A GANNdez-Vous in Tallinn

A GANNdez-Vous in Tallinn

by Kalle Id

MaritimeMatters’ Helsinki correspondent Kalle Id travels to Tallinn, Estonia for a rendez-vous with the Norwegian training ship GANN, originally the Hurtigruten coastal liner NARVIK.

Official website of the GANN: www.gann.no

Kalle Id’s ship photo blog: kships.blogspot.fi

All photographs are copyright © 2014 Kalle Id, except where otherwise noted.

The workmanline GANN arrives in Tallinn in the morning of 6th July 2014.
The workmanline GANN arrives in Tallinn in the morning of 6th July 2014.

Saturday, 5th July 2014: The SILJA EUROPA

Like so many others, I have long been fascinated by Hurtigruten, the Norwegian company offering a daily ferry service along Norway’s long, rugged coastline. As a ship enthusiast, my fascination with the company doesn’t come only from the fascinating service itself, but also the fantastic, purpose-built ships that the service is operated with. For obvious reasons, the vessels rarely venture outside Norway while in Hurtigruten service – and even during their post-Hurtigruten lives, they rarely come to the Baltic Sea. Earlier this year I discovered, however, that the training ship GANN, originally Hurtigruten’s NARVIK of 1982, will do a Baltic Sea cruise this summer. She did not sail to Helsinki, but was scheduled to call at Tallinn. Hence I decided to travel to Tallinn to see her.

The ship that took us to Tallinn to meet with the GANN was the SILJA EUROPA, the largest ferry sailing on the northern Baltic Sea. Photo copyright © 2013 Kalle Id.
The ship that took us to Tallinn to meet with the GANN was the SILJA EUROPA, the largest ferry sailing on the northern Baltic Sea. Photo copyright © 2013 Kalle Id.

Long story short, I ended up arranging a trip to Tallinn and an onboard visit to the GANN for myself and five other enthusiasts. To spare the need of waking up ridiculously early and catching the morning ferry to Tallinn on Sunday, 6th July, we decided to depart already on the previous day from Helsinki with the Tallink ferry SILJA EUROPA and overnight onboard.

The Finnish summer this year has been wet and chilly – with the jocular saying ”the Finnish summer is cool and there's only a little snow” practically holding true – but during the trip to the GANN the very opposite was true, as seen from the SILJA EUROPA sundeck shot.
The Finnish summer this year has been wet and chilly – with the jocular saying ”the Finnish summer is cool and there’s only a little snow” practically holding true – but during the trip to the GANN the very opposite was true, as seen from the SILJA EUROPA sundeck shot.

Thus, the afternoon of 5th July saw us – that is to say myself, Olli Tuominen (ollituominen.1g.fi), Sami Koski (valkeatlaivat.net), Jani Nousiainen (matkustajalaivat.com) and Timo Selkälä (sites.google.com/site/baloossite/main-page) – board the SILJA EUROPA in Helsinki West Harbour. Although already over twenty years old, the SILJA EUROPA remains the largest ferry on the Baltic in terms of passenger capacity, capable of carrying over 3 000 passengers.

It perhaps tells a bit about my relationship with the SILJA EUROPA that I no longer really bother to photograph her interiors. This photo of the cozy Windjammer Bar is from 2010... but the space is virtually unchanged since then. Photo copyright © 2010 Kalle Id.
It perhaps tells a bit about my relationship with the SILJA EUROPA that I no longer really bother to photograph her interiors. This photo of the cozy Windjammer Bar is from 2010… but the space is virtually unchanged since then. Photo copyright © 2010 Kalle Id.

I must admit I’m finding it a little hard to be enthusiastic about the SILJA EUROPA. Yes, she is impressively sized for a ferry and yes, she does have some of the greatest sea views ever of any passenger ship. But apart from the windows she lacks the “wow factor” that other Baltic Sea ferries of the late 80s/early 90s generation have.

The SILJA EUROPA's buffet was... alright. Nothing to write home about – especially as the menu has been standardized through-out the Tallink and Silja Line fleets and thus I had eaten the same precise buffet before – but the quality was good and there was a fairly large selection.
The SILJA EUROPA ‘s buffet was… alright. Nothing to write home about – especially as the menu has been standardized through-out the Tallink and Silja Line fleets and thus I had eaten the same precise buffet before – but the quality was good and there was a fairly large selection.

Our night on the ship can be summed up briefly with the following: we spectated departure from the outer decks in glorious sunlight most of this summer has been rainy and overcast, so it was a nice change), sat for some time at the two-storey Windjammer Bar at the aft of the ship, ate the Buffet Europa restaurant and in the late evening headed out on deck to photograph the other ferries arriving at Tallinn, framed by a glorious sunset before retiring for the night. Unfortunately our assigned cabin was directly above the night club and this being a Saturday departure, there was quite a party going on, making sleeping somewhat challenging. I was very glad of always keeping a pair of ear plugs in my bag.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines' BRAEMAR was one of the ship visiting Tallinn on this day, staying almost until midnight and thus allowing for this rather fantastic photo.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ BRAEMAR was one of the ship visiting Tallinn on this day, staying almost until midnight and thus allowing for this rather fantastic photo.

Sunday, 6h July 2014: The GANN

Fortunately for us, the old Finnish saying about an impressive sunset meaning bad weather in the morning did not hold true, as the next day greeted us with more glorious sunlight. We woke up early to make sure we don’t miss the GANN’s arrival, which was a good thing as she came in somewhat earlier than scheduled. Still, there was time to grab a quick breakfast from the SILJA EUROPA’s Sauna bar before she arrived.

The GANN turned in the harbour and reversed into quay. I had hoped she'd have come in bow-first for better photography when she departs, but you can't always win...
The GANN turned in the harbour and reversed into quay. I had hoped she’d have come in bow-first for better photography when she departs, but you can’t always win…

After photographing the GANN’s arrival we disembarked the SILJA EUROPA and headed out for some more ferry photography before heading to the cruise port for our visit onboard the GANN. Coming to the cruise port in Tallinn was a strange experience, having just come off the SILJA EUROPA. Cruise ports have their own kind of atmosphere, with handicraft shops and other local (or often, “local”) products in abundance. For me, these kinds of places have thus far been something to be experienced in faraway places and to visit one in Tallinn gave the visit to the GANN a rather nice overture, so to say.

Not quite the cruise ship caynon in Tallinn, with the CRYSTAL SYMPHONY dwarfing the GANN.
Not quite the cruise ship caynon in Tallinn, with the CRYSTAL SYMPHONY dwarfing the GANN.

On the gangway to the GANN we met up with the final member of our little group, Simona Mitmann (simonasfleet.blogspot.com) from Tallinn. Soon after this we were registered as visitors to the GANN and ready to begin our tour of the ship, guided by the GANN’s chief steward Åsmund Johansen.

In classic manner, the GANN's decks are designated by letters rather than numbers. Notice that the signage below the deck sign is unchanged from the Hurtigruten era, with the ship's name as NARVIK and the logo of her final Hurtigruten era owners OVDS (Ofotens og Vesteraalens Dampsskibsselskab) on display.
In classic manner, the GANN’s decks are designated by letters rather than numbers. Notice that the signage below the deck sign is unchanged from the Hurtigruten era, with the ship’s name as NARVIK and the logo of her final Hurtigruten era owners OVDS (Ofotens og Vesteraalens Dampsskibsselskab) on display.

Now as said, the GANN is a training ship, giving education for potential sailors on every other aspects of working on a ship “except catering”, as Åsmund concisely put it. However, in order to raise funds for the ship’s proper job, she is used to make occasional cruises for fare-paying passengers every year. This makes her one of just two cruise ships under Norwegian flag in the world – the other being Hurtigruten’s expedition cruise ship FRAM.

As evident from the flat screens, the GANN's bridge has been rather extensively modernised since she entered service.
As evident from the flat screens, the GANN’s bridge has been rather extensively modernised since she entered service.

Our tour of the GANN begun with a visit to the bridge, with Åsmund explaining her history to us in broad terms. The ship was completed in 1982 as the NARVIK for Det Ofotens Dampsskibsselskab (ODS), the middle ship in Hurtigruten’s 1980s newbuilding programme. Her original design was something of a compromise between what the Norwegian State – who heavily subsidized the ships – and the Hurtigruten ships themselves wanted the ships to be like. As a result they were originally built with large open cargo decks aft and relatively modest passenger facilities. This arrangement proved a mistake almost from the start, and in 1989 the NARVIK was rebuilt with the cargo deck eliminated in favour of additional cabins and a night club. A roll-on/roll-off car deck was retained for transport of cargo, however. In 2007 she was sold to Unge Sjømenns Kristne Forening (Young Seamen’s Christian Association) and given the traditional name GANN. The current GANN is, in fact, the sixth training vessel under the same name.

This model of the NARVIK as originally built, with open cargo decks aft, is on display at the Hurtigruten museum at Stokmarknes, Norway. Photo copyright © Jani Nousiainen.
This model of the NARVIK as originally built, with open cargo decks aft, is on display at the Hurtigruten museum at Stokmarknes, Norway. Photo copyright © Jani Nousiainen.

After the bridge we took a peek in the telegraphist’s cabin and a room where the students can follow the course of the ship when she is sailing, and then proceeded to the forward-facing Nordkapp Salon. Decorated with plaques presented by various ports to the ship, the salon’s furniture hails from the era when the ship sailed as the NARVIK – but it’s not the salon’s original furniture, rather that of the night club in the aft part of the ship, which has been converted to classrooms in training ship use.

In original configuration, the intimate Nordkapp Salon was the NARVIK's only non-restaurant public room.
In original configuration, the intimate Nordkapp Salon was the NARVIK’s only non-restaurant public room.

Directly below the Nordkapp Salon on D-deck is the Finnmarken à la carte restaurant. This delightful space is generally not used while the GANN sails as a training ship, and it has been retained near-exactly in original appearance, right down to the ODS flag decorations on the door windows. An interesting details are the semi-fixed chairs: to keep them from moving in heavy seas, all chairs in the room are fixed to the floor by a chain, giving enough room to move the chair while making sure they don’t move too much on heavy seas.

The Finnmarken à la carte restaurant retains a rather heavy, dark wood decor. Even though the space faces forward, little use is made of the views.
The Finnmarken à la carte restaurant retains a rather heavy, dark wood decor. Even though the space faces forward, little use is made of the views.
Another sign of the ship's past life in the Finnmarken restaurant is the ODS/OVDS flag on the door window.
Another sign of the ship’s past life in the Finnmarken restaurant is the ODS/OVDS flag on the door window.

Aft from the Finnmarken restaurant, across the forward stairwell is the more simply decorated Sandnes restaurant, which on cruise use appears to function as a self-serve buffet, while in training ship service she is the main restaurant used. At the aft end of Sandnes restaurant there is the ship’s rather delightful library. On the NARVIK this was the the smoking room, but on the GANN the space has been put into better use.

The Sandnes restaurant is rather more simply decorated than Finnmarken. Like the other public spaces, Sandnes is a place in Norway – however, unlike Nordkapp and Finnmarken, it is not the name of a ship in the present Hurtigruten fleet.
The Sandnes restaurant is rather more simply decorated than Finnmarken. Like the other public spaces, Sandnes is a place in Norway – however, unlike Nordkapp and Finnmarken, it is not the name of a ship in the present Hurtigruten fleet.
The library, facing aft. Notice the fact the floor raises aft, as the module added in 1989 refit is slightly higher due to the car deck below.
The library, facing aft. Notice the fact the floor raises aft, as the module added in 1989 refit is slightly higher due to the car deck below.

Continuing further aft on D-deck we crossed over to the “camper van”, as the module added in the 1989 refit is known. With some cabins in the front part of the “van”, the aft part originally contained a night club. On the GANN, this has been converted into classrooms. For the duration of the cruise, one of the classrooms has been converted into an onboard shop, maintained by Åsmund’s son – as such, the place “has the distinct touch of a 16-year-old boy”. The merchandise on sale was utterly fascinating, with GANN mugs, caps, backpacks, embroidered patches, tie pins and cufflinks. Alas, as the onboard currency was the Norwegian krone, I was forced to abandon any ambitions of getting a GANN tie pin. Åsmund, being sympathetic to our kroneless plight, gave all of us free GANN embroidered patches. (I haven’t yet decided whether I should keep mine in the archives, away from harm, or use it somewhere).

The former night club on the NARVIK is now a pair of classrooms on the GANN.
The former night club on the NARVIK is now a pair of classrooms on the GANN.
Since I had not brought any Norwegian money with me, there fantastic GANN mugs stayed in the shop and did not join my cruise mug collection.
Since I had not brought any Norwegian money with me, there fantastic GANN mugs stayed in the shop and did not join my cruise mug collection.

From the “camper van” we proceeded to the spaces not normally open to visitors. Two decks below, on B-deck, is the ship’s original car deck, which on the GANN has been converted to workshops and various teaching spaces and even a gym. On the technical side, the side gates used for loading and unloading cars still remain and theoretically could be taken back into use should the need arise.

The former car deck, now a workshop amongst many other things.
The former car deck, now a workshop amongst many other things.

From the car deck we descended further down to the engineering. I will freely admit that this lies completely outside my area of expertise. The little information that I have to offer is that the ship is powered by two Bergen diesel engines, which at normal cruising speed (15 knots) consume 650 litres of fuel an hour – which, I am told, is exceptionally little for a ship of the GANN’s size.

Our little group in the engine room, with our guide Åsmund easily recognisable in the uniform.
Our little group in the engine room, with our guide Åsmund easily recognisable in the uniform.

After the visit to the engine room, there was one more major space for us to visit: the Leden panorama lounge atop the ship, arguably the finest space onboard – not so much for the interior itself, but for the views offered. The room must be particularly splendid when sailing through the Norwegian fjords, with windows not only to the sides but also overhead.

The staircase leading up to the Leden panorama room is decorated with a photo of the NARVIK as she appeared during the middle of her Hurtigruten career.
The staircase leading up to the Leden panorama room is decorated with a photo of the NARVIK as she appeared during the middle of her Hurtigruten career.

The panorama room is, in addition to the “camper van” aft, a space added in the 1989 refit. Interestingly, the first ship of GANN’s class, the 1982-built MIDNATSOL (not to be confused with the current, 2006-built MIDNATSOL) was originally built with an observation lounge atop the ship, but for some reason the lounge was omitted from the NARVIK (now-GANN) and the final sister VESTERÅLEN when built. Fortunately, in the late-90s refits this mistake was rectified.

I certainly would not mind spectating the Norwegian fjords from a room like this.
I certainly would not mind spectating the Norwegian fjords from a room like this.

After the visit to Leden, we quickly toured the outer deck areas. A part of the original 1982 outer deck area is beautifully clad in teak, but the main outer deck area atop the “camper van” is plain painted steel. Not unacceptable for a working ship like the GANN, but of course a nicer deck covering would give the ship a more refined air. An interesting detail, which I actually noticed only afterwards when looking through the photographs, are two barbeque grills behind the starboard (dummy) funnel. An impromptu barbeque on the sundeck is certainly not something I would say no to, though I admit I do not know know if the grills are used in cruise service or are they just for student recreation.

The GANN's sun deck, aft on F-deck. Like most Hurtigruten ships, apart from their newest ships built during the 21st century, the GANN does not have a swimming pool nor even jacuzzis anywhere onboard.
The GANN’s sun deck, aft on F-deck. Like most Hurtigruten ships, apart from their newest ships built during the 21st century, the GANN does not have a swimming pool nor even jacuzzis anywhere onboard.

At this point, alas, it was time leave. We had spent almost 1½ hours onboard the GANN, though it certainly felt like a much shorter time. Be turned in our visitor passes at the gangway and bid farewell to our guide Åsmund and the delightful, fantastic ship.

The GANN's port (dummy) funnel still shows the outlines of the original ODS/OVDS funnel colours, as well as the Hurtigruten funnel symbol, in addition to the Unge Sjømenns Kristne Forening flag.
The GANN’s port (dummy) funnel still shows the outlines of the original ODS/OVDS funnel colours, as well as the Hurtigruten funnel symbol, in addition to the Unge Sjømenns Kristne Forening flag.

After the superb tour of the GANN, none of us felt inclined to be particularly active. Apart from an unremarkable but good lunch at a local restaurant, most of the afternoon was spent sitting at Linnahall taking the sun and waiting for the GANN and the other cruise visitors to depart. The depatures did yield some rather fine photographs, and soon after that it was time for our homeward bound trip on the fast catamaran KAROLIN of Linda Line.

A ”Norwegian” ship and a Norwegian ship: The Bahamas-flagged NORWEGIAN STAR departs, while the Norwegian-flagged GANN lingers for a few moments longer.
A ”Norwegian” ship and a Norwegian ship: The Bahamas-flagged NORWEGIAN STAR departs, while the Norwegian-flagged GANN lingers for a few moments longer.

This was a first visit on the KAROLIN for me, and to be honest the experience was very much that of a bygone era. The small cat does make the crossing in one hour and 40 minutes, faster than any other vessels – sans for her fleetmate MERILIN, but this does come at a price of airliner-type seating and very limited service onboard. Never the less, the cat was almost fully booked. Which also explains the lack of interior photographs, as I did not wish to intrude on the privacy of our fellow passengers too much.

Small she may be, but the KAROLIN's wake was a rather impressive sight indeed.
Small she may be, but the KAROLIN’s wake was a rather impressive sight indeed.

Whatever her flaws, the KAROLIN brought us swiftly and surely back home to Helsinki. Before leaving for Tallinn the day before I had brought my bicycle to the Linda Line terminal in central Helsinki, thus getting home was simply the matter of a leisurely half-an-hour cycle trip.

The KAROLIN arriving in Helsinki. Photo copyright © 2011 Kalle Id.
The KAROLIN arriving in Helsinki. Photo copyright © 2011 Kalle Id.

As closing remarks on the main subject – the GANN – my general impression was that she is an extremely interesting ship in very well-kept condition. Due to her primarily role as a training ship, the public rooms are perhaps not as extensive as they could be, but clearly this is not a problem for the GANN’s passengers, who seemed to consist almost entirely of elderly Norwegians (according to Åsmund, the only other nationality amongst the passengers were two Danes).

Thanks to Åsmund's generosity, I did need to come home from the GANN entirely empty-handed, even if the neat mugs stayed behind.
Thanks to Åsmund’s generosity, I did need to come home from the GANN entirely empty-handed, even if the neat mugs stayed behind.

Now would I cruise on the GANN? On a destination-intensive itinerary or an expedition cruise, absolutely! The ship’s small size makes her near-perfect for expedition-style cruising – as testified by the fact her sister MIDNATSOL today sails for Lindblad-National Geographic Expeditions as the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER, albeit is radically rebuilt form. But I do admit that on a cruise with lots of days at sea, such as the GANN’s Baltic Sea cruise, I would prefer a ship with a larger array of amenities.

Rewinding a few hours, I thought this photo of the GANN deparing Tallinn in tandem with the Helsinki-Tallinn ferry VIKING XPRS would be a nice way to end this reportage. Maybe I'll see the GANN again one day. Who knows?
Rewinding a few hours, I thought this photo of the GANN deparing Tallinn in tandem with the Helsinki-Tallinn ferry VIKING XPRS would be a nice way to end this reportage. Maybe I’ll see the GANN again one day. Who knows?

End of A GANNdez-Vous in Tallinn.

Special thanks to Åsmund Johansen, Sami Koski, Simona Mitmann, Jani Nousiainen, Timo Selkälä and Olli Tuominen.

Kalle Id

Kalle Id

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.
Kalle Id
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