A Thousand Kilometers Kayaking On the Baltic Sea

People do not use their muscles to move around on the sea anymore. I came to this conclusion after six weeks of kayaking on the Baltic Sea during which I only saw one person rowing a boat and two groups of kayakers. Instead, I encountered a massive amount of fancy motorboats with powerful engines, as well as huge sailing boats of sizes of small apartments.  

The Baltic Sea on the South side of Scandinavia is the youngest sea on the planet, almost enclosed and within near-Arctic conditions. It is shallow, rather small compared to other seas, having a mixture of sweet and salty Brackish water and has only a small gate to the ocean.
All this makes the Baltic Sea very vulnerable.  

My name is Ilkka Kauppinen and I am an experienced kayaker from Finnish Lapland.
I have kayaked on all big lakes of Lapland, the Arctic Ocean and the White Sea but never on the Archipelago Sea which is one of the most beautiful areas of the Baltic Sea in the South West corner of Finland.

After a 15 month cycling tour in South America it was time to find out more about this unique area. There is no better way to do it than a sea kayak. 

I started my route from the city of Pori in western Finland and paddled from there all the way to  the municipality of Kirkkonummi in southern Finland in the summer of 2023.
The most Western point of my trip was Mariehamn, the capital of Åland, an autonomous territory under Finnish sovereignty. The route totaled approximately one thousand kilometers and took six weeks. 

Photo: Ilkka Kauppinen

Archipelago Sea in the Baltic Sea – the best place to sea kayak in the world? 

The Archipelago Sea has about 40 000 islands making the area a very unique place to paddle. The  area has extremely vivid birdlife. Most of the time the waves are not too big for a seasoned sea kayaker. The Finnish everyman´s right allows you to camp on any island for a couple of nights. 

There are even some wilderness huts open to anyone for free of charge. To my taste the most  beautiful areas and best places to kayak are right at the border of the outer sea where there are no cottages anymore, landscape is as rugged almost similar to that of Lapland, but the islands still provide some shelter from the waves. 

My daily routine was this: I woke up slowly in my tent and enjoyed breakfast marveling the sea.  After dismantling my camp and packing my kayak I started paddling until lunch and a well-earned nap.

After kayaking some more, it was time to find a new camping spot, which usually was even greater than the previous one. I dipped in the sea to wash myself, set up the tent, prepared dinner and went to sleep. And repeated the same the next day.
Life is simple when kayaking. Why do we make our lives so complicated?

Once a week I had to find a village or a guest harbour to refill my water containers and get additional food. If I was lucky, there was also a chance to go to sauna to get cleaned properly. Usually, I also got an opportunity to practice my Swedish since most of the people living in the archipelago are Swedish speaking.

Challenges to overcome 

Since I was kayaking alone, I had to be super careful. Even though the waves were not as big as in  the ocean and there was hardly any tide, waves can still bring down an unwary paddler.

Since  waves are often smaller during the night, I paddled quite a bit during the night and slept during  the day as in Finnish midsummer the sun hardly sets. In addition to big waves, huge cargo and cruise ships can be dangerous. Luckily nowadays you can check their location from an online service.  

The biggest challenge of all was actually my own mind. Even though the area is full of islands the distance between them can be more than 10 km which takes at least two hours to pedal. If you happen to fall out of the kayak you might not be able to get inside the kayak anymore.
The biggest challenge of all was actually my own mind. Even though the area is full of islands the distance between them can be more than 10 km which takes at least two hours to pedal. If you happen to fall out of the kayak you might not be able to get inside the kayak anymore.

Even in summer water is so cold that you would die within half an hour due hypothermia.  

Paddling alone long stretches over open sea can sometimes be as boring as waiting the storm to fade away. A couple of times I had to stay on a desert island all by myself for a few days to wait for the sea to calm down. We modern people are not used to doing nothing and
being alone in the nature. It could be a really good exercise for everyone once in a while.  

Changes in the nature 

This summer I saw hardly any blue-green algae, cyanobacteria, which is a severe problem in the Baltic Sea these days. As the water warms up in the summer, phosphorus from the seabed rises closer to the surface.

This is caused by the excessive accumulation of nutrients in the sea, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus.  Eutrophication, which is caused by a high availability of these nutrients, makes vegetation thrive on land and in water alike. It has  diminished biodiversity of the area and changed the scenery dramatically. 

The climate change has also had an impact on the flora and fauna of the area. One unfortunate  change for us human beings is the dramatically grown number of ticks on the islands. The most infamous tick, the castor bean tick (Ixodida) can carry really harmful diseases, so it makes sense to check your body at least once a day for ticks and try not to walk in the areas of wet grass where they usually live. 

Even though the Baltic Sea has taken a lot of hit from mankind’s actions, there is also a
lot of hope for improvement. People are finally starting to understand the importance of the seas. There are several initiatives and organisations set up to work specifically to improve the state of the Baltic Sea.

Experience the Archipelago Sea 

The best way to experience the Archipelago Sea is to use your own muscles and try not to see too much of it in too short a period of time. One good option is cycling the popular Archipelago Trail. There are also many places to rent a kayak with or without a guide. Renting a cottage is a memorable true Finnish experience. The extensive commuter ferry network allows you to explore many corners on the vast archipelago.  

About the author: 

Mr. Ilkka Kauppinen in an invited guest blogger for totheoceans.com as a unique nature lover and conservationist from Finnish Lapland. He is also an internet marketing specialist and entrepreneur. You can follow his adventures in Instagram and TikTok

Photos: Ilkka Kauppinen/ 2023

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