Midsummer around Stockholm
We slipped down the Nykoping estuary past grazing geese and cows and turned into the archipelago to the north-west. The wind was balmy - offering beam reaches a lot of the time; the sun sparkled on the water and Voltair slipped noiselessly along at a cool five knots. The passage was as intricate as anything in Norway with innumerable twists and turns. Sometimes you could almost count the leaves on the trees we were passing. We were that close. The bays were often filled with reed beds, which leant the whole scene a bucolic country air. We stopped for lunch in a lagoon where bare-breasted beauties were playing in the sun. However the wind got up soon after we arrived which caused the girls to cover up and us to change our anchorage to something with a little more room to swing. After lunch we passed a Pub (N58 45.9 E 17 28.5) which would have been ideal as a night stop had we not wanted to go further north. John and his crew might like it on the way back.
Our remote anchorage for the night was tucked behind a headland on Asko in a national park. There were lovely walks ashore in the woods. We used Hermione’s new oars, purchased in Nykopping, for the first time. A perfect fit!
The next day began much the same, but deteriorated. We made Nyashamn for lunch. Should not have bothered. Full of ‘bows to’ moorings, giant ferries advertising the ‘Gotland Experience’, and other inconveniences. Not Voltair’s kind of place. We left despite strong winds and driving rain. This gave David a chance to practice Radar interpretation. Fortueately he identified all the other vessels before we they got close enougth to see. The weather eased up towards evening and we entered our chosen bay under sail in sunshine. Supposedly wild, it nevertheless had at least 16 other boats already there. It was the Thursday before the Friday, before the weekend before the summer solstice (are you still with me) and therefore the evening before a public holiday. Most of the boats were moored bow to rock, but we chose to be different and tucked ourselves in a little inlet with two anchors to the bow. Just as well we did, since the wind veered through 180 degrees during the night and freshened somewhat. The twin anchors kept us safe in the centre. We were quite chuffed with ourselves as we laid and recovered both anchors without using the dinghy.
Where should we go for the Friday before the weekend before the summer solstice? Should be quite a party, we thought. Why not the headquarters of the Royal Swedish Yacht Club – the KSSS? It will be like Cowes on the Saturday of Cowes Week! Better get there early to get a mooring. The pilot is not as clear as it might be concerning the entrance to this place, but after a few false approaches we finally made it. The clue is the impressive hotel behind the moorings and the four storey 19th century bathing platforms at the entrance.. We got there by 16:30 hours, and even secured an alongside berth. Oh Joy! Putting on our No 1’s, we went ashore. Perhaps we were a little too early. Checking into the hotel was an aged german plutocrat with his even older wife. Parked outside was a old jaguar in mint condition. There were a few waiters waiting for customers. “Where’s the party?” we asked the smart KSSS attendant. “There isn’t one for me, I’m working. Anyway it’s going to rain.” And it did. So we partied by ourselves. But towards midnight Dick and Robin went back to the hotel. It conveyed a distinct ‘Annee derniere a Marianbad’ atmosphere - full of faded elegance. The bar appeared to be up the broad marble stairway lined with tasteful statuary. We found a candlelit seat by an immense semi-circular window overlooking the harbour and ordered two beers. We even offered to pay. “I think you will find that your company is paying,” said the barman. Well that’s very nice of it we thought; perhaps we should have had champagne. Just then a group of executives emerged from their late night ‘strategy’ session and descended on the barman. “We are not with them”, we told him. He looked non-plussed. There was no procedure for this. He shrugged, we shrugged – so thank you Astra-Zenica.
Returning later, we found there was a bit of a party going on in the four storey victorian bathing huts – involving someone who looked very like the smart KSSS attendant. But as he had no clothes on at all, it was hard to tell. The party had reached the stage of throwing naked people in the Baltic – you know the sort of thing – and judging by the screams it was (*** ‘jolly?’***) cold. We took a few whiskeys and so to bed.
From KSSS to central stockholm is 10 nm. But the start of the passage is unbelievevable. From out of the great Baltic sea you have to find this tiny passage where the island of Varmlo almost collides with the mainland. Voltair proceeded carefully up this narrow defile that looked every bit like a rural stream. Children were playing with shrimping nets just yards from our passage. Grandfathers in wheelchairs waved at us. Flirting teenagers looked up as we passed. It was hard to believe that this was THE SEA.
We emerged at the other end into the wide fjord in which Stockholm lies – and not a moment too soon. Ericson 3 was just approaching the finishing line of the Stockholm race of the Volvo Ocean Challenge, winning of course, and flagged with the red ensign in honour (we can only presume) of our arrival. We graciously acknowledged the homage proffered.
We moored up between the Vasa museum and Skansen – the Tivoli of Stockholm with really hairy rides. Dick and Robin visited the old town, watched the street entertainers, and studied the rapids whilst David looked over the Vasa. The Vasa sank on her maiden voyage more than 300 years ago, largely because the King who commissioned her could not be conducted with the results of the stability trial (which she failed) and no-one else thought they had the authority to change anything. Standard procedure for military purchasing, you might think.
In the evening we slipped out of Stockholm and into Lake Malaren. This lake was once part of the Baltic, but since the end of the ice age the ground levels have been rising and have now lifted the lake above the sea creating the rapids that can be seen in Stockholm city centre (if you look carefully). We bypassed the rapids using a large lock with a lift of a couple of feet and made for a quiet anchorage out of town – near Drottningholm (Queen’s Island). It was Saturday night and they were still celebrating midsummer in that typical Swedish way; run your boat into some rocks, lay out the towels and go to sleep.
Drottningholm is the present residence of the Swedish royal family, so we anchored Voltair outside their front door, piled into Hermione, got Suki going and went to give them the once over. And a very nice pad they have too. We were particularly taken with the arrangements for private dining they had set up in a pavilion in the grounds. When they had finished the first course, they rang a bell and the floor supporting the dining table was lowered into the room below, the table removed and replaced with a similar one already laid up for the second course, which was then hoisted back into place.
In a room in the main palace, there were paintings of all the crowned heads of Europe who were in power in the mid 19th century, including one with the title of ‘King of Norway and Sweden’. ‘Hang on,’ I hear you say, “Did not you join in the celebrations of Norway’s National day earlier on in this cruise, and did you not say that it celebrated Norway’s independence in 1814.” Quite right! So that’s what we said to the smart guide lady.
“The Norwegians are always getting muddled on this point,” she replied, “In fact the Norwegians did not get their independence until 1905.” What?! When in Norway we had sung along with that wonderful anthem to the tune of ‘God Save the Queen.’ Bands had played, flags were flown, and speeches made.Was this all a charade?
What actually happened? Well, you might need to make notes at this point. Remember Napoleon’s Marshal Bernadotte? He who applied for the job of King of Norway when the job was given to the Dane Christian Frederick? Well he also had a go for the top job in Sweden under the name of Karl Johan. This time he got what he wanted and was appointed as regent to the ailing Karl XIII. How did that happen and how is it relevant, you ask?
To answer the first question we sailed to Mariefred, some 25 nm across the lake. This is a beautiful village beneath the castle of Gripsholm in whose harbour we moored. The castle was built for the Swedish Chancellor Bo Johnson Grip in the late 14th century and contains a magnificent private theatre – most delicate and delightful – but nothing to do with our story. What is relevant was that the Swedish King Gustav IV was imprisoned here in 1808. He was imprisoned by the leading aristos of the time because they considered his foreign policy to be a disaster. He had declared war on the allies (thereby rendering Sweden subject to the same Naval blockade as Norway, though without the same justification. Norway, being led by a Dane when Denmark was an ally of Napoleon had no choice but to side with Napoleon; but Sweden did have a choice). In declaring war on the allies, Gustav opened Sweden up to attack from Russia who in 1808 invaded Finland (then Swedish territory). It was the loss of Finland which led to Gustav’s imprisonment and forced abdication. His uncle Karl III was given the crown, and because he was in poor health, Karl Johan – the former Marshall Bernadotte - was appointed regent. The Marshal turned against his former boss and got Sweden to join with Britain, Russia and Prussia against Napoleon and Denmark whose leader was Christian Frederick – the elected king of free Norway. (Still with it?)
Bernadotte sorted out the war with the treaty of Kiel. He persuaded Christian Frederick to let Sweden have Norway in exchange for Swedish Pomerania. (thereby opening up the Schleswig Holstein question – but that’s another story). The Norwegians were pissed off with this deal and sacked Christian Frederick, appointing Sweden’s Karl III instead, whose right hand man, remember, was Bernadotte Bernadotte wisely accepted the Norwegian constitution (no absolute monarchy) and when Karl III passed on became titular King of Norway himself. There was a military engagement of some sort, but the outcome was that Norway was fully independent in their eyes with a constutional monarch whom they had elected. In Swedish eyes however, the Treaty of Kiel meant that Norway was theirs, as was proved by the fact that their new king was also King of Norway (yes, you’ve guessed it, the new king was Bernadotte, now Karl Johan) . In practice Norway was an independent nation with a constitutional monarch who just happened also to be King of Sweden.
So what happened in 1905, you ask? The then king fell out with the Norwegian parliament, who had long wanted their own flag and the ability to appoint their own foreign minister. When parliament resigned because the king would not sign the financial measure to implement a consular service, the king declared that ‘a new government cannot now be formed”. As that was his sole role in the eyes of most Norwegians, he was deemed to have declared himself incompetant and redundant. The Norwegians held a vote, and only 184 people voted in favour of having anything further to do with Sweden or their royalty. So they appointed a Dane to be their King (again!). And that is the date the Swedes consider to be the date of Norwegian independence. And that explains why the Norwegains love their flag, O best beloved, and why the Norwegians have two national anthems. Have I not explained that? Well its because the Dane they appointed married the British Princess Maud, and they decided to have ‘God Save the Queen’ as the royal anthem, and to keep the other one for national matters.
After all of that we decided to high tail it back to Stockholm so that Dick and David could catch their planes and we could meet Chris and Clive, whose advantures will feature in the next postcard.
Best wishes from us all