Warning; this is going to be a long one (in fact it is so long I have decided to split it into two parts, purely to make it less taxing on you). You will still however need to get yourself a cuppa or a cold one to help you get through this marathon, or of course you can always skip the text and just look at the pictures!
Having departed Helsinki we are delighted to be heading into the Finish Archipelago for a few weeks. We left the big smoke with just the first nights island destination picked and a very solid plan thereafter, that plan being in full detailed listed here: “Head West”.
Off we set with the wind on the nose so motoring into it for a short 7 nautical miles before we stopped for our first night on Gåsgrund (Island). We can’t believe this is basically on Helsinki’s doorstep and yet how far away from everything it felt.
We hooked onto a stern buoy and secured the bow to the dock joining two other boats already berthed at the island. This island looked and felt amazing, very green, very vegetated, rocks, trees, shrubs, narrow bush paths, a long drop toilet, sauna and best of all an AMAZING BBQ set up – complete with chopped wood ready for burning! No dwellings/houses on the island, the BBQ, long drop, rubbish bins and traditional wood sauna all provided and maintained by the mainland council!
The young people on a small (red!) yacht beside us told us it is one of the best islands in the archipelago because the sauna is a traditional old wood fired sauna. We explained that being Australian sauna’s weren’t really the going thing for us, and they said “but this is a traditional one – you must try, we will show you” so Phil promised to join them later for a lesson and appreciation of the Finish sauna experience.
Maree….well, not so keen to commit (fearing nudity) as all the showers in the marina’s in Estonia and Finland (all boasting attaching saunas) have been communal and a very sharing (naked) experience (the normal I am told for most mens locker rooms with 6 shower heads in a room together, no curtains or dividers). All a bit much for an innocent Tasmanian such as I, more than happy to send Phil in to do the research. They promised to come calling when they had it ready about 10pm – don’t these people sleep??? At least it will be dark I hear you thinking, well no, not at all actually – we are currently in the Scandinavian summer meaning it doesn’t get dark the sun goes down around 11:30pm or later and starts to come up again about 01:00 giving around an hour and a half of twilight – you would definitely not call it dark, or even dusk, you could seriously still be sitting outside reading a book with no need for a light to see by. It’s very enjoyable!
In the mean time, we were both overly excited about the BBQ, pretty much like kids at Christmas, it has been a long time since leaving Australia and having a real BBQ in the bush! We were joined by two Finish Families in the hut who had come over after work from Helsinki for a BBQ dinner on the island before returning home again that night (that’s how close it is).
They were great to talk to and explained to us something we had vaguely heard of which is “Everyman’s Right In Finland” from now on to be known as “Every Australian’s Right in Finland”.
This is actually law and to quote the official published literature on this “…everyman’s right gives everyone the basic right to roam freely in the countryside, without needing to obtain permission, no matter who owns or occupies the land . . . everyone is entitled to walk, ski, cycle or ride freely in the countryside as long as this causes no harm to property or nature . . . As well as guaranteeing free right of way in the countryside, everyman’s right also allows everyone freedom to stop and rest, swim, sunbathe or enjoy a picnic on private land. Camping for a weekend or short period is also covered. Berries, mushrooms and flowers as long as they are not a protected species may be picked freely wherever everyman’s right applies” “Everyman’s right does not cover gardens or the immediate vicinity of people’s homes or plantation (crop) fields”.
How good is that! And from what we have seen and witnessed it actually leads to people taking a lot more pride and ownership and we are yet to see ANY litter on any of the islands and nature walks that we have seen.
Anyway back to the BBQ, and in appreciation of great conversations we shared with these Finish people, I hunted up a packet of marshmallows out of the boats stores and taught their children (4 kids under 6 year of age) the Australian tradition of marshmallows on bush sticks over the BBQ – needless to say it was a huge success, and now embed in the Finish BBQ experience.
So later in the evening Phil headed off with his new friends to get the low down on “how to sauna” the first step before even getting there being to gather some young birch tree branches with leaves to take into the sauna to – in their words “spank yourself with” yep definitely made the right decision in not going myself.
Well, it turns out the Finish are totally addicted to Sauna’s, almost every island we have visited since has had a sauna even if they have nothing else and no people living there. We are yet to get much of an answer in regards to why, but they have been doing it since forever, and I must admit that they all look very healthy (skin wise) and rather young.
The methodology that was imparted to Phil that evening was to stay in the sauna for as long as you can, brushing (spanking/whipping) yourself with the birch leaves, then go outside for respite from the heat, either just outside into the cooler air or even better for a dip in the water (they are all built on the water’s edge) then back inside again and repeat the process. Phil obliged although only braved the water at the end to freshen off, and it was more of a splash than a submerge. He also reported that any kind of dress is suitable, from shorts/bathers, or just a towel to nudity – it was all fully acceptable and a someone in every state in the sauna. OMG where would one look??? Anyway Phil’s new friends also gave us lots of information in regards to great places to stop on our way West, many of which we have stopped at and loved, so thanks Phil for taking one for the team! (He loved it…he got to see some boobs!).
Anyway new day new location but first things first and it turns out getting onto a stern mooring can be easier than getting off. There was quite a bit of wind blowing and after releasing the bow lines and pulling back onto the buoy to remove our line the buoy next to ours went under the stern EEEKKKKKK! Phil turned the motor off immediately as we didn’t want chain wrapped around our propeller, and everything was fine, however without the engine going and with the strong winds we then proceeded to get blown into the dock (sideways) lucky all the other boats had left. Why can it never be easy?? Anyway, we had fenders out and we quickly tied off across the dock, reassessed our exit strategy and nailed it on the second attempt.
The wind was again against us pretty much on the nose for the 14 nautical miles passage, however we were motor sailing – getting some assistance from the sails, although the angle was very slight. As mentioned above decent winds F3/F4 (10-16 knots) but a good journey overall and again secured via a stern buoy, bow to pontoon.
Stora Svartö was a much bigger island than Gåsgrund with a lot more variety in the landscape. A good hour and a half to get around the island, mostly just exploring both the rocky shoreline and the interior bush as the northern side of the island didn’t have any defined tracks. I was astounded by the diversity of the flora I found, with seemingly hundreds of different kinds of moss covering the big granite rock boulders all very different, yet in close proximity. I could step from crunchy dry grey moss breaking off as I step on it, straight onto wet dense thick moisture retaining green moss.
I was also more successful in seeing some local wildlife than Phil and came home trumps with not only a deer and snake sighting but a cracker picture of the adder in question – evidence!
This island again had long drops provided as well as BBQ’s as wood (although I did have to split some logs – but they did provide a decent axe so that was ok), and why me rather than Phil I hear you ask – simple, I am Tasmanian and therefore (according to Phil) must be related to David Foster the wood chopping champion! (FYI I am not related, but I do know how to swing an axe).
The next day brought wind and occasional showers during our 22 nautical miles of motoring (does the wind always blow from the West in Finland? – we think it might!).
The day cleared as we approached the entrance into Elisaari / Älgsjö which had been recommended to us by a couple of different people. The approach is pretty special as it is almost a creek, complete with trees and rocks on the banks as well as reeds in the water, nothing like going up the creek in a yacht (don’t worry we have a paddle). It looks shallower than it is, and in-fact we found at least 3 meters of water almost all the way in, although we did wind the keel up just to be safe.
We admit the mooring (again stern buoys) is very spectacular with shelter from every direction and lots of yachts nose into the rocks against a hidden dock, very magical, although we must be honest and as beautiful as it was, there were so many boats in there (advertised to fit at least 130 boats) which really took away from it’s beauty for us.
Yes, call us greedy, we want the beautiful spots and we don’t want to share them. They have pretty much turned a lovely nature spot into a marina along with a cafe and not one but two sauna’s for all the visitors. There was also a charge to berth (fair enough with the buoys and dock provided – but in our opinion the other islands offered more, were less populated and were free). There was power available (additional fee, so we passed on that), and also you had to book and pay for the use of the saunas (needless to say we didn’t use those either).
In wrapping up there is no mistaking the beauty of the setting and even more so the journey past many private summer holiday homes snaking our way into this spot through the sheltered waters but once in with all the other holiday makers our highlight was being able to BBQ again, the third night running 🙂
Note: In Phil’s defence we have learnt that Finland soft wood (Birch) doesn’t burn down into great cooking coals like Australian hard wood does, therefore big is best if you want enough coals to last you to cook.
We set off relatively early the next morning as we had been given directions and coordinates to what we hoped would be a pretty special spot that apparently not many people know about and there is only room for one boat, so off we set hoping the early bird gets the worm, or the spot in this case.
Alglo is an ex-military island only recently being released for public use and therefore untouched (just the one building/dwelling on the far side that wasn’t in use whilst we visited).
The directions we were given told us we could take the boat right up to the rocks as the water was deep and side tie off to the pegs embedded in the rock.
To say we approached cautiously would be an understatement, we went very slow with eyes peeled to the water for rocks and also eyes in the binoculars searching the rock face for the embedded pegs. We found the spot – the pegs were very well hidden and took some spotting, but we found it and it was just as described, deep water right up to the side of the rocks almost like a cliff into the still calm waters.
Whilst the island was fairly small it was magical to have it all to ourselves, and the scenery was magnificent, a picture perfect view no matter which way you looked. Enough to make us stay for two days and two nights, totally undisturbed no other people around, and of course BBQ’s on the rocks each night (this time our own portable COBB bbq/oven as there was no designated fire spot on the island).
Now I wouldn’t want you to all be under the impression that living on a yacht is all beaches, bikini’s and champagne every afternoon with cheese and nibbles – no this is definitely not the case for us (not everyday anyway, and champagne yuk!), our two days in paradise included doing a couple of weeks of hand washing in a bucket then pegged out to every available surface on the boat to dry, as well as airing out all the bedding to get some airflow through the sheets and duvets (I won’t gross you out and embarrass myself by telling you when they were last washed…)
There was however a slight downside as although we were not disturbed by anyone, we did pick up some unwelcome opportunists that were to become a theme over the coming weeks . . . tic’s . . . and as we were to learn they are rife in the islands. This isn’t the first time we have encountered these little blighter’s, we also got ourselves a couple in Scotland last year when exploring inland, and luckily invested in a tic-removal-tool which is now is use in Finland. They are teeny-weeny little buggers, juveniles we believe, the smallest we have every seen, but after every walk we are like a pair of monkeys checking each other over for tics!
Next stop was Älgö Rödjan part of the National Park, again stern buoys and bow to the dock. It wasn’t very far from last nights spot so we were there before lunch and took the last spot. Within half an hour all the other boats had left (turns out they were last nights crowd), then within another 30 minutes all the spots were full again, jammed full, just when you thought no more could fit, someone, somehow squeezes in, the remainder of the late comers ended up on anchor out from shore in the bay.
We are really noticing the amount of boats and people, very unusual for us! Although we have been doing this full-time for almost two years and are currently in the middle of the official sailing season (our second) and it is the Finish Summer and vacation period, there are more boats that we have ever seen.
This time last year in the middle of the sailing season we were off the west coast of the Republic of Ireland and heading north-west towards Scotland and we were one of very few boats taking on the wilds of Ireland. We would be lucky to pass 5 boats in a week where as here we are passing at least 50 in a day and each anchorage is full every night.
Lots and lots of families, or small yachts with 6-8 adults on them, the boats arrive and secure to the dock then all of sudden, 2, 3, 4 sometimes more kids (and a couple of dogs) pop up out of the boat onto shore with their butterfly nets and spend the rest of the afternoon chasing tidily fish around the boats, then come 7pm they strip off and jump in the drink with mum and dad throwing the soap in after them.
The nights are very quiet however, which surprised us as we assumed being on holiday and summer they would have music and be very social (loud) at night, but it is very, very quiet. We are yet to hear any music from any boats, they all go inside by 9ish despite it still being light outside until 11-12 at night. Very different from Australian holiday culture (or maybe it is the kids thing?) another factor may also be the fact that alcohol is ridiculously expensive so no body seems to over indulge . . . don’t stress, we were warned of the expense and stocked up in Germany and Estonia where it was a lot cheaper, so we have plenty to see us through (although having bbq’s every night has increased our drinking – you can’t have a bbq without a drink!)
The people are all very friendly however, and we are getting lots of recommendations on places to visit on our way West. The winds however are not being so kind and always seem to be coming from the West making it hard to sail with the wind on the nose, and it isn’t easy to get an angle off the wind as the channels are rather narrow around all the islands and rocks.
Älgö Rödjan was lovely and had a really nice national park walk around the island, however Maree managed to get rather lost. Phil had done the walk earlier and said it was good, so off Maree set and within 5 minutes had seen a rather large snake, and of course being Aussie, the walk was being done in safety thongs and shorts, so therefore eyes were then kept down on the track (checking for snakes) rather than up at eye level where the little blue tree signs and arrows were for the walk, and as such managed to take a secondary track that lead to a small lean-to shack and a marsh – well off the designated track! After re-orinentating back (an adventure in itself) the track was picked up again and eventually completed the designated circuit. Upon return to the boat and before the confession of losing the track Phil piped up saying “they overdid the blue signs didn’t they” which yes, they did (once one kept an eye out for them) but still . . . could have happened to anyone.
So far in the Finish Archipelago we have visited 5 locations, stayed 6 nights and enjoyed 7 BBQ’s 🙂 life is good (or if you were Finish you would be interested the fact that 3 of the 5 locations we have stopped at had sauna’s, in-fact one place had two saunas).
The next day the wind again was coming directly from our intended destination and it was starting to build into a front, so we headed to Hanko (the mainland rather than an island) primarily to re-supply with BBQ meat as well as to wait out the unpleasant weather (along with every other boat in the Baltic) which was expected to really only last 24 hours.
We ballsed up our first attempt at berthing which at the time was the only available space and a crappy one at that (as it was a really dicky corner spot, and not a great angle with the forecasted winds we were expecting). But thanks to missing the stern buoy we had to do a take two and whilst reversing back out we met another boat reversing out of a better spot (when I say met, I mean collided with, but all slow speed and he was tiny so wasn’t going to hurt us, therefore we just bumped him out of the way with the dingy at the back – it is just like a big soft fender really). Anyway once we came around again we lined up and took his spot which was much much better and came in and executed a perfect berth.
Hanko served both the above purposes well but really wasn’t a lot more to write home about. They had just hosted the wooden boat festival and races and the marina was hung over from that, with evidence everywhere that a good time was had by all (litter, cans and very untidy).
It is a summer holiday village, with again more stunning wooden houses, a couple of good beaches, the big marina, a street of restaurants (for the holiday boaters) and that’s about it.
They did however have a great bit of kit in the water off the main beach that in our opinion should be installed in every kids beach in the world. It was out off the beach in about shoulder hight water and was basically a large umbrella with ropes off it that had a motor keeping it constantly spinning around. There was a small platform under it for the kids to get up on then grab a rope and have a swing around before letting go for the big splash – looked like loads of fun!!
Phew . . . Thanks for sticking with us and reading this one – I know it was long. Keep tuned for Part II.