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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!

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 day’s 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?

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

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!
The way back home

The way back home

It actually felt good to be heading home.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great way of life to wake up in a boat, breath in the fresh air and enjoy the vast and ever changing landscape around you, go wherever the wind will take you, find an anchorage and watch the sunset that is never the same two nights in a row.

Add crystal clear water of the right shade of turquoise, warm breeze, some dolphins, and a bright and airy sailboat interior with full standing headroom and a bed that is big enough to stretch your arms and legs in –  now we’re talking!

But we were sailing a very small boat in a very small puddle of dark grey water that was not even salty, and it was starting to feel like autumn.

We are people of the North, and in a sense we are a lot like the birds nesting in our country. Once they notice that the days are getting shorter and chillier, many of them set their compass to 180°, spread their wings and keep flying until it’s warm enough. The ones that decide to stay and brave the winter start fattening themselves up in order to survive. While our instinct tells us to follow the ones who fly away, we must choose the latter option, because we still have some minor obstacles to clear (that I’d rather not talk about) – such as work and a mortgage.

So, instead of sailing south, we sailed back north again. The rain stopped eventually, the sun came out, and the last days of our summer holiday we sailed under clear skies, and with the wind in our favour. It blew so briskly we felt like our little lady was flying! We were sailing with the smallest jib only, and doing an average speed of incredible 6 knots – that’s a lot for a 25 foot boat!

During our voyage we had encountered very few pleasure boats, except in Tallinn. Suddenly there were boats everywhere as we approached Helsinki. The weather was great, and it seemed like everyone wanted to get out there. These might well be the last real summer days of the year.

We spent a night at a marina just outside Helsinki, on an island fortress called Suomenlinna. It’s a real sailors hub, with rows and rows of beautiful classic boats, sail maker’s workshops, boatyards, nice cafés and restaurants – and all this in a wonderful historical setting of old stone walls and bastions, cobbled squares and garrison buildings. And even a church that doubles as a lighthouse!

The final leg home was dead downwind again, at the same excellent speed. While returning home from a great trip can sometimes be a real drag, this time we made it home so fast we hardly noticed it! Suddenly it was there: our home marina, our car, our driveway and the house that felt absolutely enormous! That night we washed our smelly selves and relaxed in the world’s best sauna – our own – and it felt great! But it also felt a little sad, because we knew the sailing season was over. The long, dark autumn was just around the corner, and then the even longer, darker winter. Time to haul out our boat – and start fattening ourselves up for the winter!

kartta-viro

You’ve reached the end of our summer trip to Estonia. Here’s our route (about 400 nautical miles altogether) as seen on the plotter screen: starting south at Porvoo, continuing west towards Tallinn, Hiiumaa and Haapsalu, then north to the coast of Finland and back home, northeast again.

Read the previous post – Start our trip from the beginning!