Cragaig Bay

Our chosen anchorage of Cragaig bay looked ideal for the N to NE winds which were due for the next few days. It is sheltered from all winds except Southerlies and on getting up next morning my historical antennae began to twitch. The shelter was provided by numerous little islets and peninsulars on the North sides of which were “noosts” – lanes cleared through the boulders where shallow draft craft could be beached in complete safety , even if the wind was from the South. There looked to be quite a few ruined buildings dotted around the hillside and I knew that most of these had been empty since the clearances of the mid 19th century, so that these noosts had lain unused for close on 200 years. But could they be older still? 

I couldnt wait to get ashore and sure enough the little ruined village had a sign recording that this was the ancestral birthplace of Gen Lachlan McQuarrie – the father of Australia .Of more interest to me the same sign told us that village name – Ormaig- was from the Od Norse meaning Bay of Serpents – or Bay of Longships! Of course , it was the ideal place for a Viking fleet to lay up with room for twenty or so  ships to shelter on their summer voyaging – or even lay up for the winter.  In later years the Scottish galleys and local open fishing boats would have gladly used the same noosts – and now it was all abandoned.  We may now have wonderful forecasting and much improved equipment but the small boat sailor still faces the same imperative to find suitable shelter when the elements get grumpy that our Viking forebears did – and to me this place shouted out its maritime history even if it was less safe for our deep keel craft than the shallow beachable ships of yore. 

Even if I hadnt been excited  by the history of the bay , the sheer beauty of the immediate surroundings with the grandeur of the cliffs of Mull as a backdrop made a decision to spend a few days exploring the area by foot and canoe an easy one. Just next to the anchorage a little bothy in fine condition looked very attractive and we soon met a young couple walking in to spend a couple of days there. Unbelievably you can rent it on AirBandB , although all requirements need to be carried in on your back or by boat. Other folk were camping on an island a mile or so to the west , having got there by kayak and in the prevailing fine weather it was a marvellous place to spend a few days. 

An hours walk to the west were a few more ruins and an old graveyard. One of the newer stones recorded the death of Donald McLeod in 1671 at the age of 80 , suggesting it might not have been a bad place to live before the clearances . Perhaps in those days with more cultivation, the land was less infested with ticks – this was the only problem in this marvellous place – Lynda collected no fewer than 20 !

In Search of Nature

The English channel and Western approaches had delivered a surprising amount of wildlife ; 3 species of dolphin including a pair of white beaked dolphin east of the Lizard – a first for us – and more puffin than we have ever seen in this area before. By contrast the Irish sea and North channel were devoid of interest if you dont count the large colony of black guillemots in Glenarm. We were therefore keen to visit the anchorage behind the Ardmore islands which has previously teemed with wildlife . Our wind gods however didn’t seem keen on the idea, giving us 25+  knots of wind which would have necessitated 2 anchors and a nervous night in this tight little place. It was however a wonderful opportunity to relax and in the event we postponed our plans by just 12 hours, used the anchorage the following morning to await the tide through the Sound of Islay, and were duly entertained  by a large colony of seals ,  with a few divers and eiders as a bonus for our effort.

Our next destination was Loch Tarbert , Jura : a grand, wild and completely isolated loch that I had visited 26 years ago when we delivered Polly from the South coast . I had however forgotten how narrow is the passage of Cumhann Mor into the middle loch , especially as we transitted the wiggely bit with the wind astern and at max flood. This of course is nothing compared to Cumhann Beg , the passage into the upper loch which we explored by dinghy all those years ago , but this was a step too far and we contented ourselves with a glorious sunset playing over the Paps of Jura  in what is a truly imposing anchorage.

The west coast of Mull  25 miles to the NW is a favourite playground of ours , containing as it does the Sound of Iona ( where we “always” see a particularly frisky troupe of bottle nosed dolphin) , the architectural splendour of Staffa with its wonderfull Fingals cave , and best of all the enormous puffin colony on the Treshnish isles. The wind blew us gently under spinnaker to Iona , but with a fresh NE wind forecast for the next day we retired to the easy and safe anchorage of Bunessan to await an opportunity to visit these wonders. Sadly there was no sign of our dolphins. Unusually for these days , Bunessan bay had no signal so we set off next day unsure if we would be able to land at any of these attractions , but lo and behold out in the middle by Staffa up popped a signal and it looked as if there would be a tempory lessening of the NE wind that would make anchoring at Tresnish feasable in the evening, although Staffa would have to wait . 

What a day! A fine sail with the glorious backdrop of Mull  took us into the anchorage at Treshnish just as the tripper boats were leaving , so we had the puffins almost to ourselves , with the exception of some serious birders who were camping there . Rain was due by 2000hrs so after glutting ourselves on the birdlife we fetched back to an anchorage on the south side of Ulva that we had never been to before , but not before seeing “our “ pod of bottle nosed dolphin leaping and cavorting under the cliffs . The anchor went down and we were all cleared away minutes before the rain fell . Somehow being snug inside whilst the rain fell made the perfect end to a brilliant day.

With Luck and a Following Wind- Again

With last years sailing confined to three short trips within the Channel , both Lynda and I felt that it was more than time to get back to some wild places. But where ? A very busy Spring  had left  us little time to plan, and so by default we decided NOT to plan , but to go literally where the wind blew us . As ever the time for departure came , and went (!), which at least gave some impetus to our preparations,  but  finally on the 5th of June we cast off . The wind was from the SW so we  hoisted a kite and headed East.

Off Shoreham the seas began to build and the inevitable rolling emphasised the significant slop in the gooseneck fittings, too much slop for wild places ! Feeling somewhat foolish we hauled our wind and beat back to Hamble to fix it. The saying goes that ‘cruising is little more than fixing the boat in exotic places “ but in Hamble I stood a better chance of doing a decent repair in a decent timescale than somewhere more exotic ( Lowestoft?!)- the advantage of knowing everyone far outweighing the embarrassment of returning so soon. 

In the three days it took to make the repair the weather had done a complete about turn. A vicious little storm had sunk a lifeboat in Brittany  and caused much damage in the North sea and now heading West looked the best option. It also looked wet and so we added another rider to our plans; we would go where the wind blew and endeavour to stay in bed if it rained! Thanks to the extraordinary availability of 4G data this is indeed  now possible, which explains a pit stop in Dartmouth , a hurried passage to Scilly to avoid the rain in mid channel  and a couple of days vascillation in the Scillies heavily interogating the internet as to where the best weather would be over the next fortnight. 

It gradually became clear that SW Ireland was going to get hammered , Britain and France would probably need a latter day Noah , but the West Coast of Scotland , might …… just might…….., be the best bet. More to the point we had 4 days of SW winds to get there. So we went.

The Western approaches to the Irish sea are always rough. The last time we passed this way it was a bit like being in a washing machine , and despite very moderate winds  from astern it was still very rolly and a relief to get in to the lee of Ireland . The wind however backed to Southerly and started to blow and we reaped the reward of being too smug when we encounted 25- 30 knots dead downwind against a stiff Spring tide off Wicklow head , and despite enjoying the long surfs ( max sustained burst 13.5 knots – a record for the two of us ) we took shelter in Dun Laoghaire for 24 hours til it calmed down a bit. The next leg took us past Belfast loch but our tide ran out on us a couple of hours later so we slipped into Glenarm.

And this is where the magic of the “go where the wind blows” system took hold. We have often anchored on this coast to get the tide in the North Channel going the right way, but the Southerly wind made for a significant swell , and there was this little protected harbour right where the tide ran out. It was a charming place which  time has passed by . The old harbour used to have staging for ships to lay alongside the stone walls , but with a new breakwater and demise of the granite trade , the holes in the masonry had been taken over by a large population of black guillemots who were busty getting on with raising their families in front of our very eyes. The little village has fallen on hard times , but with the proximity of  an ancient castle , attractive architecture , the newly protected deepwater harbour,  and a group of residents determined to drag it up by it’s bootlaces , I think it will do well  and we would certainly visit again if the winds allow.

With a decent wind its a mere skip and a hop from here to Islay and our favourite little town of Port Ellen. The wind was far from decent , but the tide more than made up for it , catapulting us North as we gently beat into 5 knots . The winds had delivered us to a fine cruising ground with no more than the odd shower , whilst the rest of the UK shivered under biblical downpours. 

Was it luck or judgement? I like to think it might have been a bit of both !

The best laid plans …….

Our plan was to leave Festina in Copenhagen for two weeks and come home to enjoy the British summer , help Ben in the Impala championships and spend some time with our new grandchild. The trip back from Copenhagen was then to be done by Jaap and myself , but on arriving home I went down with a nasty attack of cellulitis , spent most of the two weeks convalescing and it seemed unfair to saddle Jaap with the responsibility of sailing Festina with a far from recovered crew mate. Luckily another friend , Ken Munro, stepped into the breach so that if my problem were to take a turn for the worse , the two of them would be more than capable of coping without me.
In the event the only problem was the embarrasment of my two crew mates at my eccentric attire of shorts and a single support stocking, and it was a revelation how easy passage making is with 3 instead of two. It is perhaps stating the obvious that increasing the crew by one doubles the amount of sleep each crew man gets . Whilst Lynda and I have over the years become used to a routine of 4 hours on , 4 hours off, doubling ones rest time was wonderfully relaxing. This , plus having an extra pair of hands when things got hairy made the trip an absolute doddle.
Well perhaps not quite a doddle as the forecast of gale force westerly winds after 4 days prompted us to sail non stop to get into Holland before they arrived . For a while it looked as if we would slip into the shelter of the Waddenzee before the wind came onto the nose , but it was not to be and the last 5 hours of our passage along the N German and Dutch coasts was spent bashing into both wind and tide. , finally taking a rest in the harbour on Vlieland. The next days passage running for the shelter of the Ijselmeer in 30 to 35 knots and minimal vizibility (courtesy of horizontal rain) perfectly illustrated the advantage of three crew. Jaap navigated leaving Ken and I free to sail the boat through the intricate channels of the Waddenzee: had it been just Lynda and I life would definitely not have been easy.
That little blow was just the first of many that were forecast to sweep over Northern Europe for a while so we left the boat in Amsterdam for a further week , after which Ken , Lynda and I sailed her back to the Hamble in a little over 48 hours. Once more it was brilliant to have an extra pair of (very competant) hands as the first few hours out of Ijmuidan were fairly hairy, but once clear of a nasty little thundery front we were able to get back into our 3 man watch system and bring the boat home in relaxed and companiable style.
There is no doubt that sharing our summer with friends has been very enjoyable, both exploring the archipelagos of the north and benefitting from the experience of Jaap and Ken on our passage home. Maybe we should do more of this in the years to come.

Man up Meakins!

After a summer spent pottering amongst the Scandinavian archipelagos, seldom sailing more than 20 miles a day, we had left ourselves 8 days to bring the boat from Stockholm to Copenhagen; roughly 360 miles to the SW. Most of the early summer had seen NW winds which had caused much agitation amongst our Scandinavian friends who blamed these winds for the “low” temperatures. “ Normally we have SW winds and much better temperatures than this“ they told us. We on the other hand relished the weather which was much warmer and dryer than Scotland or Norway, but sure enough, with a fortnight to go before our return trip the weather switched to SW mode, air and sea temperatures soared and our spirits fell accordingly. The thought of beating all the way to Copenhagen loomed large in our minds and there was much muttering about the perils of setting deadlines, having to leave the boat in Sweden – you name it , we grumbled about it.

Man up guys, its only 360 miles – far shorter than a Fastnet and we do that in 4 or 5 days! As usual it was Lynda who first snapped out of this negative thinking, and following her example I set about properly analysing the problem.

The wind of course seldom stays absolutely in the SW. The approach of low pressure normally brings a backing wind, sometimes into the SE ( and if the low is South of you – even into the NE!), and then once it is past it veers to the West or NW. Getting to windward in these conditions is best thought of as a 3 dimensional puzzle on the chart, with the third dimension in this case being time. Unlike the crosswords and sudoku that Lynda loves so much , this puzzle has degrees of uncertainty built in as an extra challenge for the weather predictions are never 100% correct. Thus with 24 hours to go a plan was hatched. We would take the SSW wind on Monday and hopefully just lay Visby on Gotland by midnight on a long starboard tack.Thereafter the wind was due to back, eventually reaching SE and giving us a reach in a WSW direction to get into the lee of Öland overnight, and then fetch down the coast as far as we could until the wind veered back to the SW.

It worked ! We didnt quite make Visby in one tack and it was a bit bumpy, so it was midnight before we got in. On the other hand when we woke the next morning we found the whole town dressed in medieval costume for the annual Medieval fair. What a piece of luck! We gleefully joined in and left at 7 that evening as soon as the wind was properly settled in the SE, although perhaps a little reluctantly as the party was now really getting going. The wind however had obeyed the forecast giving us a broad reach through the night and gradually increasing so that by dawn it was over 20 knots. By then however we were in the lee of Öland and screaming along in flat water. We made Kalmar by 10 the next morning just as the wind veered into a beat , so moored up and consulted the weather runes once more.

There was no way we were going to avoid a dead beat for the next bit, but if we left at 0300 it would at least be fairly gentle, and there was the prospect of a NW shift overnight to take us across the Håno Bukt to the Southern Swedish coast. It was gentle at first , but , perhaps because of a sea breeze pepping up the SW wind, the afternoon was once more quite bumpy so 70 miles later it was with some relief that we slipped into the tiny little rock strewn harbour of Utklippan. From 2200 the wind was due to drop , and then come in from the NW so we set the alarm again for midnight to allow the seas to settle, and were soon on our way again.

A full moon and a sky full of stars accompanied us on the gentlest of reaches, and by morning the wind was veering to the N or even NE so up went the kite and we made it as far as Ystad on the South coast before the wind started to die off and we called it a day. 30 more miles to windward , this time admitedly in over 20 knots, and we were at Falsterbo, 20 miles SE of Copenhagen and with 3 days to spare .

I dont know what we were making such a fuss about?

Mens Sauna (sic) in Corpore Sano

At first glance the weather for Jo and Davids week in the archipelago looked pretty grim, with lots of rain and wind forecast , but at least their first day , downwind from Stockholm to Träskö-Störö, was quite perfect . This was a new destination for us and looked pretty crowded so we approached and rather tentatively asked if there was room between the usual raft of boats nose-to to what looked like a perfect rock. The reaction was positive and friendly and the crews of no less than 3 boats sprang into action to help us wiggle our way in. Incredibly our immediate neighbour had spent time in Hamble when sailing on Drum in the Whitbread, so we had a mutual friend in Jonny le Bon, and later as everyone seemed to be cooking ashore, we joined them and had a fine convivial evening.

Our next destination was Stora Nasa , an outer archipelago with many tight little passages and inviting nooks and crannys to moor in . However , the memory of our grounding the previous week still rather haunted me so we anchored off in a pool ( Grytan – or the Cauldron) and dinghied ashore. I guess we will have to return some day as deeper inside is another pool, the most perfect imaginable , but so tight you need a stern warp to the rocks on the other side. Having explored in the dinghy I am definitely up for it next time.

From now on our destinations would be upwind, and our first stop was Sandhamn where I decided it was time to introduce our guests to the concept of saunas. Sadly no one could make the men’s sauna work , but eventually the ladies version was fired up and the four of us sat inside ( there were no other women in sight) eagerly awaiting it getting up to full heat. Just as the stove began to tremble in the approved style a grumpy and surely atypically uptight Swedish lady objected to masculine ( and I hasten to add decently swimming costumed! ) presence and Davids first attempt at a sauna was brought to a premature end before it really got going.
After this experience we chose an anchorage in Längvik on the island of Nämdo as our fourth stop. This place has the combined advantage of being perfectly sheltered from the now strong SW wind as well as having a Skärgärdstiffeln sauna in the woods nearby. Perhaps we would have more luck there. Several canoeists were camped nearby and could be seen chopping wood and lighting the stove, so in the light of our previous experience we aproached somewhat hesitantly. Nothing could have been more different this time – 12 of us ( both clothed and unclothed ) crowded into the little cabin with the wood burning stove roaring fit to bust, everyone chattering away in English in our honour . From time to time we all went outside and sat on the slippery rock which slid us unceremoniously into the water, but instead of it being a shock – it was pleasant to cool down enough to be able to go back into the sauna and continue our conversations where we left off. It really is a very sociable and pleasant pastime – maybe in my case a bit mens sauna in corpore obesum (!), but fun nonetheless!!

Their last two days were upwind and wet , wet wet! Our final destination , Nynäshamn , also had a sauna ( albeit segregated ) where we gratefully warmed up before rounding things off with a splendid supper in the local Rökerei.

It had been a real pleasure to share a week with two such positive and enthusiastic people.

Between a Rock and a Soft Place

We now had a week to further explore the Stockholm archipelago before Jo and David arrived to join us ; no hardship here as despite it being high season there were literally thousands of mouth watering little anchorages to choose from . One , Stora Alskär, fellt a bit exposed to the fresh NE wind and so rather than possibly having to up sticks in the middle of the night, as evening fell we sailed a few miles to the more sheltered Rönningsfladen on Eknö. There are two entrances to this perfectly sheltered sound , one of which is 3 m deep but scarcely wider than the boat , and the other much wider , but with a least depth of 2.2 metres. We draw 2 metres so opted for this way , and gingerly approached at dead low speed.
BANG! The noise as we hit a rock was horrid even though the speedo was registering 0.1 knot and the engine was in neutral. A hurried check showed no water ingress and we went for plan B ( which we should have gone for anyway!) which was bow-to to a steep rocky shore with plenty of depth.
A quick dive showed that there was no movement at the keel joint , and the filling for a previous ding at the bottom of the keel had collapsed – possibly absorbing some of the shock. That may be so, but it did nothing for the shock we both fellt , and it was two rather shaken individuals who cooked supper on what should have been a perfect evening on a sunny west facing rock.
I reflected that perhaps it was a good lesson ; its all very well nosing into delightful little place but in the future I must not to be too cocky and leave bigger safety margins or next time we might not get away with it .

The Long and the Short and the Tall

The morning of our departure from Finland we were up early and slipped out of the narrow entrance to Björkö Byvicken to be greeted by 8 knots of NE wind and a clear blue sky.
This southern part of the Finnish archipelago is very open – in fact you might easily think you were at sea if it wasnt for the occaisional rock sticking out , and 15 miles to the South , the islands of Utö heralding the real beginning of open water. The tall ship race was due to start a further 7 miles to the South of this and we had 5 hours to cover the 23 miles – which should be easily done dribbling along under spinnaker.
Here and there various smaller square riggers were anchored behind small skerries, whilst further out more were preceeding south under full sail ( albeit slowly). Further out still we could spot the masts of the biggest ships anchored in the deep water.
There was a gradual sense of excitement building as the little armada sailing and motoring South grew and grew .Then the Finnish warships that were to be at either end of the line came scurrying past and the polyglot VHF chatter increased as the various nationalities tried to sort out ( in fractured English ) what the sailing instructions really meant.
Finally at 1200 BST they were off , a fantastic sight of 30 or 40 big Tall ships and twice as many more moderate sized craft representing 20 or so countries – all pursued by a very small Short English yacht snapping away merrily with a full broadside of two cameras. In fact to begin with we were faster than them , but as the wind built so the fleeter amongst them began to do 9 or 10 knots This, combined with our slightly divergent courses meant that after 6 hours all had sunk below the horizon , leaving us to race along on our own on the edge of being overcanvassed , anchoring in the Stockholm archipelago with 90 miles on the log well before midnight- a very fast passage and a brilliant day.

Farewell to Finland

Having waved goodbye to Simon and Roo in Turku we had a fast and windy sail to Stenskär, a little lagoon formed by 4 or 5 islands back in the outer archipelago, with the choice of two little quays to moor up to, one on each of the major islands, or several mooring buoys in the middle of the lagoon. It is high season in the archipelago , and the quays soon get crowded with boat after boat dropping a stern anchor and nosing in to a space that seemingly doesnt exist, but somehow everyone shuffles up and allows the newcomer in.
For our first night we lay to a mooring buoy in the middle rather than attempt this manoevre in the 25 knot crosswind , but next morning as the crowds cleared, we nosed our way in and claimed the prime position. With others aboard you form your own little society but on our own its nice to meet and interact with the”natives “(!), all of whom have been wonderfully friendly and add immeasurably to the experience of travelling in their country, so as the quayside filled up again we had plenty of opportunity to talk and learn from our neighbours .With the luxury of most of the summer at our disposal it means that we are able to stay put and really explore an area, rather than just flit by. This was the perfect place to act as a base for trips into the surrounding mini archipelagos with the canoe , so out it came and we spent 3 happy days here.
One of our neighbours came from a familly who owned a Finnish galeass, a frequent participant in the Tall ship races , and through her we were able to plan our departure to coincide with the race. Her advice was to moor up in Björkö , past which all the participants would travel on their way to the start some 25 miles to the South of the archipelago. The trouble is the charts give little information on the depths in this island anchorage , other than to suggest the least depth is 1.8 metres in the entrance. She seemed certain that it was more , so I hatched a plan to go back to Aspö which was nearby , and ask Tore Johansson what he thought. Tore lives all year round on Aspö and with his familly continues the tradition of musicianship that is so much a part of this islands culture. More importantly for us he works on the pilot boats for ships entering the archipelago, and if anyone could give us sound information, it was him.
He was of the opinion that at 2 metres draft we would easily get in, told us which side of the channel to hug and advised that the water should be clear enough for someone on the bow to spot the deepest chanel. Accordingly after another day on Aspö we set of for Björkö and entered at dead low speed , getting in to the deep inner sound with never less than 0.4 metres under the keel.
What a peach of a place this turned out to be. The rapid rising of the Scandinavian landmass has caused what used to be an inlet to become an enclosed lake, and a nature trail has been created around it making for a brilliant walk. It starts off in woodland, but soon emerges into a wonderland of colour. Pink/grey rocks splattered by multiple types of lichen were interpersed with semi bogland plants and mosses of multiple hues. Several different types of heather competed with blueberry plants and other unknown ( to me !) red berried plants. Junipers and various different kinds of stunted conifers filled in the gaps. Dotted here and there, pink grasses waved their golden seedheads in the sunlight. All in all it was a botanists heaven and a sight for sore eyes! This was to be our last Finnish island before returning to Sweden and it was as if we had saved the best until last!

Return to Aspö

Return to Aspö

One of the challenges of sailing with guests is how to match what you do with what you think they would like. Some , like Bryony and Chris are hard core seamen so that the occaisional rough weather probably just adds to their enjoyment, but Roo, though game enough, makes no pretention to being a sailor. Luckily the archipelago came to the rescue as it is a naturalists as well as a sailors paradise, and she revelled in its unique environment.
May and June had been unusually cold and the sea temperature was around the 14 degree mark, too cold for comfortable swimming in my estimation, but Roo put us all to shame, revelling in every opportunity for wild swimming. It is noticeable that every week or so the average water temperature rises by one or two degrees so with any luck even Lynda and I will be brave enough to follow her example in a couple of weeks.
Perhaps my biggest anxiety centered around the little music festival at Aspö which we had so much enjoyed when we chanced apon it 4 years ago. I had built it up to be such a great event (not least to myself!) ; would it live up to all the hype?
We arrived in the picture perfect harbour on the morning of the festival after a delightful sunny sail under spinnaker – so far so good. Ten minutes later fog descended with the inevitable drop in temperature. Looking around there seemed far fewer boats than on the previous visit and when we went ashore we found out that the a Capella group who we had enjoyed so much were not going to perform ( even worse , it would appear that the main couple who had been so friendly to us, had split up) . We were once told that the average Finnish song sounds as if the singer has just run over his dog, and once the Aspö Spielmen ( around whom the festival is based) started playing, their wooden expressions seemed to justify this calumny. Their music , taken out of context, would not be to everyones taste and I began to regret inflicting this on poor old Simon and Roo. Oh dear, I reflected, sometimes it is a mistake to go back to a place that you have enjoyed so much in the past, let alone inflict it on others.
Gradually the fog lifted to reveal a sunny day and as act followed act, I at last began to relax and enjoy myself. I got talking to a womens A Capella choir here to support one of their number who had a slot playing archipelago dance music with the whole of her familly. The choir were not due to perform themselves but when they heard we had sailed 2000 miles , partly to hear the previous A Capella group , they announced that they would sing two songs in our honour – and very good they were too. Actually , I think they were dying to perform and this was just the excuse they needed! Even the Spielmen started to smile and in the context of the archipelago and their place in its history their music once more made perfect sense. Later that night in the little old sloping boathouse that doubled as a dance hall they were quite perfect as they knocked out the waltzes and polkas that had us all dancing the night away til sore feet ( us ) and the sore heads of many of the other more proficient , not to say lubricated, dancers put an end to the days entertainment.

I hope Simon and Roo enjoyed it even half as much as we did.

Sailing with the Woods

Scandinavia was on its best behaviour for the visit of Simon and Roo . The locals in both Sweden and Finland were adamant that it was the coldest summer in living memory , but to us it was a lot warmer than our last two years in Scotland and Ireland , the winds were mostly gentle and I dont think it rained more than once during their stay. We pottered North through the Stockholm archipelago, chanced apon a charming concert in one of the outer islands ( It was a kind of caberet of poetry and songs by a Swedish woman poet . We didnt understand a word but it didnt seem to matter ; we found ourselves laughing at the funny bits , sighing at the sad bits and were genuinly moved by the two very talented musicians and the complete serendipity of chancing upon the performance in such an isolated place.) Our trip across the Äland sea was about as gentle as can be , and our one bit of boisterous weather enabled us to enter one our favourite place in the Finnish islands, albeit from the wrong direction.

We were once more sailing to a deadline as I wanted to be at the island of Aspö in time for its music day. The wind had other ideas and blew strongly – straight from Aspö! Traversing the archipelago always involves a lot of zigzagging to avoid the impossibly rocky bits ( as opposed to the merely incredibly rocky bits ) and every shift of the wind led to a new plan as to how to get to there. Finally an unforcast shift into the NE put us to the West of a little archipelago called Österskär which we had visited 4 years ago, and loved. The problem was that the charted aproach was from the East which would involve another 10 or 15 miles sailing, and that was why I had initially ruled it out as a destination. Then I remembered that at our last visit I had been shown the unnoficial Western aproach , and luckily still had it marked on the chart . The first part was fairly straightforward other than the bit where you pass between a rock and an island – a gap of less than a boatlength. It is however the final 200 metres which gets the adrenaline flowing – a series of dog legs through visible rocks and 3 little spar buoys with the depth sounder reading zero – but we did it and were able to use the finest sauna in Finland as our reward. This little cabin jutting out over the water has a wood fired stove , and when suitably roasted you open a door and slide into the water ( and usually jump straight out again!) repeating the process until a strange sense of rejuvenation comes over you.

Simon had booked onto a ferry to take them back to Stockholm from Turku, and our final piece of serendipity was that this coincided with a visit from the Tall ship fleet. Sadly Simon and Roo missed this spectacle but it meant that we could plan our departure from Finnish waters to coincide with the start of the next race – 30 odd Square rigged ships ( and Festina!) racing South from the Finnish archipelago was a mouth watering prospect.


With a week to go until Bryony and Chris arrived we set out to explore the Stockholm archipelago. The wind was NW and due to stay that way so I identified some nice anchorages sheltered from this direction and ideal to try and perfect our Swedish rock mooring technique ready for when they arrived. Two nights in a row we were perfectly moored in the approved style with the wind nicely blowing us off the rock , when at 1700 the wind dropped , and started to blow from the SE , ie onshore!

I have seen the Swedes happily stay put in this position , but the thought of even the tiniest bit of dragging leading to us head butting a rock led to us hastily backing out and anchoring conventionally in the bay , leaving a stern anchor and rode plus sundry warps to tidy away , all the while looking a bit foolish . I think that this was some sort of very late sea breeze as the wind was always back in the NW by the morning.

We did get better at choosing our rocks and by the time Bryony and Chris arrived felt confident enough to try it for their first night. We soon learned the whole process is a lot easier with 4 on board , in fact the whole week was a treat as Lynda and I could relax whilst the two of them did all the work. It was quite a challenging week weather wise , with a 30 knot squall on the second day , and one day washed out by a very wet NE gale , but we still managed to cover most of the archipelago and took advantage of the gale to go for a wet walk and get introduced to the strange art of very hot sauna and very cold sea swimming. As for the experiment of sharing our cruise , it was great fun and most enjoyable, which augers well for the rest of the summer.

Midsummer at Skansen

One of the highlights of a summer in Sweden is the wonderfully pagan festival on midsummers eve. Bryony was due to arrive in Stockholm on mid summers day so it was a no brainer to go to Skansen to enjoy the most traditional mid summer in Sweden ( or so we were told).

Skansen is a park on one of Stockholms islands which for more than a hundred years has been dedicated to preserving Swedens cultural heritage , specifically historically important old buildings which have been moved and rebuilt there from all over the country. On our first visit 4 years ago we thought it might be a bit naff, but it turned out to be be fascinating and informative.

Judging by the queues at the entrance this visit was going to be very crowded , but everyone was very good humoured and this set the tone for a charming day. We arrived in time to sit along with about 4000 others and have a picnic in the field where the distinctly phallic maypole was to be erected, and as the time came for the festivities to start we were joined by about 4000 more. Unless you had a front row position or were well over 6 foot you couldnt see the initial ceremony , but I was able to take photos and show Lynda what was going on. Luckily only about a quarter of the folk there wanted to dance and sing the wonderfully eccentric songs that are traditional for this ceremony , but that still left 2000 of us of all ages hopping around like frogs and singing lustily in between gales of laughter, which must be some sort of record for mass participation silliness. We had a brilliant time and left, still laughing, to go back to Festina for the traditional midsummer meal of herring and potatoes and sour cream , followed by strawberries and lots of schnapps.

North to Stockholm

The island of Gubbø in the southern archipelago has a wonderful natural harbour with a rock shaped like a jetty. So sheer is the face and regular are its features that quite big vessels can tie up alongside. We had the place to ourselves to begin with ( this southern archipelago is relatively deserted , especially before midsummer) but towards evening were joined by an entertaining character called Torbjorn Lundquist who came alongside the rock under engine – completely silently! He had an electric engine in his yacht and it wasnt long before I was on board pouring over the installation. He joined us that night for supper and told us of winter skating trips around the archipelago , and also about a perfect little bay at the North end of the archipelago where he had renovated a little jetty jutting out over a rock to make mooring easier.
Up to now we had chickened out of mooring Swedish style , bows to a rock , but this was the perfect time and place to practice our technique, so after our stay in Harstena we tracked the bay down and nervously laid out our stern anchor in the approved Swedish style , and I hopped onto his jetty to tie up. We appeared to have got it right as later on one of Torbjorns friends arrived and moored alongside us , commenting that we were moored perfectly.

It was now time to sail the 30 odd miles to the Stockholm archipelago, so next day we set off under spinnaker well clear of all the islands and headed North . The wind was due to increase and just as we decided that it was time to take the kite down , the autopilot went on the blink. Lynda steered whilst I wrestled the kite down ( its a doddle with two of you if the autopilot can steer – but less so with one of you fighting with the helm in a rapidly increasing wind ).This was our second adventure with the kite this trip. On our first night out from Hamble the kite had got jammed and Lynda had had to hoist me up the mast at dusk , at sea , in order to clear it. Compared with that this was a doddle and we were soon going downwind under poled out genny. Initially the windvane was happy steering whilst I rewired the spare course computer into place , but we soon had much too much sail and Lynda had to take over once again until I had finished the job and we could reef down.

Are we getting too old for all this excitement? We sat down with a cup of tea and metaphorically mopped our brows and reflected that it had all turned out OK , the spare course computer was working a treat , the sun was shining and the wind fair – so what was all the fuss about?

We did sleep well that night though!

You can’t get lost on an island…..Can you?

The last week has been all about islands. Gazing in wonder at them, dribbling round them, flashing past them, and then when we have done enough of all that, squeezing into tiny bays or indents in them. Once we are firmly anchored, or tied to a rock with an anchor out astern, or even moored alongside a particularly steep one, then the time has come to explore the island we have chosen. Small round ones are the easiest because if you just keep on walking round the edge ( or more often scrambling – this archipelago is made out of rocky ground with mixed bog and coniferous forest so that paths tend to run out when you come to rock ), you eventually get back to where you started from. I was getting quite blase about it all until we came to to the island of Harstena.
We had anchored deep into a long inlet on the northern part of the island , and the village was at the other end of the island . I didnt even bother to look at a map or bring a compass because for the above reasons , you can’t get lost on an island . Or can you? The problem was that Harstena was far from round. It has more sticky out bits than a spider although its basic axis is North /South. Or so I thought. I should be able to navigate by the sun but as ships time is nearly two hours earlier than local time I was a good 15 degrees out on my solar compass. Whatever the reason , we were soon lost down one of the legs of the spider and had to ignominiously retrace our footsteps to get back to the boat and re-orientate ourselves. We found a map and it appeared that I was nearly 45 degrees out on the orientation of the island , and even more so if you include the sun error. Undeterred, we set off again on what at first seemed a promosing path, but somehow managed to stray off it and ended up bashing through rock and brambles with the sun as our guide. Whilst we got there in the end , what should have been a gentle 20 minute walk had taken an hour and a half. Moral – take a map and a compass in future.
Harstena was one of the biggest archipelago communities and still has a few folk who live here year round. 40 years ago when we first visited it was like a living museum , but now most of the houses have been renovated for holiday homes . The old boathouses are still there , and when we first came there were many old boats therein but now all that is left are a few old rotting remains whilst plastic outboard runabouts now shelter in the boathouses. Its still a lovely place however and always worth a visit if only to remember our first magical time wih Undine all those years ago.