Cruising in the Archipelagos


The red line traces our path through the Archipelagos from Finland to Åland


The southwest coast of Finland is a series of archipelagos and the charts of the area are daunting.  At first glance the water looks more solid with rocks and small islets than navigable water, but there are numerous well-buoyed channels and many cottages.  Although the channels are well buoyed, the Finns manly use cardinal buoys (black & yellow) even for fairway channels rather than lateral buoys (red and green).


East Cardinal Buoy … no top marks and hard to see in bad weather


 In North America, the cardinal buoys have double triangles help identify the direction of safe water.  In Finland the cardinal buoys only have black and yellow or white colour, and often it is very hard to determine if a buoy is and east (black-yellow-black) or a north (black-yellow) because the black bottom of the east blends in with the water colour.


This is a green spar buoy in Finland … the colours are chosen to blend in with the background … exterior designer with a twisted sense of humour


 The boat traffic is heavy in July when Finland is on vacation.  The narrow, twisting channels mean it is difficult to sail unless the wind direction is favourable or you know the waters well.  It is very much like Georgian Bay on Lake Huron in Canada. 


A channel too narrow for us to sail in … The Finns had no problem



Rocks to the left                                                           Rocks to the right

Looking back at the tight squeeze


The various shades of red/ pink / orange granite was reminiscent of Georgian Bay and the North Channel back in Canada. 


Weather worn rock and landscape


The vegetation was also familiar:  birch trees, blueberry bushes, raspberries, lichen on the rocks and trees and summer wildflowers.  Because of the cold dry spring the crop of blueberries was too tart to enjoy.  The grasses were dried up and the birch trees had yellow leaves by the end of July. 


We finally began to see spiders again; we had not seen many of them since our Great Lakes sailing days.


Spider graffiti on an anchor that has not seen any use this year


The landscape had differences as well:  alder, poplar and sumac trees, and very few conifers and plenty of moss.  Birch roots extend out over granite looking for a foothold and water.  


The water is so close but so far away  … if I could just grow my roots a little longer


Heather and daisies growing in the rock fissures

Deeper into the bush there was some moss and decaying birch


Little wildlife:  no squirrels, no fish (other than hatchlings that the kids scoop up into a plastic bowl and release at the end of the day, half-dead), and no birds of prey other than a few hooded crows. 



Kids collect the hatchlings from the shallows by the hundreds … wonder why there are no fish


Bjorkő in the Turku Archipelago is one of the most popular anchorages.  Unlike in North America, the Finns do not like to anchor off the bow and free-wheel.  The Finns like to drop a stern anchor 4-5 boat-lengths from shore, and then tie the bow to a ring in the rock or around a rock or sturdy tree.  In fact they like to do this so much, they deploy their fenders when they anchor this way because the likelihood of being cheek to jowl with other boats is very high. 


A Parking lot for boats … there are rings hammered into the rock for your bow line … when and how to stop is your problem


The boats in Bjorkő are as close together as if they were on stern buoys with bows to a dock; and believe us, if there is an inch to spare, boats muscle their way into a very narrow berth, with fenders of the other boat touching your boat.  We have watched the scenarios unfold with amazement and astonished amusement.  No matter how good and detailed your charts are, when you go headlong into a rocky shore, you never know what lurks under the green slime.  Sometimes your bow floats all the way to shore and the crew can step/jump off the boat and secure the bowlines.  Just as often, a rock impedes the progress of the boat, and damage is done. 


Looks like there is room for 10 more boats … a light day. Bows tied to shore with stern anchors deployed


We anchored in a bay on north side of Kőkar Island (Åland Archipelago) and went ashore. 


Kőkar Island (Åland Archipelago) to the north and Idő Island to the south


The “store” had canned goods, and a cooler of drinks.  A sign indicated they had Internet, but they said it was not working.  We hiked a couple of miles to the local church and the ruins of a Franciscan Monastery.  There was virtually nothing else to do / explore on the island.  The marina doubled as a camp ground for RV’s and had a “beach” that was slick granite stone … no sand. 


To some this flat granite rock is called a beach … I guess it is sand in it’s elemental stage … a pre-beach


We anchored off the south shore of Idő Island near a nature reserve.  We were amazed to see a cow drinking at the water’s edge as we dropped anchor.  This island is uninhabited and has very little “pasture” for livestock.  We later discovered there are 4 cows here and a family comes in their boat to feed / tend to the animals.  The animals were awaiting their arrival. 


There are 3 cows and one very happy bull on this small island


We spent an entire day exploring the water in dinghy and kayak, and hike in the nature reserve.  We were surprised to find mowed pastures (courtesy of the full employment policy of the Åland government) a BBQ pit and a garbage container.   The gravel pathways and well-scrubbed rocks (courtesy of the ice age glaciers) reminded us of the boulder beaches in the NE part of Lake Superior.


Mowed pastures                                                     Gravel rivers deposited by glaciers

The winter winds blow hard and cold … only the sheltered scrub survives


We took the dinghy to a nearby island, Källskär that has interesting granite rock formations.  A Swedish businessman who loved spending his summers on the island bought part of the island in the 1960’s.  He built a large log cabin and designed a “Mediterranean” style garden around the cabin.  The land has been donated to an arts foundation that now maintains the property and houses artists during the summer.  The island is at the southern end of the archipelago, so is swept by fall and winter storms; vegetation does not grow very large, and crevices in the rocks form stagnant pools teaming with life.  It was an interesting hike. 


Fishermen’s cottage at the Guest Harbour                 Walkway to the log cabin 


The Log Cabin … a massive structure surrounded by classical statues and works of art

A rock on a pedestal … if you don’t like that rock there are others to chose from or collect your own


Mercury giving the finger to all the passing boaters


Jungfruskär is another nature reserve where we anchored.


Jungfruskär Island

 Jungfruskär is interesting because it has been farmed and also had a strategic military presence.  The island is a nature reserve today, but the farmland is being preserved; there are cows on the island and the fields are tended in the summer.  Cutting birch trees off about 6 feet above the ground had created some of the meadows.  This allowed the grass to grow under the now branch-less and leaf-less trees, and was quite satisfactory as grazing land.


Trees with brush cuts …  talk about carrying the military dress code to an extreme


The military presence was during the Second World War. After the First World War the Åland Archipelago became Finnish territory rather than Swedish, even though a majority of the people were Swedish.  The Swedes were concerned that they could be attacked either by Finland or by other countries via Finland.  They ensured their security by making the Åland Archipelago a military-free zone.  Jungfrauskär was the westernmost part of Finland, in the Turku Archipelago and therefore was fortified with several cannons aimed at the wide channel between the Turku and Åland Archipelagos.  During the Second World War a Russian plane crashed on the island, the grave of the pilot and crew is marked.  It was not until 1999 that the military presence was removed from Jungfruskär, and the existing two cannon sites became rusting relics of bygone conflicts. 


This is taking the Sauna concept of a hot house to the extreme … a recoilless rifle disguised as the furnace


Makes a great bench to rest your weary feet


As we traveled west from Turku to the Ålands, Swedish became more commonly spoken and the Swedish influence was more apparent.  In 1808-09 Sweden was forced to relinquish control over the Ålands and Finland by Russia.  After the Crimean War in 1856 when French and British troops seized fortifications in Åland, the archipelago was demilitarized.  In 1921 the League of Nations resolved the issue of Åland’s constitutional affiliation with Finland, confirmed the demilitarization of 1856 and also neutralised Åland.  It has its own postage stamps and parliament, even though it is part of Finland. 


The Swedish influence was seen in more prominent and elaborate mid-summer poles at cottages.


Elaborate mid-summer poles at cottages … when the rings dry out and fall off summer is over


Mariehamn is the capital of the Ålands and the largest city.


Mariehamn – to the left of the anchor symbol just above the red line


Mariehamn is a tourist city, with many ferries stopping over long enough to entitle them to offer duty-free goods to travelers.  The Maritime Quarter in the Eastern Harbour houses a museum, demonstrations of wooden shipbuilding crafts, and a marina for wooden boats. 

Boatbuilders museum … displays of steam engines and old hulls


The downtown … no cars … just people


Mariehamn has promoted restoration of old wooden homes. 

Åland architecture


The city acquired the Pommern, a sailing ship that traveled the wheat route from Australia to Europe and set several speed records.

Pommern … a merchant vessel from another era


We extended our stay in Mariehamn by two days so that we could wait out a gale from the east at a marina.   Even though the wind did not exceed 30 knots, it packed a punch that chafed through a couple of our docklines. 

Gusts of just under 30 knots not the predicted 40 knots chaffed through 3 dock lines


Our last port in Finland was Rodhamn, just south of Mariehamn.  We bid farewell to the red / pink / orange granite rocks with fringes of green and headed for the Stockholm Archipelago and our 8th country in 2008. 


A seasonal stopover for boaters                                  The ground cover colours were hinting at winter                  

When the top white mark lines up with the bottom line you know you will hit this rock if you keep going … some boats have done just that