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!