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Sunday, July 1, 2007, in Helsinki, Finland

Hi everyone. Well, we’re in Helsinki, having arrived here only today. Last week, we were anchored outside of the small town of Degerby, in Finland’s archipelago.

Art had been disappointed with the winds during our voyages northward up the eastern coast of Sweden. The prevailing winds should have been good for sailing, but they were always from the wrong direction or too calm. So we nearly always had to motor. Traveling east across the archipelago made up for that, though. We sailed just about the whole way across, in the most wonderful of conditions. Art picked several routes from which we could choose, based on the weather. The offshore route is good when you’re a little bit behind where you need to travel, but the winds can be too strong, the seas can be rough, and you miss some of the beauty of the islands. The inshore route is beautiful, and the seas remain calm even when the wind picks up, but the wind has to be from the right direction or it’s hard to hold a course. And you really need to hold the course, too. There are islands every direction, and lots of rocks. Wander off course and you might just poke a hole in the boat underwater.

When we were in this area in 2000, it took the concentration of both of us to navigate up Sweden’s west coast with the help of paper charts. Now we have electronic charts that work with our GPS, a lot like the navigation systems that are in cars. But instead of showing you turns, these charts show you land and shallow spots and other hazards. Art spends the winter designing routes and saving them in his computer program that works with our charts. He created an inshore route and an offshore one for us to decide when we got here. As it worked out, we were able to use the inshore route, and we could sail most of the distance from Stockholm to here.

While we were in Degerby last Sunday, Art noticed that his ice cream was a little softer than usual in the freezer. It’s good to have an ice cream addict onboard for this purpose. He acts as a daily thermostat. He checked around, and he suspected that the freezer was turning itself off when our batteries drained a little bit at anchor. He got it to come back on as soon as he began to charge the batteries with the generator, supporting his theory.

The next day, we traveled and then anchored out again, off of a small town called Korpoström. By the time we arrived, though, it was already getting late and we decided not to go ashore. This place made Degerby look like a county seat, with only one building in view from the harbor, and that building looked closed. But it gave us a chance to do the ice cream test again, and sure enough, the freezer failed. This time, it didn’t go on, though, when Art started the generator. This is no small problem, as the freezer is stuffed with frozen food and we have guests arriving in a week. We wouldn’t be able to store, or eat, food that was defrosting, and there wouldn’t be a lot of time for me to cook eight more dinners if all of these were unavailable. In a panic, we turned off the freezer, put the food somewhere else temporarily, and defrosted the caked-on ice with the help of a hair dryer. The freezer came back to life. So Art somehow managed to keep the freezer frozen, and we’ve made an appointment for the freezer supplier (it’s still under warranty, of course) to visit us in Helsinki and replace whatever needs replacement.

And from the department of esoteric expressions: someone gave us a 60 American flag. We’d been flying a 48����������������������������� one on the stern, and the rule is that your flag should be about one inch per foot of boat length. The 48” flags were fine on our last boat, but I thought that the flag looked a little puny on this one, especially in Scandinavia, where people fly flags the size of cars on summer houses the size of phone booths. So Art took down our old flag and put up the bigger one, and he then said (for the first time I ever heard this when it wasn’t a metaphor) Well, let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.” Nobody did.

Our next stop was Kasnäs, where there is a resort and conference center, a small nature center, and just about nothing else around. We picked this marina because there was a restaurant there, knowing that we might just be stranded in this place for days because of rain and high winds. We were, too.

In all marinas everywhere, you’ll find showers ashore and toilets, and sometimes other amenities, like a laundry room. In marinas in Finland, every single one of them has a sauna. We decided to take the chill off from all the rain and wind by using the sauna at the marina. It’s a great experience, and we’ll be trying to find a sauna just about everywhere we go from here on out, even when it isn’t raining.

The Swedish and Finnish saunas are similar, though the Swedes tend to prefer the “dry” sauna and the Finns prefer the “wet” version. We’re not experts yet, but a dry sauna is at about 200 degrees and only about 5% humidity. The higher you sit on the benches, the hotter it is. There’s a pan of water and a scoop for splashing some water on the coals. You take a shower before you go in, relax in the sauna, and then take another shower, usually a cool one (unless you’d rather jump into winter waters) when you get out. Art made some friends in the sauna the second time around (they’re usually separated by gender, as everyone is sans towel inside) and these men seemed to go for several rounds, separated by short tours on benches discreetly placed outdoors behind wood walls just outside the sauna area’s door.

One of the days we were stranded in Kasnäs, we visited the only business in town, the fish processing plant next to the ferry dock. Though the manager wasn’t expecting anyone to ask for a tour, and though he politely declined at first, he did take us to the place where he looks through an indoor window at the work taking place in the factory. The workers at one end take the whole salmon, farmed nearby, and chops off its head. They place the decapitated fish near a machine that magically filets it into two pieces and discards the backbone. Then it finds its way into a bin at the other end of the room. From there, it’s sold to distributors or sent to the smokery for further processing. The whole office had the pleasant aroma of fresh and smoked salmon, though I’m not sure that I’d want to date someone who worked there.

It’s hard to convey how much smoked fish, especially salmon, and regular fish, especially salmon and herring, make up the diet up here. Luckily, neither of us is close to getting sick of it yet. Herring shows up on many buffet tables, usually in five or six versions on the same table. A favorite sauce is mustard sauce, but it’s common to see the herring in wine sauce, or not cooked as matjes herring, or in tomato sauce, or marinated with peppercorns or lingonberries, or in a creamy dill sauce.

We stayed in Kasnäs for about three days, and moved on to a town called Hanko. I’d expected Hanko to be a little bigger than it was, but it was much bigger than Kasnäs, and we weren’t planning to stay very long anyway. On our way to Hanko, we noticed, in the middle of the fairway between various islands, the unmistakable scent of a sauna. First, Art speculated that it was the pine trees, and then we saw the smoke arising in the middle of the woods just upwind of us.

There isn’t much to say about Hanko. The look of the town is unexceptional, and the main shopping area is small and a little run-down. The tourist brochure notes, as a highlight of your stay there, that you can dine in the “southernmost restaurant in Finland.” They call it “the sunny south of Finland.” The town was founded in 1874, and it was a favorite vacation spot for the Russian elite (no doubt due to its tropical southernmost location on the 59th parallel.) The Russians built wooden houses along the waterfront, very evocative of Victorian architecture, and all still remain, some as bed and breakfasts, others as galleries and tourist shops, and many appearing as though they haven’t been painted since the Russian Revolution. The chamber of commerce calls these homes the “Spa Park”, but the locals refer to them as “the old ladies”, because they all have women’s names like “Villa Maija” or “Villa Doris”. One of the reminders of Hanko, though, is that Finland was part of Russia for a lot of its history, and it was the base for some of the Russian navy, by agreement, even when Finland wasn’t part of Russia.

There’s a monument on the waterfront whose history tells the story of allegiances changing. Germany came to the town and liberated it from Russia in 1918, when the Russians were busy at home and Finland got its independence. The locals put up a monument to the Germans, highlighting the plight of a single German soldier with lots of flourishing and complimentary text. In 1940, the Russians were back, and they weren’t nearly as happy to see this monument to German soldiers. They took down the monument for a few years. But then the Russians left again and Hanko missed having a monument dedicated to their liberation. So they put it back up in 1943 with some more text about enemies and bearing witness for the future, but the Russians, who weren’t there anymore, complained to the city fathers about having it at all. So they took it down again, at least until 1960. And so it was re-erected, but now it simply says “For Our Liberty.” I think it’s sort of like Roseanne Barr changing her name to Rosanne Arnold, then back to Barr, then getting married again, and then just saying, “Oh, forget it. I’m just Rosanne, okay?”

Yesterday, we sailed to an anchorage only about twenty miles from Helsinki, and today we motored the rest of the way here. We haven’t done much exploring yet, but we’ll be here all week, so we have plenty of time to find things to do. Jack and Sammie arrive on Friday of this week, and we leave here for Saint Petersburg, Russia on Sunday.

That’s it for now. Have a great Fourth (we have become such expatriates that we don’t even know what day you will all be celebrating) and write to us when you get a chance.

Love, Art and Karen