Strolling down the harbour in Uusikaupunki, we followed the sight of a tall mast piercing the blue sky, a compass in helping us to locate our vessel and the rest of its boarding party. As we approached, the crew of the Galley Olga – a schooner 130 years in the making – were busy with last minute preparations before departure. With the sun burning away the morning cloud our day trip to the island of Katanpää couldn’t have begun any better.
The trip is a weekly opportunity organised throughout the summer by the Hot Group Productions team, a family company that provides experiential travel services in the Archipelago and Finland. However, as I found out, the skipper Kimmo Hotanen has a special attachment to Uusikaupunki, being his hometown. The scheduled excursions are open to all and depart from Uusikaupunki to Katanpää on Saturdays and Sundays and then on Thursdays and Fridays from Kustavi.
The 2-hour voyage went by in flash as the calm seas and clear skies let us enjoy the fantastic archipelago nature. The fresh sea breeze really help work up an appetite but fortunately we were well catered for with salmon soup, archipelago rye bread and blueberry pie for the return journey. Our captain and host was clearly a man in love with what he does as he gave an entertaining speech on the history of the boat and the role it plays in its current life. The rest of the crew was comprised of Kimmo’s partner Heidi, their two small children and their grandfather, and they made us all feel part of the family.
My travelling companion was a friend who’d flown over from the UK for a study year. Upon our arrival on the island one of his first comments was to remark how this wasn’t what he’d expected. When I asked what he meant he replied that it seemed more like an island off the coast of Greece than in the middle of the Baltic! With the weather often clearer further out to sea and the rugged rocks and arid flora, I wasn’t surprised by his comment, but many will be.
Meeting us as we disembarked the boat was a tour guide to tell us the history of the island. Unfortunately he spoke very little English, so if this is important to you then it’s worth going with a friend who can translate. However, there are also information boards accompanying all the points of interest, which were more than adequate for our needs. Not so long ago Katanpää was a functioning military base still being used for training exercises but has since become a tourist destination.
The ramparts, bomb shelters, barracks and gun fortifications still remain giving a feast for anyone interested in military history. Even for those who aren’t, the tour still provided a delightful circuit of the island and we got to see some great views from atop the lookout tower.
On the way back to the marina I passed a small building, not much more than a storage facility, which housed an art exhibition. A reoccurring theme of the archipelago is the many interesting artists applying their trade throughout the coastal areas and I highly recommend you keep your eye out for some hidden talents. Arriving back at the marina I was pleasantly surprised to see a wonderful seaside terrace and café, a place where you’ll find a number of events organised during the summer season. Unfortunately the cafe was all sold out of their home-brewed beer, so I bought my friend his first Gin Long Drink instead and sat down to enjoy the live acoustic music whilst we waited for our captain to give us permission to board.
What made the return journey aboard the Olga so special was the chance I was given to climb the main mast. A few kilometres away from harbour they switched off the engines and those who wanted were able participate in winching up the main sail. As I was busily taking pictures Kimmo pointed out that the best views were from the top of the ship. I seized the opportunity and hoisted myself 20 metres high above deck. It was such unique experience to be able to sit suspended in the sky as the beautiful islands past us by.
There are numerous opportunities to go sailing in the archipelago but you would have to find something special to beat the experience that Kimmo, Heidi and their team can deliver. Next time I would love to try one of their popular chartered sailing trips where you can get much more involved in the actually sailing of the ship. Either way I will be heading back to Katanpää with Kimmo and the gang next summer.