Saimaa Lake 300 km Tour
In preparation for our TALISKER WHISKY ATLANTIC CHALLENGE 2021 race we decided to do a long training session this summer. We will get our own Rannoch 25 ocean rowing boat only later this year so we chose to do this trip with two Liteboat CX1 boats. Jolle has had one for many years and Markus got to borrow one from a friend.
The purpose of this practice week was to test ourselves in multiday endurance, push our self as hard as possible to see “what breaks first”. Body or mind… We had same kind of food and nutrition that we will carry during the Atlantic crossing. This so we could test different meal brands and additional nutrition. As the days past on we learned a lot of eating routines, need for snacks between meals and how important it is to ensure to get enough energy and calories each day and we really need to eat.
To make some fun out of it we chose the Saimaa Lake as our playground. Saimaa Lake is the biggest lake and waterway system in Finland. It covers an area of 4.400 km2 and has about 13.700 islands. Most of the nature is uninhabited and wild nature. Any day we could have chosen any direction and would have had hundreds of kilometers of waterways ahead. We had planned our route to start at Tahko, a ski resort, and then head south. Advantage of going from north to south is that in in the areas with moving water and locks you get the current with you. Disadvantage is that the prevailing winds are from the South / South west during the summer.
The nature is absolutely fabulous and mostly deserted. The Saimaa also includes national parks where no engines are allowed. In the first four days we saw less then 5 other boats / day. In the Southern parts there is a little more boating going on but you can count the meeting traffic on two hands.
As we row with our costal boats, we had with us a support power boat with our team manager and drone photographer following us on parts of the daily runs. Mostly he took of somewhere during the day and we met up in the evenings. We had not planned our stops in detail in advance as we did not know how far to reach each day, so we did some improvisation each afternoon where to spend the night. Mostly we found a B&B or similar camping ground with cabins for rent. But we also slept in the wild with tents.
Tahko – Juankoski , 38 km
We stared the trip at Tahko (https://www.tahko.com/en/), a ski-resort in Nilsiä. Closest bigger city is Kuopio. We drove up there with a trailer from Helsinki, about a 550 km drive.
The lake Syväri at Tahko is the “end-of-the-line” of the Saimaa water system so there is no much boating going on up here. The row to Juankoski is mainly on narrow waterways and passes a lock (with about 1 m drop) at Lastukosken rapids. All locks in the smaller waterways are unmanned. You operate the locks yourself. We stopped for the night at Juankoski. There is a motel just next to the Juankoski channel and locks.
Light winds and sunshine all day and the rowing was really about to get used to the boats, fine tune the rowers position and let the body get used to the rowing movements.
Juankoski – Summa Canal, 40 km
The morning started with going down two locks at Juankoski. The locks are about 2 km apart and you go down 6 m with the both locks. Narrow waterways most of the time, some openings with 1-2 km longer open water sections. Some rain hit us in the afternoon so we stopped in Riistavesi for a jetboil lunch at a wind shelter at the local “beach”.
Ended up camping at Summa canal for the night. Summa canal is a canal digged open to connect the lakes ( no locks). Going through the narrow canal left only 1 m space each side of the oars.
Summa canal – Karvio canal, 58 km
Started off early and got some good 58 km done in perfect rowing conditions. Only at Kukarinselkä did we do a 5 km open water section with some 5 m/s wind and first waves so far.Stopped at Karvio canal where the loch took us down 1,8 m. Camping close by as well as the first shop we found. Camping close by as well as the first shop we found.
Karvio – Säynämö, 44 km
The forecast showed that we were looking for a though day with winds above 12 m/s in the area. A low pressure was to go over us during the day. Crossing the Kermajärvi lake is a 10 km open stretch and off course we had the wind in the eye all way. The coastal boats were put to a test. We crossed Kermajärvi in about 2 hours and but could not hit exactly the other shore where we wanted as we had to take the waves and winds dead ahead, adjusting the course a bit to the west. After a rest in Kermaranta the waterways got more channel like with three locks at Kerma channel (2,3 m down), Vihovuonteen channel (1 m drop) and at Pilpan channel (1 m drop).
The stretch from Kerma to below Pilpa is said to be one of the most beautiful channel landscapes in Saimaa. At parts of the way the current is up to 3 knots and carried our rowing boats more sideways then strait forward. Fun ride even though we had hard headwinds and sometimes really tricky conditions as we had waves against current. The trick was to avoid hitting the red and green lane marks, of which there where plenty. In the narrowest parts they have red / green lights to control the one-way traffic.
Stopped for the night at Säynämö. Cabins and sauna run by the local church community “Kansan Raamattuseura Retreat”. Great sauna and hospitality.
Säynämö – Reposaari, 25 km
Our daily goal was to row approx. 50 km / day. Starting from Säynämö we realized we had another day with strong headwinds. Going south all day we had about 10 m/s on the nose and rain. More open waters than the day before and slow progress. At times we were down to 4-5 km/h. Rowing in waves all day takes its toll… worst 2 h session we managed to progress about 7 km. So, at 17 a clock we headed for shore at a small deserted island. Had a warm meal and looked at the following open section of about 10 km. We checked the weatherforcast and realized we would have winds from behind the next day. Easy decision: we called the support boat and asked them to come collect us. “heat up the sauna and come get us the f… out of here”…
Even though the winds where against us the scenery is fabulous. Most of the day we rowed in Kolovesi National Park where no engines are allowed. Seriously beautiful landscapes.
Reposaari – Raikuu canal, 48 km
The decision to stop short yesterday was good. Got up at 6 and rowing by 7.30. Winds had change and where now from behind. All morning we were cruising downwind in a steady pace around 10 km / h. Nice.
Late afternoon we got the entrance of Raikuun channel. A channel not officially maintained. This is a hidden treasure of Saimaa. First diggings where made in 1750s by the locals and more done by some Russian general in 1858. The channel is shallow and narrow. Our support boat barley fitted trough… (se pic). Along Raikuun channel on the western shore are stonewalls from Salpalinja defence walls built during the Second World War. Impressive stone works in the middle of nowhere. Raikuun canal connects Orivesi and Puruvesi lakes. Definitely worth a visit! But only with small boats or water jets.
Raikuu canal – Punkaharju, 32 km
Finally, at Puruvesi lake. All waterways at Saimaa have clear and clean water. But Puruvesi is special. Said to be one of the cleanest lakes in the world. The water keeps clean due to the many dwells in the lake and its sand bottom. We cooked our food and drinks strait from the lake water.
We had light winds and sunshine and took a strait course over the open waters and enjoyed an almost calm day of rowing. Rowing at its best. After seven days of rowing we made stops more often and had a mix of warm food and painkillers for lunches.
Arrived back to the “civilization” at Punkaharju. First time we saw a car since Juankoski (day 1).
Punkaharju – Savonlinna south, 35 km
Headed of from Punkaharju in the direction of Savonlinna. Winds back on the nose. Around Savonlinna you have a little more boating traffic, meaning you see 2-3 other boats / hour…
Can’t call it crowded. Ended the row at a cottage of a friend of ours. Warm sauna, real steaks and a few beers waiting.
In total we rowed 325 km in an absolutely fabulous archipelago. Most days we could have chosen any direction and have 100s of kilometers of waterways -as made for rowing- ahead of us. The lake Saimaa has more then 3000 km of navigable routes, covering and area of 400 km long and 200 km wide. Add to that the clear water and a boat perfectly sized for the purpose and you can “off-route” almost anywhere.
We reached our goal for this training week. Got our self pushed to the limits, found out which body parts hurts first. Got a good test with nutrition’s and how and what to eat.
Could do this trip again anytime. Saimaa sceneries are just mind blowing.
More info on lake Saimaa you can find here: