Night Sailing to Tallinn

Charlotte and the sea

It was a bit before eight in the morning. We were blessed with clear skies and beautiful sunshine. I woke Charlotte up to help me get us politely reversed away from the Kyrkogårdsön pier, and then we were off. Next destination: the open seas and our biggest adventure yet.

The Plan

The plan had actually started out as a joke, “Let’s sail to Tallinn!”, then turned into a repeating meme “… tomorrow we’ll nightsail to Tallinn!”, before suddenly becoming something we really considered doing.

But, but …

It would be about two hundred miles of offshore sailing, sailing in the night, and sailing without stopping, for a long time. We were certainly not the most experienced crew to “just go and do it”, so the safety of it all was a big concern.

The weather looked peachy, though.

The predicted wind appeared to be well within our comfort zone, and mostly from decent directions. There would be a bit of headwind (meaning tacking and going a longer distance), but no too much that either. The PredictWind routing service offered just the encouragement we were looking for: if we’d leave early in the morning, it would be quite possible to reach Tallinn by late evening the next day. Great!

In any case, it wasn’t going to be a short sail. Getting enough sleep, and being awake enough, would probably be the biggest challenge.

During the nights, we thought it best that both Charlotte and I would sleep in the cockpit, and have a one hour on/off watch system. The children, we thought, would be fine. Maybe it would be a bit strange for them to go to sleep while out there, but we didn’t worry too much about it.

Aiko, our potentially seasick ship’s dog, he would be sailing outside in the cockpit for the whole trip. He seemed to like that better, anyway. Luckily for us, he had quickly understood the point of having a thick brown carpet (with some plastic underneath) on the cockpit floor. (The “crap mat” 😇🙈)

So, we had a plan. And better yet, also a few backup plans, just in case our main plan would start falling apart.

The First Day

It took us about five hours to get past the outermost islands of the Stockholm Archipelago. Then almost until midnight to get through and between the numerous reefs and shallows east of Sweden and south of Åland.

After leaving the archipelago, the wind wasn’t as favorable as predicted. It came slightly too much ahead, so we couldn’t get to where we wanted— without tacking— for most of the afternoon and evening.

Nobody was seasick, but (oh sigh!) poor Charlotte and O had caught something else (maybe eaten some bad food or something), so they were not perfectly well either. Charlotte said it felt quite different from being seasick, and that it had started already before we left, so we both kind of wanted to think it wasn’t. Anyway, it felt bad to see them under the weather, no matter the root cause.

On a positive note, though, everyone else was feeling great.

The weather was good and being out there on the open sea was, at least to me, just so very precious and beautiful.

Little L and Aiko enjoying the ride under Little L’s “owl blanket”. (The owl blanket is, by far, her most favorite blanket of all!).
Sunshine cures it all! ☀️

The First Night

As the night set in, Charlotte wasn’t feeling much better. She had taken out a blanket and a pillow and was sleeping on the leeward cockpit bench.

So, our night watches.

I started to feel the need to get some sleep, but somehow I didn’t have the heart to wake her up. So, our night watches, what to do.

The wind had died down and we were going quite slowly forward. We were quite far from the shipping lanes and the nearest ships were clearly visible both on the AIS and the horizon.

All in all, I thought it was safe enough to do what (I’ve heard) solo sailors usually do. I put my mobile phone on a ten minute repeat alarm, pulled my thin blanket on top of me, and closed my eyes.

Got a few minutes of sleep.

Woke up, checked the horizon, the chartplotter, the trim.

Went to my cockpit bench, pulled the blanket up, closed my eyes.

Got a few minutes of sleep. And so on, and so on. (I experimented with fifteen and twenty minutes intervals also, but ended up with ten for most of the time.)

Sometimes during the almost-morning part of the night, there was so little wind (but still some leftover waves), that the autopilot got confused and started driving around in circles.

I got up and steered by hand for an hour or so, before the wind again increased a bit and the autopilot got itself sorted out.

… went to my cockpit bench, pulled up the blanket, closed my eyes …

The sun is setting towards our first night. Here we still have some wind!

The Second Day

Sunrise over an open sea is heartwarmingly beautiful.

This far north, during summers, the period of really dark is just a couple of hours in the middle of the night. The rest of the night is just almost dark, with a few hours of remaining reddish-purple sunlight on one end, and a few hours of anticipating, similarly colored arriving sunlight on the other.

It was wonderful, though, after our first night, to see that thin arc of bright light, our closest starlight on the sky, break through the horizon.

Some hours later everyone was awake. Charlotte (and O also) felt a bit better, so I handed over the watchkeeping responsibilities to her, and tried to get some sleep myself.

(I left the interval timer on, though, at twenty minutes, just to make sure.)

Crossing Traffic Lanes

Later that day we arrived at the traffic separation scheme (sea highway leading to/from Russia), with quite a bit of traffic in both directions.

O and J had fun checking out the ships on the chartplotter (you get the names, origin and destination ports, length of ship etc from the AIS information). Meanwhile I was keeping myself busy making sure we wouldn’t run into them, or rather, they wouldn’t run into us, since we had the right of way.

“So, we will get to Tallinn this evening?” O asked, with a hint of anticipation in his voice. He was feeling better, but I knew he’d rather be on firm ground than in a sailboat, and rather sooner than later.

I also knew that we wouldn’t get to Tallinn that evening. The more-than-anticipated upwind sailing earlier on combined with the not-very-much-wind sailing in the night had moved our estimated time of arrival forward through the night and far into the next day.

“I’m sorry, no, we won’t, ” I said quietly. “We’ll be one more night here out on the sea and then we’ll reach Tallinn tomorrow,” I added. I tried to find something comforting and positive to say. “The wind and weather will be good, though, so it will quite relaxed sailing.”

O mumbled something and looked a bit disappointed.

Sailing Together

It really was quite relaxed. We had a decent amount (but not too much) of wind, coming from a good angle, so everything went nicely.

O even got excited about regularly checking the ETA (estimated time of arrival) on the chartplotter, and sending out small cheers whenever we had gained some speed and sliced away an hour or so of our remaining voyage time.

For all day, we were actually sailing together.

Navigating, trimming sails, cooking food, eating, sleeping, (using the toilet!), the lot, right there on the open sea, together, in a sailboat.

It’s hard to notice the exact moments when dreams come true, because it never happens exactly as you thought it would. I was pretty sure this was one of those moments, though, in all of its imperfections.

O and J checking out the sea ahead.
(the wind was dying down in the evening, again)

The Second Night

The second night was less eventful than the first one. The wind had left us and when the ETA started threatening us with a third night out on the sea, it was time to start the engine.

I managed to get some minutes of (interval) sleep while farther out from the Estonian coast, but when we got closer, it seemed safer to keep constant watch. (That soothingly purring engine sound is quite sleep inducing, by the way!)

The sunset and the moments before sunset felt especially magical, so I kept myself busy taking lots of photos.

Charlotte admiring the seascape.
Small ship, peaceful sea, soothing colors.
Time for a nap.


It was one sunrise later and at about half past five in the morning when we finally landed in Tallinn and the Pirita harbour.

It was a happy moment.

We were a bit tired, obviously, but our forty-five hour journey had went quite well, and we had safely arrived exactly where we wanted to.

(Ok, not exactly where we wanted. Just a few minutes later the harbourmaster informed me that “that place” hadn’t been part of the Pirita marina for “at least ten years”, so “kindly, move your boat away from there as quickly as possible”. We did, and got a great spot at the Kalev Yacht Club, just a stone throw away. Beautiful place! Much better than the Pirita marina, I’d say.)

We kissed (our traditional welcome ashore kiss) and went inside to our wonderfully spacious cabin with its heavenly bed (everything is so relative!). It was time to get a few hours of real sleep.

On the move again, later that afternoon. This is the cool Bridgettine Convent in Pirita.
From the left: J, O, M and little L.
(“Smile and wave your hands!” Charlotte shouted. Little L was like “no.” 😄)

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