Sometimes I feel like an outlaw… Always on the run. A fugitive from the weather that hunts me relentlessly for having the audacity to sail alone in such a remote area.
Since leaving Marjaniemi after the end of the last storm my adventure has taken a dualistic turn. Firstly there was a delightful little sail in a light following wind down to Raahe, Finland’s oldest surviving wooden town, and then a race against the oncoming three or four days of westerly gales with the added peril of being on a lee shore (wind blowing you on) all the way down to Kokkola.
Unfortunately, the stretch between Raahe and Kokkola is a huge fifty six miles with almost nothing in between; Finland’s version of the skeleton coast’. The thought of having to make this passage filled me with dread during my evening in the lovely little harbour in Raahe. The charming harbour master went the extra mile to try and locate a possible place to break my voyage but confessed that all were very shallow and in dubious condition since the collapse of the Baltic fishing industry.
What was a girl to do?
A longer stay in Raahe could have been an alternative if it had still been July, but time is a thief and steals away the late summer days, leaving that awful prospect of being marooned, as previously mentioned in my last post. If I am going to slow down, it will have to be when/if I reach the High Coast again after crossing back to Sweden; from there, Borka is accessible before the oncoming winter. Much that I would have like to have stayed in Raahe, the need to make sea miles and oncoming bad weather dictated this sailor’s plan.
The question was: could I reach Kokkola before the next gale arrived? The Norwegian forecasts are usually accurate, but they do err on the temporal side; no one can say when, even the most experienced old South Shields trawler man, complete with sailory beard, pipe and jar of seaweed (back in the days when we actually had a fleet! But let’s not go there!).
And so the following morning I left Raahe behind and followed the tortuous transits and buoyage out to sea, steering west, sou’west on a windless, boiling hot day. My heart sank because the nor’easterly breeze predicted, failed to materialise; thus it was a day for Polly to strut her stuff at the expense of my diesel reserves. Ah well, it was bikini and reading weather out on deck, leaving Free to steer herself, not altogether unpleasant.
Hours later the promised breeze began, so out came the mainsail, boomed out in a perpendicular fashion to catch the directly following wind, this is known as ‘running’ as in ‘running before the wind’. However, I needed to keep Polly on, motorsailing, as time was of a premium to avoid the predicted nasties from the west.
When I was ten miles out, it was obvious that something unpleasant was building on the horizon. There were black rain clouds and the sun was wrapped in a haze, usually a bad sign. The following wind was also building, which in turn leads to a steep, following sea and resulting nasty corkscrewing motion, making steering very difficult.
I decided to aim for the old Pilot and fishing island of Tankar on the outside of the Kokkola archipelago, and this proved to be a wise decision for Free was labouring in a high following wind with main sail now heavily reefed, having to cross the main shipping lane that runs into Kokkola. What a torrid last few miles it was, waiting for all hell to break loose; racing for the narrow entrance into Tankar’s tiny harbour. The sudden shallowing of the seabed also exaggerated the wave height and steering became a nightmare, trying to keep Free straight without the possibility of broaching (turning sideways and capsizing). Somehow this amazing, gutsy little boat manged to sublimate the venomous, steep, black waves and almost surf through the two buoys into the entrance of the harbour. We had made it!
The following day dawned dark, with a screaming westerly wind. It was like awaking in purgatory. I bolstered my spirits with a cup of tea and plate of muesli, trying to smile. Every muscle in my body was sore after the wrestling with ropes and steering from the previous evening. However, the island is a curiosity, to be sure. I’m not sure who lives here, really. There is a pilot station that serves the big freighters coming in and out of Kokkola to the south, a big industrial town. The island used to be a fishing community too. Now, it seems to serve the odd mariner passing by, or boat load of day trippers in high summer.
To me the most interesting fact is that Tankar rose from the sea due to the isostasy effect, as mentioned in the last missive. It has a unique ecological environment, shared by many of the newer Finnish Islands; a scientist and nature lover’s paradise.
For me, it was my saviour, the island that was there for a lone sailor and her steadfast little boat.