We were in Aland (pronounced ‘urland’). Of course you knew that, dear reader, but once again it came as a complete surprise to us that we were not in Finland proper. As you knew, the Aland Islands do not speak Finnish; they have their own parliament; they have their own flag; and their own tax regime. They are not part of Finland proper. (How did this happen, you ask? Does it have anything to do with that Bernadotte guy? What about the events of 1809 and 1917? Your quite right. These are all good questions – the answers to which I leave to you.)
So there we were in Mariehamn, the elegant capital of Aland. As it happened we were there just in time to see (now, pronounce this carefully) ‘The Island Games’, sponsored by the Natwest Bank (What are they doing there, you ask. Alas, I have absolutely no idea! They certainly do not offer banking facilities – but perhaps that is just as well). Contestants from all the islands in the world - Cayman, Faulklands, Guernsey, Man, Wight and many others had gathered here to compete in the complete range of sports from Boule to Beach Volley Ball. The crew of Voltair thought the Shetland Island’s Volley Ball team was particularly cute, though the Cayman Islands A team doing callisthenics on the green sward above the marina gave Chris palpitations.
It was hot in harbour, so we set off for some cooling breezes to the West and settled down for the night in a completely deserted shallow bay to our evening repast. (In this case it was shrimps with chilled vodka, followed by gravadlax with a light Chardonnay as the main fish course. As it was Sunday we had roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, leeks and peas – with a fine Merlot – as the meat course, and finished with usual cheese, fruit coffee and chocolates. Just something light to keep body and soul together, you understand.) Imagine our amazement then, when suddenly there was a great cry and much distant cheering. Rushing on deck we saw a priest standing in the water at the head of the bay. Nearby a group of young people were urging each other to splash through the water to where the priest was standing, where they knelt in the sea and, we supposed, were baptised. A fresh expression of faith indeed.
The following night we met Steve off the giant cruise liner ‘Gabriella’. His rendering of ‘Yesterday’ to the approximately one thousand Finns on-board will be remembered, we understand, for a long time. Early next morning, about 12 am, we arose and after saunas and showers cruised south around Lemland and then northeast towards Degerby on Foglo, the centre of the Aland Islands. We anchored wild a few miles south of the settlement and defended Voltair against mass attack by mosquitoes.
The next day was hotter still as we cruised the beautiful narrow passage to the north of Sonneboda-landet. We anchored again in the bay off its northeast corner and plunged into the waters for a swim at 60 degrees north.
“Suffering Socatash” shrieked Chris, “Heavens to Betsy, but it’s cold.” He is slightly inclined to exaggeration, and it fact, if you confined yourself to the upper foot, it was really pleasant just to float beneath the clear blue sky. After lunch it was a run south to Kokar. The cruising chute was set; then set again the right way around. We gradually overhauled a much more expensive boat, whose elegant crew raised a figure to us. One up to us we thought.
Then they goosed winged, poled out their Genoa and gradually over hauled-us. So we unfurled our genoa opposite the chute and continued on sneaking in behind them to take their wind. But our courses separated, they to the main harbour which must have been crowded that night, and we to our chosen wild anchorage halfway down the west coast.
Saturday dawned with a blustery north-easter. We sailed round the top of the island including a bit of tight tacking in a narrow passage to clear our way through to some relatively open sea. It was good to have Steve, a former prop-forward for his Rugby team, on the winches. Once in the clear, we set our course to the north west and had a stomping sail at seven knots and some - with Voltair sailing like a dream. We had a good long beat that day, finishing up in West Selinghe in the only wild harbour listed in the Finnish harbour guides. Nearby natural ‘cauldrons’ had been scoured in the rocks in which, in former times, sacrifices might have been made to propitiate the gods and bring better fishing. Although initially apparently deserted, a couple of girls rowed up to our boat to see who we were. Robin’s invitation to join us for a glass of wine created a panic in the cabin as the crew rushed to clear spaces and find hairbrushes and deodorant; but sadly the girls had to go home to wash their hair. I think this must be what the local girls do most evenings. What the local boys do is to enjoy a sauna or two and then plunge naked into the Baltic.
Desperate for bread, milk and water we motored into Kumlinge a few miles to the northeast. Bread they had, milk they had, but the water available was pumped straight from the sea. They offered to sell us some for drinking at 4.9 Euros for 5 litres. After a crew conference, and by a majority vote, we decided to accept their offer. But now the search was really on for bulk water, which we eventually found at Lappo. By now we had, we thought, perfected our ‘bows to’ mooring technique and this looked a particularly good place to show it off. It had a nice high jetty onto which Chris could gracefully step whilst Steve clipped on the stern line to the buoy which Voltair had glided past on the way to the quay. As we approached the quay there is always a minor conflict between the owner on the helm (who, favouring the boat, cannot understand why the bow-man cannot jump off when the bow is virtually overhanging the quay) and the bow-man (who, favouring the man, cannot understand why the helm insists on stopping the boat 15 feet from the quay and expects him to jump the gap.) On this occasion with a following wind we were still a few feet from the quay when, un-noticed to bow and helm, Steve had come to end of his rope. Urged on by bow, helm just gave that extra burst of power that would help him step off and secure – at which point they discovered Steve – obeying the instruction to ‘not let go’ of the rope, hanging onto the stern rail by his toe nails. Anxious family will be glad to know that Steve is recovering well.
So you can understand why we ussually prefered to anchor. Though this technique has its drawbacks too - as the photos above illustrate.
On Sunday we had the classic Archipelago sail. A brisk wind from the north combined with a plan to go roughly east. The passage was delightfully winding, often narrow and crowded with tree-lined rocky islands. Sail adjustments were required every 100 meters or so, which, with chief sail-tuner Chris on-board, were accomplished with consummate precision. He even managed to achieve the navigators sometimes adrenaline-fuelled requests to slow the boat down a bit. We averaged over 6 knots for the day and finished in another delightful reed-lined bay. No mosquitoes and in Finland at last, courtesy flag flying.
Finland abounds with superb wild harbours, with houses hidden amongst the trees. Last night at midnight, it was still light enougth to see the colours of the trees as the full moon climbed above the gentle clouds.
Today, as I write, we are drifting slowly towards Turku and the end of this phase of the cruise.
In a couple of days, John and his crews will be taking over.
We hope they have a good a time as we have had.
Best wishes to you all
Robin, Chris, Clive and Steve.