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, counterclockwise!