Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy New Year, Bonne Année, Gott Nytt Ar, Bloavez mat ....

A big hug for the New Year...

But.. which calendar are we talking about ? Because our calendar is a solar one with fixed dates, but there is some luni-solar calendars with moving dates (chinese) and there were other ones in use before ours was chosen..

So of course, our New Year day is a pagan holiday without doubt which started when Julius Cesar decided that the 1st of January will become the first day of the year. This day was dedicated by the Romans to Janus, God of the doors and begininings... In France, we had to wait 1564 before January 1st was adopted.. Ave Cesar !!

Do not forget the mistletoe trick, kiss and make peace under it...

Bloavez mat !!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Back to the roots

As we enter the old path of ancient times, Christmas was the celebration of the rebirth of the sun, after the longest night. Facts, mythology, legends shadowed by Christianity trying to erase the pagan rituals are still alive.

Our Christmas tree is the tree of life of the ancient Celts. As the months were represented by tree, the fir tree was the one for December, a symbol of rebirth.

Another important symbol still very present : the mistletoe.

Celtic tradition

(Indispensable ingredients of the magic potion of Panoramix (the famous druid in Asterix village), the sacred mistletoe was cut by the druid with a golden sickle (as seen on the picture of Panoramix), the sixth day of the Celtic year. They collected it in a white linen sheet while chanting : ‘’O Ghel an Heu’’ which means ‘’let the wheat grow’’. This expression, deformed by time will become in medieval time ‘’au Gui l’an neuf’’ that all French know (''with mistletoe, the new year''). Branches were divided among the people to bring them luck for the year. So sacred it was that it should not touch the ground. The Gallic found plenty virtues to this plant : to chase the bad spirits, purify souls, anti poison, help with the cattle and people fecundity or give the ability to see ghosts and even make them talk…..) In fact, it was considered so sacred that even enemies who happened to meet beneath Mistletoe in the forest would lay down their weapons, exchange a friendly greeting, and keep a truce until the following day. From this old custom grew the practice of suspending Mistletoe over a doorway or in a room as a token of good will and peace to all comers.

Viking Myth

In Scandinavia, the Evil God Loke blinded by jealousy killed the Sun God Balder with a poison arrow made of the stem of a mistletoe. His mother, Frigg Goddess of love and Beauty begged the gods to spare Balder life, otherwise, darkness will fall on Earth, promising to kiss anyone who passes under a mistletoe. Balder resuscitated. From this legend was born the custom to kiss under the mistletoe, becoming symbol of love and forgiveness.


When Christianity took a foothold in the Celtic and Viking regions of northern Europe, the ancient ways were condemned as pagan practices and were abandoned by the newly converted. Mistletoe was one of the casualties, and for centuries it was forbidden to display the plant on Christian altars. Eventually, Mistletoe found its way back into acceptance and was revived the ancient ritual of kissing under the Mistletoe as a sign of love, romance and good luck.

Today, Mistletoe can be purchased at most flower shops and even some grocery stores at Christmas. And although some may not hold the same spiritual beliefs as the ancient Norseman and the Celts, they can always remember the good will and happiness it represents with a kiss under the Mistletoe this season.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December and the longest night

Christmas, Jul, Noël, Natividad... is the celebration of the birth of the ''unvanquished sun'' (sol invictus for the romans), Natalis Deis (day of birth) celebrated on winter solstice day. On this date, the sun is reborn, days are longer.

The Celts who associated a tree for each month celebrated the winter solstice also as the day of the rebirth of the sun. Logically, the epicea was chosen to symbolized childbirth and fertility.

It is also the solstice celebration which is at the origin of Scandinavian Christmas, Jul, very important celebration as we go farther north and the days get shorter in winter.

In the 4th Century, the church unable to suppress the old traditions, decided to disguised the pagan holidays and December 25 (which was at the time, the day of the winter solstice according to the Julian calendar) was chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ (probably born in autumn). As the church thought of Jesus as the sun Christ, the date was assimilated for the church purposes, as many other pagan holidays.

Monday, September 29, 2008

end of the escapade

A steady fresh wind 20 to 25 knots North East pushes us for our last long stretch: 135 miles toward the island of Möen in Denmark. Two reefs in the main sail with the jib make the ride comfortable and the Aries can steer without much protest. Though to reach our goal, we have to sail downwind and to avoid a jibe, we lower the main sail and let the windvane steer under jib only. We still make an honorable 5 knots and the boat does not roll much either. It is a beautiful starry night as the wind decreases and at noon we are in sight of the high sand cliffs of Möen.

A part from the fishing harbor, the village is disappointing. A new ‘’resort style’’ apartments lack the charm of the old houses. We leave early the next day as the wind has died completely. The high pressure finally weakens after 3 weeks of good wind if not perfect weather. We motor the 10 miles to Rodvig and even stop on our way pretending to fish on some banks. It is just a way to enjoy the sun, and may be try to slow the time as we get closer to home port. We are not ready to settle back to the land routine.

Rodvig is an active fishing port and a big pleasure craft harbor too. Danes are found of wooden boats and put a lot of pride in keeping their heritage alive.

Our last stop is Bangör, across Falstebö. I have been there once in February for my first sail with Röde Orm. At this time, the harbor was sleepy, empty. Today it is full and we tie up along an unoccupied steel ketch. To celebrate the end of our little escapade, we have an excellent dinner at the same inn we ate last February.

The wind increased again in the morning, turning west. No need to hurry back, even under jib only, we maintain a good 5 knots downwind. We cannot slow down the time, and finally, as the GPS shows 1650 miles sailed, we tie up at the dock as the wind sweeps the Sound. Next week, rain, clouds and low pressure are coming back. It will be time to think about the next plan and departure.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Archipelago epilogue

lonely harbors and villages

Since the high pressure persists, incredible as it seems, it is predicted to last another week, we decide to linger a bit in Blekinge. Today we will make a stop at Karlskrona to visit the Navy Maritime Museum. We spent 5 hours and as the afternoon ends we set sail for an hour to the island of Arpö where we enjoy a rare beautiful sunset in the cockpit that immediately needed to be celebrated with a glass of dark rum. No chill this evening and I even enjoy a wash in the cockpit. We have fired up once the diesel heater for a few hours. The heater is too big for the boat, and unless it is freezing out, we cannot leave it on at night. We endure without problem 14 Celsius inside. It is not a problem as long as it is not raining or windy. Tonight there is no need for a heater.

We have changed pace the last 2 days and I can enjoy a little more of the scenery. Without the month lost for the engine that would have been the pace: short sails between islands, enjoying the beautiful anchorages. Even if it is blowing outside, the islands and reefs offer much protected anchorages with muddy bottoms up to the shore. And it was gladly appreciated when, because of my carelessness the boat left the mooring buoy by itself. As we came back from our walk, it was quite a surprise to find Röde Orm almost touching the big rocks on the shore… My only half hitch knot on the cleat was not enough of course as no wind pulled the boat to tighten it, it slid and untied itself. We had no difficulty to get out, no harm done, just my pride was hurt as I realized retrospectively how bad it could have been if the boat had ended up on the rocks instead of in the mud. I really felt ashamed and angry at myself for being so careless.

3 little jumps toward 3 last islands In Tärno the sun dares to show up and it is summer again. The little village appears ghostly as its inhabitants have already migrated to the mainland. Häno, 8 miles off shore is the last stop for our jump to Denmark. No more boats around, no more harbor fees. We climb the hill to the lighthouse which can be seen 25 miles at sea. Häno has always been a familiar landmark for all seafaring people, an outpost of the Swedish coast.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

third and last the Belkinge Archipelago

We spent 2 hours getting out of the deep mud, using all our might to avoid calling for help. Stubborn we are both and with common effort reinforced by the power of the brand new Yanmar, we succeeded. The wind is fresh turning east and we sail close haul under a grey sky, characteristic of this very strong high pressure. The barometer is set at 1034 milibars since several days now and seems to hold strong. I have the rapid tour of the archipelago, anchoring to a new place every evening, but on the move the next day. Not much hiking of even going onshore.

We leave the archipelago to sail a long 90 miles straight between the island of Öland and the main land. We have to take advantage of the following winds; the Kalmar Straight can be very stressful with a head wind. We got 2/3 of the straight behind us in one day and we anchor in Kalmar between the industrial harbor and a mighty stern castle. After a short passage the next day we reach Belkinge archipelago and its protected water, a small version of the precedent but less frequented by cruisers because farther from the main cities. We are a hundred miles south and the vegetation is different. The main land has the quiet domesticated landscape of farming country. The greens are softer, some yellow already showing in the leaves. We make a quick stop at Långören, the old pilot station kept in its former state thanks to a private association. Few miles in a dead calm bring us to Senoren where the sun dares to shine and warm us a bit.

Monday, September 15, 2008

archipelago blues...

Harstena and berries hunters

At last, we take some time to walk with Steffan to the village. The little trail winds among the rocks crowned with velvety moss. As we stroll, we pick up berries. It is peaceful; time has stopped as we reach the picturesque tiny village with its houses neatly kept in a very Nordic manner. Now days, it is home for summer vacationers and retired people. I suddenly see myself spending one winter cozily in one of those little red houses writing and meditating. I guess I suffer a bit from the fast pace we have imposed on ourselves. Although we pass through too fast, we are here at a right moment, when the summer crowd has already deserted the islands. The Stockholm Archipelago is more frequented than the Finnish one which is more isolated and seems almost untouched by human hands. We go to a pound where red lilies grow at the end of the village. Standing on the rocks we can see more islands, further we can guess the Baltic Sea clearly agitated by a strong Northeast wind. And that brings us back to reality. Time presses as the favorable wind is strong. We have to get south as much as we can. We leave Steffan after lunch for another little heaven Magnus had discovered during his previous sailing trips. A family of wild swans crosses the narrow channel in front of us. We keep going deeper in the bay, too far though as we softly touch the muddy bottom. Even with full throttle back, we cannot move. There are no tides here, but Magnus remembers that during a high pressure, water recedes and we clearly see the waterline on the rocks…It is getting dark, we set a stern anchor and decide to wait until tomorrow.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

archipelago suite....the Stockholm version

Harstena island, where the two sisters meet

The days are long as we speed down the fairways taking advantage of a 20 knots wind to reach Nynasund where a Yanmar dealer and Magnus parents can be met. His parents are bringing the radar which after repairs has been sent to their home in Gavle, 200 km north of Stockholm.

The mechanic does not see any major problem though says he will need to troubleshoot and won’t be able to do it before a week. It is out of question to wait, but he assured us that it should not be a problem to go on. Being the lightest, I am hoisted to the mizzen mast to reinstall the radar antenna. We spent 2 days with Magnus parents who stayed at a nearby hotel. We enjoyed their company and some nice dinners at a very good local restaurant right in front of the boat bow. But we have
another social rendez-vous. Steffan, who we met already in Götland is heading to Harstena an island 40 miles south of us. He is inviting us for a barbecue. The wind is still strong and the downwind pace is uncomfortable and requires all our attention to avoid a jibe. We want to make it before dark and 5 miles before the entrance of a little channel, we turn on the engine to arrive in a beautiful little bay, another perfect hide out protected by a very narrow passage. The little red sloop (small sister of Röde Orm) is moored bow to the rocks. As soon as we are moored beside her, Steffan does not loose time and prepares his barbecue on the smooth back of a rock which harbor our bowlines. Just one step off and we are around our improvised dinner table enjoying some very nice and tender pork filets. Steffan is a very enjoyable man and we all end up in Röde Orm salon nursing some of Magnus priced malt wiskey.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Åland, a special place (click here..)

Mariehamn marina

Åland, the last big island at the western part of the Finnish archipelago has a special place in both Finland and Swedish history. The last outpost of the groups of islands spanning the gap between Stockholm and Helsinski is considered part of Finland internationally, but has its own government. Alanders are proud of their heritage and work hard to keep their little paradise for themselves. As a result, there is a special charm to it. Mariehamn, the biggest town is very pleasant and a 2 days stop for us. A mechanic is contacted. He is young and totally inexperience in marine diesel engine as he admits it. Nether less, he spends his lunch hour free of charge listening to the beast’s heart and feels sorry he cannot help. He is planning to take a diesel mechanic course this winter. There is a good wind as the big high pressure built up. We cross the 25 miles of open sea between Åland and the first outpost island of the Stockholm archipelago. Despite this high, the weather is miserable, grey, damp. But a very steady and fresh wind propels us at 6\7 knots on a broad reach on a sea that flattened as we enter the protected waters of the other archipelago

Saturday, September 6, 2008

a sample of Nordic archipelago

Jurmö and its tiny village

The sky is grey, but even under this lead color, it is magic. Though, the nice purring of the Yanmar got rough this morning and sounded more like the asthmatic old one. Something is not quite right, no doubts. We definitely have to have it checked as soon as possible. To add to our frustration, the RPM gage stopped to work, then the oil pressure alarm goes on for no reason but to put more stress on us. Despite all that and the drizzle which does not stop, I still enjoy being here. Today we stop at Jurmö, an island Magnus knows from last year, big enough to harbor a tiny village. After tying up at a deserted little marina, we take a long walk looking for berries. Despite the drizzle and grey skies, a high pressure is building up, creating northerly winds all in our favors. We still have a long way to reach Mariehamn, on Äland. We won’t be sightseeing, just passing through. Although I feel like a Japanese tourist on a charter vacation, I experience the exhilarating feeling of freedom, having the liberty to stop or go at will and belonging nowhere than to the red little ketch silently gliding among the islands. As pearls on a string they parade before my eyes charged not only with history of seafaring, Viking raiding, war between neighbors, but also reminisce of last ice age which has carved those rocks, flattened them, rounded them, soften them to smooth shiny harmonious shapes. Not only you have to look out for pleasure, but also have to be very alert as it is a very challenging navigation, as channel markers have to be identified continuously. A detailed chart is a must.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Finland !!

Now we grind our teeth as soon as we have to start the engine... Will it start without too much grumpiness today? It is still very windy as we motor to the marina without any problems. The sun is shining and every thing brightens up, even our mood. Hangör is a very pretty old town, charged with history and it is my first test of the archipelago landscape Magnus told me so much about. I cannot believe I am actually in Finland. Not long ago, Scandinavia seemed so far away, almost inaccessible and remote trapped between ice and sea in my imagination.

How easy can we forget hardship! Yesterday was gloomy and stressful, today we start to relax and enjoy our surroundings. A nice sauna and the company of 2 new friends helped a lot. Mike, a British retired man single hands his boat during summers and Bastian a young German who sails alone his wooden Folkboat in a full Baltic tour. It was a celebration for us as 8 months today have past since we met in Paris. We all ended up in Röde Orm salon for dinner. At least it felt like cruising life again, sharing our passion with other sailors. As Bastian pointed out we were members of 4 different countries gathered in one foreign to all of us tonight.

And here, begins the nicest part as we enter the Finish Archipelago with its numerous channels and fairways leading to thousands islands in a protected sea. I have some flashbacks of landscapes from Canada, Brittany, Maine. But it is not comparable; it is unique and rewarding at last. Magnus feels like home and I feel like an explorer and adventurer again. We anchor tonight between 2 little islands. The Swedish language has a variety of words for all kind of island size and shape. It was a beautiful night under the stars, and perfect for eating the can of ‘’fois gras’’ my mother sent me.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

free again....

Lonely Dirhami...

No doubt that Hendrik was doing is best. But being nice, courageous and honest does not replace experience and professionalism.. Obviously he had never installed a new engine and has not worked much on marine engine, except outboards. He knows about theory, but for the rest, he is learning as he goes. It is not something you want to hear from the one you trust installing your brand new expensive engine. So we started to worry about the out coming. It took a ridiculous amount of time. After a month since the old one gave us its last breath, we still do not completely trust the installation. Is the alignment right ? It seems that Hendrik with the help during the last day of an older mechanic had not a clue. The poor thing was vibrating painfully at the first try. It seemed also that the use of a filler gage was not an option until, after discussion, they finally used one. The result was that the engine felt a lot better in its new bed and stopped complaining and shaking. But....
May be it was not the right place after all to have this work done. Although less expensive, the number of competent experienced pleasure boats diesel mechanics is not overwhelming in Estonia. They may built a lot of brand new marinas but the pleasure boat industry is still limited to some foreign boats coming and going during only 2 or 3 months a year.
So finally, the 3 rd of September, we fired up the new beast which purred like a kitten and with much relief saw Dirhami disapeared at the horizon. The wind picked up, the Aries decided to act up too, jealous of all the late attention toward the engine. To help our speed, Magnus put the transmission in reverse and soon realized that the gear level was stucked. As the wind and sea picked up, it was impossible to lift the engine hatch in the cockpit to see what was going on. The old lady got well splashed by a very confused sea as the wind picked up. We suddenly felt stressed and almost doomed with new problems. What is next ? The surrounding of Hangör, first stop in Finland was not welcoming under grey skies and strong wind : lot of rocks, shallows and reefs. We had only one option and just one try at it : anchoring under sail in a semi protected little bay behind the ferry terminal. The maneuver went well and the heavy CQR set on first try. The problem with the gear was solved swiftly but the reason of the failure not quite understood. We spent the night at anchor, too tired to care about the fetch.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

still waiting for the ''heart transplant''

old heart dismissed...

my backyard...

Lonely Dirhami...

20 days today, 20 days of waiting in Dirham, 20 days of questioning, of feeling low, sometimes depressed and finally accepting the fact that no matter how we take it, things have to follow a certain order, and we do not have any control on it. We just have to trust Hendrik our only link to the outside world !! The old well worn engine have been dismissed on the 21 st, the new one has arrived, but the steel bars where the engine was mounted were so rusty that it was decided to make new ones. That seems to take longer than we thought. We are so isolated here; we can only rely on Hendrik who takes everything back to Tallinn and deals with subcontractors as he says his ''metal partner''. Though Hendrik is a thorough diesel mechanic, he never installed a new engine on a boat, so it is a premiere for him too, and if he is very careful of course everything takes longer than it should. We know that everything will be overlooked and well studied as he does not want to make any mistakes, but it has a draw back: time... Time is money, and time is running short for the rest of our trip and time is also the approach of cooler weather. For me it is not an attractive prospect and that only reminds me of the winter coming and will I be able to take it without feeling too depressed and restless, longing for tropical breeze and outdoors activities and laid back countries away from any fast moving society, back to the marginal life I like? But that will be another story. Trying to make this forced stay a little more enjoyable, I have established my little routine: a short run in the morning in the nice and peaceful pine forest with its endless trails and to crown the day, a yoga session on a soft and odorant moss mat followed by blueberries picking. If the sun is shinning, it is a perfect day after all….


Monday, August 18, 2008

R.I.P, the beast is history....

Hendrik and his little family

No, we did not have a funeral for the beast at the Orthodox church in Tallinn, but instead had a very nice week-end in Tallinn, thanks to Hendrik, our mechanic who invited us to stay at his family home.
Last Friday, the diagnostic was not encouraging, as every little bolts were corroded. A phone call to Finland brought us the news of a 30CV new Yanmar that could be sent here on Tuesday. Still cheaper than in Sweden, it became obvious and logical to switch engines here. So, Magnus took the tough decision. Not only it is a tremendous expense but also that will shorten our little trip in Finland. Although, looking at the brighter side, it will be done and over with for the big departure next spring. Tallinn is a small city for a capital and its old town attracts a lot of tourists coming mostly from the cruise ships docking at the harbour. Already an active town during the medieval era, its history is tangled with Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Germany. During the long drive to Tallinn from Dirham, we were astonished as we saw nothing but pine forests, no villages, no farms. The only farming region is in the south. Estonian economy is in the dark as the country does not produce anything really and that foreign businesses have taken over. Not much money is coming in.., but certainly a lot is going out !! As they entered the European Union, a big help had kicked off the economy, now it is slowing down and Estonian middle class is in jeopardy, struggling, not yet adjusted to this new way of life as they fell in the trap of ultra capitalism. Young educated couple as our new friends do not have an optimistic view of Estonia future. Would it make it or not on its own ? Would it fall under Russian dominance which is always preying on an opening to sea ? With this first true contact with the country, as we absorbed all those informations, as we saw some of the country sight, as we met more people, we feel a certain melancholy, as a gloomy veil that seems to be the country fate.

street in old Tallinn

Friday, August 15, 2008

still operating on the wounded

discussion over the wounded beast

It is the fourth time the mechanic comes. Today, it is in day light... The three first time, he came at 6 pm and worked until 11pm. Although he is reluctant about ''the situation'' of the engine, he is doing a thoroughly overhaul maintenance on the rusty beast. He is very consciencious and stubborn as he wants to investigate the problem. Although he is young he has this old fashion geniune craftman spirit that is mostly gone in the fast moving pace competing societies. As he says ''I am learning every day''. So we hope for the best, but soon or later the old beast will have to be replaced.....

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The waiting...

coming to Dirham under tow 59 12,7' N 23 30,2' E

It has been 10 days since the engine gave up on us, and we are still counting... 10 days is a lot when there is only a month and half left. Hopefully we should have some answers and solutions today. With a 24 years old rusty engine, you have to be ready for the worst ! Even if everything is solved today or tomorrow, that will jeopardize the rest of our little trip which should start to be a lot more interesting. Ironically, this part will have to be shorten quite a bit now.

Ironically too, I started this trip with not one book to read, and now it is torture ! Thinking about finding some English books in the big cities like Riga or Tallin I did not worry much. There is not much to do here beside walking to the little convenient store and buying some Russian beer, or walking in the endless pine forest where I do some yoga to release my energy. There is not much boats coming in now and in general rule, I found that ''cruisers'' do not socialize very much in those waters. Of course being isolated on the lonely big wharf on the other side of the slips does not help too.

So in retrospect, skipping Ventplist, Riga and Tallin was not such a good idea since those cities represent the only interest in those area.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

stucked in Estonia !!

Lethma harbor and trouble.... towed to Dirhami

We had half joked about fleeing Estonia that we found gloomy with its watch towers and unwelcomed shores. The reminiscence of the Soviet era is still strong. We keep reminding ourselves, that it has been only 20 years since those countries got freed from the Soviet boot. During the Soviet era, to go to the islands from the main land, required permission. Some people got shot on Huiimaa Island to set an example, as they were suspected of having some desire to flee the country. No wonder why we found people a bit wary, they are still trapped in the Soviet Education. So when the Yanmar engine refused to start in Lethma, this outpost harbor of a lost island… we thought we were doomed in Estonia!
So yes, to my opinion, the Baltic countries are not the best sailing grounds. The water is too shallow and the coasts too difficult or impossible to approach unless you go to designated harbors and still have to be careful to stay in the channels. The Bight of Riga itself is a challenge. We got some 15 to 20 knots of wind there, so what would have been a good comfortable sailing became a session in a washing machine with very short waves breaking at the top as if the wind was blowing 35 knots and only 4 seconds between them! The average depth is 20 feet. We were glad to get out of this Bight. Without the engine working we could still get out of Lethma and sailed the 24 miles to the mainland where it would be easier for the mechanic to come. It took us 24 hours though since the wind as usual died… We could not get close to the entrance channel at night so we hove to for 4 hours. Then in the morning, the wind veered south, right on the nose. It was impossible to tack in a 60 feet wide channel with dangerous rocks on both sides. We called on VHF the harbor and a boat from the ‘’border patrol’’, the local Coast Guard towed us to the harbor. We felt a little ashamed not to have been able to sail in but that would have required the perfect conditions to do so and after 24 hours trying to get there, it was quite a relief to get in even shamefully towed in. Dirhami is another commercial/pleasure harbor. Though the big wharf seems to fit freighters, it is empty and I doubt if any commercial ship can come in view of the narrow entrance. It is another harbor financed by European funds. A few slips, wide and short, a big wharf in an isolated place again, no villages close by, no fishing boats either. People are nice but mostly distant. There is of course the barrier language as very few people over 30 speak English, like in Lithuania they had to learn Russian. I have found Lithuanian to be a bit warmer and may be the softer and more musical language intonations helped feel so too. Since we do not get close to any villages or towns except for one in Saareema island it is hard to have contacts and see people in their day by day life. It is disconcerting in fact. We have spent time now in Lithuania and Estonia but except for the tiny Rhunu I have the feeling of not having seen much or learned much about the country and its people, beside shallow waters, pine forest and sand coastline and former soviet watch towers!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

the sea inside the sea... Bight of Riga

old house,
old church of Ruhnu

sailing the Bight of Riga

As we set sail for Riga in the Riga Bight, the wind shifted south east. Riga is 80 miles south and out of our way since we are going north to Finland. So we decide to bypass Riga, and instead go to Ruhnu Island, 35 miles south. The ride is rough, more sea than wind…. Riga Bight is very shallow; the waves are short and already breaking in 20 knots of wind!! I despite the seas, especially that shallow, it is ridiculous!! As we arrived at night, we decided to anchor close to the harbor, but we have to stay 3 miles off the coast to have enough water under our keel. We have a splendid morning and do not feel eager to go to the harbor. I bravely took my first bath in the Northern waters. To my surprise, it was very pleasant! So no more teasing, I showed how brave the Celts can be!! The little marina seemed bran new but not well suitable for sail boats. The finger slips are too short and too wide. It is clear that all the marinas have been built the last 10 years with the European subventions. Ruhnu has been populated by Swedes, then more or less been under Swedish control for awhile, all Swedish residents has been evacuated during the Second war. In the middle of the Riga Bay, it is officially Estonian now. We rent bicycles and have a very pleasant ride in this very small island… a Beautiful 1641 old wooden church; the oldest remaining wooden building in Estonia is a sight to see with some old farms. 60 inhabitants, a little more in the summer is the only population. With its nice beaches and deep pine forests Rhunu, ancient Viking Island is a very pleasant stop. So pleasant, even for Röde Orm, which clearly showed us her disapproval, by simply ground herself in the narrow channel, refusing the sharp turn she was supposed to take. With the help of a fellow cruiser we got on our way with no harm done. Another rough ride up the Bay, as the wind freshened up a bit. I can easily imagine the sea in a 40 or 50knots wind, a genuine trap!! Röde Orm is at ease in rough wind and sea. Comfortable she can take a lot, but with those nasty short waves, she is tossed around as is her crew. There are no anchorages, but we improvise some, as we do not want to go through the straight of Suur between Muhu Island and the continent at night. This straight is a blank area on the electronic chart…
The last stop before Finland will be Lethma on Hiiumaa Island. The entrance is again narrow and dangerous. A few buoys and rickety floating docks have been hastily built in this gloomy isolated commercial harbor again financed with European Fund. A Bermudian freighter loading lumber is docked and we wonder how it got through the two entrance buoys!!

wandering across the Baltic

quiet old city

castle of Kurussare

The high pressure is there to stay a while, and the weather is absolutely gorgeous. On July 27 we decided to leave for Riga Bight right away. We have seen enough of Gotland. The wind is perfect in strength though close haul. We have a beautiful ride if it was not for my ear which still hurt despite the penicillin and anti-inflammatory drops. As the wind diminished during my watch, we took the sails down, and with the mizaine up, hove to and went to sleep during 5 hours. We arrived at the south of Sorve island. There is a large sand Laguna. Without chart, and knowing that it is very shallow, we approached to the point and anchored in 7 meters. Soon enough a little outboard came with 2 men in kaki. This is the border patrol checking for passports. We have also a more pleasant visit: a little seal soon joined by his mother. They stayed a while and the next morning, they were back again. The next stop is Kurussare on the big island of Saareema. It is another challenge to find the entrance of the long narrow channel of Kurussare. Nothing on the electronic chart made for commercial shipping. We approached cautiously toward the first buoy, from there the channel is well marked, but narrow, and very long bordered on both side by manmade reefs The marina is modern with a few boats and expensive to our standards (18 Euros). Kurussare is a small old town with an old fort, a lot of crisscrossed history with Sweden. It has an old fashioned charm about it and for the first time in this trip, we have a better perception of a place and its history and people. A more pleasant reminiscence than dilapidated old soviet era buildings and watch towers!! Of those we will see plenty.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Back West across the Baltic

Fjaugen island
barbecue with an old friend

the ''chef''

Gotland is alive during the summer and attracts the tourists from Stockholm. It is a quite place, laid back but also a little refuge for some wealthy people who bought old houses to spend their vacations.
The few islands on the Eastern Shore (Enholmen, Fjaugen, Bungör) are the most interesting in my opinion, as we rather be in isolated places, far from the ‘’summer crowd’’ which is not too overwhelming around here anyway. Since Klapedia I have been on the verge of an ear infection. I tried to cleanse it with apple cider vinegar hoping to stop the process, but too late. Soon, the pain started to be unbearable and I soon got some fever. A trip by bus to Visby, the capital of Gotland on the North East side was necessary. Visby is a walled city and the first historical interesting old town I have been visiting so far. Despite a visit to the emergency, the pain and a huge fatigue, I enjoyed walking along the harbor and the walls of the city. In Gotland we met two friends of Magnus, one coming by sailboat on a Laurin 28, 70 years old retired marine pilot and the other one an old schoolmate friend who lives in the island. Two nice occasions for barbecues.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lithuania and the other sea

Klapedia and Curian Sea, Lithuania
Klapedia is a busy or was a busy harbor in Lithuania and is my first contact with this country. As I knew the name Lithuania and could more or less situated it on a general map, I was quite unable to tell you its borders, cities or else!! Little to nothing is my knowledge about it. We did not have much on chart either. The main interest was sailing the ‘’Kursiu inner sea’’ or Curian Sea. Klapedia seems to be in between two worlds but adjusting quite well and fast to the western society, with the big help of the European Union that Lithuania was eager to join. We arrived in the middle of a folkloric festival and the heart of the city flourished with people dressed up in all the Baltic and Slavic folkloric costumes .The Curian Sea is 40 miles long, 15 wide with an average depth of 3 meters... Though very well marked it is easy to navigate. A good quarter of it is in Lithuania, the southern part belonged to the Russian enclave. We crossed it to go to Almata River and to tease the Russian border. The long Laguna between the Baltic Sea and the Curian Sea (fresh water) is mostly pine forests and dunes and the shore lines, swamps. No foreign boats at all, but a few local yachties sailing older Swedish built boats. We can guess that boating is at its beginning here. The Curian Sea and its little resort towns are probably the only touristic attractions of Lithuania and special efforts (with European subventions...) are made to attract tourists. Though may be too much for my taste. It looks too perfect, too neat, too still. New houses old style misses some character and flavor of the past. Though, I understand they want to erase some of their past under the Russian boot. Hatred toward the former masters is still very strong and alive. It has been only 20 years after all... Although wary on first contact, they are a warm and pleasant people.

We may end up like the ''flying Dutchman'' relentlessly wandering across the Baltic Sea. Yes we crossed west again instead of the initial plan to go North to Ventplist and Riga Bay. As we tried, the wind was too south to have a comfortable ride. The Aries wind vane disapproved highly of this point of sail and the skipper had his heart almost broken at the sight of the sails flapping like some bed sheets on the line. We had delayed our departure for one day after one try out of the Klapedia harbor entrance, narrow and shallow. It felt like being tossed around in a washing machine and as we hoped for some improvement as we sailed to the channel marker, a big swell came in. The Baltic as all seas is treacherous with its shallow waters especially on the eastern side. We decided to turn around. No need to rush. We anchored back in our little ''cove'' we had previously found among the little fleet of fishing dinghies.
The next day was beautiful but the wind was a too perfect downwind, south with a still strong westerly swell. The beauty about the sea is no matter which way you go, you have plenty options. We voted for Gotland, the big Swedish island. We could make a few stops going north then cross back to Riga. The important thing is to enjoy the ride as much as possible when you can. Everything is new for me, so I am up for anything. Another overnight at sea: 120 miles across again, west this time. The coastline of the Baltic countries is not appealing, not many islands and very shallow waters, very badly charted. The Curonian Sea was interesting but to my opinion will not deserve another visit.
A big high pressure installed itself above our head and we enjoyed a beautiful weather, hot, even at sea, even warm at night... the only problem, my only problem is that the Baltic Sea is cold... So facing the teasing and joking of my Viking skipper, I shamelessly use the sun shower to wash myself instead of bravely jump in the sea for a quick wash... (The sea is not very salted).

Monday, July 14, 2008

one sea to another

The sun shined at our return to Röde Orm and as the longing for the warm sun and blue crystal waters reminded strong, it was not too hard to thing about our next cruising ground.
Some provisioning done, 3 days after our return, July 9, we set sail across the Baltic Sea to Lithuania. First time for my captain, and for me... of course everything above the 50 parallel is a first time!!
From Cortez Sea to Adriatic, and Baltic, the seas are the same: they get very choppy, with crisscrossed swells, sharp treacherous waves that make a ride quite uncomfortable at times. We left for a broad reach and then downwind, so we welcomed the 18 to 20 knots predicted. But soon we had a steady 28 knots-30 with a confused sea. It was a good sea trial after a year of rest at harbor for Röde Orm and also for the skipper who got a little rusty during the long Nordic winter... For me, it gave me a good opportunity to adapt to the movement of the ''old lady in red''. I had spent some time ‘‘reorganizing’ the galley to make things more convenient at sea. It was not only to make this new home more comfy but also for very practical reasons. In that matter my long experience on boats is very useful. It is also a way to ''bond'' with the boat. It is not only a living place that moves on the water, or a tool that takes you somewhere, it is a place your life depends on at sea and it feels very alive when riding the waves. Every noise becomes a language on its own that you start to understand. The movements show its mood, you feel her happy or nervous. You feel every move in your body so it is important to ''connect'' to feel comfortable despite the harsh conditions sometimes.
How easy is to forget a rough ride where your body claims some rest, where you are bouncing from side to side and longing for some respite? Everything is forgotten when sailing a wonderful broad reach pushed by a warm (yes) breeze looking at a superb Nordic sunset, heading to new shores to discover together the 3 of us, Magnus and I and the Old red Lady....

Friday, July 4, 2008

a little detour.. to Croatia

little village on the Krka River


I told you we were about to set sail for a grand Baltic tour on Röde Orm. Well.... we made a little detour to Croatia first. Another sea anyway... Magnus took on a skipper assignment for a week to the condition I came along. I was all for it even if it meant spending 7 days with 4 Swedish guys, between 21 and 25, all in the military and making a big hole in my little budget ! When I realized that age wise I could be their mother, it was a shock… Despite the tight living quarters of a 33' Elan, everything went quite well. No one can be grumpy with temperature above 28 to 30 and a water temperature around 28 degree Celsius clear and inviting. It is a superb sailing ground of hundreds of islands in the Croatian Archipelago. Tourism has not quite destroyed the coast due to severe regulations of the Croatian government. Though, charter business is a big industry and the marinas numerous and expensive, there is enough places to anchor and feel isolated. I did not have time enough to ''feel'' the country as I like to do. I only could guess how primitive it must still be in the Dalmatian mountains. If the country itself is Mediterranean with its perfumes of ''garrigue'', ''maquis'', rich in herbs of all kind, the people do not have the Latin attitude, or Latin root language and somehow it was disturbing not be able to refer to something I knew. We can still feel the strong hold of the former eastern block and it is hard to imagine that Croatia was in a bloody fratricide war not that long ago. I usually spend a lot more time in any country I visited (even when I do not wish to…) and I would have love to go in the mountains, visiting small villages, tasting local food. But our 4 guys had other ideas about their vacations and besides some sailing, swimming they were more inclined to eye some pretty Croatian girls!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

On standby...

It is springtime and everything is blooming, full of life, nature is at its best in the Swedish countryside.
While bees are getting very busy, I try to be useful, amusing myself creating little improvements for the boat, adding my little touch knowing that soon it will be our home. Well... I have to come to peace with the fact that I do not have a home anymore, but rather share someone's else home, so I should restrain my ''little touch''....

Leaving always represents the same challenge to one'self :
that of daring

... I always considered myself lucky to have untie the dock lines a long time ago at an age where materialism was not an issue. I had nothing, so that was quite easy. When I started to get a little more confortable in my 40 footer ketch, fate gave me a slap. I lost everything in a wreck including my only home. Like little ants, we built another boat, bigger. But having learned a lesson, we gathered less in this 50 foot sloop than in the ketch. So when my life wrecked another time (only my life, not the boat...) it was easy to live out of my backpack. A habit I kept and that helped me through some other rougher times. But I know how hard it is or must be to let go, to untie the lines. This time, ironically, I share the feeling with my companion, helping him go through this strange time of parting with ''real life''. Me who never experienced that ! It feels like I have to start all over again, adding new experiences to my life which has been already quite rich in all kind of excitments. Sometimes, I wonder what kind of help can I give, surely not advices.
Should I be the little spark which keeps the fire going ? But what keeps this spark going in the first place ? I have it in me I guess, the only thing I really treasure : my adventurous spirit. I know if I loose it, I loose myself. Someone said : Eliminate something superfluous from your life. Break a habit, do something that makes you insecure...Is that my life motto ? So here again, at the first steps of a new adventure, starting all over again. But may be not, it is a continuation. May be I have to experience everything to understand how lucky I have been, how lucky I am, how fullfilling my life is...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

plan B.... like Baltic or is it plan C, D may be ?

Rödeorm waiting ....

Spring is pointing its nose timidly now.. Although more than I can bear it vanishes shyly as low grey clouds rush in every other day dampening my longing for the Great Escape on open water... So forgetting the chill outside and the depressing sky I imagine new territories to explore this summer. Yes the Great Escape to gentler latitudes and clear warm waters (the ones I come from...) seem to be postponed.
Even if the disapointment of giving up (for this year) sailing the long Atlantic Ocean swells has not vanished, I feel the excitment of discovering new lands so different from the ones I am used to. The Baltic sea offers some wonderful sailing grounds borded by several countries.
Scandinavian summers are short and often pertubated but there is a multitude of well protected and isolated anchorages along the shore of more than half dozen countries. The water is cold, mosquitoes are famished but the landscape is often spectacular and places remote enough to my liking.
Above the horizon the sun feeling bad for its poor warming quality during the day steches its stay into the night sending a clear message : take advantage of every hour of the summer before the next round of winter.
So as I always do, I travel first by imagination letting my mind then my body get used to the idea of some cool days, chilly nights and cold sea water spray, such little discomfort for the privilege of sailing to some uncrowded beautiful places !

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring Equinox

Nature awaits.....
This little guy is ready to shed his winter co

Me.. well, I am also waiting for the day the long Ocean swell will carry me away...

It is all about welcoming spring. So Easter it is called from Eostre, goddess of fertility. For the Saxons, the Celts, the Scandinavian the hare was associated with the mother goddess, it was her symbol. Eggs, representing the rebirth of nature were offered for the return of the spring.

So my friends, let's welcome Spring !!