Midsummer Madness

The bad weather we had expected turned out to be little more than a day of rain followed by a couple of windy days . The rainy day was spent in harbour stocking up on food , and the wind just made us choose more sheltered anchorages , of which there were plenty to choose. Even in the outer skerries the sea was flat , and perhaps our only excitement was sailing through a narrow gap between two island with 30 knots of wind dead astern , praying we wouldn’t have to gybe.
By now we were in the Stockholm archipelago . This is more varied than the southern archipelago , in that there are myriad well sheltered inner passages between large wooded islands . This is where most of the holiday houses are , and the nearer you get to Stockholm the bigger and fancier they get. Further out the islands are smaller , perhaps less wooded and with fewer dwellings , and further out still are the tiny outer skerries , wild and beautiful and for the most part uninhabited. The anchorages out here are less sheltered , but although it is difficult to escape the wind , you can usually tuck yourself behind a rock and be safe enough. Out here we once had to move during what passes for night ( a sort of twilight that lasts for 4 hours between sunset and sunrise)when the wind swung so its not quite so restful as further in , but infinitely more wild .
Stockholm itself was reputed to be a handsome city, so we sailed in to find out. You moor right in the centre, just next to the wonderful Vasa museum and in walking distance of the very beautiful old centre, the Gamla Stan. The problem was that we weren’t the only cruiser arriving that day. We were chased in by no less than 3 cruise liners who disgorged their masses to swamp the streets . Despite getting to the Vasa museaum at 0800 just as it opened , we still had less than half an hour’s peace before the hordes poured in. It is completely illogical for me , a tourist , to complain about other forms of tourism, BUT the massed ranks of cruise ship tourists can ruin a place. Take the Vasa for instance . This is a more or less complete 17th century warship offering a completely unique insight into what life was like in those days. You would think that this at least would capture the attention of the ship hordes wouldn’t you – but no , all they want to do is have their picture taken ( just in front of the bit I want to carefully examine ) with this funny old ship in the background, before moving on to pollute the next site on their itinery. Aaaargh! …………End of moan!
Well it is a nice city , and the natives are friendly but two days was all we ( or our wallets ) could take and we sailed out with sore feet and a sense of relief. Much of Stockholm was following us ! The next day was midsummers eve – and most of the city closes and heads off to the islands to have a party. It was a gentle , sunny day , and we were slowly sailing under spinaker way through the islands to Paradise harbour , (Paradiset Viken) a natural anchorage 20 miles from the city centre and a popular place for the party. Normally we like to choose secluded spots , but we were intrigued to see how this event is celebrated so were not too concerned to see 50 or so boats scattered around this beautiful lagoon. We chose to anchor in the middle and watched in amazement as , through the evening , every rock was taken , with more boats squeezing in by the minute. The next morning it continued to fill and by the time our friends in Ananda arrived back from Finland there were well over 200 boats packed in.

From Midsummer Festival

The festivities started at midday around on the other side of the island as an old steam ferry from Stockholm , covered from stem to stern with birch branches , brought yet more folk to be welcomed by the “band” , an accordionist in seaman’s cap and beard . Back in the bay folk began to gather in an old meadow , the girls looking lovely in summer dresses and wearing wreaths of wild flowers in their hair. When the accordionist returned with the city folk , the call went up to help with the erection of the “Midsommer pole.” I choose my words carefully as this was no ordinary pole , but a phallus covered in birch leaves beneath which dangled two birch leafed hoops , leaving one in no doubt as to the symbolism. Once up, the crowds formed circles and danced around the pole singing the traditional songs of the occasion, to much merriment and general good humour. It was really nice to see every generation , from small children , right through to their elderly grandparents , letting their hair down and continuing the tradition that must surely go right back to pagan fertility rites of long ago.

From Midsummer Festival

Later that evening , on yet another sunny rock , we had our own party . The tradition is to drink schnapps after your meal , but before each swig you must sing a song. There are special songs for the occasion , but not knowing them , we made up our own and I believe , more than held our own with the surrounding boats.
After a few more days in the outer skerries we have crossed to Mariehamn in the Aland islands , famous as the home of the last ever fleet of sailing ships. We were going to explore further North , but the forecast is for light winds ; not ideal for passage making but ideal for dribbling through this new archipelago which would take us , if we wanted , all the way East to St Petersburg. I don’t suppose we will get that far , but the general principle of slowing down and pottering through the islands seems a good one, so that is what we will do.

Leave a Reply