All the crew turned up at the airport with finely tuned bags – between 15.5 and 15.7 kgs each - thereby taking Ryanair to their action limit! The plane was packed but nevertheless took off a few minutes early. “We’ll take a few short-cuts” said the Pilot, “and have you in Stockholm well ahead of schedule.” The first shortcut seemed to be bombing down the taxi way at near take-off speed and cutting out the end of runway engine checks. What the others were, I dread to think. Nevertheless we did arrive in Nykoping (I would not venture to call it Stockholm) ahead of schedule and caught the bus into town, where we ensconced ourselves at an outside table attached to the “Oliver Twist” pub and ordered ‘fish ‘n chips’ and a Newcastle brown (what else?) for a late lunch. It was a very hot afternoon. A few drinks later we wandered back to the bus station in time to catch our evening transport to Oskarshamn. The bus was packed; so we were glad we had booked the seats in advance!.
Safely in Oskarshamn we lugged our luggage the advertised ‘ 10 minute’ walk to Voltair and half an hour later were safely aboard and swigging the chilled beers that John’s crew had thoughtfully left for us. The boat was in immaculate condition, snugly tied up near to the shower block - a blessing on that hot sultry night.
Day one of our cruise saw us winding our way down the intricate inshore passage to get a decent South-ing, before beating across to Oland Island and tacking down to Bornholmen, its main town, site of Europe’s largest and most ugly ruined castle - and the summer palace of the Royal Family (not the same building). It was a good day's sail with more favourable winds than expected and some fine helming by Maggie who got more speed and better tacking angles that any of the rest of us. Bornholmen claimed to offer a 150 berth guest harbour and the finest night life on the Island. Whilst we were delighted to find the harbour virtually empty – just a few geriatric Germans and a Finn – we were dissapointed to find that the night club was closed for the same reason – just a few geriatric Germans and the odd Finn in the harbour. ‘The season is over’, declared the lad in Marina reception with tears in his eyes as he took our money. So we abandoned plan A, and played on board.
And so to Kalmar, Sweden’s ancient capital and the seat of the Vasa kings when they controlled most of the Baltic states. Kalmar fort still exists in a fine state of repair. Its modern keepers have managed to mix displays of modern art with interesting historical documents and exhibits in a most effective way. We noted that the ancient Kings and Queens managed to consume 12 litres of wine a day between them. We resolved to re-double our efforts when we got back on board.
It was a nice evening when we did, so we adopted plan B and sailed on a few miles before settling for the night. But we had forgotten how quickly it gets dark these days and were soon groping for unlit buoys marking the entrance to Evenas. We managed with some relief to find our way to the only berth, and had almost tied up alongside when X, whilst firmly holding onto a rope with his right hand, threw a wrapped up bundle weighted with a mooring clip from the other, missed the pontoon and discovered - as the bundle sank beneath the night dark surface - that the rope he was holding was not the end of the rope he was throwing.
So in the morning a rope recovery party was launched. You can see from the photo, just how much David, who - let us be clear- was not the rope thrower, enjoyed his participation. But the rope was recovered. The sail south was brisk and close. We stomped along almost laying our course until, as evening drew down the pink shades of heaven, we turned west and crept in slowly over some very shallow water to a wild anchorage amongst the islands off Swedens Southeast point.
The trip to Karlskrona, amongst beautiful grass green islands was a delight, and Karlskrona itself was ‘en fete’. Not for the first time we were flattered by the effort being made to welcome Voltair. Representatives of four navies – Swedish, German, Polish and Russian were gathered along the quay; and a fun fair had been put up in the harbour. The Swedes had even placed their latest ‘stealth’ Corvette in the harbour as a teaser. This vessel is supposed to be invisible to most forms of detection – radar, sonar etc - but we spotted it straigtaway with the naked eye.
Karlskrona was and is a main base of the Swedish navy. Nelson regarded it as impregnable with its complex waters confining any prospective attacker to a single narrow winding channel protected by forts many miles out. Today it is as keenly guarded as ever.
On the way out of Karlskrona we got involved in a tacking dual with a Halberg Rassey which we won due to some fine tactical manoevres. Later we disturbed a large flight of what may have been cormorants who wheeled and formed ‘V’ formations just like geese. Do cormorants do that?
The western way out of the Karlkrona Archipelago is through a swing bridge – which as you can see can be tricky in certain wind conditions. This leads into the Hano Bucht which can experience rapid changes in weather – one of which we experienced almost immediately. A nasty squall with viscious rain blew up out of nowhere and had us adopting plan B again and scurrying for the Skargard three miles to our North. The rest of the afternoon we wandered along the usual narrow passages in crystal clear water - motoring for the most part – in the calm airs. But the weather gods were not done with us yet. First they tempted us to set all sail with a light breeze in just the right direction; they they threw in a header at three times the strength. We rushed into the tiny harbour of Hano under bare poles and with the engine in neutral – still moving faster enough to worry the owners of a brand new Sweden Yachts 55. We were invited to come alongside ‘Shangri-La’ a 9 ton well worn catamarran and entertained by Vegoud and Anja – a gesture that we reciprocated later that evening.
Vegoud and Anja turned out to be a pair of thoroughly modern romantics. They ‘met’ on the Internet in the form of characters in a War Game; he was a warrior and she a priestess. From that beginning their friendship blossomed over the mobile phones till Vegoud decided to use a week of his holiday to go to Stockholm and meet Anja in person and she in turn offered him a bed in her flat. Now they plan to sail around the world together. We were duly impressed – not to say envious.
In Nelson’s day. Hano was a major base for the British Navy in its blockade of all those countries who sided with Napoleon. (see previous postcards for details of the history). Some of his sailors died here and were buried on the island in what is now a Naval Cemetery. For us, we hoped Hano would be a stepping stone to the Danish islands of Christianso and Bornholm. Next day began well enough, but as the morning wore on, the wind was pushing us further and further from our desired course and the day looked like running into night before we could arrive. Suddenly we were hit by another unexpected squall and the boat was nearly knocked down. Books flew off the starboard side book shelf and posted themselves between the cooker and the pan store to port – indicative of an angle of heel of 70 degrees; Worse, pure green water was pouring over the cockpit coaming. We quickly loosed the jib and got the boat upright. Then we rolled it away, started the engine and the bilge pump, and opted for plan B, tacking to make for the land some 20 miles away to the west. Gradually and tentatively we put back some jib to match the reefed main, and as we gained confidence we turned the engine off again and began coasting down the backs of the waves, recognising that the moorings up the river at Ahus looked much more attractive than the islands in the troubled southern Baltic.
And so as evening fell, we entered the river and tied up just opposite to the fine Art Deco distillery which is where all the world’s Absolut Vodka is made. The next day being Sunday, we awarded ourselves a day off, visited the Mariakirche and enjoyed some fried Herring and mash at the Pub opposite our mooring. The sailing club had lent us a fine red rowing boat to cross the river, and, rather full of herring and himself, Robin rowed the entire crew back stroking 30 to the minute. Then we had to disembark onto a rather high quay. The others did it, but Robin tried to swing up using the railings, missed his footing and fell into the river in his full Sunday best. Laugh? It was the talking point of the afternoon for all the Swedes for miles; and he had not touched a drop of Vodka.
Now the Navy was conspiring with the weather to prevent our journey onwards. The summer, they thought, was over – so why not start firing live rounds out into the three firing ranges all of which are sited on Sweden’s south coast just in our path? OK, so that adds another 20 nm to the Southwest into our route – and it is blowing 25 knots from the Southwest. No problem, we had plan B. The solution was to arrive where we were going before they began firing. A slight wind-shift in the night, together with an early start made this possible and we reached Simrishamn with no problems. We tried to pull a similar trick the next day, which worked up to the point where the coast turned from going south to going west, at which point, the full force of the weather hit us and even with the tiniest foresail and mizzen we were struggling to make progress and stay upright at the same time. Now was the time for plan B. We fought our way into Kaseberga to await better conditions, a further wind shift and the end of the day’s firing. This turned out to be a rather lovely harbour with room for five yachts, a nice restaurant, an ice-cream parlour and an enormous Viking burial ground. Feeling famished we consumed tomato and basil soup (made with fresh basil from the on board vegetable garden) fried potatoes, bread and butter, cheese and chocolate. Then we climbed the cliff to see the burial ground and the state of the sea the other side. Both were spectacular.
A slight drop in wind strength and the end of the day’s firing enabled us to try again and as evening darkened we crept into a crowded Ystad, where people had been gale bound for three days. We were quickly greeted by the only other UK boat there and Sally and Dariel were soon helping us lower our gin stocks to a safe level in anticipation of Frank's arrival.
And so farewell to our battling sailors, David and Vaughan, who caught the Intercity to Copenhagen (or ‘Shopnhamn’ as they pronounce it here, and welcome aboard Frank. Please bring a South Easterly with you!
Will he? Will the rocket in the stern ever grow more than 2 cms high? Will the live firing stop us from reaching Denmark before the wine runs out? Will we ever carry out plan A?
Stay with us for the next postcard to find out.