Monday 26 August 2019

Turku, Finland

Hurrying Home!

The winds had decided to take us to Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands. The eighteen small islands are located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and due to their isolated position boast a special and rich birdlife.

But sadly, since the only purpose of our visit was simply to fill up our tanks and continue our hurried voyage, we saw none of the puffins, gannets, skuas, loons etc. the islands are famed for. 

From the Faroe Islands, we continued SE and sailed between the Shetland and Orkney Islands and then across the North Sea where we zigzagged amongst dozens of oil platforms that glowed in the dark like space stations.


When nearing Denmark, in Skagerrak, we crossed paths with a beautiful Norwegian sailing ship ‘Christian Radich’. The ship was built in 1937 for training merchant marines but is nowadays mainly used for charter. 

and the Beast!
Regrettably, far too many modern vessels seem to be symbolic of the ideology of our time: Efficiency Above All Else! But since efficiency is not equivalent to ugliness, what it boils down to is simply aesthetically poor design!

On the way to the Baltic Sea, we sailed under the Öresund Bridge which is the longest combined motorway and railway bridge in Europe. The bridge is almost eight kilometres long and runs from the Swedish coast to the artificial island built in the middle of the sound wherefrom the crossing continues via a four-kilometre long tunnel to Denmark. The bridge’s clearance is 57 metres which allows even bigger vessels than our good boat Sarema with her air draft of mere 18 metres, to pass under it. 

We overnighted in Rönne, on the Danish island of Bornholm and the following morning, we put to sea again. After three days of non-stop sailing, assisted by favourable winds for a change, we arrived in our final destination, Turku, Finland. This marked the end of our adventures at sea, and the beginning of our new life as farmers and gardeners! 

Sunday 11 August 2019


Icelandic Experience

We spent a few enjoyable days in downtown Reykjavik. The marina is situated conveniently in the heart of the city next to Harpa Concert Hall and close to all amenities. One  of the very first things we did was to buy an Icelandic courtesy flag at the huge indoor flea market of Kolaportid. As we are continuously running out of books to read, we were pleasantly surprised when we visited the city library; there in the foyer was a rack with discarded books  - all in English and all free! We chose the twenty most interesting ones which should last us for the duration of our journey.     

The landscape and the very peculiar language (says a Finn!) notwithstanding, Iceland felt like a home away from home. The locals looked like Finns, many of the shops were the same we have in Finland, and in the grocery store, we finally found the two Nordic products Riitta in particular had been craving for: 

From Reykjavik, we continued to the archipelago of Vestmannaeyjar located off the south coast of Iceland, just a day’s sailing from the capital. Before arriving in Heimaey, we stopped to deep-sea fish near the island. It took us less than a minute to catch the perhaps a bit peculiar looking but oh, so delicious fish (species unknown) that we had for lunch! 

Vestmannaeyjar is a place shaped by volcanic activity. The archipelago’s youngest island, Surtsey, was formed by a volcanic eruption that took place at the bottom of the ocean, and emerged from the water in 1963. The island was granted protection by law and to this day, only scientists are allowed to set foot on the island. They have been able to monitor how life settles on a brand-new land from the very beginning, a rare opportunity for scientists in the present world.   

In 1973, a volcano erupted on the archipelago’s only inhabited island Heimaey without warning leading to the evacuation of the entire population by boat to mainland. Approximately one fifth of the town was destroyed before the lava flow was stopped by applying billions of litres of ice-cold sea water. 

While in Vestmannaeyjar, we finally made the acquaintance of the Atlantic puffin. This bird resembles the horned puffin, its Pacific counterpart, though their ranges do not overlap. Although all the three puffin species are beautiful, our absolute favourite is the tufted puffin, also resident of the Pacific, which has a stout black body, a massive red, orange and yellow bill, and long ivory-yellow head plumes or tufts. 

A distinct difference between the horned puffin and the Atlantic puffin is that, in summer, the horned puffin’s face is clearly white whereas the Atlantic puffin’s face is pale grey. In winter, the face of both species turn darker grey. Some birds, however, seem to be incapable of distinguishing summer from winter!

If we had stayed on the island a little bit longer, we could have taken part in Puffin Patrol: starting in August, when the pufflings i.e. baby puffins are leaving their nest normally late at night for the first time, they often get disorientated and fly towards the town instead of the ocean. Both children and adults go around the town and try to find the pufflings which are weighed, measured and examined at the Puffin Sanctuary. If the puffling is healthy the rescuer can then take the bird to the seashore and set it free. 

Rescuing pufflings would have been great but, alas, it was time to continue our voyage. For the following leg, we haven’t decided on any specific destination as we are trying to avoid the seemingly ubiquitous headwinds. We’ll go wherever the winds take us, within reason of course. Whether it’s Norway, Denmark or the Faroe Islands, we’ll find out within the next few days!

Sunday 28 July 2019

To Iceland

French Connection

After leaving Bermuda, it took us only eight days to make landfall - surprise, surprise - in France! The archipelago of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon was first ‘discovered’ by Portuguese explorer Joao Alvares Fagundes in 1520 but already in 1536 the islands were made a French possession by Jacques Cartier. During the following centuries, France and Britain took turns invading and occupying the islands until, in 1814, the Treaty of Paris gave the territory officially to France. In 1816, the islands were resettled mainly by fishermen and whalers from Normandy, Brittany and the Basque region, which is also manifest in their flag. 

The islands are the last stronghold of France in North America and so totally French that although their population is only about 6000 and Canada’s English-speaking provinces of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are just around the corner (minimum distance 12 miles), many of the islanders speak and understand only French. 
Despite our disability to communicate with the locals, we took full advantage of the islands’ Frenchness and enjoyed their crunchy baguettes, smelly cheeses, and full-bodied wines with relish. 

Canadian Courtesy

From Saint-Pierre we continued to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where we were warmly welcomed by an amiable pair of Canadian customs and immigration officials, named Bill and Phil. While Bill and Pekka took care of the formalities, Phil compiled a list of the best downtown restaurants and recommended some of the books he had read recently.

Before our departure, Riitta made a tour of the town’s secondhand bookstores and bought, among others, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Phil’s recommendation, which helped to distract us from the infuriating winds that seemed determined to take us to Greenland. 

Rotten Luck Fishingwise

As we had had no luck while fishing for tuna in the Gulf Stream, we hove to in Grand Banks to fish for cod, the traditional catch of the area - or haddock or halibut - we didn’t really mind, whichever would take the lure first. But, alas, all we got was these inedible-looking fish pictured below. And after the fourth one, we were ready to call it a day.

We resumed fishing closer to Greenland where we caught - a Northern Fulmar! Luckily, the bird was unharmed as it had managed to avoid the hook but the line had got tangled up in its wing. We reeled the bird in, released it - and haven’t been fishing since! 

Unexpected Company

About 85 nm from the iceberg limit off Cape Farewell, we found ourselves amongst a pod of about a hundred pilot whales that kept us company for several hours. At some point, one of the whales clearly miscalculated either our speed or the distance to our hull and, as a result, collided with Sarema. On the basis of the sound the collision made, we believe that the only thing the whale hurt was his pride!

We went our separate ways only after the direction of the wind had changed so as to allow us to turn to the east. The whales didn’t alter their course but continued north which was a good thing - the further away from the Faroe Islands, the better!!!

Sunday 23 June 2019

St. George's, Bermuda, 23rd of June 2019

A Detour Home

While sailing to Bermuda, we became conscious of the fact that we had lost some of our spirit of adventure which, as you know, is a prerequisite for enjoyable sailing. And the reason for this was clear: we were retracing our own footsteps, repeating the very same things we had already done in 2003 and again in 2012. But then we realised that we didn’t have to follow the same tracks as before but, instead, we could take a completely different route home. This realisation restored our high spirits, and we are raring to set off! 

We are now all ready to leave the protected harbour of St. George’s: our fuel and water tanks are full, provisioning has been completed, and our good boat Sarema and her crew have been blessed. Tomorrow, when we depart from Bermuda, instead of sailing to the Azores as we had originally planned, we’ll head N-NE to places we have never visited before. And if we get lucky, we might even see some icebergs there!  

Saturday 22 June 2019

St. George's, Bermuda

From Barbuda to Bermuda

When we neared Barbuda from the south we were amazed at the island’s flatness. Contrary to the more southern Caribbean islands, there was not a single hill, not to mention a mountain, to be seen. We later learned, however, that there is a ‘highlands’ area on the eastern side of the island where hills rise to a staggering height of 38 metres! 

Just two years ago, 6 September 2017 to be exact, Hurricane Irma caused catastrophic damage to the island destroying most of its structures, and the entire population of Barbuda had to be evacuated to Antigua. Now most of the residents have returned, and homes and some of the tourist destinations have been rebuilt. Hurricane Irma had also caused havoc to the corals around the island but luckily, sea grass beds were thriving. Most of the shallow sea bottom at Cocoa Point, where we were at anchor, seemed to be covered with sea grass and there were dozens of big, beautiful hawksbill turtles feeding on it. 

After four days of turtle watching and beach strolling under the scorching sun, we were more than happy to continue our journey further north, in anticipation of a colder climate.
On the way to Bermuda, the first three days were plain sailing as we had 15 to 20 knot south-westerly winds and made an average of 140 nm a day. But on the fourth day, we reached the horse latitudes, a belt of calm air and sea between the trade winds and the westerlies, and thereafter it was first motor-sailing and then plain motoring for the rest of our one-week voyage. 
The origin of the term horse latitudes is not certain but it probably comes from the fact that in bygone days when there was no engine power available, becalmed sailing ships were forced to dispose of their horses in order to conserve precious water for the crew. The idea of the term referring to a playground for seahorses is much more appealing however!

During the first two days we were seriously fishing for tuna, but to no avail. It was to be a mahi-mahi - take it or leave it. The first mahi-mahi we hooked was far too big for us and to the satisfaction of all parties concerned, the fish got away. The next day, we caught a considerably smaller  (115 cm) mahi-mahi which we consumed with gusto. We’ll continue fishing for tuna after Bermuda when we are in the Gulf Stream. It won’t matter whether the tuna has blue or yellow fins as long as it is not as big as the one we caught there In 2010 when coming from the Northwest Passage. The tuna weighed about 35 kilos (Pekka’s estimate), and it was a real struggle to get it aboard, not to mention to consume it.

Wednesday 5 June 2019

English Harbor, Antigua

While sailing from Brazil towards the Caribbean, we had been admiring the moon as she was getting fuller and fuller. What we didn’t realise at the time was that it was the first full moon following the northern spring equinox which meant Easter and, in our case, very bad timing! Although we arrived in Prickly Bay, Grenada already on the 19th of April, due to Easter holidays we had to wait until the 29th before our good boat Sarema would be hauled out at Carriacou Marine Ltd’s boat yard in Tyrell Bay. 

We had been there in 2005 and again in 2011 after which the place had undergone a facelift under new management. The boat yard now had a store, shower rooms, a laundry as well as a restaurant. To our delight, despite the facelift, as before there were a number of goats, big and small, roaming the yard, eating whatever edible trash they could find, and dozing underneath the boats.

While waiting for Sarema to be hauled out, we made a nostalgic tour from Tyrell Bay to Union Island, Tobaco Cays, and Sandy Island. The iguanas of Tobaco Cays seemed to be doing fine despite the dry season but, sadly, the corals in the reef protecting Tobaco Cays were not looking good at all. There were large areas where all the corals had died, and consequently most of the beautiful, colourful fish had disappeared. 

We had visited Sandy Island in 2005 when there were no more than remains of the island with only a few palm trees left due to Hurricane Ivan which had devastated the area the year before. During the past fifteen years, the island has gradually risen from the sea and has at least tripled its size compared to our previous visit. Although the island now had dozens of palm trees, here too the underwater world seemed to be suffering (from pollution, global warming??). 

In Carriacou, we only had just over a week to get Sarema ready before we had to sail to Martinique to welcome our children and grandchildren. The time was far too short to do any proper job on the boat but at least the hundreds of speed reducing barnacles were removed from the bottom, and the hull got a new coat of paint. The deck was not painted until the day before our family arrived when we were already in Le Marin, Martinique. Talk about hustle and bustle! On the 11th of May, everything was as ready as it could be to receive our new, eagerly awaited crew.

Time flies when you are having fun, and the two weeks our children and grandchildren stayed with us were gone far too quickly. When the children flew back to Finland, we too continued our homeward-bound voyage, first to Dominica and from there to Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe. We are now in Antigua and will sail from here to Barbuda, the last (ever!?) Caribbean island that we'll be visiting.