Origin of the Original
When shipping pioneer Richard With founded The Original Coastal Express back in 1893, it would forever change the future of the Norwegian coast.
Finding a way for fish
Our story starts in the late 19th century with the rich fishing grounds found along the northern Norwegian coast. Abundant catches of herring, halibut, and cod needed to reach southern Norway, from where they could be exported to meet ever-increasing demand in southern Europe.
However, the 1,250-nautical-mile-long route from Bergen to Kirkenes was lined with perilous reefs, small islands, and narrow inlets. There were only 28 lighthouses north of Trondheim and just two nautical maps, making night-time sailing a risky venture.
Shipping services on steamers and single sailed jakts were also unreliable and infrequent, making the journey long and arduous. Back then, just sending a letter from Trondheim to Hammerfest took about three weeks, and as much as five months during winter.
The Norwegian government wanted to find a remedy for the situation. In 1891, they invited shipping companies to submit tenders to operate a state-sanctioned route between Trondheim and Tromsø or Hammerfest, sailing through the night. No one replied.
The government tried again the following year, but the two main shipping companies of the day were completely disinterested. But where these others shied away, one man took on the challenge: Captain Richard With.
Richard With spent his early days working as a helmsman on merchant ships. He later settled, married, and opened a trade store in Risøyhamn to take advantage of the boom in herring fishing. It was during this period that he quickly recognised the growing need for better sea transportation in the region.
In the autumn of 1880, With embarked on a new venture to raise share capital for a steamship company. By November 1881, initial operations began with Captain With as shipmaster. Within three years, he was able to acquire two more ships, opening up trade routes between Bergen and Lofoten.
With set about mapping the Norwegian coastline together with Anders Holte, an experienced local sailor. That partnership led to the coast's first major navigation method, based on accurately recording observations of the sea and coast.
A canny businessman, With hired skilled captains who could use the system Holte had developed to navigate the coastal waters in the dark of night, shaving valuable time off each journey while his competitors slept.
By the time the government tender came around in 1892, Captain Richard With was ready to defy sceptics and achieve the long-awaited vision of the “hurtig ruten”, ‘the fast route’.
The fast, reliable service supported fishing communities, enabling local businesses to boom as their catch was sent to the south and exported worldwide. This revolution financed the development of other industries, creating prosperity throughout the country.
It didn’t take long for the swift yet safe weekly service to increase to daily. The route was also extended to Bergen in the south and all the way up to Kirkenes on the Russian border. With each milestone, new ships were added to the fleet, and the rest, as they say, is history.
With retired as a shipmaster and became CEO of the company where he remained until 1909. He was honoured by the nation and knighted First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St Olav, “a reward for distinguished services rendered to Norway and mankind”.
We’re proud to continue our founder’s pioneering spirit. His legacy lives on with us today, as strong and as committed as ever.