The Starting Gun

Chris and Clive arrived before the noon-day gun. Thus after a beer, some lunch and a siesta, we were ready to sail in the early afternoon.

Skansen Stockholm harbour at any time of day is a kaleidoscope of sight, sound and sensation. Just by the Marina is Skansen, the crazy full-time fairground filled with death defying rides. Leaving the screams of the participants astern you can cruise along the main ‘strand’ and look at the old live-aboards, gaff rigged fishing boats and one or two really wicked racing machines. Here too are the berths of the tour boats and water taxis. These charge about seemingly at random narrowly missing the canoeists and rowers who, in all innocence, are calmly doing the sights their way, believing that the rest of us will avoid them. In reality, seeing them is hard enough, avoiding them is another matter. I do not think we hit very many. The berths for the cruise liners and the equally large luxury ferries destined for Tallinn, Mariehamn, Helsinki and Gotland are in the main leg of the harbour. At least one of these is on the move at most times of the day. The western arm was taken over when we were there by the Volvo Ocean Race participants, backup crews, commercial sponsors, TV commentators, temporary tented restaurants, bars and general razzmatazz. Opposite were the moorings of a couple of tall ships, which often took passengers out for a sail. Nearby the rapids from Lake Malaren disgorge in a swirling mass of disturbed water. In an out zip jet skis and speedboats. Above all this hang-gliders hang, balloonists float and helicopters helicop.

The evening exodus from Stokholm Leaving all this behind we hoisted our sails for Vaxholm, flagged as the nearest spot to Stockholm selling diesel. It was a glorious sail into the archipelago made more exciting by the fact that we were soon found ourselves being pursued by a fleet of cruise liners in battle order.

They passed so close to us that we could here the ice clinking in the whisky glasses. Or was that ours?

The next day we sailed down to Sandholm, the ‘must visit’ place much praised by the Finnish Olympic Yachtsman, to whom we finished second in the famous race from Vadstena Slott. After another glorious sail in the company of a good many yachts, we claimed an outside pontoon on the KSSS moorings on the grounds that, being British, we did not do ‘bow to’ mooring.

From there we strode ashore in search of provisions and maybe a drink. “How about some bubbly – skippers paying” quipped Chris. No sooner said than skipper shepherded his crew into the portals of a new delicatessen whose attractive young owner was offering free bubbly and nibbles to celebrate three weeks of successful trading. A little later three happy sailors returned to Voltair clutching packages of asparagus, cheese, fresh carved gravadlax and spicy sausages.

Chris Enjoying Pole Position

It turned out that the start of the final leg of the Volvo Ocean Challenge - involving all those massive Open 70’s we had ogled in Stockholm - was to take place from Sandhamn the very next day, and we had secured pole position for watching the preparations.

The Crowds and the Contestants Arrive from Stockholm

Bedlam descended starting about 11 in the morning. Luxury gin-palaces seethed around us in agonies of frustration that the spot that should have been theirs was taken by this rather classic yacht sporting the red ensign. Chris had curled our ropes neatly and was sitting on deck sipping a chilled beer. Clive was sunbathing forward. Eventually at one, we had mercy on them, slipped our lines and joined the throng motoring out to the start.

There we hove to and enjoyed the intense atmosphere. There were boats of all shapes and sizes around us – pleasure boats, ribs, inflatables, steamers, big yachts and little, runabouts and palaces. Robin wished he could hoist a sign saying, “I have no bow-thrusters and am not too good in reverse either,” whilst doing his best not to be machined gunned out of the water by the military who were patrolling the start line. No Contest

The Open 70’s hoisted their flat-toped mains and prowled the line, sniffing out the breeze and rattling their winches. Pacing the Line

At the ten minute gun they hoisted their genoas and started serious play. They were doing 10 knots in the light breeze. Then bang! And they were off, green hull in the lead for a reach down to the first mark. They turned and came back to the starting buoy again, scaring the spectators with the close handling, and then they were off for St Petersburg with the fleet – and us – in pursuit.

The Chase after the Start

The Swedish navy had provided a guided missile frigate to accompany them and when she turned on the power…

We were glad we were not close.

After the fleet had dissapeared in the general direction of St Petersburg, we sailed north through the Archipelago. The archipelago is criss- crossed with a number of well marked recommended routes. Whilst we were travelling along these we were usually in the company of many other yachts. It could get quite competitive at times. But when we ventured ‘off piste’ we were on our own. ‘Off piste’ there were no buoys or beacons, and quite often the charts had a certain measure of, shall we say, uncorrectedness. We usually anchored somewhere alone. One night we had just finished anchoring, when a local lad rowed out vigorously to invite us to use the family mooring. ‘Very few people visit us here,’ he said, ‘ and certainly no foreign yachts.’

Eventually, after sailing in what must be close to paradise, we set out to cross the Baltic. When we reached the border, with land on both sides just a faint whisper, we lowered the Swedish flag and hoisted the Finnish one. A few hours later we made our landfall and secured ourselves alongside another British boat, Wandering Star, who observed ‘You are not flying the correct courtesy flag!’. Looking around we saw that there was not a Finnish courtesy flay in sight!

Where were we?

Answers in the next postcard!

Best wishes

Robin, Clive and Chris