Sailing West – to Sweden or Not?

Sailing West – to Sweden or Not?

The horizon in the Baltic sea can seem vast, but the distance to the opposite shore is never very great. Sailing to Sweden was one of our plans for the holiday, but we wanted to make it further west before crossing the open sea between Finland and Sweden. We travelled in the outer archipelago, navigating through passages between the islands and rocks that dot the coastline like a maze.

The Archipelago Sea, as the area between Finland’s southwest coast and the Åland (Aaland) islands is called, is quite unique in the world. There are about 40 thousand islands and countless smaller islets and rocks, and it’s impossible to navigate without detailed charts.

After the hustle and bustle of the busy regatta and shopping town of Hanko we wanted to retreat to a remote, peaceful island and chose Jurmo as our next destination. It was formed of sand and gravel during the Ice Age, unlike all the other islands in the area, that are made up of grey granite with an occasional layer of limestone.

We arrived early in the afternoon and there was plenty of time to wander around the heather and juniper moors of this windy place. I felt like I was in the plateaus of Scotland or Ireland, far from the Finnish archipelago. On my walk I found a high hill with a midsummer pole on the top, an old fishing and farming village with it’s white chapel, an enchanted little forest where the wind couldn’t reach – it was so quiet, you could almost hear the echo of your thoughts – rocky pastures and endless sand dunes. As I got back to the harbour, I could smell smoke from the fish smokery. What a perfect way to end a beautiful day: smoked salmon and fresh new potatoes for dinner in the cockpit! (Wearing woollies from top to toe, but I’ll leave that detail out of the story…)

Click the previews to see bigger pictures and captions.

The next day we had a beautiful beam reach sail to the Åland (pronounced aw-land) Islands. We were enjoying the sporty sailing to our heart’s content, and the joy was in no way lessened by all the bigger boats that quite casually overtook us. Our little lady was really doing her best, and we had a blast!

The Åland islands are an autonomous part of Finland. The official language is Swedish, and nobody has to learn Finnish. In the mainland everybody has to learn both Finnish and Swedish – the latter being a cause for disaffection amongst some people. I have always liked learning languages, though, and was eager to refresh my Swedish with the local folk.

The easternmost part of Åland is an island called Kökar, and that’s where we arrived in the evening. The marina was crowded but it’s always possible to find a gap to fit a small boat. Here we spent two nights and a very rainy day in between, so we didn’t feel like wandering around much. What a shame, for it’s a truly beautiful island with smooth, red granite shores, deep forests, fishing villages and a handsome old stone church. Leaving the next morning we rounded the church cape and caught a glimpse of St. Anna’s before it vanished into a thick fog.

We were surrounded by the fog for most of the day, a surreal feeling of being all alone in a big white emptiness. Without the dot marking our position on the plotter screen it would have been impossible to navigate, with so many rocks, islands and shipping lanes along the way. If our instruments had suddenly died we would have had to deploy the anchor and wait for the fog to clear. Fortunately, nothing happened, and the fog did clear just before we reached the big and very busy shipping lane between Finland and Sweden.

We had chosen an island called Rödhamn as our starting point for the crossing over to Sweden. It would be a short day trip in the brisk north-westerlies that were forcasted for the following day. But we felt like we had already arrived in Sweden! The harbour was full of big boats flying Swedish flags, people neatly dressed in marine blue and white, and cute kids playing on the sandy beach in their sailor stripes. For our evening entertainment we watched an episode of the Swedish holiday spectacle, that began at exactly 7 pm with all the men hopping off their boats, carrying portable barbecues, shortly followed by their wives and children in marine stripes, with matching linen and china, up to the cliffs, where a cosy dinner was set. Two hours later everyone was gone, and we could hear bedtime stories being read aloud in every boat.

On Thursday morning, July 13th, we had the alarm set for 6 am. The wind was from the north-west, just like predicted. Now was the time to sail to Sweden – or was it?

Not Too Fast, Not Too Slow

Not Too Fast, Not Too Slow

I watched from the shore as our blue sailboat became smaller and smaller, moving slowly with the wind. When I could no longer see the people onboard I turned away, started the car, and began my journey home. But oh, how fast the car was going! I felt like my brain just couldn’t adjust to the speed. Things were happening way too fast, I could hardly see where I was driving – I couldn’t read the road signs, I couldn’t focus on anything in that whizzing landscape. Yet, after I while I noticed there were several cars behind me with a frustrated driver in each one, apparently wondering why someone was driving so slowly.

Four weeks of travelling slowly is enough to turn you into a different being. While many people claim that flying is actually a type of time travel, and travelling by car or train is more in proportion with the human scale, sailing is yet another category. On a small boat like ours, you hardly ever exceed the speed of leisurely jogging – and when you do, it feels really fast! Sailing is a unique way of travelling in many other ways, too. You can walk, or jog, or bike only a certain distance before you get tired, or your muscles start to hurt, or you get blisters or abrasions. You can drive a long way in a car but eventually it makes you stiff and numb. Or hungry, at the very least. But you never get tired of sailing. You never get bored with the different islands, rocks, waves, clouds, however slowly you move past them – because the landscape changes the whole time, at a pace where you have time to see the details. You don’t get bored or stiff, because there’s always a sail to be adjusted or a route to be checked on the chart. And while you do get hungry often – there’s something about the salty air that does it, I’m sure – you can cook and eat as you move along.

Our summer holiday started a month ago. As soon as the boat was ready enough to sail away, we untied the lines. There was no upholstery, no matching cushions and curtains, and the toilet hoses were in plain view, but we didn’t care. The engine worked, the sails were in great shape, we had food in the fridge and water in the tank. The first week we pushed westward. We had seen all of the places before and it felt more like a delivery trip than a real holiday. And the weather was depressing – it was colder than an average May, cloudy and gloomy, and whenever the sun came out for a while, there was no warmth in it. Finally, we got to the town of Hanko, at the southern tip of Finland, where we stopped for a day of shopping while there was a great Regatta going on. Instead of suntan lotion we bought woolly hats, foul weather gear and longjohns. Yes, woolly hats in July!

Click the previews to see bigger pictures and captions.

From here on, we were able to raise the sails every morning, and sail to a place we had not visited before. That’s what I think travelling is all about. Yet, every day we met people who had visited the same places, the same islands, anchorages and marinas a hundred times before. Some had sailed the same circle every summer for the past twenty years. But that’s also one of the great things about sailing: there are so many different ways of doing it. For some it’s going back, year after year, to the same favourite places, meeting the same people. For some it’s racing in the exciting regattas. For us it’s sailing towards the horizon, always wondering what lies beyond.

Delayed by Storm

Delayed by Storm

Our summer holiday started this afternoon. We had planned to hop on our boat and sail away the minute our last working day was over, particularly as the wind forecast was showing pretty nice figures earlier this week. According to a couple of different sources there was going to be a brisk easterly wind of 15 to 20 knots. That would have pushed us nicely dead downdwind for a few days, and we could have made it pretty far west towards the Archipelago Sea on the south west corner of Finland, perhaps even as far as the Åland islands. Easterlies are quite rare in the summer in the Gulf of Finland, where the prevailing winds are southwesterlies, so it’s always good to take advantage of them if heading west.

But a day or two ago the forecasts began to change, and instead of just brisk the wind seemed to be turning into a near gale force of 30 knots, gusting in 40. Now our boat would probably survive that – even thrive in it as described in a 1973 issue of the Finnish Boat Magazine that test sailed the brand new racing machine, as they called it – but we’ve only been out a couple of weekends this season, and in fairly benign weather. I think it’s going to take a few more days to get our sea legs in order before we’ll start to enjoy bouncing up and down big waves in great winds again.

Maybe I should just speak for myself, though, as my husband seems to have fins instead of legs – that’s how well adapted he is on being on the water. That’s quite amazing for someone born and raised hundreds of kilometres from the nearest sea. And he’s never been seasick, despite having been in some serious weather aboard the Search and Rescue vessel he used to crew on. I’ve never been seasick either, but I haven’t really sailed in any heavy weather.

Another thing that worries me about starting a journey in heavy winds is whether our mast will stay up. This spring was the first time we rigged the boat ourselves – the previous owner rigged her for us last year, as it’s customary to store a boat for winter with the mast down in this part of the world – and I feel we must have done something wrong. I know it’s just a feeling, because I’m a worrying kind of a person, and I will get over it after a while.

But there are so many worries! And the more you get acquainted with the boat’s systems, the more you become aware of all the different ways they can break! Last summer we just happily jumped onboard at the boat’s previous home marina, raised the sails and were on our way home. I didn’t waste a single thought on whether the engine would start or not. I never imagined that a halyard or a sheet could snap, or that a cleat could break, or that a sail could rip – talk about blissful ignorance! But this year – after we’ve replaced all the running rigging, gotten a brand new headsail, and had our engine tuned by a professional mechanic – all I can think about is when and how all these things will break and let us down at a critical moment. And yet, they didn’t let us down last year when everything was much more worn out than it is now!

So we’re not leaving today. It’s not very likely we’ll be leaving tomorrow either, since the storm is going to blow for a couple of days. But it will happen soon, and this time we’re going west. Halfway through our holiday we’ll have to turn around and sail back east, where ever we then might be – that’s our plan, and we’ll figure out the rest as we go along. Oh, the day when we don’t have to turn back unless we want to!

In the first photo above you can see our new headsail, and here are all the old ones that are now unemployed. That’s a lot of sails – and indeed a lot of free storage space that we now can fill up with other important stuff, like food!

(The spinnaker, in the red and white bag, is not actually unemployed, but we’re too afraid of the idea of using it I think we’ll probably leave it at home – but that’s yet to be decided)

First Sail of the Season – A Perfect Moment

First Sail of the Season – A Perfect Moment

Sometimes it’s easy to spot a perfect moment. Like this one – a small boat anchored in a calm bay, after a warm, sunny day and the first sail of the season. The air is full of beautiful smells of the sea and the pine forest, as the sun sets behind a campfire where a delicious dinner is cooking. And then a full moon rises over the little boat in the bay!

It truly makes up for the days of toil leading up to this moment – a hundred times over. We’re back where we belong, just like our little boat. We’re free, all of us! And the summer has only just started, and even though we know it will be too short – like all the summers we have seen – it will be filled with light, and birdsong, and sunsets and moonrises – and they will be just as new and exciting as they have been every summer.

Click the previews to see bigger pictures and captions.

We didn’t encounter much wind during our first trip. Only just enough to roll out the new genoa and let it sail the boat for a few hours, not as much to cover any distance as to just see it up there, white and shiny and smooth, and to revel in the fact that nobody had to get up on the deck to hoist it up or pull it down. Sometimes life is just perfect!

Our boat in her new summer outfit – the roller furling genoa, mainsail stack pack and a boarding bowsprit!
Age Is Just a Number – and So Is Boat Size!

Age Is Just a Number – and So Is Boat Size!

Maybe you’ve heard the saying about the right length of boat – that it should be the wife’s age in feet. I’m the wife in this story, but I was the one who chose our boat, and I laughed at this rule and decided to ignore such stupid nonsense.

I was a precocious child, probably to the point of being annoying, but ever since becoming an adult I’ve always felt younger than my years. When I was buying the boat I was feeling so young and excited and enthusiastic that if the boat’s length really had matched my mental age  I would have ended up with a 12 foot dinghy instead of the 25 foot sailboat that I eventually bought.

But lately I’ve had to admit that I wish I’d been a little more honest about my age… I’ve caught myself thinking our boat is too small. The size doesn’t matter when we’re sailing, particularly as our boat performs like a much bigger boat under sail, but doing any kind of refit and renovation in such a small interior space is a pain in the – well, everywhere, really!

Working on our boat this spring, evenings and weekends on end, meant a few hundred times of climbing up a ladder to get to the deck of our boat that stood in our backyard. And climbing down the companionway stairs to get inside the boat. Now she’s back in the water but the refit is still ongoing, and so is the climbing – only now it’s different kind of climbing, up and down over the bow pulpit.

There’s no room to stand up inside the boat. Stooping kills your back in the long run. All the existing systems have been installed with a great deal of imagination into the tiniest and most remote nooks and crannies of the boat. I’ve spent countless hours in the depths of the pipe berths tightening bolts and untangling bilge hose. Torture on your elbows and knees! It’s dark and cramped – but at least now I know I don’t suffer from any degree of claustrophobia! There’s very little space to store any tools or parts, so you have to keep going back and forth to fetch them, only to realize you still forgot something and have to climb back to get it.

After a couple of weeks of intensive work I started to notice a strange grinding sound every now and then while climbing the ladder, but figured it was the screws, nuts and shackles rattling in my pockets that I was always carrying around. But one evening I was climbing the stairs in our house, wearing only a bathrobe, and I yep – I could still hear the rattle!

Turns out the sound comes from my knee. A really funny sound. There’s no pain whatsoever, that’s why it took me so long to locate the source.

Having owned several old cars I’m familiar with the funny sounds they develop over the years. Perhaps I’ll apply the same approach to my knee that I used to those cars – wait if any other symptoms appear, such as blue smoke or loud bangs, otherwise keep going just like before. Except in this case, I can actually take it a little easier than before. Remember, we now have a roller furling genoa, and there’s no need for me to crawl on my knees on the deck anymore! 

The boat projects will soon be completed. The interior still looks like a ground zero but all it needs is a little tender loving care – just to hide the ugly hoses and pipes that seem to fill the entire boat. And maybe throw a few nicely coloured cushions around! 

I bet my recent birthday inspired me to write about age and boat size. Having just heard my first squeaks and creaks I’m starting to learn what the saying “old age does not come alone” means. But I’m pretty sure that by the time we get to do our first test sail I’ll be feeling like a 25-year-old again, and the boat will be just the right size and shape for us. Then maybe one day in the future I will pretend to be, well, say 36 or 38 and choose our next boat accordingly!

Sailing Season Begins – She Floats!

Sailing Season Begins – She Floats!

Yesterday our precious little sailboat found her way back where she belongs. And yes, she floats!

It’s been a long and hard wait, but finally the new sailing season is here. Not that our projects are finished – far from it, but we can continue on the water. We managed to complete all the things that had to be done while on the hard, pushing 12 to 14 hour days during the weekends before launch. We’re exhausted, but happy!

This evening we motored the boat to her home marina, a couple of sea miles from the launching spot. It was still cold, but the sea was deep blue and the sun was shining. I docked the boat into her slip. It was my first time at the helm when docking, and I did it with a slightly different sort of a remote control than most – mine was a husband squatting inside the boat, in front of the engine, pushing and pulling the throttle and shift levers to my command.

It all went well, the sea was calm and there was hardly any wind. I don’t know what I’ve been afraid of about docking, but I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot more of it this season, and hopefully with a new mechanical remote control. Part of the excitement of sailing surely comes from knowing that something’s going to break, but you never know what and when! The good thing about it is you no longer feel like it’s the end of the world after it’s happened to you a few times. The bad thing is it usually costs money, but all in all sailors seem to be a resourceful bunch who will find a way out or around most troubles. I hope to become one of those sailors one day, and docking the boat with a human remote control was clearly a step in that direction!

Ready for Launch! …Not!

Ready for Launch! …Not!

Spring is late this year. Really, really late. Not a bud in a tree, not a green blade of grass.

Our sailboat’s spring refit is running late too. We’ve been held up by very cold weather. We’ve been dodging hale storms and taken a beating from angry northerly gusts. And today, just as we thought the worst would be behind us as it’s almost May, we’re having this great big snow storm. Everything is covered in snow – insolent, inpolite, unenvited snow!

Don’t get me wrong, I like snow. When I was a kid we always had those beautiful, snowy, fresh white winters full of skiing and sled rides and ice skating. Lately, not so much. This winter we hardly had any snow at all, just ice all around so you couldn’t really go for a walk without ice spikes on your boots. And we had strong winds, from all the different directions but all equally unpleasant. A bad, bad winter. The kind of a winter that really makes you desperate to be somewhere else. Anywhere else really, but if I could express a wish, turquoise water would be nice. Now we seem to be getting that snow we’ve been waiting for all winter – but I don’t want it anymore! 

Many of our projects require working with epoxy, paints, glues and sealants – all of these need temperatures at least a few degrees above freezing point in order to dry and stick. There hasn’t been a single day warm enough so far. This will delay all of the following steps in the project. We have a very sad little sailboat in our backyard with two holes in her bottom and an exploded interior. She really must be wondering what’s going on – what’s going to happen to her? Is she going to slowly wither away? Will she ever get to float in salty water again?