A strange title you may think?
Well, as you know, I’m always able to take on a challenge… But mostly I’d rather not, being naturally lazy and tranquil. However, the approach to Kemi had my sphincter muscles playing rock n roll.
I had heard much about Finland’s shallow coast and how the charts are a little on the blasé side regarding rocks like canine incisors just ready to tear out your keel given half the chance; however, the truth is only revealed when you actually do it. Legions of paper, pontoon yacht masters or ‘chat room sailors’, know all the theory, but I’ll bet there aren’t too many who want to scrape their beautiful white plastic on the fangs from hell!
Neither do I actually, but here I am in Finland, resting in Kemi harbour, waiting for the those winds to change from sou’easterly to something a little more sympathetic. This has been made possible by the lovely town harbour which charges very little for a delightful little spot. What a lovely bunch of people and so welcoming. Sometimes I wonder if I am not using up many lifetimes of good karma since arriving in Scandinavia.
Kemi harbour gives the impression of peace and calm while one looks out on the shimmering waters outside the breakwater. However, I know better and realise that the week ahead will be the toughest of my sailing life so far. Never have my navigation abilities been called upon so much, for now for I’m very much alone out here. Despite the fierce heat of the hottest summer in living memory, the locals are already preparing their boats for winter, and I can only remember seeing two others in yesterday’s thirty six mile sail from Båtskärnäs, just to the west of Haparanda.
Kemi? What can I say? Apart from the presence of the Finnish language, one could be forgiven for thinking you had accidentally crossed the Atlantic, instead of the top of the Gulf of Bothnia. It has the look and feel of an American town, all straight roads and blocks. It all looks the same. The old town was destroyed in the last war during its occupation by the Soviet Union. The people are polite, reserved and helpful and there is almost no graffiti.
Now, let’s get back to scary monsters!
When my depth sounder was reading five feet, over five miles out, I knew this was going to be a white knuckle ride. Thankfully, the Finns have employed many useful navigational aids and good quality buoyage. Without wishing to send you into a soporific state, it is necessary to explain the principle of the transit, navigation. This is how the Finnish aid the frightened mariner in her approach to their delightful country!
As you can see from the photograph, one has to pick up two objects and then line them up. Once this is done, the helm is adjusted to steer so that the two transit points remain in a line. This should guide the sailor past any dental anomalies lurking below the surface. Putting total trust in this takes some bottle, but what is the alternative? Even when one’s nerves are shot, a leap of faith is called upon to do the right thing.
The harbour manager mentioned the alarming fact that none of these boats were ‘virgins’, in as much that they had all hit a rock at least once. A sobering thought, for I have done it twice before: Helgoland and Greece (Ithaka) in 2007.
If I do, let it be merciful…