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J.L.Runeberg is an indispensable part of the Finnish cultural tradition. This ship is more than 100 years old, and perfect for enjoying the island landscape, the sea, and a nostalgic service and atmosphere
J.L.Runeberg is the last traditional archipelago ship in Finland that is still in regular traffic. Built in Helsinki in 1912, the ship regularly departs from Kauppatori at 10 for Porvo in summer mornings, and returns at 7.30 PM on the same evening.
Comparing J.L.Runeberg to other cruise ships in Helsinki is like comparing a horse cart to the subway. On Runeberg, people don’t lounge around on plastic chairs, listening to pre-recorded audio guides; instead, passengers can move around freely on the nostalgic deck, and take shelter from the rain in a salon with wooden cladding and curtains, or in the nooks and crannies of this charming centenarian. That’s the way it’s been on this ship already for more than 100 years.
The current main owner, Ted Lönnroos, has been J.L.Runeberg’s skipper since 1986:
“The unhurried atmosphere of an old ship is important for me: people relax here, enjoy the scenery and come for a chat.”
Rarely can a captain be approached as directly as on J.L.Runeberg. The cockpit door is open, and the captain is happy to exchange news. Assistant skippers are also taken into consideration. Turning the old wooden steering wheel of this ship requires strength, but being able to steer this ship brings a smile to assistant skippers of all ages.
An atmospheric sea voyage and old Porvoo
Erja Laitiainen, a Helsinki local, enjoys the good atmosphere of the ship, the nostalgic feeling and the serenity. The sea is an important element for Laitiainen:
“On weekdays, it’s particularly nice here, when it’s not too full.”
According to Laitiainen, Porvoo is a wonderful summer city. The plan includes lunch at the cosy restaurant Hanna Maria, an art exhibition at Näsi Manor, and Runeberg’s house museum. The factory shop of the confectionary company Brunberg will have local licorice and chocolate to take to the kids as souvenirs.
For Erja Laitiainen, a cruise on J.L.Runeberg is a summer tradition.
Päivi Vartiainen and Inka Sibelius from Helsinki are on board this ship for the first time:
“Our grandma-grandchild day trip has had a great start. This ship cannot be compared to any other cruise ships in Helsinki.”
Together with the women from Helsinki, there are cruise passengers from Brazil, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, France, Russia, Sweden and Norway.
Linnea Möller, the office manager of the shipping company, says that there were 13 different nationalities on the previous day’s cruise.
“If the weather is nice, a lot of people buy cruise tickets right before the start of a cruise from the kiosk at Kauppatori. On the other hand, some bookings have been made already in last autumn.” Möller says.
The ship is almost 30 metres long and can fit 220 passengers. For larger groups, you can book a charter cruise or your own salon for the duration of a regular trip. In 2018, there were about 14,000 passengers.
There are plenty of options and flexibility: Some people cycle from Helsinki to Porvoo, and return to Helsinki on the ship in the evening. Bicycles can be taken on board conveniently and affordably. The return ticket can also include different dates, for example involving a stay at some enchanting small accommodation in the old town of Porvoo.
On summer Saturdays in 2019, there is live music on board, and the ship will take a few trips all the way to Loviisa in July. Weather affects passengers volumes, but according to Möller, reservations can be postponed by a week, for example, in case of rainy weather.
Small mood pieces, great experiences
J.L.Runeberg’s classic menu item is salmon soup prepared from a 30-year-old recipe.
The recipe of this delicious fish soup is a well-kept secret.
Other popular treats on the menu include hand-made archipelago bread and a genuine Runeberg torte, which is a classic pastry created by the wife of the national poet. On board, it is also possible to purchase special J.L.Runeberg wines and beer.
The Runeberg package, which includes a cruise, and a lunch of soup and dessert is perfect for anyone who wishes to enjoy the day. A buffet is available on Sundays.
From the early 20th century until today
The colourful history of the old steamer is linked to the history of independent Finland and its changing owners.
Frans Åkerman, the founder of the shipping company Nyländska Skärgårds ab, was an old sailor from Helsinki, who reportedly liked to smoke cigars and wear a cowboy hat. In Midsummer, the shipping company’s ships circled around Åkerman’s own summer island.
In the early summer of 1912, the shipping company’s new flagship was completed at the Hietalahti shipyard, the s/s Helsingfors Skärgård, which was employed by the Czar in WWI. The ship started travelling on the Porvoo-Helsinki route already in the 1930s, and was renamed in 1936: m/s J.L.Runeberg.
During Lönnroos’ time, the ship has been sailing mainly between Loviisa and Hanko. The current Porvoo route can include two stops, if necessary: Musta Hevonen and Haikko Manor.
There are many highlights on the way: the swing bridge at Hevossalmi and the giant boulder after it, or Ruskis near the Porvoo river basin.
Over the years, the ship has transported heads of state, corporate groups and societies, people celebrating family get-togethers or birthdays, individual backpackers and regular summer passengers. Lönnroos says that “old neighbours” and former presidents, Mauno Koivisto and Tarja Halonen, have also visited m/s J.L.Runeberg, which is anchored right next to Kauppatori.
“Nowadays, there’s someone called Niinistö in the neighborhood. He’s welcome aboard too.” Lönnroos says with a smile.
Lönnroos says that this old ship has been restored with a big heart, and partly with volunteer help.
“Professionals of various fields have contributed to the uniqueness of this ship, many of whom have been involved in the work since the 1980s. Annual restoration works are performed on the ship, honouring traditions and using modern technology.”
Editor Thure Malmberg has compiled a book celebrating the centenary of this unique ship, “M/s J.L.Runeberg: the archipelago ship of our hearts 1912 - 2012”. The book full of historical details, photos and stories is available for purchase on the ship (languages: Finnish/Swedish).
More information about J.L.Runebergistä:
Picture: J.L Runeberg