Finally, after all these years, my dream has come true…
I have reached the furthest north in the Gulf of Bothnia.
It is not a circum-navigation of the globe, neither is it going to arouse much interest in the greater scheme of things, but this evening I feel a deep peace and sense of achievement. The final part of this Baltic Odyssey, culminated in a wonderful sail from Luleå, through numerous little islands on a beautiful summer’s day, with a firm but sympathetic sou’westerly breeze. Free managed to sail twenty-nine of the thirty seven miles including some very close inshore sailing that called for every ounce of my experience and nerve.
Finally at six thirty this evening my little sailer arrived in Törehamn, the furthest most northerly accessible port in the Gulf of Bothnia.
Luleå was not really a place I wanted to visit; however, it is one of the few towns that is easily accessible without having to sail an extra ten miles up a long fjord. There was also the necessity to visit a marine shop for some small parts for Polly, my dear old Perkins diesel engine plus a visit to a supermarket too, especially as Finland beckons in the next few days and there is a long stretch before Oulu, my next possible port of resupply.
Anyone who knows Luleå can appreciate how difficult the harbour approach is in strong wind, and Free very nearly smashed into a lovely million pound boat, due to being suddenly ‘taken’ by a huge gust as she struggled through the narrow harbour entrance. How I managed to make the mooring is still nothing short of a miracle in my mind. However, any thought that this was to be a bad omen was quickly dispelled by a friendly bunch of men in a motor cruiser who made me very welcome. This is so typical of the hospitality of the wonderful Northern Swedish folk; but the piece de resistance, was the appearance of the Marina manager who welcomed me with a free evening, thus saving two hundred Kroner (approximately twenty pounds).
I was astounded. He then explained that many people had heard of my voyage and the marina wanted to help me on my way. What a lovely gesture! Several folk have approached me to ask if I am the ‘British woman’ who is sailing alone. They have recognised me from the photograph in the paper. I am deeply moved by the genuine respect the local people have for my voyage.
The voyage through islands to the south of Törehamn was probably the best sailing I have ever done, with a series of tight gybes (Tacking with the wind behind you) between tiny rocky islands and buoys. The breeze constantly shifted to keep me on my toes, but Free remained remarkably agile for such a heavy boat.
I am so proud of her.
From now it is an easterly voyage across the top of the Gulf, until reaching Haparanda and finally Finland. After that there is a big change in the coast with a definite reduction in inshore depth, as opposed to the deep fjords of the Swedish coast. Finland also has literally millions of rocks and tricky channels to negotiate. I have to admit to being nervous, but also fascinated by the challenge of a new adventure.
On a final note: when I received my certificate from the gentleman at the Törehamn harbour, he told me that I was the first British sailor to receive it that he could remember, and only the second single-hander in the past two years.
What an honour that is.