you always scratch me at the wrong places

Aland2014kayak


It is not very complicated to understand why one would choose Aland as a destination when the time is scarce but you need to get  away from Estonia. Aland provides plenty of tiny to bigger islands to take shelter in bad weather but also enough free water to enjoy some beginner-intermediate sea-kayaking. Multitude of islands and possibilities to plan a course will definitely provide reasons to come back over and over and if you`d add the Turu archipelago to the equation possibilities will triple.

My plan began with a short overnight ferryride to Mariehamn and the on my own power to paddle around the main island and the cycling to Helsinki. Ferry schedule in the Baltic sea is pretty good and therefore it doesn`t require much long-term planning and left me plenty of freedom to manage my time.

There are many kayak rentals in Aland and I found a suitable one in Eckerö. For your information it`s a real hassle if not impossible to get your own kayak to Aland from Estonia if you`re flying solo and not willing to take on the longer crossings alone. As I went alone I wasn`t ready for that mentally or physically.

I disembarked in Mariehamn in the very early hours, when there is not many people moving around. Distance to Eckerö is a bit over 40km and I was at Peters place at 8AM to receive a red Prijon SeaYak 520Hv. Peter kindly allowed me to leave my bike in his garage to wait for my return and at about 9am I started paddling. The wind was from N to NW and quite strong for me and I quickly decided to change my plan to paddle counter-clockwise around the main island to get use the shelter of islands more effectively. I paddled a bit in the headwind and the turned south to the wide channel leading to Mariehamn. The kayak proved to be very stable even in the sidewind and I made good progress. In a few hours I turned south the  channel and took a short nap at the bridge connecting HAmmarland and Eckerö. I had 4 hours and 20km of paddling done and the weather was clear but windy. In an hours I continued SE and I arrived back near Mariehamn in the evening and spent the night in the small Skogsö island only 300m away from the main ferry line. The only inhabitants were birds as I took a stroll around the island. Distance/time biking 47km/4,5h; paddling 46km/9h

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the gear fits better into a kayak than on a bike

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camp nr 1 at Skogsö

In the morning of the second day a tailwind took me near Lemland and into a tricky maze of small islets, where I had to paddle under a road. There`s no wind between the islands but to go forward I had to go on the open water and pull-out two crossings about 2k long with waves I`m not exactly use to. A bit out of my comfort zone, but that`s how you get better. The island of Bäcko provided some shelter when I sneaked east along the southern shore. Got lost when turned the bow to north. The island are all so similar from the water level and my map not that accurate – like a 1000-piece puzzle. At least I know the direction. Locals  in some little harbor pointed me to my location and to my relief I found out that I had progressed way better than I thought. I had paddled for over 9 hours and 40km. The weather wasn`t that great and as fatigue started to settle in I started to think and look out for a camping place. I didn`t wan´t to paddle out from between the islands  to be sheltered if the wind should rise. Found a decent spot among the thatches and set up the camp just in time to be under the tarp when it started raining. Camp routines and off to sleep. Distance paddling 54km/11h

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the island of Skogsö

The morning was clouded again, navigation complicated and I made some extra distance. I passed a ferry going a short distance to and fro between islands – a huge raft actually, which uses a motor to haul itself along a cable. The crux of the day is the leg between Langholm and Bergö. It`s open and windy. The plan was to cover most of the distance using the leeward sides of the many island to avoid most of the headwind. Wind was still blowing from N and NE and there were occasional short and intensive sidewinds. It`s sometimes easier and safer to paddle straight into the wind than take it from the side, because some shores are all rock with waves crashing hard into them. Didn`t want to get between those. On many occasions the waves washed all over the deck right up to the sprayskirt and it took some work to make forward progress. Sun came out right after the hardest part and paddling became easier. The wind and waves eased up too. I made a short stop to take a nap in the sun. There was a Anna`s shop marked on the map and I took that as my next target. Reached the landing spot in an hour and walked around on the Grundsunda. Needed to fill up on water too. The shop turns out to be a souvenir shop, kept by an old ship captain called Erik. To spend time and for fun he makes furniture and thingies and sells them. He also had some painting by and Estonian artist. He speak a multitude of languages and is very friendly. I spent and hour there and planned to return when on bike. At that time the day was getting to an end and I found for a camping place near the next days longer crossing. The water was a bit cold for swimming as I found out right after jumping in. A little walk assured me that I wasn`t in anybody’s back yard. And only a roe deer showed it`s displeasure with some short barking sometime during the night as it was making it`s rounds. Distance paddling 44,5km/11h

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camp nr 2

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the plan in the morning

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camp nr 3

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sunset at camp nr 3

Not a great start on day 4 – skies are grey and it starts to rain – it becomes a monotonous slog. Maybe fortunately isn`t the appropriate word but shit goes down that makes worth remembering. At about noon I felt stiff and cold from the long sitting and decided to get out of the boat for a while. There was an fisherman hut and other related stuff lying around and some higher ground to scout the next leg. After stretching my legs for a while I climbed the highest point, checked what lies ahead and took a look back – and saw my kayak slowly floating away from the island. SHITSHITSHIT! It was about 15m off already. To my great fortune the sea is calm. I raced to the landing spot and jump in to get the oar first. It was only a few meters away. Because of the slippery rocks it was somewhat difficult to get out again. Once out I fixed my PFD, checked the distance to the boat – 25m – and as I`m wet already, jump right back in. Despite the minimal clothing swimming with a PFD isn`t that easy. After reaching the boat, I had to remind myself the self-rescue techniques (a little rusty at that point) and after one unsuccessful attempt and another very-very careful one I was back in the cockpit and using the spare oar maneuvered back to shore. Hoisted the boat very high this time and quickly changed into dry clothes. Adrenaline is high and to get warm again I started paddling immediately. After paddling the first longer 5km leg and between the islands again I felt rather empty and tired so I went ashore again and took a nap for an hour or so. Felt much better after that.
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charging

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it`s amazing what you can find on a beach

After reaching the main island again in couple of hours I found out that finding a camping or even landing spot is difficult. The northern shore is steep and rocky with bigger waves crashing into them. I kept my distance from the shore. There were some coves, but those were unsuitable for another reason – too close to the houses. Finally I managed to find a great place that is protected from the wind and waves. Distance paddling 44,5km/11,5h.
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this didn`t look that calm in the mornig

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Morning came with a unpleasant surprise. Wind had picked up and was blowing straight into the mouth of my little cove. Waves were defiantly out of my league. Checked the weather, which was unpromising and decided to go for it. Pointed the bow straight into the wave to paddle through, but couldn`t keep it that way. The boat turned and got hit by the wave from the side and I rolled over and out of the boat. GDDMMIT. Grabbed the boat and swam back to shore. After changing out of the wet clothes (again!) and contemplating the waves and reaching the decision that I didn`t want to try again I went to scout the shore further ahead. The plan was to find a better launching spot. The shoreline was interesting but seriously lacked of suitable places. In retrospective I´m glad that I didn`t try to carry the boat and gear over the rocky terrain. That 1+km would have been very unpleasant and exhausting. What infuriated me most was that I could have easily paddled those few kilometers the day before. But in the end of the day I was happy that I didn`t. During my scouting I found some helpful, but not very sober locals. At that point I had no choice, but to head to the direction that I knew that would lead me away from the shore hoping that I will encounter a farm soon where I could get some help. That soon turned into a 1.5h of walking and eventually reaching the village of Östergeta. I was fortunate to get help almost immediately and soon I was back kat my boat and prepared to haul my gear for about 300m over land. A feat that turner out rather hard `cause when you pack for kayaking you don`t expect to be carring that gear on your back. Took three rounds for gear and another one for the boat. Like I said – I was glad that I didn`t take it up to carry my stuff for a 1+km.
My helper, Anders, not only helped me to get my boat to a better waters, but showed me around Geta and talked about the life on the island, to me to see the erecting of the maypole. Many thanks!
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a Aland moose – actually a clecerly disguised hunters shooting platform

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a maypole

It was 3pm when I got back into the kayak. The weather had turned for the better and although the sun was shining a cold northerly wind was still blowing making some channels more difficult to paddle. Maybe I was discouraged by the morning swim, but I really didn`t want to swim again. That made me take some safer routes and on one occasion paddle a V – downwind at first and then into the wind. So to to cover the 100m distance between two points I actually paddled like 400.
At some point it became almost like a race with myself – I knew that I would be done this evening, but I guess all that time off the water affected somehow. Could have enjoyed the last few kilometer, but I tend to not do that. The paddling ended with a tailwind stretch and me trying to find the right cove. But then it was over – 5 days and 220 of paddling and my first longer solo kayaking trip.
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the start of the portage – doesn`t feel that heavy

Up next – cycling through Aland to Helsinki.
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ready to pedal

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