A visit to the Saimaa with the Lemsteraak ''t Gauwe Haentje' in 2004
What brings a traditional Dutch round-bottom sailboat to Finland? Already for many years we had sailed with our Lemsteraak (shiptype) "t Gauwe Haentje" in Scandinavian waters all over Denmark and South Norway up to Oslo, as well as through the Göta Kanal to Stockholm and back along Bornholm and Rügen through the Kieler Kanal to Holland. We always seemed to enjoy better weather than those who stayed home and each time the sailing was a discovery for the crew. I must admit this phenomenon occurred allo the year we sailed westbound through the English Channel all the way to Lands End in Cornwall ... sailor ' s lore.
Saimaa is a lake in southeastern Finland
Wikipedia: At approximately 4,400 square kilometres (1,700 sq mi), it is the largest lake in Finland, and the fourth largest natural freshwater lake in Europe. It was formed by glacial melting at the end of the Ice Age. Major towns on the lakeshore include Lappeenranta, Imatra, Savonlinna, Mikkeli, Varkaus, and Joensuu. The Vuoksi River flows from Saimaa to Lake Ladoga. Most of the lake is spotted with islands, and narrow canals divide the lake in many parts, each having their own names (major basins include Suur-Saimaa, Orivesi, Puruvesi, Haukivesi, Yövesi, Pihlajavesi, and Pyhäselkä).
The Saimaa Canal from Lappeenranta to Vyborg connects Saimaa to the Gulf of Finland. Other canals connect Saimaa to smaller lakes in Eastern Finland and form a network of waterways. These waterways are mainly used to transport wood, minerals, metals, pulp and other cargo, but also tourists use the waterways.
The club was founded on March 4, 1861 with the approval of its constitution by Tsar Alexander II. His brother, Admiral-General Grand Duke Konstantin, officiated at the inauguration ceremony. In the same year, NJK received its first yachting ensign, based on the flag of the Neva Yacht Club of St. Petersburg: white with a blue cross (similar to the flag of Finland), with the crest of the district of Nyland (Uusimaa) in the upper inner corner. Today's flag, introduced in 1919, is the fourth version of the original. The official language of the club is Swedish. In 1885 NJK came to Valkosaari. That same year the club's first pavilion was built. The present pavilion, designed by architects Estlander and Settergren, was inaugurated on August 31, 1900. Today NJK has two home harbours, Valkosaari and Koivusaari.
In 2014 the Lemsteraak ''t Gauwe Haentje' sailed to Lake Saimaa.
Skärgàrds-sailing with NJK
In the early '90-ties we met Mikael Airas and his wife Marie Lindfors, then living in The Netherlands, when they were introduced to become members of the Royal Netherlands Yachtclub (KNZ&RV) at Muiden, where I was a flag-officer at that time. We became friends. They recommended strongly we should take time to visit the superp skärgärd of Áland and SW-Finland during one of our eastbound trips, which we realized during the summer of 1996. We have still great memories of this voyage through the archipelago. While Mikael introduced us to NJK for temporary membership, we had the opportunity to benefit from the facilities of the club on our way to and back from Helsinki. On our way we met a.o. Henrik Cronstreim and his wife (ms Thalatta) at Borgareluoto - we had to show our interimsvimpel to him - and in Helsinki Leif Strandstrtim, then harbourmaster at Blekholmen, who helped us a lot to find our way in the capital. On his advice we sailed as far east as ByOn's hurricane hole. Although the weather was not perfect during our visit, quite some rain and two storms, we loved the protected skärgärd-sailing and promised ourselves to come back, which we did in 1999.
Wintering at Sommaroj
To accomplish the first trip we had the boat sailed out to Kalmar and on return taken over to Sjaelland by a team of young members of our club. (They did this on earlier occasions and also we used barge services, putting the ship on deck of a Baltic Trader to Kiel). The whole trip would have taken too much of my time - about two months - being in charge of a large company. Being able to experience once more NJK-hospitality, I decided to try to learn a few words of Swedish, Finnish being too far out from my learning ability. Language is always a means to the heart of people. Hence, when we decided to return to Finland, we planned to leave the ship in a Baltic harbour for the next winter; we happened to have been in a suitable shipyard in Oxeliisund for repairs on one of our earlier trips. Again we experienced a brilliant summer sailing, while developing contacts on shore. Mikael Airas informed us about a shipyard in the process of building a heated winter shelter for boats near Ekens and so he introduced us to Esko Hyffinen of Sommarti's Ex-Boat Oy. This enabled us to tour the Finska Viken in a relaxed way.
Facing the music at Savonlinna
Due to a good friend and also a musicand opera-addict, Erkki Leppävuori, who already convineed us to experience the amazing splendors of a winter excursion to Lapland, we decided to try to attend the Savonlinna Operafestival in July 2000. As Erkki was raised on the borders of the Saimaa Lake near Varkaus, he transmitted so convincingly the lore of the Lake District and the quality and setting of the festival that we couldn't wait for our next summer discoveries. It provided a serious note and purpose to our trip. We could fit the plan within the timeframe of the holiday period. And very important, we felt comfortable about leaving our ship over next winter again in care of Hytönen's. At Blekholmen Leif Strandström helped us solve the red tape for passing the Saimaa Canal. The trip was a great success for all involved; the opera program, the weather, the scenery and the people we met, made us enjoy another summer in paradise! When next summer (2001) we returned the ship to The Netherlands to attend the Jubilee of my Dutch club, we promised to come back again, which we did in the early summer of 2003.
Voyage to Lake Saimaa in 2004
Last year June 19, I boarded again for a long holiday, starting from Sommar() after recovering the ship in an impeccable state. The shipyard really did a good job again, now managed - after Esko's death in 2002 - by his son Kimmo. We sailed that same evening to Ekenas, a tradition, for dinner at restaurant "Knipan", and also to be sure all systems functioning well again, being still close to the shipyard. From there the cruising eastbound really started, passing by Munckshamn, Vorngi, Hiigholmen, Bjorkholmen and Blekholmen. The weather was beautiful when we arrived on Midsommar (June 25) at Kajholmen, where I met Johan and Monica Grasbeck of "Svea" again. After changing crewmembers again in Lovisa we sailed to Haapasaari, where to our surprise we met the only other sailboat in the archipel' s harbour, a Lemsteraak under German flag, coming from St. Petersburg.
Stormy football match
The next morning, July 30, the rain poured down and it was very windy. We planeed to go to Hamina, where we wished a.o. to watch the EC footballmatch Holland — Portugal. Well trimmed we set sail in the afternoon and, however already at one third of our trip we decided to return to Haapasaari; the wind increasing from 22 till 32 knots, against all weather forecasts! That evening we were able to watch the Dutch soccer team lose, due to the hospitality of the friendly harbourmaster.... The next morning we learned to our affliction - a fishing boat had capsized nearby north to Kotka and two men had drowned.
In Klamila the crew was changed once more and my brother Willem and an old friend joined me to help pass the Saimaa Canal Locks. Having made the crossing of the Russian part of the canal before, the actual procedure and friendliness of the customs at Vysotsk was in stark contrast with the former experience. Now the shoreline and buildings as well as the ships on the quays have a far fresher appearance, while we happened to witness one of the first regattas in the Viborg Lahti. Under nice weather, with sun and good winds, the light blue flags, wimples and birdies were flown proudly against the décor of the old city. It was a cheerful and inviting view and as conditions improve, will become a nice stop for sailors to and from the Saimaa. Nowadays it is still a long journey to sail through the Russian part in one day from Santio to the Nuijamaa border station or Mfflla lock.
Single-handed on Saimaa
In Lappeenranta my brother and a friend returned to Holland, leaving me alone at the ship. The changes since 2000 in Marie Lindfors, Martine, niece Claire, Mikael Airas and skipper Koos preparing for the Savonlinna Opera "Turandot" numbers of boats and harbour facilities, but allo the pleasant atmosphere of this holiday resort struck me. To be sure to be in time at the Operafestival, I decided to sail on my own to Savonlinna, where my wife Martine and niece Claire were expected to join me. To sail a round bottom Lemsteraak such as 't Gauwe Haentje (16 tons) on your own is quite an exercise. To handle leeboards (kind of side keels), jib, fore- and mainsail, while tacking to the wind alone requires energy. Normally the ship is sailed with a crew of 3-4. The weather conditions were excellent and I managed to sail single handed for three days, visiting the beautiful Satamasaari (SE Great Saimaa), got in to Puumala harbour for shopping and the next day sailed up north across the "rapids" east of Puumala peninsula and under full sail passed the lossi of Patassaari. The wind SE Bft 3-4, I was singing at the rudder, when suddenly a small yacht came along and her skipper invited me for a drink at his cottage nearby. It was very friendly and generously offered, I accepted with much pleasure. The following two days I was guest of very hospitable John and Tarja Virkkala (John a Finnair manager) and while beholding the setting of the sun over the water in the north-west, we discussed Finland's recent past and future position in an enlarged European Market. The next day we plucked my wife and niece from the bus from Imatra to Puumala. We still cherish those moments of intense debate and serene tranquillity on the terrace of the promontory.
Adventures of Hoffman & Heuvel
Leaving the hospitable Virkkala' s Leviniemi on sail, we were taken over by many rowing teams in the annual Sulkava Great Rowing Race, a brilliant spectacle with all the teambanners flying in the wind. In Savonlinna we immediately felt back home. Mikael and Marie Airas and our cousin Pierre were added to the crew list and we attended "Turandot" (excellent) and "Les contes de Hoffmann" It looks like the festival is becoming more and more international; we even met friends of our club whom we had met last time in New York 18 years ago! It is amazing how many interesting events are held in and around the Punkaharju, sales and expositions of paintings and sculptures in galleries and "Retretti", the vaet-vient of ships, hydroplanes and vacationers strolling along the lakeshore, good restaurants and shopping. And despite a shower, good weather prevailed.
Much muikku, no norppa
We continued northbound during the next days, wanting to celebrate Martine ' s 60th anniversary in Kuopio, our most northern position (N 62° 53'63"), where we arrived at 16 July under fine weather. We strolled through the city, visited the Orthodox Museum and had a festive dineer at restaurant "Sampo" with ...muikku! and the ship beflagged. The next day our return voyage started. The season started late this year, but by now all boats were out. However we enjoyed the open space, when attached to a tree and a stern-anchor out in a small bay with nobody around. We realized that in harbours around the Northsea and the southern and western Baltic during high season there aren't any moorings or berthings available from the early afternoon on. Again we anchored in protected bays, swam in the soft and refreshing water and enjoyed the superti scenery, with the sudden passing of the mile long timberrafts. For the captain only one sincere regret: again we didn't see the Saimaa seals!
Back at Blekholmen
The passage of the Saimaa Canal went smoothly; again friendly officials on both sides of the border. We visited Ulko-Tammio, an impressive strategie defence monument, on our way back under perfect weather conditions. While anchoring as much as possible during the nights, we made stop overs in Kaunissaari and Porvoo, even more charming, although the new bridge took us further out of the old city centre. On July 30th we were back at Blekholmen, after many miles under sail, about 100 hours motoring, many joyful, exciting and memorable moments and without a scratch. We feel comfortable knowing the eastern coastal Finska Viken far better again. We were able to berth on our familiar spot in the harbour. That evening Leif and Marja-Leena came along for a last drink, which didn't turn out to be the last with Leif, and together we had a g ood sailorsmeal in NJK's boardroom. It was a trip worthwhile every moment, and with no whim of regret, we made a pledge to visit the Saimaa and the Operafestival once more - possibly next year - the ship being docked at Sommadi again for this winter.
J. "Koos" van den Heuvel