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by Rene Vidmer - Nazareth, Pennsylvania - USA

Part One - Part Two

K. O. T. W. s European Odyssey - Part 1


Kiss of the Wolf* (KOTW) was built in 2008 in a Nazareth PA backyard. She is a fifteen and a half foot, out-board-powered, flat-bottomed skiff in the Sharpy style to lines drawn by boat architect Jim Michalak (AF4b).
Although designed as a day sailor and occasional over-nighter, KOTW has logged in excess of 8000 miles ranging as far South as the Gulf of Mexico, West to Chicago and as far North as Lake Huron’s North Passage - all on her own flat bottom.

While being refitted over the winter, a chance conversation with a good friend, Cris Majcherski, produced an irresistible idea: he had a friend who shipped sport boats to Finland and Russia. I had never sailed the Baltic so arrangements were made and in early April the boat was shipped to Kotka, Finland. I would have preferred St. Petersburg, but clearance into Russia was thought to be too chancy.

The following reports are taken directly from a rather sporadically kept log.

*The boat’s name was stolen from the John Irving novel “Last Night In Twisted River”.

Friday, May 18, Kotka, Finland
Arrived last night  from Pennsylvania via Toronto, Frankfurt, Helsinki by plane and Kotka by bus. Launched the boat on a borrowed trailer in Kotka’s main harbor, and motored up to a small creek north of Kotka for the night. It is windy, choppy and cold, and will take several days to overcome jet lag, get my sea legs and warm up.

The plan is to head for Southern Spain and the warm waters of the Mediterranean; an ambitious idea, and I have no real expectations of pulling it off, but I’ve mapped out a route that suggests it’s at least possible.

KOTW being towed out of a Finnish warehouse, on a Latvian trailer, by a Russian truck.
The little fishing village just North of Kotka
Kotka to Helsinki

Sunday May 20, Lovisa, Finland
Sailed to Lovisa, pleasant little resort community with a very nice nautical museum. It is cold but the sun is out, so it’s not so bad, and it’s only blowing about 10k.

Dropped anchor several miles short of Porvoo.

Monday May 21, Porvoo, Finland
Up at 5:30. Slept in all my clothes; still cold but it is a sunny day and promises to warm up. Winds are out of the Nortwest and light. I’m on my way to Porvoo to buy needles and thread to repair the birdwalk hatch cover ripped in transit from the States.

Porvoo is a truly delightful small city right on the waterfront, enhanced by the temperature which rose by midday to the mid 80s. Everybody young and old was out bicycling, jogging, walking, pushing baby carriages, or just stretched out on the grass in the spread-eagled “take me sun, I’m all yours” attitude.

Tuesday May 22, Helsinki, Finland
A lovely day for a sail down to Helsinki. Storm clouds on the horizon and distant thunder and occasional lightning in the morning found me seeking shelter up a small river lined with vacation cottages. I tied off to a small dock in front of one of them. The owner came down to the dock to welcome me, and I enlisted him to help reseat my motor. The storm blew over leaving only a few drops of rain, and I resumed my run to Helsinki.

A narrow defile for very small boats only.

Monday May 28, Mariehamn, Finland
I’m stuck here with high winds. May be here for a few days. Pretty town. Am only a day away from Sweden and sheltered waters but need flat seas.

Helsinki to Mariehamn

Tuesday & Wednesday May 29, 30
Very high winds. Cold. Explored town. Bought much needed propane. Hunkered down and drank a lot of coffee. Finns drink their coffee weak, so I make my own. I do find the packaged foods superior to ours; bread is real bread, and packaged ham slices and cheese taste like real ham and cheese, not a close approximation. The season isn’t underway yet so most shops and facilities along the waterfront are closed. I did find a pizza shop that had just opened and bought a small pizza there. I think it was the first pizza they ever made.

The weather in the Aaland Islands is not being very cooperative
Mariehamn to Knaphalen

Thursday May 31, Knaphalen, Sweden
Winds backed off enough to make a few miles. 

Dropped the hook last night in a notch of a large rock on the very Western edge of the Aaland Islands. This morning up at 4:30 and North to get gas at the last fuel pump in Finland at Karingsundet.

Unfortunately, they weren’t open and looked like they might not be for several days. The Season hasn’t started yet. Decided since the conditions looked propitious to try for the Swedish coast, somewhere over the horizon, anyway. 

Not a smooth ride, and no sun. But not bad at all. Crossed the Aaland Sea in a little over three hours. 

It’s 8:00 here now. If one could see the sun, they would see it high in the sky as it only gets dark here for about two hours out of twenty-four but that seems to me merely academic as it may be up but it is seldom seen. It’s raining, and expected to continue so for the next few days, but it’s not all that cold and the water ahead is an easy run to Stockholm. Am in a bight in the river and tucked in and dry and warm enough. But it sure is raining. 

The last fuel pump in Finland. Closed.

Friday June 1, Nyby Sweden
Rain and cold arrived yesterday and turned biting and bitter today. I tied off to an unattended mooring buoy near some small outboard skiffs at a turn in the river and went to bed. My fingers are numb, and even with every warm thing I own brought into play, I’m not sure I’ll ever be warm again.

Saturday June 2, Rörvik, Sweden
Still in same spot as yesterday at this time. Still cold. Still raining. Still under the covers. Bailed cockpit just now as it had become a bathtub. I amuse myself by listening to a really bad Ken Follet novel on my iPod, and reading a not very good Swedish detective novel. The radio plays local FM  Disco - all - Disco - all - the - time. 
Stay tuned.

Sunday June 3, Bareskaten, Sweden
Rain stopped sometime during the night, but I awoke to leaden skies and only a sliver of silver on the horizon. This was 4:30am. Got off about six after once again bailing the bathtub, and the rain held off. Made several miles South and tucked into a cove for breakfast and a nap as this huge, black, really threatening cloud that reminded me immediately of the “Close Encounters “ mothership was bearing down on me. Made a few more attempts after that but only made a mile or so the rest of the day because of rough water and icy spray.

The banks along this bay and along the other waterways leading in to it are dotted with small skiffs pulled up on land clear of the shoreline, sometimes clusters of 15 to 20 boats, but more often just single boats with 40 hp motors hanging off their stern. Not one, however, deigned to be out in this weather. Huge tour ships (Finnlines) pass by though. There are plenty of summer cottages- the ubiquitous barn red with white trim. I’d say there is one cottage to every ten boats.

Finnlines tour ship
Knaphalen to Stockholm

Monday June 4, St Hoggarn Island, Sweden
Up and away this morning at six. Only sprinkles during the night. Still a sky full of rain clouds but little glimmers of bright blue up ahead. The sea was doable and though very cold I was dealing with it. A little after 11:00 I banged up another prop on a submerged rock while being distracted by one of the large cruise ships that ply the Swedish Archipelago. I described this run down to Stockholm earlier as a series of protected rivers and canals. Wrong. I’ve been informed that what I’m sailing is still the Baltic Sea, peppered with hundreds of small islands along Sweden’s East coast.

I pulled up to a small dock nearby and changed the prop to my last spare. Stopped at the cosy little island town of “Vaxholm” for groceries. 
Dropped the hook  at 4:00 behind St Hoggarn Island’s man made jetty. Dark clouds all around, but directly overhead- a lovely shade of blue.

Blue skies

Tuesday June 5, Stockholm, Sweden
Really good day today- sailed right through the middle of Stockholm - what a city - big, not particularly pretty but vibrant. I happened upon the populous on their way to work at 8:30 am, and they were all on bicycles. I watched slack-jawed as many hundreds streamed over a small bridge in the middle of the city looking for all the world like a Tour de France pelaton. Sun shone today, a little rain, but not so cold and smooth water. Am still in the archipelago, hoping to have a good day tomorrow and maybe get close to the entrance of the Gota Canal. Went through my first lock today, in the middle of Stockholm. Didn’t even know it was a lock until I was already in it. Swedish for lock is “sluss”. I can remember that.

Stockholm to Göteborg

Thursday June 14, Trollhattan, Sweden
Last several days have been overcast and a bit raw. Very little rain though.

Managed to run the big lake with not too much pounding and am now back on the canal.  Waiting for marine store to open so can buy yet another prop. 

Sunday June 17, Göteborg, Sweden
Been out a month now. Am now on the West coast of Sweden in the Kattegat Sea, a few miles South of Göteborg.

I’ve been holed up in a C shaped cove formed by boulders out here in the sea of big waters and many rocks for the past two days. There is according to my chart an honest to goodness harbor only about three miles from here but I must wait until the winds die down as the waves try to make kindling of my boat if I attempt to leave this little pocket of calm in the maelstrom around me. 

Wednesday, June 20, Molle, Sweden
Sunday and Monday I was holed up with rainstorms, high winds and high seas. Tuesday brought some relief and I got in a few miles South. Today, however, found me awake at 4:30 am and peering out the cabin port light at what looked like a smoothing sea and light winds to tempt me once again out of a snug harbor. This time the calming waters inside the harbor led me to an almost calm Kattegat Sea. I banged on a lot of miles today with a warm sun overhead and a mild breeze over one shoulder. Am now anchor down in the pocket harbor of the resort seaside town of Molle, Sweden. Am around Sweden’s last corner and can almost see Denmark across the Kattigatt.

It was a really good day, the first in a long time.

On to Part 2...

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