Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Rönnskär Archipelago

I'm doing only shorter trips this year, for family reasons. I definitely was away too much last year. This is another one in that set.

The stony and difficult archipelago on the Finnish side of the Kvarken region has been a special interest for me, having spent time there as a kid and later also kayaking. I have the area from Kaskö/Kaskinen to Mickelsörarna pretty well covered, except for the Rönnskär archipelago. This was a trip I had checked out on the nautical charts several years ago and finally the time to do it came. You might want to brew a nice cup of coffee before reading this, since the excellent weather forced me to take lots of pictures.

Alf joined me at Bergö on Friday afternoon. We packed the kayaks and drank coffee before started paddling a little after half past three. The weather was excellent and became only better.

There were some obstacles here and there, though, but possible to penetrate with a kayak.

We headed west to round the south cape of Bergö gaddarna, which again offered a nice stone labyrinth.

After that there was a 6 km crossing to Strömmingsbådan, which hosts a lighthouse. Seldom is the sea this calm this far out. The next land behind Alf is Åland, almost 300 km away.

Strömmingsbådan coming up after 23 km.

We landed and took a good look at the island.

Lighthouse selfie.

Despite the rather small and barren island, it has been an important base for fishermen. The lighthouse was built in 1885 and is mostly still like it was then. The lamp itself has been switched out from oil, but the fresnel lens system is still the same. The lighthouse keeper's with families lived there year round until the sixties, when the lighthouse was fully automated. 

The black guillemot is a fairly common bird here.

Our landing place.

We could have stayed here for the night, but the weather was so nice that it would have been a shame not to continue. One of the good things about going out with Alf is that you don't need to hold back. Even in the unlikely case that his capacity would be exceeded, he wouldn't admit it and continue anyway. The first leg of 23 km was easy, so we decided to continue with an 11 km crossing to Storsanden.

The Rönnskär islands to the right.

The weather was just astonishing.

Closing in on Storsanden I began to have doubts. This didn't at all look like what I expected, and if possible, it looked even more uneven and stony than the other islands. It turned out to be a miscommunication. Alf had been there before, but the Storsanden he thought was excellent was another island with the same name some 70 km to the north.

According to the map, there were some fisherman's cabins on the north side of the islands, which implied better terrain. Speaking of maps, I had forgotten my nautical charts at home, and Alf was of course of no help, since he never uses maps. I do however have an excellent nautical chart app in my phone, and since we kayaked in the outer archipelago it was easy to just have a look now and then at the chart and navigating visually and with the compass in between.

It turned out that no one was at the cabins (due to the poor harbour I guess people don't go there often) and we landed there, after 35.5 km for the day. This was certainly one of the worst landing places I've been in.

Next to the cabins a fairly even area was found, but there was unnecessary much wavy hair-grass, so we walked a bit to some bare rocks to make camp and dinner.

The sea water here has the perfect salinity for cooking rice, pasta etc.

After dinner we still had some time for a little wine and stuff.

Looking at the forecast, we decided that the Norrskär lighthouse might be a possibility after all. It was 17 km away with the other island to the right 5 km away as a possible waypoint. The final decision would be based on the morning weather forecast.

The sun went down, meaning that you are allowed to go to sleep.

The moon was full and the night was really beautiful.

Being tired from having been sick in a stubborn pharyngitis I slept for extremely long, and got up a little over eight in the morning.

Coffee and bread with cheese, my preferred breakfast, unless of course there would be fresh croissants.

The forecasted wind was low enough, rising to a maximum of 5 m/s, that we decided to paddle to Norrskär via the Skvättan beacon. For this long a crossing I would have preferred to have the drysuit just as an extra insurance, but this was the first kayaking trip without drysuits for the season. The forecast still contained enough margins that we decided to go. Looking at the map, Norrskär is pretty far out, so you don't go there in bad weather.

On the move at ten in the morning.

A short break at Skvättan.

Some remnants of past activities.

Old fisherman's cabin and shed here as well.

A poor gull chick had found a nice place under my kayak and was scared away when I returned.

We started on the 12 km leg to Norrskär. The paddling was easy, but also rather boring.

Coming up.

We landed on the southwest side, close to the lighthouse and walked a bit up for lunch.

After lunch we took a stroll on the island, which is about 1 km long.


In some aspects this island reminded me of Jurmo.

I've always been fascinated that butterflies can live on these windswept islands. One would think that it would be to fragile. This is a Heliconiinae species, but I'm unsure of which one.

Returning to the kayaks.

The wind had now increased to 6-7 m/s, more than forecasted in the morning. A good thing we had left some margin. An similar increase from a higher forecasted wind would have meant something like 9-10 m/s, which would have forced us to stay there to wait for weaker wind.

Even in this wind, the waves had time to build up a little. No problem yet, but any higher and the margins would be too small. No pictures of the highest waves, but they needed some concentration, since this was a 17 km open sea crossing. The risk of capsizing was very small, but not nonexistent. We both have done extensive rescue training last year, so we were prepared, but it would have been rather cold after a swim. I had the storm cag, which is dressed over the PFD against the cockpit, readily available, so that would have saved the situation. Still, I would have preferred drysuits here.

Eventually we arrived at some islands again.

Arriving at Storskäret after a total of 34 km for the day.

It was now around seven in the evening, so we had time to take a look at the island before dinner. The vegetation is quite interesting, with several zones, like the one here, which lies on a more barren moraine ridge, as opposed to the neighbouring forests.

Round-leeved wintergreen.

Storskär has an interesting history and has been a base for fishing for over five hundred years. A grave yard was established in 1522 by bishop Arvid Kurck, but it was later demolished. The island has been a base for fishing and seal hunting and my family on my mother's side has fished from here for several generations. It is still used for fishing and also as a recreational boating harbour.

The island is 2.5 km long and about 1 km wide, and about half of it is open heath land.

Time to make camp and dinner at around half past eight.

Alf did of course have a steak, but I settled for a Thai chicken curry.

Greater yellow-rattle.

Alf rigs his hammock.

A nice evening.

We had almost three hours to enjoy the evening and we took good use of it. Wine and cheese is always nice, but the circumstances made it even better.

Eventually the sun set and it was bedtime.

I woke a little over seven this time and Alf was already up. The excellent weather continued.

After breakfast we packed our kayaks and got going around nine in the morning.

Norrskatan (the northern cape), where our camp had been.

The little village on Storskäret.

Next stop Fäliskär, 7 km away.

We landed at Fäliskär to take a look at the day beacon.

The beacon is the oldest still standing standing wooden beacon in Finland, built in 1784.

Alf found a good spot to check out the island from.

At one point there was more life here. Now the pilot station is abandoned, but there is a guest harbour and rooms that can be rented here.

And onto the last leg, from Fäliskär back to Bergö.

No wind.

One final stone barrier on the way back.

Only a short bit left.

We arrived around three in the afternoon after 27 km. A really excellent trip, thanks to Alf for the company.

The Rönnskär archipelago turned out to be what I expected, and it was good. In fact, I do think this is the jewel of the Kvarken area and is well worth a visit on kayak.

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