“We are not a cruise ship. We are an explorer ship!”
This is one of the key messages in the passenger briefing on the ships of the Hurtigruten service which runs daily northbound and southbound along the coast of Norway. For nearly 500 passengers recently boarded at Bergen, almost all of them on a cruise going well north of the Arctic Circle and many of them cruising back again, over a total of 12 days, this message is an interesting form of: “I have bad news and I have good news”!
The term “explorer ship” is an excellent choice. It alludes to ice breakers and scientific expeditions. It captures the spirit of adventure in seeing the midnight sun and the Northern Lights. Many of the passengers will be taking excursions, over the next week or two, to see animals and visit glaciers and waterfalls. That is the good news.
Then the briefing went on to describe how the service runs every day of the year carrying people and goods up and down the coast in all weathers including temperatures which are, for many months of the year, as low as minus 30 degrees Celcius (about minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit). The Hurtigruten service is a lifeline for the coastal population of Norway. It docks at many places along the coast throughout the day and night, often stopping only for short periods. It is delivering supplies and equipment, and carrying people to hospital or to make connections with other boats and with flights. This emphasises that this is, in fact, a ferry.
The first part of the punchline is: “so we must be on time”. This was backed up by a story of an elderly gentleman who went ashore and became separated from the ship. As this is one of the few parts of the world where travel by boat is faster than by car or by train, it took several days and the efforts of many people, including attempted flights in bad weather, before he was able to catch up with and rejoin the ship. One can imagine that they have had many of these incidents over the years. Then comes the second part of the punchline: “so we will not wait for you”. For the vast majority of the passengers, on their adventurous cruise, this is the bad news.
I found this combination interesting for two reasons. Firstly, I was not on a cruise, but was using the Hurtigruten to travel along the coast, a trip of about 14 hours. So I felt that I was using it for its intended purpose and felt a slight connection with the local population which was probably not felt by most of the other passengers.
Secondly, it emphasised that the ferry service is the main purpose of the Hurtigruten; yet the cruise service is its main activity. The size and standard of these ships is far greater than is required for the ferry service; and the local population are generally not customers for excursions. This is all to cater for the cruise passengers. Yet, without knowing the facts, it seems likely that the ferry service would have great difficulty in operating a service with this capacity, frequency and reliability, if it were not for the business from the cruise passengers.
Getting what you want
If I have understood this correctly, it seems to be an application of the principle, expounded by Zig Ziglar, that “you can have what you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want”. By providing a service for considerable numbers of visitors to experience the quite extraordinarily beautiful scenery and natural phenomena in Norway, the local population get their ferry service.
The Hurtigruten operates fourteen ships, almost all of which are around 10-16,000 tonnes and are very well appointed. Information about the eleven operating at any one time is available in real time, including: their location, current course and speed as well as webcam images from each ship.
Other information is available about the development and challenges for the service and the company.
One cannot help wondering whether there might be opportunities of this type elsewhere at, for example, Caledonian MacBrayne in Scotland, which has a different story.
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