Sunday, August 16, 2009


The best food I’ve had while in Finland (apart from the new Baltic opening dinner) is smoked salmon. There is a smoke house about 10 minutes drive out of Pietarsaari that does the best smoked fish, of which the salmon is the best. I’ve had it from there a few times in different ways and I think theirs is the best. Buying it elsewhere just hasn’t been as good. If you order it at a restaurant then you generally get it with some potatoes and a sort of creamy dill sauce. I bought it one afternoon direct from the smoke house and took it home and made a more typical Finnish meal (I think).

I scream, about the cost of ice cream

A while back I wanted some ice cream to have with some fruit. I was rushing through the store and on quick inspection could only find one tub of standard vanilla ice cream.

This 1 litre tub I found cost me almost €6.

The next time I went to the shops I looked a bit harder and found I could get a 1 box for about €1.50, in my opinion the stuff out of the box tasted better than the stuff in the tub too.

The Finn’s love the ice cream and it surprised me that something could be so expensive. They have a huge ice cream section at the shops, but it’s mostly heavily flavoured stuff. The ice cream isle is the same one as the candy most of the time. So I guess in effect it’s just a sweet tooth isle.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Second time – not so lucky

I’ve just spent another weekend sailing to Sweden and back. This time on a Finn Flyer 31. So I’m now Tired and Sore. We were a last minute entry and only had 3 (Dan, Doris and myself) on board which actually worked pretty well. The short crew and changeable weather conditions made it a much more interesting race (ah, sail I should probably say) than last year where I didn’t have much to do.

We started at 1800 on Friday in very little wind and that quickly faded to nothing and we proceeded to drift for some time. Finally at midnight we exited the channel and started to pick up the little wind that was out in the open water. The leading boats picked this up earlier and it only took them three hours. Once making steady progress we put into effect a loosely defined 2 hour watch 1 on 2 off which lasted till the morning.

When I got up at 0600 we were roughly half way across the gulf of Bothnia. We finally made it to the first rounding lighthouse at about 1400 and that was cause for celebration. After the wind dropped out it had progressively built overnight and so had out boat speed with our average speed going from 0 to 5 knots by the time we made the mark.

After some short debate about how to operate the chart plotter we worked out the next heading and I proceeded to instruct a lesson on how to fly a spinnaker. As I said when I started ‘Flying the spinnaker is easy, the tricky part is getting it in the air and back down’. Putting it up went fairly smoothly and even gibing was pretty good considering Dan and Doris had limited experience with a spinnaker. However getting it down to round the second lighthouse was not as slick as I would have liked. No one went overboard and apart from foolishly giving myself some rope burn, everyone was fine, we did broach though and put a small hole in the Jib.

Once setting a new course back to the harbour we changed helms a couple of times before I did a long stint to get us back to the channel. Although very different from the boats I would usually be sailing by myself there was still something very exciting about sailing a 31 foot boat in 1m waves at between 5-8 knots. I eventually found a good grove and was managing to keep out average speed at nearly 6 knots, surfing at up to 8 at times.
We re-entered the channel about 0130 on Sunday morning, unfortunately one (maybe a pair) of channel marker lights were out and after sailing a bit wide of one obstruction we sailed straight into some fishing nets. With the wind from behind us we did not manage to find a position for the sails to get us out, after loosing our paddle overboard trying to pick up the net to drag ourselves out we reverted to starting the engine to pull ourselves off. We’d already used all of the battery power and had earlier hijacked the remaining starter battery as a power source for the Navigation lights. What ever we’d done the engine didn’t like and it would not turn Thus making it look like we might spend the night in a fishing net. Shortly after this realisation there was a freak 150 degree wind shift and reacting quickly we were able to sail back out.
Dan then spent half an hour playing with the electrical circuit to try and get power back and avoid having to dock with the sails. I steered us back while Doris spotted the path from the bow. After checking the engine would run again Dan sailed the last half an hour and we crossed the finish line at 0305 (we later found out the leaders finished about 2230).
We shared some celebratory beers with the leftovers of the fleet and crashed well after the sun had risen. Today we tidied the boat, got cleaned up and had a late lunch in dispersed with large periods of laziness. It turns out that although last across the line by a couple of hours we finished 10th on Handicap, had we been 4 minutes quicker we would have been 9th (too bad about the fishing net). It’s not second like the boat I was on last year, but we were quite pleased.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Back again, again.

Well, that should be the last time I say that. I’ll be putting an ultimatum on the table tomorrow. So I should be leaving and coming home within the month, I want to get flights booked this week, but we’ll see how that all works out.

Where have you been that you’ve come back from I think I can hear you say. Well, that’s a good question. Since the last post, I took a daytrip down to Jyväskylä for a day of climbing on walls that deserved using ropes. There was 3 of us in our climbing party Caj, Magnus and myself. I have usually been climbing in and around Pietarsaari with Caj, and Magnus came up from Helsinki. Although we didn’t do as much climbing as I would have liked, it was still nice to be outside on a warm day doing proper climbing. The climbs we were doing all seemed harder than they should have been according to their grade. But that just supports the idea that the Finns make things hard for themselves.

The following weekend I flew to Helsinki on Friday afternoon and spent the weekend there and stayed with Magnus which was great. He lives with his fiancé in a small student flat (even smaller than mine) a short bus ride from the centre of the city. We did some bouldering on Saturday which was really good and close to the city and right next to a small island that was quite nice to walk around. I saw a bunch of the old buildings in Helsinki and unfortunately didn’t get down to the Sumenlinna fortresses before flying to Heathrow on Sunday afternoon. But it was still a nice weekend.

The following two weeks I was in the UK office on the Isle of Wight again. While there I stayed at Kate’s place again, she was away on holiday for most of the time which meant half the time I had the place to myself. Whilst staying in Cowes I managed to go sailing four times and climbing once (at the gym at Calshot). The sailing was really good although in varying conditions. Twice I sailed on a Tuesday night on Katia and Matt’s 707 which is a 7m fixed keel sportsboat. On the Thursday nights I sailed on the Sonar’s from the Island sailing club where they run a sort of learn to sail race. The first week we finished 2nd out of 4 and the next week in very variable conditions which at one point saw us drop the spinnaker to go around the wing mark and then have to tack and sail hard upwind to get to the bottom mark as we sailed on the tide more than the wind. We ended up being given the win on a shortened course after 4 of the six boats that started had already given up and gone home.

The third week I was away I went to France. I spent the first half of the week in Nice which has one of the most beautiful waterfronts I have ever seen, possibly only second to lake Garda. I’m sure sailing there must be fantastic, the water is just such an amazing colour and is contrasted by the terracotta tiles on the roofs of all the buildings. There are some nice old buildings in Nice and some museums and stuff, but I spent most of my time just walking about, going to the beach and enjoying the view. The Nice Jazz festival was on while I was there and on my 3rd night there I walked past a band playing on the street (not as part of the festival) that I quite liked the sound of so I stayed and listened for a bit. It turns out they are from Melbourne and were on their way to a festival in Switzerland. It’s possible that I was bias’s by the Australian voices, but I did like the music and I bought one of their CD’s. They are called ‘The Wishing Well’, I think I was most impressed by the way in which the lead Violinist could bounce about in the street in the middle of a solo. Eric (a friend in Sydney who is from Nice) gave me the names of some friends of his who are climbers but unfortunately I didn’t quite manage to go climbing while I was there. I meet them in Monaco for Lunch on the Monday and we went to a concert together on Tuesday night in Antibes.

Monaco is pretty impressive, It’s quite obvious there is lots of money there. After lunch I walked up the hill and enjoyed the views out into the Mediterranean and saw Palace and walked through the public gardens. There was an aquarium that I wanted to go inside but I ended up running out of time for the train I needed catch, which I missed as I was on the wrong platform, that meant I missed a bus so I didn’t get to the mountains at all (I should have looked in the aquarium).

On Wednesday I got the train from Nice to Paris. I caught up with my friend Gaby who I meet here in Pietarsaari on both Wednesday night and Saturday which was nice, she was able to suggest some things to go and see and also suggested a hostel to stay in. I didn’t find it but I found one in the same area which was still reasonably priced. I did a whole bunch of touristy things in Paris, and there was still so many more things I could have done. Paris is a really nice city, so much to see and do and quite easy to get around as long as you have a decent map of the Metro.

I did a guided walking tour on Thrusday and then went out for a guided pub crawl the same evening (run by the same group) both of which were entreating. In between the two tours I climbed the Eiffel Tower. I found it hard to believe that people would que for so long to get the lift up. It cost more and the line looked like it was at least 3 times the length back from the sign that said 25 minute wait from this point. Whereas the line to walk up to the second platform was virtually non-existent I pretty much walked straight up without even stopping. I didn’t go right to the top as that cost extra again and the line for that was nearly as big as the line at the bottom, but the view from there was pretty amazing anyway. It’s a very impressive structure to look at close up (especially for someone who designs structures).

On Friday I saw the Norta Dame and then went to the Louvre where I spent 6 hours walking around, mostly looking at the ancient Egyptian artefacts (of which the mummy on display was the most interesting). But I did also go and see the Mona Lisa (which was not overly impressive) and spent some time wandering through the paintings looking at what ever caught my eye.

Saturday afternoon I trekked up to the highest point in Paris for a very nice view (if you could look through the houses that were all built up there and enjoying the view. I did a quick walk through the church that is built there in probably some of the most sought after real estate in Paris. I then took a quick trip past the Moulin Rouge, and went out to the edge (of the centre) of the city for an open air cinema.

Sunday I checked out of the hostel and dumped my baggage at the train station before going into the city to line up to watch La Tour De France go past. The bikes did 8 laps of the city when they finally arrived (after waiting a number of hours). I only stayed for 7 as I didn’t want to get stuck in a crush in the metro as I had a flight to catch. I found a bunch of Australians who had set up in a good spot and was talking to them most of the afternoon. The atmosphere of the crowd when the bikes go past is awesome, so many people are just lining the streets to get a glimpse of what has travelled around the whole country. The bikes are so close together that at speed they go past is hard to tell them apart and they get faster each lap. It was defiantly worth all the waiting around, intrusion of privacy and sunburn to experience it. I would have timed it all perfectly if my flight hadn’t been delayed for 2 hours, but it happens.

Last week I was back in the office on the Isle of Wight, and not too much happened. I stayed in Hambel (Southampton) with a colleague. We went climbing yesterday afternoon (at Calshot) and then went to the pub last night before I got up this morning at 0730 for my taxi to the airport and flights back to Helsinki and then Kokkola. It’s been nice to be back to somewhere that feels (more) like home, although I have a feeling that won’t last long as I’m really looking forward to getting home to Australia. It’s starting to get darker now, it’s been what I’d term dark for about an hour now (yes I should be in bed already) and although it was raining when I landed the sun came out and gave me a nice yellow glow for an hour or so while I had dinner. I was greeted with a Dark Grey Polo this time, it’s the same as the others but it has more k’s on it (probably good as I shouldn’t be too spoiled to go back to the Pug).
Photo’s to come!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Real Finland

Midsummer is a time when the real Finland shines, I experienced midsummer last year on my, the 3 day weekend when the town of Pietarsaari (and most others in Finland) shuts down and everybody leaves to go to their summer houses. Last year it made for a lonely weekend because of that, but this year I was invited to join some friends at their summer house and it made for a much more enjoyable weekend.

So after finishing up at work on Friday relatively on time, I got home and packed some clothes quickly and we were off. Unlike most of the people at work who seem to have summer houses on the water just ten minutes drive from their regular house. We had five hours of driving ahead. After four and a half hours we turned off the main roads and drove for another half hour on narrowing ahh, roads (more like tracks by the time we reached the house).

The house was situated on one of Finland’s many lakes. There were no fences so I’m not sure how much of the property belonged to the one house, but there was enough land to support seven sizable structures. There was the house, outhouse, garage/shed, sauna, outside kitchen, a free standing single bedroom closer to the lake and boathouse and of course the boathouse itself. On top of this there was a Separate BBQ area, a bonfire area, and a small jetty/pontoon arrangement which was easily erected conveniently metres from the door to the sauna.

The house, as many houses in Finland was painted red on the outside but was mostly varnished pine on the inside, including the furniture, all very natural and modest. Interestingly most of the decorations inside were either local photos or souvenirs from Papua New Guinea. Although there was electricity it was only used for the lights (which didn’t need to be on very much) and a couple of luxury appliances, namely the coffee machine. The cooking was either done in the outdoor kitchen, the BBQ, the big old stove in the kitchen or the fireplace in the living room (all wood fired). There was a trapdoor in the kitchen which allowed entry to a cool room below the house which was easily working just as well as any fridge.

The weekend was filled manly with eating and drinking, relaxing in the sauna perhaps with a dip in the cool lake water. We played some cards, lazy Frisbee and threw sticks for Mano (the dog). Small breaks in the schedule were made do check out the sunset/sunrise if we were so lucky for it to be clear enough (as it rained some of the time) and we did briefly take out the boat to check the it didn’t leak (too much!).

It made for a very nice weekend, even when you include the 10 hours driving, and perhaps I understand the Finns a little better for it.

20 Euros

I worked out today that the refund you on many of the drink containers in Finland if you recycle them (at an appropriate place) works out to be about 10% of the purchase price of the drink (for cans and small bottles at least anyway). I hadn’t taken the recycling out for a while and that combined with the remnants from the weekend meant that I had a boot full of containers which came in at a bit over 20 Euros to spend, so I had to think a bit harder than just picking up the milk!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Big Boat Sailing

Yesterday afternoon I knocked up work a little early and went out on a quick test sail of Visione. I had the opportunity to go on Thursday but I got realised half an hour lat that I’d missed it as it started raining outside, Friday was a much better day for it anyway, clear skies and more wind. The boat was launched in 2003 but has just undergone a full refit so looks brand new.

Visione is a 147 foot lightweight cruising yacht with a displacement of nearly 120T, of which the lifting keel makes up almost half. The boat is styled to and aimed to perform like a racing yacht but fitted with a quite luxurious interior. After leaving the dock we motored most of the way out of the channel and then pulled the sails out. The main was raised via remote control. As all of the winches on the boat are hydraulic, the remote allows the controller to check that the sail is unfurling properly and feeding into the sail track correctly. Once the main was up the Jib was unfurled, both the main and jib sheets run to captive winches and are also controlled by push buttons. After sailing for a little while we put a reef in the main as there was more wind once we were out in the open water.

We sailed around and tacked a few times, even when taking there was still little for the guests (I guess that is the idea) to do as everything is pushbutton controlled it makes handling very easy. We sailed upwind at about 11-12konts quite easily, in about 16-18knots which meant that it was quite cold on deck, especially when we were shaded by the massive sails. After an hour or so of sailing the geneker went up and the Jib was furled and we started reaching back towards the harbour. This didn’t last long though, we gybed once and after a few minutes on the new heading there was a very loud noise, similar to some very close growling thunder. The sail started tearing from the leach to the luff at about ¼ from the top, it then tore most of the way down the luff. The sheet was pulled in to bring the remains of the sail as close to the boat as possible and then beginning at the bow we all began to pull the sail from the water.

Once it was all back on deck we lowered what was left hanging from the mast and then managed to pack it all back into its sail bag (not very neatly). The process took about 20 minutes and then we headed back in with just the main and jib. The jib was furled as we entered the channel but we sailed most of the way to the dock under the main.

The biggest difference to the boats I’m used to sailing is how slow things happen, the motion of the boat over waves, and its reaction to changes in the sail trim and steering are very graceful. I’m not sure that I could get used to sailing on a boat like that for too long, it was very nice (it would be much nicer in a warmer climate), but there wasn’t really anything to do. I could probably manage as one of the crew with something to keep me occupied. But then I probably don’t need to worry about that as I’m unlikely to get the opportunity to sail on a boat like it again any time soon.