Third time lucky. Fredric, our captain, had already cancelled our journey to Valsörarna twice due to high winds. At force six Helga stays firmly tied up to the jetty. But now, on a perfect Finnish summer’s day — sunny with light winds and clear August air — Neptune and the weather gods have colluded to produce perfect conditions for an expedition to the remotest island of the Kvarken archipelago.
The Kvarkens are a scatter of islands and skerries in the Gulf of Bothnia between Finland and Sweden. We boarded Fredric’s boat in the tiny fishing harbour at Svedjehamn on the northernmost point of Björkö, itself one of the Kvarken islands, but one which lost its true island status in 1997 when it was linked to a neighbouring island by a bridge. Today Svedjehamn with its traditional red wooden boathouses is the end of the road from Vaasa on the Finnish mainland, and a place popular with fishermen, the yacht crowd, and those who want a dose of Kvarken landscape without being separated from their cars.
It is at Svedjehamn that we meet Roland, a filmmaker by profession who makes time in summer to show visitors the very distinctive islands that he calls home. We push off in the Helga and head out to sea. At first Fredric steers us at walking pace through a narrow but well-marked channel. These are difficult waters, shifting shallows with rocks and boulders lurking treacherously just beneath the surface. Fredric relies on local knowledge with a dash of intuition inspired by years of working in this area — better tools, he says, than any marine chart or satellite navigation system.