maanantai 29. heinäkuuta 2013

July 28th 2013

Latte the Polar Bear Watch Dog

Next morning we went ashore to explore the station and its surroundings.
It was an exact copy of the stations we had visited in Franz Joseph Land:
buildings in ruins, rusty vehicles, all types of building materials
rotting away, furniture, tools, dishes, shoes, mouldy clothes, film reels
etc. thrown all over the place as if in a rage.

The minuscule flora that grew amongst all this scrap was a wonderful
contrast to the otherwise depressing sight. I walked around taking photos
while Pekka wandered from one building into another collecting all kinds
of interesting things that we later tried to identify.

At some point I realized that Pekka was nowhere to be seen or heard. I
also realized that I didn't have anything to protect myself in case a
polar bear would come into sight. Pekka had both a flare gun and some flares
with him whereas I only had my camera to shoot with. 'Pekkaaa, where are
you!' I hollered, and after a while I saw him come out of a building at
the far end of the village. We now divided our anti-polar bear weapons and
with a flare in my pocket I happily continued taking photos. The following
night, a big, brownish polar bear was seen walking on the beach!

Lady Dana, the Polish boat that intends to sail both the Northern Sea Route
and the Northwest Passage this summer, had arrived in the same anchorage
and, in the morning of the 27th, we left together for a nearby bay, also
part of the polar station, in search of fuel which we had not managed to
find in our 'own' village. 

We returned in the afternoon (after a successful trip of which I will tell you later) 
and I was preparing dinner when I heard Latte barking. I went up to see what was 
happening as there shouldn't have been anything to bark at except for a polar bear, of
course. And there he was, a beautiful and deadly polar bear standing on
the waterfront staring at us and sniffing the air. When Latte started
barking even louder, the bear looked startled and backed off to the nearby
buildings. There he first rose to his hind legs and then dashed
off behind the buildings.

In less than an hour, the bear was back on the beach. Latte was barking
again but this time the bear didn't seem to be scared. He came to the
waterfront staring at us, stayed there for a few seconds as if wondering
what to do next, and then again disappeared behind the buildings. Seeing
the bear so close I understood what an idiot I had been walking around on
the beach without even as much as a flare to protect myself.

For the rest of the evening, Latte and I, with my camera ready, were on
continuous polar bear watch but we never saw the bear again. As we had
decided to go and get fuel from the other part of the polar station, the
following morning we weighed anchor and moved to another bay, this time 
hopefully polar bear-free!

July 25th 2013

Novaya Zemlya, Russkaya Gavan' Gulf
76° 11,452' N, 62° 36,001' E

On the 23rd, we said farewell to Franz Joseph Land, its beautiful islands,
icy passages, smelly walruses, and evasive polar bears. In the afternoon,
we crossed the latitude of 80 degrees north and were back on the map

Sailing totally without charts had been quite a tiring experience. The
paper charts mailed from Finland to St. Petersburg had not been delivered
to Franz Joseph Land as promised, and our electronic charts were totally
blank above 80 degrees. So we didn't know where we were, where we had come
from, or where we were going to and, especially for Pekka, this was
extremely frustrating. We have now promised ourselves that it was
absolutely the last time we would be so totally dependent on other people!

Franz Joseph Land disappeared in the mist as we continued our passage
towards the island of Novaya Zemlya. The mist eventually turned into a
thick fog that persisted for the following two days we spent at sea. When
we neared Novaya Zemlya, the skies finally cleared and we could see in
front of us rolling hills, bare, brown and desolate, except for the sad
remains of a polar station deserted back in the 90's. This was our
destination, a place where we would be staying for a while, to wait for the
ice situation on the Kara Sea to develop and to get fuel provided that we
can find barrels that have not yet rusted away.

keskiviikko 24. heinäkuuta 2013

July 23rd 2013

At Anchor
80° 32,042' N, 54° 16,902' E

The following morning, Pekka dinghied to Anne Margareta to take some
photos of their charts as our intention was to stay behind while the other
two boats would continue their journey. I had just undressed and was about to
wash my hair when I heard a BANG from outside: the ice had found us once
again. I really don't know what is wrong with our good boat Sarema but she
acts like a magnet drawing ice towards her whenever we are at anchor. So I
quickly dressed up again, thankful that I hadn't had time to shampoo my
hair yet, and hurried outside with a long pole to push the ice away.

While Pekka was still onboard Anne Margareta, the wind changed its
direction and started blowing straight into our bay pushing more and more
ice towards us. Thus, the only option left for us was to leave with the
other boats and continue about 70 miles further south-west where there was
supposed to be a safe anchorage.

Early next morning, we arrived in a huge bay which had a gigantic glacier
on one side and a magnificent bird cliff at its mouth. The problem here
was that the end of the bay was full of drift ice and growlers that
prevented us from anchoring. However, we found a decent anchorage near the
bird cliff and spent the night there. Next morning, Anne Margareta and
Lady Dana weighed their anchors and left but this time, we stayed behind.
Sailing in company had been an interesting experience but not quite our
thing. Although, I must stress that there was nothing wrong with the
company, on the contrary!

Now we are finally on our own and more than happy to be so. With the help of
the copied charts, we will be able to negotiate our way through the rest
of the archipelago and continue to our next destination, the island of
Novaya Zemlya.

July 20th 2013


From the Polar Station, it took us almost 24 hours before we reached our
next stop. We first motored through narrow sounds where occasionally floe and
drift ice made our passage difficult, and then continued along wider passages
where we could admire magnificent glaciers glowing white and turquoise in
the light of the midnight sun, forever present!

When we finally arrived in our destination, there were two polar bears on
the ice covering the end of the bay. Of course, this was exciting but
photographing-wise it was a real waste of digital space: they were much
too far away to be seen properly even through the binoculars.

Next morning we left for the north. Our intention was to sail to the
northernmost anchorage in Franz Joseph Land and also visit Cape Flora, the
place where Nansen had wintered in 1896. However, we never made it because
of the weather forecast. 

There was a low pressure area approaching from the South-West with 20 to 30 knot 
winds which quite probably would push ice into our passage. So when we had 
reached 81° 33,847' N, 58° 23,815' E, we did a U-turn and headed back to the 
Polar Bear Bay which we thought would be safe in these weather conditions.

July 19th 2013

Saving the Sarema!

From the Walrus Bay, we sailed only for a few hours to another, much
bigger Polar Station, this one still in use for meteorological studies. In
the past, there had been more than two hundred people living at the
station all year round but, according to the Station Head, then came
Glasnost and Perestroika and the station's downfall began. 

And what a downfall it had been: the whole place was like a giant scrap yard with
thousands of rusting barrels everywhere, some empty, some still leaking
chemicals, rusty vehicles, a bust aeroplane, dozens of buildings decaying
around once a beautiful lake, now full of waste. What a sad, sad place!

We were told that this station too would be tidied up and stored as a
museum but where is all that money coming from? And how many years would
it take to clean up a place like that, several decades at least would be
my guess!

While still anchored in front of the station, Lady Dana's captain
contacted us by VHF because he was worried that our boats were too close
to each other. While standing in their cockpits and discussing the matter,
the captains came to the conclusion that there was nothing to worry about.

Obviously the captains had not bothered to look around them as, about five
minutes later, we heard someone shout SAREMA, SAREMA!!! and when we rushed
up on deck, we saw a big bergy bit leaning against our bow.

By then, there were already two dinghies trying to push the ice away from
us, and soon a third dinghy joined in. Together they managed to turn the
iceberg so that it no more threatened our anchor. As I was watching the
ice slowly sliding past us, it suddenly hit me: What if we had been alone?
Oh yes, sailing in company does have its benefits!

July 18th 2013

In the Walrus Bay

From the polar station, we continued further north. Our next anchorage was
a pleasantly shallow bay where we anchored in only eight metres of water.
This is quite rare in the Arctic where it is more than usual that you have
to anchor or at least try to anchor in 20 to 30 metre depths. Another
rarity, at least for us, were the walruses that called this bay their

When we were on our way ashore to see the walruses closer, there was a
group of them heading out to sea, and they were exactly between us and the
shore. As walruses with their long and sharp tusks can be dangerous when
threatened, we thought it wise to board Peter I which was nearby. When the
animals had proceeded further away, we continued ashore where we were once
again protected by our friendly park ranger who had come with us here from
the Polar Station.

We carefully neared the walruses, some of which were dozing on land and
some on fast ice, and managed to get so close without disturbing them that
taking decent photos was possible. This meant that one of the two goals I
had set for this part of our voyage had been achieved!

July 17th 2013

Shaking  All Over

After six days at sea accompanied by northern fulmars, kittiwakes,
dolphins, and a curious minke whale, we found ourselves amidst four
trawlers. About an hour later, Sarema started shaking violently. What was
wrong, was it the engine or the propeller shaft?? Since both seemed to be
all right, it had to be the propeller although we couldn't see anything
through the dark water. Since there was nothing we could do, we continued
sailing hoping that the shaky condition of our good boat Sarema would not
deteriorate any further.

Two days later in the evening, we dropped anchor at 80° 19,090' N, 52°
51,887' E with the wind howling in the rigging, and the summer's first
snowflakes flying in the air. The following morning, we woke up to a day
of brilliant sunshine and saw what a beautiful place we had come to. After
hurried breakfast, we motored to the other side of the bay where we
anchored near an old Polar Station that would eventually be turned into an
open air museum. Our guide was a Franz Joseph Land Nature Reserve Park Ranger
who showed us around the place at the same time guarding us with his 308
Winchester against any hungry polar bears that might be too tempted to
leave such a big bunch of fresh meat alone.

After the sightseeing tour, Pekka went to the sauna which the park ranger
had been kind enough to heat for us. And then it was time to solve the
problem with our propeller. The Polish boat Lady Dana had scuba diving
gear and a dry suit, and Daniel, the captain of Peter I, although having
very little diving experience, was courageous enough to volunteer for the
job. The dry suit was far too small for Daniel, and a team of several
hardy men was required to get the suit on him. When even the smallest of
the holes between Daniel and the dry suit had been blocked with ducting
tape, Daniel dived into the freezing water and freed our propeller from a
huge plastic bag that was wrapped tightly around it.

During the propeller project, the wind had picked up unnoticed. When the
three dinghy loads of Daniel's assistants were leaving, we heard someone
yell that we were dragging our anchor and were dangerously close to the
shore. Pekka quickly started the engine, I weighed the anchor, and we
motored happily to the other side of the bay for safety, no more shaking!

lauantai 6. heinäkuuta 2013

July 4th 2013

Solovetsky Island

On the 30th of June, after the last lock of the Stalin Canal, when we were once again sailing on the open sea, we felt absolutely exuberant. It was wonderful to see the water stretch all the way to the horizon after so many days of narrow rivers, even narrower canals, and nearly suffocating locks.

Later in the same evening, we arrived on the Solovetsky Island where the main attraction is the magnificent Solovetsky Monastery and Fortress founded in 1436.

After the Bolshevik revolution, the monastery was closed down and from 1923 to 1939, it was used as one of the most notorious concentration camps in the Soviet Union. Among the prisoners were great Russian scientists, authors, and poets, officers of the White Army, and representatives of the nobility. Now, the Solovetsky Monastery is a museum and one of the first historical and architectural sites in Russia included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The RusArc boats stayed on the island for two nights and then continued their way, eventually heading for Archangel where the fleet will eventually disperse. When the rest of the boats left, we stayed behind. As lone sailors, we felt we needed to be without company for a while, and so we anchored in a small bay near the monastery grounds and spent there two days merely enjoying the peace and quiet around us. On the 4th of July, at 2 a.m. we weighed anchor and headed for the fleet's final meeting point near the City of Archangel.

maanantai 1. heinäkuuta 2013

June 29th 2013

Through the Canal of the Dead

On the 27th, we entered the first lock of the Belomorsko-Baltijski Canal,
also known as the Stalin Canal. The Canal is 227 kilometres long and has a
total of 19 locks. The Stalin Canal was completed in a mere twenty months
during the years 1931-1933.

It was built solely by slave labour, mainly Gulag political prisoners, and
it is estimated that during the building process 200,000 – 250,000
prisoners died which means approximately one dead prisoner per canal
metre. Because of the tight schedule, there was not always time to bury
the dead and many of the prisoners who died on the building site were
thrown into cement mixers and are buried in the canal walls. Every lock
had a guard armed with a Kalashnikov AK47. But what were they actually 

guarding, the souls of the dead?

For this particular leg, the fleet was divided into two groups for the boats 

to better fit in the lock. In both groups, there are three bigger boats,
one of which is s/y Sarema, which attach themselves to the lock wall and
three smaller boats which come alongside them. So far, the system has
worked flawlessly. During the past two days, we have gone through eighteen
locks  and this afternoon, the fleet was once again united. Tomorrow,
after one more lock, we'll be on the White Sea!

June 27th 2013

From Petrozavodsk to Kizhi

Since leaving St. Petersburg, we have had nothing but blue skies and warm
sunshine, and no wind to speak of. The only negative thing about this
gorgeous weather are the insects; the tiny flies that crawl into every
nook and cranny they can possibly find and the several squadrons of
horseflies which we call elephant-flies because of their gigantic size,
that attack us every time we are too close to the shore.

On the 24th, the fleet gathered in an old oil terminal that is being
converted into a marina, about ten kilometres from Petrozavodsk, the
capital of Karelia. The following morning we shared a taxi with the crew
of the Finnish yacht La Grande Mia, and drove to town. We spent the day
sightseeing, doing some essential shopping, and while waiting for our taxi
to come and collect us, stopped for lunch. We had borsch and solyanka,
both Russian specialities and Oh, so delicious!

in both Russian and Finnish, the official language of the Republic of Karelia till the end of the Soviet Era (1991)

In the afternoon, we cast off and motored to the Kizhi Island where we
arrived just after midnight. In some miraculous way, all twelve vessels
managed to squeeze themselves into the island's miniature harbour where we
spent the night.

Early the next morning, we went on an excursion of the island which is an
open-air museum founded in 1966. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which
includes more than 80 historic wooden buildings, some moved to the island
from other parts of Karelia and the rest of Russia.

The island's most extraordinary churches were built from logs which were
cut and shaped using axes and assembled without a single nail. Their roofs
were made from spruce while the exteriors of the domes were covered with
aspen which gives the domes a beautiful silvery hue.

We had an absolutely superb guide who was both knowledgeable and
enthusiastic about the subject. She not only provided us with factual
information about the island and the buildings but gave us a real insight
into the lives of the islanders throughout the history of the Kizhi