The Nicest Island in Finland

One day we shared the quay at Österskår with 4 other boats. It is a picturesque little place, the quay being backed by a sheer rock facing West, and the “harbour” pool created by a series of islets sheltering us from that direction. Around the pool several ochre coloured boat houses jut out over the water , one of which had been converted into a wood fuelled sauna giving us what we were assured was the most authentic sauna experience possible ( most are now electric). The evening there was enchanting as the sun warmed rock kept the temperature up, the house martins dashed too and fro doing their best to keep the insect population away from us , and our neighbours proving good company. At precisely 2100 LT a lady of Wagnerian build stood under the rock and belted out a rather solemn song in a rich contralto, her voice reflected by the rock over the little pool which gave the performance a wonderfully rich acoustic. There had been odd snatches of trumpet music coming from one of the other boats for the previous half hour, and when she had finished her song to general applause, the trumpeter emerged and played a short piece. As he finished, every boat retrieved their ensign and ostentatiously rolled it round its staff , carefully held horizontally.

From Aland and Finish archipelago

I am a bit wary of overt displays of nationalism, but in a small country with less than 100 years of independence, and a large unpredictable neighbour it is understandable, so we hastily retrieved our ensign to show solidarity. This was a somewhat isolated occurrence (although most Finns do take their ensigns down at 9) and it transpired that a few of the boats were musically inclined and bound for a festival of traditional archipelago music on the nearby island of Aspö. I was warned that it was a pretty relaxed affair as the island could only accommodate 20 boats and the organisation was somewhat haphazard, which sounded brilliant – and we resolved to go!
The harbour at Aspö consists of a couple of short wooden quays and is perfectly sheltered by the neighbouring island. We arrived with 24 hours to go to the start of the festival and already the quays were jam packed. Luckily there was a deep little bay a cable to the SW just begging to be anchored in ( and thus even better sheltered than the quays ) , so we dropped anchor in the middle , nicely clear of the fairway and settled back to watch the fun.

From Aspo

When mooring up to these quays, one drops a stern anchor and runs in to lie bow to the staging. Latecomers cruise around looking for a gap, line their sides with fenders , try to drop their stern anchors in the middle of the spaghetti and then just head in . It’s all very good natured and somehow all the boats breathe out and yet another vessel is squeezed in. Sometimes the newcomers bow is attached to the sterns of the previous row , and another layer formed. By the middle of the following day a seemingly impossible 50 assorted boats lined the quays , with several more anchored with us in the bay , and another 10 or so attached to various bits of rock around the shore. That’s when the ferry arrived! Goodness I was glad we were safely out of it , but as far as we could see , no one was harmed , and with the ferry disgorging loads of folk loaded with picnics and various musical instruments it was time to go ashore and join in the fun!
We were welcomed by a charming Finnish lady who comes every year to help out at this event. According to her we had arrived by chance at the nicest island in Finland, and on the best day of the year to experience its charms .It would appear that Aspö is unusual in these outer islands in that there is a family of fishermen who still live here all the year round (most are now only lived in during the summer) . What’s more, they not only run the place but seem to be a centre for the resurgence of the traditional archipelago music , and to some extent the traditional way of life. Three generations of this family sorted out the mooring of the armada of visitors, ran the little shop and café and then led off the festival with their family band of accordions, fiddle and guitar. We had been warned that Finnish music had a tendency to melancholia – allegedly it usually sounds as if the musician had just run over his dog – but whilst they all took it fairly seriously , the waltzes and polkas that made up most of the music were lively enough and obviously didn’t live down to this rather scurrilous expectation .Various groups from around the archipelago took their turn and after the main performances they split into different venues , a pier here , a shed there , where we could all wander along and sing with them or just listen and chat.

From Aspo

Just above the harbour there was a little church, complete with the votive ship model that can be seen in seafaring communities the world over. Here a small “a capella” group of serious quality gave an evening concert as a precursor to the main event – the dance. This is what this “archipelago music “ was all about ,getting the community together for a bop . Imagine if you will an old boat house of about 40 feet by 20 feet with up to 10 musician in one corner , and about 200 folk wanting to dance in what was left of the room. The problem was solved by the fact that it was so hot inside that after two tunes you had to come outside for some fresh air and perhaps another beer – so we all had our turn in what was the perfect end for an utterly charming day.
After two weeks of wandering through the archipelago we were running short of supplies so headed for the inner archipelago. Here, the islands grow bigger and the water between them more constricted until you lose all sense of being at sea; it’s rather more like sailing on lakes and rivers. By chance the little town of Dalsbruk ( where we had chosen to restock) was hosting a major jazz festival so we took a deep breath , plunged headlong into the chaos on the quay , another one to immerse ourselves into 24 hours of continuous jazz and emerged the next day to briefly clear the local supermarket of food and flee once more to the peace and solitude of the islands.
It’s been a musical sort of week!

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