Getting Hot and Steamy in Finland

The Aland and Finnish archipelagos differ from those on the Swedish side in that the rocks are pink instead of grey, and cover a huge area rather than just the coastal fringe. It is said that you cannot trust the charts outside of the generally accepted routes, and so most vessels follow these . Every stretch has an easily identifiable pair of leading marks with outlying rocks identified by pillar buoys , but what is more intriguing are countless smaller pairs of leading marks which are not on the charts . These lead off into the “off piste “ areas , so someone does venture that way . Whenever I see them I have an almost irresistible urge to follow them and indeed we have done so on a few occasions to find an anchorage , so far without mishap. The word is that they are not marked on the chart because of the proximity and possible ambitions of Russia , who has of course occupied this area in the not too distant past.
Even sticking to the “normal “ routes gives an almost infinite choice of itinery , and we have taken a relatively random route on the principle that if we just get lost inside the less well travelled areas of this amazing place we will have more fun . So far it has produced one stunning natural anchorage , one little wooden quay where we were offered smoked fish and told to help ourselves from the salad garden, and last night a small Guest Harbour on a slightly longer wooden quay. There is less wild mooring here , and most people seem to go from guest harbour to guest harbour, but if this one is anything to go by this will be no hardship. At high season it could probably take 30 boats , but today there are 8 . There is a small shop , a restaurant and a fabulous little museum about the life and boats that used to be found in the Alands archipelago. The harbour master welcomed me with “ Thankyou for coming to see us on Lappo “ and then proceeded to tell me about the times that the sauna is hot ( ie on).
Ah yes , the sauna. Even tiny places like this seem to have a public sauna , and for the last few weeks we have become accustomed to seeing various red faces individuals sitting outside in a towel, and occasionally plunging into the sea for a ( brief!) swim. I have in fact had a sauna once before , and that was at the age of fifteen in Southern Ireland of all places , but for various reasons have little recall of the event ; a long story that I wont go into now . Nearly half a century later I approached my second experience with interest and soon learnt a lesson. It is hot ( yeah yeah … bare with me!) , and the higher up you sit , it is hotter still – in fact too hot to sit down . Ever helpful, the Finns provide little paper towels that make this bearable. So , having solved this particular problem I sat back and waited for something to happen , some revelation as to what all the fuss was about.
Nothing happened . Sure I got hot , and sweated a lot , but having been brought up in the Tropics it seemed no big deal. It was a bit like trying cannabis when I was ( very ) young – I couldn’t see what the fuss was about . After a while I was joined by various Finns who started throwing water on the hot rocks which made it even hotter and set people talking, and gradually the penny dropped . It is essentially a social experience – chatting away in your birthday suit to people you only nod to on the quayside . There was a bunch of birch twigs to hand but thankfully no one was into self flagellation, and it was too far from the sea to jump in so we had to make do with a veranda overlooking the sea on which to cool down and continue our conversations. And perhaps there was a feeling of relaxation at the end , so will I do it again? On balance yes , although I am a bit worried about the effect on my reputation when people know I take my clothes off and talk to strangers in hot places!
But , when in Rome …. !

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