Why does someone travel 14 hours by plane followed by 9 hours in a car to stand on a lake for 3 days in a part of the world where the sun is above the horizon for less than 6 hours?
My reason was to attend Week 46, a famous iceboat regatta in Finland. This is the first regatta of the European season, held in November, with two competitions, the Johnny Köhler Cup and All Saints regatta. Think Minnesota DN Western Challenge European style, The Finnish DN organization has been hosting Week 46 since the early 1980s and it attracts ice sailors from all over Europe. In 2017, 9 countries were represented including Finland, Germany, Poland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Russia, Switzerland, Hungary, and the Netherlands.
My commute time to the regatta was easy compared to Peter and Reina Greveling’s 28 hour drive from the Netherlands. Peter Hamrek traveled alone over 40 hours from Hungary for 2 days of sailing. Our motivation to gather in remote Finland was the opportunity to be the first on the ice, the breathtaking beauty of Finland, and the camaraderie that defines the ice sailing community. It was a challenge for everyone to travel to Finland and was worth every hour spent enduring the weariness of travel.
Our hosts made my stay and the regatta all run very smoothly. Finland DN Secretary, Olli Varti, whom I had never met, welcomed me at the airport holding a big “DN” sign that was to later be used near the sailing site to show the way. After a quick snack of Finnish rye bread and cheese, we met Oscar Lindell with whom I would make the drive to Ranua.
Our 9 hour drive was unforgettable because we followed a European golf tournament on a Twitter live feed. Oscar’s brother, 19 year old Oliver, is one of Finland’s top professional golfers. Finland’s highways are in excellent condition and the studded tires on Oscar’s van allowed us to make good time through the snow and slush. We kept an eye out for the two unpleasant realities of life on the road in Finland, traffic speed cameras and wandering moose.
The natural beauty of Finland is breathtaking. The tall forest is a harmonious color palette right out of modern Scandinavian design, pure white snow, soft green spruce trees, and muted reds seen in the tree trunks and Finnish houses. It’s a peaceful landscape without the visual clutter of billboards and neon lights. The colors of sunrise melted directly into the colors of sunset as the sun hung low in the sky in the 5.5 hours of daylight.. Symbols of Finland were all around us, from the reindeer herds to the bright red lingonberries that Timo Caravitis pointed out to me under the snow at the launch site.
A retired couple graciously allowed us to invade their property and use as the launch site. Not only did they let dozens of cars and 2 campers park in their driveway, they kept a fire going in a small traditional red cottage equipped with benches all the way around. It was pure charm and encouraged warm conversation with old and new friends. I will never forget the peace and tranquillity I felt as I sat in that cottage watching the fire.
I suppose I should talk about the actual sailing. Friday, Olli and Oscar set the course. Olli put aside his own sailing and assumed PRO duties while I helped with the scoring. Winds were a steady 6 meters per second (12 kts) from the west and never wavered. Hard black ice was covered with
2” of soft snow that did not affect the sailing. The Johnny Köhler Cup was sailed in 6 back to back races. Tomasz Zakrzewski P55 dominated the day with a nice mix of boats in the top 5. At the end of the day,Oscar, the hardest working professional photographer in Finland, tabulated the scores in between editing photos for his many clients.
Snow fell again Friday night but it was lack of wind on Saturday that kept us from racing rather than the snow. Sailors spent their time visiting, making deals for DN parts, measuring, discussing runners, and sharing knowledge about racing and tuning.
Saturday night Czech sailor Vlada Ptasnik CZ112 provided a memorable moment while he entertained us with his guitar backed by Jerker Sandström and bass guitarist Timo Sivula. A Czech sailor singing Neil Young’s Heart of Gold in Finnish; no where else but an ice regatta!
Sunday arrived and I was certain that the snow would have drifted, turned to styrofoam, and ended any hopes for sailing. I was wrong, this November Finnish snow was magic snow! Even with an 8 meters per second (16 kts) wind, the snow did not drift nor limit visibility. I was reminded again of the lesson to not automatically assume that a few inches of snow will prevent sailing. Someone should always try!
Peter Hamrek won all five races of the All Saints regatta. Peter’s morning commute didn’t start out so well when he slid off the side of the road while taking phone video of the reindeer herds. The guys set off and quickly pulled his vehicle out of the ditch.
Oscar asked me if I thought that ice sailors were the same all over the world. I told him definitely yes. Something I observe in all iceboat classes is that immediately after a race, sailors leap from their boats, adrenaline pumping, run to their fellow competitors, arms waving excitedly as they recount the passes, tacks and jibes. Their post race exuberance is one of my favorite things to see on the ice. Ice sailors around the world spend no-wind days in the same way that was done on Saturday, retelling regatta stories, measuring, making deals, eating, joking, and laughing.
All of us who made our way to that small lake 60 km from the Arctic Circle in November were rewarded with an authentic experience of the natural beauty of Finland. excellent sailing, making new friends, and renewing old friendships. Where else would I have hours and hours to talk about ice sailing and learn about life in Finland?
The article is also published Runner Tracks.