Baltic Sailing Adventure

Sailing on S/V Calidris Alba on the Ocean Cruising Club Baltic Rally

Friday, July 18, 2014 From St Petersburg, Russia to Haapasari Island, Finland

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Sunrise leaving Russia

The sun has risen, after glowing a rosy hue on the horizon for hours. It is 5 am and feels like mid morning. It really never gets dark here at this time of year ( I am using a sleep mask at night). We are tied to a proper dock with nice tires as fendering, awaiting Finnish Customs and Immigration, after a 12 hr overnight motor, in calm seas, from Fort Constantin, where we had to check out of Russia. Around us are small rocky islands, fir trees and little red buildings. It looks like a picture book and somewhat reminiscent of Maine. It is extremely peaceful.

We left the marina in St Petersburg at 11 yesterday morning, quickly motoring out of the Neva River, which winds around the city, into the Gulf of Finland. We had three hours to Ktoigsburg, the island in the middle of the Gulf, which houses Fort Constantin, where we had to stop to check out of Russia. The island straddles an elaborate flood defense system from one side to the other of the Gulf. This can be closed to protect St Petersburg from the awful floods which have devastated the city in the past.

That may be sophisticated ( or not), but the area for yachts is primitive, difficult and downright dangerous. We were much more fortunate leaving than when the OCC Rally boats arrived to check in. We were only one of two yachts on the very rough quay and Customs managed to meander to us only an hour after we arrived and then we were finished and ready to go within an hour. We understand it was a nightmare upon arrival. But the wonderful agent, Vladimir Ivankiv, who handled all the details for the OCC, managed that beginning, and everything else while we were in Russia, magnificently. This is the only time we have ever needed to use an agent to negotiate for us and it certainly makes life easier in such an environment as one finds in Russia.

We arrived by plane, on July 12th, 5 days after the Rally boats sailed into St P. Most of them have been underway since the end of May, cruising from Germany to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland. We got a running start to catch up, by being delivered directly to the tour bus from our arrival at the airport at 8:15 am. We spent the day touring Tsarskoye Selo: TheTsar’s Village. Besides an immense, mostly baroquely decorated palace, there are extensive grounds and structures. It was a magnificent day and our weather has been so, ever since.

Late afternoon, we returned to our home on Calidris Alba, a Rival 42, belonging to our British friends, Inga and John. We immediately unpacked and neatly stowed our gear, easily settling into life aboard, as we have sailed on her in the Caribbean and known I and J since ’99 when they sailed into the States and the Chesapeake Bay after circumnavigating.

We found St Petersburg much livelier than when we had visited in March, 1995. The architecture is distinctive and the colorful pastel painted buildings are unique. Many more have been, at least superficially, restored and painted, since then. There are stores selling everything, including the grocery stores; lots of restaurants ( which was not true, 19 yrs ago). We felt prices were high. And it seems very difficult for ordinary citizens to make ends meet. But there are certainly people with money as exemplified by the boats in the marina and the sexy girls and brawny guys hanging around.

Our marina was adequate, but seemed a symbol of the contradictions in this country. The docks were good and there was a nice air conditioned lounge. But the internet was sporadic and the shower facilities just so-so. The whole environment was shabby and felt thrown together and unfinished. As one of our group said, “the word to describe Russia is klunky.” Most things just don’t go smoothly. We have been in worse marinas, but most of the ones we have stayed at around the world, have been better and less expensive. The thump of the disco next door into the wee hours of the morning did not help the atmosphere either. But, as happens, it soon became ‘home’ and we did enjoy our stay.

We took the very efficient Metro ( with lovely elegant stations) to town and walked the downtown area of the city, toured the requisite churches and forts, as well as palaces. My conclusion is most societies leave behind churches and forts and palaces as signs of where their priorities have been. And one certainly can understand why the people revolted when one sees the excessive opulence of the Tsars and the Church. There probably ( hopefully) should be a cautionary tale in that.p

The highlight for us, as always, has been the people with whom we come in contact. There are Irish, English, German and American boats in the rally. And it is a nice group of sailors. As I have mentioned, Vladimir, the agent was delightful. We found it interesting to chat with Russians ( who spoke English, as we are ignorant of their language) on the dock. And we were able to reconnect with old friends, which was extremely special.

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Reunion with our Moscow Friends

In 1990, we had hosted a university student and his mother on a cultural exchange program during the very end of the Soviet era. Shortly thereafter, Sasha returned for a summer internship. During the time he was with us, the coup occurred. A few years later he moved with his wife to Boston to attend Harvard Business School. Over the next few years we hosted his parents and then visited them and her parents in Moscow in 95. But, as happens, we had lost touch with Sasha and Oksana a number of years ago. We reconnected when we knew we were coming on the Baltic Rally. Sasha arranged for us to come by fast train (put Amtrak to shame) to Moscow for an overnight visit with his whole family, which was absolutely wonderful. It proved to us, once again, that language, nationality, background are all transcended when people share common values and beliefs. We were treated as family and it felt that way!

Now we shall be sailing the islands of Finland and Sweden, ending up in Stockholm in 10 days. It will be an interesting experience navigating the rocky islets and narrow channels; learning new mooring methods; and hoping for good sailing winds and no untoward weather.

Saturday, July 19, 2014 en route southern coast of Finland

We threw off the docklines and motored out of charming Kotka at 8 a.m. this morning after a lovely, too short visit. Yesterday afternoon, we had motored here from the little isle of Haapasari, where we had checked into Finland. The visitors’ docks in Kotka are run by the local yacht club and the cafe at the head of the docks handles payment etc. The little grey building next to the cafe housed the faciliies: spotlessly clean W.C., changing room and shower room and sauna, of course. Definitely in Finand now! None of us had realized the tensions we each felt while in Russia, until we crossed the border into Finnish waters in the middle of the night, early Friday morn. It felt like a significant log entry and came with an unexpected sense of relief.

Last night we walked through a lovely, beautifully maintained park as well as a very well stocked supermarket and into a delightful fish restaurant for a long, lively dinner with our hosts, as well as Jane and John, Brits on a Naiad 44: Penolope III, who had followed us into Finand. A number of the other Rally boats were leaving Russia a day behind us and we hope some of them will catch up to us en route.

So, the weather is perfect, but the wind is not: it is non existent. We are motoring through the very well marked channels between rocks and myriad rocky, pine islands. It is picture book beautiful, but we were warned not to stray. I am relearning cardinal marks, not used in the USA and the buoy-age system used by most of the rest of the world, which is just the opposite from ours. Good skills, which will, once again, be quickly removed from my hard drive when we return to sailing in the USA. Meanwhile, it is challenging and fun.

While we are mostly day hopping, with only one and two night overnight sails in the offing, we are still feeling as if we are settling into the cruising lifestyle mode: getting into the rhythm of standing watches, punctuated by meals, teatime and naps. Of course we are also catching up with long overdue conversations and all the time enjoying the scenery and wildlife, which is interesting with different ducks and other sea birds. Tonight we are to anchor in a supposedly beautiful and isolated cove, just east of Helsinki.

Monday, July 21, 2014 wending our way into Hanko, on the SW corner of Finland

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Beck Relaxing on Calidris Alba

The charts are overwhelming and make navigating look terrifying. But, in fact, between the very well marked channels and the range markers, to help one stay on course, it has been relatively easy ( thanks to electronic charts and GPS) to wend our way between islands, which we have done for the past two days. Big islands, small islands, hilly, rocky, relatively flat islands and narrow meandering pathways and wide river like expanses make it very attractive. Summer cottages are nestled into the woods, nicely spaced and hidden. The Fins are on holiday and we were in company with many runabouts and sailboats, but never annoyingly so. Friendly waves are exchanged whenever we pass each other.

We have anchored the past two nights and are now making our way to a good size town, our last stop before we head off to the Aland Islands on the west coast of Finland and then on to the Swedish Archipelago of 10,000 isles off Stockholm. Unfortunately, we will only have a short time to get a taste of these treats. And, although we have motored the whole way, it has been a treat. Last night, at anchor, after our evening swim in brisk water, we watched a couple come out of a sauna and plunge into this almost fresh water ( only slightly brackish) and then run back to the sauna. They did this a number of times. Unfortunately, they did not invite us to join them. We have adjusted to the eternal daylight and are able to sleep with no trouble, but it dies make for lovely, long evenings to sit in the cockpit with a ‘sundowner.’

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

The small city of Hanko, at the SW corner of Finland, was our last stop on  Monday, the 21st.  From there we hopped off to the Äland Islands off the west coast.  The navigating became trickier and the green islands even more interesting.  We wound our way west to a large, protected anchorage on the island of Utö.  All day we had noticed algae covering the water, making it unappealing for swimming.  We have learned that the unusual heat has warmed the water to an unnatural temperature, causing this bloom.

On Wednesday, we once again motored through the green and rocky islands sparsely dotted with little red houses, coming into charming Rodhamm, a tiny island settlement off the large main island of Äland of the Äland Islands. We  finally encountered the huge ferries about which we had been warned. These behmoths come barreling down the narrow channels and give way for no one.

We anchored in the very protected harbor of  Rodhamm. There were docks, although no facilities, save for a little cafe and shop, garbage deposit (for €5 a bag), salmon smoked on the dock, for sale, as well as freshly baked hot rolls available in the morning.  The atmosphere was summer camp. We bought our salmon for breakfast and ordered our hot rolls.  We were joined in the anchorage by three other OCC boats which warranted a long cocktail hour on the largest one, an American Hylas 49, S/V Believe.

Today, Thursday, we all made our way the short distance to the marina facilities on the west side of Mariehamm, Äland, the largest settlement in this semi autonomous island nation. They are Swedish by language, history and culture, but ended up under Finnish jurisdiction after the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917. Inga had ingeniously sewed up an Äland courtesy flag when we learned they did not fly the Finnish flag, but had their own.  This is a city of 11,000, with a large influx of tourists in the summer: a typical seaside resort, although not at all honky tonk and, like the people, slightly subdued. Lots of families wandering the walking street, some nice shops and good ice cream. And, for our needs: a well stocked supermarket.  As we wandered in town, we were struck by the number of towheads, well behaved children, attractive parents and many fewer overweight people than in the U.S.

We head for the large Archipelago off Stockholm tomorrow.

Friday, July 25, 2014

We are in open water, asea on light ripples, motoring away from Äland, heading SW for the 25 or so miles to the Stockholm Archipeligo. The sun is strong, but the breeze has a cool nip. Last night, after a  rather late, wonderful smoked fish dinner ashore, I found myself, once again, amazed when I looked at my watch and it was 11:30 at  night, and still light. But, when I awoke at 2 a.m., I noticed how much darker it was than it had been just a few evenings ago. The seasons here are judged by the light and June 21 st, the longest day of the year, is Midsummer.  We understand that children return to school by mid August and the light ( and warmth of summer)  recedes quickly.

Some miscellaneous observations of our time in Finnish waters:

Lots of smaller boats, both power and sail, with lots of families aboard with small children.  Little ones ( in life jackets) wander the docks. Strollers are parked on the dock outside the bows of the boat. People are reserved, but very friendly and most speak English. There was a lovely relaxed feel in all the marinas we have been. There were many families with children, but no frenetic running around or noisy socializing. This morning at 7:30 on our dock, two little boys were fishing, whispering to each other. We were not sure if it was to not wake up the boaters or the fish.

The docking method here is a variation of Mediterranean mooring. In a Med moor, one picks up what is called a lazy line, which is  tied between a mooring ball and the dock. It is attached to a strong mooring line tied to the mooring ball. One picks up the lazy line and finds the heavy mooring line. The boat is brought in perpendicular to the dock, alongside of other boats, like a book being slipped into a bookshelf. The mooring line is tied to a cleat on the stern or bow of the boat and port and starboard bow (or stern) lines are run to the dock. Most boats go stern-to in the Med, as  most use a gangplank off the stern.  We always went bows to as we carried no gangplank and it was easier for us to get off the boat at the bow where we had a short ladder.

In Scandinavia, we found that almost all the boats were configured like DOVKA (which is Swedish-built) and therefore went bows to the dock or, very often to a rock ashore to which they tied in natural harbors.

I now understand why Dovka is designed as she is and why the stern anchor system is Swedish.  The method of docking here is to hook to a mooring buoy with a line attached to a specially designed hook, pay that line out as you inch forward perpendicular to the dock, bows-to, using two bow lines, as with Med mooring. Almost all boats go bows-to  in Scandinavia and, like Dovka, who was built in Sweden, have a cut out in their bow pulpit (metal protective structure from which the lifelines around the edge of the boat run) which one can easily step through to get to the dock. We have a lovely little ladder which hooks onto the bow pulpit. Unfortunately, the boat on which we are now sailing, Calidris Alba, a Rival 41, is a British built boat, so we climb over the pulpit and then onto the anchor to jump off the boat, which is a little more awkward, but doable.

Another reason for the stern anchor set up is so a boat can anchor  perpendicularly to a rock or little land outcropping and nose the bow close enough in to step ashore and tie off to trees or to rings or stakes in the rocks.  There seem to be thousands of little islets on which to practice this mooring technique.  We have yet to try it, but we have had the pleasure of watching this procedure several times and then observing the crew of the yacht enjoying an evening cocktail sitting on the smooth rocks in the warm, low sun.

Saturday, July 26 th, 2014

Our first anchorage  in the Stockholm Archipeligo, was yesterday,  early afternoon,  on the lovely granite and green treed outer island of Tjokö. Our fearless captain took us for a dinghy ride deeper into the almost fjord-like harbor.   We added the great crested grebe  and oyster catcher to our bird list, along with our barnacle goose, their young, and huge white swans with signets.

The island is dotted with small red summer cottages, along with some larger houses with boathouses and substantial docks.  There are so few houses that each one is actually shown on the navigational charts.  These islands are more built up than the Älands  or the ones on the south coast of Finland.  Most of the both small and larger homes had an obvious sauna outbuilding, as in Finland. An individual here and there sat reading under a tree on the hill in front of the house or on the dock. Adults supervised tiny ones in the water and waved. There was a sleepy, semi inhabited feel. How similar the feel of life at summer cottages on the water is, no matter where in the world one is.  We were struck by the lack of jet-skis, water-skiers or people zooming around in fast little motorboats.

Our afternoon was delightfully peaceful, especially after the fast pace to cover the miles scheduled for this rally. The water was clear,  cold, and briskly swimmable.  Inga decided to invite the other two OCC boats for late afternoon tea and whipped up several dozen scones for the occasion.  A nice touch to another almost (no wind to sail) perfect day.  We had a long, leisurely dinner in the cockpit and reveled in the tranquillity and beauty of our surroundings. At 10 p.m., the sky and trees, boats and masts were reflected in the  water and it was hard to tell which was real.

Today, we motored through the islands to get to our next and last anchorage: Paradiset, on Stora Jolpan-Idholm, our last stop on our path to Stockholm. It is interesting how we humans always compare to what we know. I think this area looks not unlike the islands of Lake George, in the Adirondack Mountains in New York, but without the mountains.  And the feel is, as I said, summer on the water,  anywhere. Very nice.

Paridiset is the antithesis of what we usually prefer, which are isolated anchorages.  The harbor is a perfect ‘hurricane hole’:  Several narrow passages lead into a large ‘lake’ encircled by giant boulders with a forest of  pine trees atop, and a number of small beaches. There are about ten sailboats at anchor spread out in the center and more than 40 sailboats and about 15 small motorboats clustered around the circumference, tied to the boulders. Sid calls this ‘tenement living’ since the boats are right next to each other, often held apart only by a fender’s width. But they do have easy access to shore.

There is a diving board on one of the boulders and lots of joyous children jumping off into the water. Most of the boats are between 20 and 35 feet long and almost all have a number of small children aboard. The 34 ft boat next to us has 4 children under 10, all jumping off the bow and then swimming to the stern to climb back on and then run to the bow again.  While there are probably several hundred people in this anchorage, on their boats, swimming, climbing on the boulders, walking the trails, it is still very peaceful and relaxed, except for the one jet- ski, which just came by again!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Underway  at 6 a.m., we zigged and zagged a very scenic route through the islands. As we got closer to Stockholm, there were more houses clustered on the shores, some quite large traditional homes, often with mansard roofs.  All have the requisite little sauna outbuilding. There were also a few glass  contemporary homes on the hills- not large, but very interesting. Then suddenly a huge stone fortress loomed over us and we were entering the city area with 5/6 story  buildings.  Safely tied up, settled in and readying to go sightseeing,  a thunderstorm with winds of 50 knots came though. Wrecked a little havoc, but we were all glad we were not at sea.

Stockholm is a lovely city of islands.   Our marina  is on the island of Djurogarten, very near the Vasa Museum,  where the huge wooden ship Vasa, has been resurrected from the sea floor after 400 years. After the wild thunderstorm, we walked to the museum, climbing over  debris and deep puddles. We were impressed to see workmen out on aSunday,  cleaning up immediately. The Vasa, a 17th century flagship of the Swedish Navy, sank one mile into her maiden voyage. The cold Baltic Sea and mud that covered her kept her intact.  The ship itself, which is now reconstructed with more than 95% of her original timbers, and the explanations of the salvage and restoration operations, were fascinating.

After a farewell dinner for nine of  the boats that had  made it to Stockholm, we had planned to leave our friends on Calidris Alba and to sightsee in Scandanavia. The death of a very dear friend in France, has changed our plans, and we now travel to Normandy to help spread his ashes at sea.   So, this sadness ends this log of what was another interesting and challenging sailing adventure.