Guns, mines, a bonkers restaurant at the edge of the world and a dash for Finland!

Getting back to Grace from our quick trip to the UK all worked out well; the hopeless hire car returned (a Volvo X90, don’t buy one! They wallow round corners like a truck and make everyone in the back feel sick! Also don’t use Europecar either, we arrived of the late flight from Stockholm into Stansted at 0145. We had ordered a large car only to be told that all we could have was a VW Polo or pay extra to have the Volvo truck – an amount as much as we had already paid despite the car park being full of Ford Mondeos and VW Passats! Distinctly annoyed that we were being mugged so early in the morning, we did eventually agreed a deal and took the truck after threatening to take it up with the head office in the morning.)

Our return could not have been easier! Take the Flygbussarna from the airport to the central station in Stockholm, then a short and pleasant walk in the dark to the tram stop and back to the boat by midnight!

Back in Stockholm and to Grace by midnight

Grace was in good order and was ready to go. Unfortunately the liferaft I had ordered for the delivery crew who will bring her back to the UK had not arrived. I thought it might be an easy task to order one from a Chandlery in Sweden, but found great reluctance, they would order it for the start of next year’s season but now early August was getting towards the end of the Swedish sailing season and they would not order it! Also the ones available for sale seemed a bit basic and in shore orientated, glorified rubber rings really – if you do need to use it, then you want a decent one! So I ended up buying a pukka one from Ocean Safety in the UK and getting exported. The slight snag was that although it had been dispatched it had not been delivered and was in some unknown post depot in Stockholm. Tram ticket and wheelly shopping trolley in hand we set off to find it. Success! We then spent the rush hour staggering back to the boat with a large 36 kg bright orange bag! Interesting it had been a well travelled life raft, a letter inside gave the story, a week or so prior it had been bought for another yacht also from Chichester and sent out to Concarneau in France, however the owner had fallen ill, probably with a hernia from carrying the blessed thing and returned it only to be then sent on to us in Stockholm. So it had a few air miles under its belt but I feel a lot more confident in this one than some of the local ones I have seen! It is now safely in the locker which even has a picture of a life raft on it!

Life raft safely stowed we set off for Finland and chased by a couple of very large ferries, including Grace, our namesake! We had crossed paths several times over the past few days and the Captain must have been thoroughly sick of us getting in his way! She was very distinctive with a large rotor “sail” emerging from her deck. Apparently it is a Finnish invention which saves about 5% fuel, but its not very clear how it might work as it just looks like a big tube!

Ferries everywhere!

Grace our namesake, with rotor tube!

We realised that we would not have enough time left to make it to Helsinki, but we could make it to Aland. The Aland Isles are a self governing province of Finland, it has its own flag – a bit like the Swedish and Finnish flags and the national language is Swedish…..but then they have been Swedish territory as often as they have not.

Åland Islands flags! On local beer and cardamom cake.

However the inhabitants they are definitely Finns! The position of the Åland Islands midway between Sweden and Finland means that they have been treated as a stepping stone for every potential invader of Sweden (mainly Russia).

Vaxholm Fort

The remains of Gustav Vasa’s original gun tower

The first stop on our route was at Vaxholm, about 10 nm north of the marina at Navishamn. Strategically it has been of very great importance as it guards one of the main routes into Stockholm and Gustav Vasa in about 1560 built the first fortress there and even tried blocked off a deep water channel off Rindo to force ships to sail past the fortress. The only slight snag was that it was such a deep water channel it took over 300 hundred years to block it, only to dredge it out again so that large ships could use it! There has been a defence position on the site until the 1990’s and the end of the Cold War. It was constantly upgraded until the 1850’s when they decided to test the strength of their new defences only to discover to their horror that when the latest rifled cannons were fired at the walls, they fell down! They then had to come up with a new way of defending the coastline which involved mines, concealed batteries and highly mobile skirmishing troops to harry any invader, island by island. The whole museum was a bit of a recruiting poster for the army! We now realised the some of the strange structures we had seen on the island were actually concealed gun batteries.

Rifled cannon shells that made the Vaxholm type defences obsolete! The studs fit into grooves in the bores for greater accuracy.

Gun batteries

Mine ‘garden’ – these were (modern ones still are!) laced across the fjords under the water to be detonated electrically

More popular export than ABBA, the Oerlikon or Bofors Gun!

Modern style defensive guns – we saw many of these emplacements on the islands around Stockholm!

We moored next to a Canadian boat, they had set sail from Vancouver 15 years ago and were on their way home via South America and the Cape! It made our trip seem a bit pedestrian! On our way to the Åland Islands we were told by a Swedish Australian couple moored in our other side that we should go to Hogmaso, as there was a completely bonkers but brilliant ‘pop up’ restaurant in the ship yard which was to close the very next day for the season and must not be missed!


Högmarsö and the dragon boat!

Pop-up restaurant in a shipyard!

Arriving at Hogmaso we found a motley collection of rusting hulks, a couple of very fancy deep diving submersibles and a barely afloat Chinese Dragon boat from Shanghai! In very strong cross winds we struggled to moor up to half submerged pontoons, eventually letting the wind pin us against the outside leg. We would worry about how we could get off the next day, the wind might have changed direction by then! On the quay and in the old workshop, tables had been set up for the four weeks of the Swedish ‘summer season’. Tomorrow they would all be gone and by Monday the shipyard would start work again! There was no choice of menu, the chef was using up supplies but the food was fantastic, oh and being the last day it was at a discount! Even better!

5 minutes later and a huge storm cloud overtook us! Good job we did not meet this in the mist!

Next morning the wind direction had changed completely and we were able to coax Grace gently off the pontoon and on towards Arholma, the last island before Aland on the very edge of the Stockholm archipelago. Passing the Tjocko light the weather suddenly changed, visibility closed in to less than 100 m and intense rain squalls and mini whirlwinds swept the water infront of us. It all became a bit unpleasant as we really did not want to meet a ferry just then or indeed any thing! Maybe the summer season really was over! But suddenly it cleared and we had bright warm sunshine again.

Arholma’s sheltered anchorage – next stop Åland!

Arholma really is on the very edge of Sweden. It’s sheltered bay in the centre of the island has been used for centuries by ships leaving for, or returning from Åland. I even have a mug with a picture of its famous red and while lighthouse built in 1760. We moored up with 4 or five other yachts who were making the crossing and using our stern anchor for the first time. It is a large 15 kg Bruce Anchor, so good for mud with 2 metres of heavy chain and 30 metre of cable. It sits in a big bag at the rear of the cockpit and gets in the way of everything. It is very good for scraping shins so after 2 years was rather satisfying to use it at last! Arholma was the best sign posted island or indeed place I have ever come across.

A well signposted island!

Sign posts sprouted out of the ground every few yards and although it made a refreshing change from Uto where you might remember that any attempt at signage fizzled out just when you might need it most, this was a bit overkill. However one thing we did discover from the signs was a super little wood fired sauna. It was perched on the edge of a lovely secluded creek so you could just jump straight into the water and a big pile of logs and an axe to cut wood for the fire. I must be turning a bit Swedish as I am starting to rate places by sauna quality, with wood fired ones scoring the most!

A great little wood fired sauna!

Arholma’s lovely little church and windmill. Both sharing the same windswept rock!

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