Here I am in a tiny little harbour called Marjaniemi, approximately forty five miles south of Kemi on the island of Hailuoto, to the west of Oulu.
I couldn’t face another town right now after three days waiting in Kemi for the wind to change… It didn’t, so it was necessary to plow my way through an excruciating choppy sea for nearly fifty miles. This ticks all the correct boxes for torture: expensive(diesel), uncomfortable (big waves for hour after hour) and a tricky approach when exhausted. This, dear reader, is the boat living no one tells you about!
For this reason I decided that no matter how pleasant Oulu may be, A detour was necessary to avoid the customary five extra miles up to the city and five miles out again. No matter how different cities are supposed to be, they all have certain features which are the same: noisy, expensive, less friendly and hectic. Kemi was much more friendly than most European towns south of Scandinavia, but I have generally found that to be typical of the far north; a polite and more reserved way of conducting affairs, that includes helping strangers. Don’t misunderstand me, I am a city girl, but living in one is fine for all the practicalities; however, visiting is not my cup of tea, if you will. Once you have sampled the differences, they are just the same… Places with lots of folk in close proximity.
The title of this missive is a play on the disturbing novel and film that some of you may have seen/read. Please don’t think that I have a negative view of Finland. Let me say that most of the people are charming, friendly and helpful, and the coast is very beautiful in its own unique way.
So why do we ‘need to talk about Finland’?
One of the reasons that Finland is such a difficult place to sail is due to a geological phenomenum from the ice age, isostasy. Scandinavia was pressed down for millions of years by a huge weight of ice, which after melting, released the resultant pressure.
Well…. The whole region has been slowly rising over the years and the sea therefore becoming shallower. There are now rocks creeping towards the surface as we speak! Seriously, charts a few years ago are different than those of today; thus it is possible to fall foul of an addition to the local seascape, if you will. Sweden has the same problem but the advantage of much deeper water around the rocks.
One of the most disconcerting aspects of the northern Finnish coast is that the predominant winds blow you onshore, a serious hazard where shelter is so limited, plus the piling up of nasty waves on a shallow seabed. This is evil stuff, to be sure.
I am an experienced sailor as many of you will know from following this website, but I can honestly say that this is the toughest and most frustrating place I have sailed in thus far. Please let me qualify that I am writing only of the far north of Finland and this needs some explanation. Here I am yet again stuck in a harbour waiting for another storm to pass and then beg the gods for a sympathetic wind to help me south before the terrifying prospect of being marooned up here for winter, with no facilities. This is a very remote place indeed, and I can’t help feeling a little scared right now. Never have my seafaring credentials been so tested.
The northeastern part of the Gulf of Bothnia is like a massive corral. Once you are stuck in here it is awfully difficult to break out. As previously mentioned, winter can come at almost any time this far north and it is crucial to make some sea miles to reach relative safety. At some point I have to sail across the Gulf to Sweden again, thus timing is crucial, and so is the shortest point between the two countries. This will be near Vaasa, back to Umeå.
This brings me to another problem: the distances between safe harbours on the Finnish coast are large. From Marjaniemi I must reach Raahe, a twenty five mile sail. After that it is a large fifty seven mile passage to Kokkola. Don’t forget that these are nautical miles, and a sea mile is a tough mile!
All of this depends on the weather. Once committed, then one is very much in the lap of the gods because a sudden change has to be confronted. Unlike most places, there’s no where to run on a very dangerous, shallow, rocky coast. Quite simply it is out to sea and hove to, watching all the while for stray merchant ships and trawlers. Let’s not even contemplate fog!
The sailing life is a good life in so many ways, but like any thing else, it has its down side. The reality rarely reaches the marina bar or the armchair novel. I have tried to be brave for so long now but I know my limitations, and right now I am pretty close to them.