It is now mid-August and we are storm bound in a tiny marina, Kastellholm at the head of a river overlooked by the only castle on Finland’s Åland Islands. Wrapped in my fleece as the wind howls through the rigging of the four yachts sheltering here. I am thinking back to just a few weeks ago and to the seemingly endless unbroken days of sunshine and sweltering 34 c temperatures that greeted us on our return to Vastervik from a few days back in the UK…….suddenly, everywhere now really has the end of the season feeling!
Sailing out of Vastervik
I can remember feeling surprised by the way Vastervik marina and waterfront had been transformed in just a week by the liberal application of either Bennie or Bjorn from ABBA’s money and just in time for Bennie or Bjorn from ABBA’s music festival! The new pontoons were in, paths repaved and everywhere were notices about everything, even in the men’s toilets where Andreas, the harbour master had put big new signs in German that featured the word ‘Stehpinkler and urinal’ quite frequently. After a few minutes on Google Translator I discovered that the gist of it was that if you like to stand up to pee, then use the urinal!
The much hyped music festival was rather a tame affair, we had a ‘ringside’ seat from our boat and by 11pm they had all gone to bed! I guess Bennie or Bjorn from ABBA are well into their 60’s now and staying up late is no longer an option!
A spruced up Valdemarsvik in the sunshine
Vastervik was the last major town before Stockholm and what followed was almost a month of island hopping in the Skargard, visiting a series of beautiful natural harbours and anchorages interspersed by an occasional night in a ‘town’ (not really towns as you or I might know them, more of a village or hamlet, after all, Sweden has the land mass larger than the UK but with 10.5 million people in it!) to run the fridge, refill with water and recharge the phones! The Stockholm Archipelago runs for about 100nm from Lansort in the south to Graddo in the north and consists of about 3000 islands. It is crossed with complex and convoluted channels and sailing routes that has provided Stockholm with its best defence against invasion for over 1000 years, and even with our 3 huge sets of wonderfully detailed Swedish charts they could have easily baffled us too as it has done many would be marauders in the past!
Sun setting at Rago
Leaving Västervik we made for Rago, a truly beautiful spot where we hung off a jetty on a stern buoy for two gloriously sunny days, the only sound you could hear all day was the rhythmic thump, thump, splash, scream as another Swede ran along the pontoon and jumped into the still icy water! It was so hot and balmy that we even ventured in for a swim, but only in wet suits! The island itself was remarkable for the diversity of its flora and fauna, from natural forests through to farmed island landscapes and every shade of green in between.
Swimming in wetsuits!
Pasture returning to woodland in an actively unmanaged land management policy!
Moored at Rago
It was here that I was forced to face the horror that is the dry toilet. The islands are peppered with these, innocuous looking prettily paint red sheds, they even appear on the charts too. Bizarrely, large and what would be helpful sailing landmarks like church steeples, water towers and radio masts are all ignored, but these hell holes are all shown as a little hut shape with a heart on it. These are to catch the unwary! So opening the door of the ‘hut’, I was presented with three ‘holes’, a couple of books, some squares of newspaper, a cloud of flies, a seated smiling Swede and an eye watering smell! Although recoiling in horror but needs must…….
The next day we sailed onto Lilla Stora, anchoring in a natural bowl deep into the middle of the island. The holding was excellent in thick weedy mud and we spent a very peaceful night there.
A peaceful night at Lilla Stora
The next day we decided to go onto Valdemarsvik as we were short of water and also we had been told we could buy Camping Gaz there. The saga of gas bottles will continue to haunt us for quite a while yet! Europe uses 3.3kg blue butane Camping Gaz refills. They are pretty much universal on boats, caravans and camper vans! You can get them absolutely anywhere, from cafes, corner shops, supermarkets, garages, boat fuel stations and so on. And because they last a long time and are so available you never carry a spare (also why carry more highly inflammable materials than you need – the 150 litres of diesel under my berth is enough to start a Vikingesque funeral pyre!). However, as you go north it all changes, southern Sweden is fine, plenty of supply, but as you head north then the fun begins, the bottle size changes as do the connections and it becomes propane not butane as propane won’t freeze. The propane is fine, it boils water just as well as butane but it is the bottles, they just won’t fit, they are 2kg dumpy bottles, even Swedish Halberg Rassy yachts use Camping Gaz! So when we heard that Camping Gaz refills were available in Valdemarsvik we had got to go!
Approaching Valdemarsvik Fjord
It was slight detour up a 10 mile long, narrow and steeply wooded fjord that provided welcome cooling shade from the afternoon sun, and with the smell of the pines that lined the deep gorge it was all rather lovely. Valdemarsvik was an old iron ore town that had been literally quarried out of the solid rock to form the harbour and an area big enough for a few workers homes. Later it had become a leather goods trading centre and there was a rather fine late 1870s factory building overlooking the quay. Sadly now empty, with the exception of a useless chemist in one corner of the building! The sail up the fjord was really nice, with the wind funnelling up the fjord we gently glided up it just on our genoa alone at about 2.5 knots, only taking the sail in to squeeze through the buoyed channel marking the shallows, which also explained why ultimately Valdemarsvik lost its importance as a port – anything bigger than yacht will run aground. As we moored up, pretty much in the town square itself, there was a familiar if tuneless racket going on and a crowd of about 2 people had gathered around an improvised stage…. yes it was the ‘artists’ that we had first heard at the Bennie or Bjorn from ABBA’s music festival at Västervik, now on tour and bringing musical misery to the provinces.
Steep sides of the fjord rise around us
We doubled the size of the audience!
Within a couple of hours, the colds we had been brewing since leaving London struck and we were both laid low! A thoroughly unpleasant few days passed as we lay around in 30c temperatures, but feeling better we went off in search of the elusive Camping Gaz cylinders, wheeling our empty cylinder up hill and down dales in our trusty shopping trolley! At each place we called in at, we were told that the next garage would have them for sure, so on and on we went getting less and less hopeful at every stop! Exhausted and hot we realised this was a fools errand and we trudged back to the boat wheeling our empty gas cylinder behind us but buying a small portable gas stove on the way…..so at least we could make tea if all else failed!
Taking it easy while we recovered, our next leg of 13 nm found us gently swinging of a blue Swedish Sailing Club SXK buoy at Stora Alo, our yellow membership burgee flying from the backstay to let everyone know our entitlement to use them. It is in a lovely little place, tucked in a small inlet between Stora Alo, Skaget and Blanko. It is reached off the ‘main’ buoyed channel to Stockholm through a series of unmarked passages and ghostly ‘dead’ cormorant islands – nerve racking at the time but lovely when you are safely moored up!
The bin boat arrives at Stora Alo!
Cormorant island, all the trees have died and the stumps are used as roosts. Powerful stuff is cormorant guano!
Next day and ahead of brooding a thunderstorm cloud and with occasional flashes of lightning behind us, we ran up the Sund past Fango with our genoa poled out for the 13 nm trip to Håskö. The entrance channel is very well hidden in the rocks but fortunately we followed another yacht doing the same thing, although we almost missed the opening into the bay itself on account of it being a gap in the rocks just 4 metres wide and less than 2m deep!
Håskö is a popular stopping point, with a mooring pontoon, lots of rocks to go bows to and plenty of good places to anchor. It is a lovely shelter bowl in the middle of the island, protected from strong winds from virtually every direction. We lined ourselves up head to wind, allowing space to swing freely away from other boats and dropped our anchor in 7 m of water letting out about 30 m of chain. By nightfall there were about 40 boats in the anchorage and just when you though you could not squeeze another one in, another one came in and as is always the way with these things, a space was found! Rowing ashore we had to squeeze our way through a herd of Jersey cows drinking at the waterside. So off to explore the island, which did not take very long and back to sample ice cream made from the local milk. It is nice to step on dry land now and again…..if only the ground would stop moving!
Almost missed gap into Håskö!
A very popular stop over!
Cows were everywhere, in the water and on the jetties!
Seriously big bird boxes!
Our next night we spent at Harstena, we had been recommended to visit it by a very chatty Swedish couple we moored up next to at Rago. Apparently the smoked fish and cardamon buns are worth the journey, which from Håskö was only 4 nm! We headed for the main anchorage, avoiding the village quay as this was clearly packed and very tight to manoeuvre around! We had strong east winds forecast so the main anchorage would be ideal. Our lovely charts, even at 1:50000 or the detail view on our chart plotter left us uncertain as to which side of the rocks to go!
On the right course to Harstena, with the help of cormorant guano!
However a big splat of white paint reassured us that we should keep the rocks to port on our approach. It was only as we passed it that we realised that the white painted mark was just cormorant droppings! Clearly the birds knew the right way as we were then into the narrow 500 m long entrance channel which just seemed to get narrower and narrower with a sharp chicane at the end. I was so focussed on the rocks lurking just below the surface and avoiding the yachts moored in the channel that it came as a complete surprise to find we were suddenly into a big beautiful and totally enclosed natural basin packed with boats and people swimming in the crystal clear water or lying sunbathing on the surrounding rocks. After anchoring in 3 m of water, we inflated the dinghy and rowed to the shore in search of smoked fish!
A packed town quay!
Local smoked fish and Harstena Crisp Breads
I alway worry about how well we are held by the anchor, our bow anchor is a large plough type attached to 70 m of heavy chain, so should stick well into anything soft! However this does not stop me from taking endless bearings to the shore to see if we have moved! We haven’t and never have so far! I need not have worried about Harstena as next morning when it was time to go, the anchor required some effort motoring forward and back to break it free and 6 weeks later we are still chipping chunks of dense clay off the anchor flukes!