Sailing 2700 miles in the Baltic Sea in 25 days non-stop
Some of our readers may have been introduced to adventurer, sailor, producer and environmental stuntman Kari “Ruffe” Nurmi from Helsinki, Finland before. We have previously covered his magnificent encounter with polar bears in Svalbard.
Now he has just finished what was to be his biggest challenge so far; sailing the distance of an Atlantic crossing in the Baltic Sea. We talked to “Ruffe” to hear first hand what the adventure was like.
You sailed for over 25 days back and forth on the Baltic Sea, was it monotonous?
- Not at all. We sailed 2700 nautical miles non-stop, which is the equivalent of an Atlantic crossing from the Canaries to the Caribbean. Our route took us around three lighthouses, Kiel in Germany, Kemi in northern Finland and Kotka close to the Russian border in the Gulf of Finland.
I believe everyone who has done long distance sailing knows that there are so many elements that keep you busy – sailing, navigation, repairs, cooking, sleeping, and just enjoying the nature around you. I didn’t even read a single book during this trip. I never get bored when sailing, I’m too busy for that.
You have previously crossed the Atlantic. What differences was it to cover the same distance on the Baltic Sea?
- Compared to the traditional “milk run” Atlantic crossing from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, this was much harder. On the trade wind route the winds are much steadier, and it’s mostly downwind sailing. In the Baltic Sea the winds are more variable. Headwinds most of the time, so you’ll need to work twice as hard to keep the boat moving at a good pace.
In the Baltic Sea you can expect to have weather ranging from arctic cold to a 30°c heatwave. You also need to be more alert with the extremely busy shipping. Heavy weather sailing is also tough over here because of the shallow waters with breaking waves. I would choose six metre ocean waves over breaking three metre Baltic Sea waves any time. But on the other hand, it’s much safer because you are always only one or two days from land if something happens.
This particular passage had an environmental twist, to uncover some of the major environmental issues also happening in the Nordics. How did this come about and what were the findings?
- Yes, and this is something I am super excited about. We were honoured to be the first Finnish sailboat to test microplastic trawling in the Baltic Sea in co-operation with The Finnish Environmental Institute.
They tailor made a special trawling system that would fit into my small sailboat. We took 7 samples from different parts of the Baltic Sea. The samples were taken very carefully and following a strict system to ensure that they are compatible with other findings and samples taken in the Baltic Sea.
Unfortunately, the test results will not be ready until later in the fall, but I would be happy the share them when they are ready. One visual finding was that we found algae very early in the summer, already in the beginning of June, which was unusual.
You used your old trusty 30ft Bavaria. She has covered quite a few miles by now. How is she holding up?
- My boat is just amazing and just gets better year after year. But, of course you need to maintain the boat properly.
For this project I installed a new hydraulic autopilot and new marine electronics from B&G. I also swapped my old service battery to a new Sunwind Lithium-Ion battery, and we also put in a new solar panel and inverter from Sunwind.
During the voyage everything worked fine, and we had very few problems. The only thing that was a bit worrying was a small oil and water leak from the engine. We were not able to fix that at sea, but fortunately it was more a cosmetic issue than a real problem.
The Baltic Sea has lots of busy shipping lanes. Can you describe in detail how you did your navigation and how you managed to keep a sharp lookout?
- Well, first of all, we were only two sailors onboard, so most of the time we were alone on deck. We have very strict watch keeping rules. When on watch, we are on deck all the time and keep a visual lookout.
- Second, we have AIS on the boat, so we are able to see ships and ships can see us well in advance. It’s a fantastic system and lowers the stress levels significantly, especially in poor visibility. Of course, we try to avoid sailing in shipping lanes as much as possible, but it is fairly difficult in the Baltic Sea.
Like this article so far? Lets connect on Facebook so you never miss out.
Any incidents or near collisions?
- Not really, thanks to the AIS. There were a few instances when we were on a collision course with a ship, and they didn’t alter their course. I took a proactive approach and called up the ships on the VHF to ask what their intentions were.
Normally they would make a small course adjustment to avoid collision. But, of course we are always ready to change course too, if necessary. Usually we are more than happy to give way to ships, but there are situations when you are alone on deck under sail, and changing course would mean a big hassle.
In the north of the Bothnian Bay, we had a close call with fishing nets close to the shore. We were on a course that would take us right over the nets in very shallow water. The fishermen saw what was happening. They came over and pointed us to another direction to avoid the fishing nets.
They were pretty upset with us, and I fully understand why. Getting caught in the nets would have been catastrophic for both parties. It was my mistake to sail so close to the shallow water and off the main route.
At the very end of the sailing we hit into quite severe gale in the Gulf of Finland with winds of 22 m/s and 5 meters breaking waves. We were sailing downwind with small sails towards our third and the last turning point Kotka Lighthouse.
The sailing was great but we were approaching the lighthouse too fast. To avoid turning against the gale after sailing around the lighthouse we decided to slow down our speed and heave to for 8 hours.
During that time we had a little rest and warm dinner. Heave to position is good way to calm the rocking of the boat and tranquilize the situation when you have enough sea room around you.
According to some, crossing an ocean can sometimes offer a sensation of enlightenment. Did you have your “Bernard Moitessier” moment anytime during the adventure?
- Not really, but it was still fantastic to realise that you can actually get quite close to the feeling of ocean sailing with all the planning, preparations and provisioning needed for such a journey in the Baltic Sea. And the Baltic Sea is not a small sea area.
Just by sailing around three lighthouses, Kiel, Kemi and Kotka, you can cover the distance of an Atlantic crossing, 2700 NM.
Combining cruising and sustainability seems logical in the sense that all sailors are affected by climate change and we are very close to the changes that are happening right now. What do you think will be the biggest changes in the yachting industry forward and do you find that attitudes are changing among ordinary sailors in Finland?
- That’s a very good question, and I don’t know if I have the right answer to this. I believe that at the moment we are facing a big change and challenge as the older generation is ending their sailing careers and selling their boats.
It seems that there is not very much interest among younger sailors to buy their own boats, even though they are very interested in sailing and cruising. There are thousands of used sailing boats for sale at very reasonable prices in Finland, but it’s still difficult to find new owners for them.
We need to inspire new young sailors to get into this great hobby and life style. The younger generation is also very environmentally conscious, so sailing should fit well with that.
I have been very pleased to notice that a lot of women have a very high interest in sailing, and one of the fastest growing sailing clubs in Finland is Sailing Ladies. That is fantastic. I am optimistic about the future of sailing.
We are of course interested in hearing what the next adventure will be. What are you dreaming of at the moment?
- I have a huge interest in high arctic sailing and I’d love to sail back there. My last arctic sailing expedition around Svalbard in 2013 was such an unforgettable adventure. I was actually planning to sail back there already two years ago but I didn’t get the insurances to cover my journey.
Well, I’m working to find my way to get there again but in the meantime I’ll continue creating unique sailing projects with an environmental twist that would inspire new people and sailors into this amazing hobby.