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-- Baltic Sea from A to... Å  --

No sooner landed than we are back to our other life: the parallel universe of civil life. We get back to our house, our dry and ironed shirts, and our jobs. As if nothing had happened, almost as if we had never left. And yet, when talking with our colleagues, it becomes clear that after four months exploring every nook and cranny of the Baltic Sea, we almost know it from A to Z, or rather from A to ... Å!

Saltimbanque sailed 3345 NM during this trip

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z  Æ  Ø  Å

A for…

Archipelago: see Skjærgård

B for...

Beacons: The channels of the Finnish and Swedish archipelagos are admirably marked. Finland claims more than 20% of the sea beacons worldwide! Navigation – at least by day - is very easy. However, lighthouses are limited to the few channels used by commercial traffic, and sailing at night between the rocks is almost impossible. Fortunately, it's only dark from August to April ...
Birds: Our feathered friends were omnipresent during this trip: the usual seagulls of course, but also an impressive population of cormorants and more confidential species of penguins-related birds: guillemots, razor bills ... But in these brackish waters we also meet many swans, ducks, geese, herons, egrets and eiders. On-shore we find swallows by the dozen, and even by the hundred every night in Bornholm as they gather in a huge and noisy cloud. And let’s not forget birds of prey, sea-eagles, quite common in the North of the area (they seem to prefer the large beacons along populous channels to nest).
A small sample of the various birds we met during this trip. Can you identify them ?

We still love picking up our food in the nature
Blueberries: They cover the undergrowth from Finland to Sweden. On the smallest crumb of land large enough to house some pines, you are sure to find blueberries at their feet. And there are many, small crumbs of land, in this region! For sure our diet was very reinforced with vitamin C in July! Bring: 1. A "bærplukke" (it is a rake mounted on a plastic tray - on sale in almost all stores) and 2. Covering clothes, even a mosquito net over your face... yes, they are well guarded!
Boat: What kind of boat for such a journey? Distances are rather short, harbours and anchorages often tiny, water sometimes shallow and channels always narrow: for us, a small boat with a shallow draft is ideal for sailing in the Baltic Sea. Even for Saltimbanque many anchorages were inaccessible, especially in western Finland.
The very official guest harbour of Bergö in Northern Finland, one of the few ones up there being - just - large and deep enough for Saltimbanque

Evening walk on the seawalls of Christiansø
Bornholm: Gorgeous stopover on the island of Bornholm, and particularly the charming port of Allinge, with its fish smokehouses and yellow dwellings. Christiansø is also not to be missed - weather permitting.

Budget: Extremely dependent on the country. In former Eastern Europe life is cheap, but the marinas in Latvia and Estonia are very expensive (20 to 25 euros for a boat of 8m50) Once in the Nordic countries, everything gets very costly, but the physiognomy of the shore line allows for anchoring almost everywhere and thus saving mooring fees.

The cheapest country is probably Poland, then Russia, and the most expensive Denmark because it is hardly possible to anchor there, unlike Sweden and Finland.

All in all, we spent on average 1500 euros per month for the 2 of us (that is 50% more than for our trip around the Atlantic).

C for…
Charts: We are changing our minds about paper charts. We have not found paper charts to copy for this trip and brand-new sets of charts are really expensive (45 to 100 euros depending on the perimeter covered) and sometimes very challenging to find (as in Estonia). Finally, we bought a few large-scale paper charts, allowing us to plot our course for the longer crossings, and then used the Norwegian phone application "gulesider" for the detailed ones. All the rocks are not always shown on the digital charts, anchorages must always be approached carefully.

Note that in these non-tidal waters, the depths are given for an average and not minimal water level! The water level can easily change by plus or minus 50 cm, and even more than 1m with deep low-pressure systems. To be kept in mind when approaching shallow channels.

Large-scale chart of the Turku archipelago, detail charts are compulsory whatever the format!
E for…

On this picture, two important devices that are always out and ready in Northern Baltic: the stern anchor and... the insect swat ! (Tennviken, Sweden, 63°N)
Equipment: We left as for a summer holidays, without Iridium or special equipment, the VHF and Internet being enough to receive the forecasts in this area. The only addition to our inventory already quite complete since the trip around the Atlantic: a kerosene heater, very useful to warm and dry the cabin. We only used it in September, but we had exceptional weather conditions.  One should bring clothes for all types of weather, from cold and wet to hot temperatures!

We still do not have an AIS, it is not essential, but we easily imagine the advantages of a transducer, so cargo ships can see us and our boat friends can see onto which island we are anchored!
Speaking of which, we recommend having two anchors ready onboard: a heavier one at the bow, and a lighter one at the stern, with a little chain (10m max) and strap on a reel. It is essential in all the ports of eastern Sweden, and for rock mooring (sometimes in combination with pitons to hammer yourself in the rock)

Apart from that Saltimbanque is doing very well! We had almost no problem during this trip: only a small leak in the engine exhaust pipe quickly repaired and a worn-out cog in a winch that we will have to replace.
Estonia: The nice surprise of this trip! We had no idea what to expect and we really liked this small dynamic country, taking in hand its tormented destiny and with rather beautiful landscapes. Cruising there is still confidential, but the infrastructures are put in place quickly, it is really time to enjoy it before it gets crowded! Now we would like to go back there during winter to try ice-sailing…
View onto the really nice medieval town of Tallinn, capital city of Estonia


F for…

Firing zones: The Cold War may be over, tensions are still present, and the armies of the various neighbouring countries are keeping in shape. Especially Poland, Russia and Lithuania who regularly organize military exercises in well-defined firing zones. During such exercises these firing danger areas are closed to all navigation, not convenient when it applies to the whole of the Kaliningrad maritime territory for example. It is imperative to check for planned exercises before departing ... (see our links page)

Perches, the only fresh water fishes we managed to catch
Fishing: After a few seasons in the Skagerrak fishing huge mackerels in less than 10 minutes of trawling, and even cod just from the pontoons, we were full of hope for the Baltic Sea. What a disappointment! The sea is brackish to fresh, and trawling gives nothing. Fishing from any pontoon neither. In general, we have not seen much sea life in the Baltic Sea. There are no professional fishermen, fish traps nor crab pots (except in Poland), it's a sign ...

Only perches are easy enough to fish for beginners like us, they generally gather under structures like pontoons or reeds. The fishing is done with a bait (shrimp, cheese, overdue sausages ...), a float and a good pair of eyes: it is necessary to put the bait under the nose of the fish to have a chance to catch it.

In Finland you need a license to fish with a reel, but you can easily find static telescopic rods. In the marinas popular for families on vacation, the pontoons are teeming with kids with their miniature rods and bucket. It's a sign that there, it bites.

In Sweden spearfishing harpoons are considered weapons and totally forbidden.

Fresh water:
Once East of the Danish islands, the sea water is barely salty, and even becomes completely fresh deep in the gulfs of Gdansk, Riga, Finland and Bothnia. When the first surprise is passed over, we enjoy certain advantages: clothes actually dry out, the soap works, the water removes grease from the dishes better, the hull stays clean and the motor gets perfectly rinsed. Two drawbacks however: the boat floats a little lower on the water, and when we find water in the bilge, it’s tricky to determine its origin by tasting it! Fresh water may come from rain, condensation, a tank leakage, or a more critical water entry. On the other hand, salt water in the bilge can come only from the rain or waves which rinsed the sails and ropes in the cockpit locker before flowing in!

G for…

Gas: While in Western Europe butane gas from CampingGaz is commonly used, Northern Europe is all about propane and has a wide variety of different bottles. Two solutions then:  either having enough gas to be fully autonomous (which we chose, by refueling our CampingGaz bottles in Copenhagen in May), or changing the system and regulator whenever necessary. Last resort, re-filling empty gas bottles at the nearest gas station (rarely exactly that close ...)

They were nowhere to be seen around the Atlantic, but we finally found where the German boaters were hiding: they represent 90% of the Baltic Sea voyage boats. Along with a very few Dutch, Russians, English, rare Belgians. Surprisingly hardly any Norwegians. No French.

H for...
Höga Kusten: The Swedish High Coast, one of our favourite stopovers. The islands are indeed higher, the channels deeper, and we had the same weather conditions as in the Canary Islands 7 years ago, it helps enjoying the place! Better to have some SEK in cash as the only way to pay for the harbours is often dropping a bill or two in a mailbox…

The High Coast is indeed slightly higher than the surroundings
I for...

Clouds of midges on the beach of Fäliskäret, Northern Finland
Insects: The sub-Arctic regions are famous for their mosquitoes in summer. It's not a legend! They are huge and attack mostly at night, and in the forest at any time of the day. We were happy to have mosquito nets already made for all portholes!

But more than mosquitoes, it is mostly the horseflies that really bothered us: it was just impossible to walk in the forest without having 4 or 5 or more around us. Sometimes they attacked us even on the boat, especially in Finland. Their bite is painful, for a long time.

However, the only real health threat comes from ticks. Some islands, even small, are infested, and they can transmit when biting Lyme disease or Tick Born Encephalitis. To our experience they bite during the night following the exposition and we always thoroughly checked ourselves the day following our hikes. We were lucky and probably had not been bitten, having spotted and been able to expel on time the two ticks which tried climbing on us.

Itinerary: Our trip consisted of two separate parts. First from Oslo to Saint Petersburg, discovering new countries and cultures, visiting sumptuous cities in a somewhat unknown and new environment. The former capital of the Russian Empire was the climax of this first phase. Then, in Finland and Sweden, we move away from the cities and sail in unspoiled nature, dropping the anchor in moorings all cuter than the others.

We are delighted with our choice, even though we lacked time to visit the very end of the Gulf of Bothnia or spend more time in Gotland. A crew not so found of history and culture may consider skipping the Southern shores and going straight to Bornholm, Öland and Gotland before heading to Estonia, Finland, Åland, and then sailing back via the Göta Canal through Sweden and out to Gothenburg. This gives more time to enjoy all the fantastic small anchorages.

M for...

The rocks are sometimes so vertical that we can come and stay alongide. Here in the Turku archipelago we still had 6m of water.
Mooring techniques: These non-tidal waters allow for experimenting various mooring techniques. Each country has its preferred method: finger berths in Norway, mooring piles in Denmark, dangling lines in Russia, stern buoy and bow to the quay in Finland, stern anchor and bow to the quay in East Sweden.

But the most exotic berths are definitively found in Dziwnow (Poland): beautiful wide and brand new catways but with angled at a 45° and therefore … it is forbidden to walk on them! You have to climb off the bow to get onshore!

At the anchorage, it is of course always possible to drop the anchor from the bow, classic. But the vast majority of locals prefers to use their stern anchor and moor the bow of the boat on-shore, on available bolts, trees, or even their own bolts to be hammered in cracks in the rock. The Swedes (but apparently they are the only ones), tend to even moor alongside the rocks. Not advisable in the Channel...

Motoring: We motored for more than 200 hours during this trip (including motoring in and out of ports), probably about as much as during our 15 months around the Atlantic. Blame it on our mega-high that made the weather generally good and calm for two months and a half.

We really enjoyed having a brand-new engine. Changing the power cables this winter was also THE good idea. The engine has always started like a charm and propelled us without hiccups at about 4 knots. So that after a few weeks, with increased confidence, we integrated the possibility of motoring to establish our navigation plan. We who previously refused to leave in a flat calm, added the Diesel breeze option to our set of kills. And that's how we end up with 200 hours motoring at the end...

A super flat calm between Latvia and Estonia
P for...

A selection of the hundreds of litres of plastic we picked up during this trip
Plastics: During this trip we were always keeping a trash bag in our back-pocket, ready to collect the various plastic waste that littered our itineraries. We picked up plastics mostly on the shore line, a bit in the forest and we had decided not to clean the cities. In 4 months we have collected more than 275 Litres of plastic, the winner prize of the most polluted coastline being awarded to Poland.

The waste we have collected can be classified into 3 main categories:
- Candy or snack wrapping, especially crisp bags and lollipop sticks.
- Water bottles and beer or soda cans
- Fishing gears, less common but large-sized waste
A local specificity: the Russians are fans of inflatable balloons that unfortunately generally finish their lives in the sea…


R for…
Rhythm: There is a lot to see in the Baltic Sea and we completed this trip at a fast pace. The crossings are never very long (at most 330 miles from Poland in Latvia), so for us it was rather a succession of sprints: no need to manage one’s fatigue when we leave for no more than 24 hours, let’s enjoy spinnaker at night and long hours of manual steering. Once onshore, no time to waste, let’s go visiting! So that after 4 months on this regime we were a bit tired ...

And yet we only sailed 3345 NM in total, that is 836 NM per month average. But for comparison, in 3 months of sailing in the West Indies we had covered only 1265 NM, or 421 NM per month: twice slower. It looks like we are the only boat who visited both St. Petersburg and the Gulf of Bothnia over this year’s season, and we have met only one boat (a beautiful aluminium German) who had sailed further North than us this year, to the very end of the Gulf of Bothnia.

Most boats only sail by day, rarely by night. Which works quite well in this perimeter: except in Russian and Lithuanian waters, there are ports every 30 NM or so (this is even the name of the Finnish-Estonian coastal development program).

First it's not dark for long, plus with such fantastic moonlights it would be a shame not to enjoy sailing by night ! (offshore Poland)
S for...

Season: North is beautiful, but the season is short... We left mid-May, barely 10 days after our boat was back to the water after a long and cold winter, and the frequent gales of early September very clearly encouraged us to get back home quickly. To our opinion, it is difficult to consider sailing longer than the 4 summer months (mid-May to mid-September) in the Baltic Sea. To have time to enjoy it serenely, the ideal is probably to take two seasons with wintering in Helsinki or Stockholm.

But a memorable voyage over a single season is definitively possible, even from France or England, with a departure in April and a return in September / October. The route from the Channel to and from the Baltic Sea can be made at 80% in protected waters, through the Dutch inland waters and then the Kiel Canal!

Rock mooring at the heart of the Bohuslän skjærgård, Western Sweden
Skjærgård in Norwegian, skärgård in Swedish, saaristo in Finnish : a word that could be roughly translated by archipelago, but which is more about a group of skerries than a group of islands. The locals hardly ever leave it, and know by heart these protected waters, extremely well marked for day sailing (much less by night, but it never gets dark in July during the summer season), with endless possibilities of anchorages and shelters. Neither land nor sea, the skjærgård is both at once, it's a world apart. Untranslatable concept, you have to come and experience it to fully understand!
St-Petersburg: The former capital of the Russian Empire is definitely worth a visit. Getting there by boat combines adventure with tourism. The procedure is a bit heavy: once the visa is obtained, you must officially leave the European Union in Finland or Estonia, then sail for a hundred nautical miles along the commercial traffic before entering Russia. But if all paperwork is in order, then it’s only about enjoying the golden churches and wonderful palaces, the museums and the canals, the pelmenis and the kvass!
The Neva, the winter palace, the dome of St-Isaac church, the spire of the Admiralty, seen from the St-Peter & St-Paul fortress: in a word, St-Petersburg...

 W for...

Weather : We had an absolutely odd weather this year. A high-pressure system established itself in mid-April and only let go in early August. Sometimes calm weather indeed, but two and a half months of sunshine and temperatures worthy of the Mediterranean. August and September were more normal according to locals.

To our experience, the weather changes rapidly in the Baltic Sea. The local weather forecasts, especially the Swedish one that covers almost the entire area, is very accurate at 48h, less in the longer term. The sea is always extremely short, with regular trains of 3 successive waves higher than the others. It picks up very quickly but also calms down very quickly. Still sailing close hauled in these conditions can be very painful. Between the southern tip of Sweden and Germany, we have been each time surprised by the height of the waves compared to the strength of the wind.

Å for...
Åland and the Turku archipelago: A myriad of islets and skerries that continues Finland for about 200km. You can sail days without ever seeing the pure horizon line of an open sea. The anchorage possibilities are endless, it's the ultimate skjærgård experience ...

Åland is besides a real bridge between Sweden and Finland: Finnish territory but Swedish speaking population, it is an independent region, with a deeply rooted maritime culture.

This area of the Turku archipelago is not very dense, still there are rocks and islands as far as the eye can see
... and a conclusion

We prepared this trip like extended summer holidays, a breath of fresh air from our life onshore. Like a welcomed break between our trip around the Atlantic 6 years ago, and the next "real" long-distance voyage which is slowly but surely taking shape.

It was a bit unfair to this Sea. It deserves the journey, it deserves the dream. These waters, unknown and distant to whom grows up in Western or Southern Europe, are home to centuries of interwoven history, memories of boats of all kind and shapes, and an amazing mix of eclectic landscapes.

The Baltic is a world apart, a very much closed basin connected only drop by drop to the open seas. The temperate conditions allow to enjoy a largely preserved nature, and to alternate at will between pleasant large Nordic cities and the maze of tens of thousands of islets and as many possibilities of anchorage. The Baltic Sea is a human-sized, welcoming sea with astonishing sheltered "skjærgård"... to be enjoyed intensely during the few summer months!

See you soon for more adventures !!

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la mamou - 02/11/2018 22:07:01
Merci Marcello pour ton joli texte .
Non , je ne te hais point lol , mais ton émotion communicative m'a mis la larme à l’œil ...
cet après midi encore , assise sur 'mon' rocher , la ligne de mon regard passant entre Ragénes et l'ile verte , je pensais à ce soir du 30 juin 2012 où vous l'aviez coupée en remontant des Açores vers la Cornouaille anglaise ....

Marcello !!!! - 02/11/2018 19:14:37
Comme le chantait "Téléphone"..Voilà, c'est fini
On a tant ressassé les mêmes théories
On a tellement tiré tout deux du même côté
Que voilà c'est fini
Trouve un autre rocher petite huître perlée
Ne laisse pas trop couler de temps sous ton p'tit nez ... et Oui, c'est fini !!! pas votre histoire, bien sur, mais ces 4 mois superbes que vous aviez finement préparés, follement vécus et merveilleusement racontés !!! à tels points que je me sentais vivre vos aventures, ressentir vos émotions dans vos récits écrits rien que pour moi !!!! Ah bon???? pas rien que pour moi??? bon, je partage !!!! et toujours comme le dit "téléphone" Trouve un autre rocher petite huître perlée
Ne laisse pas trop couler de temps sous ton p'tit nez
eh oui...ne laissez pas trop couler de temps.... pour rêver de votre prochain grand voyage !!!! (Aïe !! je vais me faire haïr de vos parents !!!! merci et gros bisous

SuDad - 01/11/2018 18:34:37
Quitte à être ("étrangement"?), d'accord avec Mum, ce résumé est la conclusion idéale de ce que vous nous avez fait vivre, merveilleusement, tout cet été. Une synthèse bienvenue: on perçoit utilement l'ensemble du périple. Très bon compte-rendu, donc, qui mérite la note maximum. Vous nous avez pourtant déjà tellement habitués à l'excellence... Ce récit est un beau livre, superbement illustré. Comme l'autre. Mais notre plaisir compte beaucoup moins que le votre, et il semble bien que vous ayez été comblées. Votre retour paisible en atteste. Tout en harmonie. C'est votre griffe, votre signature. Merci pour nous avoir fait partager encore ces agréables moments. Et pour nous en promettre d'autres !

Mum - 21/10/2018 21:53:52
Conclusion du niveau de vos récits antérieurs, passionnante,juste ne soyez pas trop pressées de repartir que l'on profite de vous à terre merci pour le partage !

Estelle - 20/10/2018 00:03:25
Incroyable voyage! Et vous en retirez tant d'expérience et de sagesse... c'est un plaisir de vous lire.
Nous avions aussi adoré l'Estonie (ralliée plus classiquement par la voie des airs)

Hâte de connaître votre prochain voyage !


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