End Game Part 1

Almost the last leg!

It was with rather mixed feelings that we moored up alongside the quay wall at Mem for the start of our homeward journey across the middle of Sweden. We were sad that our trip was coming to an end, but the weather was noticeably windier and cooler now and the days were definitely much shorter. Everywhere had now closed down for the season so it was time to go home!

Moored up at Mem waiting for the 0800 start and the first lock.

From September until mid October when the canal shuts completely for winter, only small convoys of 4 or 5 boats and accompanied by a lock keeper can travel the canal. This is a perfect way to go as you don’t have to wait for commercial craft (which always has priority!) and there are no queues at the locks and bridge – its just you a couple of other boats so you can complete the trip to Lake Varnen, covering 190 km, 58 locks and climbing to 93 metres above sea level in 5 days.

Plaque to mark the opening of the canal in 1826

It is a remarkable feat of engineering, commission by Balthazar Von Platten as chief engineer in 1810 but actually designed and built Thomas Telford, the great Scottish engineer whose roads, fences and bridges are all over the North Wales I know so well. It took 22 years and a lot of Swedish soldiers to dig it. There is only about 80 km of actual canal – the other 110 km are lakes and natural waterways that are all interconnected by the canals. The Gota canal takes you to the Lake Varnen, the biggest lake in the EU and pretty much in the centre of Sweden. Then you join the Trollhatte canal down to Gothenburg and the North Sea. This created a direct link to the Baltic, avoiding the need to pay the dues to Denmark that all ships had to pay when passing down the Oresund. However, it was a pretty short lived benefit as the ‘World Powers’ got together in the 1860’s and bought Denmark off (which was a bit strapped for cash at the time!) for about 12 billion Kronor – around £60m at the time…..a lot but not that much to allow unimpeded shipping to Russia, especially as the Kiel canal had not been built then.

At 0800 sharp the canal office (shed) opened and we were issued with our passes, tickets, toilet cards and instruction book on how to survive the locks! We met the other three boats that we would be doing the first part of the trip with, the lock keeper gave us our positions in the lock – very important as the locks are very tight and we had to fit together like a jigsaw. They also inspected our lines and fenders to make sure they were properly set up. This is because the the rise and fall on the locks is quite violent as the water surges in. Also the sides of the lock are rough hewn rock and your gelcoat would not survive much of a brush with it! The walls also curve inward at the bottom so in theory you have some fender low down on the wall side and some high up. The only problem was that our fenders float so the waterline ones did not do much good! The regular travellers seemed to have fenders part filled with water so they would hang below the waterline.

The mooring rings – just hook a line with a bowline loop over it so its quick to release.

Never pass the yellow line – the lock step can turn a good day into a bad one very quickly!

With only two of us onboard we were going to busy, Anne had to be ashore to loop the lines around the mooring rings, so I had a bow line running through a block back to our genoa winch and a stern line to the stern mooring cleat. The idea was that I could simply tighten the lines as we rose in the lock keeping Grace in position. Ha ha! Much easier said than done! You try to control a 7 tonne 10 m long boat bucking back and forward as the water surged into the lock dangling off two lines!! Our position in the lock was port side front and we were followed by a big motor boat from the Faroes. They had about 6 of them onboard and they spent the time arguing! Which was all very well except I would rather they didn’t when they were manoeuvring in the lock and heading straight for our stern! Our position was rather good as we had space to avoid fouling the lock step and we did not have to go too close to the lock gate with our bows!

First into the lock!

Our new friends!

The technique for the locks was quite simple – as we approached the lock gates, Anne would take the bow and stern lines and leap ashore as we touched the edge and take the lines and drop them over the mooring rings on the lock walls. I would then frantically winch in on the lines to try to keep Grace from bashing the walls or the boat next door!

Our first lock!

Its alright for some!


Our first stop was Berg where we were scheduled to spend a couple days and pick up the next convoy. We would drop out and be replaced by a yacht already waiting at Northolmen, on the other side of Lake Roxan.

By 1545 we had cover 50 km and completed 19 locks and reached Northolmen and bridge for the main Stockholm express train. It would open only at 1600 then not again until the morning. Also once open we had 30 seconds to clear the bridge, otherwise it was coming back down again come what may, as the trains would not wait. Here at last being first in the lock was an advantage as we would be definitely through although I did not give much hope for our arguing Faroese behind us, we were out and into the lake while they were still ‘discussing’ who should untie the boat!

Waiting for the train to pass before we can get into Lake Roxan.

Lake Roxan.

The floating sign post.

Lake Roxan was lovely and it was great to get the engine off and the sails up. We had a couple of very pleasant hours sailing to Berg. Strangely the lake has a floating sign post on it giving bearings and mileages for the local ports! Berg is famous for the flight of locks – there are seven of them and the only one on the canal. As we headed for the basin at the foot of the locks to moor up, we had to dodge some big banks of weed. If that got caught in the stern gear then we could have problems! Weaving our way in we avoided the worse of it and moored up to a stern buoy. Being first in, we found the spot with the least weed! The Norwegian motor boat that followed us in ploughed straight into a bank of weed and came to a juddering halt, its propellers jammed up and unable to move. The current then started to drift them away toward a bank of rocks that formed a breakwater. We quickly threw him a long line and hauled him in and out of harms way. There was no way he could get clear without a diver. Trying not to show too much schadenfreude we realised that this might mean that he could not join the convoy tomorrow and we could take his place. Surely he was going to be stuck there for days!!!!

The flight of locks at Berg.

Stuck in the weed!

You can imagine my disappointment when at 0730 a canal company diver arrived and after exchanging a considerable amount of cash, got in the water and freed our Norwegian friend’s propellers and rudder. Putting on a brave face we wished them well and a safe trip…….draht and double draht!

The diver freeing our Norwegian friends propellers.

After a morning spent fighting off weedburgs it became apparent that we could not stay in the basin and would have to anchor off or go back to Northolmen. I rang the canal company to ask for help and they said that there was a ‘warship’ coming through at 1500 with two lockkeepers who would see up the the flight of locks into the very nice and weed free basin at the top of the locks. Great news!!

At 1445 the whole air around us started to vibrate and our mast rattled. It was like a mini earthquake! Looking around, we saw that the noise came from a very large and well camouflaged patrol boat at the top of the locks. She came flying down the locks in a couple of minutes (a journey that normally takes about 90 minutes), fitting almost exactly she did not tie up and was soon out of the bottom, into the basin and then out into the lake in a roar and flurry of spray at 50 knots toward Soderkoping for its final fitout and arming at the SAAB factory.

Waiting for the patrol boat to clear the locks.

Once the navy boat had gone we had two lock keepers to ourselves and they whisked us up the locks in double quick time! We were soon able to moor up in a lovely weed free basin, with toilets, shower, cafe and lock gate museum near to hand!

Safely out of the weed.

Writing about it now,it all seems a bit weird but the lock gate museum was really quite interesting! The designs were rather clever, including a suction operated gate to stop the canal draining if breached and a clever pump free arrangement for a dry dock in Motala. They also had original Thomas Telford gates which they replaced with ‘superior’ modern ones in the 1990s. However these new ‘superior’ ones now have to be replaced after less than 30 years. They are now returning to the the original Telford specification as many of these are still in use after 180 years! Even going to the foundry that cast them in the first place!

Thomas Telford’s original design – still the best after 180 years!

SAAB Aerospace is based around the nearby Linköping and Soderkoping. Industry here is all about weapons and planes. They also sponsor an amazing flight museum that charts Sweden’s entire history of aviation from the very first planes to the latest SAAB. What they also have tucked away in the basement is the wreck of a Dakota DC3 that was equipped in the 1950s as a spy plane to check out Russian radar and response times. It had the latest British and American kit but was flown by Swedish aircrew. It was shot down by the Russians but no one said anything about it until 2003 despite all of the 8 crew were killed. There families were rather disgracefully fobbed off. In addition the Russians also shot down a Catalina flying boat that was searching for the missing plane! Although the aircrew survived in some rather heroic flying. Everyone was so tense that this could be the tipping point that turned the Cold War hot! The plane was only recovered in 2015 and was all a bit moving to see the relics of the crewmen.

The history of Swedish aviation! (The blue swastika was the emblem of the Finnish airforce – these planes were supplied in 1940 to the Finns in their fight against the Russians in the ‘Winter War’.

DC3 spy plane wreck

The other Catalina that was not shot down!

The other thing it had was an impressive display on the SAAB Viggen, taking off and landing on a road and being rearmed and refuelled at a petrol station! I have a soft spot for the Viggen as it was the first Airfix model I made. I remember it well as I really wanted a Spitfire!

The Viggen wings and tail plane!

It is all coming to an end…….diesel, nuclear power and the Gota (say Yota) Canals

Grace’s journey home meant we had to sail right across the middle of Sweden through the Gota and Trollhatte Canals. This would take us from Mem in the Baltic Sea to Gothenburg on the Kattegat. At the close of the season you cannot travel independently through the Gota Canal but only in convoys of 4 or 5 boats along with a lock keeper. This is fantastic as you don’t have to mess about and wait for commercial traffic or hang around at locks! You go straight through, the lock keepers are waiting for you at the bridges and locks. Well worth the 5800 SEK it cost us for the pass for the Gota and Trollhatte Canals! However it does mean that you have to be at Mem, the start of the canal at a 0800 on September 8th and no later! It then takes about 5 days to travel the 190km sail to Lake Varnen, Sweden’s largest lake.

Grace preparing to leave Navkvarn

Before leaving Navekvarn we filled our diesel tank, it was strange to queue at the fuel pump with several cars, but this was the best and cleanest diesel with no bio additives for 50 km! Bio-diesel is not popular in Sweden for marine engines as it adds water into the tank as the weather gets cooler and encourages diesel bug growth and blocked filters. With a tank full of 150 litres of diesel we should have enough to get us to Goteborg without causing me any range anxiety!

Avoiding rocks and complex navigation was to be a feature of our last day in the Baltic

Today was going to be our last day’s sailing in the Baltic Sea, it felt very strange and slightly sad to be homeward bound! Our sailing adventure coming to an end! We would be sailing towards the castle at Stegeborg, where we planned to stay overnight before moving on to the first lock of the Gota Canal at Mem, just a couple of nautical miles further down the fjord. The trip was about 24 nm but required quite complex navigation to get through the rock strewn wilderness and poorly marked channels from Navekvarn to Norrkoping and Djuron through the Granso Sund and then into the Arkosund at Marviken. Marviken is quite interesting as it is a deserted peninsula with an abandoned nuclear power station on it! It was built in the 1960’s to generate power but mainly to produce fuel for nuclear weapons. However later in the decade, Sweden signed up to the nuclear non proliferation treaty and the power station was abandoned even before it was ever used! The place has been used for nuclear accident practice but a quick scan through binos and you see that the whole place was overgrown. Trees were sprouting up through the roads and creepers climbing over the fences and gates.

The abandoned Marviken Nuclear Power Station

With the wind behind us we picked up the start of the Granso Sund at the north Granso beacon. Just on the genoa alone we sailed the 6 nm on a lovely broad reach at a gentle 3 knots down to the Kuggviskar Light at the mouth of the Arkosund. Then with all sails out and on a beam reach we flew down the coast at 5 to 6 knots in 8 to 9 knots of wind and perfect sea conditions. Then changing course to WNW and close hauled for the final few miles into Stegeborg. To our surprise, the guest harbour was full and we had to tuck ourselves on the inside of the pontoon on the edge of the motor boat dock. A few months earlier we would have gone round in circles trying to find a ‘proper’ space but after a season sailing in the islands we could park on a sixpence!

Paddle boarding down the Granso Sund

Lifeboat station and Pilot training school at the head of the Arkosund

Our route down the the Arkosund

For the last week we had been the only boat in many of the places we visited but Stegeborg seemed to have a lot of boats being emptied. Boats being put away for winter probably explained why the berths were so full. Although the Stegeborg cafe was clearly the place to be as a Gota Canal steamer arrived and everybody dived into the bar, followed in short order by a float plane flown by a celeb…..I took pictures just in case it was someone I recognised…… but I didnt!

Stegeborg ahoy!

Parking Grace anywhere! Slotted her in on a sixpence!!

A celeb flew in for tea! But who?

The Castle tower

The castle at Stegeborg was built in the 13th century on an island at the head of the Slätbaken fjord. It was constructed to control and protect the access to the important city of Söderköping. As it still does today! There is a tiny gap in the ancient barrage across the mouth of the river through which all shipping must pass. The castle after being used by several Gustav Wasa’s fell out of favour and was sold for building materials in the 1730’s. It is rather amazing that so much of it remains! Surrounding the ruins were lots of wild apple trees which I promptly took the opportunity to scrumped!

A Gota Canal cruise ship

Signing walls of castles seems a popular past time for Swedish royals!!

The Stegeborg was in a very strong defensive position to protect the fjord….and charge tolls on boats going to Soderkoping!

It still commands the Fjord. Even today there is only a 30 m wide gap in the 800 year old barrage across the entrance to the Fjord!

Although only a short sail of just 8 nm down the fjord we decided to head to Mem that afternoon rather than stay another night at Stegeborg as there was dense fog every morning that did not clear until after 1000 and we would have missed our slot to start on our journey through the Gota Canal.

Stegeborg to Mem and the start of the canal

Moored up at Mem waiting to start our journey across Sweden

The first lock of the canal

Lake Malaren – Part 3. Team Grace to the rescue and the Vikings!

Next morning we slickly exited from the stern buoy and executed a perfect figure of eight to end up on the pump out station. Although it is mandatory to pump out the heads holding tank and not just dump this station clearly had not been used all season! Suitably gloved up and with some trepidation we set the pump going…….I was confidently expecting to need a change of clothes as there is always an opportunity for an unpleasant shower and a tsunami of back flow running down the deck if you don’t get the valve opening right! As the only boat in the marina at least there won’t be an audience to smugly watch us! But oh no, just as we turned on the pump, a coach load of Chinese tourists arrived, streaming off the bus they started to take photographs and videos of us. However, instead of a video nasty, it was all accomplished without any unpleasant drama!

Berthing at the pump-out station – second time lucky!

Heading down the Gripsholm Viken we set a course for Bjorkfjarden, on the the way to the Södertälje canal and the sea again! With a gentle southerly we take a series of gentle gybes as we make a training run towards Bohus.

On a training run down the fjord, Grace is keeping pace with a large yacht.

There were three Viking kingdoms in Scandinavia, of which Birko was the capital of the largest. Bjorko became a major trading post but also key defensive position. At Bjorko we went alongside, there was a strong cross wind building and the jetty provided very little protection from the waves but we were well fendered up. Just as we were securing Grace’s lines to the jetty, a small biscuit tin of a dinghy bobbed its way in to the harbour on the swell. It was packed with 2 adults and 3 children and they were rowing very inexpertly and were not looking very happy! I quickly threw them a line, which they very gratefully grabbed, pulling them in, we lowered Grace’s swim platform and we got them onboard and then ashore! Apparently they were returning to Rastaholm after a day on Bjorko when their outboard stopped and they could not get it started again, they then had a frightening row back into the harbour across the swell. One of the children was English, she was so grateful to find other English people especially when she had given up all hope of rescue! The lady asked if I could fix the motor, saying that her husband clearly could not! We moved the boat around to calmer water and examined the motor, did they have fuel? Yes! Was the fuel flowing freely? Yes! I then suggest that they turn the throttle to the RESTART setting and low and behold it fires up first time and runs smoothly! They ask if we are returning to Rastaholm tonight and if so, can they follow us! We say that unfortunately we are not but they could stay with us tonight and we will take them back in the morning. It was quite a trek and getting dark and the wind was building. They said they had to go tonight and we had to wish them well but advised them against it. I do hope they got back safely.

Moored in Bjorko.

Going to pay our harbour dues, I got a big surprise, I was greeted by group of 4 very authentic looking Vikings, armed with swords, spears, beards, axes and tattoos but also a credit card machine! Then half an hour later ‘Mr Misery’ sailed in! Sailing single handed he dropped his stern anchor and moored up bows first – all very slick! We took his bow lines and helped him get secure. Once ashore, he said we should go ‘bows to’ like him as two large ships were scheduled to pass into the Södertälje canal that night and there would be some large and disturbing waves. We were well fendered and with spring lines in place so I felt happy we would be fine. And then a bit later as he wandered by on his way to find magic mushrooms, which apparent grew all over the island, he said he hoped that our hatches wouldn’t leak as heavy rain was expected in the night!! Hopefully he would feel happier after eating the mushrooms and become a ‘fun-gi’!

Spring lines set and well fendered for a comfortable night.

The gateway into the Viking fort!

View towards the burial mounds on ridge.

Viking village

Trading boats

Monument to St Ansgar who brought Christianity to the vikings in Sweden.

Walking around Birko was really rather interesting! The land had risen by 5m due to glacial tilt revealing the shoreline with a great defensive Viking fort and trading post. Taking to the high ground it was easy to see how the whole island would have looked in 800AD.

Sailing down the Sodertajlie Canal towards the sea again!

It was now time to leave Lake Malaren as we needed to get to Mem for our trip across Sweden through the Gota Canal. We timed our departure from Bjorko to arrive at the the Sodertajlie Canal which would take us the 30 nm back to the sea. We had to make the bridge at the top of the canal which opened at 1100 and then every 2 hours. We arrived 45 minutes early and moored up at a jetty outside the Astra Zeneca HQ at Sodertajlie. They were repiling the banks of the canal and there were large barges, tugs and piling machines everywhere. At 1055 we cast off and prepared to get going but suddenly the tugs and barges started moving into the centre of the canal. We thought that they must be going through the bridge so we took our station behind the tug as commercial traffic always have priority on the canal. Only to realise that they had chosen just that time to move the piling machine and not pass through the bridge! Fortunately the bridge keeper had seen what was happening and that we were trapped behind the tug so he held the bridge for us! We had almost reconciled ourselves to spending another 2 hours sat in front of Astra Zeneca watching people make PowerPoint presentations in their meeting rooms!

Waiting for the bridge to open outside Astra Zeneca HQ!

Stuck behind the piling barge!

….But the bridge keeper waited for us!

This meant that we had a quick dash down to the lock, which opened exactly 15 minutes after the bridge, first mooring up to pay the canal fee at the machine! Once through the lock we were back in the Baltic Sea again!! Before going any further we stopped at Sodertajlie to restock with food at the supermarket and with booze at the System Bolaget! Three large ships passed through the lock while we had our lunch! We certainly would not have wanted to share the lock with these!

18 m clearance so no problem for our 15.5m airdraft!

Ships in the canal!

We continued down the Fjord until we hit Skansholmen. This is a great little marina in the centre of what must have been a small volcano. Getting into it, the approach is only 2 m deep but once inside the almost totally enclosed pool, it becomes at least 25 m deep! Paying our harbour dues we joined a surprisingly long queue at the till especially as we were the only boat in. However we soon realised why, people, waiting for the ferry to the mainland had stopped off for ice creams on their way home! No Swede can resist and ice cream!

Grace at Skansholmen

Next morning we set off for Svardskova, we had tried to stop here once before but failed! It has a really good restaurant and a small pontoon to moor to. However no sooner as we entered the Hummn Fjord towards the open sea than we could sea a dense bank of white fog start to roll towards us! Not wishing to be caught out in it amongst the shoals we gave lunch at the restaurant a miss for the second time and we headed towards Trosa. A seal stuck its head out of the water and took a quick look around, nodded his approval at our caution and then vanished! It must be a good sign as it was the first one we had seen all season!

Although flat calm today, this was a dog leg that the large ships in the canal had to negotiate. We took to the shallow water to starboard to let a large ship pass us.

Sailing down the Fjord and back out to the sea, these houses were built on the old lime kilns for commuters to Sodertajlie.

I was quite happy with our decision to head for Trosa as I knew they had a diesel pump in the marina. I was beginning to suffer from range anxiety as we had run the engine for 48 hours since we last refilled the tank earlier in the season. Our fuel gauge has never worked but you should never every rely on them and trust engine hours instead and the number of hours per litre you burn per hour! We have never used more than about 1.3 litres per hour so assuming we had the 150 litre extra long range tank we should have enough fuel for over 115 hours, however I discovered in the boat’s specification sheet it said we should have a 90 litre tank but then on another page it said 150 litres, as I had originally thought, so only enough for less than 70 hours. Plenty of fuel really but we did not want to run the tank down too far and risk blocking the two fuel filters!

Our surprise visit to Trosa meant that we could get a 10 litre fuel can from the big chandlery on the canal! It, along with the liferaft was a special request by the delivery crew we had arranged to bring Grace back to the UK – at least this request would be cheap!

Back in Trosa

We must be on our way home! The first news we had heard about Brexit for 4 months!

At 0900 we were at the fuel dock waiting to refill. Unfortunately all we got was a mass of bubbling diesel foam and about 6 litres of rather suspect derv before the pump stopped working altogether! We planned to go back to Svardskova and stay overnight after dinner in the restaurant, but if we hit the forecast high winds and rain then we could go on to Oxelsund for better shelter to ride out the storm……but would we miss dinner again? Our progress was so swift that we were at Svardskova by 1300 and with the increasing grey skies and building winds we decided to go on to Oxelosund….so no Svardskova dinner for the third time! We’ll just have to come back!

Tricky approach around Oxelosund

At anchor off Oxelosund

Grace was now on a beam reach, her fastest point of sailing and we were storming up past Nykoping weaving our way through its alarmingly rock strewn shipping channel – fortunately we only met one ship coming towards us and one waiting at anchor. With nothing to slow us down we were passed Oxelosund by 1400. So with just 12nm to reach Navekvarn, with Grace really flying and the weather getting decidedly iffy we pressed on. It was not a difficult decision as with its huge steelworks and clouds of orange dust, Oxelosund was not the most attractive proposition if we were trapped there for a few days by the weather! Navkvarn was an all weather marina, a cafe, well shelter from all wind directions and with a diesel pump!!

Navekvarn ideal to place to ride out bad weather.

Grace is secure in Navekvarn.

By 1730 Grace was safely in a visitors berth on the main pontoon at Navekvarn, secured between two Y booms in a very well sheltered bay and we were in the Cafe enjoying toasted cheese sandwiches! Back on Grace we put up the cockpit tent just as the torrential rain that had be following us all day finally started and continued for the next 24 hours without stopping! Navekvarn is also one of those places that people store their boats over winter and we were surrounded by British boats packing everything away for storage! The enforced 24 hour layover gave me plenty of time to find out just how big our fuel tank really was, by dismantling the rear berth we could clearly that 150 L was printed on the tank so I really need not have worried!

Definitely a long range 150 l fuel tank! No more range anxiety!

The Q Star fuel pump station was a bit unusual as day and night, cars would pull up and fill their tanks – it was certainly the cheapest diesel we had used all summer and apparently the only diesel pump for 100km!

Navekvarn is trying to re-invent itself, from about 1760 until the 1970’s, copper had been smelted there and there was a large iron foundry famous for cooking pots, fireplaces and stoves. It has all gone now and the buildings are used for winter boat storage! All over there are signs warning that the ground is toxic and that nothing should be eaten from the ground due to arsenic residues.

By way of complete contrast to the industrial landscape and just on the opposite side of the bay there is also the People’s Park, a 1930’s holiday camp that brought ice cream and crazy golf to the masses – a job it still does today!!

After refuelling with 60 litres, and confirming our fuel consumption to be the usual 1.13 litres per hour at our typical cruising speed of 4.5 to 5 knots at 1500 revs we have a range of about 120 hours motoring or 480 miles, enough to get us through the Gota canal and all the way down into Goteborg!

Tomorrow we leave for the last leg of our trip and home……

Lake Malaren – Part 2……rain and toy trains!

We slipped our anchor after two very comfortable nights away from the winds in our secure little creek opposite Drottningholm. The anchor was very well dug into the mud and we had to drive Grace forward over her anchor to break her out of the mud. I was ready with a bucket of water to wash it off!

Past Helgo island and sailing towards the Ekerö and the Rastaholm Gasthamn. The weather is about to change but resisting the temptation to take a short cut and cut the corner to starboard!!

Heading south we sailed down first to the Estbrote and then on to the Slagstaholm lights. Lake Malaren is fresh water and Grace rode slightly deeper in the water – I was surprised but we had become so attuned as to how she sailed that we could feel that she gripped the water differently! Changing onto a westerly course to pass the Vallinge light, Helgo island and up towards the Rastaholm Gasthamn at Ekerö. The approach to it is really quite deceptive, the temptation is to cut across directly towards the gap between the large rock and the shore before hooking round into the harbour……….but that way leads only to disaster and lots of submerged rock and shallows!! Our pilot warned that much of the sea bed in the area had not been surveyed since the 1810 – so be warned as many rocks were also uncharted! Sod’s law kicked in here and the heavens opened, rain fell like stair rods and our landmarks disappeared in the gloom and mist. But then the rained cleared as quickly as it came and we were back sailing in hazy sunshine.

Grace in Rastaholm. Suddenly the weather clears as quickly as it closed in!

Rastaholm is a private marina of the Swedish Sailing Club (SSS) and they had put some white marker buoys out for some of the larger uncharted hazards! Other than that, it was all a bit basic outpost of the usually rather posh SSS. The exception was a rather splendid restaurant with a stunning view across the Bjorkfjarden! Surprisingly for a wet Thursday evening in late August the restaurant was fully booked and it took much pleading and that we had sailed all the way from England and then the promise of a big tip to get a table, anyway……it was a rather reluctant waitress that showed us to the table, apologising for its out of the way position…..but completely ignoring the view, and what a view it was! As the sunset and night fell across the water it was truly beautiful. The food was also delicious, especially the fish, a Gos which turned out to be freshly caught perch and was the best we had eaten in Sweden!

The excellent local beer!

The next day we set off for Mariefred, sailing down the Bjorkfjarden to the Rido Pilskar beacon in a nice F3 on a beam reach. Then turning south and in a series of short tacks between the rocks and down into the Gripsholmviken. Soon the impressive castle (Gripsholm Slott) was insight guarding the head of the fjord. All that day we spend avoiding the a white steamer, it would overtake us, then disappear into a small harbour before overtaking us again while we tacked to avoid it and the rocks as it swept past us in a cloud of smoke, sparks and soot!!

Sailing down the Bjorkfjarden

The route into Gripsholmviken and Mariefred.

We spent the day avoiding ‘Puffing Billy’!

The approach into Mariefred

The moorings at Mariefred are spectacular, just on the town quay with the Slott behind you and the narrow gauge steam train running along the quay in front of you. Mariefred really does try hard to attract visitors, despite being at the end of the season. There had been a triathlon that day and Slott houses the national portrait gallery. The bar opposite was hosting a dreadful pub singer rendering Bruce Springsteen hits in a way that I had never heard before! However all this activity was clearly working as the gasthamn was surprisingly full! We draw only about 1.6m but even then we found it difficult to find a berth with enough depth and we saw a few yachts who came in after us plough the bottom a bit to get in!!!

Moored off Gripsholm.

The gasthamn at Mariefred

The railway, which has a 60 cm gauge runs for 11km to Tillinge where you can pick up Steamboat Willie, as we affectionately called the steamer after spending the previous day avoiding it (or ‘bloody maniac’ when it attempted to slice us half!), either to Stockholm or back to Mariefred. The railway is a bit deceptive, it looks very old but it runs along the line of the disused mainline railway and was laid only in the 1960s and 1970s. It is all run by enthusiastic amateurs with whom I was able to trade Ffestiniog railway tails, giving me the status of an ‘envoy’ and VIP from a foreign railway and lead to promotion to a carriage with glass in the windows!

Our third class tickets!

Railway heaven!

The castle itself was built by Gustav Vasa in the 1530’s as a bolt hole in case Stockholm was invaded, but advances in artillery meant that it was obsolete even before he had finished it! However he liked the place so much that he had it converted it to a summer palace and it has been used by the Royal family as a holiday home ever since! A few of the rooms were recreated in the 1520’s style in the 1800’s but everything has been systematically modernised by successive kings, with bits added in the latest styles of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.


Improvements in 16th Century artillery meant that the castle was obsolete even before it was finished!

The castle is now the home for the national portrait gallery, interestingly the portraits have been arranged in order of Swedish history – it made a pleasant pictorial wander through the Swedish history that we had been sailing through for the last 5 months, from Gustav Vasa to the present day. What was interesting was that the ‘theatrical king’ had been at work here and converted one of the towers into a theatre – complete with all the sets and winches for the scene changes and sound effects!

Carl, one of Gustav Vasa’s children with a splendid comb-over!

With a spectacular lack of subtlety, one of the princes had this picture painted of his all mistresses in the Royal court! It was understandably notorious at the time, especially with their husbands!

The paintings ranged from Gustav Vasa to the present King!

The handiwork of the theatre king was everywhere!

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!


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!


The next day with force 3 westerly winds we made the 32 nm journey into the Wasaholm Marina in the centre of Stockholm. The first 22 nm to Wasaholm is made up from a series of narrow squeezes where you have to avoid the ferries and cruise ship! Playing chicken with them is not a good idea! By then the winds had become quite gusty and we motored the last 10 nm to Stockholm, reaching the marina just as everyone was going home and the water was boiling with commuter ferries and water taxis whizzing backwards and forward. Holding our breath, we weaved our way through the very narrow entrance to the marina, going astern to help swing our bows sharply to port to make the right angled turn into the marina fairway, mooring in the shadow of the Wasa museum building and in between three other English boats, more than we had seen all summer!

Staying well clear of the ferries – they show no mercy!

Wasahamn – with the Wasa Museum in the background

We now prepared Grace for her return trip, with an engine service and fuel filters change, both of which were reassuring free of water and dirt despite heavy weather churning the tank and filling up in some very isolated places! And then with the help of YouTube I pulled the winches apart for some long overdue maintenance! They even went back together with the same number of bits that I started with, and not only that they do work so smoothly now!


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

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 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.