I write from a tiny island in the northern Åland chain, almost on its furthest limit, called Länsmansgrund (60°26.7’N, 20°9.9’E). It is about as remote as it gets, and that suits me fine.
This tiny bay is very small and tricky to anchor in as the bottom seems to be stony with some weed. Tomorrow could be interesting when trying to raise the anchor and I may be glad to have set a ‘trip’ enabling me to pull it sideways from my small boat should the upward thrust of the windlass jam it under a rock. Many folk anchor without a trip, but should they be unable to release it from the sea bed, may have to cut the cable, or chain, and lose a vital and expensive piece of equipment.
Mariehamn proved a pleasant sojourn and although touristy, was small and unpretentious, as is the way in the Áland Islands. Meeting with Renata and Johannes again was delightful and we spent a wonderful day visiting the Pommern and they treated me to a pizza in a restaurant next to the magnificent old lady. After they had left, I drifted out into the anchorage and spent a few more days waiting for some rough weather to pass over. No sooner had my German friends sailed, than a call over the VHF came from Henrik and Pernilla, who I had met briefly in Grisselhamn just before sailing for the Ålands. They kindly invited me to visit them the following morning for breakfast on their boat and I replayed the hospitality by shuttling them both out to Free at anchor for afternoon tea and biscuits!
I left Mariehamn once the gale had passed thinking that the inland crossing of the large lake, the Lumparn, would be sheltered from the very stiff southeasterly winds that remained after their cousin had passed through. I couldn’t have been more mistaken! The lake is accessible by a small canal just to the northeast of Mariehamn on the hour, and once through, I set my stays’ l and a well reefed main. The jib was left down just in case there was too much wind.
Well I got that completely correct for Free was hammered as she crossed the huge lake with savage gusts and angry, fierce, smaller waves. She sailed magnificently at an average speed of over six knots, a personal record, but I can’t describe the relief to finally enter the sheltered bay of Bomarsund sixteen miles later! Being unable to anchor off the harbour due to the depth of the fjord, I had to have a night on a stern to mooring. The seven or so boats already there were very helpful assisting this exhausted single-handed sailor tying up, and my immediate neighbours, Theo and Celia from the Netherlands invited me for drinks that evening. Another wonderful moment.
You, dear reader, must be thinking that it’s all party, party, party. Well that’s not so. However, there is something about sailing folk in the Ålands, that is different from normal sailing grounds. Could it be, that they, like me, are seeking something a little more than the normal marina/touristic few weeks? Some sailors have expressed the same hunger for peace and solitude that I yearn for; perhaps not quite as extremely, after all I live the life and this is no holiday. There are definitely similarities though; I have come across some very experienced sailors with an incredible local knowledge of his region, and my goodness you do need it! Timo and Tupu Ruohonen from Finland for example, have given me some incredibly important information about anchorages, and my gratitude is immense.
My sailing in the islands has been the best of my whole life. I feel elevated to another level, especially heavy weather sailing. Perhaps the most interesting is the close navigation sailing among the tiny islands, especially north of Bomersund. The tortuous route to Länsmansgrund Island involved some high quality navigation and intelligent use of sails. Quite often one can lose the wind by attacking the wrong side of an island, and yet the alternative may require some extra tricky avoidance of shallow ground, which considering Free’s leeway, can be extremely challenging.
The rewards far outweigh the risks though, and sometimes one has to pull out the stops and draw on just a little more self belief and courage than normal. Sailing is not for the faint hearted, at least not this type of sailing. Action always speaks louder than words, and sea miles in the end, are the only proof of one’s ability. There is a lot of truth in being able to ‘walk the walk’ rather than ‘talk the talk’.
For the next week I intend to continue around the northern extremities of the islands before dropping south west again in preparation for my return across the Åland Sea to Sweden. I can only hope that old Njörd keeps a hand on this old Viking’s shoulder until then.