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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!

Wandering in History

Wandering in History

Haapsalu CastleIt was already the last week of August when we arrived in Haapsalu, but the place still seemed busy with tourists. The weather was warm and sunny. This beautiful old town was full of people sitting on the streetside terraces, cafes and restaurants, walking along the waterfront in the shady parks, visiting the old castle and enjoying the town’s many spas.

The town of Haapsalu dates back to the medieval times. The bishopric castle with its cathedral was founded in the 13th century. The construction went on for several hundred years, and today it’s still largely preserved. We enjoyed a day of wandering along its walls and ramparts, the cathedral and the ruins of the monastery. There’s a legend of a restless young maiden, the White Lady appearing on the cathedral wall during full moon in August. Unfortunately we missed her by about a week.

We strolled along the narrow streets lined with beautiful old houses, with their carefully carved details, forged iron hinges and door knobs, sunny verandas with windows made of blown glass. Here you get a feeling that the time has stood perfectly still for centuries. But that’s not true. Anyone who visited Estonia during or shortly after the Soviet occupation will remember a completely different scenery.

I could describe my first visit in Estonia over 20 years ago like a black-and-white photograph, with all the joyful colours drained from it. Today we can only marvel at the amount of work, skill and imagination involved in creating this timeless and charming atmosphere. It’s as if the colours have been put back into that photograph. The Estonians have wasted no time in their 25 years of regained independence.

While we were happily immersed in the city life, the wind was gathering force again, with the seas getting more and more agitated. A storm was expected from the west, and we got company at the marina as several boats came in to wait out the bad weather.

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!