Enough of city life, we came here to do some serious sailing. So let’s sail!
The town of Mariehamn was a good point to start the circumnavigation of the Åland archipelago (I just love to use the word circumnavigate – it sounds like we’re doing something much more credible than sailing around some little islands in one of the world’s smallest seas). Within minutes of leaving the harbour we were out in the open sea, heading northwest along the coast of Åland. We had a beautiful downwind sail in what could be described as the first summer day of the year – finally, for it was middle of July!
The wind died in the late afternoon, so we decided to spend the night at Käringsund marina on the island of Eckerö, the westernmost part of Åland. It was a tranquil, old fishing village that had been transformed by a bit of a tourist boom, with a new Fishing and Hunting Museum, a Wildlife Zoo, a large camping ground, and a pretty marina with a nice (expensive) waterfront restaurant. But some of the old atmosphere still remained in the shadows of the weathered fishing warehouses bordering the village bay. We found a slip next to a lovely British couple who seemed to have nothing but praise for the Baltic sea – imagine that! – and enjoyed the warm summer evening with our barbecue up on the cliffs.
The next morning we continued our journey north without further ado. But this time it was blowing out there! We were going dead downwind, the waves were big, and the wind kept increasing steadily throughout the day. And what a good time we had! The open sea is clearly where our little boat comes to life. The big waves tried to intimidate her by rising high behind her stern, leaving her deep in the trough, but every time she would come back up again in full sail, proud and powerful, and continue on tirelessly. She takes the wind and the big seas in her stride so easily it’s hard to believe you’re on a 25 foot pocket cruiser.
As usual, we were soon overtaken by a flock of fast, big, modern boats. I bet they were not having as much fun as we were, though, because not long after they all retreated to the archipelago. We kept going in the open sea, planning to head to shelter further north. In retrospect, they were probably right in their decision, because the wind got very strong, and as we – many fabulous hours later – turned eastward the going got very uncomfortable. And a little bit scary, too, at least for me and the sailing dog. We had expected the archipelago to calm the wind, but the funneling effect made it stronger and adverse. After a glorious day of downwind sailing, we suddenly found ourselves beating into the wind, making no progress at all. In fact, the rocky shore behind us seemed to be getting closer! We had to turn on the engine to help the poor little boat cope with the stopper waves that would always come in groups of three, and completely kill her speed. It seemed like an endless struggle to get to a sheltered place. We battled the ever increasing wind for hours, managing 2 knots at best. It was blowing about 28 or 30 knots at this stage. But finally we made it to a narrow channel between tall islands where the wind could not reach. Suddenly it was all quiet. The water was calm.
We were exhausted. We motored up the channel and dropped the anchor at the first convenient place that seemed sufficiently protected. After a quick dinner the three of us went out like boat lanterns. Normally, when you spend the night at anchor, you tend to listen to thumps and squeaks, worrying about the anchor dragging, but we slept through the night like logs. In the morning it was time to continue sailing, but this time just a quick hop to a beautiful natural anchorage of Djupviken – “Deep Bay” – and some landscape hiking.