HURTIGRUTE DAWN AND EVOLUTION


1893 to 1914

 

A coastal steamer approaching Måløy.

(Author) 

 

The Inaugural Hurtigrute

 

The appointed day for the very first Hurtigrute departure from Trondheim was Sunday 2 July 1893, at 08.00. Apart from some large posters which Vesteraalske had had printed, there was practically no advance publicity in the city – not even newspaper announcements. Few of the passengers who used the overnight train from Oslo joined Vesteraalen, even though the connection was an advertised one. Nevertheless on board the steamer, which was dressed overall, and sporting a white hull for this historic occasion, there were around sixty people in festive mood, many of them guests from northern Norway invited by the company. Precisely on time, Vesteraalen cast off from Brattøra quay and slipped down Trondheimsfjorden towards the open sea, Richard With on her bridge. There were just nine intermediate calls between Trondheim and Hammerfest. At each port the local residents treated the arrival of the inaugural Hurtigrute steamer as a public holiday. To save time, at Brønnøysund and Sandnessjøen tenders were sent out to meet Vesteraalen, and passengers, mail and cargo were transferred while the steamer continued on her way at reduced speed. Bodø was reached at 11.30 the following morning, half an hour ahead of schedule. Since the new mole and quay were still incomplete, Vesteraalen anchored and was served by tenders. Her officers and passengers went ashore for a banquet at the Grand Hotel, from where a telegram was dispatched to Sivert Nilsen, informing him of the good progress being made.

 

At 14.00 Vesteraalen sailed again, crossing Vestfjorden to Svolvær, then continuing overnight through Lofoten via Lødingen to Harstad. Tromsø was reached at around noon on the 4th, the town decked out in flags for the event. After a call of around four hours, the steamer continued via Skjervøy to Hammerfest, reaching the world’s northernmost town at 03.30 on Wednesday 5 July, half an hour ahead of schedule. Despite the unsocial hour – it was, of course, daylight – Vesteraalen was invaded by many of the local residents who were keen to have a look at her; newspaper reporters interviewed her officers, and group photos were taken. Meanwhile the work of unloading and loading cargo and mail continued, and there was hardly any respite for any of the crew; the southbound sailing was scheduled to start at 07.30 (see Table Four).

 

On the way back to Trondheim an unexpected encounter took place. Fridtjof Nansen’s Fram was anchored in Nærøysundet, her crew taking on provisions for a voyage to the high Arctic. As Vesteraalen steamed past, the two vessels exchanged greetings.

 

The sceptics now awaited the onset of winter, with its gales, fogs and blizzards. Vesteraalen and her crew took it all in their stride, and the hurtigrute ran as smoothly as clockwork. The schedules were of course eased slightly, with an 07.00 arrival in Tromsø on Wednesdays and a noon arrival in Trondheim on Saturdays. The pioneering navigational work done by Richard With and Anders Holte had proved its worth, and demonstrated to others that what they considered impossible could safely be made feasible.

 

Bergenske and Nordenfjeldske Join the Hurtigrute    

 

The original proposals of the Indredepartment had been for a twice-weekly Hurtigrute. As soon as Vesteraalen  was well established on her weekly service, Gran approached the Trondheim and Bergen companies with a suggestion that they might like to participate. Their positive reaction caused some alarm among Vesteraalske’s directors when on 17 November 1893 they learned that this was the case, and that a contract was being discussed. To protect their own interests, on 4 December that year they lodged a formal protest with the Jernbanekomite, and hired the services of a lawyer, Annæus Schjødt, who was instructed to convince Gran that should a second Hurtigrute be started up, operated by different companies, it would in effect be a competing service.

 

Schjødt’s argument, outlined in a letter dated 31 January 1894, fell on deaf ears among the members of the Jernbanekomite, which urged Gran to make it as clear as possible to all concerned that the two services should complement each other and not fight for traffic. The second Hurtigrute was to start up on 1 July 1894, with its contract running for four years. It was agreed that Vesteraalske, which had pioneered the new service, should not be exposed to unfair competition after its contract expired on 30 June 1896. A simple solution was found – the contract would be extended until 30 June 1898. This was approved of by Vesteraalske’s directors on 4 May 1894. Meanwhgile, in Oslo, the Storting remained divided within itself over whether or not Vesteraalske should be allowed to enjoy a monopoly position as Hurtigrute operator. A vote on 20 May 1894 resulted in 84 MPs voting against a monopoly, but a sizeable minority – 28 – favouring control of the service by a company established in northern Norway. The balance would not tip the other way again until nearly a century later!

 

The second Hurtigrute duly started up on 1 July 1894, receiving a mail contract grant worth 70,000 kroner annually. Bergenske and Nordenfjeldske agreed to share the operation, the former company supplying a steamer for the first and third years, and the latter one a vessel for the second and fourth years. Sirius sailed from Bergen on 3 June 1894 to take up position at Trondheim in readiness for her year on the prestige service. With Sunday (Vesteraalske) and Thursday (Bergenske) departures from Brattøra quay, the schedules and itineraries were identical to those of 1893, the service being cut back to Tromsø from 31 August.

 

Sirius was relieved by Olav Kyrre on 1 July 1895. By that date, however, Nordenfjeldske already had a purpose-built Hurtigrute steamer on the stocks at Trondhjems M/V. Delivered on 9 December that year at a cost of 295,000 kroner, Erling Jarl measured 677 gross tonnes, 181.4 feet in length (5.5 feet longer than planned!), 27.0 feet in beam, and 12.1 feet in depth, and was powered by a 165 HP triple expansion engine which gave her a service speed of 12 knots. Her design was somewhat unusual for a coastal steamer of that period, since both her holds were positioned forward of her superstructure. This facilitated cargo handling at ports where tenders had to be employed, or where the quay was of insufficient length for forward and midships holds to be worked simultaneously. Although practical, the design affected Erling Jarl’s performance when running at full speed fully laden – she tended to bury her bows rather deep in the water.      

 

The new steamer replaced Olav Kyrre as soon as she had been commissioned, on 31 December 1895. Her debut was an inauspicious one – on 7 January 1896 she ran aground in Grøtøsund, and had to be drydocked for repairs. Rather more serious was her grounding on Rolnæsholmen, near Harstad on 13 October that year. Her engine room started filling with water, and it was only with difficulty that she was towed to Harstad. Here temporary patching up took place, and on the 28th of the month she left on the long tow southwards to Trondheim for repairs. Her third grounding occurred on 17 April 1897 at Agdenesfluen. This time she managed to free herself, and continue to Bodø. Yet more repairs were necessary, and she was out of service until 1 July that year.

 

Bergenske’s veteran Jupiter made her Hurtigrute debut on 1 July 1896. Although she was then approaching 41 years of age, she was in fine fettle, having received new boilers and a thorough mechanical overhaul during a refit in 1893. She must have been capable of a good turn of speed, too, since in summer 1896 the Hurtigrute schedules were accelerated, with arrival at Hammerfest now at 22.00 on Tuesdays and Saturdays, though departure time from Trondheim on Sundays and Thursdays remained unchanged at 08.00. Jupiter spent only one year on the Hurtigrute as designated steamer, though it is quite probable that she, like Sirius, may have briefly reappeared on the service in subsequent years as a relief ship.

 

As can be seen in Table Five, wintertime schedules were somewhat different, the connections at Trondheim being out of the daytime train from Oslo and into the overnight one to the capital. Beian at the entrance to Trondheimsfjord was a new port of call, used as was Rørvik for connections with services to points further south and west along the coast. Erling Jarl’s slightly slower service with five additional ports of call was advertised in Rutebok for Norge as a ‘Hurtigrute for Gods og Passagerer’, thus indicating that general cargo was also carried.    

 

South to Bergen

 

Following Gran’s death in 1896, Captain W. Horn was appointed Steamship Consultant. It fell to him to negotiate a new six-year contract with the three Hurtigrute companies. This involved the creation of a third service, this time linking Bergen with Hammerfest. Gran had always maintained that Trondheim should be the southern terminus of the Hurtigrute, on account of the rail connection to and from Oslo. However, this led to complaints from traders not only in Bergen (still at that time without a railway to Oslo) but also in Ålesund and Kristiansund, both thriving export centres for fish. The additional service would naturally require subsidisation, this together with Horn’s proposal that contracts should be for six rather than three years, prompting a protest from the Chairman of the Jernbanekomite, Peder Rinde. A vote cast on 26 April 1898 saw Rinde narrowly defetated by 23 votes against 19.

 

Bergenske won the contract for the fourth Hurtigrute, which attracted an annual grant of 80,000 kroner and commenced on 5 October 1898, Capella being the regular steamer. She at once sailed into a storm of controversy, since her itinerary involved calling at Beian to connect with a local steamer service to and from Trondheim. While this method of operation considerably speeded up overall journey times, it prompted a howl of protest not only from users of the Hurtigrute in and around Trondheim, but also from Nordenfjeldske. The latter company threatened to withdraw Erling Jarl from the service unless Bergenske routed Capella via its home city. Her itinerary was duly modified on 5 April 1899.

 

East to Vadsø

 

Summer 1898 also saw the introduction of what was branded as the Finnmarkshurtigrute. This involved twice-weekly departures from Hammerfest to Vadsø in summer, and from Tromsø to Vadsø in winter. The mail contract was awarded to Bergenske and Nordenfjeldske, who shared the annual grant of 70,000 kroner. The exacting service, which offered the coastal communities along Østhavet their first ever regular public transport link with the south of the country during the dark months of the year, was maintained by a couple of relative veterans, Orion and Kong Halfdan. The latter steamer had received a thorough modernisation, including a new compound engine, at Trondhjems M/V in 1896. As for Orion, it would appear that Bergenske was tempting Fate by putting her on this run. So far her career had been a string of mishaps. In 1889 her engine had been reconditioned and a new boiler had been installed. While under testing the boiler had exploded, injuring eight engineers. It was decided to continue the modernisation, and a new 126 HP triple expansion engine was fitted by Laksevaags Maskin & Jernskibsbyggeri of Bergen. This time tests and trial runs were performed without incident, the end result being a very powerful steamer, ideally suited to the dificult new service.

 

For 68 days of the winter this part of Norway receives no direct sunlight, but even in mid-winter towns like Hammerfest and Vadsø enjoy several hours of twilight. Although even the most sheltered harbours and inlets are ice-free except in the severest of winters, unpleasant and perilous conditions can occur when there is a strong southerly wind, blowing off the land and down the fjords. Such a wind is bitterly cold, and can produce heavy icing on the rigging and superstructure of vessels crossing Østhavet, affecting their stability. To lessen the risks of this hazard, the usual strategy is to adopt a course close inshore, in the shelter of the cliffs and high ground. In summer gales and more frequently mist are the main hazards.

 

Vesteraalske were unhappy with the terms of the Finnmarkshurtigrute contract. These incorportated a clause at the request of the Indredepartment to the effect that any of the Hurtigrute services originating from Bergen or Trondheim could, should the State require it, be operated as a through sailing to Vadsø. On one occasion during the first summer of the Finnmarkshurtigrute, such a demand was placed on Vesteraalen. Since Vesteraalske received no grant for this service, a substantial operating loss was incurred. A complaint was lodged with the Indredepartment, which realised the weak point in the contract, and ensured that no subsequent mistake was made.

 

Hurtigrute Evolution 1898 to 1914   

 

From summer 1899 Haakon Adalstein became a regular performer on the hurtigrute, the choice of this ageing steamer reflecting her substantial cargo capacity.

 

Bergenske took delivery of their first ever purpose-built Hurtigrute steamer in August 1900. The contract for Astræa had been signed with Akers M/V on 16 March 1899, when the sovereignty dispute between Norway and Sewden had been at its most acrimonious. Since the new vessel was to be equipped with powerful engines to give her a good turn of speed, the Ministry for Defence took a keen interest in her construction, which was supervised by two naval captains, Børresen and Dawes. They revised the original plans of the steamer so that if necessary she could be fitted with one 120 mm gun on her foredeck, six of 76mm fore and aft, and six of 47 mm on her bridge and promenade deck.

 

Astræa measured 765 gross tonnes and 193.0 feet in length. Of shelter deck construction, with two continuous full-length decks, she had holds fore and aft below main deck level, and berths for 44 first class passengers, Her second and third class saloons were situated forward on the main deck. Her after deckhouse accommodated a smokeroom and a ladies’ lounge, and was topped by a promenade deck. At the time of her delivery, Astræa was the fastest Norwegian merchant ship employed on domestic services; her fine lines and 197 HP triple expansion engine gave her a speed of 13.5 knots on trials. Although she was an elegant, comfortable steamer, she had a voracious appetite for coal.    

 

Fortunately, Astræa was never called upon to serve as an auxiliary cruiser. On 13 August 1905 the Storting voted in favour of the dissolution of the union with Sweden. On 27 October that year King Oscar II ceded the crown to Prince Carl of Denmark. He assumed the name Haakon VII, and his coronation took place the following spring.

 

In 1901 Capella was reboilered and modernised. She was proving to be an ideal Hurtigrute steamer. Orion received a new boiler in 1902 (and apparently its installation did not lead to any disaster this time), while the same year Haakon Adalstein was thoroughly rebuilt by Trondhjems M/V. A new triple expansion engine of 128 HP made her operation more economical. Her well deck was filled in, new deckhouses were provided, and her bridge was moved one deck higher, with a new chartroom being provided on the boat deck. On what was now the shelter deck, the space previously occupied by the chartroom was transformed into a mail office, while abaft her midships hold a new deckhouse, accommodating a saloon, was built. Over this a promenade deck for first class passengers was provided. Rejuvenated, Haakon Adalstein measured 711 gross tonnes and could manage a top speed of 11.5 knots.

 

Orion’s luck finally ran out on 12 December 1903 when, while she was off Makkaur en route from Tromsø to Vadsø, a fire broke out on board. The cause was attributed to an overturned oil lamp in the second class saloon. With the blaze spreading rapidly, her crew soon gave up trying to contain it, and it was decided to run Orion ashore at the nearest suitable point. The steamer was sold for 9,000 kroner to A. Meling, a Stavanger shipbreaker, though her undamaged and relatively new engine and boiler were removed by her owners for installation in a replacement vessel. There has never been another Orion in Bergenske’s fleet.    

 

Ever since 1870 various proposals had been voiced for the construction of a mole to protect Bodø harbour from southwesterly gales. The work started in 1892, but was not completed until 1904, by which time the bill had risen to 250,000 kroner. The new facilities included a deep-water quay for the coastal steamers, Vesteraalen being the first vessel to moor alongside, on 21 July 1904. Over the years most of the communities served by the Hurtigrute built suitable quays for the steamers, thus bringing to an end the difficult, time consuming, and occasionally risky business of using tenders to transfer passengers, mail and cargo.

 

Captain Horn’s successor was James Pedersen, who held the position of Steamship Consultant from 1898 to 1928. He broached the matter of contract renewal with the Hurtigrute companies in 1902, in readiness for the expiry of the existing agreement on 30 June 1904. Perhaps he anticipated problems, for this date came and went without a new contract being signed. The 1898 contract was thus extended for a further year. The Storting held a major debate on coastal shipping services on 10 and 12 December 1904. Apart from the contract, matters discussed included a request from the shipowner Sigval Bergesen for Hurtigrute  services to be extended south to Stavanger; no immediate action was taken on this. Concern was also expressed over the poor standard of third class accommodation on many of the steamers. When the new six-year mail contract started on 1 July 1905 it was based essentially on its predecessor.

 

Following the loss of Orion, Bergenske ordered a replacement steamer from Bergens M/V. Lyra’s design owed much to experience gained with Astræa. She had a greater cargo capacity than the latter, while her first class saloon was situated forward of the engine casing on the main deck and cabins were grouped aft. This arrangement was a novelty on vessels operating to northern Norway, but had already become established practice on more recent steamers built for the Oslo to Bergen coastal service. It resulted in less propeller vibration in the main public rooms, especially in rough seas, and an easier transfer of food between the galley, pantry and dining area. With her graceful lines and well-proportioned superstructure and funnel, Lyra was an attractive ship. She measured 784 gross tonnes and 185.7 feet in length. Orion’s 126 HP engine gave her a fairly modest service speed of 10 knots. Lyra’s arrival in January 1905 resulted in Capella being cascaded to the Finnmarkshurtigrute, where she joined Kong Halfdan.

 

1905 also saw Haakon Jarl make her debut on the Hurtigrute. The following year she was sent to Trondhjems M/V for a thorough refit. Her ageing compound engine was replaced by a more powerful and economical triple expansion one of 148 HP, and a new boiler was installed. She lost her short, stumpy funnel, gaining one of more elegant proportions. Her forward well deck was plated in, resuling in space for additional cabins. New superstructure, painted white, was built, with the chartroom being moved up to the bridge deck. However several more years were to elapse before she gained a wheelhouse. Old navigation traditions died hard, even in the new century.

 

There was now talk of starting up a fourth Hurtigrute. For a while Vesteraalske attempted to delay this, maintaining that there should be coordinarted development of both long distance and local services. The latter, the company feared, would be neglected. This argument fell on deaf ears in the Storting. Once Vesteraalske found it was making no progress on that front, it insisted that the new coastal service should be operated via Vesterålen, using one of its own steamers. In spring 1907 the Storting agreed in principle to the establishment of a fourth weekly service, for which a mail contract grant would be available. Vesteraalske promptly suggested that it should be operated by Andenæs until the company’s new steamer, for which an order had just been placed, was ready. This proposal was rejected.

 

The new contract was for a Bergen to Vadsø service, and was awarded to Bergenske and Nordenfjeldske, the reasoning being that these two companies had already gained a wealth of experience operating the Finnmarkshurtigrute for nearly a decade. The other Hurtigrute originating at Bergen was also extended to Vadsø. An additional 15,000 kroner per annum was made available to each of the Trondheim to Tromsø and Hammerfest Hurtigrute services, which meant that Vesteraalske stood to receive 55,000 kroner each year for their once-weekly service. This compensation was provided on the grounds that the two Bergen to Vadsø services would probably absorb all through traffic to and from communities north of Tromsø.

 

With the Finnmarkshurtigrute discontinued, Kong Halfdan was rendered superfluous. She was sent to Trondhjems M/V for modernisation, including installation of a triple expansion engine, before returning to the kombinerte group of services. Capella, slightly younger than her consort, remained in regular Hurtigrute service. Naturally, a replacement also had to be found for Kong Halfdan. This took the shape of Sigurd Jarl, which had been delivered from Akers M/V in May 1894 for the Hamburg to Vadsø kombinerte route and for cruising. In some respects, she was an early version of Astræa, measuring 884 gross tonnes and 198.4 feet in length. Her shelter deck superstructure could best be described as economical, housing only the chartroom, machinary casing and a small saloon. Her first class saloon occupied the traditional position, aft. Second class accommodation was situated amidships, third was forward. Her 178 HP triple expansion engine gave her a useful speed of nearly 12 knots.

 

In summer 1908 the two Trondheim to Tromsø and Hammerfest Hurtigrute services were also extended to Vadsø, though only during the summer months. From 1 October that year the two year-round Vadsø Hurtigrute services were prolonged by 20 miles across Varangerfjorden to Kirkenes, where exploitation of a large iron ore mine had recently started up. Also in 1908 it was decided that insulated cold storage rooms should be installed on all the Hurtigrute steamers. That on Vesteraalen had proved its worth, as had that on Ragnvald Jarl.

 

Vesteraalske were by now awaiting the delivery of their new Hurtigrute steamer. Although Vesteraalen, which had by now been faithfully plying the route for fifteen years, was still quite adequate for the requirements of the service, and had earned the company around 800,000 kroner, a modern vessel was regarded as an essential bargaining point for winning future Hurtigrute contracts. Moreover, neither Lofoten nor Andenæs were really suitable as relief ships. Captain With drew up the plans; Trondhjems M/V won the contract. Richard With ran her first trials on 24 June 1909, her delivery delayed from the first of the month by a strike. Of 905 gross tonnes and 193.1 feet in length, she was at the time the largest steamer on the Hurtigrute. Her 1,150 iHP engine gave her a service speed of around 12 knots. In profile she was a larger edition of Erling Jarl, with both holds situated forward of her superstructure. This arrangement allowed for an unbroken upper or promenade deck extending from her bridge to her stern. The distribution of passenger accommodation, however, followed the long-established conventions, the first class saloon, with places for sixty diners, being situated aft on the main deck. On the shelter deck were grouped the mail office, captain’s cabin, and the first class smokeroom and music room. Berths were provided for 101 passengers, 40 in first (in cabins), 22 in second and 39 in third (in saloons). Several of the cabins were to be found in a large deckhouse towards the after end of the promenade deck. Electric light was fitted throughout, and one of the holds was equipped with a cold room for the transport of fresh fish. On coastal services the new steamer had a certificate for 300 passengers.

 

Richard With made her first Hurtigrute sailing in late June 1909, with Captain Hegge on her bridge. Her namesake had retired from Vesteraalske at the end of 1908. His original intention had been to hand over control in 1905, but he felt under obligation to see through the design and ordering of the new steamer. As we shall see, he continued to play an important rôle in the economic development of Vesterålen for many more years.      

 

Vesteraalen was now demoted – temporarily – to kombinerte sailings between Bergen and Tromsø. She had spent 16 years on the Hurtigrute, and had realised 800 sailings between Bergen and Tromsø.     

 

Coincidentally, Richard With and Erling Jarl shared the facilities at Trondhjems M/V for some months. The Nordenfjeldske steamer was being lengthened, the new section of hull being inserted forward of her boiler room, to provide additional cabins and increased cargo capacity. She also had her engine thoroughly overhauled. On leaving the shipyard she measured 736 gross tonnes and 196.2 feet in length.

 

The inauguration of the Bergen to Oslo railway in 1909 resolved once and for all the argument over whether the west coast port or Trondheim should be the southern terminus of the Hurtigrute. Trains ran at times to connect conveniently with the steamers to and from Newcastle, and the journey time between Oslo and Bergen was rather less than over the roundabout route from Oslo to Trondheim via Røros.

 

The same year the Storting received requests from the town of Mosjøen, at the upper end of Vefsnfjorden, near Sandnessjøen, for inclusion on the Hurtigrute. The Indredepartment firmly resisted being moved on this, since such a call would have involved steamers making an unacceptably long diversion from the main coastal channel.

 

Disaster struck on 5 January 1910. Northbound from Bergen, Astræa ran aground on Gress-skjærene, not far from Stabben lighthouse, near Florø. Though her passengers and crew abandoned her without mishap, she soon became a total loss. Fortunately, a suitable replacement steamer was already available. This was Hera, which had been purchased in 1899 for the kombinerte routes. Built as Juno for the Wilson Line by Earle’s Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. of Hull, she had a gross tonnage of 1,079, measured 215.1 feet in length, and was powered by a triple expansion engine. She had full length main and shelter decks, berths for 100 passengers, and a certificate for 600 on coastal services. She was already a familiar sight in a number of ports in southern Norway. Upon acquiring her, Bergenske sent her to Akers M/V for a substantial rebuild, before she took up her place on the Hamburg to Vadsø service. On the Hurtigrute her large cargo capacity was welcome; the same could not be said in respect of the relatively few berths for passengers.

 

In 1908 Bergenske ordered a new steamer from Bergens M/V, this vessel envisaged as an eventual replacement for Capella, which was now starting to show her age. Midnatsol, of 978 gross tonnes and 202.8 feet in length, incorporated a number of features first introduced on the company’s North Sea steamers, together with some novel features. Her bridge and chartroom were one deck higher than the boat or promenade deck, thus improving visibility for her officers and pilots, and the space thus vacated on the deck below was occupied by an observation lounge. The first class dining room was situated on the shelter deck, forward of the machinary casing, and had large square windows. The whole of the main deck was given over to sleeping accommodation – saloons and cabins. Powered by a 233 HP triple expansion engine, Midnatsol had a service speed of 13 knots. She made her Hurtigrute debut in June 1910, relegating Capella to cruising and the kombinerte routes.

 

The 1905 contract expired on 30 June 1911 and was duly replaced by a new one, also for six years, the following day. The terms of the new agreement had been thrashed out in April that year, and involved a fifth Hurtigrute, between Bergen and Kirkenes. Each of the three services originating at Bergen attracted an annual grant of 115,000 kroner; the two starting at Trondheim received 55,000 kroner apiece. At the request of the Hurtigrute companies a clause was incorporated in the contract to the effect that they would not be expected to continue operations should strikes occur in Norway, should supplies of coal from Britain be interrupted  by miners’ strikes there, or should the British Government slap an embargo on the export of coal. In return, the State would not pay that part of the mail grant corresponding to the period of disruption or suspension of services.

 

The fifth weekly Hurtigrute was inaugurated on 29 September 1911. Richard With took over one of the Bergen to Kirkeness sailings, while Vesteraalen returned to one of the sailings operating out of Trondheim.

 

The loss of Astræa meant that Bergenske had to find a replacement. The shipyard chosen this time was Burmeister & Wain of København. Delivered in April 1912, Polarlys undertook a roundabout delivery voyage to Bergen, calling en route at Oslo, where the King and members of the Storting came on board to have a look round her. Measuring 1,069 gross tonnes and 208.5 feet in length, she was an imposing vessel, and the largest yet to be acquired specifically for the Hurtigrute. She had full length main and shelter decks, and her 221 HP triple expansion engine gave her a service speed of 13 knots. The layout of her passenger accommodation was essentially similar to that of Midnatsol, though the forward end of her promenade deck was completely enclosed with large plate glass windows to create an observation shelter.

 

Vesteraalske also had to acquire new tonnage, in order to keep up with the standards being set by the other two companies. Ordered in August 1911 from Trondhjems M/V and launched in June the following year, Finmarken ran her first trials on 7 September 1912, with Captain Hegge on her bridge. Measuring 1,119 gross tonnes and 214.2 feet in length, she overtook Polarlys as the largest purpose-built Hurtigrute steamer. She also represented the final stage of evolution of traditional coastal steamer design since the mid-1800s, with her principal passenger saloons grouped aft on her main and shelter decks. Like Polarlys, she had an observation shelter at the forward end of her promenade deck, though unlike Erling Jarl and Richard With, she had two holds forward and one hold amidships. In the case of the midships hold, the trunking was carried up to promenade deck level, so that this deck was unbroken from forward of the bridge right to the stern. Abaft this hold there was a large deckhouse containing cabins. Erling Jarl had recently been fitted with a similar structure, though this was of a portable design enabling it to be dismantled in readiness for the winter months, when patronage was lower and maximum stability and minimum windage were desired. Finmarken had a total of 12,500 cubic feet of refrigerated hold space, brine coils being employed here. On trials her 1,550 iHP triple expansion engine powered her up to 14 knots; until 1923 she held the distinction of being both the largest and fastest steamer in regular Hurtigrute service. Her arrival meant that once again Vesteraalen returned to the less glamorous kombinerte services. Not for long, though.

 

During the winter of 1912/3 Hera was substantially rebuilt. She was provided with an increased number of cabins, and her accommodation was refurbished. Her bridge deck was redesigned along similar lines to that of Polarlys, while her after deckhouse was enlarged, with a promenade deck being built above it. She also became the first two-class Hurtigrute steamer; second class was abolished. During the inter-war years this became the norm on all the coastal steamers.

 

With the acquisition of Polarlys and the refurbishment of Hera, Lyra became redundant, and was sold out of the fleet on 6 December 1913. Bergenske’s main reasons for disposing of such a young vessel were her low speed (Orion’s engine was of insufficient power for a steamer of Lyra’s dimensions) and her limited cargo capacity. She would thus be unsuitable for the kombinerte routes unless a major rebuild took place; there were already sufficient steamers at the company’s disposal for summertime cruising.

 

Since 1868 Det Stavangerske Dampskibsselskab and Arendals Dampskibsselskab had operated a regular coastal service between Oslo, Arendal, Kristiansand, Stavanger and Bergen. Pressure was now growing among the business sectors in Haugesund and Stavanger for a southward extension of the Hurtigrute, and various approaches had been made to Stavangerske concerning the feasibility of this. The company’s directors decided to set up a committee to evaluate the possibilities, and late in 1913 they took their proposals to the Indredepartment. The latter’s response was that until the 1911 to 1917 Hurtigrute contract expired it could not permit a fourth company to become involved with the service without first obtaining the consent of the other three operators. Moreover, Stavangerske’s proposal would have to be sanctioned by the Storting. The company was content to wait for the first suitable opportunity that presented itself.

 

On 19 December 1913, while en route from Bergen to Tromsø, Vesteraalen stranded and sank in Valdersund, near Ålesund. She was subsequently raised, and subjected to a major rebuild at Akers M/V. Her superstructure was extended and a new funnel of greater diameter fitted. She was reboilered, and her engine given a thorough overhaul. The work took her gross tonnage up to 682.

 

One reason behind such an extensive refit was the fact that on 1 July 1914 there was a major revision to the pattern of Hurtigrute sailings. All five services each week would now run all the way from Bergen to Kirkenes, and ten steamers would be required (plus relief vessels). These were Polarlys, Midnatsol, Hera, Erling Jarl, Sigurd Jarl, Haakon Adalstein, Haakon Jarl, Finmarken, Richard With, and Vesteraalen. The reliefs varied according to availability, but in all probability the most regular vessels to be called upon to act in this capacity were Capella, Kong Halfdan, and Andenæs.

 

Hurtigrute Achievements over the first 22 Years      

 

Between 1892 and 1914 there was a steady expansion of services, both in frequency and length of route. Passengers and forwarders of perishable goods transferred their allegiances from the slower kombinerte services. There was continued growth in the volume of traffic, both passenger and freight, along the coast. Tourism was booming. However operating results fluctuated, as did profit levels, from year to year, between the three companies, and between the various steamers. In both 1903 and 1905 Vesteraalske with their one steamer recorded profits of 60,000 kroner on their Hurtigrute sailings. The volume of freight traffic reflected, to a large extent, the fortunes of the fishing industry – a good 1912 season in Finnmark was followed by a poor one in 1913. Without the mail grants, it is doubtful whether any of the companies would have been able to continue.

 

One area where the Hurtigrute soon failed to live up to expectations was that of journey times. Like the kombinerte routes which had preceded it, it became a victim of its own success. In 1894 the Trondheim to Hammerfest run took 62 hours; in 1914 it took 63 hours, in spite of the introduction of faster steamers. One reason for the absence of acceleration was the increase in the number of intermediate ports of call; during this period Beian, Indre Kvarøy, Grønøy and Finnsnes were added to the timetable. In more recent years all but Finnsnes have been dropped again. Another factor was the appearance of vessels with greater cargo capacity. Freight handling became ever more protracted. And of course the schedules had to be based on the speed of the slowest steamer in regular use on the Hurtigrute. It would have been out of the question, financially and in practical terms, for the three companies to have acquired a fleet of vessels of identical performance and capacity.

 

It is not possible to measure the success or otherwise of the Hurtigrute up to 1914 purely in terms of financial performance or journey times. Like all other forms of public transport, it brought benefits, both tangible and intangible, economic and social, to the communities which it served. It contributed in no small way to the commercial and economic development of northern Norway, and to the integration of the northern and southern parts of the country. 

 

 

 Vesteraalen at Bodø on the inaugural Hurtigrute.

(Courtesy Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab)