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Old 12-06-2014, 04:11   #1
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Impressions of the Baltic

Someone wrote me offline to ask how I'm enjoying sailing in the Baltic. I thought I would better post my impressions here.

When I started planning this trip, I had in mind what two different very experienced circumnavigators had told me -- separately; they don't know each other -- that you can sail all over the world but you'll never find such a wonderful cruising ground as the Baltic.

What, better than the Mediterranean? Hard to believe. I said. Both (separately) had the identical reaction -- snorted, and said, go sailing there, boy, and you'll see. The Mediterranean has many charms, of course, but it's nothing compared to the Baltic. Or words to that effect. The first time I heard it, I didn't believe it. The second time I heard almost exactly the same words, from a New Zealand guy who has been twice around and has really sailed everywhere -- I took notice.

Well, I can't yet call myself an experienced Baltic sailor, so I don't think I can speak yet with any authority, but I've been in the Baltic now for a month and have traversed it from one end all the way to the other, so I at least have a few impressions.

These impressions do not in any way contradict what my two circumnavigator friends told me. It is marvelously beautiful here. One thing I really didn't expect was how wild the coasts are. There are, after all, 100-odd million people living around the edge of it. Yet St. Petersburg is the only megapolis on the Baltic, and the coasts are amazingly wild. Sweden and Finland, especially, are vast and very thinly populated countries. So the coasts I have seen are much wilder and more undeveloped than any of the coasts of the U.S. I have seen (and I guess I've seen them all). No beach condos, no marina communities, no urban sprawl, just rocks and forests and nature as far as the eye can see.

I remember cruising SW Florida and always having the "Guide to the Anchorages of SW Florida" in hand. This little book had just about every feasible anchorage from Tampa to Key West in it; in another book you can find the dozen or two of marinas you can tie up in. Well, you could never publish a book like that for any area here -- just in the 100 miles or so of coast from Helsinki East to the Russian border, there must be literally 20,000 islands, with innumerable coves, skerries, inlets, and probably millions of rocks. And this isn't even the "archipelago" area (that's in the West!). It's not even fully charted!! You could spend a whole lifetime just in this little bit of the coast and never anchor twice in the same place. So a guide to anchorages would be a fairly useless exercise.

Another impression of the Baltic is that it's like sailing in a lake. Although it's a fairly large body of water -- you can easily spend a couple days and nights out of sight of land -- there is no ocean swell. For any given wind force, the sea state is at least a force or two less than we have in the Channel. The catch is that the waves, while much shorter, are steeper. So in a F8, although you don't have the towering waves we get in the Channel, you get nasty vertical walls of water which can dump tons of green water on your deck.

There are no tides, so no tidal stream planning. Or planning for rise of tide on arrival. So start any passage whenever you feel like it. A nice contrast from sailing in Atlantic Europe. However -- you also can't have the great tide-assisted 6 hour passages we do in the Channel, when you knock out 50 or 60 miles at a time effortlessly, daysailing up or down the coast on the tide every day, with the tide adding a couple knots to your speed.

The weather is also different. Maybe I haven't seen enough of it yet to understand it, but it seems there isn't the big weather we get blowing in off the Atlantic -- weeks of sunshine, then weeks of gales, which is typical for Atlantic Europe. Here it's sunny almost every day; then rains for a couple of hours almost every day, but rarely more than a couple of hours. Very rarely wind over 25 knots. In a month we've had only one real gale.

Here the boats are smaller, and the harbors are built for these smaller boats. A sailboat of our size is extremely unusual, and there are hardly any facilities suitable for us. Many harbors are altogether too shallow.

Mooring is often bows-to, although we've only done that once, since where a harbor can accomodate us at all, we usually get a spot on the quay with the fishing boats (it's no big deal tying up to quay since there aren't tides -- no need for fender boards etc.), or a hammerhead. Now I know why my pulpit is split. And why many Baltic boats have ladders on their bows.

The electronic charts for the Baltic have, unlike the charts for UK and France, almost no information about the bottom composition. And the bottom is bizarre -- you can be sailing in 60 meters of water, and suddenly the depth comes up to 6 meters, then back to 60. It must be some kind of moonscape down there. It makes me very afraid to put the anchor down. But I have developed some ideas about how to identify a suitable bottom -- I look first of all for a shelf coming off a coast, on the chart -- a plume of sediment, probably, right? With the six meter contour making a big loop. Then, when I get there, I sweep the potential anchorage until I find an area where the depth is constant over a good sized area, without spikes up and down. To me that looks like sediment, and so sand or mud which will take my anchor. So far this technique seems to be working. I also look for bits of coast with sandy or muddy beaches, rather than rocks. I figure the bottom nearby is likely to be similar.

After cruising in the waters of countries in various states of development, it is really very pleasant to be the waters of Scandinavia, highly developed, highly civilized, extremely safe, clean, and orderly places. Nowhere are you looked on as a strange, rich foreigner, ripe for robbing, or at least envy, which is also unpleasant. Sailing is a totally normal activity in Scandinavia, so nowhere do you feel like an oddball. The cost of this is -- well, cost. These countries are expensive. But berthing is very cheap, and anchorages are everywhere, so your total cost might not be so different from other places. I think the most I've paid for a berth -- for a 54' boat, which is more like 60' LOA -- is 50 euros. And 20 to 30 is more typical. 20 or less is not unusual; I've paid as little as 13 euros. All including electricity, water, and usually sauna. The top price here corresponds to about the cheapest berth you can find on the South coast of England. Another thing which is very cheap here is Internet access. I have a data SIM for Finland, for exampe, which cost 26 euros, which gives 10 gigabytes of traffic good for six months -- amazing. And the coverage is extraordinary, with a strong 3.5G signal (4G for yanks) even in very remote places (how do they do that?). Restaurants and provisions, on the other hand, are quite a bit more expensive than in the UK or France. Fuel is more than 1.50 per liter, so more than 1000 euros for a full tank in my boat. It's funny to think about it -- but a tank of fuel here for my present boat costs more than my first boat cost me altogether! But I guess the total cost of cruising, considering everything, is not really more than anywhere else in Europe.

Beautiful nature and beautiful, ancient cities -- that was what I loved about cruising in Croatia, one of my favorite spots in the Med. Well, this the same kind of idea, except over a vast area, with much wilder, much more unspoiled nature. The beautiful, ancient cities (Kalmar, Ystad, Visby -- to name just a couple) are much further apart, with miles and miles of totally unspoiled nature between. It is really amazing.

It's fairly cold here -- some people won't like that. It does get up to 30 degrees (I am told; C of course), but during my month in these waters, it has rarely been above 23 or so so far, and it often does not crack 20. So you need warm clothes, and I have turned on my central heat from time to time. This does not bother me -- anything over 20 is warm enough for me. Although I grew up in a hot country -- the SE part of the U.S. -- I have come to dislike really hot weather, especially at night. So I find cool nights to be pleasant, and I would far rather heat than air condition (and I don't have air conditioning on my boat anyway).

But what can you expect at this latitude? I'm presently above 60N, something about the latitude of Anchorage, Alaska. The flip side of the cooler temps is the amazing light this time of year. It never gets really dark here this time of year. According to my sun/moon page on my Zeus, the sun rises today in this spot at 00:56Z and sets at 19:44. That's 02:56 local time sunrise and 21:44 local time sunset, but the sun never gets far below the horizon, so there is permanent twilight between 22:00 and 03:00. It is marvelous! And the days will just keep getting longer until 22 June.

These are just my first impressions. The best, I hope, is yet to come. I am planning, over the summer, to explore the archipelago between Finland and Sweden -- Turku, and Aland. Spend more time on the East and South coasts of Sweden which I loved so much on the way up here. Maybe have a look at the Polish coast. See a few more of the great Hansesatic cities of the Baltic -- Copenhagen, Rostock, Luebeck, Danzig, for example.

In Kotka, in the East of Finland, I met an English couple in a sturdy displacement-hull motorboat flying the Red Duster. They came by to ask for the sauna code, as they had arrived after the office closed. They were curious to see another UK boat so far from home, and we chatted for a while. I was more surprised than they, because that's an awful long way to motor. They told me that they have come for a summer, just like I had -- but five years ago. They were so amazed by the beauty of the Baltic that they simply didn't go home. They found winter berthing for their boat in Sweden, near an airport served by RyanAir, and they fly back to the UK every winter, leaving their boat there. They said they just didn't see any point in cruising the East coast of England any more, after that, or anywhere else, for that matter.
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Old 12-06-2014, 04:26   #2
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

Brilliant piece just brilliant

Dave
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Old 12-06-2014, 05:28   #3
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

Much better than most of the pieces I've read in Cruising World Magazine. You should be a contributing writer.

Ken
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Old 12-06-2014, 06:11   #4
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

Dockhead, good to hear you're enjoying yourself here! I'm leaving on a Turku-Visby-Mariehamn-Turku trip end of June. Hope to spot your boat somewhere on the way.

Markus
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Old 12-06-2014, 08:13   #5
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

What a fantastic read. I have great envy. Congratulations on a wonderful experience and living in the moment. We are planning a very similar trip in a few years after picking up our new yacht in the UK. The Baltic seems like the perfect place to get to know a new vessel.

I spent seven years flying in Canada’s arctic and high arctic. Any chance to be north of sixty in the summer is simply inspiring. The joke was the summers in the arctic had to be amazing to offset such long cold winters. Well, indeed the summers are stupendous. Long days and far enough north, 24-hour daylight, crisp and cool mornings with near unlimited visibility in the dry air.

There seems to be an obsession with vacations and sailing in tropical latitudes. I have spent many a summer on the French shores of the Med and Italy’s Adriatic enjoying their warm waters yet my swim, albeit short, in the Arctic Ocean at the outlet of the Tree river (most incredible Arctic Char fishing I’ve ever done) was probably one of my most memorable swims. That’s cold water!

I very much look forward to a return to higher latitudes and slower speeds. Maybe the word is out but even so, I wouldn’t expect big crowds any time in the future. All the better for those who choose to venture. The Northwest Passage is on our list; a return to our old stomping grounds. Who knows, we may just find Franklin. Doesn’t seem like anyone else can.

Never trade luck for skill. Safe travels.
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Old 12-06-2014, 08:43   #6
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

Hi Dockhead,

Certainly pleased to hear you're having a good time up here. Might want to be careful with your weather impressions - certainly here at the lower end of the Baltic we see 30-40 knot winds regularly.

But enjoy away, and yes I agree, you can spend a lifetime anchoring in Finland or Sweden and never drop the hook the same place twice.

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Old 12-06-2014, 13:36   #7
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

"After cruising in the waters of countries in various states of development, it is really very pleasant to be the waters of Scandinavia, highly developed, highly civilized, extremely safe, clean, and orderly places. Nowhere are you looked on as a strange, rich foreigner, ripe for robbing, or at least envy, which is also unpleasant. Sailing is a totally normal activity in Scandinavia, so nowhere do you feel like an oddball." Dockhead


Well said, Dockhead. This is exactly why many of us are planning to cruise the Northern latitudes. Aside from the incredible natural beauty, your contacts with local populations are civilized, friendly and appreciative of your visit. Thanks for the interesting description of your cruise. Good luck and good sailing.
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Old 12-06-2014, 14:18   #8
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

Glad to hear you are enjoying. Be carefull at the midsummer weekend
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Old 13-06-2014, 04:09   #9
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

a loveletter to "our" Baltic.
Thank you
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Old 13-06-2014, 04:51   #10
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

But there 's one point you should know:
be careful by anchoring at the German coast because of foul ground.
Million tons of explosives from WW II..

Fair winds and happy sailing
Tellus
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Old 13-06-2014, 05:32   #11
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

some amazing picts by photographer Ulf Sommerwerck
Classic week 2014, Baltic Sea
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Old 13-06-2014, 06:16   #12
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

Thanks Dockhead,

Yes, as others have already stated, a marvelously well written, interesting piece.
The Baltic has been in our plans and this just confirms our decision.

By August, we'll be someplace in Europe and if further south, we'll do the Baltic in 2015.

May You Have Fair Seas and Following Winds
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Old 13-06-2014, 07:39   #13
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

Enjoyed your post very much. My kind of cruising.

I thought you were a Brit, til you revealed your SE US roots. Where?

Fair winds and safe travels, and thanks for the virtual trip to the Baltic.
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Old 14-06-2014, 03:57   #14
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

A Baltic cruising day.

I’m not actually just cruising; I’m working this summer in Finland. I love my work, so for me this is a really pleasant combination – sail, work, sail, meanwhile live on the boat. I don’t have a really rigid schedule and don’t really have to be in Finland all the time, but it’s useful to be nearby.

Yesterday one investor of mine was supposed to come with his teenage son and spend the weekend sailing, but he didn’t show up. So I slipped the lines anyway and took off, to nowhere in particular, with no ambitions to go far or do anything special. I was in Kotka and decided just to motor over to Hamina, 10 miles as the crow flies and 20 according to the pilot book (after all the rock-dodging). I was expecting light wind on the nose and didn’t fancy slow tacking while dodging rocks, so planned on motoring. But in the event the wind had some South in it, so I sailed – very slowly. 8 knots of wind and 4 knots of boat speed, then 7 knots of wind and 3 knots of boat speed, but I couldn’t make myself put on the motor, it was so gorgeous.

The beauty of this coast is hard to describe – it is a crazy moonscape of rocks and skerries. The rocks extend for miles from the mainland. The depth sounder gets a workout as you can be in 30 meters of water which turns into 3 meters in a second, then back to 30. The charts are not exact, and over significant areas you are on your own with your depth sounder. My Finnish crewman, during the trip from Kiel, told me not to worry too much – it’s true that there’s not enough hydrography to match the fantastic complexity of the bottom, but real hazards which could rip your keel off are mostly noted.

Since I was sailing so slowly, in glassy calm waters and wan evening sunshine, I decided to make myself some dinner and consider this a “dinner cruise”. So that’s what I did, watching the beautiful landscape go by, nothing but rocks, skerries, and trees, no sign of civilization at all but for the occasional giant paper mill.

On the horizon to the North there were angry black clouds, but since the gentle wind was from SE, and the sky was clear to the SE, I didn’t think much of it. But soon after finishing dinner, the wind backed suddenly to N and freshened. I realized I was going to get a drenching, so I took in sails and started motoring. So I motored past the huge tank farm and the large commercial port of Hamina, and up the river to the old port. Just as I reached this beautiful spot, the clouds opened – literally, one cable from the quay. Damn! And I couldn’t tie up to the quay –the only spot free turned out to be the pump-out station, with a yellow line showing you can’t berth there. So I circled around, now soaked to the skin, and got ready to head back out to the anchorage I had chosen for backup, when I see a woman waving to me from a wooden pier on the little island just across from the historic quay of Hamina. Wearing nothing but a towel. She said in good English: You can tie up here! She was moving a rowboat from the end of the pier, and took my lines. She said something like “Sorry for my appearance; but I’m a Finnish girl – I was in sauna”. So I got the boat secured to the little pier, with space for maybe six boats, with only three there (all ancient Swans), and gratefully plugged into the electrical pedestal. This is some kind of yacht club, and the club building is a beautiful, old wooden building with a kind of turret. I go up to the club, and am nearly eaten alive by two dogs. The owner comes out and looks at my strangely – like, what do you want? I tell him that I would like to pay for my berth. He replies: “This is not a commercial harbor. This is a club, open only to member and our friends. We don’t take money for berthing. Welcome to Finland; please use our showers, toilets, electricity. The sauna is over there and it’s already hot. You are our guest.”

How nice! And the lady in the towel turned out to be the owner of the gorgeous Swan 47 opposite. She and he husband came over for gin & tonics and sat up with me until the early hours talking about the sea. They are real hard-core sailors; they came down to sleep on the boat over the weekend because “I can’t sleep properly on land.” They had been across the Atlantic 20 years ago on their previous boat, a Beneteau First 32, to the Caribbean then to Florida, then back to Finland via Bermuda, Azores, England, etc. They bought their present boat in the Mediterranean, and sailed it all the way (!) to Finland in 15 days, against the wind most of the way.

Now I’m going to put my dinghy down and go across to explore the town.

How I am enjoying Baltic cruising. I think this is just about as good as it gets!
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Old 14-06-2014, 04:06   #15
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Re: Impressions of the Baltic

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
A Baltic cruising day.

But in the event the wind had some South in it, so I sailed – very slowly. 8 knots of wind and 4 knots of boat speed, then 7 knots of wind and 3 knots of boat speed, but I couldn’t make myself put on the motor, it was so gorgeous.



Since I was sailing so slowly, in glassy calm waters and wan evening sunshine, I decided to make myself some dinner and consider this a “dinner cruise”. So that’s what I did, watching the beautiful landscape go by, nothing but rocks, skerries, and trees, no sign of civilization at all but for the occasional giant paper mill.

So I circled around, now soaked to the skin, and got ready to head back out to the anchorage I had chosen for backup, when I see a woman waving to me from a wooden pier on the little island just across from the historic quay of Hamina. Wearing nothing but a towel. She said in good English: You can tie up here! She was moving a rowboat from the end of the pier, and took my lines. She said something like “Sorry for my appearance; but I’m a Finnish girl – I was in sauna”. So I got the boat secured to the little pier, with space for maybe six boats, with only three there (all ancient Swans), and gratefully plugged into the electrical pedestal. This is some kind of yacht club, and the club building is a beautiful, old wooden building with a kind of turret. I go up to the club, and am nearly eaten alive by two dogs. The owner comes out and looks at my strangely – like, what do you want? I tell him that I would like to pay for my berth. He replies: “This is not a commercial harbor. This is a club, open only to member and our friends. We don’t take money for berthing. Welcome to Finland; please use our showers, toilets, electricity. The sauna is over there and it’s already hot. You are our guest.”


God Damn you lawyers lead a tough life!
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