something and well-nourished depart at 23.00 towards Hamburg.

The DSB train should arrive in Hamburg at 5.40 so I would have time to get some breakfast and continue to Wien aboard the 7.24 train. I would reach Vienna at 16.45 and rest a bit before the workshop next day. This rest at a hotel bed would be much needed as there wouldn’t be any sleeping wagon or couchette place during the trip itself.

The schedule as a table would be as follows:

CityTime of ArrivalTime of Departure
Tampere9.07
Helsinki-Vantaa (HEL)11.1512.45 (EET)
Stockholm12.55 (CET)16.45
Copenhagen21.3123.00
Hamburg5.40 (+1 d)7.29
Vienna16.45

 

The different reservation systems needed for the booking were the following: the schedule as total from DB, the flight from Finnair, Stockholm-Copenhagen from the SJ, Copenhagen-Hamburg from DB and Hamburg-Vienna from Austrian ÖBB. That makes it four different system. (edit. At the time I didn’t know about the existence of Loco2.com which would have eased my pain. I learned about the service only after writing this and I was given the hint at the Finnish Traveling by Land Facebook group by Ilari Heiska.)

So I had bought the tickets for the outward journey and it was time to consider the return journey as well. I thought of allowing some luxury for myself and bought a ticket to a ÖBB Nightjet from Vienna to Hamburg. The departure would be after eight o’clock and I’d arrive in Hamburg in time to catch the train to Copenhagen. Then from Copenhagen I’d take an afternoon train to Stockholm and staying a night in a hotel before catching the turboprop flight from Bromma to Helsinki as there wouldn’t be any turboprop flights for Saturday evening. Taking a jet plane was out of the question for this kind of journey.

So I just bought the tickets and everyone was happy. Except me the next day, when I (for some intuitive reason) started to go through my connections. I had bought a Nightjet ticket for Thursday instead of Friday evening. I may have said a couple of words not suitable for writing. For a reason or another, I had probably sorted the departures based on a day of arrival instead of departure and made the purchase not checking the dates. Totally my own fault and I thought of just biting the bullet (worth 129 EUR) and buying another ticket for the Friday evening. Nice plan but not doable. Why? The Nightjet from Vienna to Hamburg arrives perfectly in time to catch the Copenhagen train on weekdays, but not on Saturday morning when the trip takes about 2 hours more and I’d miss the next train. Luckily there was a replacing connection but with an ordinary train. So apologies go to all my gluteus muscles. Two hour stay at Frankfurt in the middle of the night wasn’t the most appealing choice either, but what could I do.

The schedule for the return journey would be as follows:

CityTime of ArrivalTime of Departure
Vienna17.15
Frankfurt (M)23.402.13
Hamburg7.509.28
Rødby12.1312.23 (bus->)
Copenhagen14.4016.23
Stockholm21.3913.25 (+1d)
Helsinki-Vantaa15.35 (EET)later
Tamperesome time in the evening

Purchase Process – Observations and Calculations

Buying a train ticket for a multiple leg journey is – at least for now – a more arduous process than buying flights. Of course, there are different apps and route guides where to check the routes and the schedules. The basic problem, though, remains: managing the purchase process (e.g. prices, timetables and suitable connecting trains) is more challenging in the train travel as compared to traveling by plane. Of course, there could be different solutions of which I am not aware of, so the following paragraphs are written as a novice (long-distance) train traveler. (However, written as a person who has purchased a lot of different travels, used to different IT-systems and working in the field of tourism research.)

To manage the purchase process, I opened several tabs in my browser in order to check different route options and prices and when I finally managed to calculate the total price AND a compatible schedule I made the purchases in the open tabs. In some cases, it is possible to purchase the entire journey at the same place, but I wasn’t that lucky this time. The problem with this kind of approach was highlighted by the unfortunate mistake of buying one leg on a wrong day: you are responsible of getting all legs correct.

It’s quite natural to compare this with the reservation systems of the flights: there you simply put the point of departure and arrival (+ the possible stops) and the system finds the cheapest or fastest routes for you, depending on your preferences. As a customer you get connections which are guaranteed – of course you can still miss a flight but normally you get a replacing one if the lost connection was due to the airline actions. On a train journey, if you have many different connections bought separately, no one is responsible for the whole journey but you. Of course, you can claim/get compensation of the delayed leg but, as far as I know, not of the whole journey.

As the purchase process is a bit tricky I don’t wonder that some specialized travel agencies for example in Sweden – like Centralens Resebutik i Kalmar have been working hard to satisfy all the demand. It is actually funny when this is put in the general tourism context where the role of travel agencies has been diminishing in favor of the independent travel. Of course, travel agencies, especially the smaller ones, have been specializing in order to keep themselves in the market.

However, I am quite sure that in the near future the situation will improve as different APIs are developed and national railway companies are generally opening their data. Also the harmonization process of the railway traffic on the EU level is very important. The demand for cross-border railway travel and for a transnational reservation system is already existing.

It is not my intention here to whine about how difficult reserving a train journey is but only to compare it to other options such as flying. (At it is not difficult as such but only on ‘several leg journeys’) Of course, if the traveling by land is the only option due to a conviction or by choice then the easiness of a flight reservation (or difficulties in train travel) doesn’t make a difference. However, for an average Jane or Joe Doe, the process of purchasing a train travel would need improvements in order to get people change their flight travel to train travel. Of course, the services like Loco2 (soon Rail Europe) can make a difference but the liability/compensation issue remains. For business trips, the ease of purchase is even more crucial.

Of course, there a many other factors, in addition to the reservation system, influencing the compatibility of the railway systems such as electrification and rail gauge. But for a consumer planning a journey crossing internal EU borders the lack of a compatible reservation system appears as the most irritating issue, however complex the question might be to solve.

As a result the flight reservation systems beats the train reservation systems 1-0 (or should it be between organizations, then IATA-UIC 1-0).

Price

The price for my trip was made out of the following elements (not calculating my own mistake in the form of the additional Wien-Hamburg Nightjet cost…):

Flights HEL-BMA-HEL 98.83 EUR
Stockholm-Copenhagen 465 SEK (43.28 EUR)
Copenhagen-Hamburg 29.90 EUR
Hamburg-Vienna 69.90 EUR
Vienna-Hamburg 89.90 EUR
Hamburg-Copenhagen 49.90 EUR
Copenhagen-Stockholm 235 SEK (21.87 EUR)
In total 403.58 EUR (+ the hotel in Stockholm)

The price is actually lower than a straight flight would have been from Helsinki to Vienna and back on Wednesday-Friday (over 600 EUR). Staying an extra night in Vienna would have lowered the flight price to about 300 EUR (+ the costs of the additional night).

So the price competition between a train and a flight is, in this case, a draw 1-1. I was a bit surprised of this as it is often told that traveling by land is significantly more expensive than flying. Of course, in this case, too, the flying would have been cheaper staying a day longer, but the price difference is still marginal.

Here are some thoughts about the purchase process with my stupid mistakes included. Next part will be about the observations I made during the journey.

P.S. I finally got the response from DB price inquiry I sent 19th of July. The response came 30th of August. Either there is very much demand or not enough customer service personnel. Over a month is a bit harsh waiting time in 2019.

Starting a day by skating

This week I had the chance to enjoy sunrises four times while skating on the nearby lakes. It is a great way to start a day: feeling refreshed and ready for day’s challenges. Although waking up before sunrise may be the cause of having multiple fits of laughter in the afternoon…

It’s great to be on lakes when sun is rising, nature is waking up, birds singing and only sound you produce is the scraping sound of your skates. I produced the video below to give you some idea of the delights of Nordic skating. It’s a bit different this time, more meditative compared to my previous video about skating. Another great, but very different video about Nordic skating by Pasi Ahola can be seen here. A lot of speed, wonderful ice and wind in that one.

Follow this blog via Bloglovin’/a>

Skating along the Poet’s Way – part II

I wrote earlier of the Nordic skating trip between Virrat and Ruovesi along the Poet’s Way (the name for the lake route between Tampere and Virrat). On that occasion, I would have liked to skate all the way to Tampere from Virrat but the ice conditions and my own not-so-good physical condition didn’t allow me to skate all the route. So I was really glad to find out that our local group of the Association of Finnish Nordic skaters decided to arrange another trip on the Poet’s Way. The lenght of the tour (the estimate was about 70 kms) did scare a bit, as I was really tired after the previous trip, but as the weather forecast promised a good tailwind I decided to go. In addition, as the spring advances there may not be so many skating trips left this season.

I also made a video of the trip (below) so if you are not into reading you may just watch the video and get some idea of the trip as well.

From Ruovesi to Tampere

This time we didn’t have a normal bus with 50 seats but a minibus did the trick as well. Altogether 16 skaters took the minibus and one of us arrived to Ruovesi by his own lift. It took about one hour from Tampere to Ruovesi and we were ready to start skating around 9:30. As we had a chance and few of the group had visited Kalela, the atelier/studio of the Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela, we decided to have a look from the ice. Kalela (1895) is a wonderful place and it is a pity that it isn’t open for public anymore. I hope that some day this hidden gem will reopen for every visitor once again.

Kalela (1895) in the middle of the forest.

From Kalela we continued towards Kauttu canal (1885) which meant also first walking part of the trip. Even though the current is really slow this winter, the ice was gone at Kauttu.

No ice on Kauttu canal (1885).

After Kauttu, there was a short period of headwind. The wind was blowing quite hard (7–8) and this short headwind part showed that this would have been a really tough trip if it had been headwind all the way. Luckily this was just a really short leg and soon we enjoyed the delights of the tailwind again.

Jäminginvuolle (sound of Jäminki) was clear of ice as expected. All the water in the lake runs through that sound so it is no surprise that it is free of ice almost all the time. This meant a short trip through the forest. We took advantage of walking by arranged a short lunch break as well. A packed lunch tastes good in this kind open air setting even though the supplies I had with me were no special: a couple of bread slices, bananas and horrible tasting energy bars.

Enjoying lunch at Jäminginvuolle sound.

Playing with ice after Jäminginvuolle.

After the lunch, I felt refreshed and it was time to carry on. This time we skated only a couple of hundred meters as there were narrow sounds with open water ahead. A bit of walking again. These crossings were easier this time as snow had melted and then refrozen which meant that it could carry my 90 kgs easily without feet sinking through snow with every step as on our last trip.

Short walk and we are back on ice at Mommo.

After this crossing we could skate a couple of kilometers uninterrupted arriving to the island of Hirsisaari. The island is owned by the city of Tampere and meant for camping. We found a nice beach on the island and had a short break there. Enjoying a Finnish beach in March is quite unusual…

Sunbathing at a short break.

Our group at Hirsisaari.

After a small break our trip continued to the Murole canal. As the canal and the small rapids besides it were not skatable, we had to make a short land crossing once again. During this crossing we arrived to the location of former tar factory and sawmill of Murole. Only a chimney and some foundations of the buildings are left which makes the scene a bit sad and beautiful at the same time.

Chimney of the old Murole tar factory and sawmill (1911).

From Murole we continued towards Tampere (almost 50 kilometres of skating). The rest of the trip was mainly skating on the wide ridges of lake Näsijärvi and mainly with a nice tailwind. This meant that it took us only 50 minutes of skating (13 kms) to arrive in the last land crossing at Kirvessaari island. On this island there was a memorial for Finnish ‘guerrilla fighters’ Roth and Spoof who captured a Russian sailing boat carrying grain and supplies for the Russian army in the Finnish War in 1808.

A memorial for Roth and Spoof.

The trip continued through the ridges of Myyrysselkä and Koljonselkä. On the latter ridge we even saw an eagle flying above us and crossed a crack on the ice before we reached the Pimeesalmi docks. where we enjoyed what we had left of our packed lunches.

Crack on the ice near Peronsaari

After this last break, there was only one ridge to cross. There were only two bigger cracks on the ice of which crossing was no problem this time. With a strong tailwind we arrived to Kaupinoja at 16:45 and enjoyed some refreshments at the cafeteria of Hiking Travel Hit. Our wonderful skating trip was over: with excellent weather and really nice group of people to skate with one simply cannot complain. After 128 kilometres of skating along the Poet’s Way this winter (of which 75 on this trip) I will wait for the next season to skate the whole way at the one time!

Skating over a crack in the ice.

Author taking pictures and hiding on ‘the other side’. Picture Marita Irri.

Arriving in Tampere after 75 kilometres of skating at 16.45.

The route from Ruovesi to Tampere. Source: Google Maps.

There and Back Again: a Steamboat Trip to St. Petersburg in 2011

Sunset at the mouth of Neva

I have been on diverse steamboat trips, but there is one that I will never forget: the trip to 308th anniversary of St. Petersburg in 2011. The Finnish Steam Yacht Association had been invited to celebrate the anniversary and 12 steamboats and 2 old diesel (former steamers) had accepted the invitation. This “steamboat regatta of St. Petersburg” had been prepared a long time by the officials of the association and the Russian organizers and the regatta itself was just the culmination of the work. For me, this trip was unique also in the sense that it was the first time on lake Saimaa as well. But did all this happen from my point of view?

Invitation to the steamboat Hurma

I was working in the University of Tampere in the spring of 2011 and I was just visiting a customer of a tourism research project when my phone rang. It was probably in February. A acquaintance of mine from the Finnish Transport Safety Agency called and asked if I was interest to participate in a steamboat trip to St. Petersburg as a shipmaster of the steamboat Hurma (of the biofore company UPM) in May. The regular shipmasters of Hurma were unable to leave due to their other work and the regulation stated that the shipmaster had to be the same for the duration of the regatta. I promised get back to this matter—feeling childlike enthusiasm—but I had ask the permission to leave from my current employer. This worked out with a one phone call and I was ready to discuss about the details of this trip with chief engineer of Hurma: His company was operating Hurma on behalf of UPM.

The details of the contract and trip were quickly agreed on and I promised to arrive to the homeport of Hurma, Kanavansuun perinnelaivatelakka, on Saturday morning: the time of departure was on Monday. Kimmo also told that there was to be a lot of work for the weekend preparing the steamer ready for the trip at sea.

Setting off for Lappeenranta

I was living in Estonia at the time due to one travel research project. So when May arrived I travelled first from Tallinn to Tampere via Helsinki. As my flat at Tampere looked more like a store than a flat for living, it took a while to search all the necessary equipment for the trip. Finally I was ready to take the train to Lappeenranta with my backpack, garment cover, laptop case and more ‘style-fitting’ plywood luggage. Quite a cargo for two weeks…

My luggage at Tikkurila railway station on 21st of May 2011

On the way to Lappeenranta I made one ‘small’ error which could have harmed all the trip for all the others as well. As I took a taxi from Lappeenranta railway station to the homeport of Hurma (about 10 kms), I noticed in the middle of the ride that I had left my laptop case (the one on the picture above) on the bench next to the railway station. I told the taxi driver make a u-turn and drive to the station as fast as he could. Losing the laptop would have been only material loss but in the same case, there was my passport and visa to Russia as well. I had been listed as the shipmaster of Hurma for various official documents and I could not leave, no-one could. The 5 minutes taxi drive back to the station was one of the longest of my life and I went through quite a range of emotion. Luckily, when we arrived back to the staton, the laptop case was waiting me just where I had left it. Honest people living at Lappeenranta!

First meeting with the steamboat Hurma (23,6×5,6×2,4). On the pier there is the life raft the buying of which was one of the conditions of the special permit for this trip.

Weekend went fast aboard Hurma. The ship was equipped to meet the requirements of the exceptional sea journey. A lot of crew lists were printed in advance—and luckily enough, Kimmo took the printer with us to the trip as so many crew lists were required by the Russian officials. I examined closely also the maps of the route: the paper ones already aboard and the ones that we had got from the organizers. One of the most important tools for the trip was the stamp. Stamps were required by the officials to every paper. We had even two kinds of stamps: a rectangle one of the UPM and round one of Kaukas Ltd (that had not existed for years). It proved out that the round one was better for officials documents, so we used that one for the rest of the trip. Later I heard that one steamboat had used a round Moomin stamp to meet the requirements…

The primary feeling that I can remember of that weekend was a mixture of excitement and eagerness: for me, this was the first trip on lake Saimaa, aboard Hurma, and with new crew. Besides these, on lake Näsijärvi where I had worked for several years, there is not much VHF traffic and the Saimaa Canal is a bit different compared to those of Murole and Herraskoski of which I had grown so familiar with. And of course, the destination of the trip was Russia, which is always a different thing. (It had to be said, that the political situation in 2011 was quite different from current one. It’s a pity how things have gone). Even if these factors hadn’t been enought to produce excitement, Kimmo told me a couple of weeks before departure that the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) would send a reporter and a cameraman aboard and there would be some kind of reportage on the national tv afterwards. This news was the icing on the cake!

From Lappeenranta to Vyborg on 23th of May 2011

Finally the long-awaited Monday morning arrived and we set off. The first part of the journey was made with passengers until the Nuijamaa border station. There other passengers would leave and those coming with us all the way to St Petersburg would hop in. On this first leg, the old shipmaster of Hurma, Viljo (in his 80s), was also aboard. He very much wanted to take the rudder for the first part of the journey and I let him and just watched him steering. He had worked on steamers of lake Saimaa on 7 different decades, so there was a lot of experience he had. He steered through the first lock chamber of the Saimaa canal and even the second after which I told him that perhaps I could take the rudder to get some touch to this steamboat, too. It was not easy for Viljo to let go after so many years at the rudder, but he agreed.

Steamboat Hurma at the Saimaa canal

The weather was excellent during the first leg: sun was shining and it was quite warm as well. At Nuijamaa border station, we left our passengers, had our passports checked and continued with the 12 persons that would be aboard all the way until St. Petersburg. There we would have a crew change (apart from the four of us that would be aboard there and back: shipmaster, chief engineer, stoker and the deckhand). The cameraman and reporter hopped in from Nuijamaa. These fellows proved themselves very nice from the start: we had a lot of discussions and their ability to speak Russian also helped in many occasions.

Towards Vyborg: the weather is getting rainy and it is growing dark

All the eight lock chambers of the Saimaa canal took their time and in the last lock there was also the customs of Russia: it took a while to declare the camera equipment of our cameraman. Due to these delayes, it was already quite dark when we arrived to Vyborg—luckily it does not get very dark in May. At Vyborg, we encountered the other steamboats that had already moored at the port (one even had even tried mooring to the anchor chain of a buoy with little success…). Our place in the port was side by side with state owned Saimaa and with a wooden hull steamboat Puhois. For me, this was the first chance to meet the other crews of lake Saimaa steamers. Therefore, time seemed to fly that evening just by walking in the city and chatting with others.

The funnel of steamboat Hurma (with three stripes) visible furthest back. In front steamboats Puhois and Saimaa.

From Vyborg to Primorsk (Koivisto) on the 24th of May 2011

The morning arrived with a clear but quite cold weather. The day started with a ‘skippers’ meeting’ aboard steamboat Turso. Turso was given to the Soviet Union in 1944 as part of the war reparations agreed on the peace agreement. Turso was active as a harbour ice-breaker in Leningrad until it was bought by Finnish steamboat enthusiast back to Finland. For Turso, this was a visit back to the former homeport. But back to the point: in the skippers’ meeting discussed the planned route of the day, the VHF channels that would be used and so on. The idea was to steam by the inner route protected by islands to fishing port of Primorsk (old Finnish name: Koivisto). All this was told to us by our Russian organizer and chief of the event, Sergei. He was the right man in the right place: he was giving advice to us and was working all around—now in the skippers’ meeting sometimes aboard ribboat or driving tractor or a car. Especially one of his expressions has entered my vocabulary: “more or less”. “The anchoring area should be more or less there”. Very useful and handy for any purposes!

The leg from Vyborg to Primorsk (Koivisto) progressed without challenges. The wind was moderate but the strong gusts of wind gave some hint for the lake Saimaa crews what to expect the next day. The forecast for next day included quite strong winds in relation to the size of lake steamers. At the Primors fishing port we were amazed by the arrival of a peaked cap police officer with two police women. Their task was to install a temporary passport control post at the port and we had to show our passports every time we went outside the port. We thought we already entered Russia…

At Koivisto, the first ‘refueling’ operation was also accomplished. 70 cubic meters of birch wood was loaded on steamboats by a common effort. (The consumption of Hurma, for instance, is about one cubic meter of birch wood per hour). Sergei was driving the wood with tractor nearer to the steamboats and we organized a traditional chain of people to get the wood aboard. It actually felt really good after a day of standing at the rudder. Part of the crews had also time to visit the local museum and a visit to local Vessel Traffic Service next to the large oil port was provided for the shipmasters. Quite an interesting place.

From Primorsk (Koivisto) to St. Petersburg on 25th of May 2011

As the forecast had already predicted, the dawn arrived cold and windy. After a short meeting with other shipmasters, the convoy decided to set sail as planned apart from the smallest of the steamboats, Otso. Otso stayed at Primorsk for one day waiting for better weather to cross the Gulf of Finland. After leaving the port, we saw the huge oil port of Primorsk on our left side and soon afterwards, when the shelter offered by the islands on the right ended, we entered quite a rollercoaster for lake Saimaa sized steamboats. The rolling of Hurma was fast as the hull was heavy at the bottom: the steamboat was originally to be an icebreaker. For me personally, the biggest nuisance was created by the hooks of window attachment at the ceiling of the bridge. During the rolling of the steamer, I hit my head to those hooks time after time. The scratches I had did not heal during the two weeks time: perhaps there was something on the water of Neva that we used for hand and face washing.

Part of the additional crew members felt suddenly seasick and came to ask me for some medicine from the medicine cabinet of the boat (of course, it was already too late). The only ones I found were in the form of suppositories and I gave those to the ones asking for medicine. Afterwards, with a better look to the cabinet, I found the pills as well. But I only told this a couple days afterwards…

n the engine room Kimmo and Jari did their job outstandingly as did Pekka on the deck. Later I heard that the biggest challenge in the engine room was syncronizing the input of wood to furnace with the rolling of the steamer. The furnace door opened and closed in the rhythm of rolling. I did not notice anything as we traveled as in any weather. Of course, not as fast as container ships we saw on our journey.

Soon after crossing the Gulf of Finland, we arrived to the St Petersburg dam and Sea Fortress of Krondstadt. After entering inside the dam the sea was as calm as it could be. It was on this leg that we encountered the huge Jewel of the Seas of the Royal Caribbean International. The cruise ship saluted our convoy with the Finnish(or maybe international?) steam salute: three half-long whistles and one short as roger sign. According to the waving from the bridge of the cruise ship, meeting our steamboats was not an ordinary day either for them.

Just before we arrived to the Round port (on the Vasily Island, next to LenExpo exhibition complex) we encountered a ’traditional’ shower of rain that made everything soaking. I have wondered is there a type of rain called mooring rain—at least that is how it feels the showers occur… In any case, Hurma moored to there round port after a long leg from Primorsk. Part of our convoy had their mooring place at the mouth of Neva so the steamboats scattered a bit at this point. One interesting detail was the order from the port authorities (Inflot?): ”Four mooring ropes”. Some of the ships had a good talk with the authorities as they had used to moor with only three lines. I felt that there was no point of arguing with the authorities so we had an extra line without questioning the order. And of course, crew lists were given to authorities here, too.

At the port, we also made the acquaintance of the ’liaison officers’ that the organizers had pointed us. Their task was to act as interpreters and pass on the possible needs of the steamers to the organization responsible of the event. After we had dealt with all these matters, we headed for a walk and familiarized us with the surroundings (and the Russian traffic).

Waiting at the Round port between the 26th and 27th of May 2011

After three long days at sea, we relaxed ourselves a bit on Thursday. Besides this, we had a visit from the local UPM representatives and said farewell to our reporter and cameraman. Their task was over and we had had many interesting conversations with these fellows. Later that summer, a 30 minutes reportage of our steamboat trip was shown on the Finnish TV. It would be nice to have it rerun sometimes.

Thursday was also a day for maintenance: the septic tanks of the steamboats were getting full—the smaller boats had had them full already—and there was a need to empty them in a proper way. The problem was, according to Sergei, that the port authorities of St Petersburg possessed a barge made for emptying septic tanks, but as it was 60 meters in length it could not enter the Round port. The solution was to order a truck made for this purpose. The problem seemed to remain as it didn’t have any connectors that would fit the system of the Finnish steamboats. The old saying goes that ”You will learn everything apart from making hay, if you are working on a steamboat”. It was correct once again. Our engine crew, Kimmo and Jari, had a suggestion to the car driver ready to leave the place: ”We tape it!”. Perhaps the suggestion combining English and sign language was strong enough so they did and with this combination the septic tanks of boats were empty after a couple of hours of working. I just wondered, how the locals emptied their boats…

On Friday morning we, the shipmasters, left to make a simple reconnaissance tour on the river Neva at the area of anchorage. The idea of the regatta was, that during the 308th anniversary of St. Petersburg we would first be at anchor next to the Peter and Paul Fortress and then make a short round trip as a conwoy in the area restricted by bridges (between the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Hermitage). This would happen on Saturday and then we would leave the Neva on Sunday evening.

On the Neva between the 27th–29th of May

As the Friday evening approached and the bridges of the river Neva would open (they normally open the bridges for a couple of hours at night to let the ship traffic pass), it was time to sail to the Neva, to the area where the celebrations would take place. On the river Neva, it was obligatory to have a pilot* aboard regardless of the size of the steamer. Normally it was needed only on vessels over 24 meters of length but on Neva foreign ships were not allowed to sail without a pilot. Someone even told us, that the permission to our regatta was given by the prime minister Putin himself. In any case, our pilot was a real gentleman and mostly just watching us doing our work: and sometimes just asking politely: ”Please, take little bit to the right, sir”. The current on the Neva was really strong so the obligatory measure of having a pilot aboard was a reasonable one. Of course, it had to be said that not all the steamers had such gentlemen as we: on one steamer, the pilot was ’fully loaded’ all the trip. But that makes it an experience as well…

*The pilot according to Wikipedia is one “who maneuvers ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbors or river mouths.”

The nocturnal leg to the Neva under the opened bridges was something I won’t forget in my lifetime. It was quite an absurd feeling: steering a 24 meters long lake steamer in the middle of St. Petersburg and its fantastic, well lit buildings! When we arrived to the area of anchorage, I felt sorry for the chief engineer: I had to ask him by telegraph for many different engine command as the pilots didn’t reach mutual understanding of the place to drop the anchors. We even did that a couple of times, too. Our crew was happy of the anchor winch operated by steam compared to the manual ones on steamboats next to us…

Finally the pilots and Sergei agreed that this was the place, we dropped the anchors and the crews of the steamers could relax. At our steamboat, we arranged the anchor watch in two hours turns. This allowed the four of us to sleep six hours and then two hours of watch again. As the current of the river was really strong this arrangement would have provided us at least some chance if the anchor chain had broken. Of course, the organizers had thought of this kind of possibility and arranged a massive tugboat to keep watch downriver in front of the first bridge. This tugboat would have ’catched a lost steamer’ had this happened.

The tugboat the organizers had arranged for possible emergencies.

The dawn arrived rainy on Saturday. Nevertheless, I will never forget the view, when I opened the door of the shipmaster’s cabin: the famous Eremitage. It is not often when you look at it with only boxers on…

First thing in the morning we had a skippers’ meeting on one of the steamers. We went through the program of the day once more: we would make a whistle by all ships and then a short round trip on the Neva. After the meeting the clouds parted and sun came out. Afterwards there was a lot of talk about the so called Moscow Olympics effect: it could not be raining during celebrations… In any event, the parade was steamed in a perfect weather!

The joint whistle by all the steamer sounded extra nice on the historic center of St. Petersburg. After that we weighed the anchor and set off for the slow parade. The local motor ships had their music set on full volume and there was a lot of folk on the shores of the Neva. There were no problems with steamboats on the parade and after the 45 minutes drive, everyone made it to their designated anchor places. More or less. It was a great moment and never has there been so much spectators at the same time in any events of the Finnish Steam Yacht Association.

After the parade, our crew had a highlight moment of the regatta as well: we had a possibility to take a shower in hotel rooms booked by the crew that was coming with us to Finland. It was a great pleasure taking a shower… Of course, we had enjoyed the hospitality of the steamboats Heikki Peuranen and Puhois and used their saunas, but still, the shower was a paradise-like experience. At the same time we had the chance to visit shops to restock our steamboats. As the crew was dressed in the traditional 1930s dress, the walking on the city was slow—many wanted to have a photograph with these strangely dressed Finns.

The transportation between the steamers in the roads and shore was operated by rib-boats and one had to order a ride by walkie-talkies given to us by the organizers. At first, it took quite a while waiting for the lifts. After a lot of waiting, we realized that it was a good idea to treat the transport crew with a little bit of food and drink. Suddenly, the waiting times were much shorter. Strange thing. Although it has to be said that other steamboats seemed to have realized this as well—or perhaps the transport crew had their own drinks, too—because in the late night we saw one of the crew members falling from the rib-boat to the river Neva for a short swim. After we realized that they got him up, we had a good laugh.

As the day was reaching its end, I realized that this must have been the most special day on my ”steamboat career” and I felt grateful that I had the chance to live it. At the same, I also realized how tired I was. When I went to talk with the other crew member on the small saloon of Hurma, I suddenly felt that I didn’t understand anything they were saying. One of them, Kari, told me that I had fallen asleep eyes wide open and perhaps it would be good to take some fresh air outside. This is what I did. Never had that kind of experience before nor after that evening.

Höyrylaivoja nevalla
The ‘Birch wood carrier’ Wenno and other steamboats upriver

Sunday brought with it grey weather once more. The parade was over, so there was no need for sunshine… And our steamer had a little challenge: our storage of birch wood was getting low and we had tried to get a permission to sail a couple of hundred meters upriver to steamboat Wenno which could have provided us more wood to burn. For a reason or another, we didn’t have the permission, or more precisely, no answer at all. After hearing the chief engineer about the ’fuel’ situation, we decided to weigh the anchor, moor ourselves to Wenno, load the wood and let the river take us back to our place. That was exactly what we did, even if someone on the VHF seemed to disagree…

In the skippers’ meeting that followed, Sergei asked me a question: ”Mikko, do you like our prisons?”, a couple of seconds of glower and then a long laugh! Our disobedience was notified but I said to Sergei that as we had asked for permission and never got any answer, we took that as a yes… At least we had enough wood until Primorsk/Koivisto for now. On Sunday, we also had the crew change (apart from us 4 operating the steamboat). In my opinion, it was a wise choice to change the crew that as many as possible had the chance to enjoy the experience of steamboat travel to St. Petersburg.

On Sunday evening the bridges of the Neva were opened particularly for our convoy and we sailed back to the Round port. At the same time, we heard that forecast for Monday was really bad (strong winds and rain) so the trip back to Koivisto was shifted from Monday to Tuesday

Back to Finland 31st of May–1st of June

Part of the crew members that had just arrived wondered why the shift was made as the Monday morning was really sunny. But it was soon clear why: thunderstorms and strong winds would have meant trouble for the lake Saimaa fleet. An additional day at St. Petersburg didn’t really bother any of us: it gave us the possibility to relax. We also did visits to other steamers as the chances for those had been quite limited before this.

Steamboats at the mouth of Neva waiting for departure.

On the day of departure, on Tuesday, our additional crew had made a deal with the crew members of steamboat Saimaa: We had a common breakfast aboard the wonderful steamboat Saimaa. After that nice moment it was time to leave and say farewell to St. Petersburg. As the geopolitical situation is today quite different as it was back then, we will see if there comes a day when this kind of trip would be possible to repeat.

On our way back to Finland we had one leg less than on the way to St. Petersburg: we would proceed from St. Petersburg to Primorsk(Koivisto) and from there straight to Lappeenranta without stopping at Vyborg. The waiting of one day had paid off: the weather was like in any decent tourism brochure: the Gulf of Finland was totally calm and especially on the second day between Primorsk and Lappeenranta it was over 25 degrees Celsius. The steamboat Wenno decided to make use of the excellent weather and asked us by radio if we could take their cameraman aboard to take some video of Wenno. So we did and then drove around the steamboat to get video from all possible angles.

On the first leg between St. Petersburg and Primorsk we had a couple of events with the Russian military might as well. First the Steregushchiy class corvette paid us a visit after which an aerial reconnaissance plane flew over. In addition to these events, there was nothing more to report.

The familiar fishing port at Koivisto was as it was when we had left it and there was again some refueling of the steamboats. This time, though, someone seemed to have changed the wood as it was perfectly fresh. Fresh is normally a good thing with food or drinks but with wood meant to be burned in the furnaces, not so… Well, all the boats managed to Finland with this wood as well. The night at Koivisto included also a last night’s party. From here on, all the boats would sail to their homeports and the common part of the trip would end here. It this party, it was tested that there can be 16 persons and 1 accordionist in the small mess of Hurma… (Normally designated for 6-8 persons)

During the party we also found out that the small mess is not so well located in case of a party: the shipmaster sleeps above it and other operating crew members below… Well, party was well deserved so it was not so bad steering the way back to Lappeenranta with a little shorter sleep.

The last day arrived with the best weather we had enjoyed. Sun was shining and it was way above 25 degrees Celsius which is not that common in the end of May. The memory I have of that last day was that of hunger: we proceeded in the canal in such a tempo that I had no time eating. The proceeding, though, stopped at the Russian border control station at the lock of Pälli. It took many hours which felt even longer as we were so close to home already. The control of every locker and cabin of the steamer didn’t feel very nice either but there is no point arguing with the authorities who are just doing their work.

Crossing the border back to Finland and passport check at Nuijamaa felt little bit like arriving back to Moominland: so easy and familiar. We arrived to our homeport at about 10pm and the long steamboat trip was over. The work wasn’t over though: I had a lot of paper work to do and when I left with the first morning train from Lappeenranta to Tampere I felt that I had never been so tired. And never was before that.

‘Huhhuh, olipa reissu’ (Phew, what a trip!)

Our trip was one of its kind: a once in a lifetime experience. I hope that my description of the trip tells that to the reader, too. For me, it opened the steamboat work at lake Saimaa as the shipmaster of Hurma. I am still doing that in the summer taking turns with another shipmaster. In addition, after this trip and all the ad hoc challenges it had, I haven’t felt very stressed about any steamboat challenges. At least this trip gave me some perspective on things. Of course, I had been familiar with steamboat steering after the years with a scheduled route steamer between Tampere and Virrat, but on this trip there were as many ad hoc situations that there would normally be in a couple of years of route traffic.

Those who took part of this steamboat trip still remember the spirit it created among the participants and organizers – lot of friendly local people, too For me, it created a lot of friendships as well. Meeting the ones ’who were there’ usually ends up talking about St. Peterburg’s regatta. Not so often anymore, of course. And I am sure that people who weren’t there were quite fed up after a couple of years of talking only about ”in St. Petersburg we…”

Many of the sayings that the trip created are still used and many of the legends are told. Like the one about Russian electrician who tried with his tongue-moistened finger if there was current or not. The friendly Russian people, using sign language and broken English to express oneself were highlights, too. And the famous bridges of St. Petersburg became familiar to the crew of Hurma as well: once we were left to the wrong side. After negotiations with a taxi driver we found out that he had a ”bridge problem”—it would cost a lot of money to take the possible route that was much longer than normally. The other night ”bridge problem” consisted of bridges being in normal position: he couldn’t get enough money for the ride. And as usual, all of these stories tend to change and become even more legendary as the time goes by. It had to be said that this story would probably be quite different if told by someone else.

So after these eight years, I would still like to thank all the people at steamboat Hurma: Kimmo, Jari, Pekka, Kari V., Jorma, Matti, Heli, Seppo, Jyrki, Kari A., Riitta, Anne, Eija ja Jyri.

Special thanks to Kari and Riitta for letting me use their pictures: I couldn’t take as much pictures as I would have wanted. You just cannot leave the rudder for a while for taking a photo…