Martin: Kalle can you tell the readers about your new book Silja Line: From De Samseglande to Tallink, what drew you to this particular topic and how did you get started?
Kalle: I guess what actually drew me to the subject was the history of Finland Steamship Company (Finska Ångfartygs Aktiebolaget, FÅA alias Effoa). FÅA was probably the most important Finnish shipping company of all time, but no definitive history, that would cover the entire story of the company, has ever been published. My original idea was actually to write a history of FÅA, but my friend Bruce Peter (who is the author of a multitude of books on ferries, liners and cruise ships) suggested doing a history of the internationally much better known Silja Line, of which FÅA was a founding member. Although initially I wasn’t too fond of the idea, I soon realised that there is no book on the history of Silja available in English, and none of the books in Finnish or Swedish tell the entire story of the company from the first joint service in 1904 to the present. Furthermore, the previously published books concentrated solely on the history of Silja Line, dealing only in passing with the other activities of Silja’s owners – even though these often had a radical effect on the financial performance of the company and help explain why Silja Line developed like it did.
As far as research goes, I started off by simply reading the existing books dealing with the history of Silja Line, its owners and the Baltic Sea ferry traffic in general. Essentially, while this is information already known to many potential readers (at least in Finland), it has never before been gathered in a single volume. Before starting work on the book, I had also visited the FÅA archives (while working on my Master’s Thesis) and I was able to use much of that research for the Silja book as well.
M: How did you settle on the title?
K: For a long time my book was going to be called simply “Silja Line: A History”, but my publisher Miles Cowsill suggested that the title should mention Tallink, the current owners of Silja Line. The final title came quite naturally: Silja’s original owners FÅA, Ångfartygs Aktiebolag Bore (Bore) and Rederi AB Svea (Svea) were collectively known as De Samseglande (in Swedish, which was the language of all three companies), so the title is just a fancier way of saying “Silja
Line from the beginning to the present”.
It would be perhaps a good idea to provide a basic history of Silja Line here. In 1904, FÅA and Bore, who had previously competed on the service between Turku (Finland) and Stockholm (Sweden), formed a joint service on the route. In 1918 Svea joined them, and, later on, the joint service expanded to the Helsinki-Stockholm route. This joint service was referred to in Sweden as De Samseglande, but the term also extended to mean the three companies participating in it. In 1956 the trio started a new subsidiary, Siljarederiet, to operate car ferries on the Finland-Sweden routes. In 1970 Siljarederiet was restyled as Silja Line, and all De Samseglande services on the Finland-Sweden routes came to be marketed under the Silja Line name.
As for the languages, essentially the entire book is in English, with just an extended introductory chapter in Finnish. My intention was originally to make the book only in English, but Miles convinced me it would be better to have a bilingual title and a partially bilingual book. We did briefly consider making a separate Finnish edition, but – at least at that point – we didn’t feel the extra work needed for translating the book justified.
M: To get some back ground on you, where did you grow up and how did you get interested in these vessels?
K: I was born and grew up in Helsinki, Finland… which is where I still live, so I haven’t gotten that far. I actually even live in the same neighbourhood I spent most of adolescence in. Anyway, for my entire life Helsinki has been a major ferry hub, with services to Sweden, Estonia and Germany, and when I was a child my family would take a ferry cruise maybe once a year or so. Everything on those ships was very exciting, different from the way things were on land. Something about it just clicked in my head, and I’ve been fascinated with ships since the age of ten or so.
M: You mentioned your Master thesis, what was the actual topic and where and when were you studying?
K: The precise topic of my thesis was the cruise operations of Finnish shipping companies from the 1960s until 1980. At the time both FÅA and Finnlines operated cruise ships on the international market and I was (to the best of my knowledge) the first to look at these in detail. FÅA’s cruises were for a while marketed by Silja Line, so this part is also included in the book. I’m not sure if my thesis would make for a good stand-alone book, but certainly there is enough interesting material for a detailed article somewhere.
M: Where there parts of this story, as you brought it together, that surprised you , or were new to you?
K: In general, when doing detailed research on a large scale like this, you do always find new patterns and discover new ways in which things affected one another.
One thing that really became evident, in a way that I hadn’t realised before, was how much Silja’s owners’ other operations in the late 1980s and early 1990s effected Silja’s performance. All previous publications rather swept past this, but Silja Line’s problems in the 1990s were really not caused by anything done by themselves, but rather their then-owner EffJohn’s over-investment in other activities: Commodore Cruise Line, Crown Cruise Line and Sally Like UK, all of which were unprofitable.
What was also very interesting were the details of the struggle on whether or not De Samseglande companies should build car ferries in the mid-1950s or not. This argument eventually led to the formation of Siljarederiet, but the changing opinions and allegriances between the leaders of FÅA, Svea and Bore were fascinating. Certainly the most memorable was Svea chairman Emmanuel Hölberg’s claim that car ferries were to be just a passing fad, as car-carrying airplanes would supplant them within a decade.
M: Tell us about the picture gathering for your book, how did you go about deciding what to included and what resources did you draw upon.
K: Some of the photos are from my own collection, which is to say I purchased a number of old images specifically for this book, and a lot of the newer ones were taken by me. For the rest I was fortunate enough to know people with extensive photo collections. Krzysztof (Risto) Brzoza, Jukka Huotari and Rami Wirrankoski kindly allowed me to use a horde of images from their respective collections. Rami also gave me access to the Ship Historical Society of Finland’s photo collection. There were of course other people who contributed, but Risto, Jukka and Rami were responsible for the bulk of the book. In the end I had a much bigger number of images than what was needed for the book. I selected what were in my opinion the best images and sent them to my publishers Miles, who made the layouts, and we whose the photos that finally got included together with Miles.
M: Are there any images you would like to include for MM readers and tell us a bit about what fascinated you about them.
K: This fantastic image of a painting of FÅA’s HEBE was provided by Folke Österman. The HEBE was originally the BORE of Ångfartygs Aktiebolag Bore from 1898 and, under that name, the first ship of the future Silja Line partners to sail on the Turku-Stockholm service.
This is a postcard from my own collection. FÅA’s ILMATAR of 1964 is one of my all-time favourite ships in terms of exterior design. On the inside she was rather anarchronistic, with class-divided accommodation and no drive-through car deck. As a result she was never very successful, although she later found her niche as a cruise ship.
This absolutely fantastic image from Rami Wirrankoski’s collection shows Bore’s BORE STAR and Svea’s SVEA CORONA at Silja Line’s Stockholm terminal at some time during the late 1970s. These French-built ships, and their FÅA-owned sister WELLAMO, are generally considered to be amongst the most beautiful ferries in the Finland-Sweden trades. The atmosphere in this night-time shot is utterly fantastic.
This is my own photo of the SILJA SYMPHONY departing Helsinki in choppy autumn weather in 2012. The SILJA SYMPHONY and her sister SILJA SERENADE were the first ships to feature the horizontal atriums that were later popularized in cruise ships by Royal Caribbean. In this particular photo I rather like general autumnal atmosphere with the white-capped waves and the dry reeds in the foreground.
This superb image of the FINNJET making a winter arrival in Helsinki was provided by Jukka Huotari. When built, the FINNJET was the longest, largest and fastest ferry in the world. She joined the Silja Line fleet in 1987, though this photo is from the mid-90s. Winter photography is very challenging, as there is so little light during the winter months, but Jukka has pulled it off beautifully here.
This is probably my absolute favourite of my own photos of all time. In 2008 the SILJA FESTIVAL (right) transferred to the Tallink fleet, and in early 2013 she visited Helsinki on a New Year’s cruise for the Russian market, mooring stern-to-stern with her old Silja fleetmate SILJA SERENADE. I waited for an hour to get this photo, but it turned out great.
Another one of my own photos, this one shows the GALAXY, a former Tallink ship that transferred to Silja Line in 2008, departing Mariehamn in Finland on midsummer 2012. This was taken from the former pilot station at Kobba Klintar, a location picked up by Bruce Peter. An utterly fantastic place.
M: Thank you Kalle. Where can readers find your book?
K: Thank you Martin, it was my pleasure. The best way to buy the book is from Ferry Publications web shop at ferrypubs.co.uk.
MARTIN COX - Founder and publisher of MaritimeMatters, inspired by maritime culture and technology growing up in the port of Southampton. He works as a photographer in Los Angeles, and his works has been exhibited in LA, San Francisco, New York, London and Iceland. Martin is the co-writer of the book “Hollywood to Honolulu; the story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company” published by the Steam Ship Historical Society of America. The Los Angeles Maritime Museum has commissioned artworks and collected his photographs.