After an hour’s delay at Stansted, the latest crew of Christine, Eric and Michael, together with John's friend Tatjana from Slovenia, arrived by bus from Skavsta, Ryanair’s “Stockholm” airport 100km to the south, at 12:30am, to a torrential downpour in the city - thunder and lightning, the lot! We waded with our luggage to a none-too-large taxi, took a short overpriced journey to the Marina and collapsed over cake and whisky before falling into bed after a long day’s travelling.
Friday 24th July (Tatjana's first day of official retirement!) was spent as tourists looking around the Stockholm Old Town, "Gamla Stan". We took the Hop On – Hop Off Boat around Stockholm harbour as we were moored near one of the stops on the route. The first street was full of tourists & lots of shops serving their every need (Viking Helmets & Swedish Flags etc). We eventually found a traditional swedish tea-room for coffee & cake, with a traditional attractive swedish waitress. The back room held 100 or more tea boxes of every type you can imagine (the tea not the boxes), several of those huge red coffee grinders you used to see in Twinings and the emporium turned out to be owned by a Russian.
We continued to walk via Riddarholmen & back to Parliament Bridge. We then found traditional Swedish Smorgasbord lunch which was excellent but pricey and then took a tour of the Royal Palace Apartments which were sumptuous and elegant. However, after M. Bernadotte, a french lawyer, was offered the post of King of Sweden, some of us were made to feel the swedes should be Republican! (I really think M. Bernadotte should have a dedicated web-page - he really got around - just like Lord Mandelson). Caught the last tourist boat back to Wasahamn marina where some went round museum boats & others back to Voltair for tea & cooking.
Saturday: An early trip to the Vasa museum to beat the crowds (among the first people in, we had our own private showing of the film about the salvage of the Vasa) we also learnt all about the importance of stability (the Vasa sank on her maiden voyage in Stockholm harbour). We then headed for sea after a safety briefing, exiting the marina berth with a swift 3-point turn necessitated by the bows blowing the wrong direction in the wind. We arrived at Vaxholm, the gateway to Stockholm’s Archipelago, in time to tour the Castle (on one island) & then gate-crash a music festival (on another island) BUT Suzi the outboard had other ideas and would not cooperate at all. So, instead of these visits, JK spent three hours trying to fix her Saturday evening & another two Sunday morning, including stripping the carburettor, checking the fuel jets, checking & cleaning the spark plug multiple times, replacing the fuel & drying the cylinder, facing Mecca etc. The interim diagnosis was that the timing may have jumped during last week’s fight with a rock (Rock 1, Split Pin 0). May need a dealer!
Sunday: Left Vaxholm (or is it Waxholm - even the Swedes don't seem sure) at 10.45. Pretty much straight away we went through the very narrow sound of Stegesund, going the wrong side of a green marker and finding the bottom -- gently! The Board of Enquiry disciplined the Management for failing to upload the special Stegesund chart to the handheld, and the Helmsman for being colourblind. Wind fickle, lots of speedboats but at least the sun shone. Eventually (17.30), found wild anchorage at Langvik on island of Namdo (5 miles SW of Robin’s choice of anchorage which was full of boats), Eric rowed Tatjana and Christine to small island in dinghy; JK swam to shore and collected some bilberries to add a little something to the g'n'ts. We had great fun watching bubbles form on the berries, the berries float to the surface, lose their buoyancy and sink again. However, they didn't taste of all that much!
Monday: early (7.45) swim for Christine -- short dip owing to water temp!. Sailed at 10; by 11.30 engine off, beating with two sails up. 3 hour stop at Dalaro, no. 2 marina; for lunch (soup and salad + last of black Aland bread – after cutting out mouldy bits! – ? like ship’s rations in medieval times? - though no weevils as yet) and shopping (though no spark plugs found, despite a long walk). It was a great spot for a bit of kite-surfing in the strong sou-westerly wind, (click the map for the photo of the kite-boarder), but not so good for us beating into it.
After lunch we sailed on to another wild anchorage on the north side of Rano. There's a book with all the recommended swedish wild anchorages in it, and this one is not there! That's because the bottom is made of rock, with a thin layer of mud on it, and getting an anchor to hold is really difficult. On the 4th attempt we succeeded, much to the amusement of a couple in a cabin cruiser whose shallow draught allowed them to tie up to a line ashore.
Tuesday took us to Nynashamn, where mermaids balance on bow-ladders and Suzuki spark-plugs go for their august vacations. Having fitted the new plug, Suzi sprang to life at the third pull. JK recounts: "I couldn't believe it! The other plug had sparked perfectly well when NOT in the engine. I changed them back again...... dead as the do-do..... again..... perfect! If I had had a hat on, I would have eaten it!"
On we went to the isle of Jarflotta, where a look at the chart indicated an interesting but shallow sound leading to an "inland sea" and a sandy beach , suitable for swimming! Suzi was to be put to a hard test - a five mile run without the option! Serve her right for not cooperating earlier! Well, actually that had not been the plan.
We were going to land by a boathouse and walk down a path through the woods to the beach, collecting berries along the way. However, the natives were not friendly, and landing rights were denied. But it was a nice, though slow trip, with 5 in the boat, to the beach, where some other boaters had set up camp. A short walk through the forest brought us to the southern shore of the island, with fine views a clear evening light and limpid waters. Still a chill breeze though, so no actual swimming was done.
The following day we sailed for 7 hours non-stop and made 42 miles to Oxelösund. Now we were only a short bus-ride from Skavsta airport where 80% of the crew had arrived a week before! After that, they needed a beer, so they had one!
As we ventured further south, each new port gave out leaflets boasting the attractions of its hinterland, coastline, island group or its range of activities on offer in the summer. Being good mannered tourists, we ventured down the coast for another 150 miles sampling all of them and drawing a multicoloured trail behind us.
You don't get that much exercise on Voltair, so we decided we needed a short stroll. Being in Oxelösund, the island of Femore to the south provided an interesting diversion, since much of it was riddled with tunnels and bunkers, with large bits of artillery placed on top, a relic of the cold war, when this secret fortress was to defend central Sweden from the russians. The Femore Fortress website is worth a visit, and has a surprise starting sequence! Actually, we didn't have time for the whole tour, so its just as well the website is so thorough. It was quite a walk, though, and took us all morning.
Arkösund was the next town of interest, home of the Norrköping Yacht Club, which had a beautiful period clubhouse just opposite the new guest-pontoon in the harbour. It would have been excellent to visit such a fine clubhouse, but the club was hosting a regatta while we were there, for the Express class of 3 to 4-man 25ft keelboat, and so all cruising visitors were discouraged.
The website for this interesting class, which I had never heard of before, is worth a look. There's some U-tube video and good shots of fleet racing. An English skipper won the Millenium Northumberland to Norway handicap race in one of these - the conditions reminiscent of our stormy return to Norway from Denmark in 2007.
We found enough of a challenge in getting onto the new pontoon - there was just one space left, right on the windward end, it was raining and blowing force 4-5, and we had never done a lazy line mooring before. We managed to get the bow onto the end of the pontoon so Eric could jump off, and then slipped back and to leeward without Suzi's propellor doing too much damage to our next door neighbours topsides, and without the lazy-line getting caught around our propellor. Next morning we walked up the road to the main part of the town (click for map), passing an interesting fire-station which was built over the top of an old railway engine turntable - you don't see many of them these days! I'm sure we could have spent an interesting day around the town and the promontory to the north of it, but it was time to move on, and begin to break new ground to the south of where Voltair had already been when Robin first brought her out of the Gota Canal in June.
The Pilot recommended Harstena as an "idyllic wild anchorage", and Robin had found it so when he went there to check. When we arrived, on a friday evening, it was wall to wall boats and several sailing and motor-boat clubs had evidently decided it should be their weekend destination. We eventually found enough space to anchor in, and decided to pin the bow using the kedge as well, since there seemed so much traffic around. After dinner, we took a walk ashore, hoping to find a friendly pub, but after a route march through the forest on a muddy track we found a closed shop, a closing restaurant, a nice sound between the islands, and a big development of stylish and individually designed holiday homes. Looking for a circular route back to the mooring, we failed to find one that the chief navigators could approve, and only just made it back to the dinghy before total darkness descended.
Having located a website for Harstena, it appears that this island was once winter quarters for 40,000 grey seals, which were thoroughly exploited by the islanders for pelts, meat and blubber.
Next day we had a lovely sail in sunshine and moderate breezes to Valdemarsvik, two hours up a long narrow fjord. We were pleased we had taken this deviation from our main route because Valdemarsvik seemed to us a pleasant and friendly town. There had been a large leather products manufacturer in the town, but this factory had shut 20-odd years ago and now the community seemed to be relying on tourists (and perhaps the government) for their main income, since they all seemed rather laid back and not out for every Kroner they could make.
The extensive marina had diesel and water to hand, excellent facilities with free hot showers, (yes, this is one of the few marinas where JK had a shower!), yet there were only a few boats in harbour even at the end of July, when you might have expected it to be full. After dinner, we took the bottle of Southern Comfort for a clamber up to the "viewpoint" above the town and had a nip. It didn't help us see through the trees that had grown up around the flagpole, (we had to come down 50ft to get this view of the harbour), but it did make up for the lack of view from the top! Thus fortified, we made it down again with no sprained ankles and, tonight, no navigational difficulties!
The next evening, having failed to buy smoked fish at the Rokeri as we passed by (it was sunday), it was a wild anchorage again, this time moored to trees on a rocky island, and time for Tatjana to take a trip to the top of the mast. Eric provided the motive power for first of all John (with camera) and then Tatjana to make the 35-foot ascent. The "rokeri", by the way, consisted of two large chimneys with ovens in them, under which very tarry fires are lit. Very difficult to photograph as it's all very black. Not at all sure I'd want to eat the fish that came out of them!
We made it to Västervik the following day quite early in the afternoon, which turned out well, since the marina had a lovely swimming pool and sauna, as well as the usual facilities, and all free! We made best use of it all, and ate out in the town, which was beautifully kept and chock full of colourful flowering plants. Click the link for pictures of the town.
Tearing ourselves away from the delights of the saltwater pool in Västervik, we spent the next day dodging steamers as we cruised down the "approved route" to the south, sailing where the wind permitted, motoring where it didn't. Managing to find an anchorage out of sight of other moored vessels was a problem - it really was a popular area - but eventually we managed it, even though the main route was only 300 yards away. It being Eric's turn to produce a culinary masterpiece, a circumnavigation of the adjacent islands by dinghy with Michael and Christine was embarked upon, yielding some interesting photos - Michael on his own in the dinghy, while Christine did some "Heathcliffe!" waving from the shore.
It was a magnificent roast ham which we consumed that evening (yes, we were still on our UK provisions) and it was a lovely evening with a spectacular sunset. We decided to sleep off the wine, (or at least, some of it), for a few hours and then get up, extricate ourselves from our particularly tricky anchorage in a garden of rocky islets in the dead of night, and set sail for the northern tip of the island of Öland, some 17 nautical miles away.
Getting up at 02:30 was surprisingly easy - you just don't go to sleep to start with. We waited for a while for our eyes to get used to the dark, but it was a pretty black night, and black rocks were merging into black sea and black sky.
Eventually we thought we discerned some shades of grey and dared to hoist the anchor. Using the compass and GPS, we started inching the boat forward towards the narrow gap in the rocks (invisible) that would lead to the buoyed channel we were looking for. Our fearsomely powerful searchlight was brought into action to look for the rocks, and we saw ...
.... a bright and diffuse beam of light reflected back by the damp sea air! 100 yards forward, good depth, we think we're going the right way, even though the GPS says we are on dry land... (we have run out of detailed electronic charts) but still can't see anything! Thank goodness there are no tides around here!
Another 50 yards, and there's a bright reflection on the starboard bow - it's a reflective tape strip around the top of one of the green channel buoys. Phew! Now we know where we are!
We turned north and headed back the way we had come, until we came to a red, white and green sectored light at a crossroads a mile away. Turning right, we kept in the narrow (safe) white sector of the lamp and gradually motored away from it, until we picked up the next guiding light and reached the white sector of that as well. We still couldn't see many of the rocks, but, after another mile, we felt safe enough to turn into the wind and put up the mainsail. Now we picked up a bit of speed and, clear of all the hard bits, turned onto our south-easterly course towards the tall lighthouse on Öland, which we could just about see glimmering 4 times in 15 seconds, directly ahead of us.
It was an overcast morning as we approached the 30m high tower, luminous at dawn against the dark grey sky. The huge lagoon at the north of the island turned out to be really shallow and full of blue-green algae in the warmer water. Not an inviting swimming pool, though about a thousand cormorants thought it was really great!
However, we did feel like a walk, so we decided to do a pair of circular walks - Christine, Tatjana and Eric pioneering a route from the ferry pier to the lighthouse, while Michael and JK would take Hermione to the lighthouse and walk to the ferry pier. The dads had the best of it, for the first group had real trouble getting off the ferry pier around the security fence, and then also had difficulty in finding the right path through the forest.
All we had to do was to motor to the lighthouse and have a chat to the Danes who were gathered there pretending to know how to fish. When we met our pathfinders at the pebbly beach which ran around the coast we were able to get detailed instructions on just which garden we had to trespass across to find the correct route.
By the time the dads had got to the ferry pier, (closed to traffic, we discovered, because one of the ferries had collided with another one, resulting in a shortage of ships and a gatekeeper whose job it was to turn people away), Hermione could be seen successfully avoiding the rocks in the gulf, on the way back from the lighthouse, and coming to pick us up.
A lunch was rapidly prepared and consumed, and we left the bay to go on to a more interesting harbour for the night, a few miles down the western coast at a seaside resort revelling in the unlikely name of Byxelkrok.
By the time we got there, around 6pm, Byxelkrok was full! I mean there was not even ONE small space in the harbour. However, the harbour master was not for turning away a guest, and a small crack in the wall of boats was converted to a space wide enough to insert a Voltair. There was even a spare electricity socket within cabling distance! Actually, we didn't stay there all that long, or get the real feel of Öland's party atmosphere, but we did drink a beer or two and have a full night's sleep - just as well, because the next day, we were to visit........
.......... the Blue Virgin!
With 10 knots of wind from the north, and a sou-westerly course to steer, it was time to meet the "Blå Jungfrun", (by the way, do click the link, there's a nice map and interesting things to read about the island), with the correctly coloured sail, so out came the cruising chute, to be flown as a spinnaker.
Eventually we found an anchorage on the south side that was suitably out of the wind and wave, not likely to drag, out of the way of everyone else, and not too deep, and hurled enough chain overboard to sink a dinghy. A row to the stony beach brought us to the foot of the Virgin's foot, so to speak, with huge slopes of quite rough granite rising 30-odd feet above us, at just the right angle to casually walk up, if you have just the right type of rubber soles on your shoes, and a head for heights! The rest of the party clambered over the unstable football sized rocks below the slabs until we made it to the path a little way up the hill.
Then we discussed how to conquer the summit of this not-very-high island. As we were in the south, and the best route up was from the north, the first thing we had to do was to turn the island around. Or we could walk all the way around the edge, clockwise, to the north. Ankles and knees were not broken, we were pleased to note, but to say our party, (average age 56 including one 30-something), leapt, chamois-like, from rock to rock would have been an exaggeration! Actually, it was a lovely walk, though rather further than we had expected. By the time we got around to the NE corner of the island, and reached a wooden bridge with a troll under it, we "trip-trapped over the bridge" rather slower than the billy goats Gruff would have done!
But we did "summit" (I think it's allowed to use the word as a verb these days, though I would have got a whack from my english teacher had I done it 50 years ago) eventually. Here is Eric, celebrating, and here is the rest of us, about ten minutes later!
The walk down was a lot shorter, but rather than walking across smooth slabs of rock, polished by glaciers, we were clambering over the large lumps of rock that had broken off the crest of the ridge as the glacier passed by. It was very rough going, but enlivened by spectacular overhangs and a maze that some nice people had set up when developing the island as a "destination".
A short evening sail brought us nearer to Oskarshamn, but not quite there. A small island community called Furo lay between the BJ and the mainland, and we once again shoehorned ourselves into a place on the quay where one didn't really exist. In the morning, the place was alive with swifts or they may have been house martins (though there were not many houses around). There were dozens of them on every cross-tree and spar and the air was alive with them darting in and out, presumably after the flying insects coming off the lake which was close by. It was the only time we saw this behaviour, so it was rather noteworthy.
And so we arrived at the delightful town of Oskarshamn, complete with charming back streets of cobbles, flanked by traditional houses. The charts which Robin had ordered to be delivered to the tourist office were collected, diesel replenished, gas likewise (useful to have a big rugby player on board for that sort of job), and the rather salty spinnaker washed and dried. We narrowly avoided a final meal of traditional "Back Passage Spaghetti" and the catering committee decided we should instead go out to eat at a real swedish restaurant, which was fun!
Next day, all we had to do was get to the bus station on time, and travel back to Skavsta again. This meant a bus to Nyköping, a pause and then another short ride to the airport. Easy enough, and all day to get there. It wouldn't have been remarkable, except for what was going on in Nyköping. The centre of the town was a few hundred yards from the bus station, so we all piled into the nearest Irish Pub with our mound of baggage and ordered food and drinks. After this was consumed, Eric, whose knee was playing up, volunteered to mind the baggage while the rest of us had a stroll into town. And a very fine town it was too.... they seemed to be having some sort of a party! There was a street market, a funfair, a sound stage, a bridge over the river with beautiful flowers, a bagpipe band on their way to Glasgow, oh, and there were an awful lot of semi-naked girls!
Yes, it was that one-in-365 chance that we had arrived in Nyköping on Carnival day, which every year transports a bit of staid and stolid Sweden to exotic and abandoned Latin America, where everyone dances to the beat of THE SAMBA. You can hear it too, if you click the on it. And some dance it with a lot less clothes on than you might imagine!
Well, what was your reporter to do? He was already separated from the remainder of the Voltair team who were back at the pub. We were supposed to meet to catch the bus in 10 minutes time, and the parade was due to start in 15 minutes. Should he miss the bus? Or miss the action?
Loyalty to one's friends is a wonderful thing. Turning his back on the bare-bottomed beauties, he made it back to the pub just in time........ to be told that we were catching a later bus in an hour's time.
And so, all the fun of the fair was duly recorded, and your reporter got on the Ryanair flight with a huge smile on his face that even 2 hours in a non-reclining seat couldn't wipe off! If you want a feel for the beat, (and the bottoms) and can be bothered to wait for 2.8Mb to load, click this link and play it full screen. Then you can play it again. As 007 might have said, "Once is not enough".
Best wishes from Christine, Eric and Michael, from Tatjana and, of course, from JK.