Day 1, July 30, 2017: Anticipation mixed with leisure.
Gloves? Check. Passengers, ya I think they are all here. So many questions and curiosities: SVANHILD, The vessel crafted in 1948 just after the war. Now, beautiful, wood with three brand new masts, sails and crisp rigging. The SYC passengers curious how this 90 foot vessel will navigate out of the tight moorage and buoys of the ÅSS. So simple – a nudge from the dingy and a stern line – a beautiful tight corner and away we go.
Still moored to the ÅSS marina, two of the large ferries (cruise ships really, of the Viking Line are at Port off the stern). The ÅSS Marina, in the Nation of Äland (Ohh-laand), town of Mariehamn, (Maria – a lady, perhaps a Russian settlers/czar mistress? And Hamn – port). The pronunciation of Åland makes me think of Our Land. This land is our land, this truly seems to be the sentiment of the people.
While a part of Finland, Åland is its own Nation, independent but seemingly with an oppressor… the sentiment of minority seems universal, their national language is Swedish, not Finnish. They enjoy some independent status within the EU and Finnish rule, they own the massive Viking Line of ferries (cruise style ships), they have a gambling and liquor monopoly. These put to full advantage on the Viking Line, which offers duty free goods, gambling, state rooms, night clubs, buffets in transit from Sweden, Stockholm; Åland; and further to Finland: Turku and Helsinki. They do pay taxes to Finland which by popular opinion voiced in conversation seems unfair. From American standards the living seems very nice, perhaps you get what you pay for in some ways. Complete health care, low crime, low homeless population, clean towns and roads, college with out debt for all.
Chef set out a breakfast of porridge, jam, yogurt, fruits, coffee and teas. The Finnish crew steady about work, fixing everything for the voyage. The passengers all from the Seattle Yatch Club (SYC) are eager but groggy.
The Svanhild and fifty others like her were commissioned after the WWIi as freight vessels, transporting timber but mostly sand, to rebuild the bombed out Helsinki. Sand was used for mortar, concrete and the likes. In the late 60’s the Svanhild was decommissioned, fortunately the mast were left in tack and she was purchased by the current owners c.1970.
Svanhild, perhaps femine name of the 1800’s, was originally rigged as a ketch and in the year of our Trump, 2016, was changed to a top sail schooner rigging with three masts. The cargo hull was converted in the 70’s to eight cabins, a large dining perhaps to seat twice as many , a large galley (putting to shame most NYC kitchens), 3 wc's, and a sauna.
Captain Jouni, proud of the new rigging inform us of the three rules:
1. Don’t fall off
2. No smoking below deck
3. If someone falls off don’t lose sight of them. Watch, call for help and through stuff that floats. Anything that floats and don’t jump in.
Off we venture into the alabaster gray morning light. thirty minutes out of the harbor, sails unfurled, raised along with the four jibs: all 300 square meters of surface area lofting along the 12 SYC passengers + 4 crew + 4 tons of water.
The islands as we pass seem to many as our home San Juan's however they have a Maine like feel, lower with just the tips of boulders and rocks visible. Soils are sparse and vegetation is low, Alpine like and miniature. Small pines with roots gnarled on rocks. The tiniest blueberry plants overloaded, tiny snapdragons. The Northwest's monsters of firs, cedars, Huckleberry, Madrona + hoards of invading blackberries some sci-fi Roccoco dream by comparison the reserved bounty here in Åland. The house seem similar – rarely ostentatious. One can imagine the European settlers dismay at the steroid landscapes upon the Oregon Trail. For all that this archipelago resembles things we know, it is not the same.
The simple vastness of islands is hard to comprehend, it is a constellation. Counting the islands of this archipelago, spanning from Stockholm to Helsinki may be a mad pursuit. From this foreigner's eye it is a fantasy kingdom.
Blue patches opened above, the Svanhild under sail in the sun passing the town of Degerby – what a thing of beauty.
At some point our route broke from the path of the rest of our regatta, at the depth we no more that 1.8 meters and Captain Jouni took us through the shipping channels. The channels of open water were smooth with little current (compared to the NW). Cue the ferries! Which really are massive cruise ships that zip on by so close. To our surprise their wake is minimal, though they are still shocking in scale. Late in the afternoon, five below of their horn blare across the water – surprised to see the imence Viking Line Grace?, but it is still far from our path they blow their horns again, wondering what the trouble is – then, there we spot it, a sail boat, seeming so tiny crossing in front of the cruise ship thing, it made it, it cleared in just enough time. That must have been some rush for those sailors.
Benö Ö, (Ö is Swedish for Island) we arrive with our excellent crew, after 7-1/2 hours of sailing, they determine to tie off to a rock face for the evening. An outlandish concept to the SYC passengers aboard. Tides would make this impossible in Seattle, but as it is in this foreign land their simply are NO large shifts in tides. They scout the area with the dingy determine over walkie talkie the plan, toss the tires (aka buoys) in below the water line and best up to the shore spooning the rock face. Alas, this is how it is done. There are already spikes akin to rail road ties sunk in the boulder.
A sauna below deck is stoked and ready, a jump off the deck into the Baltic Sea, the bay of Benö-Ö. Finally a head full of salt, but only sort of... the Baltic inst very salty. It’s seems like a mildly salty lake. The seaweeds look like things we’d find in lakes. There’s practically no tide as in a lake. Finally the lands are rising. In these low islands, the land is rising 5mil a year. Another perplexing effect of this constellation of islands.