Everything to be eaten, drunk or purchased on the Galaxy comes onboard through the stores on deck 2. The biggest challenge during the winter season for deliveries is to adapt orders to the varying number of passengers. In the high season, the complicated logistics are more of a problem.
The last night owls are on the way to their cabins when the stores workers go on the morning’s first watch. The computers are switched on, orders are checked through and the gates to the stores are left wide open for the bunkering that will soon take place. At five to six the bow doors on deck 3 will be opened. Departure is at quarter to eight. By that time, the ship must be unloaded, loaded and the waste containers exchanged. As well as this, the crew always try to get the entire delivery into the stores before the ship leaves port. If that is not managed in time, the goods have to be taken down by lift, because for safety reasons the door to the lift and the lift shaft are not allowed be open at the same time when sailing.
50 – 60 pallets
“Then we have to pull away the ramp and close the door every time we want to use the lift,” says Jan Häggblom, the stores manager. “It is not particularly heavy, but it takes time.”
This morning, though, there are no problems. Bookings in the next few days are relatively few and there will be no large quantities of goods sold in the restaurants and shops. In the high season, on the other hand, when there are usually around 1,600 passengers, it can be difficult to get everything down in time.
“On a normal summer’s day we take about 50 – 60 pallets onboard. It is possible to get down as many as 50 pallets if everybody works as they should, but if we have more than that, then problems start,” says Jan.
The doors are opened and the sharp morning light streams in from Åbo port. The trucks and trailers drive off, nose-to-tail. When the deck is empty, linen, supplies and shop goods are driven onboard in three 40-foot containers. While the hotel department takes in the new linen, the stores personnel take care of the rest. Goods are moved to the rear edge of the container with a manual truck. A fork-lift truck lifts the pallets down onto the deck. From there, Risto Helldan takes the goods into the lift with an electric truck. To get the truck into the lift, Risto has to swing out and turn around in the opposite lane.
“The vehicles sometimes drive really fast and you have to be very careful when turning around,” he says.
The pace is high. The work is efficient. Everybody knows what to do. The only thing which slows down the flow is the lift, which has just enough space for two pallets at a time.
“That is a little rat-hole,” mutters Kaj Blomster and nods toward the lift. “There must be five of us altogether, three up here and two down there, to get everything down in time, and that is not working at a normal pace. If something gets stuck you have to pull at it extra hard, and it is not surprising that people have aching backs and shoulders.”
Work on the car deck demands constant attention. It is noisy. Cars and trucks drive onboard quickly. In the summer there are also many passengers to avoid.
“Lots of families walk with their children behind them without really watching them, and it feels a bit risky. When you have 800 kg on the forks, checking to see what is behind you is not the first thing you think about,” says Jan.
According to the crew, the stress and the complicated stores logistics are because the ship is just not built for the job she is now doing. She was intended for the route between Helsinki and Tallin, and to be moored at the quayside during the daytime with plenty of time for bunkering. But that was not what happened.
“The best thing would have been if we had platforms on the car deck so that we could lower the whole containers down to the stores,” says Kaj. “But it would probably be too expensive to rebuild the ship now.”
Down in the stores the goods are quickly taken care of. Sweets, toys, perfumes, wine and beer are all rolled into the various compartments. Boxes are opened and shelves are filled. Food is lifted into the cooler and freezer rooms. Given the large quantities that are stored here, everything must be in the right place for it to be easy to find. It is also important that products with the shortest dates are placed at the front so that they do not get left behind and become too old to sell. While the pallets are being emptied, Jan walks around and checks that everything ordered has arrived and that the goods delivered are the same as on the delivery slips.
“Aren’t there any beer tanks?” he asks suddenly.
Somebody shakes their head.
“OK. I’ll call and check what happened,” says Jan and disappears into the office.
“It’s unusual that goods don’t arrive, at least not without the stores being warned in advance,” says Jan. “But mistakes sometimes happen.”
“Especially in the summer, when the ship suppliers have temporary staff, then things can go wrong. If we write number one by an item ordered, we don’t always get a pallet. Sometimes there is just a box or a carton with the things ordered,” he says.
But activities onboard don’t stop due to one incorrect delivery. Orders are placed with about two days’ forward planning, and the stores and cooling rooms are large enough to hold a good stock. From here the goods are taken to the restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. Some of the personnel, such as those working in the kitchen, come down here themselves and take what they need. Trolleys are prepared for the bars and are fetched, while other goods are taken up by the stores personnel. Sweets, crisps and beer for the tax-free shop are in this last category. Kaj is responsible for the goods.
“In May we change our annual campaign. Then we have to sell off last year’s campaign goods so that we have space for the new items,” he says while he stacks boxes of Fazer chocolate, Marianne mints and Salmiak liquorice onto a truck.
Many passengers want to buy what they always used to buy on the ferries to Finland, and Toblerone, pineapple sweets, green marmalade sweets and Marianne mints are always in demand. At the same time, the shops must develop their range of goods and introduce new items. But it is difficult to know in advance exactly what items will sell well.
“To begin with you have to order small quantities and see if they are popular. But if you don’t order enough there is a risk that they will be sold out, so it is always a question of balance,” says Kaj.
Tony Boman, the chef, is responsible for ordering the food supplies. He starts each day by going through the fridges and freezers to see what is needed.
“In the summer the number of covers is high and constant, so we know how much will be needed,” he says.
Now, in the spring, it is more difficult to predict. The number of passengers can change from a few hundred to over a thousand from one day to another, which makes the chef’s job tricky.
If too much is ordered, some of the food becomes old and must be thrown away, whereas if too little is ordered it may mean that some meals must be taken off the menu. Frozen goods keep well, but dairy products are more sensitive.
“The most difficult food is the sushi that we have in the buffet. It is supplied ready to eat and only keeps for two days,” says Tony.
The major holidays are particularly difficult to plan for.
“On public holidays we can hardly get any deliveries at all. I worked at Easter and then I had to order what we needed for Tuesday on the previous Thursday,” says Tony.
The ship takes on provisions from about 20 suppliers in Sweden, Finland and Estonia, and every morning Tony places new orders. He gives the information to Jan, who enters all the items in the computer and sends them off. During the summer as many as 100 kg of fillets of beef and 200 kg of meatballs are sold every day. On top of that are all the drinks, sweets and gift items. Regular stocktaking is necessary to have full control over everything which comes into and leaves the stores.
“We follow a rolling schedule and there is almost always some stocktaking going on,” says Jan. “Of course it takes some time, but it is good to do it often. If there is something wrong we discover it quickly and we can correct it.”
Handling the waste is also part of the work for stores personnel. Every day at three o’clock they make a round of all the bars and restaurants and collect the empty cartons, plastic, bottles and cans. The waste is then taken up to the containers on deck three, which are emptied every second day.
As well as collecting the waste, the stores personnel spend the afternoon unpacking boxes and refilling the shelves. At quarter past six the ship moors in Värtahamnen in Stockholm. There are new deliveries waiting there to be taken care of.