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
, 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.
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.
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
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
any more, after that, or anywhere else, for that matter.