Canoe sailing in Sweden 2003
We took the ferry from Newcastle in early August, an overnight trip calling at Kristiansand in Norway before arriving in Gothenburg. Sadly, DFDS no longer run this route. Our plan was to travel across Sweden to sail among the islands of the Stockholm Archipelago for a few days before returning to the west coast to visit a group of Swedish canoe sailors on the Bohuslan coast. I don't know how we did it but seven of us managed to pack ourselves, camping gear and food for two weeks, two canoes, two outrigger canoes and rigging into two very heavily laden cars.
We wanted to sail on one of the inland lakes, breaking our journey for a couple of nights on the shores of Lake Vanern.
This is Sweden's largest lake and the third-largest lake in Europe, encompassing 2,130 sq. km (822 sq. miles) and measuring 145km (90 miles) long and 80km (50 miles) wide at one point. There are 20,000 small islands and rocks forming the world's largest freshwater archipelago
In fact the lake is so vast that we saw only a fraction of it but we did have some brisk and very interesting sailing.
There was time to visit Mariestad one evening. This pretty town is called the "pearl of Lake Vänern," and is known for its many well-preserved old structures in the Old Town. Mariestad, named after Maria von Pfaltz the first wife of Duke Karl (later Karl IX), lies on the eastern shore of Lake Vänern and is one of the best places to stay for those sailing the Göta cannal.
From Mariestad to Stockholm and then on to Varmdo, one of the easily accessible islands that you can reach by car furthest from the city centre. To see where we were, click here.
We camped at a small campsite on Varmdolandet, facing the island of Grinda. The Bolvic campsite had its own jetty and they were happy for us to leave our cars in their car park for a few days. From there we packed and launched our canoes for a camping trip amongst the islands - we had five days to explore some of the vast Stockholm Archipelago.
Steve Robinson sailed "Osprey", his outrigger canoe with 44 and 22 sq ft Bermudan ketch rig.
Dave Stubbs sailed his "Lark" with 55 sq ft Lugsail ketch rig.
Dave and Oliver Poskitt sailed a new, lighter weight version of "Osprey" with different deck layout and similar sail area to Steve's. This was her maiden voyage.
I sailed my own "Petrel" with a single 44 sq ft Bermudan sail. All the boats were built and fitted out by Solway Dory.
It was sunny as we set off with some cloud and a light breeze and the promise of similar weather to come for the next few days. To see what a nightmare navigation was through these islands, look at the nautical chart for the archipelago. Steve had a GPS and this and the extra speed of his outrigger canoe proved indispensable on a trip of this kind. He rose to the challenge of knowing precisely where we were all the time - no mean feat when the islands look so alike.
As late afternoon approached, a strip of beach with a bit of flat ground beyond became our first campsite on Trasko, about 12 kilometres as the crow flies east of where we set out. We worried that after investigation, it seemed to be the bottom of someone's garden but as no one was home we pitched our tents anyway. In Sweden camping for one night is allowed anywhere as long as you are out of sight of any houses.
Finding a sandy landing beach on the first day was easy but we hadn't realized just how scarce these were to become as we sailed on. The inner islands were rocky but low and forested some with quite large clearings for holiday houses.
Further out, the islands are covered with scrubby woodland clinging to the rock but eventually even this gives way to the elements and the far off islands are just lichen-covered rock.
The warm sunshine woke us and we breakfasted on the beach before an early start in rather a light breeze. It was great to sail in shorts and T-shirt and to be warm enough. Bright sunshine, freshening wind and constantly changing views made wonderful sailing conditions, although among these inner islands the "traffic" was very busy.
By Saturday lunchtime we reached the island of Moja, very pretty and obviously popular but welcome enough once we found a few spare feet of bank to draw up our canoes. It really is a free for all along the shores of these popular islands at peak times but everyone seems to remain calm and well-mannered so typical of the Swedish character.
Navigation in these parts had to be carried out in close proximity to the shore-line. The channels here were narrow with steep rocky shores either side which allowed us to look at the picturesque painted wooden houses more closely. All were built in the same style and very neatly kept if perhaps lacking in individuality.
There are no cars on most of the islands so these motorized tricycles come in very handy. We saw everything from suitcases to Grannies being transported this way.
That night we had an interesting campsite on Hemo, an island of rock rising out of the sea. As there was no beach we moored the canoes snuggly between two boulders. Dave and I took the only flat space under a birch tree where the depth of lichen had built up just enough for the tent pegs to grip.
Dave Stubbs and Steve chose flat boulders by the shore and weighted down their tents while Oliver slept on the bare rock in his sleeping bag.
We enjoyed a quiet night until the wind got up early in the morning blowing Steve's tent over while he was swimming. Oliver got up and his karrimat promptly blew into the sea.
Later on, there were one or two fairly exposed crossings and in these brisk conditions we paired up, one outrigger with one canoe and found the shortest route across. After some initial apprehension I began to enjoy this tougher sailing as much as the relaxed light breezes. I would not have been so happy without the two outrigger canoes providing "safety backup".
After an exhilarating crossing we found ourselves within the shelter of narrow rocky channels again among many small islands ringed with green lines on the map (which we realised meant nature reserve). Our chosen route home took us a little north of the outward journey to St. Hastnacken, part of a group of small islands forming a nature reserve where anyone can camp for one night in relative comfort, supplied with a dry toilet, rubbish bins and best of all, sheep-grazed meadows where we could pitch our tents.
We arrived about mid-afternoon pushing our boats into a soft reed bed - very early for camping but it was to be our last night camping among these beautiful islands and we wanted to make the most of it. We lazed in the sunshine and later explored the island in the cool of the evening. The sheep here have no fresh water, they drink from the sea as the Baltic is hardly salty at all.
We were amazed at Steve's conscientious navigation throughout the trip and we were not at all surprised when he suggested someone else take over for the last leg back to Varmdo. After a crash course on how to use the GPS, Dave Stubbs reluctantly took the chart and we found ourselves in due course and with only a few detours to look for channels, back at the Bolvic Campsite on Varmdo. It had seemed too short a time and we shall certainly go back one day.
Next day we took the waterbus into Stockholm, visiting the Vasa Museum and exploring Gamla stan and the old part of the city.
Near to the Vasa we found the small boat Museum which had several historic sailing canoes. Carmen, built in 1885 was one of Carl Smith's boats.
We stayed overnight on the shores of Lake Vanern again, near Vanersborg before returning to the west coast and finding our way to "Lilla Hamburgon" where some Swedish canoe sailors were waiting for us.
This tiny island is part of the Bohuslan Coast, famous for its magnificent scenery, rocky islands and picturesque fishing villages. The larger island of Hamburgsund is accessible by free car ferry for 24 hours a day which, given the size and small population was incredible. Our instructions were to take the ferry, to drive across the island, to park at the end of the road and wait for a small boat to come and get us. Torkel and Knut came to collect us and taking only what we needed for the night, we left our cars, boats and tents behind.
Accommodation had been arranged for us and we soon made ourselves at home in one of the houses on the island, combining our food for a joint meal and then a luxurious night's sleep indoors in comfortable beds.
The boathouse on Lilla Hamburgon - landing place, workshop, sail loft, accommodation and focal point of all activity.
Torkel's house - the island belongs to him and his family and this year he kindly agreed to host a meeting arranged by Knut Wallenburg, the designer of the Swedish "Enorm" sailing canoes.
Next day we brought our canoes across and realised the wind hadn't really abated from the previous day. In spite of this we were keen to sail and to see how the Swedish boats performed. Their canoes and rigs were of one design, by Knut.
The hulls are robust (usually built of plywood), seaworthy and very pretty, especially this fine strip planked version on show for the occasion. These canoes were rigged with boomless lugsails and were handled very well in the exciting conditions.
Petrel on the left with two of the "Enorm" canoes.
To keep us amused Torkel had warned us that he had prepared an activity for us and next day he issued maps for sail orienteering which took us out to some surprisingly exposed waters. In bright sunshine and still very strong wind, gusting up to force 4 or more, doing any detailed navigation wasn't easy.
We made it to the beach close behind Dave Stubbs but the others admitted to cheating; they guessed the destination and very sensibly didn't trouble to sail the whole course! We drank beer, ate lunch and chatted in the hot sun, idling away an hour before sailing again to make the most of the short time we had left.
Steve sailed completely round the island.
Knut invited us to the boathouse to celebrate our last evening with schnapps and shrimps. There were buckets of huge Icelandic prawns and eating them was a very long and sociable affair involving much story telling, singing and drinking of schnapps and then more shrimps.
As the alcohol and atmosphere took effect and the rock face opposite turned red in the last of the sun's rays and darkness fell around the boathouse we had a chance to reflect on our sailing holiday.