Along the water
For the people of Southern Savo, water has both helped and hindered their travelling from place to place. The earliest forms of transportation they used on water were dugouts that had been carved out of a single tree trunk that were recognized as having already been in use thousands of years ago during the Stone Age. Later on, the dugout became the typical Savo-style rowboat, which was well suited to local conditions.
Dugouts at the Jäppilä Museum
Even though the dugouts at Jäppilä are old, they are not from prehistoric times. Some skill — and good balance — was required to manoeuvre the narrow dugout from place to place.
Savo-style row boat at the Savonlinna Provincial Museum
The On the Pier exhibition at the Savonlinna Provincial Museum has a typical Savo-style rowboat on display. This type of boat was already used in the 16th century. One of the characteristics of a Savo-style boat is that the lower part of the bow rises gently while the upper part bends sharply inwards. This made it easier to pull the boat ashore and to haul it over isthmuses. There were two spots for oars and the middle thwart had a hole in it to set up a mast for sailing.
The boat on display at the Provincial Museum has been skilfully built. It has been said that the person building it had promised the buyer as much liquor as the amount of water that entered the boat when it was launched since he believed in his skills to build a watertight boat.
A somewhat large sailing fleet sailed Lake Saimaa still in the 18th–19th centuries. In particular, it carried tar and wood to Lappeenranta, from which the goods were sent on to Vyborg, from which they left for foreign shores by sea. The switchover to steam power was made halfway through the 19th century. Finland’s first steamer, a paddle tug named Ilmarinen, sailed Saimaa’s waterways from 1833 to 1844.
Once the Saimaa Canal was ready in 1856, steamer traffic picked up. Passenger traffic back and forth to St. Petersburg and other places along the way boomed and at the turn of the 20th century, local traffic between the towns developed. Goods were transported primarily to Vyborg and then onwards across the sea to St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Lübeck, Stockholm and Tallinn.
Shipping companies, which had cargo and passenger ships built for themselves, were established for Lake Saimaa. In addition to the shipping companies, there were also peasants working as entrepreneurs building wooden cargo ships (tar steamers) on their home shores. These ships transported logs to St. Petersburg and other coastal towns on the Baltic Sea. Especially in the beginning, it was normal for steamers to transport both freight and passengers.
Trunk at the Suur-Savo Museum in Mikkeli
The permanent exhibition at the Suur-Savo Museum in Mikkeli has a wooden trunk from the 17th century. The trunk was made by hand out of boards and covered in sealskin.
The Steam Schooner Salama at the Savonlinna Museum
In 1874, Savonlinnan Höyrylaiva Osakeyhtiö (Savonlinna Steamship Ltd.) ordered Salama, a screw steamer with auxiliary sails from Vyborg Engineering Works. The S/S Salama is 31.42 m long and 6.71 m wide, with a draught of 2.44 m. The size was set so that the S/S Salama could fit in the locks of the Saimaa Canal. The 39-horsepower steamer used a barrel of coal in an hour and rotated a propeller with a diameter of 1.98 m. At its fastest, Salama could reach a speed of 7.5 knots or 13.9 km/hour.
The Salama sailed on the route of Joensuu-Savonlinna-Lappeenranta-Vyborg-St. Petersburg. In the beginning, it also made numerous trips to Lübeck. At first, it had room for 110.5 tons of cargo and 12 passengers. The route to St. Petersburg, however, provided opportunities to develop passenger traffic and after the changes made in 1883, the ship had room for 60 passengers. The ship’s restaurant was also touted. Passengers could spend their time in the salon, as well.
The Salama’s successful trips ended in 1898, when it sank on its way from Lappeenranta to Savonlinna as a result of the passenger ship Ilmari running into it in Puumala, near the island of Parkonsaari. The accident resulted in a long trial where the shipping company that owned Ilmari was ordered to turn over the Ilmari to Savonlinnan Höyrylaiva Osakeyhtiö.
Multiple attempts were made to raise the S/S Salama, but it was only in 1971 that it was successfully raised. Enso-Gutzeit Oy’s shipyard in Savonlinna was able to lift the Salama with its new lifting equipment. In 1972, the Salama was donated to the Finnish Maritime Museum Association and renovations on it started. Nowadays, visitors to the Savonlinna Museum can learn more about the Salama and experience the feeling of travelling on a steamer during the czarist period. Furthermore, the tug ”Ahkera”, which saved the passengers from the Salama is part of the museum fleet at the Savonlinna Museum.
The beginning of the 20th century saw the railroad, car and bus infrastructure start to develop, which led to a reduction in boat traffic. After World War II, passenger traffic on Lake Saimaa has mainly served tourists. Although freight traffic is still significant, ships with internal combustion engines have superseded steamers. Old steam tugs and freighters have been converted for passenger use, too.
S/S Wenno at Puumala Harbour
The S/S Wenno is the only iron-hull steamer left from the largest tar steamer fleet on Lake Saimaa. The Wenno, which was originally named the Vetehinen, was built in 1907 to transport wood for the Miettula Sawmill in Puumala. It was built to fit the locks of the Saimaa Canal with a length of 31 m, a breadth of 7 m and a draught of 2.4 m. It could carry 650 stacked m3 of split wood on deck and in the cargo hold.
Enso-Gutzeit Oy ended up owning the ship in 1934 after it had passed through the hands of various owners. The ship’s appearance is pretty much the same as it was then. The Wenno was retired in 1966, after which it was docked at Laitaatsilta in Savonlinna for six years. In 1972, the municipality of Puumala purchased the Wenno, which was a pile of scrap that had partially been stripped. The Puumala Boat Club renovated and refurbished the ship so that it was operational again and its volunteers have kept it up and running together with the municipality of Puumala.
Nowadays, the Wenno is registered as a passenger ship and can be booked for private cruises leaving from Puumala. The ship is listed on the Register of Historic Vessels of the National Board of Antiquities and travels around using its 100-year-old original steam engine. The Swedish-made steam engine has an rpm of 200 and 96 horsepower. It uses 1-m long firewood as fuel.
Last modified: 12 Jan 2022