It is easy to get around in Finland’s Lakeland by a boat that does not make a sound but nevertheless has an engine. Steamboats are treasured specialties of the Finnish Lakeland. No place else has so many privately owned steamboats. Boats that are over hundred years old are still used in regular transport service.
In May 2018, exactly 110 years will have passed since steamboat Tarjanne began regular service from Tampere to Virrat. Tarjanne is the world’s oldest steamboat still in regular service.
Travelling is peaceful aboard steamboat Tarjanne. From Tampere, you can hop on from the shores of Näsijärvi and then travel a hundred kilometres north to Virrat through the Murole Canal. There is plenty of time to watch the lake scenery and eat well in the boat’s restaurant.
“Many people want to spend a whole day on a boat in the Lakeland at least once a summer,” says Mari Vuorinen, Managing Director of Hopealinjat Oy.
The scenery opening up from the deck of the Tarjanne is familiar to Vuorinen from childhood.
“I have lived my whole life in Tampere between two large lakes. My father-in-law owned an inland boat company at Pyhäjärvi.”
Hopealinja operates six boats and steamboat Tarjanne is one of them. Other boats sail on Pyhäjärvi from Tampere to Hämeenlinna.
“Water is a calming element to me. I can look at water endlessly and it calms my mind. At Näsijärvi, you can experience a wide-open landscape and a peaceful atmosphere. There are also some truly beautiful narrows along the route.”
The traveller has the option to hop off at Ruovesi, Murole Canal or Virrat. The boat overnights at Virrat Harbour and returns to Tampere the next day. During the summertime, the boat sails twice a week.
Tarjanne’s route is a treasured one. Ruovesi and Virrat, the two harbours along the way, have recently improved their harbour areas. The harbours provide good services and opportunity for lodging.
“Tourists often marvel about the cleanliness of our waterways. They are surprised by how fast you can leave the city behind and enter another kind of a world where a clean body of water and silence open up in front of you.”
On deck of the steamboat, near silence prevails.
“The quietness of the steamboat provides an environment for enjoying clean local food. We offer fish from Näsijärvi and delicacies from harbours along the route. Our local food culture is important to us.”
Mikko Keinonen, documentary film director, lives by the Heinävesi water route which is a traditional steam boat route. There are six sluiceways along the route. Another alternative route, connecting Saimaa to Kallavesi, goes via Varkaus. Keinonen described the steam boat regatta on the way from Rantasalmi to Varkaus along Saimaa’s Haukivesi saying: “Travelling is almost silent when on deck. The video has an authentic ‘sound landscape’ with nothing else added. There is plenty of steam but moving along is unbelievably silent”.
Car travel takes a long time in the Finnish Lakeland. There is a natural explanation for this. Getting around big lakes takes time. In relation to its area, Finland has more lakes and islands than any other country in the world: there are 187,000 lakes and 180,000 islands. In the Lakeland, which covers one quarter of the area of Finland, lakes cover more than half the land in some parts.
After the Ice Age, three large water systems areas were naturally created in Finland. Waterways have always been natural avenues for travel and transport for Finns. Many canals were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Finnish forest industry needed more passages. In addition to canals, connections between waterways were improved by dredging. Steamboats were well suited to the narrow and rambling routes of the inland waters.
Waterways were also always better than road connections until the early 20th century. You can still travel from one lake to another through rivers, inlets and canals. You can travel hundreds of kilometres one way by boat in the Lakeland waterways of Finland. A neck of land of just a few kilometres in width separates the lakes Päijänne and Saimaa. A boat can be pulled over the neck using a transport service.
“In many areas, waterways have been the only way to move from place to place. Nowadays the thinking is that water systems divide traffic and make it more difficult. In my opinion, waterways are a uniting factor,” says Mari Vuorinen.
Taisto Nevalainen, Chairman of the Finnish Steam Ship Association, spends nearly a month every summer on a steamboat on Lake Saimaa.
“Clean waters, scenery and light summer nights are quite a unique combination,” says Nevalainen. Nevalainen is part-owner of an old stem tugboat in the heritage ship registry. His career was in the forest industry so Lake Saimaa’s waterways are familiar to him. Inland boats and tugboats have been important for the forest industry. There is still active freight transport in the Lake Saimaa area and passages are well maintained. Nevalainen has always taken to the waters.
Nevalainen’s steamboat has been everywhere on Lake Saimaa, which is one of the most labyrinthine lake areas in the world. It has over 13,000 islands and 14,000 kilometres of shoreline. The geography of the area makes the steamboat hobby suitably challenging.
“Shallow waters, narrow passageways and exceptionally maze-like waterways make the inland waters challenging for passage. If someone wants to train their navigational skills, Lake Saimaa is good for that.”
The steamboat’s engine room requires its own special expertise.
“It is technically challenging to observe and adjust the steam boiler and pressure vessels…”
The steam engine is not a motor. There is no stink of diesel in the air but rather the smell of burning birch logs. Wood is used in Finnish steamboats more frequently than coal.
Taisto Nevalainen believes that steamboats have a long future in the Finnish Lakeland.
“Steamboats are museum boats that have been preserved reasonably well in Finland. Finns have the best expertise in maintaining and servicing them. I believe that they will stay in good shape for the next 100 years.”
Ari Turunen (15.5.2018), Uptopoint
Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi lakes
You can hop on at Hämeenlinna and travel to Tampere across Lake Pyhäjärvi. The next day you can leave Tampere on Lake Näsijärvi aboard steamboat Tarjanne (1908) towards Virrat, stay the night there and come back the next day.
There are sceneries along the Poet’s Way that have inspired many Finnish artists. Tarjanne operates between June 5 and August 10. There is regular service between Tampere and Hämeenlinna from June 28 to August 25.
Lake Saimaa area
From Lappeenranta you can take a boat along the 150-km route to Savonlinna. From there you can then take the Heinävesi route to Kuopio. You can also travel along the Leppävirta route between Kuopio and Savonlinna. The length of both routes is about 90 kilometres.
It is possible to cruise from Lappeenranta all the way to Kuopio on the former steamboat M/S Puijo (1914) on a two-day cruise on June 28-29 and August 9-10. You can spend the night in between either on a boat or at a hotel.
The Heinävesi route connects the Kallavesi and Haukivesi lakes. The Heinävesi route goes from Kuopio to Savonlinna through four canals (Karvio, Kerma, Vihovuonne, Pilppa). M/S Puijo plies this route in July three times a week. In June and August, it also cruises on the Leppävirta and Varkaus routes and on Lake Saimaa to Puumala and Lappeenranta. Along the Leppävirta route, there are locks at Taipale, Konnus and Naapuskoski.
S/S Punkaharju (1905) travels between Savonlinna and Punkaharju. The trip takes 2½ hours.
Lake Päijänne area
The Suomi boat in Jyväskylä cruises on Lake Päijänne. From Jyväskylä you can take a regular service to Äänekoski, Heinola and Lahti. The Äänekoski route goes along the Keitele-Päijänne Canal. The route goes through five canals and takes 4½ hours. The trip to Lahti goes through the Vääksy Canal and takes 9 hours, and from Lahti to Heinola it goes through the Kalkkinen Canal and takes 4½ hours. There is regular service from June to July.
S/S Kouta (1920) on Lake Oulujärvi is the world’s northernmost inland steamboat . Kouta cruises Lake Oulujärvi in July.
Finnish Steam Ship Association