As part of an occasional series, we will be heading to some of the more obscure cruising grounds in search of a good yarn. This month we travel vicariously to the Finnish coastline, where yachting journalist Jake Kavanagh kicks us off with an impromptu bit of exploration...
You can’t beat a good crisis for setting you off in another direction. When the Icelandic Volcano mimicked the banking system by going into meltdown, thousands of Europeans – and tourists from as far away as Australia and the US – began to feel the effects, and once again it was their pockets that got hit. But at the same time, a lot of us got to see parts of the world that would have passed us by – and which have now tempted me to visit by boat.
Pensioners and cruise missiles
I was in Finland at the time, visiting Baltic Yachts, a family run company which specialises in making semi-custom performance boats as light as a feather. ‘Modern yachts should be fun to sail,’ I was told. ‘Elderly yachtsmen still enjoy the challenge of the sea!’ They were right.
A nearby yard had recently sold an 80-footer with the performance of a cruise missile to a sprightly 96-year-old. He had come in person to see his new baby being launched, and was delighted with the massive hydraulic winches, the twin helm positions and the open transom.
The port of Turku in the spring sunshine
With everything push-button controlled, all he had to do was wedge his zimmer frame against the coaming, press ‘hoist’ and then hang on for dear life.
Finland is a remarkable country, but so often we pass by the best bits by going from our hotels to the airport. Along with hundreds of other stranded visitors, I had to make my way to the port of Turku instead, to be greeted by an impressive maritime museum, and several stately tall ships moored beside the quay. For the sum of just a tenner, I was able to take a luxury ferry from Turku to Stockholm, a trip of over 11 hours.
A typical Finnish seascape
In a land where a beer costs a fiver, I had to double check they had the decimal point in the right place. Of course, along with the rest of the passengers, I was expected to eat to excess, buy up half of the duty free shop, and then lose myself in one of the bars with its quality live entertainment, but instead I spent a lot of the time on the windswept deck watching the fascinating Baltic scenery slip by.
A maze of islands
For much of the journey, we were pushing through broken pack ice, with the sky a soft grey with the slash of orange on the horizon. Finland has 188,000 islands (they think, but no-one is quite sure) and 46,000 miles of almost deserted shoreline to explore, and if it hadn’t been for that volcano, I would have missed a great chunk of it.
Uninhabited islands on the approaches to Turku
The scenery didn’t change much once we were in Sweden. Hundreds more deserted islands, some with forlorn summer cottages in the middle awaiting their vacationing owners, more ice, and one die-hard yachtsman, delivering his boat under a single foresail.
Spookily, when the sky cleared it was a deep blue, unmarked by a single vapour trail. For many of the enforced travellers, our trip on the ice-breaking ferry had been a wonderful experience. Finland is strewn with rocks, but is also totally geared for yachtsmen. Even before the season had begun, it had a bleak beauty, and everyone we encountered spoke English. With a population of just 7 million, it is quite possible to get away from it all, especially by boat.
So thanks, Icelandic volcano. Although it took me 7 days to get home instead of a three-hour flight, along the way I discovered some magical cruising grounds, and probably had the cheapest sea crossing of my life – by staying sober.
More information on Baltic cruising
You can find out more about cruising in the Baltic by going to the foreign cruising section of our website. Other good sources of information are Noonsite, while Imray's Baltic Sea guide will also give you a useful insight into the cruising ground.
Have you been to any cruising grounds off the beaten path? Let us know about your exploits by e mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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