The Winds – They Are a’Changin!

The Winds – They Are a’Changin!


When we bought our little boat two summers ago, it was for a very specific purpose. As I’ve said before, it was not merely to enjoy the Baltic archipelago during weekends and summer holidays – all that just came as a bonus. We wanted to learn to sail on a small boat first, before making any hasty and espensive mistakes. More than anything we wanted to find out whether we would really like sailing and not just the idea and image we had about sailing.

And our little boat did just what she was meant to do. She taught us to sail, to feel confident enough in every sort of weather that we encountered during these two summers. She was indeed a big boat in a small package, and would proudly stand up to a blow in a way we could never have expected. She showed us all the excitement and thrill of sailing in great winds, and we just love, love, love sailing!

With her modest accommodations and few luxuries she made us learn many things about ourselves – that we weren’t getting on each other’s nerves in that little space, and that we didn’t particularly miss all the comforts of home – apart from the sauna from time to time, which must be some sort of a genetic thing that can’t really be helped. Our boat also showed us that we work great together as a crew, despite both of us being skippers. All of these things might have been hard or impossible to find out during a week or two of bareboat charter, especially in a warm place with turquoise water.

As we were heading back home from our great summer trip at the end of July, we were feeling a little melancholy. We already knew this would be the last summer holiday on our little boat, and despite all the love we had for her, we would put her up for sale as soon as we’d reach our home marina. We could already feel the first rumblings of a Big Change that was about to happen. Nothing could be seen yet, but there was something lurking just beoynd the horizon.

Now, many months later, with Christmas just around the corner, the Big Change has already begun. We have made some big decisions, and taken the first big steps towards the next chapter of our lives. What that chapter is about, time will tell. We have all winter to make plans and prepare – and I will keep writing about it all along. I won’t unravel the mystery just yet, but sailing will be a big part of it, that much at least is certain!

You have reached the end of our summer 2017 holiday trip – Read the previous post – Start from the beginning!

All Good Things

All Good Things

All good things must come to an end… right?

That’s how it feels now, it can’t really be helped. It’s the time of the year again when there’s not enough daylight to tell the difference between day and night. The time when rain keeps falling down in liquid and solid forms and everything in between. The boats are up on the hard, wrapped in tarps, and people are wrapped in wool and Gore-Tex. Only a few months ago everything was different… Except we were mostly wrapped in wool and Gore-Tex then, too. Looking back it’s hard to remember such minor details. In the pictures it all looks sunny and nice.

At the end of July our summer holiday was drawing to a close. Well, just my holiday, really. I would be getting off the boat in just a few days, and a friend of ours would be joining my husband for the final leg back home. And that was fine by me. I had sailed the same way before, I knew it all too well. I’ve never liked the last days of a trip, and I’ve never liked to follow my own tracks back to where I started. The best time to leave the party is when you’re still having fun!

I was having fun here in the Archipelago Sea. Every day seemed warmer and more beautiful than the one before. The seas were calm, and white fluffy clouds were reflected in the water. We found a quiet little island, where we could walk in the meadows and pastures and past old fishermen’s cottages, with no one else around. In the evening a couple of other boats would tie up to the old pier next to us, and we would enjoy a few words of conversation.

We also endulged briefly in some marina life for one last time, as we were having trouble with our electrical power, and decided to make a short stop in the harbour of Nauvo to try and find a new battery. While shopping in town, dark thunder clouds gathered over the marina, and the short stop turned into an overnight stay. Oh well, I’m always up for a sauna, and you can count on finding one in every harbour in Finland – if not several. And we found a church, which by now was not a surprise either. We also found the new battery, so our mission turned out to be a very successful one, in many different fronts.

Continue our trip to the next post – Read the previous post – Start from the beginning!

See You Later Åland – Hello, Archipelago Sea!

See You Later Åland – Hello, Archipelago Sea!

Our last destination in the Åland archipelago was the small island of Sottunga. It was a brief overnight stay, but we had time to visit another church very close to the harbour, and this one was especially pretty. It was built of wood and you could tell it’s age by the thick coat of red iron oxide paint on the cladding boards and roof shingles.

We headed southeast from Sottunga and sailed in the most wonderful broad reach most of the day. For a long while there was another boat about the size of ours, sailing side by side with us. Finally, we had found someone who did not immediately overtake us! We were rejoicing in our great performance, until we realised the other boat had reefed her sails substantially. We had full sail and we were just barely keeping up! But then the wind started to blow harder. Soon the other boat was lagging behind, but our little bluewater cruiser found her true element – she was flying! It was a thrilling feeling with the wind and the waves and the spray in the air, and I particularly appreciate these moments of exhilaration, when there is a certain safety involved. We knew we could trust this little boat to handle the situation, and she sailed beautifully!

In the late afternoon we arrived on the island of Aspö in the Archipelago Sea. It had a well protected harbour that already seemed to be full of boats, but as always, there was a spot just the right size left for us. These little boats are called pocket cruisers for a reason!

Aspö turned out to be one of the brightest highlights of our whole trip. Especially now that I see (way too early!) first snow from my window, I look at these sunny pictures of blue skies and even deeper blue sea , and I can vividly remember the time in July we spent on this little island.

It was a very authentic island community that would welcome everyone to be a part of it. We never felt like we were just tourists here – it was easy and natural to talk to people, whether they were other sailors or local fishermen, shopkeepers, or summer house guests. This might not seem so unusual to someone who has sailed in the Caribbean or other such laid back cruising areas, perhaps even as close as Sweden (where we didn’t manage to sail this summer). But we Finns are generally a somewhat crude and stolid bunch who prefer not to talk to strangers, so I feel it was definitely worth mentioning.

We had been literally starving for some fresh fish, and disappointed because we hadn’t found any in Åland, so you can imagine our excitement when we smelled smoke coming out of a fish smokery. And with the selection they had – from smoked salmon and perch to salted whitefish and the many cold smoked varieties – we just couldn’t make up our minds. So we got a bit of everything, and had the most wonderful dinner!

In addition to being an island of happy people and a gourmet lover’s paradise, Aspö has the most spectacular views to offer – to the south the island of Jurmo we had visited earlier, and to the north the endless maze of islands stretching as far as the eye could see. No wonder they called this place the Archipelago Sea!

Continue our trip to the next post – Read the previous post – Start from the beginning!

Vårdö – Island of Orchards and Shipping History

Vårdö – Island of Orchards and Shipping History

The northen Åland archipelago was a turning point of our holiday trip. From here on, we would be heading east, homeward. But the holiday was by no means over, there were still many beautiful islands to visit and interesting places to see. After another sunny day of downwind sailing we happened upon the island of Vårdö in the eastern Åland. It was only a 6 hour’s sail or so, but the landscape had changed from rugged, rocky hills to rolling, green fields and lush orchards full of apples. We tied up to a quiet, peaceful dock with only a handful of other boats. The village itself was a bit further away, but we found two bicycles parked by the dock, free for the marina guests to use for their shopping trips. We immediately decided to try them out, as the shop would still be open for a while.

We tied our frizzy four legged crew member in the buggy and off we went! After a short ride past the fishing harbour, across the countryside and through a pretty village we arrived at the tiny supermarket. It was absolutely crammed inside, with the most impressive assortment of goods I had ever seen in such a small space.

There were many old, beautiful houses in the village of Vargata. For hundreds of years, this small island boasted the largest number of merchants and shipowners in the entire Åland archipelago. They were mostly farmers who started out with small boats. Later they built larger vessels that would carry their cargo to the market places in Stockholm, Turku, Helsinki and Tallinn. Many of them became very wealthy and built their stately homes in the village, with old anchors and even ship’s guns still decorating their front lawns.

We found this place so peaceful and cozy we decided to stay another day. I went for a walk to visit an old stone church – with a mushroom shaped bell tower that appeared just a tad too big for the rest of the buiding. I love exploring old buildings wherever I go, and in the archipelago the churches have traditionally been the centres around which the village life evolves. The oldest churches in Finland are found here in Åland, as the religion spread to our country from Sweden.

Later, as Finland became the Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire, Åland included, new ideas were forced upon the people. They never really rooted – one amusing example were the many milestones lining the road I walked along. Old Swedish miles had to be replaced by Russian units, and distances to various cities were to be marked clearly. But the Finnish senate could not quite agree on the units, so they invented a Finnish mile instead, and that’s what was used in the milestones. And eventually, all the different miles were cast aside for the metric system. Talk about bureaucracy!

Continue our trip to the next post – Read the previous post – Start from the beginning!

Lanscape Hiking in the Åland Archipelago

Lanscape Hiking in the Åland Archipelago

After some rough sailing the previous day, it was time to take it easier and explore some of the best landscapes the Baltic Sea has to offer. We found our way into a narrow, fjord-like bay that provided an excellent, sheltered anchorage. The bay is called Djupviken, which simply means a deep bay, and is located on the northern shore of Geta, the northernmost part of the Åland archipelago.

This area has the highest hills in Åland, and the views from the top are magnificent, especially on a cloudless, sunny summer day like this. The sea was deep blue with an almost turquoise twist – have you guessed my favourite colour yet? – something you seldom find in the Finnish archipelago.

The landscape reminded us of Lapland, for some reason. The dwarfed, twisted trees on the rocky, barren hills looked the same, the wind swept high plains resembled those of the very northern part of Finland. The sea didn’t quite fit in the picture, but with a little imagination it could have been the Arctic Sea. We’ll have to sail there to see for ourselves – one day!

Click the previews to see bigger pictures and captions.

 

Continue our trip to the next post – Read the previous post – Start from the beginning!

So Let’s Sail!

So Let’s Sail!

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.

 

Continue our trip to the next post – Read the previous post – Start from the beginning!

Decisions, decisions… That’s What Cruising is about!

Decisions, decisions… That’s What Cruising is about!

So did we or did we not sail to Sweden? I hope you haven’t been holding your breath all this time, because it certainly has taken longer to write about it than it actually took to make the decision.

The problem with being able to cruise only during summer holidays is that there are a lot of decisions to make. The first, and biggest one, is to determine whether it’s actually worth it to spend your entire summer holiday on a sailing trip. There are the family gatherings that you will miss if you decide to sail away for four weeks. Not to mention that those same four weeks would be the only time to enjoy your nice house with a garden, before it all disappears in the snow and darkness again, and the same goes for the summer cottage. So you might say that the pathetically short summer we have here in the north is always packed with so many expectations that even with the most careful planning, you will never have time to do everything you want to do.

We didn’t dedicate our entire summer holiday for island hopping in the Baltic sea because it’s something we’re passionate about. No – we have a bigger mission, a bigger voyage that we hope one day to embark on, and we have many things to sort out before that. We were planning this trip, like the one we did to Estonia last summer, for that specific reason. Perhaps our trip could be described as a shakedown cruise of sorts. Usually a shakedown cruise is where you test your boat to determine which systems and setups need attention and which equipment to add or replace. But we were testing ourselves – how confident and capable we would be in handling our boat in different weather and sea states, planning passages and navigating, finding anchorages and docking the boat without smashing it into other boats that would likely be far more expensive than ours. But more than the physical readiness, we wanted to find out about the mental side: how well we could get along as a couple and as civilized human beings in a small boat with very little space and very few luxuries. That’s how the big decision was made – we would spend our whole summer holiday sailing. 

(If we had known the weather was going to be crap we might have chosen differently…)

Once you’ve made the big decisions, heaps and heaps of smaller ones will follow: Which direction to sail to? What sails to put up? To reef or not to reef? Keep going or find a nice spot for the night? What’s for dinner? 

Now I was faced with a medium size decision, that would determine where the rest of our holiday would be spent. Sweden or Finland?

I climbed to the top of the rocky island of Rödhamn in the morning to take a look at the western horizon. It was cold and very windy, and it looked like rain. I stood on the weather beaten hill, wearing every single piece of clothing I had found in my duffel bag, and I was freezing. I pictured our little boat in the middle of that severe grey sea, with the grey skies hanging over it, and I pictured myself in the cockpit of that little boat, holding the tiller with my frozen fingers and the wind beating on my stiff neck, snot hanging from the tip of my nose, my teeth chattering.

That walk up the hill turned out to be a very decicive one. It was only a day’s sail to Sweden, but what a bad day it would be! And the weather was going to be just as cold and disagreeable on the other side of the pond. And we would have to make the same crossing back in a week’s time – suddenly I had run out of every reason to sail to Sweden.

But Rödhamn is only a short 10 nautical mile hop from Mariehamn, the main town of Åland archipelago. Suddenly a nice little city break felt very appealing, whereas a 10 hour offshore crossing in heavy winds and cold rain did not. Even if we might have seen amazing places in the Stockholm archipelago – especially the city of Stockholm itself – they would have to wait until future travels.

We set out immediately, motoring all the way as the wind was right on the nose, and a couple of hours later we arrived in Mariehamn! What a busy harbour it was, with four or five huge ferries spinning at the harbour entrance, fast boats and slow boats going in an out of the marina. We easily found a slip for our little lady, but later in the day the marina filled up to it’s last berth. It was one of the biggest marinas we had ever been to, with all amenities you could think of.

While we may infinitely prefer anchoring in quiet, secret coves, having the whole place just for ourselves, on a cold, cloudy day like this it felt oddly comforting to know you could go to a hot sauna whenever you wanted to, and every kind of food you felt like having was just a short walk away.

We walked to the town centre along a lush, green boulevard lined by picturesque wooden houses. About a hundred years ago Mariehamn was a popular bath town, and some old villas and guest houses still remain from that period. There’s also a stout stone church from the 1920’s and a nice shopping street full of hustle and bustle. Today Mariehamn is a very popular tourist destination, not least because of the huge tax free ferries shuttling between Finland and Sweden – the consequence of strongly regulated alcohol policies of both countries, I assume.

We enjoyed a couple of very authentic Italian pizzas, and while we were eating, the afternoon actually turned sunny. We ended up staying in Mariehamn for a couple of nights. One of the attractions was undoubtedly the very well stocked supermarket where we visited several times. Now we definitely had enough fresh delicacies as well as canned food and dry goods to last the rest of our holiday. We hadn’t yet decided where to continue from Mariehamn, but the northern part of the Åland arcipelago seemed intriguing, with it’s quiet anchorages – at least that’s what we were told – and the feeling of remoteness. Another decision had to be made, but this time it was easy. Sail around Åland, clockwise!

Continue our trip to the next post – Read the previous post – Start from the beginning!