Category Archives: Åland Islands (Finland)

“No, it’s not for smoking fish…”


DISCLAIMER:  I’ve had to do this on an iPhone, and my big fingers and Teeny keyboard do not play well together. And, since this is the fourth time I’ve had to go back to add in the photos, try to correct formatting (which isn’t working well), and re-edit what I had re-edited three times previously, well, there have been a lot of not-so-nice bellows issued from JUANONA… to which Max can attest.


Friday-Sunday, July 20-22, 2018

Leaving the crowded and convenient marina of Mariehamn, Aland’s capital, we headed east into this Archipelago. With only a week dedicated to sailing these waters we limited our destinations to two other islands, ones highly recommended by other cruisers.

Under another warm, sunny day we sailed 10 miles to Rodhamn, dropped the hook, and dinghied to shore.

The anchorage features a marina for Aland Sailing Club, an artist’s shop, a few cabins, and a sought-after cafe.

Painted the ubiquitous red and perched on boulders

the eatery offered two sandwiches (of which we enjoyed the ham-and-cheese option), alcoholic and non-alcoholic libations, aromatic baked goods, and the even stronger aroma of freshly smoked salmon. All served by a friendly Swede named Anders.

In reading some outdoor signage we discovered an inn here has offered sustenance to many a crew since the Middle Ages due to Rodhamn’s strategic location between Finland and Sweden. When shipping petered out in the 20th century, the inn closed down; but fortunately the artist mentioned above opened up this delectable establishment catering to pleasure-seekers such as us.

Catching sight of a Canadian burgee we exclaimed ‘hey! We know those folks!’ It belonged to some Ocean Cruising Club members, Helen and Neil, whom we’d met a few years ago.

We snapped a photo and Max shared it on an OCC website. It’s always fun to come across a personal connection in a remote spot, and our friends said this is the first time they’ve known of anyone coming across their burgeee which they leave in a few favorite spots each year.

An outdoor deck looked out on the happy scene of boaters enjoying not being in a city. One couple we spoke to said they’d just escaped Helsinki to cruise for several weeks.

Like many of the age 30 or 40ish yachties in this part of the world, they were accompanied by a small family member, their little girl, a tow-head (tow-headedness is as common as red buildings here). Actually, most of these Alander cruisers with whom we spoke hailed from Helsinki. And, with this summer being one of the hottest in a long time, no surprise people are out on, and in, the water.

A walk through red dusty soil interspersed with impressive rock slabs brought us to the other side of the island where a two-room museum provided a brief history of the island. Specifically, the exhibits spoke of a pilot house built in 1818, operational up to the 1920s and later a radio beacon installed 1937.

Tbe latter ran until 1970 when radar and other more advanced navigational aids came into existence.

Photos of the families living here to run these operations provided a good idea of just how pioneering it must have been to do so. No thanks.

Further on We spotted some cairns by the shore and decided to build one of own. Not too difficult considering the number of available materials…

Another impressive structure appeared back on our side of the island. Here I experienced the nicest outhouse ever.

Decorated with flowers AND a piece of art, these toilets rivalved flushing ones. Well, almost.

They are far better engineered than the common campground outhouse. For more info ask Max, who was impressed that they use the same concept as the composting head aboard Juanona.

With a rare rain forecast the next day we opted to spend a second night here. The beautiful sound of water falling from the sky woke us.


Although not providing enough to put out the wildfires devasting inland Sweden, the rain still gave some respite from the hot sunny weather we’ve experienced literally since April 13.

Matter-of-fact the foliage is becoming so stressed we found the ground cover and trees are turning brown, with the aspens even losing their leaves (photo from previous day).

The fading of the lulling pitter-patter was replaced by the loud roar of speed boats entering the harbor.

Impressive in sleekness as well as sound we watched as boat after boat entered the harbor to retrieve something from a guy holding out a white pole.

Turned out it was a Poker Run boat race where each power boat at five check points along a designated route picks up a sealed envelope holding a playing card. At the end of the ‘race’–typically during a celebratory meal–the boat whose five cards scores the highest poker hand wins.

The comings and goings of the players kept us entertained for part of the morning.

Back ashore to relieve sitting-itis (a malady often associated with my cruising time) we wandered behind the cafe and soon smelled smoke. Noticing a quaint red (what else) cabin

we saw the woman with whom we spoke the day before sitting by what we thought was a fish smoke house. She smilingly corrected us by saying it was a sauna. Not only ‘a sauna’ but, to her, the BEST one in these islands.

Sold! So instead of smoking fish, the picturesque hut smoked people. Hustling back to the cafe where the sign-up sheet hung on the wall Anders put us down for an 8:00 A.M. excursion the next morning.

And, boy, what a great experience. In spite of no one around (that we could see) we did keep suited up and alternated perspiring in a windowed sauna

to jumping into refreshing water.

Now that’s a way to wake up in the morning :)


Sunday-Tuesday, July 22-24, 2018

A 28 mile sail took us by some famous rock carvings we’d read about in Rodhamn’s museum.

Unable to anchor anywhere nearby we used binoculars to search out a monogram commemorating Tsar Alexander III’s (father of deposed and executed Nicholas II) family visit. We saw it! But we couldn’t easily document it with our camera. So, here’s the photo from the museum display.

Supposedly an older nearby carving commemorates Peter the Great’s time in these waters when his navy fought the Swedes 1714-1721; but, we couldn’t see it. We also espied a mark–a thin cross close to the water’s edge. And, we have no idea who made that but it’s intriguing to think about what soul may  have done so.

Having read Robert K. Massie’s bio of this western-leaning tsar I found it pretty neat to be sailing in ‘his’ waters.

The museum on the previous island also showed a photo of an awful swastika.

Although carved during WWII I discovered it was from a war I’d never heard of:  the Continuation War (June 25, 1941-September 19, 1944) fought against Russia by ‘co-belligerents’ Finnish and German troops (Russia won). This war came about as a result of the Winter War (November 30, 1939-March 13, 1940) when Russian invaded Finland. Remember hearing about that one? (NOTE:  Rhetorical Q) I sure don’t.

But, hold on, there’s another war of which I was also completely ignorant:  the Lapland War (September 15, 1944-April 27, 1945), which came about due to Russia’s demand that Finland disarm/expel the Germans, causing the Finns and Germans to battle it out in Lapland.

Had enough? Me, too. Moving on…


Sunday-Tuesday, July 22-24, 2018

Arriving at Sandvik harbor we chose to anchor out again versus join the wedged-in boats on a pontoon (yes, I will admit I’m snobby when it comes to sardine-like docking. We much prefer open-air anchoring, not least because the boat swings with the wind and gets better ventilation. To say nothing of privacy).

We went ashore and met Oskar, the young man running the information office and docks and store and bike rental and boating excursions-basically everything and anything you’d want to know or do on this island of Kokar. We felt as if we had landed in a summer camp. (You can’t see it too well but looking left to right there’s a man/made beach with float, communal building with grills, ferry landing, cafe, tourist office/tiny convenience store with fresh produce, bike rentals, dock, and behind it all a camp site with RVs and tents.)

We used the late afternoon to do a hike, one that would take us to a Bronze Age seal-hunting camp. And, within 30 minutes of our walk we came upon a clearing nestled against a rocky bluff. Here we saw remains of stone foundations.

We continued scrambling along stones interspersed with gingerly stepping through small wooded areas always on the alert for ticks (warned by Oskar who said the entire island is infested with these blood suckers).

We finally reached the main road for the half-mile walk back to our dinghy and a promise of a cooling dip before dinner. Then dreaming of pizza (another Oskar piece of information about where to eat lunch the next day), we fell asleep.

To reach our lunch destination we decided to rent bikes, which is how we ended up, once again, devouring delectable pizzas – no splitting this time :)

We met the family proprietors

whose apple orchard products include wonderful apple flavors, from cider…

to salsa, the latter of which we wished we had stocked up on. We bought one and later found It’s one of our favorite hot sauces.

Being a bit slower post-gorging to jump on our bikes, we did manage to cycle the few miles to Kokar’s local museum. As is the case with many of these islands discovered by tourists, the few year-round inhabitants manage to create a museum out of anything. And, here we found our 6 Euros got us two rooms crammed wtih antiquey household furnishings and tools.

Yet, the second room held some wonderful photos documenting the local history with photographs.

Well worth the price of admission.

Our island arrival was timed perfectly for provisioning. We cycled to the new grocery store (the only one on the island) whose doors had just opened a week prior. Oskar told us a group of locals, himself included, had pitched in to get this store up and running.

Back aboard we checked the winds for the next day. With a favorable breeze to return to the Swedish side, we got back in the dinghy to see one more island site: a 1784 church

and ruins of an early Fransiscan chapel. (Those monks got around–Having just finished a fascinating bio of Genghis Khan thanks to our friends Traci and Smokey’s recommendation, I discovered these Franciscans visited The Mongolian court back in the mid-1200s.)

Remembering one of the old photos from the museum, I snapped a shot approximating the same angle.

The mile+ walk back gave us another chance to work off some of our pizza lunch and a quick dip and cockpit shower prepared us for the 54 mile sail the next day.

The next morning’s favorable winds validated the night-before forecast and off we sailed, eventually changing out our (correct) Aland courtesy flag for our Swedish one.

In spite of the short visit to these Finnish-not-so-Finnish islands*, we relished our time and are very glad we sailed the miles there and back.

Next, to Copenhagen! Well, with a few anchorages and ports along the way…


*These islands originally were part of Sweden, who lost them to Imperial Russia in 1809 under the Treaty of Fredriksham. The Aland Archipelago became the autonomous Duchy of Finland under the Tsars’ rule. But, I also wanted to find out why these islands are demilitarized, which led me to the Crimean War (October 1853-February 1856).

This war (yes, sorry, I just had to throw another one onto the pile) came about due to Russia’s challenging the Turks by (a) expanding into the Danube area (now Romania) and (b) disputing Turkish control over some holy sites in Jerusalem. So, those two countries began fighting one another with Great Britain and France joining in a year later to protect their access to trade routes. Because of Britain’s concern over Russian dominance in the Baltic Sea, fighting also occurred in Finnish waters. When the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, Russia had to demilitarize.

And, the Åland Islands have remained as such since then.

Yet, with Russia’s current aggressions Baltic countries are considering their military options. In 2005 Sweden rearmed its base on Gotland Island, one we cycled by when there in May; and, in 2016 the Finnish Defense Minister started speaking about conscripting the Aland Island inhabitants into civil service. Unsurprisingly, this idea hasn’t gone over too well and seems to have died down somewhat.

Another interesting tidbit is how the Åland Islands are Finnish-but-not-so-Finnish. In 1917 with Finland’s independence from Russia, the residents on the Åland Islands wanted to be reunited with Sweden whose language and customs they identified with. Finland refused, but a compromise orchestrated by the League of Nations in 1921 (one of the first disputes settled by that organization) gave the local population the right to self-govern and remain autonomous from Finland – thus ensuring the Åland Islands would retain their Swedish heritage.

Oh, and another tidbit:  the Crimean War is where Florence Nightingale pops up. Adds a bit of humanity to the inhumanity of wars.

Okay, I’m done  or, as my mother would say, “I am  finished” (not ‘Finnish’, which takes me back to my disclaimer about trying to type on this #%!* Locke keyboard…)


Finland… well, sort of Finland



Wednesday-Friday, July 18-20, 2018

After a night in Stor Langden, we sailed from the Stockholm Archipelago to the Finnish waters of the Åland Islands.

And, if you ever wonder what we do aboard all day, here’s one activity: monster scenes. Last year we had purchased a lizard and a snake after another boater told us they helped to scare off birds (which can raise havoc with our delicate masthead instruments). Thanks to our friends Peter and Angie our menagerie had increased. So, what to do but set-up and document disaster scenes.

Yes, this is when you can say we have way too much time on our hands…

En route to Finland we noticed a long streak of greenish-brown water separating the usual blue. We crossed it and looked down. At first we wondered what it was but then we knew–algae bloom. And, a ton of it.

For the next hour or so we passed stream after stream of this floating green confetti.

Another disturbing reminder of what we’re doing to our world. Excess nitrates and heat are amongst the culprits.

After six hours of sailing close-hauled in an east wind we arrived at the largest of this archipelago’s 6,700 islands. We were now above 60 degrees latitude, and we had the long days to prove it :)

Since we had decided to sail to Finland only the night before, we hadn’t done any research on the history of the area, only the navigational details. Thinking we had the correct courtesy flag to fly from our strouds, that being the Finnish one, we learned this group of islands is autonomous from central Finland – meaning they have their own stamp, their own government, and their own flag. Oh, and they speak Swedish. Yet, the Åland Islands are part of Finland and use the euro.

Whatever. Easy to remedy the flag situation as we could buy one at the marina. And, since it’s not as if we speak Finnish or Swedish, no problem there thanks to these countries being multi-lingual with English one of their primary languages.

We landed in the capital of the Åland Islands, Mariehamn, dodging the large ferries and cruise ships coming and going from this port.

Approximately one-third of Åland’s 29,000 residents live in this town founded in 1861 during the Russian Empire, hence the name originating from Tsar Alexander II’s consort, Maria. We looked forward to a bit of urban civilization including groceries, hot showers (although JUANONA’s aren’t bad), and an excellent pizza (per some cruisers’ recommendation).

We opted for the west-side marina over the east-side, primarily due to the Pizzeria dockside. And, yes, it definitely served mouth-watering pizza.

Mariehamn straddles a narrow isthmus

with tree-lined streets supplying welcome relief from the hot sun during our walks to town and back,

although we did use the hop-on-hop-off-tourist train after our second run for provisioning,

which took us to areas we hadn’t seen, such as the east-side marina.

Always on the lookout for a respite from our own company, Max read about a maritime museum located up a grassy hill

and a Maypole next to the Marina.

Off we go.

Since the 1920s there was interest in preserving Aland’s sea-faring history. In 2012 a new museum opened:  the  Åland Sjofartsmuseum.  Comprised of four main components: the sailing ship era, engine-powered shipping, ship-building, and safety at sea-with four sub-themes (navigation, cabinet of curiosities, maritime Mariehamn. and the Cape Horn Club) this museum provided an informative afternoon.

It also owns the POMMERN, claimed to be the only four-masted cargo ship in the world maintained in its original condition. She was built in Glasgow in 1903 and originally named MNEME. In 1923 Gustaf Erikson, a Finnish ship magnate, bought the windjammer (renamed the POMMERN by a former German owner), adding her to his fleet of cargo ships. Interestingly, these large sailing ships operated more efficiently than motorized ones on the long offshore runs from Australia to Europe, usually carrying grain. Because Åland remained one of the few ports operating sailing vessels, this little town dominated the grain trade. Pretty cool.

Remaining part of the active fleet until 1939, the POMMERN sat in Mariehamn’s harbor (except for six months in 1944 as a floating grain storage in Stockholm) and was almost scrapped when Gustaf’s heirs donated her to the town.

Unfortunately, the museum is restoring POMMERN’s weather deck, so we didn’t tour her but we did see the rest of this museum, including one of the world’s two authentic pirate flags in existence! ARRRGHHH.

The skull and crossbones motif originated in the Caribbean in the 1700s and became synonymous with piracy. This flag, hailing from North Africa’s Mediterranean coast, is 200 years old. The initial black color has faded but not the thrill of imagining the fear this flag must have generated when sighted through the spyglass. 

But, what makes this museum such a gem is its presentation of information. Yes, one can peer at plenty of ship models,

which to me is, well, a lot ship models.

But, this small museum also lays out a wonderful story of maritime history. In many instances a historical detail is personalized, such as how shipping opened the world to native Alanders:  in 1896 Konrad Karlsson, 13 years of age, hired on as a deckhand for the PANDION. A brief description of his life aboard juxtapositions ‘knocking a ship’s biscuit on the table to get rid of maggots’ (museum quote) with the wonders of spotting a monstrous whale, riding in a rickshaw in Durban, and experiencing sunsets in the trade winds.

The displays provided many interesting facts regarding Aland’s maritime history.  During our 1.5-hour stroll through  several rooms on three floors we followed the narrative of Aland’s sailing past and present.  I’ve picked out some highlights below:

The sailing ship section included ‘sailing peasants’. This described the history of local farmers who traded goods along the Baltic coast beginning in the 13th century in small boats or barrows, each typically co-owned by several families. In the 1700s the locals sailed between Åland and Stockholm. Eventually they changed course making Helsingfors and Abo the primary destinations in the 1800s.

Firewood became a major commodity with the rise of industrialization, and a photo depicted a farmer using his wheelbarrow to load the cargo (and one of the actual wheelbarrows and section of the gangplank stood next to the picture).

The 1900s ushered in the use of iron and steel in ship building. Alander shipbuilders now purchased second-hand vessels from Britain, Germany, and North America requiring year-round sailing to pay off the hefty investment. One local made quite a name for himself, one that resonates today since he was the last owner of the POMMERN mentioned above:  Gustaf Erikson (1872-1947).

He was born in the Åland Islands and came from a seafaring family. He was at sea by age nine and worked his way up to captain. He purchased his first ship, the TJERIMAI, in 1913 and began his second successful career as a ship owner. Throughout the museum we came across his name numerous times, always associated with a prominent ship, most of them being windjammers.

For example, Gustaf Erikson purchased PAMIR in 1931 primarily for the wheat trade. In 1949 this ship became one of the last merchant sailing ships to ever round Cape Horn.

Another notable local was Captain John Ekblom. He completed the first Atlantic crossing of an Åland vessel when he landed in Havana April 1, 1865 after a three month journey.

Reading the descriptions I learned tidbits about the. maritime industry that I never knew of or would have thought to ask about. One of these is ‘sump jerker’.

Boats carrying live fish in the sump or bottom would hire a ‘sump jerker’ when landing in port. With a rope tied to the boat’s mast this poor dock worker would continually tug on the line throughout the night. Why? By rocking boat rocking the boat fresh water would flow through holes in the stern ensuring the fish stayed alive. This job seemed similar to one of those poor construction workers stuck holding the ‘stop’ and ‘slow’ sign while impatient drivers waited their turn to skirt the road work.

With the dawn of a new day the sump jerker’s work was done. The trading started with the skipper auctioning the catch to the fishwives who then sold the fish to the locals. The top photo is from the 1930s, the bottom, from the 1890s, both in Stockholm.

The steward aboard a ship had to balance “hungry sailors’ demands for more food, the captain’s desire for economy, the chef’s wishes, and the need to make supplies last on a passage of unpredictable time” (museum description). Oh, and housekeeping, too. The man wearing the white jacket is Steward Arthur Leman, who did all of the above and served the officers’ meals.

One of the most interesting portraits was of Wilhelmina ‘Mimmi’ Widborn. She sailed as a professional crew on Gustaf Erikson’s ships, including the POMMERN and HERZOGIN CECILIE. One of his longest serving employees, she worked as steward and cook. During her life at sea she rounded the Horn eight times and survived a torpedo attack. Hardy soul.

Another sailor is Ruben de Cloux, one of the most famous captains of his time. He sailed the PARMA, the winner of the 1933 Grain Race, and captained other ships belonging to Gustaf Erikson.

Photos of several staterooms or saloons display some luxurious outfitting for the VIPs  (and, for those unfamiliar with our ‘ship’ JUANONA’s isn’t quite as glamorous…):

Captain Emanuel Erikson aboard the OCEAN’s state room…

Captain Sven Erikson and his wife Pamela (who worked on deck when aboard) in the saloon of the HERZOGIN CECILIE, Gustaf Erikson’s flag ship…

and the room itself,

which was salvaged after the HERZOGIN CECILIE tragically ran aground on April 24, 1936 and eventually sank after several months. She had just won the Grain Race* for the fourth time and had anchored outside Falmouth, England. She then left for Ipswich where the cargo would be offloaded but mysteriously went off course. The rest is history.

*People bet on which windjammer would complete the journey from Australia to England in the least number of days. Any time under 100 days was considered excellent speed in this unofficial Grain Race, with 83 days the fastest sailed by PARMA in 1933. The HERZOGIN CECILIE won the 1936 race with an 86-day sail.

Displays showed how crew enjoyed free time aboard, such as this acrobatic routine by two sailors.

One exhibit highlighted Mariehamn’s first Seamen’s Home opened in 1903 and operated by Stava-Moster for 20 years. She had lost both her husband and son at sea and opened her home in Vasterhamn to sailors when they couldn’t find lodging in the relatively new town of Mariehamn.  Her mothering spirit created a second home for sailors who held her in high regard in spite of her confiscating their wages so they wouldn’t spend it all on drinking.

One rather haunting photograph showed a group of Finnish children aboard the ARCTURUS in 1943. They were being evacuated.

The ship was shot at by the Soviets, but the torpedo missed and now hangs next to the photograph.

In addition to Gustaf Erikson Åland boasts of another shipping magnate, Algot Johannson (1898-1986). An entrepreneur who returned to Åland with money earned from time in the States, Algot Johannson founded the shipping company Sally. Eventually he owned a quarter of Finland’s merchant fleet by 1972. Not bad for a crofter’s son…

Like many museums these days, the Åland Sjofartsmuseum caters to children. In the sailing ship area a rigged mast stands ready for young deckhands to test their sail-hauling ability.

In the engine-powered section I saw a kid checking out the task of loading a ship while preserving her balance. Clever exercise, and one I decided to leave to the young’un.

Plenty of artifacts documented the maritime life. One of the many interesting ones showcased some of the tools of the trade:

Lead line, a lead-weighted line dropped overboard in coastal waters to measure depth (a lump of wax at the end of the weight would also show if the bottom was sandy, muddy, rocky or otherwise)

Log, a line knotted at regular intervals would be thrown overboard with a watch timing how many knots ran overboard to indicate the speed (hence the term ‘knot’ as an indicator of speed on the water)

And, Navigational charting (parallel rulers, protractor)

Of those instruments we now only use the last set but even those are gathering ship dust aboard JUANONA. With the use of electronic chart plotters and digital charts for laptops and iPads, paper charts and old traditions like celestial navigation are no longer the primary tools for sailing the worlds’ waters.

The museum also featured a exhibit on ship building.  After the Crimean War (1856) to the 1920s roughly 300 cargo-carrying vessels were built to meet the increased demand. The building of a ship began with attracting investors- which could be anyone from a business man to a milk maids- to purchase individual shares. Once all shares were sold, construction began. The museum notes “On Åland a coffee pot and a share in a ship counted among the necessities of life.”  Hence the displayed pot.

And last but never least, we stepped into the special exhibit featuring tattoos,

Including photos of the tattooed from the 1930s…

And this century.

Hey, even Barbie got in on the act.

The instruments, both old

and new

looked painful. Fortunately Max and I earned ours the easy way:

Before we headed out we added two more portraits in honor of an American (horror) icon

Then headed for JUANONA and three loads of laundry…

More to come of these Åland Islands…