Grace is a Bavaria Cruiser 32 yacht built in 2010. She has a shoal draft of 1.5 m with a Volvo Penta 27 hp and a Bruntons autoprop. She has Selden spars with inmast reefing. Her instruments are all by Raymarine.
Grace is a Bavaria Cruiser 32 yacht built in 2010. She has a shoal draft of 1.5 m with a Volvo Penta 27 hp and a Bruntons autoprop. She has Selden spars with inmast reefing. Her instruments are all by Raymarine.
Leaving Vänersborg on a distinctly autumnal day at the start of our Trollhatte Canal journey
Suddenly the very final leg of our two year Baltic odyssey was upon us! This was going to be our last few days with only 50 nm to sail from the marina at Vanersborg to Lil Bommen marina in the centre of Gothenburg. This is where we had agreed to meet the crew who would sail Grace back to the UK for us before the winter set in.
We only had 6 locks left to do, but they are very deep ones! They are designed to take 4,000 tonne Vanermax ocean going ships. Not actually that big compared with the ones we had met in the Kiel Canal which can be up to 70,000 tonnes but not a welcome prospect to meet in the locks!
Bright and early we cast off, the wind had dropped and we were able to leave the marina without any of the drama of our arrival! This was when a strong gust caught our bows as we searched for a space and almost speared the stern of a motorboat with our anchor. To enter the Trollhatte canal proper, you have to make your way back to the main channel across what seems to be an open patch of water but is in fact peppered with unmarked submerged posts. Returning along the track of our arrival on the chartplotter we made it safely to our next obstacle, the road bridge carrying the main road to Stockholm! We arrived at 0800, peak Swedish rush hour and of course the bridge keeper was in no hurry to open it! The approach to the bridge is lined with wooden and steel posts that directs you to the narrow bridge mouth. As you approach it the lights are supposed to change and the bridge will open. I called the bridge up on the VHF and was told that it will open if I got closer. We kept getting but it still did not open – back on the VHF and told to be “closer, closer”. Okay the bridge keeper want to play chicken! Little did he know that we had sailed the canals of Holland so it would not be us who blinked first!
The old lock at Trollhatte
Once through, we were on our way to the Trollhatten Falls and the two deepest locks on the canal. A large LED sign told us that the next lock opening was at 1245 so we moored up to a pontoon and went to explore. Sadly the museum and cafe were closed but we did go and see the original locks from 1840 and explored the “new” one from 1916. The original flight of locks is an impressive cut through the granite especially as it was hewn through the rock by hand.
In the new locks at Trollhatte
Bang on 1245 the bells rang and we dashed back to Grace. We had picked up another boat so we will have company. Somehow it feels less wasteful when you share a lock, I guess a bit like the sharing bath water! The locks are very deep – typically one side is smooth concrete or steel and ideal for protecting the gelcoat and one side is rough rock, not so good for the gelcoat! So always stick to the smooth side! Then just to add interest, the smooth side is not always the same side – it does swap about but we did have a pilot guide which told us. Then in the lock walls there are recesses with bollards in. The idea is that you loop a line round them bow and stern letting it slip through, then just in time slip the line over the next one and so on as you go down. All a bit slimy and involves jiggling the rope with the boat hook while the deck of the boat disappears from underneath you! The nice thing about these locks is that the water flows in and out from underneath rather than through the gates so you don’t get so much surging which would make holding the boat in place difficult. So we begin the Trollhatte lock jive! First reaching up to hold Grace in to the canal wall then waving the boat hook about while trying to put the mooring line over the next hook as it slips past. We were all doing it!
Waiting for a Vänermax
They are big!
As we progressed through the first flight of locks into a small basin, the lock keeper told us to keep well in to starboard as a large cargo ship was coming up through the lock ahead of us. We did and secured to a waiting pontoon. The boat behind us, clearly did not get the message and started past us and on into the lock. There was a sudden flurry of panic as the lock gates opened and he was presented with the very big red bows of the cargo ship. After much going astern he tucked in behind us against the side to wait!
Work boats on the canal
The canal passes through the heart of Sweden
Once down through the lock we had completed the famous Trollhatten Falls. Pressing on we made for Lil Edet, the last lock on the canal. The route takes you through some of the most diverse scenery in Sweden. Up until then our main view of Sweden was of granite rocks, hills and trees but here we passed through rolling green hills and then onto flat open plains. Arriving at the lock about 1700 and decided we would stay at the tiny marina just before the lock and then do our last lock when we were fresh in the morning. Although at the end of the season, the tiny marina was packed with boats that had been put away for the winter. The whole place felt abandoned and desolate and we squeezed into the only space. Venturing into the Lidl in the town for fresh vegetables our opinion was not changed and we hurried back to Grace for supper and bed. We were not allowed to on the canal in darkness so it would be 0900 before we could continue our last leg on to Gothenborg.
Lil Edet itself quite interesting as it has a large hydroelectric plant that was built around 1900 and still in operation as demonstrated by the hum from the turbines that ran all night and the man in an orange boiler suit with a big oil can that disappeared through a large blue door every hour! There is also the first lock on the canal that dates back to the 18th century.
The original lock on the canal
The hydro power plant at Lil Edet
Up early next morning and ready to go at the first opportunity for the final run into Gothenborg. Just on lock to go, what could possibly go wrong! We had completed almost 150 locks in the last two years – this was going to a be demonstration on how it should be done……or not! Obviously pride comes before a fall. So entering the lock, the first thing you noticed was just how high up and open it was! As usual and when you least want it, Grace’ nastiest vice struck – a brief gust of wind and the bows swing out before we were able to secure the bows to the mooring hooks in the lock walls. As it was such a long lock we motored to the other side with the intention of securing to the bollards on the other side. I hopped off to secure the bows while Anne took the helm but suddenly the bell rang and the water level fell and the boat started to drop away, leaving me on the side just holding a rapidly disappearing mooring line flying through my hands! Quickly Anne radioed up the lock and they reset so we could have another go! Second time lucky! we took a deep breath and slowed right down and it all worked perfectly……we were on our way to Gothenburg. That was our last lock, and what impresses is the depth of them and the way they swallow you up! The Kiel canal ones are much, much longer but you only go down or up a metre. These ones are 20 m deep!
Gota Älvs river
Traffic on the river
Approaching the Jordfallenbron
Getting close to Goteborg as industry popping up along the river banks
Passing through the busy Marieholmbron
The Trollhatte Canal is really the Goat Alv river with locks at the bumpy bits and waterfalls. So it really takes you through some of Swedens most beautiful countryside, including the first really flat land we had seen for months! On we went under the Jordfallenbron then on to the Marieholm bridge – this is a really busy railway bridge which has 3 train lines into Gothenburg across it. But bang on time, it opened and we were through to the Gota Alvbron and the industrial suburbs of Goteborg. Our journey was almost complete – after 6 locks, 8 bridges, 44 metres down to sea level and 50nm travelled.
Suddenly we are here! Grace in Lil Bommen
The sailing barque Viking
Suddenly it was all over, with the white hull of the sailing barque Viking to our port side, we had to make a sharp port turn, but not too sharp (as all the pilot books warned!) so avoiding the ships bowsprit from fouling our rigging and into the small Lil Bommen marina. It is a lovely little place right in the centre and next to the Opera house but more importantly just 5 minutes walk from Claas Olsen (Sweden’s Robert Dyas!). We had made it with 3 days to spare and to explore Goteborg….which is about two and a half days too much although it does have a nice park!
The ship museum!
The statues and museums! Gothenburg done! Time to prepare Grace for her trip home.
Now we just have to prepare Grace’s trip home…………but more of that later!
Grace prepared for expected bad weather. We were in a nice warm hotel!
At last, the spell of poor weather broke.
Passing the Onso Light and then out into the main body of Lake Varnen.
The next day was beautiful, bright with a crisp autumnal nip to the breeze. The wind had come round to the north, blowing a steady force 3. We now followed the now familiar along the Mariestad channel turning to the east towards the Onso light and the open water. Then turning south east our next leg of 16 nm took us starboard past the Storebanken cardinals and then on down to Lacko on Kallandso with its famous castle. It is possible to moor up in the castle moat but our pilot book warned of all sorts of potential disasters to catch the unwary, we thought that having made it this far and being so close to our destination that we should not chance it! Our plan was that we would moor in Spiko and walk over the hills to see the castle. On our approach to the harbour the rains came down and visibility disappeared, as did the depth and we grounded several times on the muddy bottom. Realising we could not stay here, there just was not the depth of water and we could not figure out where to moor we went on to Granvik, built as a winter refuge for trading ships in the 18th century it had an easy approach with plenty of deep water around its pontoons! A very welcome place to stay the night!
Sailing towards the Storebanken Cardinals.
Lacko Castle in sight
It is possible to moor up in the moat of Lacko Castle – but it is full of concrete blocks hiding just below the water! So better to give it a miss.
Granvikken – This has always been a popular winter refuge for coastal trading ships.
We then took the eastern route across the Navens Grund, a narrow channel through what on the chart seemed a rock strewn wilderness, exiting into the lake at the Navens lighthouse. This route was definitely not for the faint hearted, a channel barely wider than Grace’s 3.4 m girth twisting its way through vicious looking inky black rocks that broke the surface in clouds of white spray. For several hours we sweated our way along the channel until we could see our goal, the lighthouse and the open water. This just filled us full of dread. Huge waves pound the surrounding rocks, until then we had been relatively sheltered but now we got the full force of the wind and Grace became quite tricky to steer and the narrow confines of channel. Oh well, we could not turn back, there just was not room to turn and in the swell we would never find the start of the channel again, we would just have to go on. I am so glad we did this at the end of the trip and not at the start – I’d have wrecked the boat, I just knew that Grace would keep us safe.
A nightmare of a channel out into a rising force 6!
Sailing out into the open water we realised that would have to make a long leg to the north west sailing deep towards the centre of the lake, we were at 45 degrees to the waves making for a slightly more comfortable ride in the now force 5/6 wind and the very steep swell. We could then make a turn towards the relative shelter of the eastern shore passing the cardinals around Utskottet to port and heading down towards Dalbergasa. Sailing in the shelter of the east shore became very pleasant as we headed down the fjord towards Vannersborg. Every half an hour or so we were passed by ships coming from or going to the Trollhatte. It all seemed to going well and we were in the right place! Time to quit while we were ahead of the game. Dalbergasa seemed the ideal place to stop.
Dalbergasa is strange place! It is a camp site on the banks of the river with a small rickety wooden jetty to moor up to. To mark the river mouth and the way in is a large red pyramid, without it, you would never find it in a month of Sundays! There is then a sharp dogleg turn through a narrow opening in between two cliffs, which if we had not just done the Navens Grund passage would have caused a bit of panic! But once through, it suddenly opened up into a wide green meadow with a gently flowing river through its middle. It is a completely different world and a complete contrast to the roar of the wind and the waves. Opening up in front of us was a positively bucolic and tranquil scene that Constable would have happily painted. We were just missing the hay wain! Oh and there were two thundering great wind turbines right in front of the view!!
Dalbergsa – so peaceful out of the wind!
That night was a celebration, it felt like we had broken free of the grip that Lake Varnen had on us. We would have a relatively short sail down to Vannersborg and the start of the Trollhatte Canal. Barring mishaps we would make to Gothenburg in time.
Next morning started bright and sunny. It was definitely autumnal with the trees on the far bank starting to turn many shades of red. We had had a lovely peaceful night, with just the gentle hum of the wind turbines for company! The only problem was how were we going to turn Grace round in such a narrow river without ending up grounded in the trees on the far bank! I knew that if I could get her bows round then the flow of the river would bring us round okay. It is times like this that a bow thruster would have been perfect! Anyway we don’t have one and it was back to our trusty spring lines! I rigged plenty of fenders on the stern and slip lines to the jetty and we cast of our bow lines, the current flow and engine taking us back against the fenders, slowly Grace’ s bow eased out, then mores quickly now as the current caught us. It was a good job too as the jetty behind began to collapse under Grace’s weight! Releasing the stern slip line, wheel hard to starboard and plenty of engine revs we came round gently and were heading back to the lake. A quick jiggle through the gap in the cliffs and we were met by a brisk force 5 and a sharp swell! Clearly the lake was not going to give us an easy ride on the last leg across her!
Vannersborg is at the head of a deep bay. It is well buoyed through a series of reefs and easy to spot by the stream of ships going either leaving or entering the Trollhatte. We had about 20 nm to sail to the south and then through a lock and railway bridge to reach our berth for the night. We had a lovely sail down the bay, well reefed we tacked through the shoals making an easy 4.5 knots. Finally taking in our sails at the first large green buoy at the start of the shipping channel. This was the last time we would be actually sailing Grace and it felt sad that this part of our adventure was over.
As we motored in the rain started. Perhaps in sympathy with our mood! But no time to mope, we were in a stone lined channel with lock gates and a railway swing bridge at its far end. We radioed the lock keeper and they told us to wait 10 minutes – back to the usual stooging about then! 10 minutes came and went, clearly Swedish trains are not always on time, then finally after another 10 minutes the train came and the bells and whistles began, the bridge very slowly swung open. And then almost immediately started to swing closed again. Okay so this was how it was going to be! Off we went and popped out into a large basin. The canal path marked by a line of wooden posts. Avoiding the temptation to cut across to port and to the marina we followed the line on the chart. Making a sharp turn to port and almost double backing on ourselves close to to next bridge. Making for the opening of the marina you could really feel the strong gusts – not ideal and sure enough while try to find a space we got caught by one of these suddenly blasts and almost clipped the stern of a large motor boat! Simplicity rather than clever was called for here and we just went alongside on the outer pontoon – it was not going to be sheltered but at least it was easy to moor to!
The start of the Trollhatte Canal from Vannersborg Marina.
The next step towards Gothenburg.
Made it! We were in Vannerborg, it would only take two days to traverse the Trollhatte. We had made it before they closed it and we would be in Gothenburg on time! Brilliant!!
We had made such fantastic progress through the Gota Canal that we were at Sjotorp and the entrance to Lake Varnen just after midday. We had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast and there was some nasty weather due later in the day that was predicted to last for a few days. We would not have enough time to get to a safe berth on Kallandso, a spur of land that projects up into the Lake. We also did not want to be trapped at Sjotorp – definitely a one horse town if there ever was one!
Our last lock on the Gota Canal
Heading down towards Mariested under the Torso Bridge
We could sail about 12 nm south down to Mariestad – one of the largest towns on Lake Varnen and the home of Mariestad beer which is available everywhere in Sweden and for which I had developed quite a thirst! So leaving our convoy friends we set off on a course of 180. Taking up a broad reach, we were soon flying down the buoyed Karlsgr channel and under the Torso bridge towards Mariestad. Keeping well to port so as to avoid entering the Tidan river by accident, we entered the harbour following it right up to the centre of the town to moor up along the town quay wall. As the weather closed in we quickly put up the cockpit tent and for the first time in the sailing season, turned on the diesel heating. Soon we were as snug as bugs in rugs!
Mariested in sight!
Secured alongside with the cockpit tent up and prepared for the storm
For the next 48 hours we settled in on Grace, restocked supplies from the supermarket, we visited what must be the smallest cinema in Sweden to see a rather worthy film in English and strange museum of local shops and cardboard box manufacturing!
The big screen! The smallest cinema in Sweden?
Museum of cardboard boxes!
Old Ox – the closest thing I could find to the brewery!
Mariested Church – the tallest tower on this part of the lake and a very welcome landmark!
Mariested is an old town, its charter dates from the 1530s
Lake Varnen is the largest lake in the EU and the third largest in the world behind a couple in Russia. It is so big that it creates its own weather systems – it can be blowing a gale on the lake and brilliant sunshine elsewhere in Sweden…….which it was now!! In fact, Lake Varnen even has its own weather forecast on the TV! Another day passed, I had failed to find the brewery, the biggest in Sweden and we were getting desperate to get going. Although we still had a few days to spare we knew we could not get trapped on the lake for much longer if we were to meet the delivery crew in Gothenburg. And this started to weigh heavily on our minds. I went crazy with the Dymo tape and labelled everything in anticipation and even started to write an instruction book for Grace! We had to get going! The pressure was now on, as the Trollhatte Canal announced that it would be closing in just 10 day time for two weeks for essential repairs to the lock gates at Lilla Edet. This was all starting to get a bit serious!
Next morning seemed a little brighter, still windy but definitely better. The yacht behind us cast off and left, so we packed everything away and did the same. The plan was that we would head east towards Kallandso, a big spur of land that projects into the lake, finding somewhere to stay in amongst it’s many islands at its tip. This should provide some shelter until we could cross the lake on the far side to make the dash towards Vannersborg and the start of the Trollhatte. We also reckoned that we would have to cross the lake towards Mellerud or Dalgasa as sailing down the far side of the lake we would have the shelter of the Eastern shore but also keep us out of the shoals that lined Kallandso. We definitely did not want to have those as a lee shore if the weather turned really nasty!
The light on Onso
But first we had to get away from the shelter of Mariestad and through the gap between Viknas point and Onso and into the wide open part of the lake to start our crossing. We sailed north for 3 nm up the Mariestad channel then sharply east at an unusual triangle of buoys for 4 nm towards the light on Onso that marks the gap into the open part of the lake. With the motor to help us we made a series of short tacks up towards Onso, adding a second reef to genoa and main. This did not bode well! We were still in a relatively sheltered spot and we had two reefs in the sails already. Grace was pitching sharply, slamming her bows down in the steep swell. It was all beginning to get a bit uncomfortable!
Out through the gap between Viknas and Onso…..if only we could get there!
Just then the yacht that had left earlier that morning came screaming past us, her crew well wrapped up but focussed on getting back to harbour! We persevered for another few minutes then made a quick U turn and followed them! Absolutely flying as the wind rose again. Oh well, lets try again tomorrow! Which is exactly what we did, with exactly the same result! The one benefit from all of this to-ing and fro-ing was that we discovered we had left the bag with all our money and passports in a restaurant and we could go and get it! It would have been terrible to have made the trip across the lake, only to have to return again to Mariestad to pick up the bag! It must have been fate!
End Game Part 2!
I cannot quite believe how the months have flown by. It is such along time since we handed over Grace to the delivery crew in Gothenburg and returned to Chichester. However I do have an excuse……Hester, our new cockerpoo puppy!
Hester – joins the family!
Hester and her first life jacket!
So, back to the Gota Canal! Having been wowed by the SAAB Viggen at the Aero Museum in Linkoping (pronounced Lin-cherping) we joined a new convoy and set off behind the WASA LEJON, the last pleasure steamer of the season.
Following Wasa Lejon
We had picked up an interesting group, a mini ‘QE2’ which had to go in the lock all on its own as it was so big. It was owned by a man who we were never quite sure what he did, but he did have some very large ‘friends’ on board! The lock keeper put us at the back of the lock as we were the smallest. We were behind a large and expensive bespoke yacht with a lovely brushed aluminium finish. They kept panicking and trying to fend us off with boat hooks every time our big bow Bruce anchor came perilously close to their delicate shiny finish…….which was every time we entered a lock! There really was only a couple feet to spare in the lock and I had to make sure I was beyond the lock step to avoid getting my rudder stuck on it!! As there were 6 of them on board it would have been nice they had helped with our lines rather than look anxious every time we approached! It would have helped to reduce the risk to their hull finish.
On our port side at the front was a motorboat from the Faroe Islands, as it was not much bigger than ourselves, it was quite an adventurous trip they were making! Then next to us was a large Norwegian yacht, head back to Oslo. This was crewed by a very blond couple who spent all their time gazing adoringly in to eachother’s eyes! Yuk!
It is still a wonder to me as to how we all fitted into the lock but the lock keeper knew exactly where we had to go!
Squeezing into the lock and bridge
After passing what seemed like endless locks and bridges, we sailed about 20 km to Borensberg and finally Boren where they had the last hand operated lock!
Hand operated lock.
Lock keeping lessons.
We then sailed across Lake Boren to Borenshult and a flight of 5 locks which took us up to 80 m above sea level.
Sailing across Lake Boren
5 Locks at Borenshult
The next day it was more locks and bridges! And then we were at Motala. Motala is canal city, it has workshops, a very clever dry dock that needs no pumps to fill or empty it! Foundries and everything you might need to build your canal! Balthazar Von Platten, the designer and promoter of the canal is also buried by the canal to keep an eye on everyone who passes by!
Balthazar Von Platten’s grave watching over the canal!
His stamp is on everything here, he even designed and built Motala on the hillside overlooking Lake Vattern in the form of a big semi circle, all the roads lead down the hill to a focal point in the middle of the lake that coincides with an artwork!
The canal church in Motala
Canal life boats outside the canal offices.
We stopped in the little marina before crossing the Lake to buy some food and have a shower! Focusing on brunch we almost wrecked Grace against the harbour wall. A surprisingly strong cross wind blew us into the starboard finger pontoon, trapping us there. The more I tried to move, the more trouble I got into, so frustrated we decided to make her secure, then go to the cafe and try again when we were refreshed!
Balthazar Von Platten in the centre of the town.
Glad to be free of the Motala’s marina at last!
It worked! And we were soon away cross Lake Vattern. The lake is huge, the second largest in Sweden and the EU! It is 135 km long and 31 km wide. We were 89 m above sea level so we had almost reached our highest point on the trip of 92 m. Vattern is remarkable for its depth and incredible clarity and being very, very freshwater Grace floated slightly deeper, not by much but she did feel different on the helm!
Setting off across Lake Vattern
Crossing Lake Vattern we headed for the castle at Karlsborg on the western side of the lake. This was also build by Balthazar Von Platten on has day off when he was not building the canal! He designed it to house Sweden’s gold and the royal family in times of war and invasion. It is impressive just on its sheer scale. It was critical that we made the motorway bridge at where the mouth of the canal no later than 1700. This was the main road from Goteborg to Stockholm and was booked to open for our convoy. If we missed it then we would have to wait for the next convoy with space on it……which might mean we were trapped there until next May when the canal opened again if there was no space on the three remaining convoys of the season!
It was a bit grey when we left Motala but as we set our course for Karlsborg the weather changed and we were soon in hifits, fleeces and waterproof jackets. We had about 20 nm cover which we estimated would take us about 5 hours, and as it was midday now, we would not have long to wait at the bridge if all went well……..Two hours in to our trip we were passed by the mini QE2 who had also stopped for lunch at Motala. Steaming at 8 knots they soon disappeared into what was a large bank of fog and mist! By then, I was becoming concerned and considered that we should return to Motala as the entrance to the harbour was easy and still fog free! But it would be catastrophic for our schedule and would put the meeting with the transfer crew in Goteborg in jeopardy. We pressed on but knowing that we could not enter Karlsborg in poor visibility as the entrance channel snaked and zigzagged through a series of difficult rocks and mud banks. Using our instruments we sailed on. Then at about a distance of about 5 nm we saw the hard but vague outline of the fortress walls through the mist. Suddenly we broke through in to a bright and clear afternoon. Once through the rocks that guard the harbour mouth we saw the wooden posts and piles that marked the start of the canal again! It was 1630, loosely tied to a post there was just time for tea and digestive biscuits! Experience tells me that there is alway time for tea and digestive biscuits!!
Time for tea biscuits!
On the way to Forsvik
Once through the bridge we sailed the 4 nm to our night stop at Forsvik. This was the most amazing sail through a series of small interconnected lakes bounded on either side by dense and sweet smelling pine woods. As night fell we found the narrow turning in to canal basin at Forsvik. This is very narrow and has the oldest lock (built in 1813 and not touched since!) on the whole of the canal. Needless to say chaos ensued as the two larger yachts and mini QE2 did battle with eachother to find a place to moor up to for the night. We, with our lighter weight and shallow draft, tucked ourselves in against a rickety wooden pontoon, plugged in the shore power and watched the fun. The mini QE2 jammed itself against the large aluminium yacht blocking the canal. Meanwhile the Norwegians, so engrossed in eachother completely missed the moorings and sailed right up to the lock gates, only to discover there was no where to tie up to and being trapped by the mini QE2 and the aluminium yacht like a cork in a bottle, they had to join all their lines together to reach a few saplings on the canal bank about 35 m away!
On the way to Forsvik for the night.
Next morning, with two days left we had probably the most amazing sail ever! Grace sailed through a wooded sunken wilderness, past tiny islands and through narrow passages which seemed more like flooded country lanes!
Sailing through the countryside!
After about 20 nm we reached the industrial town of Toreboda, crossing the main high speed railway line to Stockholm. We were given strict instructions by the lock keeper that the line would open for us on our approach but we had to sail through without delay as the trains could not stop. Our timing was perfect! As we approached, the track swung open as we made a tight port then starboard turn to cross the line…..just as a yacht coming the other way made a dash for it! A sharp intake of breath and we both squeezed through as the gongs sounded and the bridge began to swing closed! Losers! The mini QE2, despite a sudden surge of speed missed the bridge opening and had to go full astern to avoid ploughing into the bridge…..that would not have been a popular move and would have added a few more scars to the scrapes on their bows!
That night we moored up against a nice wooden pier and went to explore the delights that surely beckoned us in Toreboda. Within five minutes it became apparent that nothing happens or indeed is open on an autumn evening in Toreboda! So back to the boat for tomato pasta and more digestive biscuits!!
The train tracks at Toreboda
Our fifth day in the canal and we were excited that we had almost reached Lake Varnen. We still had 19 locks left to do and 15 nm to cover. As it was downhill all the way (50 m down towards sea level) we fairly flew along our last leg to Sjotorp. Having done almost 40 locks we were all really slick at it! We reached Sjotorp and Varnen a little after 1500.
The weather forecast was not looking good for the next few days and as Sjotorp held absolutely no attraction for us, we set off immediately down the coast for Mariestad. This is the biggest town on Lake Varnen and is most famous for its beer which is sold everywhere is Sweden and is actually really rather good!!
On the way to Mariestad and beer without delay!
Almost the last leg!
It was with rather mixed feelings that we moored up alongside the quay wall at Mem for the start of our homeward journey across the middle of Sweden. We were sad that our trip was coming to an end, but the weather was noticeably windier and cooler now and the days were definitely much shorter. Everywhere had now closed down for the season so it was time to go home!
Moored up at Mem waiting for the 0800 start and the first lock.
From September until mid October when the canal shuts completely for winter, only small convoys of 4 or 5 boats and accompanied by a lock keeper can travel the canal. This is a perfect way to go as you don’t have to wait for commercial craft (which always has priority!) and there are no queues at the locks and bridge – its just you a couple of other boats so you can complete the trip to Lake Varnen, covering 190 km, 58 locks and climbing to 93 metres above sea level in 5 days.
Plaque to mark the opening of the canal in 1826
It is a remarkable feat of engineering, commission by Balthazar Von Platten as chief engineer in 1810 but actually designed and built Thomas Telford, the great Scottish engineer whose roads, fences and bridges are all over the North Wales I know so well. It took 22 years and a lot of Swedish soldiers to dig it. There is only about 80 km of actual canal – the other 110 km are lakes and natural waterways that are all interconnected by the canals. The Gota canal takes you to the Lake Varnen, the biggest lake in the EU and pretty much in the centre of Sweden. Then you join the Trollhatte canal down to Gothenburg and the North Sea. This created a direct link to the Baltic, avoiding the need to pay the dues to Denmark that all ships had to pay when passing down the Oresund. However, it was a pretty short lived benefit as the ‘World Powers’ got together in the 1860’s and bought Denmark off (which was a bit strapped for cash at the time!) for about 12 billion Kronor – around £60m at the time…..a lot but not that much to allow unimpeded shipping to Russia, especially as the Kiel canal had not been built then.
At 0800 sharp the canal office (shed) opened and we were issued with our passes, tickets, toilet cards and instruction book on how to survive the locks! We met the other three boats that we would be doing the first part of the trip with, the lock keeper gave us our positions in the lock – very important as the locks are very tight and we had to fit together like a jigsaw. They also inspected our lines and fenders to make sure they were properly set up. This is because the the rise and fall on the locks is quite violent as the water surges in. Also the sides of the lock are rough hewn rock and your gelcoat would not survive much of a brush with it! The walls also curve inward at the bottom so in theory you have some fender low down on the wall side and some high up. The only problem was that our fenders float so the waterline ones did not do much good! The regular travellers seemed to have fenders part filled with water so they would hang below the waterline.
The mooring rings – just hook a line with a bowline loop over it so its quick to release.
Never pass the yellow line – the lock step can turn a good day into a bad one very quickly!
With only two of us onboard we were going to busy, Anne had to be ashore to loop the lines around the mooring rings, so I had a bow line running through a block back to our genoa winch and a stern line to the stern mooring cleat. The idea was that I could simply tighten the lines as we rose in the lock keeping Grace in position. Ha ha! Much easier said than done! You try to control a 7 tonne 10 m long boat bucking back and forward as the water surged into the lock dangling off two lines!! Our position in the lock was port side front and we were followed by a big motor boat from the Faroes. They had about 6 of them onboard and they spent the time arguing! Which was all very well except I would rather they didn’t when they were manoeuvring in the lock and heading straight for our stern! Our position was rather good as we had space to avoid fouling the lock step and we did not have to go too close to the lock gate with our bows!
First into the lock!
Our new friends!
The technique for the locks was quite simple – as we approached the lock gates, Anne would take the bow and stern lines and leap ashore as we touched the edge and take the lines and drop them over the mooring rings on the lock walls. I would then frantically winch in on the lines to try to keep Grace from bashing the walls or the boat next door!
Our first lock!
Its alright for some!
Our first stop was Berg where we were scheduled to spend a couple days and pick up the next convoy. We would drop out and be replaced by a yacht already waiting at Northolmen, on the other side of Lake Roxan.
By 1545 we had cover 50 km and completed 19 locks and reached Northolmen and bridge for the main Stockholm express train. It would open only at 1600 then not again until the morning. Also once open we had 30 seconds to clear the bridge, otherwise it was coming back down again come what may, as the trains would not wait. Here at last being first in the lock was an advantage as we would be definitely through although I did not give much hope for our arguing Faroese behind us, we were out and into the lake while they were still ‘discussing’ who should untie the boat!
Waiting for the train to pass before we can get into Lake Roxan.
The floating sign post.
Lake Roxan was lovely and it was great to get the engine off and the sails up. We had a couple of very pleasant hours sailing to Berg. Strangely the lake has a floating sign post on it giving bearings and mileages for the local ports! Berg is famous for the flight of locks – there are seven of them and the only one on the canal. As we headed for the basin at the foot of the locks to moor up, we had to dodge some big banks of weed. If that got caught in the stern gear then we could have problems! Weaving our way in we avoided the worse of it and moored up to a stern buoy. Being first in, we found the spot with the least weed! The Norwegian motor boat that followed us in ploughed straight into a bank of weed and came to a juddering halt, its propellers jammed up and unable to move. The current then started to drift them away toward a bank of rocks that formed a breakwater. We quickly threw him a long line and hauled him in and out of harms way. There was no way he could get clear without a diver. Trying not to show too much schadenfreude we realised that this might mean that he could not join the convoy tomorrow and we could take his place. Surely he was going to be stuck there for days!!!!
The flight of locks at Berg.
Stuck in the weed!
You can imagine my disappointment when at 0730 a canal company diver arrived and after exchanging a considerable amount of cash, got in the water and freed our Norwegian friend’s propellers and rudder. Putting on a brave face we wished them well and a safe trip…….draht and double draht!
The diver freeing our Norwegian friends propellers.
After a morning spent fighting off weedburgs it became apparent that we could not stay in the basin and would have to anchor off or go back to Northolmen. I rang the canal company to ask for help and they said that there was a ‘warship’ coming through at 1500 with two lockkeepers who would see up the the flight of locks into the very nice and weed free basin at the top of the locks. Great news!!
At 1445 the whole air around us started to vibrate and our mast rattled. It was like a mini earthquake! Looking around, we saw that the noise came from a very large and well camouflaged patrol boat at the top of the locks. She came flying down the locks in a couple of minutes (a journey that normally takes about 90 minutes), fitting almost exactly she did not tie up and was soon out of the bottom, into the basin and then out into the lake in a roar and flurry of spray at 50 knots toward Soderkoping for its final fitout and arming at the SAAB factory.
Waiting for the patrol boat to clear the locks.
Once the navy boat had gone we had two lock keepers to ourselves and they whisked us up the locks in double quick time! We were soon able to moor up in a lovely weed free basin, with toilets, shower, cafe and lock gate museum near to hand!
Safely out of the weed.
Writing about it now,it all seems a bit weird but the lock gate museum was really quite interesting! The designs were rather clever, including a suction operated gate to stop the canal draining if breached and a clever pump free arrangement for a dry dock in Motala. They also had original Thomas Telford gates which they replaced with ‘superior’ modern ones in the 1990s. However these new ‘superior’ ones now have to be replaced after less than 30 years. They are now returning to the the original Telford specification as many of these are still in use after 180 years! Even going to the foundry that cast them in the first place!
Thomas Telford’s original design – still the best after 180 years!
SAAB Aerospace is based around the nearby Linköping and Soderkoping. Industry here is all about weapons and planes. They also sponsor an amazing flight museum that charts Sweden’s entire history of aviation from the very first planes to the latest SAAB. What they also have tucked away in the basement is the wreck of a Dakota DC3 that was equipped in the 1950s as a spy plane to check out Russian radar and response times. It had the latest British and American kit but was flown by Swedish aircrew. It was shot down by the Russians but no one said anything about it until 2003 despite all of the 8 crew were killed. There families were rather disgracefully fobbed off. In addition the Russians also shot down a Catalina flying boat that was searching for the missing plane! Although the aircrew survived in some rather heroic flying. Everyone was so tense that this could be the tipping point that turned the Cold War hot! The plane was only recovered in 2015 and was all a bit moving to see the relics of the crewmen.
The history of Swedish aviation! (The blue swastika was the emblem of the Finnish airforce – these planes were supplied in 1940 to the Finns in their fight against the Russians in the ‘Winter War’.
DC3 spy plane wreck
The other Catalina that was not shot down!
The other thing it had was an impressive display on the SAAB Viggen, taking off and landing on a road and being rearmed and refuelled at a petrol station! I have a soft spot for the Viggen as it was the first Airfix model I made. I remember it well as I really wanted a Spitfire!
The Viggen wings and tail plane!
Grace’s journey home meant we had to sail right across the middle of Sweden through the Gota and Trollhatte Canals. This would take us from Mem in the Baltic Sea to Gothenburg on the Kattegat. At the close of the season you cannot travel independently through the Gota Canal but only in convoys of 4 or 5 boats along with a lock keeper. This is fantastic as you don’t have to mess about and wait for commercial traffic or hang around at locks! You go straight through, the lock keepers are waiting for you at the bridges and locks. Well worth the 5800 SEK it cost us for the pass for the Gota and Trollhatte Canals! However it does mean that you have to be at Mem, the start of the canal at a 0800 on September 8th and no later! It then takes about 5 days to travel the 190km sail to Lake Varnen, Sweden’s largest lake.
Grace preparing to leave Navkvarn
Before leaving Navekvarn we filled our diesel tank, it was strange to queue at the fuel pump with several cars, but this was the best and cleanest diesel with no bio additives for 50 km! Bio-diesel is not popular in Sweden for marine engines as it adds water into the tank as the weather gets cooler and encourages diesel bug growth and blocked filters. With a tank full of 150 litres of diesel we should have enough to get us to Goteborg without causing me any range anxiety!
Avoiding rocks and complex navigation was to be a feature of our last day in the Baltic
Today was going to be our last day’s sailing in the Baltic Sea, it felt very strange and slightly sad to be homeward bound! Our sailing adventure coming to an end! We would be sailing towards the castle at Stegeborg, where we planned to stay overnight before moving on to the first lock of the Gota Canal at Mem, just a couple of nautical miles further down the fjord. The trip was about 24 nm but required quite complex navigation to get through the rock strewn wilderness and poorly marked channels from Navekvarn to Norrkoping and Djuron through the Granso Sund and then into the Arkosund at Marviken. Marviken is quite interesting as it is a deserted peninsula with an abandoned nuclear power station on it! It was built in the 1960’s to generate power but mainly to produce fuel for nuclear weapons. However later in the decade, Sweden signed up to the nuclear non proliferation treaty and the power station was abandoned even before it was ever used! The place has been used for nuclear accident practice but a quick scan through binos and you see that the whole place was overgrown. Trees were sprouting up through the roads and creepers climbing over the fences and gates.
The abandoned Marviken Nuclear Power Station
With the wind behind us we picked up the start of the Granso Sund at the north Granso beacon. Just on the genoa alone we sailed the 6 nm on a lovely broad reach at a gentle 3 knots down to the Kuggviskar Light at the mouth of the Arkosund. Then with all sails out and on a beam reach we flew down the coast at 5 to 6 knots in 8 to 9 knots of wind and perfect sea conditions. Then changing course to WNW and close hauled for the final few miles into Stegeborg. To our surprise, the guest harbour was full and we had to tuck ourselves on the inside of the pontoon on the edge of the motor boat dock. A few months earlier we would have gone round in circles trying to find a ‘proper’ space but after a season sailing in the islands we could park on a sixpence!
Paddle boarding down the Granso Sund
Lifeboat station and Pilot training school at the head of the Arkosund
Our route down the the Arkosund
For the last week we had been the only boat in many of the places we visited but Stegeborg seemed to have a lot of boats being emptied. Boats being put away for winter probably explained why the berths were so full. Although the Stegeborg cafe was clearly the place to be as a Gota Canal steamer arrived and everybody dived into the bar, followed in short order by a float plane flown by a celeb…..I took pictures just in case it was someone I recognised…… but I didnt!
Parking Grace anywhere! Slotted her in on a sixpence!!
A celeb flew in for tea! But who?
The Castle tower
The castle at Stegeborg was built in the 13th century on an island at the head of the Slätbaken fjord. It was constructed to control and protect the access to the important city of Söderköping. As it still does today! There is a tiny gap in the ancient barrage across the mouth of the river through which all shipping must pass. The castle after being used by several Gustav Wasa’s fell out of favour and was sold for building materials in the 1730’s. It is rather amazing that so much of it remains! Surrounding the ruins were lots of wild apple trees which I promptly took the opportunity to scrumped!
A Gota Canal cruise ship
Signing walls of castles seems a popular past time for Swedish royals!!
The Stegeborg was in a very strong defensive position to protect the fjord….and charge tolls on boats going to Soderkoping!
It still commands the Fjord. Even today there is only a 30 m wide gap in the 800 year old barrage across the entrance to the Fjord!
Although only a short sail of just 8 nm down the fjord we decided to head to Mem that afternoon rather than stay another night at Stegeborg as there was dense fog every morning that did not clear until after 1000 and we would have missed our slot to start on our journey through the Gota Canal.
Stegeborg to Mem and the start of the canal
Moored up at Mem waiting to start our journey across Sweden
The first lock of the canal
Next morning we slickly exited from the stern buoy and executed a perfect figure of eight to end up on the pump out station. Although it is mandatory to pump out the heads holding tank and not just dump this station clearly had not been used all season! Suitably gloved up and with some trepidation we set the pump going…….I was confidently expecting to need a change of clothes as there is always an opportunity for an unpleasant shower and a tsunami of back flow running down the deck if you don’t get the valve opening right! As the only boat in the marina at least there won’t be an audience to smugly watch us! But oh no, just as we turned on the pump, a coach load of Chinese tourists arrived, streaming off the bus they started to take photographs and videos of us. However, instead of a video nasty, it was all accomplished without any unpleasant drama!
Berthing at the pump-out station – second time lucky!
Heading down the Gripsholm Viken we set a course for Bjorkfjarden, on the the way to the Södertälje canal and the sea again! With a gentle southerly we take a series of gentle gybes as we make a training run towards Bohus.
On a training run down the fjord, Grace is keeping pace with a large yacht.
There were three Viking kingdoms in Scandinavia, of which Birko was the capital of the largest. Bjorko became a major trading post but also key defensive position. At Bjorko we went alongside, there was a strong cross wind building and the jetty provided very little protection from the waves but we were well fendered up. Just as we were securing Grace’s lines to the jetty, a small biscuit tin of a dinghy bobbed its way in to the harbour on the swell. It was packed with 2 adults and 3 children and they were rowing very inexpertly and were not looking very happy! I quickly threw them a line, which they very gratefully grabbed, pulling them in, we lowered Grace’s swim platform and we got them onboard and then ashore! Apparently they were returning to Rastaholm after a day on Bjorko when their outboard stopped and they could not get it started again, they then had a frightening row back into the harbour across the swell. One of the children was English, she was so grateful to find other English people especially when she had given up all hope of rescue! The lady asked if I could fix the motor, saying that her husband clearly could not! We moved the boat around to calmer water and examined the motor, did they have fuel? Yes! Was the fuel flowing freely? Yes! I then suggest that they turn the throttle to the RESTART setting and low and behold it fires up first time and runs smoothly! They ask if we are returning to Rastaholm tonight and if so, can they follow us! We say that unfortunately we are not but they could stay with us tonight and we will take them back in the morning. It was quite a trek and getting dark and the wind was building. They said they had to go tonight and we had to wish them well but advised them against it. I do hope they got back safely.
Moored in Bjorko.
Going to pay our harbour dues, I got a big surprise, I was greeted by group of 4 very authentic looking Vikings, armed with swords, spears, beards, axes and tattoos but also a credit card machine! Then half an hour later ‘Mr Misery’ sailed in! Sailing single handed he dropped his stern anchor and moored up bows first – all very slick! We took his bow lines and helped him get secure. Once ashore, he said we should go ‘bows to’ like him as two large ships were scheduled to pass into the Södertälje canal that night and there would be some large and disturbing waves. We were well fendered and with spring lines in place so I felt happy we would be fine. And then a bit later as he wandered by on his way to find magic mushrooms, which apparent grew all over the island, he said he hoped that our hatches wouldn’t leak as heavy rain was expected in the night!! Hopefully he would feel happier after eating the mushrooms and become a ‘fun-gi’!
Spring lines set and well fendered for a comfortable night.
The gateway into the Viking fort!
View towards the burial mounds on ridge.
Monument to St Ansgar who brought Christianity to the vikings in Sweden.
Walking around Birko was really rather interesting! The land had risen by 5m due to glacial tilt revealing the shoreline with a great defensive Viking fort and trading post. Taking to the high ground it was easy to see how the whole island would have looked in 800AD.
Sailing down the Sodertajlie Canal towards the sea again!
It was now time to leave Lake Malaren as we needed to get to Mem for our trip across Sweden through the Gota Canal. We timed our departure from Bjorko to arrive at the the Sodertajlie Canal which would take us the 30 nm back to the sea. We had to make the bridge at the top of the canal which opened at 1100 and then every 2 hours. We arrived 45 minutes early and moored up at a jetty outside the Astra Zeneca HQ at Sodertajlie. They were repiling the banks of the canal and there were large barges, tugs and piling machines everywhere. At 1055 we cast off and prepared to get going but suddenly the tugs and barges started moving into the centre of the canal. We thought that they must be going through the bridge so we took our station behind the tug as commercial traffic always have priority on the canal. Only to realise that they had chosen just that time to move the piling machine and not pass through the bridge! Fortunately the bridge keeper had seen what was happening and that we were trapped behind the tug so he held the bridge for us! We had almost reconciled ourselves to spending another 2 hours sat in front of Astra Zeneca watching people make PowerPoint presentations in their meeting rooms!
Waiting for the bridge to open outside Astra Zeneca HQ!
Stuck behind the piling barge!
….But the bridge keeper waited for us!
This meant that we had a quick dash down to the lock, which opened exactly 15 minutes after the bridge, first mooring up to pay the canal fee at the machine! Once through the lock we were back in the Baltic Sea again!! Before going any further we stopped at Sodertajlie to restock with food at the supermarket and with booze at the System Bolaget! Three large ships passed through the lock while we had our lunch! We certainly would not have wanted to share the lock with these!
18 m clearance so no problem for our 15.5m airdraft!
Ships in the canal!
We continued down the Fjord until we hit Skansholmen. This is a great little marina in the centre of what must have been a small volcano. Getting into it, the approach is only 2 m deep but once inside the almost totally enclosed pool, it becomes at least 25 m deep! Paying our harbour dues we joined a surprisingly long queue at the till especially as we were the only boat in. However we soon realised why, people, waiting for the ferry to the mainland had stopped off for ice creams on their way home! No Swede can resist and ice cream!
Grace at Skansholmen
Next morning we set off for Svardskova, we had tried to stop here once before but failed! It has a really good restaurant and a small pontoon to moor to. However no sooner as we entered the Hummn Fjord towards the open sea than we could sea a dense bank of white fog start to roll towards us! Not wishing to be caught out in it amongst the shoals we gave lunch at the restaurant a miss for the second time and we headed towards Trosa. A seal stuck its head out of the water and took a quick look around, nodded his approval at our caution and then vanished! It must be a good sign as it was the first one we had seen all season!
Although flat calm today, this was a dog leg that the large ships in the canal had to negotiate. We took to the shallow water to starboard to let a large ship pass us.
Sailing down the Fjord and back out to the sea, these houses were built on the old lime kilns for commuters to Sodertajlie.
I was quite happy with our decision to head for Trosa as I knew they had a diesel pump in the marina. I was beginning to suffer from range anxiety as we had run the engine for 48 hours since we last refilled the tank earlier in the season. Our fuel gauge has never worked but you should never every rely on them and trust engine hours instead and the number of hours per litre you burn per hour! We have never used more than about 1.3 litres per hour so assuming we had the 150 litre extra long range tank we should have enough fuel for over 115 hours, however I discovered in the boat’s specification sheet it said we should have a 90 litre tank but then on another page it said 150 litres, as I had originally thought, so only enough for less than 70 hours. Plenty of fuel really but we did not want to run the tank down too far and risk blocking the two fuel filters!
Our surprise visit to Trosa meant that we could get a 10 litre fuel can from the big chandlery on the canal! It, along with the liferaft was a special request by the delivery crew we had arranged to bring Grace back to the UK – at least this request would be cheap!
Back in Trosa
We must be on our way home! The first news we had heard about Brexit for 4 months!
At 0900 we were at the fuel dock waiting to refill. Unfortunately all we got was a mass of bubbling diesel foam and about 6 litres of rather suspect derv before the pump stopped working altogether! We planned to go back to Svardskova and stay overnight after dinner in the restaurant, but if we hit the forecast high winds and rain then we could go on to Oxelsund for better shelter to ride out the storm……but would we miss dinner again? Our progress was so swift that we were at Svardskova by 1300 and with the increasing grey skies and building winds we decided to go on to Oxelosund….so no Svardskova dinner for the third time! We’ll just have to come back!
Tricky approach around Oxelosund
At anchor off Oxelosund
Grace was now on a beam reach, her fastest point of sailing and we were storming up past Nykoping weaving our way through its alarmingly rock strewn shipping channel – fortunately we only met one ship coming towards us and one waiting at anchor. With nothing to slow us down we were passed Oxelosund by 1400. So with just 12nm to reach Navekvarn, with Grace really flying and the weather getting decidedly iffy we pressed on. It was not a difficult decision as with its huge steelworks and clouds of orange dust, Oxelosund was not the most attractive proposition if we were trapped there for a few days by the weather! Navkvarn was an all weather marina, a cafe, well shelter from all wind directions and with a diesel pump!!
Navekvarn ideal to place to ride out bad weather.
Grace is secure in Navekvarn.
By 1730 Grace was safely in a visitors berth on the main pontoon at Navekvarn, secured between two Y booms in a very well sheltered bay and we were in the Cafe enjoying toasted cheese sandwiches! Back on Grace we put up the cockpit tent just as the torrential rain that had be following us all day finally started and continued for the next 24 hours without stopping! Navekvarn is also one of those places that people store their boats over winter and we were surrounded by British boats packing everything away for storage! The enforced 24 hour layover gave me plenty of time to find out just how big our fuel tank really was, by dismantling the rear berth we could clearly that 150 L was printed on the tank so I really need not have worried!
Definitely a long range 150 l fuel tank! No more range anxiety!
The Q Star fuel pump station was a bit unusual as day and night, cars would pull up and fill their tanks – it was certainly the cheapest diesel we had used all summer and apparently the only diesel pump for 100km!
Navekvarn is trying to re-invent itself, from about 1760 until the 1970’s, copper had been smelted there and there was a large iron foundry famous for cooking pots, fireplaces and stoves. It has all gone now and the buildings are used for winter boat storage! All over there are signs warning that the ground is toxic and that nothing should be eaten from the ground due to arsenic residues.
By way of complete contrast to the industrial landscape and just on the opposite side of the bay there is also the People’s Park, a 1930’s holiday camp that brought ice cream and crazy golf to the masses – a job it still does today!!
After refuelling with 60 litres, and confirming our fuel consumption to be the usual 1.13 litres per hour at our typical cruising speed of 4.5 to 5 knots at 1500 revs we have a range of about 120 hours motoring or 480 miles, enough to get us through the Gota canal and all the way down into Goteborg!
Tomorrow we leave for the last leg of our trip and home……
We slipped our anchor after two very comfortable nights away from the winds in our secure little creek opposite Drottningholm. The anchor was very well dug into the mud and we had to drive Grace forward over her anchor to break her out of the mud. I was ready with a bucket of water to wash it off!
Past Helgo island and sailing towards the Ekerö and the Rastaholm Gasthamn. The weather is about to change but resisting the temptation to take a short cut and cut the corner to starboard!!
Heading south we sailed down first to the Estbrote and then on to the Slagstaholm lights. Lake Malaren is fresh water and Grace rode slightly deeper in the water – I was surprised but we had become so attuned as to how she sailed that we could feel that she gripped the water differently! Changing onto a westerly course to pass the Vallinge light, Helgo island and up towards the Rastaholm Gasthamn at Ekerö. The approach to it is really quite deceptive, the temptation is to cut across directly towards the gap between the large rock and the shore before hooking round into the harbour……….but that way leads only to disaster and lots of submerged rock and shallows!! Our pilot warned that much of the sea bed in the area had not been surveyed since the 1810 – so be warned as many rocks were also uncharted! Sod’s law kicked in here and the heavens opened, rain fell like stair rods and our landmarks disappeared in the gloom and mist. But then the rained cleared as quickly as it came and we were back sailing in hazy sunshine.
Grace in Rastaholm. Suddenly the weather clears as quickly as it closed in!
Rastaholm is a private marina of the Swedish Sailing Club (SSS) and they had put some white marker buoys out for some of the larger uncharted hazards! Other than that, it was all a bit basic outpost of the usually rather posh SSS. The exception was a rather splendid restaurant with a stunning view across the Bjorkfjarden! Surprisingly for a wet Thursday evening in late August the restaurant was fully booked and it took much pleading and that we had sailed all the way from England and then the promise of a big tip to get a table, anyway……it was a rather reluctant waitress that showed us to the table, apologising for its out of the way position…..but completely ignoring the view, and what a view it was! As the sunset and night fell across the water it was truly beautiful. The food was also delicious, especially the fish, a Gos which turned out to be freshly caught perch and was the best we had eaten in Sweden!
The excellent local beer!
The next day we set off for Mariefred, sailing down the Bjorkfjarden to the Rido Pilskar beacon in a nice F3 on a beam reach. Then turning south and in a series of short tacks between the rocks and down into the Gripsholmviken. Soon the impressive castle (Gripsholm Slott) was insight guarding the head of the fjord. All that day we spend avoiding the a white steamer, it would overtake us, then disappear into a small harbour before overtaking us again while we tacked to avoid it and the rocks as it swept past us in a cloud of smoke, sparks and soot!!
Sailing down the Bjorkfjarden
The route into Gripsholmviken and Mariefred.
We spent the day avoiding ‘Puffing Billy’!
The approach into Mariefred
The moorings at Mariefred are spectacular, just on the town quay with the Slott behind you and the narrow gauge steam train running along the quay in front of you. Mariefred really does try hard to attract visitors, despite being at the end of the season. There had been a triathlon that day and Slott houses the national portrait gallery. The bar opposite was hosting a dreadful pub singer rendering Bruce Springsteen hits in a way that I had never heard before! However all this activity was clearly working as the gasthamn was surprisingly full! We draw only about 1.6m but even then we found it difficult to find a berth with enough depth and we saw a few yachts who came in after us plough the bottom a bit to get in!!!
Moored off Gripsholm.
The gasthamn at Mariefred
The railway, which has a 60 cm gauge runs for 11km to Tillinge where you can pick up Steamboat Willie, as we affectionately called the steamer after spending the previous day avoiding it (or ‘bloody maniac’ when it attempted to slice us half!), either to Stockholm or back to Mariefred. The railway is a bit deceptive, it looks very old but it runs along the line of the disused mainline railway and was laid only in the 1960s and 1970s. It is all run by enthusiastic amateurs with whom I was able to trade Ffestiniog railway tails, giving me the status of an ‘envoy’ and VIP from a foreign railway and lead to promotion to a carriage with glass in the windows!
Our third class tickets!
The castle itself was built by Gustav Vasa in the 1530’s as a bolt hole in case Stockholm was invaded, but advances in artillery meant that it was obsolete even before he had finished it! However he liked the place so much that he had it converted it to a summer palace and it has been used by the Royal family as a holiday home ever since! A few of the rooms were recreated in the 1520’s style in the 1800’s but everything has been systematically modernised by successive kings, with bits added in the latest styles of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Improvements in 16th Century artillery meant that the castle was obsolete even before it was finished!
The castle is now the home for the national portrait gallery, interestingly the portraits have been arranged in order of Swedish history – it made a pleasant pictorial wander through the Swedish history that we had been sailing through for the last 5 months, from Gustav Vasa to the present day. What was interesting was that the ‘theatrical king’ had been at work here and converted one of the towers into a theatre – complete with all the sets and winches for the scene changes and sound effects!
Carl, one of Gustav Vasa’s children with a splendid comb-over!
With a spectacular lack of subtlety, one of the princes had this picture painted of his all mistresses in the Royal court! It was understandably notorious at the time, especially with their husbands!
The paintings ranged from Gustav Vasa to the present King!
The handiwork of the theatre king was everywhere!
It is easy to forget why Stockholm was built where it was…..and that is because it controls the access to Swedens vast network of inland waterways; Lake Malaren, the abundant timber, the iron ore and the sea, or at least it did before the effect of glacial rebound lowered the water level by 5m! The original fort was founded by Birger Jarl in about 1190 after the villages on Lake Malaren was pillaged by the Finns.
Getting good at this – we made a sharp exit from the Wasaholm Marina.
We left Wasaholm marina in time for the 10.38 bridge opening but with a bit of room for error – however we must be getting a bit good at this sailing game as we exited our very tight marina berth and through the nightmare that was the exit without even breaking a sweat. It was so easy that we arrived 30 minutes early at the entrance to the Danvik Canal. If your airdraft is under 11 metres then you don’t need to wait for the railway bridge at the far end of the canal to open and can go straight into the lock, but at 15 metre we needed it to open so had to be there at 1038 precisely, otherwise we would have to wait 6 hours for the next opening! Being early meant that we had to dodge ferries and canal traffic, so after being hooted at a few times we started to sail down the fjord a bit to stay out of the way but just as we set off, the bridge opened 9 minutes early and we had to dash to get through the bridge and into the lock. As there is only about a 30 cm change in water levels here, again it was all rather easy.
Through the Gamla Stan lock.
Through the lock and waiting for the railway bridge to open.
Slight bit of drama around a sunken boat!
Where all the people in Stockholm live!
Yet more bridges but finally made it to the other side of the city!
Once through the lock you see the other side of Stockholm that you normally don’t see as you usually approach it from the sea. There are the tall-ish (for Stockholm) high rises where all the people you see working in the city actually live! Everywhere had moorings for small motorboats, including a bit of drama around one that had sunk!
Still time for a bit of ferry dodging!
Perforated iron spire of the royal church
The town hall
Merchant buildings and warehouses.
Then under several road bridges and into the bay behind Stockholm with its impressive row of waterside 17th century merchant houses, the town hall and parliament building. After a quick trip round the bay we set off for a small creek at Hogholmen directly opposite the Royal Summer Palace at Drottingholm. We really did have a fantastic view for our dinner! We had not seen another yacht until we turned into the anchorage – and low and behold there was another English yacht, beaten us to the best spot! We jiggered about a bit, dropping the anchor here and there until we had found the perfect place! The usual rules of anchoring apply here, drop the hook opposite reed beds in about 3 metres of water with about 10m to 15m of chain out. Follow these rules and you will be fine even in the 30 knot winds that were forecast for later that evening.
Making a quick exit to Drottningholm!
Anchored with a great view of the Summer Palace!
I really like the disregard that the average Swedes hold for authority. I think it is because all the signs at historic sites say ‘this building is own by you for the benefits all Swedes’. There was a clearly marked exclusion zone around the palace bounded by a series of large bright orange buoys. It did not take long before a couple of canoeists paddled straight into it, to be followed in short order by 6 jet skiers who did ‘donuts’ then a few minutes later a motor boat turned up and 4 men ripped off all their clothes and jumped into the water! Every so often, ‘toy soldiers’ wearing ludicrous bearskins would pop out from behind a hedge and wave the intruders away! All very harmless and totally ignored by the intruders!
Boarded by ducks!
If its not ducks………
Drottningholm Summer Palace
Next morning, dinghy inflated, we were about to motor across the bay to the castle when a couple of ducks took up residence on our swim platform! Nothing would persuade them to leave, so we closed the hatches and let them get on with it! The trip across the fjord was probably the farthest that we have been with our little outboard and true to form the little Honda performs perfectly! The only casualty was the spare fuel can whose top split spewing petrol everywhere! We motored across the bay to a small private jetty and tied up. It is always quite fun to watch the envious glances to you as you turn up at places like this! Somehow they image yachting is a bit grander than it really is! If only they knew!
Formal gardens in the ‘English’ style.
The Summer Palace is fantastic! Especially the theatre, it is the most complete 18th century theatre with all its original equipment and sets! Apparently it classified as a world heritage site. It was built by the ‘theatre king’, one of the Karl Gustavs who fancied himself as a bit of a thespian as well as being a king. He built theatres in palaces and castles all over the place! The theatre is still in use and the king and queen are frequent visitors over the summer.
We were not allowed to sit here….these are for the king and queen!
Original 18th century costumes!
Drottingholm is set in a large ‘English style’ parkland which is very unusual for an island made up of large granite outcrops and rocks – someone must have had to work really hard to get rid of them! All over the grounds are pavilions including a very fashionable Chinese house. Chinese items were really sought after in Sweden but expensive so they did ‘china’ on the cheap and just used paint in place of lacquer and fine silks!
Inside the Palace
The garden pavilion.
The Chinese pavilion
All is not as authentically Chinese as it seems!
The royal thunder box!
People were far less envious of our return journey in the dinghy however, the wind had got up as had quite a chop on the water. Our little dinghy was bobbing about sending showers of cold water over us! We could not wait to get back to Grace as we could see one of the large pleasure trip steamers hurtling down the fjord, with a big frothy bow wave sweeping all before them and they really don’t stop for anyone! I am sure that the battered tree trunks dangling down their sides could tell many a story!
River steamers…not to be messed with, especially in a 5 ft rubber dinghy!
I am now sat in Chichester at my desk, with the tail end of Storm Callum whipping the leaves off the trees and churning the sea to foam it is not hard to miss those lovely late August days on the Åland Islands when the only thing that concerned us was whether there would be enough wind and if there was would it help us in our journey back to Sweden and be from the from the South West.
A bit of a lively day on the beach at Climping!
It was a beautiful still morning as we prepared to leave Notviken and the amazing Russian fortress at Bomarsund. Our next destination was Kastelholm, the only castle on Aland and the most northerly point on our cruise at 60 12’.2 N. Leaving on a bearing 085 for approximately 3nm we entered the Prasto Sund, still completely mystified why Bomarsund was chosen for the fort and not Prasto, which at least be able to guard the main channel into the Lumparn at the heart of the Åland Islands! Perhaps the anecdote was true that it was built on the wrong island and no dared tell the Czar!
Main Fort at Bomarsund
View toward the Prasto Sund
Passing the ferry between Prasto and Tofto we were soon sailing across the Lumparn on a course of 261 towards the beacon at Rodko. Then up past the Tingon before taking the narrow and very shallow (in places!) spur up to Kastelholm itself. This runs on a bearing of around 018 for about 3nm miles and is easy to miss, however new red/green buoys (unusual for Aland where cardinals are preferred) have been placed which help mark the right channel.
Across the Lumparn to the beacon at Rodko
The moorings at Kastelholm are beautifully sheltered and strangely offer a choice of whichever type you prefer, stern buoys, alongside, booms and posts. We went for posts, being quite expert at these now and there is something comforting about being tied to a couple of big tree trunks driven into the sea bed rather than a block of concrete dropped over the side!
Moored at Kastelholm
The moorings are in a very green sheltered bowl whose sides gently drop down to the waters edge and a world away from scraggy trees and rocks we have become very familiar with over the past few months. On the far side is Aland’s only 18 hole golf course and surrounding us is the remains of the 16th century wharf and boatyard and ahead is the castle towering above us.
Aland’s only castle!
Oak stakes in the moat from the 16th century!
The castle has played a major role in Swedish, Finnish and Russian history. There was a castle on the site since the 13th century but it was not until Gustav Vasa that the current castle was built and later expanded. In its time it has been a defensive castle (although not very successfully defended), prisons for the the king’s barmy son Eric and the Haraldsby witches as well as their torture chamber. It still has a few nice relics that no self respecting torturer should be without, such as branding irons and eye gougers. It was also a retirement home for ex-queens, the post office, the Russian governor’s residence and at various times a grain and gunpowder store. Oh as well as a private house for an eccentric who collected houses, windmills and prisons which now makes up the open air museum next door. This follows the pattern of the the dozen or so other ones we have already seen this year!
What was interesting about the castle was a display showing how the interior would actually have been finished, and because the place was so could rooms did not just have bare walls, they were always ‘drylined’ (unless you were ‘staff’). They had a wooden exterior panel, with wool and straw insulation fixed to stop condensation and keep the place warm, all very reminiscent of a modern wall!
High up on the vertiginous ramparts!
Lovely interior from a typical Alands 8 room farmhouse
No open air museum is complete without its windmills – this just confirms what a windy place it is!
For Gustav Vasa, the castle played an important role in bringing his kingdom together and he initiated the ‘Postal Route’ which linked Stockholm, Turku in Finland and St Petersburg. It required local farmers and fishermen to carry the mail or passengers come rain or come shine. Not only was it the first formal post route but also the first formal navigation route with a series of seamarks in Sweden.
The castle was integral to the famous ‘Postal Route’
The harbour had several large motor yachts parked, the harbour master told us that they were all going to the Smakbyn, the restaurant of Aland’s celebrity chef Michal Bjorkland. He is a cross between Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver but with a penchant for seaweed and wild berries. We had an excellent lunch there from the Dagens Meny – Scandi lunches are much better than their evening meals!
Looking forward to a great lunch at Smakbyn!
The ever helpful harbour master loaned us some bikes to go to the supermarket at Godby, the only snag was that to get to it we had to cross the most precipitous bridge which was being rebuilt and they seemed to have forgotten about pedestrians safety! Just over the bridge there was monument tucked away in the woods to three Red Guard agents who had were executed in 1918 after they were captured by exiled White Russian troops who they had been sent to kill!
The Red Guards
Russia has always had a big influence on the islands since Sweden ceded them to Russia in 1806. One of the biggest symbols of the Russian Imperial power was the replacement of Swedish miles stones and their weird units of ores and miles (which are not actually miles) by 6ft red painted wooden post and their even weirder versta units (which are almost miles!).
Swedish mileposts – miles but not as we know them!
Keeping an eye on the weather we sailed back to Mariehamn West, down to the Rodko light and back across the Lumparn and towards the Lemstrom canal. Sailing in company we arrived at the canal just after the bridge had closed and found a sheltered spot close to the shore that was not crisscrossed with power cables and water pipes to anchor and have lunch! Back in Mariehamn we visited the seafarer’s church on the mole of the old harbour, visiting was supposed to assure favourable winds and a safe return – although we did not want to come back!
Back to the Rodko beacon and across the Lumparn
A nice spot to anchor for lunch while we wait for the bridge over the Lemstrom Canal
In company through the Lemstrom Canal
Back in Mariehamn West
The original beacon from the approach to Mariehamn East!
The old harbour with the seafarer’s church marking a safe return!
Traditional Baltic trading schooner
With a gap in the weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday we set off for Rodhamn, which is on the most southerly of the Åland Islands. This for centuries has been a shelter for sailing boats waiting to make the crossing back to Sweden. It’s position to the south east gives you the best chance of hitting Sweden in all sorts of wind directions!
Rodhamn was lovely little natural harbour, normally when a harbour is describe as an old pilot station it is a bleak, god forsaken lump of rock in the middle of the sea surrounded by yet more rocks! Rodhamn was a revelation, during the summer season it would have been packed out but today there was only 3 yachts in! Fortunately we had been warned that the stern buoys had been set for superyachts and we would need our longest of long lines to get close……which we did and had just 2ft to spare!
Incredibly long stern buoys – they must be expecting super yachts and not Grace!
The old pilot station
Cake and definitely local beer from the quaintly named Ass cafe
At the rather hippy cafe we ordered fresh buns for the morning and some beer and cake to set ourselves off exploring the island. The waters around the Åland Islands were so treacherous that Rodham was chosen to be the site of the first radio navigation beacon in the Baltic in the 1930s. Basically radio beams with unique pulses are sent out from known positions, these are then picked up by the ships radio room. Your position along the line of the beam can be identified and where beams cross your exact position is known! This concept of intersecting radio beams was the basis of Oboe, the RAF’s wartime bomber guidance system. The radio shack was open to wander around, the batteries charged and generators primed and ready to go at the touch of a button just in case GPS fails! Returning to Grace we dropped our sausages on our neighbours barbecue, the first of the season as across Sweden there had been a total ban on open fires!
The generator room for the radio beacon
Leaving a cairn for luck in the famous red granite of the island (hence Rodhamn)
Our only BBQ of the season!
Fresh bread for breakfast, with the weather forecast and delivered to the foredeck – now that’s what I call service!
Early next morning, a crash on the foredeck told us that our breakfast rolls had arrived, along with the weather forecast – west south west and 3 to 7 m/s. (6 to 14 knots) so not ideal but we had to give it a go as tomorrow looked rough! We set a course for the Furosund, but the wind direction meant we needed a series of deep tacks that took us more back towards the Aland coast and Mariehamn and very little progress towards Sweden! To starboard we passed the Nyham wind farm and the large water tower of the island’s nickel processing plant. As we cleared the main ferry lanes to Helsinki, the flukey wind finally deserted us and in an almost unheard of occurrence, the sea became glassy smooth as we gently drifted. It became apparent that to get across we would need to use the engine.
The windmills and abandoned nickel processing plant at Nyham
A rare event! Becalmed crossing the Gulf of Finland
Meeting old friends again!
At Remargrund for the Furusund
Back into the Skargard
At 5 knots it was not long before Swedish coast came into sight, then off the Tjverne Light we saw Viking Grace again and on past the Remargrund Light in the approach to Stockholm’s rock strewn Skargard and into the narrow channel that leads to the Furusund. After 39 nm we turned to port into the harbour at Furusund, picking up a white stern buoy we moored. For centuries Furusund has been the stop over for sailing boats arriving from Aland. Carved into the rocks on the shoreline is the first Scandinavian representation of a compass rose dating from 1463 when King Kristian’s fleet on its way to invade Russia was trapped here for 4 weeks. In the 1900s it became a popular holiday resort with authors such a Astrid Lundgren, the creator of Pippi Longstocking! As the main route into Stockholm it was very strange to see a constant stream of large ships pass by just a few metres away at 5 knots barely making sound or a ripple!
The compass rose – 1463 style!
Ships passing day and night!
Suddenly Grace’s stern started to drift towards a very well cared for Halberg Rassey! The stern buoy we had secured to started to float away! Quickly we started the engine and slipped our bow lines, re-securing to a red stern buoy this time we moored up without fuss or drama……..we really are getting good at this! A couple of hours later, some of the other boats we had left behind in Rodham started to arrive, their crews dressed in hifits and waterproofs, they had crossed in a force 5 to 6 while just two hours earlier we crossed in shirts and shorts!
The next day with force 3 westerly winds we made the 32 nm journey into the Wasaholm Marina in the centre of Stockholm. The first 22 nm to Wasaholm is made up from a series of narrow squeezes where you have to avoid the ferries and cruise ship! Playing chicken with them is not a good idea! By then the winds had become quite gusty and we motored the last 10 nm to Stockholm, reaching the marina just as everyone was going home and the water was boiling with commuter ferries and water taxis whizzing backwards and forward. Holding our breath, we weaved our way through the very narrow entrance to the marina, going astern to help swing our bows sharply to port to make the right angled turn into the marina fairway, mooring in the shadow of the Wasa museum building and in between three other English boats, more than we had seen all summer!
Staying well clear of the ferries – they show no mercy!
Wasahamn – with the Wasa Museum in the background
We now prepared Grace for her return trip, with an engine service and fuel filters change, both of which were reassuring free of water and dirt despite heavy weather churning the tank and filling up in some very isolated places! And then with the help of YouTube I pulled the winches apart for some long overdue maintenance! They even went back together with the same number of bits that I started with, and not only that they do work so smoothly now!
After! Hopefully I will be able to get it back together again for our trip into Lake Malaren……