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!