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…)
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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 day’s 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?