The Saimaa Canal links the Finnish Saimaa lakes to the Gulf of Finland and hence the Baltic. It was built 1844-1856 and widened and modernised 1963-1968. It passes through four lakes and eight locks lifted us 76m, one alone 12.4m. It is impressive to be in such deep structures. The locks have floating bollards built into the walls so there is a point to moor to which rises with the water level.
The canal is operated by Finland but the first five locks are in Russia, from which this section of the canal is leased. At the first lock we were processed by Russian customs, where formalities took an hour to complete, including the writing of a report adding photographs of its author in front of the boat. At the fifth lock we were processed by Russian border officials, where studying passports took another hour. After that we crossed Lake Nuijamaa, through which the border runs, before being received into Finland, which took five minutes in total. It felt a bit like crossing Checkpoint Charlie in a Len Deighton novel. We spent the night at the Finnish border post before continuing the next day though the last three locks. We had had to motor the length of the canal, so it was a relief to be able to sail much of the short distance to Lappeenranta.
We have been lapping up Lappeenranta. It is a former garrison town and a large city with industry on the outskirts, while the central and harbour areas are now a popular resort and spa. We are moored right in the centre of the promenade outside the Spa Hotel. We have the use of the spa facilities during the mornings and have been warming up our bones in the sauna and enjoying the pool and jacuzzi. It has, at last, turned warmish and we have been able to sit out in the cockpit for the first time. This is as we come up to mid-summer’s day, which is a major festival here and the start of the Finnish holiday period.
Finnish sailors follow a flag etiquette whereby ensigns are lowered overnight when in harbour, except on mid-summer’s night when they are flown all night. With such long evenings and little darkness, it is difficult to know when the ensign should be lowered, so some harbours sound a signal, such as a bugle. Here in Lappeenranta a trumpet sounds, presently at 10pm. You can hear this by playing the following clip.
A bit of history
Finland had been part of the Russian empire since Peter the Great drove out the Swedes in 1710. Following the Russian Revolution, Finland gained independence in 1917. 2017 marks the centenary of the country. The region of Karelia was one of the most important, and the city of Viipuri (now Vyborg) was Finland’s second city after Helsinki.(See our previous blog on Vyborg.)
In 1939 the Soviet Union, wanting greater defensive areas around the approaches to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) attacked Finnish Karelia in what became known as the Winter War. With temperatures down to -43°C, the tank-based Soviet army, weakened by Stalin’s purges, faired badly against the Fin’s troops on skis. Once Hitler turned on the Soviet Union, a further war with Finland, known as the Continuation War, was fought from 1941-44. There were heavy losses on both sides. In the eventual peace treaty of 1947, Finland lost much of southern Karelia, including Viipuri. To this day, this loss seems to be mourned. In the museum here, much is devoted to the once lovely city and excursions to it are popular. Finland was committed to war reparations which crippled its economy until they were paid off.
Nevertheless, it has, without EU assistance, developed one of the highest standards of living in Europe. It has a highly developed welfare and health system, which has led to strains over the demands incomers place on it.
From Lappeeranta we shall be working northwards through the maze of narrow channels that form the Saimaa lake, some 160nm from north to south. It should be very gentle sailing and motoring as the channels twist and turn and no wind direction is good for all. This would be an excellent time for family or friends to visit. Expect lazy days in beautiful surroundings with interesting small towns, rather than exciting sailing. There are rail connections with Helsinki to several of our locations. Contact us if you can come. See our plan for details and dates.
love to all, Ynskje & Tony
PS Have now resolved problems with our track chart. You can see our 2017 track here.