Lake Malaren or Malaria as my spellcheck keeps changing it! Part 1.

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!

Bridges!!

More bridges

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.

The theatre!

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!

Åland Islands Part 2; Castles, windmills and celebrity chefs!

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!

Furusund

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!

Before…….

After! Hopefully I will be able to get it back together again for our trip into Lake Malaren……

Åland Islands – Part 1

As I write these few notes we have been storm bound in Mariestad on Lake Vanern for 4 days. We have passed through the Göta Canal and are now in the middle of Sweden on our way to Göteborg and home.

Grace stern anchored with her bows to the jetty in Arholma’s natural harbour

The next step of our voyage sees Grace’s bows tied securely to a jetty and with our stern anchor, which we had used for the very first time, well dug into the mud in the natural harbour that forms the centre of the island Arholma. This is on the very extremity of the Stockholm Skargaard, there is nothing but the open sea beyond! This season we had been really lucky with the winds, boats had been known to wait weeks, sheltering in Arholma for a favourable wind to make the crossing to the Åland Islands but as a beautiful sunny dawn broke we had a lovely force 3 easterly but with a deep swell, nothing too disturbing though.

Leaving the shelter of Arholma

Crossing the Gulf of Bothnia towards the Åland Islands

We had a distance of about 35 miles to sail on a bearing of 060 to Marieham West, the major port and capital of the Islands. Marieham has two sides, an east and a west, they are only about 1km from one side to the other, essentially straddling a finger of land which means to sail from one side to the other is about 16nm! The ferries use the east side as the approach is less treacherous but not by much! The east side is so complex that there are large boards marked A, B, C, D and so on to help you keep track of the twists and turns in the channel!

Aland in sight! The Marhallan Light

As we left the shelter of Arholma the wind rose gradually to a F4 and with the deep swell Grace surged forward over the wave crests at 6 to 7 knots. We were on a broad reach, close to the point of reefing but holding off as long as was safe as we were really flying. Taking course plots every thirty minutes we tracked our progress across and very soon the low hills of Åland were in sight as those of Sweden vanished. For company we had a few ferries past us including Viking Grace again! By 1200 we had the Marhallan Light clearly visible and the characteristic big white pyramidal seamark at the the mouth of the southern channel at Marbaden.

Viking Grace – our namesake!

The seamark at Marbaden (its also a popular cafe during the summer!)

But just as we were on our approach to the channel two large ferries came out and two came in! It was chaos, with the ferries meeting in the narrowest point of the channel, we simply turned about and waited until we had a clear run in. It also gave us a bit of time to figure out the Finnish buoyage system. Cardinals are used as channel markers in preference to reds and greens so it takes a bit of time to get used to where the hazards are! However they are quite useful if you are colourblind!

In Marieham, raising the Aland courtesy flag – with the Pommern in the wrong place!

Lovely mid August evening in Marieham

We were slightly confused by the marina and to where it actually was! It should have been after the sailing ship Pommern, but the ship had been moved while a permanent dock is built for her. It caused us a bit of angst at the time as all our charts were wrong! The next day we moved to the east harbour, so we were in a good position to explore the other islands. This also meant that we could use the Lamshon Canal, which saves a sail of 30 nm around an unpleasantly rocky coast! Instead the canal is just 350 m long and passes through a swing bridge that deposits you almost directly into the Lumparn, a large open sea bounded by the islands of Jamaal, Lemland, Lumperland and Sund. With a westerly wind we headed towards Bomarsund, this would be our most easterly point on our travels at 20 14’ .05E.

The channel is so complex to Marieham East that they use letter markers!

Sailing up the Fjord to Mariehamn

Mariehamn East harbour – only about 1km from the West harbour in a straight line, but 16 nm to sail it!

Lamshorn Canal to the Lumparn

Bomarsund is approached down the Notviken Fjord and past a set of red and green marks, which are unusual for Åland, where cardinal marks are favoured. We became immediately alert to the possibility that this might not be as easy as we first thought! However once we were round into the Fjord it became very steeply wooded on either side with bare cliffs along its far southern end, there were supposed to be carvings and graffiti from the people who laboured there to build the forts. There were also huge big iron rings set in the rocks for large warships to moor up to, so parking 10m Grace to the pontoon and stern buoys at the bottom of the Fjord was going to be easy, right? No! Everything that could go wrong, did and we took 6 attempts, only just avoiding wrapping a line round our propeller in the process!

Sailing into Notviken Fjord, with the moorings at the head.

Part of the massive Russian fort complex on the island

We dropped the ‘Swedish’ hook out of the buoy, we missed the buoy altogether, our hook fell out again, our stern line was too short but eventually we made it in! Fortunately there was no one else there to watch us mess it up!

Grace peacefully lying in the Fjord

Bomarsund is the site of a massive but part built Russian fortress which was destroyed during the Crimean War by British and French forces. It was also the where the first Victoria Crosses were awarded! The biggest question however was why such a huge fortress complex was built here in the first place! There is no clear explanation as to why other than the Tzar really loved to sail in the area and that Notviken Fjord was his favourite anchorage!

Building work was started in the 1830’s, some 25 years before the attack and even after a quarter of century only a small part of the huge project had been completed. We walked around it on a wonderfully well signposted trail but even then it was difficult to grasp the scale of it. The remarkable geometric hexagonal shapes of the exterior stones creates a bit of space age feel to the buildings! The detail and workmanship is simply amazing! The gaps between the granite blocks are tiny and it all fits together perfectly – well as perfect as it can be after being battered by the British and French fleets!

The remarkable geometric effect of the granite walls – each carved using hand tools alone.

All over the massive walls you could see where the walls had been peppered with cannon balls and bullets, but like the fortress at Vaxholm it was technology that defeated this place. Steam powered ships, admiralty charts and skilled navigation meant that the Royal Navy could approach from an unexpected direction which was thought not possible for sailing ships of the line. They then landed a battery with new rifled barrel cannons and with packed with Nobel’s latest high explosives and promptly reduce the walls to rubble! Just 3 guns in a sandbagged embrasure turned the largest of the defence towers into smouldering ruins in just a few hours. It was the Russian defeat here that ultimately lead to Åland becoming a demilitarised zone and self governing with the exception of one or two Russian and Nazi incursions!

Fort walls were battered to bits by the new fangled rifle cannons of the British and French navies

Walls peppered with musket ball marks

The 4.5km walk around the island takes you to various piles of stones scattered about the place and explains that this pile is the granary, that pile is the hospital, another pile is the new town and so on!

Piles of rocks that were once semaphore towers……

Or the hospital, or the town or the granary…..

And all interconnected by superb military roads

And littered with cannons. They were never looted as they were ‘old fashioned’ smooth bore technology dating back to the earliest cannons

As it was hot, half way round, I found myself turning a bit Scandi, I ripped of my clothes off, dived into the crystal clear waters and then lay about naked in the sun on a big warm rock to dry off! On the shoreline was a large monument to the British VCs, it had been unveiled by Prince Edward in February. Late August was lovely and warm but February must have been cold and bleak.

A bit Scandi – clothes off and into the water

The monument to the first VC’s that were award here during the attack.

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

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!

Cool Stockholm and a case of mistaken identity

Sailing into Stockholm is rather exciting. It is very much a city on the water, with its low rise buildings emerging from around rocky outcrops, the pieces finally coming together as a unified city as you approach the waterfront. You really do get the best views from a boat!

The waterfront

There are essentially two approaches to the city, the wide one used by the large cruise ships and the big ferries or the narrow one that twists through the Baggenfjarden which winds its way from Boo almost into central Stockholm.

The route through Boo

The route squeezes its way through a narrow gorge, the Skurusdet that runs for about 5 nm to Kungshamn, past the Royal summer cottage and into Sverige Holme. In places it is no more than 10 to 20 m wide and less than 3 m deep. It is used by the smaller Uto and island ferries as well lots of pleasure boats, so you have to be prepared to try to get out of the way and not enter the squishes when they are coming – the ferries show no mercy and as if to reinforce the message they have logs dangled along their sides to act as not very forgiving fenders!

Avoid the ferries, they show no mercy!

The shortcut to Stockholm through Boo

After spending a couple of days at Saltsjöbaden, entering the channel at Boo was a great way to get to Stockholm itself. Interestingly it was also the way the Russian fleet tried to capture Stockholm in 1718. Quite rightly, the Russian admiral thought that no one would expect them to sail a fleet of warships up the Skurusdet and if he did he could take the Swedes by surprise and come in behind them. It was a remarkable feat of seamanship with one major flaw! A garrison of 10 Swedes had the presence of mind to blocked the narrowest part of the gorge with boats when they saw to their horror and shock, the Russian fleet coming through the gorge and then held them at bay with 3 cannons until reinforcements could be got from Stockholm. This left the Russians trapped in the gorge and they only managed to extract themselves with heavy losses. They never managed to capture Stockholm. In their frustration and anger they ransacked towns along the Swedish coast over the next 20 years!

Navishamn was the ideal central Stockholm marina for us, on the Djurgården and just in front of the Italian Embassy with a tram stop just outside – the perfect place to explore the city from! It was also nice and secure and we could leave Grace while we returned to the UK for a few days.

Navishamn Marina

Brilliant trams that worked until 0200! They have newer ones as well!

From the comfort of our waterside ‘apartment’ we could see there was always something going on, ferries passing or cruise ships arriving and then turning round to leave. It is an awesome sight to see 300 metre long, 35 metre wide and 90000 tonne ships pirouette round their axes just a few feet away and barely making a ripple! We had the new Queen Elizabeth, apparently she can only make the trip at this time of year as she only has a partially double plated hull (not a confidence builder). Her siren has been tuned to be exactly the same as the old QE2, however my personal favourite was the Disney Magic which played “When you wish upon a star…” on its horn before leaving and Disney hits as it sailed away – so wonderfully tacky!

The Queen Elizabeth

The Vasa Museum was simply breathtaking, the ship itself was absolutely beautiful and it was quite amazing to see such a complete ship from the 1640’s.

The figurehead

The simply breathtaking Wasa!

The rather bright colour scheme!

I was so impressed that I even bought a souvenir tin mug and the English version of the book about the discovery and salvage that my father had bought when he went to see the ship in the 1970s. I can remember being fascinated by the book, simply because the strange and unintelligible language it was written in. Interestingly many of the photos and drawings are exactly as I remember them!

Tin mug! It has some disadvantages when drinking hot tea! It burns your lips!

The other reason to love the Museum was the wonderful climate control – 18c and 40% humidity! Outside it was still 34c and many people were jumping into the big fountain at Karlaplan.

The cooling fountain at Karlaplan

Our choice of museums to visit seemed to be based around where we might be coolest! The Nordiska Museum is a monumental granite building of British Museum proportions! We thought that must be a cool place but even that had heated up and the walls were warm to the touch. The museum covered ‘modern’ Sweden – basically everything since Gustav Vasa and the Stockholm Bloodbath to the present day!

Nordiska Museum

A huge Gustav Vasa watching over us!

We then tried the Royal Palace, which was also warm. We remarked on the terrible security as an elderly man in a blazer and straw hat stepped across a low rope barrier and tried to open a door to get into the private apartments but he clearly did not know the passcode, then after trying several other doors without success he ended up hammering on the door to be let in – clearly a madman and we hurried past. It was only later when we reached the portraits of the current Royal family that realised that the madman bore a striking resemblance to the King!

The Royal Palace

The long gallery

The throne with quite a bit of scaffolding behind it!

However this was not the only mistaken identity today, I mistook a urinal for a sentry box……fortunately it was not the other way round but I did cause a bit of alarm to someone exiting the ‘box’ as I snapped away with my camera!

Sentry Box

Urinal be careful not to confuse them!

The next place we visited, it’s name escapes me now but was originally going to be the underground car park for the parliament building but while they were excavating it they discovered the Viking origins of Stockholm and after many years of debate, the cars lost and history won and it was a really interesting place to visit. It also had a large sign outside saying ‘come on in, 18c inside’! So clearly an essential place to visit on our tour of ‘cooler Stockholm ‘. One exhibit was the first example they found of the latest advance in Viking boat technology – the squared off stern as opposed to the pointy stern!

18 c inside the Medeltidsmuseum was a great selling point

Latest Viking technology!

We also visited the site of the Stockholm Bloodbath in the Gamla Stan. The square itself probably would not have looked much different than it did in 1520. The Bloodbath was the catalyst that created Sweden as an independent country. It’s effects have shaped much of the country that we have seen this summer.

Site of the Stockholm Bloodbath

Gamla Stan

In essence, after much fighting and the death of their leader, Sten Sture, revolting Swedish nobles sued for peace with King Christian of Denmark and swore allegiance to him provided Swedish law would upheld. Christian naturally said ‘yes’ and that ‘of course bygones would be bygones’ and that ‘he would bury the hatchet’ – except he did not tell them where he would bury it! So he invited all the Swedish nobility to Stockholm for 3 days of feasting and a bit of ‘getting to know you better time’ to mark his coronation. He then promptly imprisoned them and not messing about, over the next few days executed about 100 of them for heresy in the square. This did not go down well with Swedes generally. It might have worked to keep dissenters in their place except Gustav (Eriksson) Vasa refused to go as he wisely did not trust Christian having been imprisoned by him in Denmark and by all accounts did not enjoy the experience. His father and brother did go, with unhappy results. Gustav Vasa then became a bit of a rallying point for resistance and by 1523 he was the first King of Sweden….. and the rest is history!

Smoked fish, bike rustling and Stockholm

After dropping the SXK mooring buoy at Trosa, we ploughed our way gently through the mud to join the fairway again and out of the Fjord towards Nynasham. We took the inside route through the islands to avoid going round Landsort. Although the weather was beautiful there was a promise of some strong winds later on in the day, just when we would be rounding Landsort. Landsort is a virtually treeless island and old pilot station that juts out into the Baltic and could be described as either bleak and wind swept or peaceful and starkly beautiful depending upon the sea state, weather and your disposition. The plan today was not to find out which! Experience of the islands in the archipelago had taught us that if the island was describe as a disused pilot station then it would be in the middle of nowhere and pretty miserable! It is without a shadow of doubt that tough men these old pilots were!

Nynasham has a nice easy approach passing the Torsten light to starboard then following a well marked channel between the islands north of Ova. Mooring to a stern buoy we spent two days in Nynasham stocking up with food, exploring and eating smoked fish from the very good quayside smokery before setting off to Uto. Every night, just as it went dark they would light the fires to smoke the fish and the harbour would be full of a lovely smell of woodsmoke and warm herring! It was fine for us, moored along way down one of the outer pontoons but if you thought that you had been smart and gone close in and moored to the harbour wall then the smoke and the smell would have been all a bit eye-watering! Certainly the people on a large Fairline motorboat were loudly regretting their skipper’s decision to be parked so close in as I overheard as I wandered past making ‘the long march’ from our boat to the toilets!

Excellent Smokery

Being peak season and as the main ferry terminal for Gotland, leaving for Uto became an masterclass in ferry dodging. Fortunately we are rather good at it!

Super fast Gotland ferries!

Uto anchorage itself is approached through a very very narrow and very very confusingly buoyed channel – especially confusing as there were additional marks not shown on our charts as well some in unexpected places! So sailing through them we had our hearts in our mouths as we gingerly edged our way in past some very unpleasant looking rocks lurking just below the surface! As soon we got through channel, the bay opened out and we rather regretted have bothered to come in as the place was packed with boats of all descriptions and sizes – not a rock or space was spare to jiggle into! It was the busiest place we had see all season. Executing a rather smart pirouette around a floating holding tank pump out station (yes, I even considered mooring up to it!) we precisely followed the route we had come in, out. Time for plan B! We headed down towards Kjrkviken at the far end of the inlet. Although you can see it from the main anchorage, it has a separate entrance and as it turned out, a rather easy approach about 2nm to the west.

Our alternative anchorage

What a revelation it was! Away from the boats, cheek by jowl moored in the main harbour. There was some comfortable places to anchor providing you kept clear of the Stockholm ferries which call in here on their way up to the main harbour. Joy of joys, there was also an unused SXK buoy just in front of the church! With yellow SXK flag flying we moored there, 10 metres from the shore in just 1.5 m of water. Swim platform down we went for a cooling dip in the lovely clear water.

The not so super fast Uto ferries!

Moored on an SXK buoy, just a few metres of the church at Krykviken

Although a green and densely wooded nature reserve today, it must have been an industrial wasteland in the 1870’s. For about 800 years it had been a site of iron ore mining! In the centre of the island there are huge and unfathomly deep water filled holes that were the original mine working, all dug by hand. The Russians realising the island’s importance, even laid waste to it in 1719 when they attacked the archipelago after failing to capture Stockholm. When it became no longer economic to mine ore anymore in 1878 the owners of the mine held a big party for everyone and when everything was finished, the wine and beer supplies had run dry and food all eaten they threw everything down the mine shaft, chairs, tables, plates and silverware in one big final fair well gesture and left!

Deep mine shafts in the centre of the island

With heavy rain and thunderstorms forecast for the morning of the next day we decided to stay an extra day. When the rain struck it was a bit of a shock, not having seen any since mid May! It bounced off the decks and I rushed out and scrubbed the decks! Getting soaked in the rain as lightening flashed around me was probably not the most sensible thing to do with a 16 m tall aluminium lightening conductor stuck in the air! Within minutes it had stopped and the sun was out.

Our first rain in 3 months!

Rowing ashore we went in search of bikes to hire so we could explore the island. At the ferry jetty we found a long row of bikes, all locked except the last two which proclaimed themselves to be hire bikes. Then to add to our temptation they were actually our size, one small and one large! This was too good to be true. We reasoned that they had been abandoned by people who had left for Stockholm on the ferry and if we came across the hire shop we would return them and save them a journey to look for them! So like Bonnie and Clyde we sped off, calling in at the village bakery first we bought a lunchtime sandwiches which were excellent and came with drinks, cake and coffee – a proper picnic! Anne lurked around the corner with our ‘hot’ bikes and we quickly took off again to explore the island and did not stop pedalling until we were safely away from everyone….somehow I don’t think we are suited to a life of crime!

Our borrowed bikes!

Following a path marked with blue and yellow spots on trees and rocks we disappeared into the forest and tick infested swamps. I never learn and should know by now that for these sort of expeditions with Anne I need to wear long trousers and insect repellent. Occasionally, we would see a bit of bikes like ours protruding from a bush or from behind a rock, clearly these bikes are common property on Uto!

A lovely place for a picnic except for giant ants!

Finally, about 4 hours pushing our way through some dense undergrowth and over some rocks we found nice place for our picnic overlooking a rocky inlet.

Consulting Google maps we discovered that we had crossed over to the far side of the island, and were about as far away from the boat as could be! Retracing our steps, scratched and dusty (us not the bikes) we found our way back to the island’s only one of two roads and headed back to the ferry jetty to return our borrowed bikes. Checking no one was around we wheeled the bikes back to their original places, none the worse for their cross country adventure and shiftily started to slip away. Suddenly, behind us, there was a squeal of brakes and a pickup truck stopped, we froze as a burly tattooed bloke got out, picked up our bikes and a couple of others, adding them to the pile on the back of truck and accelerated away in a spray of gravel. Elated at our coup we ran back it the dinghy and safety of Grace.

Moving on, first to Northolmen and then in to the Kalviken fjord to Tyreso Palace before sailing to Saltsjobaden. Although quite a detour, we had a lovely sail along the fjord in a very gentle breeze, mooring up for the night off a small wooden jetty in the shadow of the palace. The Slott built in 1640 is now a museum and a time capsule of Swedish aristocratic life in the 1900’s. It was a wonderfully quiet and peaceful place to stay the night except after dark local teenagers congregated on the jetty and smoked. It was all tinder dry and I was convinced that the whole lot would go up in flames. It didn’t and these perfectly polite children went off to their homes by about 9.30 pm!

Sailing up the fjord towards Tyreso Slott

Tyreso Slott

Saltjobaden, was the home of the SSS, the Royal Swedish Sailing Club and a bit like Cowes. All very boaty! Saltsjobaden was a popular bathing resort in the 1920’s and had a very grand hotel, now rather faded, whose dining room is to be avoided according to Trip Advisor if you don’t like mice with your meals! It has its own railway line from the centre of Stockholm which takes you along the edge of the Fjord in a bit of a roller coaster ride at breakneck speed in rather rickety trains.

Roller coaster train ride!

It also has a rather splendid pair of bath houses, built in the 1920’s, a blue one for men and a pink one for ladies. They were built side by side but at an angle to allow for nude bathing so neither side could see each other, although perfectly visible from Grace as we sailed by! They both had 30 m jump towers from which bathers would throw themselves off into the cold water.

Home of the Royal Swedish Yacht Club

The guest harbour with the not so grand Grand Hotel!

We thought it might be rather a good place to leave Grace while we briefly returned to the UK but realised that it would be much more convenient to leave her in the centre of Stockholm itself and so we moved on Navishamn, pretty much in the nicest part of Stockholm.

Real waves again!

After three days out in the islands in 30c plus temperatures, we were in need of fresh milk for our tea, fresh water and probably showers if we were ever to come into contact with other people again!

Sailing through the islands!

Arkosund, a sail of 15 nm through the islands and which would take about 7 hours sailing could also be reached through an open water route, which although 20 miles we could sail faster in about 5 hours. And of course it would give us a break from the precise pin point navigation required when sailing through the islands.

Once out in the open water we rather questioned our decision, after the gentle winds and calm water of the Skargard, out at sea was all a bit lively! However we made brisk progress and were soon at the Nora Fallbaden light. Turning on to 292 for our approach into the Arkosund. This all coincided with an increase in wind speed, a change to sailing close hauled and carrying a bit to much sail – so we fairly tore down the well marked channel towards Arko island that acts like wind break and protects the mouth of the Sund. We were there so quickly that getting the sails in was a bit of a fight in the strong wind and deep swell. The Sund is a large pilot and lifeboat centre so I guess if it had all gone wrong then we would not have had to wait very long for help!

Approaching Arkösund

Disappointingly once in the Sund, the sea and wind remained relatively rough! The new guest harbour is rather exposed but as it was peak season they had people on the pontoons to take your lines and hold the bows. Absolutely essential in the big swell and strong cross winds and while I got to grips (or tried to) with our 9th new method for mooring – Lazy lines! Not so lazy in fact as they are big, heavy, weed slimed wet ropes that run from the pontoon out to a sinker. You are supposed to come in bows first, pick up the line at the bow and then run along it to the stern where you haul it in and cleat it, all in a 12 knot cross wind while you are still trying to secure the bow, which by now is wanting to wander and swing away! In addition you have the angriest one armed man I’ve ever met (not that I have met many on reflection!) on the boat next to you, pushing at your guard rails and yelling rather than offering to help. Not the smoothest of landings!

Arkösund

Once ashore my quest for Camping Gaz continued and spying a gas storage locker I found it was empty except for one gas bottle but it was the right size! Reluctantly, I swapped my nice shiny new gas bottle for last remaining one. It was obvious why it was the only one left – it was the most rusty and dented one I have ever seen! It will be a miracle if anyone will let me swap it next time…….but at least we now had gas!

So on the trip this year just how many different anchoring/mooring methods have we done?

⁃ Swinging at anchor

⁃ Mooring alongside a jetty

⁃ Mooring to a jetty with a stern buoy

⁃ Mooring to a jetty with a stern anchor

⁃ Mooring to a jetty with lazing lines

⁃ Mooring between booms

⁃ Mooring to a finger pontoon

⁃ Mooring between posts

⁃ Mooring to a buoy

The only method we have not done is mooring bows to rocks with a stern anchor – as Swedish a method of mooring as lkea meat balls, although those are supposed to have been a Turkish idea!

Arkosund was quite an interesting place, it developed as a holiday resort for rich people from Stockholm in about 1900. Becoming more popular as the railway arrived with many fancy villas being built and a boardwalk around the bay now the only thing left of the train is an old engine shed and a few metres of railway line. It also has rather a nice restaurant which we were force to try out as what had been billed as a supermarket was anything but super and only seemed to have bags of crisps and fly swatters. Any excuse will do!

Arkösund

Stockholm was now just about 30 nm away and in rather lively conditions we made for Ringso, a natural harbour that was well sheltered from the southerly winds. The approach itself was quite interesting as what we took to be a leading line on a large rock at the entrance to the channel turned out to be two women doing naked yoga in the sunshine! Downward facing dog and all that! After a very comfortable night at anchor we set off for Trosa.

Off Oxelösund

Ringson

We knew this to be a very pretty place but also one that in recent years has been silting up and so depth could be a problem. A few years ago they extended the mole using mud dredged from the harbour rather than more expensive stone or concrete but of course nature is now taking its course and is steadily returning the mud to where it first came from! However if we could get in then this would provide a handy start point for Stockholm by the island route rather than going outside past Landsort and into the open sea again.

Heading to Trosa

The approach was really pretty, a wide open Fjord with gentle hills sweeping down to the waters edge, very different from the deep gorges around Valdemarsvik or indeed Arkosund. We eyed up several useful places to anchor if we could not get into Trosa itself. As the town and its central canal came into view we spied an unused blue SXK buoy, so headed for it without delay!

The harbour guide – a brilliantly detailed reference for navigating to these places!

Cormorant HQ just behind our mooring!

As we made a beeline or it the depth fell, first to 2 m then steadily down to 1.4 m, by which point we should have been firmly aground! However we ploughed on through the mud until reaching the buoy where we stopped with our keel gently held in the silt. It was all very nice and stable and we certainly would not swing about too much! Inflating the dinghy we motored in through the canal and up to an empty bit of harbour wall, clambering up it we tied the dinghy to a very handy lamppost and set off to explore. The town was lovely, brightly painted timbered houses lined the canal, everywhere had scented roses growing round the doors and window boxes full of cheery tumbling geraniums. The town like many others on the archipelago was completely burnt to the ground in the 1730’s by the Russians out of frustration when they failed to capture Stockholm.

Trosa

Fortified by drink and big bag of shopping, we realised that it was rather a long way back down to the dinghy and the harbour wall we had scrambled up was all rather smooth on the way down! I went down first with the shopping, ending up in a heap on top of the groceries (oh well omelettes all round tonight then!).

Our dinghy against the harbour wall – it is a bit of a drop!

Just as Anne was about to descend a helpful American helped to lower her down into the boat, in a slightly more elegant fashion than me! However in his enthusiasm, he cast us off sending us bobbing into the middle of the canal, with boats zooming past us in all directions I pulled at the starter in the hope the outboard would fire up! It’s a Honda so of course it did, second pull and we chugged our way back to Grace.

Steamers from Trosa to Stockholm

Stehpinklers stand up and be counted!

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!

Rago Island

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…….

Island hopping!

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

Valdemarsvik

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!

The Blue Coast

From Figeholm for about 120 nm up to the Stockholm Archipelago is the area called ‘The Blue Coast’. It is a mass of narrow waterways between small islands and natural harbours that we spent the next month or so exploring, popping into the occasional marina every two or three days to restock with fresh milk for tea and to fill the water tank!

Passages through the Blue Coast

Sailing through the islands!

This is a whole new kind of sailing, large scale charts are essential to show the passages and rocks and probably the most important item, a supply of post-it note arrows to mark exactly where you are! Sailing is usually just on the genoa making gybing and tacking easy as well as keeping our speed to around 2.5 knots – plenty fast enough when you are weaving your way around the tiny channels and avoiding ferries and motor boats at the same time. Tearing along at 5 knots, all sails flying through a 10 m wide gap with a another yacht coming towards you requires strong nerves! But sail almost everywhere we certainly did, moaning at those people who motored past!

Keeping an exact position is essential!

So our first call was Bradholm, an old logging station, but we soon made a rapid exit when we saw the partially sunken pontoons with rotten and broken posts sticking out of the water to catch the unwary!

Swinging off a buoy at Kintemala

We moved onto Kintemala and spent two days swinging off a buoy and riding out 30 knots winds that were scooping down the fjord. The only thing to watch was the series of naked Swedes jumping into the ice cold water from the floating sauna moored off the shore.

Floating sauna!

Now with a strong northerly wind set in we motored up through the islands towards Vastervik, stopping for lunch in a secluded bay at Stora Kuggan for lunch. Vastervik is the only large town before Stockholm and is famous for being either Bennie or Bjorn from ABBA’s home town. Anyway which ever one it is he has built a lovely waterside hotel and upgraded the waterfront.

Anchored at Stora Kuggan for lunch!

Andreas, the harbour master was very helpful and as we wanted to stay for 10 days while we returned home, he put us on a berth where he could see Grace from his own boat. However it was a virtually unusable berth in about 1.6 m of water and surrounded by rocks! Getting out will be fun!

Vastervik waterfront and marina

Vastervik St Pauls

Hiring bikes from the shop – after hiring bikes across Scandinavia I made the fundamental error of not picking the bikes myself. I thought I had nothing to worry about as there was a rack of shiny bikes outside. They were obviously only for show as from round the back, the owner bought out two of the most ratty and rusty bits of junk that could be called bikes. She assured us they were here best and most popular bikes. In fact, they were so popular that we should pay extra for insurance!

Swedish roads. Disappearing into dust!

Wobbling off, our vague plan was to reach Almvik and a cafe and an old brickworks museum. It all started well, a nice smooth cycle path along the edge of the Gambly Fjord. This then became a dirt track all getting less good then a set of no entry signs and barriers. Not to worry, this is Sweden and we have the right to roam. After a further mile the track finally disappeared. Suddenly there was a rustling from the bushes to our left as a large animal disappeared into the dense undergrowth. We decided to follow the telegraph poles, this was rapidly turning into a tick infested swamp. I knew I should not have worn shorts! Eventually with the help of google maps we made it back to civilisation and all a bit saddle sore.

Back to civilisation!

The Almvik brickworks was founded in the 1650’s, finally stopping production in 1979. The most fascinating thing was the huge wooden drying shed, which had 3 floors. A man cutting grass had worked on the water powered brick extruding machine and was full of stories from the days when they filled the drying shed three times a year with 1.5 million bricks at a time. The kiln itself was a chamber one, which was fed by wood chips from the local forests.

Almvik brickworks

Water powered brick extruder

Massive wooden drying shed

Chamber kiln

Wood chips feed the kiln!

For our return journey we decided to take the easy route back! Our first was a lovely swimming spot of the Fjord. Our idea was to pick up an ice cream on the way back. It was 18 km home and despite the Swedes love of ice cream there was nothing, not one ice cream shop! We even stopped at a very unconvincing Bronze Age crematorium in the hope of finding an ice cream!

A rather unconvincing Bronze Age crematorium!

However, all was not lost and once back in Vastervik, saddle sore, insect bitten, muscles aching and bruised we made up for it all with a Bennie or Bjorn from ABBA special ice cream!

A Bennie or Bjorn from ABBA special!

The international regulations for preventing collisions at sea or COLREGS. Rule 5 lookouts or should German yachts be allowed autopilots?

Every vessel shall maintain a proper look-out. It is really quite simple and is the most important rule! So in answer to my question “Germans and autopilots” I am against it after having been almost run down twice by unattended German yachts in the space of an hour! We have left Sandvik on Oland and are tacking across the Kalmar Sund in a pleasant 8 to 10 knot NE wind. We are heading for the Skargard and the Blue Coast. This is an amazing array of narrow and rock strewn waterways in amongst the hundreds of thousands of tiny islands where you can sail in relative shelter and calm water.The approach to Figeholm was a gentle introduction to the Skargard!Grace is flying! She is almost at her maximum speed, loping along across the swell (not like a greyhound, she could never be mistaken for one – she’s more like one of those big fat rabbits!) at 5 to 6 knots. We are watching a yacht motoring north in a perfectly straight line converging with us on our starboard side.“Oh it’s okay, they will turn away in a second, you watch”, I say. “He will I think”. Then as there is no sign of action, “Don’t worry I’m sure he has seen us” and then “Oh, I don’t think he will! Quick! Let’s tack!” Just as we start to tack, winch handle on the port winch, “ready about….”. No wait, he is turning away. Leaving it a bit late! There was a flurry in cockpit, a head emerged from the cockpit and I could see the panic when he suddenly saw us. With the German flag flying he swerved away.Continuing on our course for a bit we started to relax until another ‘ghost boat’ came into sight and definitely heading towards us! I checked with the handbearing compass and the angle remained the same – they would hit us. No worries they will turn away, won’t they? We puzzled for a bit – “can you see anyone in the cockpit?” We puzzle for a bit, “Yes, there is someone moving about, they must have seen us! Quick tack!”. It was a towel we had seen moving! I realise that towels are good at reserving beach loungers but are no good at keeping watch on a motoring yacht. We tacked away and back on our course once the danger had passed. The yacht, it’s German flag flying carried on in a dead straight line at 6 knots. Slightly shocked and annoyed we watched as the boat sailed on towards the horizon!I had only just finished exhausting my tirade about beach towels, deckchairs and boats when in the distance coming up steadily behind us was another motoring yacht! This time we were ready for it, the absolutely straightline course is a giveaway for the autopilot. We were not sure why they were motoring, the wind was perfect and we were sailing almost as fast as they were motoring! Here we go again, get ready to dodge. But in good time, he made a clear and positive manoeuvre, just as it should be and we saw the Swedish flag and a but body less hand waved cheerily from the depth of the cockpit as the yacht returned to its original course and was gone.Goose winged and flying across the SundAs we pressed on across the Sund, goose winged we ran past Bla Jungfran, it is basically a pillar of granite that emerges from the seabed, the top of which is only about 500 m in diameter and the water surrounding it is very deep. The pilot book advises to keep away as there is nowhere to moor to it or anchor close by. Personally I’m not sure why you would want to anyway!Bla JungranCrossing into Figeholm bay everything settled down once we had our usual bit of ferry dodging as the super fast ferry to Gotland belted past. There seem to be two immutable truths of sailing; the first is that if there is a ferry near by we will find it! I think this is covered by Sod’s Law and the second is that after a day’s sailing just as you are coming into your berth the wind always gets up to make it ‘interesting’. This I understand actually has some scientific truth behind it that wind currents are generated as the land draws colder sea air across it generating the ‘sea breeze’ and then after sunset this reverses and creates a ‘land breeze’.If there is a ferry we can find…..or it can find us!Once into the bay we entered the calm and very blue waters of the islands and our first experience of the Skargard and sailing Swedish style in amongst the rocks. Our trip to Figeholm was a good start to break us in gently to a whole new way of sailing!The approach to Figeholm, the rocks really are quite close!A very peaceful place to spend the night!