Writing in 2003: Greatly facilitated (that is, made possible at all) by a rapidly made new mast from Essex boatbuilder Fabian Bush (see BUNNY in Morbihan), in July of this year Raid Finland followed the Great Glen and Morbihan Week in continuing to give me, Mike and Bunny a far greater breadth of experience than we might otherwise have had. Fourteen boats from throughout western Europe took part, and we gathered at the jumping-off point, Airisto in south-west Finland, over the two days before the start, allowing plenty of time for a gear check-out and shake-down sail, and to get acquainted with other craft and their crews. It’s a small world, and here I met again the Swedish family Palm with Suss, whom we last met in the Great Glen.Read More
At Airisto we took over the Finnish Sea Safety Training Centre, where those of us not camping or sleeping on board were comfortably accommodated in the quarters normally used by visiting members of the merchant marine. To keep us fed Mike Hanyi, the Raid’s organiser, had retained a pair of chefs for the week. (Mike, confusingly, is an American of Hungarian/Austrian parentage, married to a Finn.) These initial accommodation and dining arrangements established the high standard to be experienced throughout the Raid.
Our initial briefing established the course for the first couple of days and explained racing and safety procedure. All boats would be subject to a gear inspection according to a checklist provided in advance; three motor boats would keep watch over the fleet, members of which could raise attention in an emergency or if requiring a tow, using a brightly coloured flag on a stick provided for the purpose. To the question ‘what about VHF?’ from one participant, I was unable to resist suggesting ‘wave the flag faster’. Combined with the eagle eyes of the motor boat crews, this system was to work very well. So on Saturday 26 July, in winds which were to be generally from the south and in record temperatures reaching over 33C (92F), the fleet set out on a (very) roughly circular course which would take it west into the Swedish-speaking Åland (pronounded auland, the au as in autumn) archipelago of some 6,500 islands, then eventually north, east, and south-east to finish at the charming town of Naantali, a few kilometres from the start, an overall distance of some 100 nautical miles.
The Baltic was a completely new experience; no tides for one thing, a welcome change after the washing machines, complete with spin cycles, of Morbihan. The elimination of tides as a factor in passage planning represents either a great bonus, or the removal of half the fun, depending on your point of view. The sea level can change by a foot or two over a period of days, but purely in response to air pressure or wind, and without, I believe, any discernible current. The water itself was unusual in being brackish rather than overtly salty – it had the smell and the taste of rivers and lakes, and caused us to float lower on our marks when swimming, which we did often, than in the sea off the UK. Navigating the archipelago proved not to be too taxing, although it could not always be assumed that the leading boat knew the way. It has to be said that one forested granite island much resembles another, however the main channels are indicated by an excellent system of purpose-built leading marks, and the more confusing areas are a veritable soup of clear alphabetical signs, which locate you immediately on the chart. One unavoidable fly in the ointment for serious racers: The area abounds in ferries, protocol and common sense dictating that we wait for them to complete their passage, which they make by pulling themselves along submerged cables.
For the most part we were in fairly sheltered waters, but with a couple of more open crossings which proved less boisterous than expected, one being subject to a slight swell from the south-west and with a good reaching breeze, and the other imposing a long-legged beat. We had bouts of quite heavy rain on a couple of days, but the brisk sail in warm sea, under a warm shower, and in a warm breeze took very little getting used to. Stopping for lunch generally involved beaching Bunny, or dropping a stern anchor and gently nosing into a a granite shore where we would secure to a tree or rock, sometimes to find some al fresco cooking well in hand.
As is no doubt common with these events, we would get a race-within-a-race as friendly rivalries developed between the more closely-matched craft. Mike and I were repeatedly confounded to see Penni, a beautiful Finnish Haven 12 1/2, skipper Seppo Narinen’s entire family of four on board, showing Bunny, only two up, a clean pair of heels. We fared better against Anna, an immaculately turned-out wooden Drascombe Lugger (with gaff rig) built by McNulty and Dutch owner Hans Manschot, mainly on account of windward ability. For our part, the substantially-built Bunny fared better the stronger the wind, as we were to experience a few days later, but in very light airs, and with what wind there was on the nose, we were able to compensate somewhat by sitting right down on the floor of the boat to reduce our windage, and nursing tiller and sheets to outpoint the competition. Interesting though such experiments are, we were pretty relaxed speed-wise – ‘All sailing boats are slow, some are just less slow than others ‘.
Der Griffioen was a well-preserved Belgian-owned Dutch scow dating from early in the last century, characterised by flat bottom, chine hull with pram bow, leeboards, short curved gaff, and matching curved jackstaff to which the Belgian flag was attached by the top only, being tensioned by a metal ‘boule’ suspended beneath. Speaking to her skipper Wouter van Roost (who recently completed Sail Caledonia 2003 within weeks of acquiring his boat) at the end of the Raid I cautiously mentioned what her shape put me in mind of. I needn’t have spared his feelings; from the start he had been regularly regaled by an ebullient French skipper, as the scow (not built exclusively for speed) was being overhauled, to the effect ‘Get that bloody coffin out of my way!’
Perhaps the epitome of the sail-and-oar ethic which inspires the Raid ‘movement’ was Kleiner Kerl, a charming varnished clinker double-ender of Norwegian design, sailed by German couple Stephan Rudolph and Angelika Runge. Her sprit rig, with split fore-triangle and topsail, made a magnificent sight on her length of around five metres, and provided plenty of strings to pull. With two rowing positions and a pretty slippery shape, her extremely fit crew had no hesitation in taking to the oars when the wind was less than favourable to her.
In addition to eating, and (moderate social) drinking well into the night, our time ashore was pleasantly punctuated with visits to a number of museums dedicated to the local culture, and in particular the boats which supported fishing and inter-island trading in past years, with their rugged demeanour and aroma of linseed oil and pine tar. Our imagination was captured by the somewhat Tolkien-esque ‘big boat’ (storbåt in Swedish), a beamy clinker craft of around 10-12m in length, gaff-rigged and open but for the enclosure of the rear few feet of the hull by a ‘clinker-like’ roof of longitudinal overlapping planks, the cabin entered by doors at its front. The owner and family would live in this space, the boat being used to carry cargo and livestock between the islands and nearby mainland of Finland, Sweden and even further afield. The stern-hung rudder on the steeply raked transom was controlled by a long tiller reaching right across the cabin roof. Ballast was rocks, although it has been suggested to me that sheep, with their natural aversion to water, are more effective if you have the room. We were to see a number of these craft afloat, both the well preserved and the recently constructed. Still on the cultural front, a visiting troubadour with guitar entertained us at one overnight stop, and at another we were captivated by an open-air recital by Tsakku, a well-known trio of three female folk singers, occasionally accompanying themselves with traditional instruments such as bone flute, drum and a form of lute.
Among a miscellany of other memories we took away: A flying door passing over our masthead one day proved to be a white-tailed, or sea, eagle. ‘It’s got no beak’ exclaimed Mike. ‘That’s not it’s head, it IS its beak’ I replied, eyeing the fearsome appendage. We saw another (or maybe the same one again) next day. At Lappo, our westernmost port of call, one of a yachtful of young Londoners tentatively approached Mike for local directions. ‘Sorry mate, I’m from Reading,’ was an answer he didn’t expect to get. Also on Lappo, another Raider visited the local blacksmith and purchased an ingenious iron clasp used for securing clothing. Uncertain of exactly how to operate it, he asked the craftsman to show him a second time, and was advised ‘Just look on my web site…’ Still on Lappo, we found ourselves at the epicentre of the Finnish/Swedish ‘knife culture’, according to the museum curator. Knife-oriented equivalents to Guns and Ammo magazine are popular reading in Finland, and Lappo’s past boasts a notorious couple of mass murderers, who despatched some scores of people in the 19th century, motivated only by a desire to have folk songs sung about them. Long winter evenings may have something to do with it.
The younger crew members hit it off together from the start, and the high point of their week was perhaps the midnight raid on Woge, a lake racer of advanced years and prodigious sail area expertly sailed by Manfred Jacob and his young son Marek, from Germany. Woge took line honours on every leg, and the conspirators resolved to slow her crew down a bit by relocating her (as they slept on board) some metres out in the small harbour which we occupied, and securing her between piles in such a way that release would necessitate a swim in the balmy waters; all of which was taken in very good part by her bemused occupants next morning.
The Raid was sponsored in part by a local oar manufacturer, Lahnakoski, who had generously provided each crew with new prototype oars they wanted thoroughly tested. These were, it appears, the world’s first machine-made, and therefore inexpensive, spoon-bladed wooden oars, the blades tipped with robust plastic to withstand the inevitable fending off to which they get subjected. Being made of pine they were lighter than our straight-bladed douglas fir oars, and we found them a pleasure to use. One day was declared for rowing only, and on the 3.8NM course Bunny, thanks in part to her slippery underwater shape, took the honours for boats having a single rowing position. Well, alright, Mike Hanyi in his lightweight Herreshoff cat ketch Coquina II beat us in, but was declared ineligible on a technicality – maybe because he had no crew aboard. In a remarkable feat of skill and endurance, Manfred sculled Woge the entire distance.
The Raid came to an end following a brisk sail close-hauled against a southerly into Naantali, where we gathered that evening at a dockside restaurant for the announcement of results, at which the award for overall winner to Kleiner Kerl was well received by all. The various trophies were ingeniously fashioned from oar blades made by our sponsor, with the exception of the overall award, an impressive wooden sculpture of a sailboat which may have given rise to an excess baggage charge had Stephan not been driving home. We made our farewells to those departing immediately, resolving to meet again on what is becoming the ‘Raid Circuit’ . Some crews then occupied themselves with boat recovery and departure, while half a dozen, Bunny‘s included, were to stay and take part next day in an annual local regatta. On this day Bunny came into her own; we were three-up this time, Johan, one of the Raid’s volunteer organisers, being our helmsman and tactician, I getting my 100kg where it was required outboard amidships and handling the mainsheet, and Mike taking care of the jib. Thus manned, and with every nonessential item removed from the boat, we romped around the 5NM course unreefed and reasonably upright in winds gusting to force 6. The potential for a ducking was as strong to windward as to leeward, as the sudden disappearance of the wind would occasion a frantic scramble inboard. One or two raiders of lower freeboard and tender nature wisely retired, and I believe there was one dismasting and a flooding among the traditional craft, who were sailing their own ‘star’ course within easier reach of assistance. Woge beat everyone in of course, but was occasionally recognised from afar with her mast all-but-parallel with the water surface.
On the logistical front, I chose to ship Bunny from England to Turku (very near the Raid launching point) with Mann Lines from Harwich, Mike and I flying out later to join her. In this we honoured the practice of the Victorians Strange, Holmes and others in shipping their boats to their Baltic cruising grounds. I called Manns some months beforehand to secure Bunny‘s berth on board the weekly sailing, but was told ‘Just call us the week before you want her shipped, we’ll fit her in’. I took the precaution of deploying fenders all round as well as the boat cover, and her passage proved trouble free in both directions. I had been worried in advance about arranging tows in Finland, but Mike Hanyi assured me that ‘your boat going swimming will not be a problem’. The considerable saving in car ferry cost and time off work proved worthwhile, and in the event we were able to secure tows to and from the launch and recovery sites from other participants for the bargain price of a dinner and the cost of the fuel.
Raid Finland may, by comparison to the Great Glen Raid and Morbihan Week, be a modest affair, but this in no way impaired the quality of organisation both ashore and afloat, nor the safety arrangements. Mike Hanyi, his wife Susa, and the team of volunteer helpers worked hard over the preceding months to ensure a repeat of their first year’s success. As an indication of ‘customer satisfaction’, a number of this year’s participants were veterans of 2002, a trend which is very likely to continue. I have recently heard that the event is next year to be supported with a European Union grant, it having been a labour of love for the organisers so far.
Bunny has proved to be a dry, forgiving and well-performing boat, never failing to delight her crew and impress onlookers. But just two years in, I am by no means free of my indentures; my boat handling ability does not yet do her justice, particularly as regards getting under way and bringing up in a variety of conditions, but perhaps that is to be expected at this stage. I confess that my systematic investigation of the handling characteristics of the yawl rig, as described in the second Albert Strange Association book by Jamie Clay and Mark Miller, is long overdue. On the plus side, our participation in organised events has gained Mike and me more experience and confidence than we would have achieved alone. In addition, it may be noticed that our most recent outing was entirely free of the self-inflicted problems encountered in the previous two. This is not a statistically significant result, but I feel things are improving. For the immediate future I plan to cruise home waters in 2004, exploring the Thames and Medway estuaries. Looking further ahead, my sights are already set on a slightly larger vessel: she will be ballasted and with a small cabin, engineless, still (occasionally) trailable, and transportable one way or another to anywhere I would want to sail her; she will be long in the gestation, and by the time the project bears fruit I hope my abilities will be some kind of match for her.
Bunny is a canoe yawl – there’s lots about them in Holmes of the Humber