Spring sprint

The warm weather of the last ten days has made the snow melt quickly. Many birds have arrived, among others swans, geese, cranes and northern lapwings. The first spring flowers are blooming and butterflies flutter around.

Some days before I still had up to 40 cm of snow in my backyard, now there are only some snowy patches left that probably will thaw away soon.

Even at Storgrundet – my favourite beach and one of the places where the sea ice uses to remain longest – the first large patches of open water can be seen.

Since most of the sea ice has been vanished I want to open the kayak season this week. I need however another starting point than Storgrundet. Even though the ice has holes, most of it is still thick enough to walk onto. I met a couple that crossed the ice to visit their cabin. The man told me, that he crossed the ice a week ago, too – by car!

 

Boats between ice and water

Normally I try to make a winter kayak tour as soon as parts of the sea are free of ice. Not this year. Either it was too windy or the sea was ice covered again or I was travelling.

While my kayak is still sleeping in the garage two other boats have already been taken out. I saw them in the afternoon but made the photos in the evening.

It may look like the sea is frozen again, but the transparent ice is floating freely. Look closely and you’ll realise that the second boat has moved while I took the photo and therefore is a bit blurred.

Although the boats are a clear spring sign the ice makes the photos look still wintry. Today’s day temperature however was round 10 °C and for the first time I jogged in a t-shirt.

Sea ice in April

It’s hardly three days ago, that the water level of the Baltic Sea was extremely low. Now the level is -20 cm, a normal situation.

But there are always changes at the coast. Two cold nights with temperatures below -5 °C were enough to cover some open bays with new fresh ice. The first two photos show the same bay as three days ago, the other two photos show a place near Näsgrundet, 2½ km away.

#escapism – an overnight stay on an icebound raft

Thanks to Facebook I saw yesterday afternoon, that my mate Hans planned to have a sauna in the evening. I took the opportunity to invite myself. Hans answered I should take a sleeping bag with me when I wanted to stay over.

Half an hour I had packed sleeping bag, warm clothes, camera and food and took the car to Bureå. Here in the bay of the marina Hans has parked his rafts. Two rafts are equipped with a cosy cabin with two beds each, the third raft has a toilet and the sauna. In summer the rafts are floating freely and you need a boat to get there. Now it’s possible to cross the ice. When I arrived Hans already had fired the sauna. But first we took an ice bath.

We warmed bread and grilled sausages directly on the sauna oven, the only source of heat. After our third ice bath we warmed up in the sauna and then went in the left cabin. Soon we wrapped up ourselves in our sleeping bags because it was quite chilly. Outside -5 °C, inside only slightly warmer.

I slept well although I woke up several times because the ice cracked loudly. Either it was the frost expanding the ice or the rising water level. Already at 5 o’clock it was so light that I went out to take some photos. Brrr, -10 °C! I could hear the ice crack and the hooting of the whooper swans. Far away some of them swam in the water of one of the few ice-free places.

When I came back it was still early morning and Hans was sleeping. I thought that looked like a good idea, went into my sleeping bag and slept another hour.

When we stood up I was curious about my food for breakfast. The water in my large plastic bottle was partly frozen but still drinkable. To my surprise my yoghurt hadn’t turned into ice over night. Cheese and bread neither. Since it was almost warmer outside than inside we had an outdoor breakfast under the blue morning sky.

After breakfast we called it a day, crossed the ice to our parked cars, said hejdå and left this nice place. Tack så mycket, Hans – thank you, Hans for a relaxed evening and a wonderful spontaneous experience.

Extreme low water in Skelleftehamn

When I was a child we used to drive to Cuxhaven, a coastal town in Northern Germany. We never checked the tidal calendar in advance, so it was always a surprise what we got: high tide or low tide. Bathing or mud walking.

Here in Skelleftehamn at the Bothian Bay the situation is much simpler. The tidal effect is insignificant. Low water and high water may occur, but they are mostly caused by wind and independent from the gravitational effects of the moon.

The last two days the water level was extremely low. Yesterday evening the relative water level was -103 cm. Last time that this happened was in 1998 – 21 years ago.

Where ice fishers sat on the ice of the Kallholmsfjärden only weeks ago was now a wide area of wet sand and stones. A very unusual view. I went there twice and made some photos. They are not particularly beautiful but a memory of a special situation I’d like to share.

I would have loved to explore other bays as Harrbäckssand or the Innervikfjärden but these are still completely covered by ice. Perhaps another time. Perhaps in 21 years …

Four days in Österbotten

Last Monday Annika and I travelled to one of Umeå’s nearest neighbouring cities: Vasa. Vasa is located in Finland and the fastest and easiest way to get there from Umeå is by ferry. Taking the car round Kvarken and the Bothnian Bay – the northernmost parts of the Baltic Sea – would be more than 800 km.

2. April – sunny Islands, cormorants and bad roads

The forecast promised sunny weather and I wanted to flee the town of Vasa (round 68000 inhabitants). Our plan was to explore some of the large islands of the Kvarken Archipelago which consists of several thousands of islands and islets.

We left Vasa municipality and entered Korsholm municipality. In Alskat we left the Finnish mainland, took a bridge to the island Fjärdskäret and then the large bridge Replot bron – more than a kilometre long – to the Björkö skärgård.

We made a short stop at the church in Björköby, the main village of Björkö. To our surprise the church wasn’t locked and we could enter. Probably it was only open for the handyman working there. I even went up to the organ but I didn’t dare to climb the clock tower without asking.

From Björköby it’s not far to Svedjehamn, a boat harbour. The coastal sea was still covered with ice and no boat could be seen. Probably many of the boats were in the red boathouses, that were everywhere.

We looked around, then we followed a path to the large observation tower, which is dark and almost 20 metres high. An eye-catching landmark. Beside of some ice fishers that parked their cars at the coast, we were completely alone. Only seabirds could be heard, mostly the typical honking call of the Whooper Swans.

From the tower we had a nice view both over land and sea. The land was framed with ice, but further out the sea was open. Birds flew around, mostly Whooper Swans and small flocks of ducks (being shooed away by other birds). Suddenly a group of dark birds passed our tower, it was a flock of cormorants.

After a while of amateur bird watching we descended the tower and went back to the parked car. We were hungry and took the way back to the Replot Bridge, where we got a delicious lunch at Berny’s Café and Restaurant.

After that we headed for another island in the north. This was quite challenging to drive because larger parts of the way were covered with ice with deep ruts. I had to drive quite slow to keep on the way. In Köklot I made the photo of the only boat in the fishing port, later I just had to photograph the small red hovercraft. I would love to have such a vehicle that can access the sea the whole year round.

I followed the bad road for a while but finally I had to turn because all turnouts were closed. It took a long time to drive back and when we arrived in Vasa we both were tired.

Later this day: A dinner with Asian food, a small coastal walk in Vasa and a bit of luxury: Our flat had a tiny sauna.

3. April – history lessons, old Vasa and Indian food

Already the day before we had decided that we wanted to stay two other nights in the region of Österbotten. We had given Couchsurfing another try. We contacted K.D. that lives in the Korsholm municipality but he didn’t have any place for us. He suggested however that we could meet in the city. So Annika and I went to the monument on the market square where we met K.D.

We got an extremely interesting history lesson about Finland in General und Vasa, while we slowly walked through the city. I didn’t make a single photo, I was too eager listening. After some hours K.D. had to leave but he invited us to the museum Stundars for the next day.

Later we took the car to Gamla Vasa, the old town that burned down in 1852. Some walls, among others of the old church from the 15th century are still there.

Later this day: Indian food and another sauna session.

4. April – a meteorite, two museums and welcoming hosts

Already before the journey we learned about Söderfjärden, a large plain which is an impact crater of a meteorite impact 520 million years ago. The plain lies south of Vasa and we took the car there.

The exhibition at the crate’s centre was closed but outside there’s a model of our solar system. I never walked from the sun to Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – here it was possible.

We only had limited time, so we took the car to Uranus and Neptune – two small blue-green orbs. Then we changed our perspective back to here and now. We saw the first cranes of the year, more geese and more whooper swans.

From Söderfjärden we drove to the museum Stundars, which is quite nearby. We met K.D. again who had opened the “Smedens stuga” – the cabin of the smith – together with a colleague. We thanked for the day before and had an interesting talk about history and now.

We couldn’t stay for long because we had another appointment. When we had stood on the deck of the ferry three days ago we got in contact with S.. He gave us his phone number and this day we met him in Malax where he opened the Kvarkens Båtmuseum and gave us a private guided tour.

I was deeply impressed by the boat that was used for seal hunting. The hunters lived on the ice for several months with nothing but their boat to live in. We do not talk about the middle age, we talk about the 20th century. The last time this boat was used for seal hunting was in 1963, only five years before I was born!

Through Couchsurfing Annika got in contact with A. and M. who live in Västerhankmo, north from Vasa. We were welcome to live with them for two days, although they had other guests and one of the sons would return from Australia the very same day. We felt honoured that we could stay anyway. We drove to their house, where we were shown a huge couch to sleep over and got in contact with the residents – both human and feline.

Later this day: z-z-z-z

5. April – cloudy weather and a bilingual car trip

The weather was cloudy and we were quite lazy. We had seen a lot the last days and we learned a lot. We learned especially a lot about the Finland-Swedes, the Swedish speaking minority in Finland. Although their nationality is Finnish they have Swedish as a first language. Österbotten is one of the regions in Finland with a lot of Finland-Swedes. In Vasa 25% have Swedish as a first language, in the neighbour municipality Korsholm it is 72%. All people mentioned above are Finland-Swedes and have Swedish as a first language.

The children grow up with Swedish and go to Swedish schools, where they will learn Finnish as a secondary language.

Even the culture is different. When Annika asked for (Finnish) tango events she was told that this would be more a Finnish thing and therefore not easy to find in Österbotten.

It is said, that “the” Finns are much more direct then “the” Swedes who try to avoid any conflict, when possible. I experienced the Finland-Swedes as more to the point than the Swedes and I have to admit, that I enjoyed it because of my own quite direct personality.

Back to 5. April. We took the car and travelled around, first to some other islands.

In Isokyrö we stopped for the old stone church, built between 1513 and 1533.

Temperatures were above zero and everything looked grey and dull. The leftover snow was wet and the gravel roads were muddy. When we returned to our overnight place my car looked really dirty – but in their special way the dirt patterns were beautiful anyway.

Later this day: Having a good time with M., A., and family including a very tasty meat soup with homemade bread and petting the cute cat

6. April – with the Ferry to Umeå

6:40: the alarm rings – 7:05: we sneak out of the house (we said goodbye the evening before) – 7:45: we roll on board of the ferry – 9:00: the ferry starts its journey back to Sweden – 12:30 (Swedish time): we arrive in Holmsund, 20 km from Umeå.

Thank you, K.D, thank you S. “för trevlig sällskap” – for nice company!

Thank you, M., A. and family – for your hospitality and “för trevlig sällskap” as well!

Later this day: The first flowers of the year:

By ferry to Vaasa

It’s true what some friends say: I travelled a lot this winter. It wasn’t the one long journey but several small ones. To Kirkenes, to Trondheim by Hurtigruten, the ski tour with Annika and last not least the journey to Murmansk.

On Monday Annika and I started another journey, this time to one of Umeå’s neighbour towns. This town is in the east and you have to cross the Baltic Sea. I’m talking about Vaasa in Finland. How good, that there’s a ferry from Umeå’s seaport Holmsund.

After I parked the car in the ship we went on the upper deck. To my disappointment the whole Baltic Sea was free of ice.

At 12 o’clock the ferry started its journey across the Baltic Sea to Finland. First along some skerries and islets. Even Holmön, where we have been last December was visible on the horizon.

Then we reached the open sea. Nothing much to see and a good time to have lunch. Quite expensive but especially the starters were delicious.

After a while I could spot the Finnish coastline. It seemed to be surrounded by ice – and so it was. One minute the ship drove through open water, the next minute through ice floes.

Now there was a lot more to see – at least for winter and ice lovers. There was ice to both sides and behind the stern of the boat you could watch the open water closing within a minute.

The structures and textures of the ice changed every minute.

We passed a ship that was surrounded by ice. First it looked like it could have been there for months, but there was an open waterway, probably it hadn’t been there for long.

The Finnish coast came nearer and nearer. Harbour and industrial plants came into view. Some last photos, than we had to enter the car. The ferry docked and we left it.

Finland – another country, another time zone and a language that is completely unknowable to most non-Finnish people.

Late March at the coast

The last few days it was quite warm with maximum temperatures round 10 °C. The warmth of the sun warmed the rocks and made the ice melt around them. Today it was very windy and the water level was 50 cm above average. Therefore the sea ice rose while the coastal ice has still been frozen solid to the shore. That has resulted in large cracks in the ice which made the high water flow up through the cracks and cover the coastal ice.

This turquoise blue water almost looks Caribbean, but of course the water is still literally ice cold. And while the air is warm at daytime, the ground is still so cold, that ice needles grow on the undercooled water puddles.

Spring equinox was a week ago, now the days are longer here than in Central Europe. Sunrise tomorrow will be already at 5:00. I hope that sun and wind will remove the ice cover on the Baltic Sea soon. I’m longing for opening the kayak season 2019.

A view from the rock dump

The peninsula Näsgrundet is one of my favourite places for photographing in Skelleftehamn. There are many motifs especially in wintertime. The snowy rocky coast, the ice covered Baltic Sea or the island Gåsören on the horizon. Probably you have seen some of the motifs here in my blog.

Mostly I take the car. I drive along the street Näsuddsvägen. To the left there are the huge cisterns for storing oil and other chemicals, part of Oljehamn, the oil port of Skellefteå. To the right, on the other side of the bay Kallholmsfjärden there’s the peninsula Rönnskär, home to several industrial facilities. Most prominent is Boliden Rönnskär, one of the world most efficient copper smelters.

There are several rock dumps beside the street. Since last year there’s a huge one between street and bay. Today I went up the slope and watched the sunset. These are perhaps not the photos I normally made home in Skelleftehamn, but the industry is part of this coastal region, too.

Have a look at the last photo: It looks like the peninsula Näsgrundet with its red houses and the tug boat to the left would almost touch the island Gåsören with its lighthouse. The distance between them however is more than 1.5 km. It’s the telephoto lens that makes the distance shrink, at least visually.

By the way: if you live here and wonder why my car is so dirty – one of the reasons is this huge water puddle that I have to “ford” when going to eller coming from Näsgrundet.

 

An almost secret world of ice

This was my most daring tour on the sea ice yet. This article may not be for the faint-hearted. Spoiler alert: I kept safe and dry!

After an extremely lazy day yesterday I felt today like I had to go out and get some fresh air. Cross country skiing? No, the tracks are probably extremely icy. Jogging? No, the water puddles from the melting snow are deep and I wanted to keep my feet dry.

What about trying to walk to the island Bredskär? There’s a large patch of old ice that should be easy to cross. But behind the islands there could be weak ice.  Didn’t I want to keep dry?

Yes, I definitely wanted to keep dry. So I used a funny combination of equipment today. On the one hand snowshoes for winter walks, on the other hand a drysuit in case of breaking through the ice.

I took the car to the small boat harbour Tjuvkistan, changed into the rubber boots and started my tour from there. The ice was easy to cross even though there were some wet patches. That doesn’t automatically mean that the ice is weak. Mostly it’s freshwater from melted snow or seawater that found a way up through the cracks in the ice. Soon I arrived at the island Bredskär – it’s only 750 m to go. Unfortunately clouds had been approaching covering the sun.

I turned right and walked along the eastern shore. Wind, waves and winter’s coldness had built a ice wall along the shore.

When I reached the eastern tip I had a decision to make. Should I walk around the island and already go back? Or should I dare to cross the sea ice to the next islands Gråsidan and Nygrundet. I chose the latter. I opened the belt of the backpack, checked my ice claws and started carefully crossing the sea ice. Step by step. Step by step. The first half was no problem but then the ice started to look grey. That could be a sign for weak, thin or watery ice. I could see air bubbles moving under the ice with every step. I expected to break through the ice with every step. Perhaps the ice was not weak at all and only covered with water but I was not eager to find out and slowly continued. Step by step.

The ice seemed to get weaker and weaker, thinner and thinner, wetter and wetter. Perhaps it was real, maybe it was only my imagination that gave me this impression. After some more careful steps I finally reached the island Gråsidan. Hooray! Nevertheless only a temporary success because I knew that I would have to go back later on.

I arrived at the northern tip of Gråsidan, turned right and walked along the eastern shore heading south. It was there, where I found the almost secret world of ice. Of course it was not secret by purpose but I guess I was the only one that had managed to approach this special location.

East from the island there was a layer of sea ice and on that there was a huge variety of ice. Large ice floes, heaps of smaller ice discs, round-shaped ice objects and much more was there to see.

It was like an open air art exhibition. An art exhibition of one of my favourite artists: nature. And I had it all for myself. It was not easy to go. Sometimes I had to cross chaotic looking ice fields, sometimes my foot landed in a deep puddle of meltwater. Look at the next photo: This puddle had not only drowned half of my rubber boot but a snowshoe, too.

I was however wrong in one thing. Others visited this world of ice as well: moose. Countless moose tracks covered the sea ice heading seaward. What does a moose want there? There’s only ice and then – already visible in the distance – the open Baltic Sea. The next island in the southeast is more than 11 km away.

Either moose have a very poor sense of orientation or they like ice art just as me. I imagined several moose visiting the various objects and discuss shape, colour and the meaning of the artworks. These visitors however had left, only the tracks were left.

While strolling through the exhibition I already passed another island: Nygrundet, the outermost island of the archipelago. Nygrundet was near the open water. Very near. I approached a huge block of ice and there it was: My personal “Ultima Thule” for today.

After I was sure, that this ice block was connected to the island and no iceberg sailing to Finland I decided to climb the block and make myself comfortable. Although temperatures were slightly above zero it was quite cold due to the strong gale with wind gusts round 22 m/s. That’s round 80 km/h. Brrr! I was glad about my warm anorak that I took with me.

After eating and drinking a bit I decided to go back. I crossed a small patch of sea ice and then went along the island which is connected with Gråsidan by a stripe of land. Unnoticed by me the clouds had moved away and the sun came out. Ice gets a completely new look when sunlit. So I decided to go to the art exhibition once more and turned again.

And turned again to finally return home. On my way back I saw a manmade art object at the shore, but I could not understand its purpose. I preferred the tiny pine trees sticking out of the snow. Then I crossed the island Gråsidan from east to west (less than 200 meter).

The last photo clearly indicates that I hadn’t been in the Arctic. It’s still Skelleftehamn. On all of the mentioned islands there are summer cottages. The cottages on Nygrundet and Gråsidan were empty due to the difficulties to get there.

I started to look for a better place to cross the sea ice back to the island Bredskär. I had felt quite uneasy while crossing the ice to Gråsidan and I hoped for better ice. To make a long story short: I found a longer, but better and easier way.

I was relieved when I arrived Bredskär. Now the ice probably would be thicker and safer. I walked along the island somewhere between sea and land. There where a lot of very wet patches but on safe ice. Now I only had to cross the sea ice once more, then I would arrive on the mainland and at my car.

Here a lot of water, partly frozen, covered the ice. Snowmobiles and ATVs had left deep traces and wheel ruts. I started getting a bit impatient and instead of taking the same way home I turned left a bit earlier. First it went well then I had to plunge through surficially frozen water and slush. With the snowshoes that was quite exhausting but the shore came nearer and nearer.

I could spot my parked car and the snowy slope where I had to go up. 100 metres to go. 50 metres to go. 10 metr… – crash!

My right leg went through the ice to the upper leg. It was not weak ice, I just oversaw a large and broad crack. The rubber boot was soaking wet but not myself. The attached stockings of my drysuit had kept me dry. It’s funny anyway that this happened just seconds before finishing the tour.

Probably I will keep a bruise on my knee for some days as a nice memory of this very special inter-season snowshoe tour on the Baltic Sea. And a fabulous tour it was.

Equipment

Directly translated from my packing list with some comments.

  • smartphone + powerbank + charge cable + waterproof bag (the powerbank to be able to load the smartphone in emergency situations)
  • camera + memory card + cleaning tissue + reserve battery (all packed in a waterproof Ortlieb bag that I wore in front of my breast)
  • drysuit (to keep me dry in water. Only head and hands would get wet)
  • rubber boots (I chose my huuuge Russian rubber boots with thermal inner boots
  • snowshoes (flexible enough to work with the rubber boots)
  • 2× balaclava (for the head – one comfortable made of fleece, one tight and waterproof)
  • 2× gloves (one pair made of Powerstretch fleece, on pair of waterproof neoprene)
  • isdubbar – ice claws. (The most important thing! Two handles with spikes that you can use to pull yourself on safe ice after having broken through)
  • provisions (A cinnamon bun, chocolate and a coke(!) )
  • Cabela’s anorak (the insulated anorak with the fur trimmed hood you can see on my selfie)
  • waterproof bags (I stored everything in waterproof bags – from the other pair of gloves to the car keys)
  • sunglasses (today even used as wind protection)