11.50 from Balestrand

3/17/2014 | Words: Lucie Maluck | Pictures: Robert Hack

rerries, Norway, reliability

Fast ferries are indispensable in Norway. They connect towns and villages along the country’s 21,437 kilometers of deeply indented coastline. Almost 90% of those ferries are powered by MTU engines. The engines are sold, serviced and repaired by the staff of MTU's Norwegian distributor, Bertel O. Steen Teknikk. It is a partnership that benefits all sides: MTU, the distributor, the ferry operators in Norway and the passengers.

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Craggy cliffs that drop steeply to the sea, bare mountainsides and deep, dark water – Norway’s coastline is nothing if not spectacular. But picture-book wooden houses and trees reflected in the water by the sunlight also make it a perfectly picturesque landscape containing a world of contrasts. Innumerable fjords frequently twist and turn deep into the coastline. A dream for the onlooker but a nightmare for those who have to plan the transport infrastructure in this region. To reach somewhere that may only be a few hundred meters away as the crow flies, it is  sometimes necessary to travel hundreds of kilometers.

Ferries connect

Without sea transport the country is truly inaccessible. So motor ferries have provided the solution for over 100 years. They travel along the coast, taking only minutes to connect small communities that are half a day apart by car. Today's ferries are catamarans whose light weight makes them particularly fast. “The catamarans bring us closer together,” explained Liv Gravdal. From her seat on the catamaran MS Teisten, she gazes out of the window, holding her handbag firmly in her lap as would a child. But Liv Gravdal is 87 years old. Her home is south of Bergen in the small town of Rubbestadneset. Every couple of weeks she has to visit the doctor in Bergen. In a straight line, Bergen is actually only 70 km away from her home, but the village is on a little island south of the city. By car she would have to take a circuitous route across a series of other islands to reach the mainland. The ferry is not only faster, it is also much more comfortable.

Serviced by Bertel O. Steen Teknikk

Traveling by catamaran along the Norwegian coast is relaxing and superbly scenic. The soft seats are almost enough to send you to sleep. The quiet hum of the engines is almost inaudible. The MS Teisten is powered by four 10-cylinder MTU Series 2000 engines that develop 900 kW each. They are harnessed together by a CODAD propulsion system. Two pairs of diesel engines are each connected to a multi-engine gearbox. If the MS Teisten requires less power, the captain shuts down one engine in each pair. “These engines are awesome; I trust them absolutely,” said Jan Marcussen, the ferry’s technical officer. He is responsible for making sure the engines keep running. “But apart from changing the oil and the filters regularly, I don't really have to do much,” he admitted. The servicing is done by Bertel O. Steen Teknikk. MTU’s Norway distributor has its service workshop close to the port of Bergen. The 25 service technicians and sales staff based there make sure that the MTU engines are properly looked after.

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One of the engines on the MS Teisten has already been in operation 1,000 hours longer than planned so now the technical officer has decided it is time for it to be serviced. Bertel O. Steen Teknikk takes the engine out and provides the ferry operator with a replacement.

Reliant on the engines

One of them is John Asle Marhaug. He greets Marcussen with a friendly handshake. The two know each other well. They speak regularly on the phone when John Asle  Marhaug calls to ask about the engines. “The people at Bertel O. Steen Teknikk really are always there when we need them,” said Marcussen. He was given proof of that most recently this morning. One of the four engines should have been serviced 1,000 hours ago. “In the high season we couldn’t do without the MS Teisten for even a single day, so we couldn’t afford to take the engine out,” Marcussen explained. This morning he decided that he could not wait any longer to have the engine serviced. So he called Bertel O. Steen Teknikk to book a service appointment for the next day. Bertel O. Steen Teknikk has a replacement engine ready and waiting. The MTU distributor can remove the engine and install the replacement in the space of eight hours. “Let’s wait and see – eight hours is our record but we would like to break it tomorrow,” quipped John Asle Marhaug. Service quality is the most important thing as far as he is concerned. “I know that the ferry operators are reliant on the engines. Our ambition is to keep them running at all times,” he said, looking across to Marcusson. “After all, our aim is to be there for our customers.”

By ferry to school, work or a business meeting

The passengers on board the MS Teisten are unaware of the discussions about the partnership between Bertel O. Steen Teknikk and the shipping company Norled. They are just enjoying the trip, gazing out of the window or reading. It is quiet on board. Even the scenery seems to relax. In Flesland, one of the travelers boarding the ferry is Arlid T. Vik. He is an engineer in the Norwegian Navy and is returning home to his family in Leivik after three weeks of duty. There is a bus he could catch but it takes nearly twice as long. And in any case, traveling by ferry is just part of life in Norway. Linda Larsen sees things that way too. She comes from Bekkjarvik but goes to school in Bergen. Every day she makes the near one-hour journey to Bergen and back. She admits it is a long trip but says she can use the time on board to good effect. And she certainly looks fully occupied with her maths book and note pad. “By the time I get home I have finished my homework,” she said with a satisfied chuckle. Not far away from her sits Odd-Tore Vaarhus. He is from Trondheim but had a business meeting in Leivik and is now on his way to Bergen. At home he rarely uses the ferry because everywhere is easy to get to by car there. But here the ferries are simply more practical. While he is making notes on his last meeting in Leivik the ferry takes him on to his next appointment in Bergen.

A magnificent way to travel

The ferry sweeps past small islands, rugged cliff faces and forests at 35 knots, or roughly 65 kph. The passengers usually look out over the beautiful natural surroundings. Although its 35 knots make the MS Teisten one of the fastest ferries around, you have the feeling of gliding serenely through the scenery. Rugged but homely is one way of describing the landscape visible through the ferry windows. The sky, the rocks, the water – everything here is real. No postcard sentimentality, no cheap souvenirs. Just lots of water and plenty of peace. Now and again the quiet is interrupted by an exuberant laugh from Marian McFalland. She is the heart and soul of the MS Teisten. She welcomes the passengers on board, sells coffee and sandwiches, and checks the tickets. And if the waves get too high, she hands out paper bags for seasick travelers. “Oh yes, it does happen, but we Norwegians are not very often seasick because we are used to traveling by ferry even when the sea is rough,” she laughed. She has worked on fast ferries for 17 years. The best thing about the job? “No day is the same as another,” she said.

No day is the same as another

Captain Anders Pedersen says the same. He sits proudly up on the bridge with his chief officer next to him. His opinion: “Every day is a challenge.” Above all, it is the weather that is unpredictable. Sometimes it is sunny, sometimes stormy, sometimes it rains and occasionally the fog is so thick that you can see no further than ten meters ahead. “Then you really have to concentrate very hard not to cause an accident at 35 knots,” said Pedersen.

Heading north on the MS Vingtor

At the same time, Captain Kore Mostrom is heading northwards in his catamaran. The journey passes spectacular coastal scenery before entering the Sognefjord after two hours of sailing. “At 200 kilometers end to end, this is Norway’s longest fjord, and with a depth of 1,304 meters, also one of its deepest,” he informed his passengers over the microphone while steering the MS Vingtor along the fjord towards Flam at the far end of the inlet. The MS Vingtor is another of the ferries powered by MTU engines – and again, it benefits from four Series 2000 10-cylinder units. “The engines are very reliable,” remarked the captain, nodding with satisfaction. You can tell how important that is to him. As captain, he is not just responsible for steering the catamaran with his team. He also has to make sure the MS Vingtor is serviced and maintained. “Without partners like Bertel O. Steen Teknikk it wouldn't be possible,” he added. His employer, Norled, is contracted by the Norwegian government to run the ferry routes. Every five to ten years, the franchises are renewed. Any operator that has not been reliable loses his contract. “So we can’t afford for our engines to break down,” he said. He sat proudly on the bridge with a cup of coffee in one hand and the ship's control lever in the other. Mentally he is always a few meters ahead. You have to be at such speeds. “I have to anticipate all the time, so as to have time to react if the worst happens,” he explained. He andhis family live on a small island near Bergen. In the past there was no bridge connecting the island to the mainland so he had to travel by ferry every day. And so it was that he dreamt of becoming a captain when he was a child. His grandfather was a captain and his father too – so how could he have been anything else?

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Jan Marcussen (right) is technical officer of the MS Teisten. Engineers at MTU distributors Bertel O. Steen offer him advice and assistance with engine servicing.

Stopped for less than three minutes

As he tells the story, he swings the MS Vingtor decisively towards Balestrand. The small town on the Sognefjord is home to the largest timber-built hotel in the world and a favorite tourist destination. There are three hotel guests waiting at the ferry stop and four on the boat waiting to disembark. The catamaran is only 150 meters from the jetty when it starts to slow down sharply from full speed. Hardly have the three hotel guests boarded the ship than it is off again and building up to full power. The stop lasted less than three minutes.

“The catamaran trip is a dream”

On his monitor screen the captain can see the new passengers looking for their seats on the MS Vingtor. There are 14 cameras providing surveillance of the entire ship including the outside of the vessel, the engine room and the passenger deck. They are linked to the bridge by the MTU Callosum ship monitoring system. The screen shows that there is little happening inside the ship. Most of the passengers are enjoying the view in the bright sunshine on the outside deck. One of the few sitting inside is Anya McCarthy from England. She is visiting her mother in Leikanger. For the first time, she has not only her husband, Dan, with her but her son, Jack, as well. They flew from Manchester to Bergen, from where they took the ferry. Not far away sit Einar Otto Voldene and his wife. They are from Oslo and have spent the weekend in Stavanger with the whole of their extended family. “We could have flown back from Stavanger as well, but we decided to take the scenic route by ferry,” said Einar. So they caught the ferry from Stavanger to Bergen and from there to Flam. In Flam they will catch the train to Oslo. Someone else who will be changing to the train when the ferry gets into Flam is Xin Feng. Originally from China, she has been workingas a teacher in Poland for six years. For the last two weeks her parents have been visiting and they are touring Europe together. “Norway is so beautiful,” the delicately built Xin Feng enthused. “And this catamaran trip is a dream,” she added.

Mutually beneficial partnership

Behind that dream there is an enormous amount of hard work and, above all, successful partnerships. There is the ferry operator Norled AS working in partnership with the Norwegian government. There is Bertel O. Steen Teknikk, the MTU distributor that sells, services and repairs the ferry engines in Norway. And there is MTU and its numerous suppliers who build the engines in Germany. "We all depend on one another and we all want to be successful together," said Iver Wake, CEO of Bertel O. Steen Teknikk, summing up the situation.

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Bertel O. Steen Teknikk provides instruction for MTU engine owners at its training center.

Ferries bring us closer together
with the world
Kristine Husbø

That partnership benefits Kristine Husabo too. She comes from the small village of Sogndal. She traveled by bus to Leikanger and for the remainder of her journey is taking the catamaran MS Vingtor to Bergen. She has been called there to do jury service. She too grew up with ferries but her memories of the early ferry trips to Bergen are somewhat mixed. When she was a child, the journey often took several days. And she had to share the crossing with cattle, horses or pigs. “We went up and down every little fjord, the ferries made lots more stops and it was much less comfortable than it is now,” she recalled. The fast ferries are certainly a blessing. “They bring us closer together with the world,” she said.

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