Flash back a few months to a much wintrier scene: only a few shafts of sunlight are able to penetrate the thick blanket of grey sky, the air is very cold, and the mountain peaks have all but disappeared behind the mists. The lake seems a desolate place, but when the sunlight does hit the water, the frozen algae produce an amazing turquoise glow, almost like the sea in the Caribbean.
New engines for MS Berner Oberland
Transport company BLS AG has its new shipbuilding factory in a bay of Lake Thun not far from the town. The factory is a wooden construction completed just at the beginning of the year and replaces the former dockyard building which had reached the grand old age of 111. It was in this building that the oldest vessel circulating on Lake Thun, a paddle steamer named DS Blümlisalp, had been originally assembled. Today, the new dockyard construction still emanates the whiff of wood and fresh paint and in the middle in the dry dock, stands the MS Berner Oberland. After 21 years of service, the vessel is to receive a new wheelhouse, a new stern bridge, new propeller shafts, and up-to-date electronics. The existing engines are from Detroit Diesel and have 24,000 hours runtime on the clock. These are to be replaced by twin 12V 2000 M61 units from MTU. “We're fans of MTU,” says Hans Stucki, who manages the BLS AG dock. BLS operates a 10-vessel fleet on Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, and the Berner Oberland is the first in the fleet to be repowered with new engines. The ferry MS Brienz, that shuttles between Interlaken and Brienz, already has twin MTU units on board. “With MTU engines, your service interval can be longer than 1,200 hours. No other engine-builder can match that,” pointed out Stucki. For a cosmetic face-lift, the vessel will still have to wait a few years until enough funds are available for re-painting the exterior, re-furbishing the interior and replacing the green carpets.
Shipyard's peak of activity in the winter
MS Berner Oberland has been in the dry dock since the beginning of January. “The crew of the Berner Oberland doesn't holiday in the summer,” said Stucki, “but with me it's the other way round. In the winter, I'm often working a 10-hour day.” His alarm goes off early, since he has to be at the shipyard for 6:20. As shipyard manager, he takes responsibility for some 40 members of staff. When they arrive at 7:20, Stucki has done all the preparations and the groundwork and knows exactly what jobs have to be done that day and by whom. When his people clock out again at 16:00, his labors are not quite over – he will be kept busy until at least five o'clock, supervising external firms who come in to work on things like hydraulics or installing CO2 fire extinguishers. Only then can Stucki call it a day. “I chalk up more than a month of overtime in the winter months,” he says, but with a shrug.