Browsed by
Tag: Baltic Sea

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?

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!

Two Faces of Iron Island – Destinations in the Finnish Archipelago

Two Faces of Iron Island – Destinations in the Finnish Archipelago

dsc_0826

It’s exciting to arrive to a new place in the middle of the night, not knowing what you will see as you wake up the next morning. We had arrived on an island called Jussarö, in the archipelago of southern Finland, about 50 nm west of Helsinki. It was raining, and the whole landscape around us was like a grey watercolour painting. On our morning walk, we found a café, a sauna, a small passenger ferry tied up to its pier – all locked up and abandoned for the winter to come. We were still on our summer holiday, but it sure didn’t feel like it anymore! But we seemed to have this large island all to ourselves, so we might as well make the most of it!

It turned out to be an interesting place. Despite the rain, or maybe because of it, the rocky shores of red granite and the thick, old forests in the heart of the island looked beautiful. We found the remains of an old village, where fishermen and pilots had lived from the mid-18th century until the 1930’s. There had also been a big lighthouse from the late 19th century. Only the bottom part of it now remained and served as a base for a coastguard tower, but the coastguards were also gone now. The island was turned into a nature sanctuary in 2011, and opened to public for the first time. Apparently it’s very busy here during the summer months, but this late in the season we were sharing the entire island with a flock of sheep, grazing in a meadow by the sea.

In addition to this rural idyll the island has another, very contrasting history. The bedrock here contains a lot of iron ore. The first iron mine was established almost 200 years ago during the rule of the Russian Empire, and it used prisoners for work force. The conditions on the island were so harsh that many of them asked to be transferred to labour camps in Siberia. The mine was closed in 1861, but opened again a hundred years later, and this time in a massive way. Large plants for crushing and enrichment of ore were built, as well as long, deep tunnels below the seabed. The ore was transported on rails from under the sea, and on to the island’s harbour along pipelines that still run through the forest. The face of the island was permanently transformed, with large landfills of waste rubble, and reddish black shores called the Iron Beach. The mine operated only for a few years, closing down in 1967. Imported ore from Brazil turned out to be a lot cheaper, but the mining history will always be visible on the island of Jussarö.

Continue our trip to the next (and final) post – Read the previous post – Start our trip from the beginning!

Midnight Sail across the Gulf of Finland

Midnight Sail across the Gulf of Finland

20160828_183847

After the westerly storm had blown over Haapsalu the weather forecast showed a 12 hour window of no wind at all. Then it would start blowing heavily from the opposite direction. This was our best chance to leave, so we set off in the morning of August the 28th. The sea was calm, so we motored on. Many times along the way we would check the weather, each time getting a different forecast for the not-so-much wanted wind to pick up. I know, we have a sailboat and sailboats are meant to sail. They need wind to do that, but too much wind is not that nice in my Beginner’s Book of Sailing. Particularly if it catches you in the open sea. I felt like I had experienced enough strong winds for one holiday. I had nothing against a moderate wind, but as it was not on the menu, I didn’t really mind motoring in the dead calm.

After a doggy pee stop on a small island, we checked the weather again. Now it looked pretty certain that the strong winds would not bother us until some time the next morning. We might as well cross the Gulf of Finland right now. On the Finnish side of the gulf there are a lot of islands – much more protection from the wind and much less waves than on the Estonian side.

So off we went, puffing along in the beautiful, calm evening. Soon the Estonian coast was but a thin black line in the distance, disappearing into the evening haze. We had a nice dinner of smoked fish and hot tea. Then it was time to add layers of clothing as the evening got chilly. Soon the dusk fell and the whole sea was suddenly filled with lights – blinking lights, moving lights, unidentified lights. There were so many ships out there! Freight ships on their way to Paldiski or St. Petersburg, cruise ships on their way to Tallinn, Stockholm and Helsinki – or on their way nowhere, just hanging outside the Finnish territorial sea so our countrymen could enjoy their tax free refreshments.

By the time we reached the middle of the gulf with the busiest shipping highway, it was completely dark. It was very, very exciting looking at the green and red lights through binoculars. Particularly when the green and the red are side by side – meaning the ship is coming straight at you. What a relief, when after an eternity you finally see just one of them, and you know you’ve made it – the ship will pass you by your stern. With a sailboat that barely moves 4 knots under power I call this a pretty extreme sport. I didn’t blink all night!

We never saw the coast of Finland appear, not a single island or a rock. It had started raining, and the cloudy sky obscured the little moonlight there might have been. We followed a line on the tablet screen, flashing with a torch to see the buoys marking the channel, and finally a wooden pier as it emerged from the darkness. We had made it! It was past 2 o’clock in the morning as we tied the boat up, took the dog to shore, and then tucked in our bunks all three of us. In the morning we would introduce ourselves to the island that had welcomed us.

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

Next stop: Haapsalu, Estonian mainland

Next stop: Haapsalu, Estonian mainland

dsc_0614I must admit I felt a bit nervous as we headed out to the open sea from our safe haven in Hiiumaa. The wind was blowing and the waves were high, again, but this time they were behind us. What a difference it will make! No rocking or bucking, just gentle swaying of the boat’s rear end as she slid down the big waves. We were making excellent speed with just our smaller headsail, travelling southeast into a wide strait between Hiiumaa and Vormsi.

The sea around here is called Väinameri, literally “the sea of straits”. It’s surrounded by four large islands – Saaremaa and Muhu to the south, Hiiumaa and Vormsi to the north – and Estonian mainland to the east. It’s very shallow, you won’t find a single spot deeper than 10 meters. Further south we reached the sea fairway between mainland and the islands, busy with ferries going back and forth. The fairway has been dredged through some very shallow places so there’s no improvising here! We never turned on our echo sounder, knowing how nerve wrecking it would have been to see it tossing smaller and smaller numbers on the screen.

The islands offered protection, making the waves smaller, and we were able to hoist the mainsail as we turned to beam reach towards Haapsalu. It was the most wonderful way to finish a long day at sea, smooth and easy sailing as the evening fell, and we reached Haapsalu marina in time for dinner at a nice restaurant by the town bay.

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

Sailing as it should be – and shouldn’t!

Sailing as it should be – and shouldn’t!

 

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many does a video count for? I put together a little sailing video, hoping to show some of the joy and excitement of being carried by the wind, moving fast along the water.

On our way to our next destination, Hiiumaa island off the northwest coast of Estonia, we experienced some of the best sailing we’ve ever done anywhere, on any boat. There was a brisk southerly breeze and we were making good speed on our little boat. By this time she had aquired a large number of affectionate nicknames, most of them referring to her compact size, her pear shaped body, her respectable age, or all of the above. Nevertheless, she proved herself to be a true thoroughbred among sailboats, sailing solidly and effortlessly like a much larger boat. As the wind increased and the waves got bigger she just seemed to grow taller and heavier but remained as responsive to the helm as ever, letting us steer her with just a finger or two.

However, as we got closer to Hiiumaa we found ourselves in a situation we hadn’t prepared for. The sea bottom rises to a very shallow depth many miles off the coast, making the waves suddenly very high and choppy. This combined with the large sail area that just minutes before had given our boat a thrilling speed now made her heel like a mad woman. I had to get up on deck to take the sails down. It felt like riding a bucking bronco, first flying through the air and then diving deep in the water with great green walls rising on both sides. As I crawled my way to the bow and back, I could feel the waves go in through my collar and come out through the trouser legs. What I don’t remember feeling was bumping myself into something, and multiple times. This only became evident later that night, when we were all safe and sound in the Kärdla marina, relaxing in a warm sauna – I’ve never seen such massive bruises in such unusual places!

That’s when I realized that all the sailing channel sailboats on Youtube have furling headsails. You simply couldn’t lounge on the deck in a bikini with bruises like that – no, you should never have to leave the comfort of the cockpit except to take pictures of dolphins! For next summer, we will definitely invest in a roller furler. I can’t wait to shoot some bikini scenes!

Seriously speaking, it’s also a matter of safety. Hank-on sails may be the way to go on a racing boat, but we are cruisers. And when you’re cruising longer distances you’re bound to encounter rapid changes in weather. Although we always clip ourselves to the jacklines when leaving the cockpit, you can still get badly injured if you take a fall. And in any case, the boat deck is full of cleats and lines and other obstacles to smash you body parts into.

In Hiiumaa we got a serious reminder – something much worse than a few bruises – of just how important safety is at sea. Only a week before our arrival in Kärdla a sailboat skipper had fallen overboard, just a few miles out of the marina. The inexperienced crew, unable to stop or steer the boat, couldn’t help him, and despite their efforts the Search and Rescue didn’t find him either. The boat had been towed into the harbour and hauled out, and it was a sorrowful sight. If a simple thing like a harness and a tether can spare a life, how about we all wear them – even before the going gets rough!

I conclude my post with a few hazy pictures from our Tallinn-Hiiumaa leg. After all, a sunset over the sea is one of the reasons we sail for, isn’t it?

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