Planning my Finnish Adventure Queens Paddle Adventure
Updated: May 17
“Our first paddlesports winner, Natasha is planning a multi-day solo paddleboarding trip in Finland. Starting in Helsinki she will explore the Eastern archipelago around the city which comprises 330 islands. As a mother of children with additional needs, Natasha SUPs for mental health and finds being on the water brings her peace.”
You will probably have read my blog post about being an Adventure Queens Grant Winner 2023 and how I am planning an epic multi-day paddle to the archipelago around Helsinki this summer.
Here is a blog post about how I am preparing for my adventure so far.
I had so many questions I didn't even know where to start. Could I really paddle on my own? In a foreign country where I don't speak the language. Could I do the distance? The furthest I'd paddled was about 7 miles. How would I get my SUP over there and was it big enough for touring on? Would I be safe?
When to do the adventure
I had originally planned to do mid-June but I pushed it back a bit to July in the hopes it would be warmer. Plus to give myself more time to prepare.
The canoe and kayaking season starts from the first of May and ends in October in the South of Finland. The adventure needs to take place between March and October. Generally, the best time for paddling in Finland seems to be June-September. In the summer months, waters tend to be warmed up after long winter and streams in rivers have slowed down after the meltwater flooding. The main summer season, when the water will be warmest and the daylight hours longest, runs from June-August. Summer nights are very short and don't really get dark at all.
Midnight magic in the archipelago
I am keen to experience the "nightless night". While everyone I know is sleeping I am hoping to paddleboard or hike under the phenomenon of the midnight sun, experiencing the incredible change in the nature of the light and the warm and bright light that you get usually only at sunrise or sunset.
From mid-May until mid-August, nighttime is but a memory, and in place of the stars and moon, there is the gentle, golden light. That’s why Finland is called the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Image of midnight sun by Karelia, Visit Finland
Equipment and kit
I had originally planned to take my own paddleboard to Finland. After worrying about it getting lost on the plane and having to take it across Helsinki as well as my other kit, I decided to hire one from a local outfitter. But after speaking to my AQ mentor Gee I realised the hired one wouldn't have the amount of bungees and cargo space I need.
Therefore I decided to buy another SUP! (This can not be in any way attributed to Gee, ha ha - it was entirely my decision!). I have decided to get a touring board which is bigger than my current SUP, my Sandbanks SUP is only 10 foot 6". Paddleboards best suited for SUP camping are 12.5 feet or longer and at least 30 inches wide. I will need to optimise much of the deck space for gear. Follow me on @natashastarseeker on Instagram to see which board I go for.
Paddlingmag.com says to aim for a kit under 40 pounds. Once I have worked out all my kit I am looking to remove non-essentials from kitchen kit, cull camping clothing and footwear options. I will identify multi-use items and create space for one or two creature comforts like a book. I will aim to use a drybag with clothes in as a pillow.
Food and Water
This is an obvious but very important part of preparing for my expedition. Food and water are items that are heavy and take up a lot of your limited cargo space so planning ahead and making sure I have enough food for every day that I'm away is imperative.
I will be taking a water filter system/tabs with me but as I'm going to be solely on the ocean, bringing water will be a better option. Bring more water than you think you will need if you go open sea is general advice. I am not sure where I might be able to get water on the islands.
Camping in Finland is the perfect way to connect with the landscape. Here you can be outdoors and camp safely either using designated campsites or respecting the legal concept of Everyman’s Right (see Everyman´s right.)
Camping in wilderness environments means adding a potentially damaging element to a remote and wild area. That element being me and any waste I produce. There will be some composting dry toilets on some islands but I'm now researching items such as wag bags and trowels!
Being aware of everyman’s rights and duties means things like keeping a distance from private property on land and water, having a wilderness toilet a distance from the waterways, respecting the nature and take everything I bring into nature back with me.
Finland is one of the safest places for travelling. My biggest concern, however, is safety as I will be in a foreign country alone and paddling solo on water. So I have taken measures to make it as safe as possible. For example I will be paddling solo, but I know that there is a big protected bay with a nice sand beach for easy landing up ahead.
Safety measures include:
Finding a local paddlesports outfitter who will hire me a GPS tracker and provide a number to where I could call at any situation. I will leave word there about where I am going, by what route, and when I plan to return.
Making sure I have local sea emergency contacts for a real emergency. If in danger, the emergency number in Finland is 112.
Carrying a compass, detailed topographic map or nautical chart to assist with navigation.
Carrying a phone, Garmin watch and power banks in waterproof bag. Have safety apps such as What3Words.
Brushing up on paddling skills, specifically self-rescue and navigation.
Checking the weather forecast before I go and during my journey as needed. Observe the local weather when planning routes. Check potential wind and forest fire warnings (www.ilmatieteenlaitos.fi)
Have contingency plans and float plan.
There are no significant tides/currents in the Baltic, but in windy conditions the water can be choppy and the water can be very cold if paddling early/late in the season
Summer weather in Finland can be unpredictable. Daylight hours are plentiful in the summer, but nights can be cold. I will check the weather forecast before I go and during my journey as needed.
Insects and wildlife
Our most dangerous wild animal is the tick, as ticks can carry tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and borreliosis (Lyme’s disease). I will use adequate clothing to protect myself and do a daily tick inspection. There may also be mosquitoes at that time of year so I will wear long sleeves and insect repellent. I also have a head net!
A few snake species live in Finland, and one of them, the common European viper (also called adder), is venomous. Snake bites are very rare. There are no venomous insects that pose a threat to a healthy person in Finland.
I will need to check for fire warnings. When forest and grass fire warnings (en.ilmatieteenlaitos.fi) are in effect, fire is only allowed at covered campfire sites that have a flue. A fire can be also lit in fireplaces at wilderness and other huts. Always use extreme caution when handling fire. The one who lights a fire is always responsible for its safe use.
Planning to paddle for several days
When possible, use designated picnic sites for breaks. Plan my route so that you can take advantage of them.
Marked canoe routes are not common in Finland and islands or lakeshores are not signposted. Therefore, a map, compass and the ability to use them are essential. Planning a route on the map is easy but the landscape can look very different from the canoe making navigation challenging. Therefore, it is a good idea to carry a detailed topographic map or nautical chart to assist with navigation.
Relying on a navigation app only is never a good idea, since my device may run out of battery or get wet.
Be visible and avoid official waterways. Keep in mind, that a small SUP may not be easy to spot from a bigger vessel, such as a cargo ship, passenger ship or even a motor boat. Keep away from waterways meant for other boat traffic.
Watch out for slippery rocks when landing. Water shoes with rubber outsoles offer a good grip on wet surfaces like slippery rocks.
Familiarise myself with waterway rules. Generally, paddle like I never have the right of way. Big boats often can’t see canoes or kayaks, so self-preservation is important.
Planning the route
When paddling for a longer distance, planning is important. When planning a route, consider these:
Is my route easy to follow and navigate?
Am I going to stay close to the shoreline and be better protected from wind and waves? If I travel further from shore, I am prone to wind and waves.
Are there designated campfire sites and tent sites for breaks and overnight stays along the route?
Is the selected route within my paddling skills?
Be considerate to others. You can take a break onshore as long as you follow these rules:
Don’t land on someone’s private beach/ land, especially near private houses and summer cottages. How do you know it’s private? If you see any residential buildings near the water, it probably is. Keep at least 50 metres distance and let other people enjoy their holiday time.
Do not disturb breeding birds, their nests or young and stay away from restricted areas, islands, islets and lakeshores especially during the most crucial breeding time, 15.4.-31.7. (Note, that dates can vary depending on species and province.) No landing means also no approaching. Let birds nest in peace.
Other areas of no-landing include military training grounds. They are marked on a map and usually very visibly signposted on terrain.
Before the trip I have checked foreign travel advice for entry requirements for Finland. I don't need a visa and my passport was up to date. As of 1 July 2022, people travelling to Finland from the UK or other countries outside the EU/EEA are no longer be required to present a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination, unlike my last visit there which was a nightmarish stress-fest of tests and vaccination proof.
I have ordered a free UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) (replacement for European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) ).
Blog posts about Finland
Read other Finland blog posts here:
Taking the Santa Claus Express Train to Lapland!
Things to do in Helsinki with kids
Paddleboarding in the happiest country in the world - focus on Finland
Sparking Joy in Summer the Nordic Way