Stylish Stockholm

Stockholm is the most populated city in all of the Nordic countries, with almost two million people. Spread over fourteen islands, and a myriad of connecting bridges, Stockholm is often referred to the ‘Venice of the North’, but this is also applicable to many other watery Northern European cities we’ve visited such as Amsterdam, Dordrecht, Stralsund and Lübeck. Whatever the label, Stockholm is certainly stylish.

Vaxholm fortress

Heading into Stockholm after a few weeks living on anchor, was a treat. From our anchorage at Vaxholm, we sailed by the Vaxholm Fortress  as we admired impressive homes built on granite high above the water. We would select the homes we would live in, should we ever to move to Sweden! The channels are wide allowing fast ferries, cruise ships, power boats and schooners with full sails to share our view.

Wayne chatting to another yachtie

I’d prebooked our berth at the Wasahamnen marina, so after midday we proceeded directly to the berth where we squeezed between two similar sized yachts. The cost to berth for a 12m vessel was SEK400 (38€) per day, but for boats larger than 12m the price jumped up to a whopping SEK700 (68€) per day – good job our boat is 12m ;). Included was electricity, WiFi, water, and free use of washing machine (I did about five loads after a month on anchor so that was good value). Still, the ability to live in the heart of Stockholm at the island of Djurgården for around 38€ per day is pretty cool. No chance of similar accommodation for that price. One of the perks that come with living on a boat I guess.

Wasahamnen is located on the west coast of Djurgården – once the Royal hunting grounds, but now a lovely outdoor area with cycle tracks, impressive old homes, a Royal abode, the Skansen living history park, and the Nordic Museum. It’s also home to a number of tourist places such as the Gröna Lund amusement park, the Vikingaliv centre with an interactive session on vikings for the kids, the famous Vasa Museum displaying the 400 year old man-o-war, and of course, the ABBA Museum.

But the surprising thing about Stockholm was the heat. With a heatwave cooking most of Europe, Sweden was no exception. Humid days over 30degC had us feeling like we were back in Thailand! At the marina, with onlookers walking by, the air was still and sticky and the evenings showed no relief with warm nights over 20degC. From the nearby Gröna Lund screams could be heard clearly as customers spun, dipped and dropped over thrilling rides and fast moving roller coasters. It was perfect conditions to be back out in the skärgård!

The Dramatic Theatre[/caption]

With the bikes reassembled, each day we would head out and see the sights, and make sure to stay out of the heat in the afternoons. Cycling along Strandvägen passing the impressive Dramatic Theatre then across into the Kungsträdgården, water fountains had a queue of people filling their water bottles, while ice cream vendors were kept busy all day. In the cooler evenings I’d take a stroll along the foreshore to watch the sinking sun and return before dark.

A cycle to the old town – Gamla Stan – takes around 20 minutes from the marina, plus there are busses and a direct ferry for those without bikes. Gamla Stan is impressive but not intended for bike traffic. Parking the bikes outside a pub, we then walked the maze of alleys and roads stopping to enjoy an ice cream. One of the ‘must-do’ touristy things is to view the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace. The sun beat down on the hoards of tourists and then the band rolled in ahead of the Royal guards. The whole affair lasted around half an hour. Wayne felt for the poor guys standing in the heat all day as it reminded him of parades in the RAAF in the heat of an Australian summer. We’ve noticed that not many people wear hats here so there were many sunburned faces and necks.

The Vasa Museum is the number one tourist attraction and is next door to the Wasahamnen. The man-o-war ‘Vasa’ sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 as it was poorly designed and top heavy. After 333 years under the sea and after numerous attempts, she was eventually raised in 1961. Unlike the Mary Rose at Portsmouth, the Vasa is 98% original and remarkably intact (although a team of archeologists and maritime historians had a hell of a time piecing it back together). Vasa is adorned with hundreds of splendid sculptures – the carpenters who spent hours chiseling and carving these impressive nymphs and pirates must have been slightly irritated to see months of fine work disappear into the depths. Nonetheless, the Vasa timbers are preserved with polyethylene glycol so this fine example from 17th century Sweden should last a couple of hundred more years.

And of course I had to go to the ABBA museum and relive my youth! The museum showcases the history of the band, displays their gold records, costumes, and lives after the band broke up. There’s also the opportunity to sing along with the band on stage or record your voice on a track. I was happy just to look around and hum to myself as Wayne didn’t join me (another closet ABBA fan!).

As far as provisioning goes, there’s a good ICA Supermarket in the pretty suburb of Österhalm, around 2kms north of the marina. I’m not sure of nearby chandleries, but for a certain part I needed I rode about 12kms west to Hjertmans Bromma. This store has a good selection of boat stuff.

So after five nights at Stockholm, which wasn’t nearly enough, I have to say that Stockholm is one of the most stylish cities I’ve visited. I know dear old Melbourne keeps winning the ‘Most Liveable City’ award, but we’ve been to many cities where that label could easily be applied. Stockholm is one of those cities.

Back out in the southern islands of the Stockholm Skärgård, we considered sailing south around the bottom of Sweden around to Norway, rather than pass east to west through Sweden along the Göta Canal. But with a few days of strong southerlies on their way, the decision was made to head west.

From the small town of Mem is the entrance to the 58 locks of the Göta Canal. This 210nm trip passes through the heart of Sweden and will take around two weeks to pass along the Göta Canal, across Lake Vättern then along the Trollhätten Canal to Göteborg.

Until then…

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Stockholms Skärgård

Image from Wikipedia

From Åland to the northern islands of the Stockholm archipelago or skärgård is less than 30nm – a day sail. It also means winding the clock back one hour, so now sunset is around 9.30pm.

Arriving mid July allowed us a few weeks to enjoy the myriad of anchorages, intricate passages, nature reserves, granite islands and pine forests before we have to make our way south. The Hamnguide for this region has many anchorages and harbours conveniently numbered with good images and aerial shots. It’s a useful reference despite the Swedish text (the camera option in Google Translate helped decipher this), but when we head over to the west coast of Sweden we will buy the App version.

The geology and climate of this region reminds me of our 2015 trip through Georgian Bay in the Great Lakes within Canada, although there are more inhabited islands here I think. Small cabins and holiday homes are often obscured by trees and don’t detract from the beauty of the area. With countless islands and anchorages to choose from, each morning we would study our Hamnguide to find a good anchorage for the night. But really, you can anchor just about anywhere and sometimes we would do just that, dodging rocks as we go. In Sweden, as it was in Finland, there is legislation for the Right of Public Access (Allemansrätt) for a boater this means we can anchor anywhere, swim or go ashore, provided that we are considerate and respect the privacy of others.

Our first stop was the island of Arholma in the north where I was happy to walk around and take photos. After this pretty anchorage, each day we sailed to a new destination such as Torparo or Norrpada – mostly peacefully floating along with just enough wind to keep us moving along at a slow pace.

Further to the east is the group of islands of Stora Nassa which includes a spectacular nature reserve and bird sanctuary. Access to many of the islets is restricted during the summer months due to nesting birds. From our anchorage though it was okay to walk over the islets near to us for some gorgeous views.

The small anchorage of Krokholmsviken (#132 in the Hamnguide) is sheltered from all winds and a great place to swim. We anchored right in the middle of the bay and the others tied up to the banks. There are so many great places where we anchored so I won’t list them all. But the best thing for us is that hardly anyone anchors here, preferring to tie-up their bows to the rocks and throw out a stern anchor. The yellow algae seen further north seems to have disappeared further south through the islands making swimming more enjoyable.

On the outer skerries there are few channel markers (would be impossible/impractical to mark every channel), so it’s really important to study the chart and plan a route before we head off. A degree or two off course could spell disaster as there are huge rocks lurking under the water, out of view.

As you’ll have read in the news, a heatwave is over the entire region, including UK and Europe. Humid days over 30degC had us jumping in the cool water everyday in water that is usually around 23degC. The teak deck heats up in the hot sun and when we lay down the water steams off our skins.

The most impressive thing I’ve noticed in the Baltic Sea is how clean it is. No rubbish or food scraps are thrown overboard. Nothing. Not even a twig appears out of place. Helping keep the environment clean are Sugtömningsstation (we call them ‘poo-suckers’) – special pontoons equipped for pumping out holding tanks. There are rules up here or holding tanks and rubbish, and everyone seems happy enough to follow the rules as much as they can. As usual I sort out my rubbish and recyclables and try to get most stuff off the boat before we head out, but we always end up with stuff to drop off at the next convenient place. Reducing waste is a big thing for me! More information can be found on the Archipelago Foundation website.

Ribs on the Cobb BBQ…mmmm

This hot summer there are plenty of yachts and power boats throughout the islands, but not enough to be a problem. And there’s nothing quite like this in Australia. Summer holidays in Australia are usually spent in hot cars crawling along busy roads with millions of others on holidays until the caravan park is reached, then a swim in the nearest river or beach. Surrounding boats are generally considerate and keep the noise down for all to enjoy the environment. Sitting in the cockpit at the end of a ‘busy’ day I hear a guitarist strumming a simple tune; a child’s whimper seeking attention from a caring parent; a father playfully throws his teenage boy off the back of the power boat to the cheers and laughter of those onshore; while from Blue Heeler the smell of marinated ribs cooking on the Cobb wafts over the anchorage as Wayne and I share a beer and watch the world. Doesn’t get much better than this!

So already we have spent two weeks in these islands, and one month since leaving Helsinki. Through Dockspot I booked a berth at the Wasahamnen in Stockholm for a few nights to see the sights, but also do the mundane tasks of washing and provisioning. I figured it would be busy this time of year but as it turned out, there were plenty of berths available, as Dockspot only have a small percentage of bookable berths.

But before we left the skärgård we had to try this crazy ‘stern-anchor-tying-the-bow-to-the-rock’ caper. So we made our way to a little anchorage of Kalvholmen (#57) hoping that no one would be there to adjudicate our first attempt. The anchorage was small but had a lovely steep granite wall on the northern bank, and fortunately for us, the approach was deep and there were no other boats tied up. So in we went.

First Wayne slowly poked the boat’s nose in, me on the bow making sure it was deep enough. It’s a little unnerving anchoring this way as we’ve spent the past ten years trying to avoid rocks, and here we are literally driving up to a rock wall! Once we’d established the depth was deep enough, Wayne reversed the boat, from the stern I threw the Max anchor and 5m of heavy chain over the transom and let the rode flow through the fairlead. I gave the lazy end to Wayne to brake the boat as needed, then I went to the bow and prepared my lines. Closer, closer, then… jump! Standing on the granite I grabbed the pulpit and stopped the boat from going any further while Wayne tightened the stern line. I then tied the bow lines up to nearby trees. Sorted!

Such a hot afternoon, we jumped and dived from the rock like a couple of teenagers! What a great spot! Plus our plan of arriving before lunch seemed to work as most people are on the move by then. A few power boats came into the anchorage for the afternoon. As luck would have it, a 35’ Targa power boat promptly dropped his anchor on our stern anchor immediately snagging our rode. He then began pulling it up! Ugh, there’s always one!

This summer is reportedly the hottest July EVER in Sweden, with temperatures over 30degC for many days. On the islands the heat is not severe as on land. Sweden is also suffering from many wildfires as the conditions are dry and hot. The day we headed into Stockholm was thundery and raining and the slightly cooler temperature was actually a nice break from the heat of the previous few days.

But Stockholm surprised us both.

Until then.

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The Finnish line: Archipelago Sea to Åland

europe routeFrom the exquisite city of Helsinki, we navigated west following the southern islands of Finland’s Archipelago Sea – the largest archipelago in the Baltic with around 50,000 islets and islands and 10,000kms of marked channels. Our destination: Åland, located at the southern end of the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland.

Finland archipelago2

In Finland and Åland, people (including boaters) have a right to roam known as ‘Every man’s right’ where people have the right to move freely across the waters and through nature, and to temporarily stay overnight. The essence is ‘do not disturb and do not destroy’, which is aligned with our attitude which is to ‘take only memories and leave only footprints’. Of course it makes sense not to disturb private homes and invade others privacy, so respect and good judgement is the key. Many of the islands have saunas close to the water so it’s not unusual to see a naked person going in for a dip at the waters edge.

The outside temperature in early July was a chilly 11degC, heavy mist and drizzle, but the weather was sure to improve over the coming weeks. Much like summer in Australia between December to February, July and August are the busiest months in this region as school is closed for the period allowing families to enjoy endless summer daylight hours on land and on the water.

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Useful paper charts and magazine to support our e-charts – must haves!

Our first stop after leaving Helsinki was an anchorage to the south of the Porkkala peninsula, followed by a peaceful anchorage at Falkholmen. For this region we used Navionics e-charts on an iPad as we didn’t have a SD card e-chart to use in our chart plotter as we didn’t expect to reach Finland. In Helsinki we’d purchased a useful magazine (Satamaopas) which had lat/longs and descriptions of many of the harbours in the region, plus Tom in Helsinki gave us some useful paper charts for the islands and they were really handy – thanks for the charts and information Tom! Once we get beyond Åland we can use our chart plotter again.

Still chilly and drizzly, we made our way through the clearly marked channels to reach an anchorage at the island of Älgö within the Ekenäs Skärgårds National Park – a lovely spot for dropping a stern anchor and securing bow to rocks (the Baltic way), or like us, still a bit suss on poking our bow that close to rocks, dropped the anchor with plenty of swing room and good holding.

Ashore at the Rödjan Nature Information Hut is where the Älgö Nature Trail begins. It’s a short loop along the granite rocks to a lookout then to Lake Storträsket before returning. A pamphlet downloaded before the walk provided information on the interesting geology of the area, particularly the impact of massive ice sheets over thousands of years and the changes since the melt. Also here is a small jetty for a few boats to tie up bow-in for 10€ per night plus a sauna for €20 per sauna. No charge for anchoring.

tick repellant

Good old Bushmans!

Although were used to all sorts of dangerous critters, one thing to be aware of in this region are ticks. The risk of the tick-borne encephalitis virus is real and we weren’t vaccinated, so we made sure to spray our feet with Aussie Bushman’s 40% DEET beforehand, checking in between our toes upon return. Wasps and bees are out in force at this time of year too but they haven’t been bothersome. The temperature peaked at a cool 15degC during the day with the wind keeping the temperature down. Afterwards on nearby rocks we warmed ourselves in the sun.

From Älgö a 25nm sail to a natural harbour on the north coast of Hanko – the most southern tip of Finland. The unrestricted safe harbour anchorage is clearly marked on charts and safe from strong westerly winds. Smaller craft were tied to docks around the bay but we were the only yacht at anchor. Sitting in the cockpit, a scent of summer jasmine wafts over the harbour from nearby gardens, while a couple of Whooper Swans, the Finnish National bird, swim by uninterested in our appearance in their bay.

The main dock has large recycling and rubbish bins so we dropped off the small amount of rubbish we’d collected over the week before walking 30 minutes into town. Hanko is a popular tourist place with no identified anchorages close to the town centre. There are a couple of marinas that would be very busy during peak summer. Berths are upwards of 35€ per night for a boat Blue Heeler’s size so the anchorage suited our budget. Hanko is a popular sailing area and the summer sailing season was well underway with many small yachts flying brightly coloured spinnakers as they race through the channels.

Hanko also has a few shops and a big K Supermarket so I grabbed some fresh bread and veggies before heading back to the boat. Finland has a government run outlet for alcohol, similar to Sweden, but a name that Aussies can resonate with, aptly named ‘Alko’. The prices are steep so replenishing our stocks in Latvia made good sense.

Next leg of our journey was from Hanko to an anchorage at Norstö – 22nm. The wind was right on the nose so we motorsailed; at times the sails flapped but we hoped they may give us just a little boost. Along the way we ran the watermaker which works so well in the almost fresh water.

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Smoking salmon on the Cobb

With no wind forecast for a few days, from Norstö we had no choice but to motorsail 28nm to Jurmo, a popular place for boaters. The marina and breakwater can berth up to 40 vessels with rates around 22€ per night. Our ‘Baltic Sea and Approaches’ guide suggested a suitable place to drop the pick just west of the lead line. Anchoring in 4m the anchor rattled along the pebbly bottom before it hooked in soundly. We were the only boat on anchor while the marina was bursting at the seams with boats. Anchoring is far more appealing to us – the breeze blows over the boat, we can play our music, fire up the Cobb bbq to smoke a fresh piece of salmon or bake some marinated chicken, and we don’t have boats rubbing up next to us.

Jurmo is almost treeless with broad expanses of rocky outcrops and shrubs concealing reptiles and nests of a variety of seabirds such as Terns and Barnacle Geese. There’s a small village to the north of the island. A fifteen minute walk east of the harbour is the ‘Munkringar’, or monk rings, Bronze Age rings of stone.

Jurmo has a small grocery store and nearby a fish smoker belches out bitter smoke across the harbour. Huge recycling bins are available for the many visitors to the island, and an ablution block for boaters and campers.  The depths in the harbour are between 1.5m to 3m and smaller yachts have no problem manoeuvring the narrow channels. Campers from nearby tents still kayaking and swimming after 10.30pm as the sun was still above the horizon. No one seems to go to bed until midnight around here, including us, and the mornings are the time for sleeping in.

Next day we sailed a short 10nm from Jurmo to Ütö then again the next day to Kökar. It was on this day we retired our white/blue Finnish courtesy flag and hoisted the blue/yellow/red flag of Åland. The Åland group of islands is an autonomous territory of Finland and it’s appropriate to fly its flag alone.

As we approached Kökar, many yachts steamed by us hoping to snatch the last available berth at the dock, although three other boats anchored near us. The small harbour has 25 stern moorings, but I reckon almost double this amount managed to squeeze in – vessels literally on top of one another, masts leaning as they crammed in together. Many boats up here have no bow anchors or dinghies so anchoring is generally not an option, unless they drag their stern anchor to the bow. The few that do have anchors still prefer to pay for a berth so they can make use of the facilities: water, electricity, showers, laundry, etc. Their boats probably aren’t decked out as self-sufficient as Blue Heeler. Besides, these holiday-makers have worked and saved all year to pay for the few weeks they have off over summer so they have no need to scrimp, on the other hand, we live simply and only frequent marinas as the need arises.

20180715 Archipelago sea Finland 021At the Kökar gasthamn, a smooth massive slab of granite is easily mistaken for a boat ramp. Laying reptile-like on the warm slab were a few bikini clad young women with fake tans and a few pale guys catching some vitamin D as the temperature inched up to 18degC. Campers, motorhomes and yachts fill up the surrounding area, keeping the small grocery shop busy supplying smoked fish, recently baked bread, ice creams and freshly baked cinnamon buns, plus various other supplies.

There are plenty of walking trails around Kökar and near to the harbour is a track to see the Otterböte Seal Hunting Station – apparently one of the most well known bronze age sites in Scandinavia. The track over the boulders was clearly marked with white paint and I was careful not to get too close to the bushes in case of returning with ticks.

BANNER FinlandMariehamn, the main town of Åland, is located on a peninsula at the southern tip of Åland and a 20nm sail from Fliso where we stayed the previous night. Our guide and charts indicated that anchoring was possible on both the east and west sides of Mariehamn, so we chose the east side anchoring in 4.5m. A high pressure system moved over Finland and the ambient temperature increased, as did the water temperature. I jumped in for a swim and the water has increased to 22.5degC, while the ambient temperature was around 24degC. A begoggled Wayne jumped in and inspected the hull (it’s been over a year since he last checked it at St Maarten in the Caribbean!). No surprise in the fresher water of the Baltic Sea, the hull was clean with no barnacles or excessive growth. Perfect!

mariehamn anchorage

Blue Heeler on anchor at Mariehamn

Near to us on the eastern shore of Mariehamn is the largest marina in Scandinavia, which can berth up to 350 boats. It offers a free pump out facility and diesel for 1.65€ per litre and charges around 34€ per night for a boat our size. Though the harbour is spacious and depths adequate for many boats to anchor, oddly we remained the only ones at anchor. We double checked our guides and found nothing to suggest we couldn’t anchor, so we cranked up the music, fired up the Cobb and went for a swim!

I asked marina staff if we could leave our dinghy at the marina while we went ashore – no problem. So that’s what we did, making our way into town to stock up on fresh supplies and see some of the sights. It’s a pretty town and didn’t appear to be overwhelmed with tourists. It’s a nice stroll along the Esplanade to reach the west side of the peninsula. Here is a maritime museum and one of the remaining Flying P Line ships used in grain transportation from Australia, the Pommern. This is the third P boat we’ve seen, including the Peking in New York and the Passat in Travemunde, Germany. Unfortunately the Pommern is closed for renovations so we could only view it from outside. (Wayne recommends the book The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby – an account of his time spent on the Moshulu’s last voyage in the Australian grain trade).

deerWith hot weather and calm seas, a yellow algae forms in the Baltic. We’ve noticed patches of algae since leaving Germany and the warmer weather has increased its spread. Apparently the toxic one to look out for is the greenish cyanobacteria, which is essentially caused by pollution. At the moment it’s just small bits of yellow algae, and doesn’t look very inviting to swim. But with the outside temperature hitting 30degC as a heatwave builds over the Baltic, we still jumped in to stay cool.

So, after originally thinking we wouldn’t reach Finland this year, our time is over and I’m glad we came to experience the island life and learn more about the region and it’s strong maritime history.

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And now that we’ve crossed the ‘Finnish line’ our next destination is the famous Stockholms skärgård – the second largest archipelago in the Baltic with over 30,000 islets and islands. We’ll explore a few of them, avoid running into any of them, plus spend some time in Stockholm before we head west.

Until then…

 

 

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Friends in High Places: Helsinki, Finland

One of the pleasures of this extraordinary sailing life is the opportunity to meet other like-minded people and learn about other countries and cultures. Even better is the chance to visit them in their home country. Finland is at the highest latitude (60degrees) reached by Blue Heeler, and we were really lucky to meet again with lovely people we hadn’t seen in almost four years. But first, let me tell you a little about our visit to Helsinki.

Sailing from Estonia to Finland the south west wind settled between 18-22kn. The first 10nm sail from Tallinn was brisk, at which point we steered on a heading towards Helsinki, a further 33nm north. The Gulf of Finland, somewhat colder up here at below 8degC, was choppy from the recent blow but after crossing the busy shipping lane the seas eased. By this time Blue Heeler’s sails were winged out as the wind was a little further up its bum than expected.

Arriving at the entrance of one of many narrow channel entrances heading into the Port of Helsinki, we made sure to stay well out of the way of the frequent and fast-moving ferries departing for or arriving from from Tallinn, Riga, Stockholm, St Petersburg and Travemunde in Germany.

The Imray pilot ‘Baltic Sea and Approaches’ gave us a few suggestions of where to berth Blue Heeler in Helsinki but we also searched the internet for availability and rates. Typically, central to city locations charge a premium for the privilege of being where the action is. The Helsinki Sailing Club (HSK) on Lauttasaari island is only 5kms from the centre, so we elected to stay there and enjoy off-season rates a little cheaper than in town. The ability to cycle widens our choices too. The facilities at HSK are very good – hot showers, sauna, washing machine, WiFi, three very good chandleries and supermarkets close by – and thanks to Tommy who was helpful in arranging for our gas bottle refill. Kids are on summer holidays now and each day at the HSK the kids go dinghy sailing so the change rooms can be overrun with bags, clothes and smelly kids runners!

The fact that we’d reached Finland by midsummer still surprises us, as we weren’t sure we’d have the time to make it this far up at this early time of year. Taking the anti-clockwise route from Götland to Latvia and Estonia was a good plan, and the fine weather over the past couple of months certainly helped our progress. We floated the idea that if we sailed Blue Heeler into Russia (ie: leaving the EU) this would reset our boat’s 18 month EU entry permit – St Petersburg is only 160nm from Helsinki. But without visas, which can only be obtained from our home country, there was no way we could have taken our own vessel into Russia. Looks like Norway remains as our destination to re-set our sailing permit. (Note: we could have joined a ‘visa-free’ 72 hour stopover ferry trip into St Petersburg just to visit, but after visits to Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga and all the other places over the past couple of months we are quite satisfied with our list of notable historical cities visited).

The bike ride into Helsinki is 15 minutes from Lauttasaari over the Lauttasaaren bridge through the Ruoholahti district and into the town centre. Passing through Esplanade Park, towards the prominent Uspensky Cathedral you’ll reach the touristy area known as Market Square.  Vendors under canopies of bright orange tents offer locally made souvenirs, deep fried white-bait, freshly cooked salmon, strawberries, blueberries, and reindeer skins. At the side sits an old busker  playing a lively waltz on his well-used accordion, one ear expects to hear the chink of spare change in his metal cup. Many tourists from many cruise ships stagger around the stalls like zombies, sampling the local food and stocking up on trinkets to give to loved ones back home.

Helsinki is a beautiful city, with a blend of old wooden buildings amongst modern constructions. The bicycle network is extensive and makes getting around by bike simple. The waterfront has a number of marinas and large docks for ferries, and at this time of year the gardens are budding and fragrant. Most impressive and prominent landmarks include the white Lutheran Cathedral at Senate Square, Circle House, the red brick of the Uspenski Cathedral, the Finnish National Theatre, the tall granite clocktower at Helsinki Railway Station, and on the waterfront the modern Skywheel. Helsinki must be magical in wintertime.

From the market place, we took a 15 minute ferry across to the old fortress island of Suomenlinna. It’s not as if we needed to see ‘yet another fort’ but since it’s one of the top tourist things to see in Helsinki, and we had loads of time, it made sense to go visit and learn a little more about the history of Finland. Suomenlinna played an important and strategic role in the formation of Finland. I had expected to find rundown stone ramparts, bastions and canons (of which there was plenty), but I hadn’t expected to see buildings less than 200 years old currently occupied. Some are residential, some offices and artisan studios, plus there’s an old Russian Orthodox garrison church which was converted into a Lutheran place of worship in 1920, not long after Finland gained independence from Russia in 1918. In a nutshell… construction of the fortress commenced in 1748 when Finland was ruled by the Kingdom of Sweden. Forty years later during the Russo-Swedish War the fortress was used as a naval base. Twenty years later in 1808 Finland succumbed to the might of the Russian Empire and the fortress remained a Russian naval base until 1918. Canons still point to Sweden in the west. But after the Finnish Civil War in 1918 the fortress was annexed by Finland and named Suomenlinna. In 1973 the Finnish garrison left the island and the Ministry of Education and Culture took over the responsibility of the fortress. In 1991 Suomenlinna joined UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list of military architecture.

So, getting back to my original story: Back in 2012 at the start of the Sail Indonesia Rally in Darwin we first met the crews from two Finnish boats: ‘Kastehelmi’ and ‘Ever After’. The last time we were together was in Durban, South Africa in late 2014. So now after almost four years and many miles, we were delighted to have the chance to drop in! As luck would have it, we only caught up with Tom and Salme from ‘Ever After’ as ‘Kastehelmi’ is still sailing around the Med.

Our friends kindly picked us up and drove back to Porvoo only one hour from Helsinki. Together we walked around town, along with their friend Thomas, who we last saw in Chagos in mid 2014.

May 2014: Chagos yachties enjoying BBQ

Along the river banks are the famous red-ochre wooden warehouses and up on the hill overlooking the town is the Porvoo Cathedral. We stopped for a delicious lunch, followed by an evening of drinks, freshly smoked salmon, tasty canapés and great company. By the time the sun went down (or came up?) it was time for bed, although that was very late (or very early!). Thank you Tom and Salme for a lovely weekend!

So with Trump and Putin on the cards to meet in Helsinki next week, it was time to head west to the Archipelago Sea, located south of the Gulf of Bothnia, north of the Gulf of Finland and east of the Sea of Åland. It is said to be the largest archipelago in the world, with thousands of granite islands.

Until then…

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Baltic nation: Estonia

One of the sailing experiences that I really wanted to tick off the list was to sail overnight during summer in the Baltic. We would have the opportunity over a two-night 200nm sail from Riga to Tallinn.

Each evening of our voyage the sun set after 10.30pm, only to rise again around 4am. The sun takes ages to go down! I can go and make a cup of tea with the sun balanced on the horizon and it’s still setting when I return fifteen minutes later. In between sunset and sunrise, the sky remains at twilight, never quite reaching the darkness we are used to on night sails further south. But too much sunlight can play havoc with sleeping rhythms, although off-watch I managed to get a few hours sleep once I put on my eye-mask. Wayne managed to get a few hours of sleep too with his head buried under a pillow.

9pm at night

To the west of mainland Estonia are a number of islands and shallow waters. Having sunlight allowed us to navigate these waters with no problem.

Midnight in the Baltic

Sailing south of and parallel to the shipping lane in the Gulf of Finland, we then headed across the busy ferry lanes to arrive at the Pirita Kalevi Yacht Club in the Republic of Estonia.

Our view from Blue Heeler at Pirita Yacht Club

The Pirita Kalevi yacht club is where the sailing sports of the 1980 Russian Olympics took place and is located 6kms north-east of Tallinn. The small marina has everything we need close by (diesel, supermarkets, etc) and the 20 Euro per night was far more attractive that 55 Euros per night at the Tallinn city marina. The bike ride into town is a convenient 20 minutes or an easy 60 minute walk.

Tallinn, Estonia – view from top of St Olaf’s Church

Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. Old Tallinn is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe and another UNESCO World Heritage site. Over the centuries, the small country was invaded by various others, and like Latvia is celebrating its 100th year of independence in 2018.

St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

To learn more about Estonia and Tallinn, we joined a guided tour offered by the Tourist Information Office. Our guide was affable and witty and like most youngish Estonians, spoke excellent English. Although we both thought her accent seemed to have an Irish slant, she assured us she had lived in Tallinn all her life. Our walk around the town included sites such as St Nicholas’ church, St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Town Hall and Square. Surrounding the town is the remains of the ramparts and bastions, one of the best preserved in Europe apparently. Afterwards we walked up 220 skinny steps to the top of St Olaf church for spectacular views of the city and harbour. It’s amazing that any of these old buildings still stand. In March 1944, the Russians bombed Tallinn with over 5000 buildings pulverised immediately or demolished soon after. This attack by the Red Army killed over 800 people, mostly civilians.

Estonia Freedom monument

Now, here’s a few interesting facts about Estonia that our young guide shared with us: Apparently Estonia is one of the most tech-savvy countries in the world and the popular tag ‘E-Estonia’ recognises their advances in technology (Fact: fact Skype was developed in Estonia and over 40% of Skype employees are based in Tallinn and nearby Tartu); Estonia was the first country to have online voting back in 2005; Free Wifi is just about everywhere and the population is well-connected digitally speaking; Estonia has the highest number of start-ups per capita in Europe; Estonians also love to sing! In 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union a series of mass demonstrations during which Estonians sang national songs and patriotic hymns that were strictly forbidden is known as The Singing Revolution; Estonia enjoy participating in the Eurovision song contest; Estonians love nature and their favourite bread is black and made from rye (it’s moist and tasty too!).

So now here we are at the Summer Solstice and this weekend Midsummer festivities take place in the countryside over the weekend.  But as luck would have it, a nasty low (990mb) has blown in from the west bringing strong gales and plenty of rain, keeping us on board for a couple of days. But it will soon pass in a day or so and we’ll head across to Helsinki, Finland crossing the 60 degree latitude – the most northerly location sailed by Blue Heeler.

Until then, terviseks!

 

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