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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.

Continue our trip to the next post!

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!
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!

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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

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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

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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!

To Tallinn – with the following seas

To Tallinn – with the following seas

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The wind forecast showed slightly lighter winds for a very brief moment on Thursday morning. We had been stuck in Viinistu for three nights, but finally, just after 5 a.m. we managed to sneak out of the harbour and into the blue. As soon as we were a safe distance from the rocky shore we hoisted the genoa and headed towards the west. The wind was behind us, and so were the seas – the famous following seas, that you so often hear sailors wishing for each other. Well, it may be nicer having them follow you rather than come straight at you, but with a very short and extremely wide beamed boat I’d rather take the waves sideways, thank you! Our little lady sailed very well, like she always does, but she kept wagging her tail with every wave coming from behind. And the waves were big! Still, we enjoyed every moment, and never felt any fear or uneasiness, even though sitting on top of a big wave looking down to the bottom of the next one almost made us feel queasy!

We had the sea all to ourselves again, until we got close to Tallinn. You could say there was quite a bit of traffic there! Port of Tallinn is a very busy harbour with nearly 10 million visitors a year, most of them from Helsinki but also from Stockholm and St. Petersburg, along with a lot of international cruise ship passengers. We saw several big boats at a very close distance. However, the guest marina in Pirita, also known as the Tallinn Olympic Yachting Center, was nearly empty.

We spent a couple of days shopping, walking around the town and enjoying delicious barbeque dinners on our “back porch” – in a large harbour all to ourselves, with the Tallinn city silhouette in the background.

But suddenly we were no longer alone! A big competition called the Helsinki-Tallinn Race began on Friday evening, an exciting night sail across the Gulf of Finland. The winning boats arrived right after dusk, and more boats kept coming all through the night. We woke up to some other boat’s crew stomping on our deck and adjusting our mooring lines, and as I put my head out of the hatch I could see every single inch of dock and quay taken by more than a hundred sailboats. The atmosphere in the marina was exciting, electric. There were people everywhere, dressed in their foul weather gear, shouting out orders, tidying up their boats, discussing weather and tactics. It felt fun to be in the middle of all this without actually participating in the race itself!

But we are more into adventuring at our own pace, and so we untied the lines once again and continued on our journey – leaving our gap at the quay for someone else to fill.

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