Sometimes the lack of a traditional summer weather regime can promise wonderful things for a sailor. With the heat often come long periods of still, windless days with only short episodes of sea breezes in the evening when the land is cooling down. They can be an aeolian vacuum with glassy, blue seas that are perfect for swimming, but little else. These are frustrating times for a sailor and often in the Mediterranean I would be motoring hundreds of miles, consuming litres of expensive diesel just to make some kind of ‘progress’.
Here in Scandinavia, the continuing patterns of low pressure weather have presented sailors with a fascinating series of winds, fluctuating between North and South, allowing plenty of sailing opportunities. Personally, I don’t like excessive heat and am far better suited to the climate of the far north. It exhilirates me, encouraging action rather than the soporific, heat-deadening South, with its endless days of ‘holiday-brochure’ weather. Of course, a week of this is lovely, occasionally, but when it lasts for months as it did in Greece for me in 2007, it can be a nightmare. This is my opinion of course, and obviously very much a minorigutsyty view in my own culture where moaning about the weather is a national pastime and one rarely encounters another British sailor this far north (never, so far).
I have been presented with two days of wonderful sailing from Käringsund harbour, twenty six nautical miles to the pretty anchorage next to Idskär Island, just to the south of Mariehamn. It had been my intention to wait for the following day after my previous blog entry, but a promising nor’westerly arose in the afternoon, enticing me out to sea; what a beautiful sail it was too!
A gentle broad reach (wind coming slightly aft of amidships) in a sparkling, sun-soaked sea. Quite often, in the late afternoon the wind will slowly ease away, but in this instance, old Njörd (The Viking God of the sea; the father of Freya and Frey of the Vanir) came to my aid, puffing out his old cheeks until I reached the idyllic little anchorage as the sun was setting behind Idskär Island.
I pottered around in ‘baby’ to empty out some of the water that had collected while towing her behind me. This I did by rowing to a little, glassy, granite boulder, hence to upend her. On my way back I heard a shout from another boat at anchor; it was Renata and her partner Johannes, inviting me to visit them. Although their boat had a Dutch name, she flew the German flag.
Once aboard, my hosts insisted on cooking me a meal and lubrication in the form of a lovely red wine! How kind they were. We spent a memorable evening as the sun sank low behind the island, recalling adventures and discussing philosophies. As usual in the manner of many German folk I have met over the years, their command of English was outstanding and hospitality, first class. In my anchorage near Öregrund, meeting Thomas, another German sailor, had also been a lovely experience and he too, shared his beer with me as well as information about his amazing Baltic voyages. Germany has always been a good place for me; I have thoroughly enjoyed sailing on their coast, and in Helgoland, Marco and his amazing friends went the extra mile to help me after my disastrous accident.
The following day awoke with a stiff sou’sou’ westerly blowing directly into the anchorage, giving my fortress anchor a real work out. Despite the usual capital performance, I felt it prudent to sail the final twelve miles to Mariehamn, following Renata and Johannes’s example. Every now and then a harbour is necessary, to take on victuals and access more water. One has to beware of spending too long without fresh vegetables and fruits; it can be so easy to develop slack, unhealthy habits, and lose one’s self-discipline. This is especially vital for a single-hander, for sickness is a very lonely and often dangerous state to find one’s self in. There’s nothing like preventive maintenance, for I am a long way from help at times.
The final passage to Mariehamn was incredible, with some of the closest quarter sailing I have ever done. Due to Free’s wide beam, she is susceptible to leeway,(the tendency for a sailing vessel to drift obliquely off course) in a larger fashion than most pure sailing vessels. She is shallow too, which can have its disadvantages. Thus, sailing in narrow channels can be a curious mixture of exhilarating and terrifying; it certainly keeps the pulse racing! ‘Threading the needle’ was the best way to describe Free’s gutsy performance and when we finally anchored off Mariehamn that afternoon, I reflected on the probability that this was the finest sailing I had ever done, and that’s quite an accolade.
So, now for a few days in Mariehamn, and a chance to explore it with my German friends, once we find each other again! Free has earned a night alongside, and I desperately want to visit the last huge, cargo-carrying tall ship in the west harbour, the famous Pommern
More on that next time!