Day 69 – We hope to get trouble free into Russia. Tomorrow is the day – 9 May

Day 69. 9th of May. Victory day in Russia. From Lilla Krokön to Hamina. 39 km 6.3 km/hr average speed.

We weren’t too eager to get going this morning. The weather forecast promised a day of 6 m/s headwinds. We lingered over breakfast, our porridge greatly improved by Esikko’s apple compot. We also checked for any signs of our canine friend, but nothing.

In the end we ran out of excuses, and we were in the boats at 0920. And the weather forecast was right. The first leg was hard and slow. And most of the second which took us to Kotka. But after lunch break in Kotka the wind had come down, and we informed Gasthaus Kallioranta that we would be in at about 1700, not after 1800 as we had expected. And so it was.

Virve and Jyrki who runs the guesthouse gave us a welcome more fitting for royalty than two scruffy paddlers from Norway.

We were met at the beach, and before we had gotten our sweaty and stinky paddlers gear off, a small table had been set three meters from the kayaks, and Jyrki’s home brewed beer was served alongside Virve’s cucumbers, bread and sausage!

And so the evening passed, a Japanese guest (Hanako) was picked up, dinner was made over open fire, and the conversation flowed until the sun set and it got a bit chilly. Stein and Erling aren’t much company after 2200 anyways.

So our last night in Finland for now was beyond all expectations.

Finland has impressed us. People and hospitality. Strong ocean paddler communities. Beautiful landscape/seascape. We hope to return some day.

But first we hope to get trouble free into Russia. Tomorrow is the day.

Day 68 – Either a big dog has been walking itself, or it’s one of the wolves Lasse told us about – 8 May

Day 68. 8th of May. Hästön to Lilla Krokö. 44.6 km, 6.6 km/hr average speed.

We got off to an early 0900 start in good conditions, maybe a little current against us on the first leg which was on the slow side.

No wind. Sun from a clear sky and almost double-digit temperature (more in the sun of course). We just paddled away to put kilometers behind us.

The only thing to worry about was water; we were a little short. So we tried twice to go onshore to find water. First attempt failed. The second attempt was made at Boistö, and was very successful!

Boistö is an old pilots island, now a conference center. It was just about to open for the season, and Siv, Marina, Else and Lasse were busy getting things ready. Not too busy to invite us for a cup of coffee, ask us about our trip and tell us about Boistö.

Lasse took the lead. His family had a long history on the island. His paternal line had been pilots off Boistö five generations back. In Swedish times. In Russian times. In independent times. He had lived on the island himself but now he’d moved just across the strait.

Boistö must be a good place to gather to think long thoughts. A fantastic view, captivating history and very friendly staff.

We took one last leg after Boistö and eventually landed on a nice sand beach. Nice place and normal routine as the sun set.

Just one thing. When we came ashore, we noted footprints from a sizeable animal. Canine footprints on closer inspection.

Either a big dog has been walking itself, or it’s one of the wolves Lasse told us about that lives on these islands.

We have packed the food securely in the boats. Just in case…

Day 67 – Thanks to Stein, who did not feel the same pressing desire, but still joined for the detour – 7 May

Day 67. 7th of May. Löparö to Hestön. 44.3 km, 6.9 km/hr average speed.

We got off to an 0920 start. Tail winds and following seas like yesterday. On our way through the Onas archipelago, we passed a couple of cormorant colonies. They live in extremely dense colonies and they “over fertilize” the islets they inhabit to the extent that all trees and plants die. So you get these islands of dead trees with a cloud of not so pretty and not very musical black birds flying over them. Not exactly idyllic to see and nauseating to smell. No surprise that cormorants have a bad reputation in for example Norwegian folklore.

Speaking of stories. Today we made a detour to the summer house of Tove Jansson and Tuulikki Pietilä. Tove Jansson was the author and illustrator of the Moomin stories. And Erling is a fan of that immensely inventive, diverse and generous universe. He carries with him a Moomin cup on this adventure, a gift from his kids. So today Erling paid homage to Tove Jansson, and had lunch on Klovarhun.

Thanks to Stein, who did not feel the same pressing desire, but still joined for the detour. It wasn’t all that much of a detour, but it required a 1 hr 45 min open sea crossing. We took advantage of the winds and waves and made 44 km and still called it a day early, before the wind picked up.

About 80 km left to paddle to Hamina. The end of our Finnish leg, and point of departure for our Russian leg, which is continously on our minds. We are getting good help and safe places for our kayaks and gear are in hand both in Vyborg and in St. Petersburg.

Day 66 – then one guy shouted “Ah! The Norwegians!” – 6 May

Day 66. 6th of May. Drumsö to Löparö. 35.3 km, 7.1 km/hr average speed.

We started from Drumsö paddling club shortly before 1100, with Esikko waving us off. A late start, partly because the hotel breakfast didn’t open before 0800, and partly because we took the opportunity to repack the boats and squeeze in some more stuff from Bear and Water. Now if anything more goes in something must go out.

Not all we bought got to go with us though. A crow literally stole food out of the kayak. Not much, mostly some cheese. But it is annoying to be outsmarted by such a creature.

Paddling was smooth and fast in about 5 m/s tailwind and following waves. It was a nice day. First Sunday with spring qualities round here. A lot of pleasure craft were out, both under sail and motor. The motorboats slow down to minimize waves for kayaks almost without exception. The most considerate motorboats we’ve met so far is definitely the Finnish.

We also spotted a fleet of kayaks and paddled over. It was a local club out to train instructors. With our new caps from Bear and Water they first took us for fellow Finns, but then one guy shouted “Ah! The Norwegians!” He had checked the tracker in the morning and was thinking we might cross paths. We will not deny it: It felt OK to be recognized…

Also it shows one aspect of keeping a blog: Word can run a bit ahead of us and that helps break the ice. We hope this may work also in Russia, in spite of language challenges.

After about 35 km we faced a choice, an acceptable tenting spot to our right or an hours crossing in rising winds in front of us. We called it a day. We have ample time and good weather forecasts to our pick up point in Hamina.

We think and talk a lot about how things will turn out in Russia. Soon we’ll know a little more.P5060218.jpg

Day 65 – If all goes well we will be in Russia on Thursday – 5 May

Day 65. No paddling. Resupplies in Helsinki.

So finally we met our helper Esikko. She picked us up to help us some more. Namely to drive us to Björn Lehtinen’s shop Bear and Water. A kayak shop with 200 different models of kayaks and canoes. Both Esikko and Björn are well known in Finnish kayak circles.

In 2001 Esikko was the first woman to do the Finnish “blue and white band”, she paddled alone from the Finnish – Russian to the Finnish – Swedish border. Almost 1300 km!

Björn has sold tens of thousands of kayaks over the years, and is the designer of the Norse kayaks (for you nerds out there).

We bought some equipment, most importantly Erling finally got hold of spray deck that fits his kayak. Hopefully no more leaks into the cockpit.

After a long and pleasant lunch with Esikko, we split up and tended to other minor things we might need in Russia.

Erling also went to see a tombstone he had seen on a former visit. A brutally honest life story in five sentences:
“The Major Willhed. de Besche rests here.
He was born 16.2 1756.
Hope brought happiness to his youth.
Ailments embittered his mature years.
Death made him happy 1st of January 1802”


Compared to him it would seem most of us have a lot to be thankful for.

Tomorrow we head east. If all goes well we will be in Russia on Thursday. Weather Permitting.

Day 64 – We even got our own key to the club – 4 May

Day 64. 4th of May. 26.1 km, 6.9 km /hr average speed.

We found Skorvan empty, but Helsinki paddlers are a hardy bunch.

At 0100 Pävi arrived at the hut, after a solo night paddle from Helsinki. Since Stein was sound asleep in front of the huts door, we were woken up.

We were at least as surprised as her. Pävi thought about firing up the sauna, but settled for warming up the main room instead. We got up and got to hang our wet clothes in there. Back to bed at about 0145. Then we slept soundly and overslept by an hour…

We cooked breakfast and after some time Pävi joined us. She’s a music teacher in Helsinki and eager paddler. She explained to us about Skorvan and the kayak club.

As we discussed our trip, she asked if there is a similar system for paddling the Norwegian coast as the Swedish “blue band” and the Finnish “blue and white band”. Both badges to be earned if one paddles every meter of the coast of the two countries. When we answered no, and that even if it were such a system we would not put emphasis on it, she answered approvingly with words we will remember “Good. We build so many prisons for ourselves”.

We had a late start at 1100, and as we parted Pävi advised us about a restaurant at Svinön about half way to Helsinki where we could stop for lunch. And so we did. A conversation got going with Nisse Lindblom at the next table. Nisse took an interest in our project. He could also explain about the area we were in and how it had become parceled out for summer cabins early/mid last century. Even more interesting was the story behind the bigger mansions we had seen: All built with smugglers money during the prohibition.

We couldn’t delay any more and after about another hour and a half’s paddling we landed at Drumsö paddling club.

We got out of our wet gear and enjoyed the comfort of dry clothes before Björn Silfverberg, President in the club, showed up to wish us welcome. Soon followed by Mikko and his two daughters Åsa and Saga. We even got our own key to the club. An excellent welcome, and something Esikko had put in motion.

We’ll start tomorrow with Esikko driving us to a 1200 square meters kayak shop. Finally we’ll get to meet our busy helper.

Day 63 – We never saw the ship, but the waves suggested it was of reasonable size – 3 May

Day 63. 3rd of May. Bjurs to Skorvan. 46.2 km, 6.5 km/hr average speed.

We got off to a 0840 start and made reasonable progress even though the fog was thick. At one point we heard a boat very clearly, not just the foghorn, but the engine and even the sound of the waves from the bow. We took a small break on a small island and let it pass. We never saw the ship, but the waves suggested it was of reasonable size. We continued to navigate the archipelago with Stein’s GPS. Without that instrument, we would have had to wait it out until the visibility improved.

After a short lunch it was time for the crossing to Porkala. The visibility was better, perhaps a couple of hundred meters. Still we saw no land for an hour and navigated on compass. Again we heard ships and boats, but more distant. Of course we were listening in on Channel 16 on the VHF. Still we were glad when we reached the first rocks on the other side.

Just as we had crossed, the fog lifted and we could find our way with ease. The forecast said rain should start in a couple of hours. We pushed on to get to Skorvan where a Helsinki kayak club rents a hut. Maybe there were someone there?

How did we know? We knew because Esikko Mykkänen had tipped us. And how did we know Esikko? She’s a friend of the Leppanen family, and the Leppanen family is the Vågnes family’s main Finnish connection. And so the story of people showing up to help continues.

We look forward to meeting Esikko tomorrow. She is a seasoned paddler and have been paddling with legends (amongst paddlers at least…) like Jim Danielsson. She arranged for our kayaks to be stored at her kayak club for two nights.

We’ll spend a day in Helsinki getting hold of some stuff we missed out on in Stockholm. Easier here than in Russia we assume.

No one were present at Skorvan, but the hut has a large veranda with a roof and we have warm sleeping bags. So it was a good place to come to after all.

Day 62 – Without all of that, we would still have been in Sweden most likely – 2 May

Day 62. 2nd of May. Waiting on weather in Bjurs.

Yesterday the weather forecast said 9 m/s winds for a one-hour open crossing to get past the Porkala peninsula. Forecast is not reality, and we have to be prepared for worse than forecast, so we stayed one more day here.

Our hosts Satu and her husband offered to take us with to the shop “Baröboden” in Barösund. The shop was not big, but had the essentials, plus some fresh produce.

To keep an open shop year round is a key concern here, as it has been several places we have visited. A shop is important “glue” for keeping a small community connected and alive. Here in Barösund there is an ongoing campaign to have people buy shares in the shop, so that everyone has “skin in the game”.

We have seen the same thing several places in Sweden as well. And in several small communities, we have talked to people that have lamented the loss of a shop that is open all year.

It’s a plight and a fight it is easy to sympathize with. But in the longer run, we suspect these small shops will be very vulnerable to groceries bought over internet. Larger selection, fresher products, less risk of waste.

Anyway, the desired outcome is not the shop in itself, but as a means to keep the community alive and together. Maybe that can be solved for in another way?

We shall be the last to lament new technology. Both navigation and weather forecast as well as finding accommodation and arranging all sorts of small issues, are greatly helped by our smartphones. Without all of that, we would still have been in Sweden most likely.

After shopping we did some repairs, some “office work”. Ate a lot for lunch. Had a sauna. Ate a lot for dinner…

There is a lot of deer around the house. Herds of up to 20 animals. Satu and her husband got some food that had expired in the shop like lettuce and apples and some bread, and put it out for the deers. Just now there is eight of them on our doorstep!

Tomorrow we’ll try to get as far as we can toward Helsinki before some torrential rains set in. Friday afternoon we’ll be in Helsinki. Weather Permitting.

Day 61 – Core of the core of Finnish hospitality, and very welcome – 1 May

Day 61. 1st of May. No paddling. Resting in Bjurs.

As planned no paddling today. A foggy day in Bjurs spent drying stuff and trying to arrange transportation from Finland to Russia etc.IMG_0645.jpgThe transportation is in hand, Ensi Bus will pick us up in Hamina and drive us to Vyborg on the 10th of May. Good thing, as how to solve for this was becoming a bit of a concern. Stein is most impressed by Erling’s juggling of information using Google.

Another concern is that we are running low on food again. So we walked two km through dense Finnish forest to Barösund where there is a shop. A shop yes, but it is closed on 1st of May…IMG_0033.jpgThere is also a restaurant, Scola, which had excellent food and service. It was almost full of people many of whom donned student caps. We understand this is how the Finns celebrate “Valborgsmass”. Originally a heathen tradition marking that the year is half way between spring equinox and mid-summer.  It was christened by the cult of the Holy Valborg. Where the students come into the picture is unclear, maybe a last night out before they are inundated with exams?

Anyway, we are mostly interested in the part about mid-summer. So far no sign of summer. Snow is easy to find if you know where to look. The immediate weather forecast is also turning worse. Tomorrow we had planned a crossing to and beyond Porkala. As it looks now, weather may or may not permit. So we have decided to stay here for one more day and get our shopping and rest done, rather than venture out in marginal conditions with limited supplies. We now expect to be in Helsinki Friday evening.

Mean time we will enjoy Satu Heino’s hospitality for another day. Yesterday as we came at sunset, the sauna was warmed up and waiting for us. Core of the core of Finnish hospitality, and very welcome.


Day 60 (Part 2) – A minor (and embarrassing) detail, but with interesting consequences – 30 April

Day 60. 30th of April. Sandskär (Hanko) to Bjurs. 54.3 km, 6.0 km/hr average speed.

We knew it would be a long day. If we wanted a roof over our heads, we needed to go all the way to Bjurs. 54 km. We did really want a roof over our heads and the chance to dry up our things. We have been paddling six days since Stockholm so it is time for a rest day, and the weather forecast says it will be a wait on weather day anyway.

We decided to save the “go out in torrential rains in the middle of the night to secure the tent” exercise for later. It will come soon enough.

We started out in fog and reduced visibility. That makes navigation in an archipelago more difficult and slows us down. The low average speed of today is down to that, plus some current against us and some headwind for the last half of the day.

At one point we had to go through a steel pipe under a small road. Stein chose to send his kayak trough and walk over. Erling thought it was possible to follow the current through. It was, but it was no good idea. A kayak is best handled when one can use oars…. And following current reduces maneuverability further.

It was tight and Erling managed to get his right hand into a squeeze. It was almost limp when he got out. And remained so for the rest of the day.P4300196.jpg

A minor (and embarrassing) detail, but with interesting consequences: To keep paddling at reasonable speed, Erling corrected the weakness of the right arm by adjusting with his left. After 45 km of that, it was the left arm that was really hurting. Particularly the last 15 km.

This confirms two things we have learned:
First; with 7 hours and 40 plus km paddling per day, we are at about the intensity our bodies can support.
Second; it’s the last leg of the day when tired bodies struggle a little with smooth technique, that poses the main risk for injuries. (Plus thoughtless entries into tight steel pipes…)

Enough paddling trivia. It is not what we will remember the day for. Rather Stein’s thoughts this day were preoccupied with the loss of a respected friend and former colleague Bjørn Bjørnø, who lost his life in a parachuting accident on Sunday. He was 83 years old.
Stein has mentioned Bjørn Bjørnø to Erling many times, both as a brilliant soldier, and also as a role model of keeping active and young at heart into an old age. RIP.

Erling on his part had promised his father to paddle by Tostholm to pay respects to his father’s deceased friend Peter Flander. Peter and Erling’s father met relatively late in life. Still the friendship grew strong.
We found Tostholm and rested on our oars in silence for one minute, to pay respect to that good friendship.

We reflected a bit on this aspect of the day: When we are away for seven months, there will be times when we feel we are at the wrong place. Times when we feel the right place would be with our close ones. On the other hand, we also reflected on how lucky and privileged we are in that our closest family are in good health and in no immediate need of our support, so that we can paddle away on an adventure like this.
Long may this last.


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