Åland Islands Part 2; Castles, windmills and celebrity chefs!

I am now sat in Chichester at my desk, with the tail end of Storm Callum whipping the leaves off the trees and churning the sea to foam it is not hard to miss those lovely late August days on the Åland Islands when the only thing that concerned us was whether there would be enough wind and if there was would it help us in our journey back to Sweden and be from the from the South West.

A bit of a lively day on the beach at Climping!

It was a beautiful still morning as we prepared to leave Notviken and the amazing Russian fortress at Bomarsund. Our next destination was Kastelholm, the only castle on Aland and the most northerly point on our cruise at 60 12’.2 N. Leaving on a bearing 085 for approximately 3nm we entered the Prasto Sund, still completely mystified why Bomarsund was chosen for the fort and not Prasto, which at least be able to guard the main channel into the Lumparn at the heart of the Åland Islands! Perhaps the anecdote was true that it was built on the wrong island and no dared tell the Czar!

Main Fort at Bomarsund

View toward the Prasto Sund

Passing the ferry between Prasto and Tofto we were soon sailing across the Lumparn on a course of 261 towards the beacon at Rodko. Then up past the Tingon before taking the narrow and very shallow (in places!) spur up to Kastelholm itself. This runs on a bearing of around 018 for about 3nm miles and is easy to miss, however new red/green buoys (unusual for Aland where cardinals are preferred) have been placed which help mark the right channel.

Across the Lumparn to the beacon at Rodko

The moorings at Kastelholm are beautifully sheltered and strangely offer a choice of whichever type you prefer, stern buoys, alongside, booms and posts. We went for posts, being quite expert at these now and there is something comforting about being tied to a couple of big tree trunks driven into the sea bed rather than a block of concrete dropped over the side!

Moored at Kastelholm

The moorings are in a very green sheltered bowl whose sides gently drop down to the waters edge and a world away from scraggy trees and rocks we have become very familiar with over the past few months. On the far side is Aland’s only 18 hole golf course and surrounding us is the remains of the 16th century wharf and boatyard and ahead is the castle towering above us.

Aland’s only castle!

Oak stakes in the moat from the 16th century!

The castle has played a major role in Swedish, Finnish and Russian history. There was a castle on the site since the 13th century but it was not until Gustav Vasa that the current castle was built and later expanded. In its time it has been a defensive castle (although not very successfully defended), prisons for the the king’s barmy son Eric and the Haraldsby witches as well as their torture chamber. It still has a few nice relics that no self respecting torturer should be without, such as branding irons and eye gougers. It was also a retirement home for ex-queens, the post office, the Russian governor’s residence and at various times a grain and gunpowder store. Oh as well as a private house for an eccentric who collected houses, windmills and prisons which now makes up the open air museum next door. This follows the pattern of the the dozen or so other ones we have already seen this year!

What was interesting about the castle was a display showing how the interior would actually have been finished, and because the place was so could rooms did not just have bare walls, they were always ‘drylined’ (unless you were ‘staff’). They had a wooden exterior panel, with wool and straw insulation fixed to stop condensation and keep the place warm, all very reminiscent of a modern wall!

High up on the vertiginous ramparts!

Lovely interior from a typical Alands 8 room farmhouse

No open air museum is complete without its windmills – this just confirms what a windy place it is!

For Gustav Vasa, the castle played an important role in bringing his kingdom together and he initiated the ‘Postal Route’ which linked Stockholm, Turku in Finland and St Petersburg. It required local farmers and fishermen to carry the mail or passengers come rain or come shine. Not only was it the first formal post route but also the first formal navigation route with a series of seamarks in Sweden.

The castle was integral to the famous ‘Postal Route’

The harbour had several large motor yachts parked, the harbour master told us that they were all going to the Smakbyn, the restaurant of Aland’s celebrity chef Michal Bjorkland. He is a cross between Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver but with a penchant for seaweed and wild berries. We had an excellent lunch there from the Dagens Meny – Scandi lunches are much better than their evening meals!

Looking forward to a great lunch at Smakbyn!

The ever helpful harbour master loaned us some bikes to go to the supermarket at Godby, the only snag was that to get to it we had to cross the most precipitous bridge which was being rebuilt and they seemed to have forgotten about pedestrians safety! Just over the bridge there was monument tucked away in the woods to three Red Guard agents who had were executed in 1918 after they were captured by exiled White Russian troops who they had been sent to kill!

The Red Guards

Russia has always had a big influence on the islands since Sweden ceded them to Russia in 1806. One of the biggest symbols of the Russian Imperial power was the replacement of Swedish miles stones and their weird units of ores and miles (which are not actually miles) by 6ft red painted wooden post and their even weirder versta units (which are almost miles!).

Swedish mileposts – miles but not as we know them!

Keeping an eye on the weather we sailed back to Mariehamn West, down to the Rodko light and back across the Lumparn and towards the Lemstrom canal. Sailing in company we arrived at the canal just after the bridge had closed and found a sheltered spot close to the shore that was not crisscrossed with power cables and water pipes to anchor and have lunch! Back in Mariehamn we visited the seafarer’s church on the mole of the old harbour, visiting was supposed to assure favourable winds and a safe return – although we did not want to come back!

Back to the Rodko beacon and across the Lumparn

A nice spot to anchor for lunch while we wait for the bridge over the Lemstrom Canal

In company through the Lemstrom Canal

Back in Mariehamn West

The original beacon from the approach to Mariehamn East!

The old harbour with the seafarer’s church marking a safe return!

Traditional Baltic trading schooner

With a gap in the weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday we set off for Rodhamn, which is on the most southerly of the Åland Islands. This for centuries has been a shelter for sailing boats waiting to make the crossing back to Sweden. It’s position to the south east gives you the best chance of hitting Sweden in all sorts of wind directions!

Rodhamn was lovely little natural harbour, normally when a harbour is describe as an old pilot station it is a bleak, god forsaken lump of rock in the middle of the sea surrounded by yet more rocks! Rodhamn was a revelation, during the summer season it would have been packed out but today there was only 3 yachts in! Fortunately we had been warned that the stern buoys had been set for superyachts and we would need our longest of long lines to get close……which we did and had just 2ft to spare!

Incredibly long stern buoys – they must be expecting super yachts and not Grace!

The old pilot station

Cake and definitely local beer from the quaintly named Ass cafe

At the rather hippy cafe we ordered fresh buns for the morning and some beer and cake to set ourselves off exploring the island. The waters around the Åland Islands were so treacherous that Rodham was chosen to be the site of the first radio navigation beacon in the Baltic in the 1930s. Basically radio beams with unique pulses are sent out from known positions, these are then picked up by the ships radio room. Your position along the line of the beam can be identified and where beams cross your exact position is known! This concept of intersecting radio beams was the basis of Oboe, the RAF’s wartime bomber guidance system. The radio shack was open to wander around, the batteries charged and generators primed and ready to go at the touch of a button just in case GPS fails! Returning to Grace we dropped our sausages on our neighbours barbecue, the first of the season as across Sweden there had been a total ban on open fires!

The generator room for the radio beacon

Leaving a cairn for luck in the famous red granite of the island (hence Rodhamn)

Our only BBQ of the season!

Fresh bread for breakfast, with the weather forecast and delivered to the foredeck – now that’s what I call service!

Early next morning, a crash on the foredeck told us that our breakfast rolls had arrived, along with the weather forecast – west south west and 3 to 7 m/s. (6 to 14 knots) so not ideal but we had to give it a go as tomorrow looked rough! We set a course for the Furosund, but the wind direction meant we needed a series of deep tacks that took us more back towards the Aland coast and Mariehamn and very little progress towards Sweden! To starboard we passed the Nyham wind farm and the large water tower of the island’s nickel processing plant. As we cleared the main ferry lanes to Helsinki, the flukey wind finally deserted us and in an almost unheard of occurrence, the sea became glassy smooth as we gently drifted. It became apparent that to get across we would need to use the engine.

The windmills and abandoned nickel processing plant at Nyham

A rare event! Becalmed crossing the Gulf of Finland

Meeting old friends again!

At Remargrund for the Furusund

Back into the Skargard

At 5 knots it was not long before Swedish coast came into sight, then off the Tjverne Light we saw Viking Grace again and on past the Remargrund Light in the approach to Stockholm’s rock strewn Skargard and into the narrow channel that leads to the Furusund. After 39 nm we turned to port into the harbour at Furusund, picking up a white stern buoy we moored. For centuries Furusund has been the stop over for sailing boats arriving from Aland. Carved into the rocks on the shoreline is the first Scandinavian representation of a compass rose dating from 1463 when King Kristian’s fleet on its way to invade Russia was trapped here for 4 weeks. In the 1900s it became a popular holiday resort with authors such a Astrid Lundgren, the creator of Pippi Longstocking! As the main route into Stockholm it was very strange to see a constant stream of large ships pass by just a few metres away at 5 knots barely making sound or a ripple!

The compass rose – 1463 style!

Ships passing day and night!

Suddenly Grace’s stern started to drift towards a very well cared for Halberg Rassey! The stern buoy we had secured to started to float away! Quickly we started the engine and slipped our bow lines, re-securing to a red stern buoy this time we moored up without fuss or drama……..we really are getting good at this! A couple of hours later, some of the other boats we had left behind in Rodham started to arrive, their crews dressed in hifits and waterproofs, they had crossed in a force 5 to 6 while just two hours earlier we crossed in shirts and shorts!


The next day with force 3 westerly winds we made the 32 nm journey into the Wasaholm Marina in the centre of Stockholm. The first 22 nm to Wasaholm is made up from a series of narrow squeezes where you have to avoid the ferries and cruise ship! Playing chicken with them is not a good idea! By then the winds had become quite gusty and we motored the last 10 nm to Stockholm, reaching the marina just as everyone was going home and the water was boiling with commuter ferries and water taxis whizzing backwards and forward. Holding our breath, we weaved our way through the very narrow entrance to the marina, going astern to help swing our bows sharply to port to make the right angled turn into the marina fairway, mooring in the shadow of the Wasa museum building and in between three other English boats, more than we had seen all summer!

Staying well clear of the ferries – they show no mercy!

Wasahamn – with the Wasa Museum in the background

We now prepared Grace for her return trip, with an engine service and fuel filters change, both of which were reassuring free of water and dirt despite heavy weather churning the tank and filling up in some very isolated places! And then with the help of YouTube I pulled the winches apart for some long overdue maintenance! They even went back together with the same number of bits that I started with, and not only that they do work so smoothly now!


After! Hopefully I will be able to get it back together again for our trip into Lake Malaren……

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