The Four Seasons of Finland

Charlotte suggested I should write something about the Finnish summer, since maybe a lot of people (well those who have heard of Finland in the first place) think it’s just cold and snowy here all the time. I threw in the other seasons as well, so here goes!

Fall Is When Everything Starts Turning Gray

Everything is gray. The ship is Viking Amorella, sailing from Turku via Åland to Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. 

Fall is just so depressing“, says Charlotte, and a lot of people in Finland tend to agree.

Studies say that the sharp drop in sunlight (70% less sun in November than July) leads to mild symptoms of depression in up to 30% of the population. Nothing very serious though, for most of us. We just get a bit more tired, sleep more, eat more sweets and gain weight.

Sailing in Finland tends to end in October. After summer, the weather gets more and more windy and the month of November seen an average of three storms a year (a storm being at least 21 m/s, 41 knots of wind). 

It’s not the wind that drives sailboats out of the water, though, it’s the cold. Average highs in October are about 4 degrees celsius (39F) and starting in November, average lows drop below freezing.

All the waters surrounding Finland freeze in the winter, so pleasure boats spend winter out of the water.

As far as I know, there are practically no year-round liveaboards in these waters. Those very few who dare to try have to keep the ice from crushing their boats, either by heating the water, or by keeping it in constant movement which prevents it from freezing.

Winter Is Beautiful and/or Brutal

Docking procedure here: sternline to the red buoy and bow to shore, but first remove the one meter thick ice. (63°03’35.2″N 21°31’33.4″E)

There are no polar bears roaming the streets of our cities in winter (don’t know whether anyone really thinks there are, but it’s an urban legend I’ve heard many a time!).

It’s occasionally quite cold, though. In the southern parts of Finland, where we live, temperatures in January and February can regularly drop down below -20C (-4F), but usually it stays somewhere between 5 and 10 degrees below freezing (14-23F).

People who can afford, store their boats in heated storage halls, but more frequently the boats are stored either outside or inside in the cold.

Winterizing (basically clearing out all water from boat and engine, adding anti-freezing liquids as required, removing upholstery) is very important. When stored outside, it’s also common to build a provisional tarp roof above the boat, to protect it from rain and snow.

Spring, Lovely Spring! 

Spring is here! April 15th and beautiful Charlotte enjoying the beautiful sun! Still quite icy, as you can see, but unusually warm at +17! (63F)

One of the most significant days in the Finnish year, I think, is that first day of spring when the seemingly never ending gray finally gives way to blue skies and sunlight. It is quite magical to see people in streets smiling at the sun, and smiling at each other, all thinking the same thing: spring is finally here!

For the sailing crowd, now is the time to decide what should be done to the boat before putting it into water.

We mainly sail in the summer so we have this short window in April-June when it’s warm enough to actually do something to the boat, but still not warm enough that we feel like we’re missing out on sailing season.

During this time slot every repair, replacement and upgrade has to be done, and it’s a crazily busy time for the owners as well as the boatyards (which usually are totally overbooked and are faced with the impossible task of scheduling everything to the customer’s satisfaction).

But then the day eventually arrives when everything is ready enough, and the boat is put into water. That can be sometimes before 1st of May, but more usually during May or the first weeks of June.

Sailing in May is cold, though!

Temperatures rise to an average 14C/57F in daytime and fall to 6C/43F in the nights. The sea is cold (average 10C/50F) as well, and although the wind is often good and between 3-8 m/s (6-16 knots), the cold sea makes it really chilly. 

Getting the boat into water in May is wonderful. Actually sailing it… well, maybe best to wait for June 🙂

The Meaning of (Charlotte’s) Life is Summer (she says)

A room view a view! This picture was taken last summer at my dear friend’s place on a small island in the Korpo archipelago.

Winter is gone and here comes summer, the happy promise of spring!

Summer is the only season I like“, says Charlotte, “and the rest of the year I’d rather just sleep.” 

I don’t know. Maybe it’s a waste of seasons to just sleep through the rest of them, but many Finnish people would agree: the cold and dark is bearable only because there is warm summer light at the end of the tunnel.  

And summer in Finland is warm! Average highs in July go to 21C/70F and last summer, being exceptionally warm, temperatures went above 30C/87F for quite a few days of the month. The air is quite dry, though, so 30C in Finland might feel a bit less pressuring than in the tropics.  

The winds, they are quite variable. Some days there isn’t any wind at all, other days it can blow a fresh 10-12 m/s (20-12 knots). Also, sailing between the islands in small channels can make it quite gusty an affair.

And it rains. Some years there’s very little rain, other years it rains almost all the time. In the end, you never know beforehand what you’ll get, so it’s better not to worry too much, and just adapt.

In any case, the scenery is gorgeous!

If you’re used to warm trade wind sailing, though, the experience might be a bit different. A common saying is that in Finland you’ll sail upwind no matter which direction you are trying to go.

And My Favorite Season Is …

I’ll go with summer as well. It can get a bit hectic, though, to try to fit every conceivable activity into just a couple of months.

The most heartwarming event of the year, for me, is that first sunny day in spring. I sincerely love to see happy people and their happy smiles. 

4 comments

  1. This is very similar to what we get here in Quebec! Sailing season is always too short. Cannot spend enough time on the water before it freezes again.

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