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Decisions, decisions… That’s What Cruising is about!

Decisions, decisions… That’s What Cruising is about!

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!

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

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!

Step on a foreign shore

Step on a foreign shore

Beautiful calm evening in the Viinistu marina

Our first offshore sail – a total of 35 nautical miles! – came to an end early in the afternoon, as we were approaching the Estonian coast in Lahemaa National Park some 80 km east of the capital city, Tallinn.

Not quite like the ocean crossings we’ve all seen on youtube, but we had thoroughly enjoyed our day in the open sea, in the fresh breeze and sunlight. We felt happy and windblown, and it felt good to touch land.

The marina was called Viinistu and it seemed like a very nice place – there was a small breakwater, mooring balls, and a very good restaurant. And on top of it all a big Art Museum built inside a former fish processing plant, something we had definitely not expected to find in such a remote place! The atmosphere was very international, with cyclists, motorcyclists, campers and other travellers from all around Europe. And it was already past the peak holiday season, so I can only imagine how busy this place must have been in July!

The evening was beautiful with calm waters and even a nearly full moon. We curled up in our bunks, eager to get some sleep and then continue our journey the next morning.

But the next morning – we woke up to this!

I had slept like an Egyptian mummy, as I always do, but other members of the crew had witnessed some slight rocking and increasing sound of wind during the night. However, by the time I got up the wind was howling and there were big waves splashing over the breakwater and flowing in through the opening and into the harbour.

There was no way we could motor out of the marina. Our 8 horsepower Yanmar, as reliable as it is, just doesn’t have that extra kick to push the boat against such a current. The worst case scenario – being stuck sideways in the breakwater opening – made us decide to stay and wait for the wind to pass or shift.

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