From the Great Lakes to the Baltic Sea: the BRAHE (ex-USS PCE 830, HMS KILCHRENAN) at 70
by Kalle Id
On 14 May 2013, the small Finnish coastal cruise ship BRAHE begun her summer cruise season out of Helsinki. Built in Chicago as a patrol vessel in 1943, little did her builders suspect that seventy years later, the ship would be still making pleasure cruises along the coast of Finland and on Finland’s largest lake Saimaa.
The BRAHE departing Helsinki South Harbour at the beginning of her 2013 cruise season – celebrating her 70th anniversary. Photo © 2013 Kalle Id.
I first came to know about the BRAHE years ago when I learned that Kristina Cruises, the Finnish cruise line, operated a second, smaller ship alongside their more famous KRISTINA REGINA (ex-BORE). The KRISTINA BRAHE, as it was then known, did not seem particularly interesting to me at the time – to me she seemed old and small (remember that I was very young). As years progressed I learned more about the ship’s fascinating history. A few days ago, on 14 May, I happened to photograph the ship’s first departure from Helsinki for the 2013 summer season. As this year marks the ship’s 70th anniversary, it is a good time to look at the history of this fascinating ship.
The BRAHE was built during World War II at Pullman-Standard Car Company in Chicago, Illinois as a part of the PCE 827 class of Patrol Craft Escorts (hence PCE). 62 PCE 827 -class vessels were built. The first 14 ships of the class – including the PCE 830 – were loaned on completion to the Royal Navy. The PCE 830 became known as the HMS KILCHRENAN and she was based in Gibraltar from 1943 until 1946, working as a submarine hunter in convoy and patrol duties.
The PCE 872, one of the KILCHRENAN’s sister ships that served with the US Navy. Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons.
After hostilities ceased, the KILCHRENAN and her sisters were returned to the US Navy and laid up. With a chronic shortage of both commercial tonnage and shipbuilding capacity, the KILCHRENAN and her sisters did not need to wait long for a new use. In Autumn 1947 the KILCHRENAN was sold to the Hardanger Sunnhordlanske Dampskibsselskab (HSD) of Norway and sailed to Bergen during the same year. The ship was given a radical rebuilding into a car-passenger ferry entered service on the Bergen-Stord-Sunnhordland route June 1949 under the name SUNNHORDLAND.
The SUNNHORDLAND remained in Norwegian coastal service for 24 years, until she was withdrawn in June 1973. Now the ship piqued the interest of the Finnish businessman Bengt Fagerlund, who had an ambition to start a cruise line operating on Finland’s largest lake, the Saimaa. Fagerlund founded a shipping company, Fager Lines, purchased the SUNNHORDLAND and converted her to a cruise ship. Renamed KRISTINA BRAHE, the ship begun cruising on Lake Saimaa in 1975. The next year she also cruised to Vyborg, Russia via the Saimaa Canal and during the 1980s from Helsinki to Tallinn and Leningrad. Fager Lines were very successful, but Bengt Fagerlund was nearing retirement and none of his children wanted to take over the company. At the same time, the vagaries of the Finnish tax system dictated that the company must invest in additional tonnage or face a terrible tax burden. These two factors combined resulted in Fager Lines’ decision to seek a new owner for the KRISTINA BRAHE.*
The KRISTINA BRAHE in Helsinki during her penultimate season with Kristina Cruises. Photo © 2009 Kalle Id.
In 1985 the KRISTINA BRAHE was sold to the Partanen family of Kotka, Finland, who had previously operated small sightseeing vessels under the name Rannikkolinjat (lit. ”Coastal Lines”). A new company, Kristina Cruises, was established for the KRISTINA BRAHE. The ship’s name and itineraries remained the same, only her owner and livery changed. In 1987 Kristina Cruises begun operating a second, larger ship – the well-known KRISTINA REGINA (ex-BORE, BOREA) – but the KRISTINA BRAHE continued on Finnish coastal cruises and cruises on Lake Saimaa.
The KRISTINA BRAHE was apparently a successful ship for Kristina Cruises, as she sailed for them for 25 years. Her long career with Kristina Cruises came to an end in 2010, when the company decided to concentrate solely on long international cruises with their new KRISTINA KATARINA. The KRISTINA BRAHE was sold to another Finnish company, Saimaa Travel. Her new owners shortened her name to simply BRAHE, but still she continued cruising on the Finnish coast and on Lake Saimaa.
The BRAHE sailing towards the new adventures of the 2013 cruise season. Photo © 2013 Kalle Id.
Clearly these are successful, despite the changes of owner, as on her 70th birthday the KRISTINA BRAHE is on her 38th season as Finnish coastal cruise ship. May she enjoy many more.
Special thanks to Paula Martiskainen and Martin Cox.
For more photographs by Kalle Id (including additional images of the BRAHE), please visit kships.blogspot.com.
For more information about the BRAHE’s itineraries, please visit Saimaa Travel’s website at www.saimaatravel.fi.
(*New information added to this paragraph regarding the reasons for her sale were added May 25)
Kalle Id, MaritimeMatters' Helsinki correspondent, is a Finnish maritime historian, photographer and journalist, with a Master's Degree in history from the University of Helsinki. His early-age exposure to ferry travel led to a lifetime fascination with passenger ships, both the cruise ferries of his home waters and the cruise ships and ferries of further afield. Kalle maintains his own ship photography blog at kships.blogspot.com. Contrary to the popular belief, he writes under his real name.
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