Cleats and Saunas

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Sailing fast from Nagu.

Sailing fast from Nagu.

The next day I was invited to Håkan Mitts’ summer cottage and with a fine 10m/s breeze I sailed on a random course around a whole lot of islands for 20 miles to get there. I was treated to fine hospitality by Håkan, his wife Oili, their daughter and her friend in their Hansel and Gretel cottage in the woods. After, that is, I had made the biggest mess of picking up a buoy I have ever made in a decade of, if you’ll forgive the expression, picking up buoys. Perhaps we’d best draw a veil over that.

Once again I declined the offer of a sauna. This is becoming something of a cultural stumbling block. The sauna is so central to Finnish culture that if you don’t want to partake in the bizarre ritual people really think there’s something wrong with you and take it quite personally. (Ed. note: If you suffer from sauna anxiety but would still like to try, here is a good article to help you!)

On his wooden quay Håkan has installed that fantastic, simple, indispensable invention which is such a rarity in Finland I was beginning to think it had been outlawed by the Government, the cleat. What a difference cleats make to arriving at a quay or pontoon. All over the world they are the standard piece of kit in harbors. Everyone has them on their boats. Yet northern Baltic harbors are almost entirely cleat free zones.

When I arrive in a harbor in Scotland I do so with a couple of good long lines attached. I hop off the boat, give a couple of quick turns round the cleat and the boat is secure. If you need to you can throw a line to someone on the shore, who just needs to turn it round the cleat, with no danger to their fingers, to stop a ten tonne boat blowing sideways in a gale.

The worst mooring system ever designed.

The worst mooring system ever designed.

But not in Finland or Sweden. Most Swedes arrive with lines which, before the boat can be made secure, need to be fed all the way through a silly little ring attached to the dock. If there’s any wind blowing the boat off then by the time you’ve done this either she’s 5 meters away scraping along the side of another boat or you have lost yet another finger.

The Finns take a different approach, with two lines with carabiner clips on the end, shortened to exactly the length they need to be to secure the boat in the marina at home when they leave it for a week. This is usually about a metre. So you wander along the pontoon to help someone dock in a strong wind. When they get close enough the person on the bow passes you these 1 metre lines. They can’t be thrown because either they are too short or you  would be knocked out by the large lump of stainless steel at the end. You hang on to this pathetically short line as the eight tonne forty foot yacht, with a massive amount of windage, blows off the dock. You can’t connect the line to anything unless the design of the pontoon is exactly the same as the one they use at home.

From the mayhem that ensues every time there’s a side wind in a busy harbour in the afternoon, it’s clear that I’m not the only one who’s struggling with these methods of tying up boats. Come on guys, invest in a few cleats!

Evidence of fantastic boat tying skills

Evidence of fantastic boat tying skills

The next day there was a brief lull in what was becoming a seemingly perpetual northerly wind and I motored on a flat calm sea, in search of a good harbor to sit out the force 7 to 8 winds predicted for the following day. In Parattula I found it (ed. note: the harbor is known as Peterzén’s as it is a family run business). It is hard to imagine a more sheltered harbor than this bay reached down a narrow, reedy creek.

Everything was all very relaxed in Parattula and there was nothing harrowing about it at all. Except for one thing. The bloody sauna. It seems that the showers were just an integral part of the sauna. When the sauna wasn’t switched on – that is most of the time – the door to the showers was locked. When the sauna was operating it was absolutely packed full of elderly, paunchy, sweating Finns. Guys all sitting in a row after a sauna are not the best advertisement for the practice. They seem so overcome by the heat that they sit, elbows on knees, slumped forward, grunting and groaning as if in pain. I honestly couldn’t face throwing myself into all that sweaty flesh to use the shower.

I’m afraid there really is a cultural gulf here. I was reminded of being in the Swedish harbour of Utklippan in early May. Utklippan is just a rock out the southern Baltic, where otherwise there is little shelter. The harbour is just a rectangle carved out of the middle of the rock. In early May there were a couple of other boats there, but nothing else. The electricity was off, the toilets were locked, there was nobody on the island. The season would not start for at least another month.

Welcome to the sauna in Parattula (Peterzéns)

Welcome to the sauna in Parattula (Peterzéns)

Just as it was getting dark a Finnish boat entered the harbour with three young lads aboard. They were making a delivery trip from Germany to Finland and their last port of call had been in Denmark, over 24 hours before. They tied up after their long sail and, instead of cracking open a beer, or eating something, or stretching their legs on the island, or taking a nap, came over to Zophiel and asked me “Excuse me but where is the sauna?” When I told them that there wasn’t one they at first stared at me in utter disbelief then, when I convinced them that I was right, looked totally crestfallen at this shattering news. All evening I could see them stalking round the island, trying doors and peering behind rocks, in the forlorn hope that a sauna might magically appear.

If there’s ever a war between Finland and the UK, which hopefully there never will be, it will have something to do with saunas.

After a day in Parattula I had a good fast sail in the continuing strong north westerly wind to the island of Lappo. This year, I’m afraid, we have stolen your summer. In a reversal of normal conditions a very stable high has established itself over Britain, as opposed to Scandinavia, where it usually is. This is giving England and Scotland an unprecedented heatwave, with 30 degree temperatures every day. It’s giving Finland strong, cold northerly winds. Back in June I was seeing sea temperatures in sheltered bays in Sweden up to 19 degrees. Sailing to Lappo in a more exposed area, the sea temperature was 11 degrees. I have contacted various authorities in Scotland on your behalf and requested that the Scandinavian high be returned here, but so far to no avail.

Another theme seemed to be reoccurring as I made a mess of picking up a buoy in Lappo. I clipped onto my buoy OK but then drifted sideways over the next door buoy. This was very close and pulled nearly under water by the boat attached to it. I hadn’t realised how far over it I had drifted when I gave a burst of throttle and heard a huge and frightening clanging sound. My propeller had clanged against the galvanised steel frame on the top of the buoy. Successfully tied up I gave the engine a burst in forward and reverse. Everything seemed fine, so no harm done and no ill-effects from the incident. I must stop making an arse of picking up buoys though!

Tying onto a buoy from the stern is not something that we would do in Scotland. Neither is anchoring by the stern. In fact in Britain you never, ever get on or off the front of a boat. People would think you slightly mad if you did. Why would you need to? In marinas we tie up alongside pontoons. In harbours we tie to the walls with very long lines, making sure they are long enough that the boat isn’t left hanging in mid air at low tide. If we tie to a buoy it is at least a hundred metres from land, we tie it to the front of the boat and get off the side into the dinghy.

Boats tied up at the Parattula marina (Peterzén's).

Boats tied up at the Parattula marina (Peterzén’s).

If we use an anchor it is only ever at the bow, again at least a hundred metres from the shore. Wherever possible of course we avoid being anywhere near a lee shore. Preferably we’d want to be about half a mile away. You have to remember, of course, that we rarely arrive anywhere at exactly low tide and with 5 to 12 metre tides the shoreline is likely to shift anywhere between a few metres and a few miles over the course of 6 hours.

Most British yachtsmen would be terrified by the prospect of sticking out an anchor and having the bow of the boat only half a metre from the shore. Our anchor lines are either all chain, so that the weight of chain dropping to the sea bed allows the boat to ride nicely at anchor, or deliberately stretchy. If you used a stretchy line on a stern anchor you’d be constantly bashing into the land, so the Finnish webbing line is deliberately designed not to stretch at all.

Everything about Baltic mooring is back to front. The only thing I’ve used my main bow anchor for all season is stepping onto in order to get on and off the boat. Because that’s another difference. British boats are nearly always designed with a stainless steel pulpit which goes all the way round the bow in an unbroken arc. It’s therefore nearly impossible to climb over. Everyone else designs pulpits with cut away sections so that you can walk through them, but not the British.

Of course our boats are not set up to anchor from the stern. Doubtless we British give the Finns a good laugh as we struggle with our crappy home made arrangemnts for bunging an anchor off the back of the boat.

We are so set in our ways and it’s such a cultural challenge for some British sailors that they won’t adjust at all. I came across one British boat in Åland, which had been based in the Baltic for many years, whose skipper absolutely refused to do any mooring by the stern. He would not use a stern anchor and would not tie a buoy onto the stern. Since it was an old long keeler, there was no way he could reverse anywhere either. So for years he has either anchored or phoned up guest harbours beforehand, demanding an alongside place.

Many Scandinavians have almost the opposite obsession. Some have a sort of mental block when it comes to the side of the boat. Last year I was in the southern Swedish harbour of Simrishamn on a busy Saturday evening in late July. Simrishamn is a rare Baltic marina with the sort of pontoons we have at home. Everyone was tied sideways on to a sturdy pontoon. In Britain every single person would have stepped onto the side of their boat.

Over a beer I sat and rather obsessively watched people going to and from their boats. Around fifty Swedes came and went and not a single one of them, ever, hopped on or off the side of their boat. Every single one of them completely ignored the pontoon and struggled up to the bow, often carrying difficult burdens and having problems with the rigging. Making life as difficult for themselves as they could, they jumped down onto the pontoon from their awkwardly high bows. It was exactly the opposite of the British practice. Doubtless both cultures are deeply ingrained Pavlovian responses.

Read the full story of Martin Edge and Zophiel sailing in Finland in 2013

Click on the links below to read about Martin Edge’s Finnish sailing experience as he slowly sails through the archipelagos of Åland and Turku.