Thursday 26 – Tuesday 31 July
Mindful that local time was now an hour behind that in the Åland Islands and Finland (Central European Summer Time, CEST: GMT+2), we decided to keep Ship’s Time as we would soon be heading back to Mariehamn. Meanwhile, we enjoyed a lazy day at anchor, with a cooling swim to the smooth rocks on the other side of the bay. Below the water surface, a fuzz of green weed coats the face of the rock, while the higher dry areas are equally difficult to clamber onto after being sanded by the glaciers of the last Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago. However, it was worth the scramble, as they are warmed by the sun and feel a little like a hot stone massage.
The sunset was very red, leading Mate to wonder if she should trust the old proverb
“red sky at night, sailor’s delight”
– recent experience has been of unsettled or stormy weather following such a sky.
On Friday we began to weave our way in earnest Southwest towards Stockholm. Winds are often light and variable in direction among the islands of the skärgård (Swedish archipelago), and we made several sail changes to accommodate this, sometimes motorsailing to help our progress. At best we goosewinged the two foresails, or flew the gennaker, while following a slalom course among yachts and speedboats. We enjoyed particularly the scenery of the Stämmarsund, especially the sea eagle and deer, the latter in somebody’s garden!
Once again, we found a comfortable anchorage tucked deep up an inlet of Värmöländet, and swam from the boat to cool off.
On Saturday morning, Mate rose early and was rewarded by a small herd of fallow deer grazing their way across the grassy bank behind the anchorage. By now it was very hot, close and sticky. We set off in a light Easterly, struggling to fly the genoa downwind across a lumpy sea. Just South of Vaxholm, a busy port with numerous ferries and tourists swarming like bees around a honey pot, we passed only the second British-flagged yacht we’ve seen all season, a Southerly 110 Wind Rose, and exchanged an enthusiastic wave.
As we entered the final channel approaching Stockholm, we were bemused at the apparent lack of application of the ColRegs, whereby vessels should pass port-to-port (ie keep the oncoming craft on your left), and leisure craft should keep well clear of big ship channels. Here, yachts and motorboats were zipping around apparently randomly; maybe because this is how they behave in the ‘highways’ out among the islands. The water was brown and churning, reminiscent of the Thames approaching London, and we were glad to pass the soaring towers of the funfair rides and turn into Wasahamnen on Djurgärden, where we were asked to raft alongside a resident ship, the Slaggifadar.
The following day we moved away from the turbulence caused by the constant river traffic passing our stern, into the relative shelter of an inner berth in Wasahamnen. This was extremely tight, but we squeezed in without incurring any damage. At least in here we had access to water and electricity. We found our way to a local supermarket, and enjoyed a ferry ride to Gamla Stan, the oldest part of the city that stands on an island of its own. While enjoying a cool beer on the outdoor terrace of a bar edging Stortorget, the oldest square, we were entertained by a local brass band playing a range of well-known pieces, rounded off with an Abba medley!
On Monday morning we followed local advice and were up early to visit Scandinavia’s most popular museum as it opened at 0830, before the cruise ship groups invaded. The Vasa wooden warship was built in 1628, ornately decorated with over 700 carved and painted wooden sculptures, illustrating the power and influence of the king she was to represent. On her maiden voyage on 10 August, a gust of wind caught the four sails that had been set, she heeled enough to allow water to flood into the open gunports of the lower decks, and she sank 32 metres to the bottom of Stockholm harbour, claiming 30 lives.
The mud and brackish waters of the Baltic preserved the timbers exceptionally well, until 333 years later, when a salvage operation began in 1956, with divers dressed in heavy, unwieldy suits, employing what now looks like incredibly primitive technology. The ship was eventually brought carefully to the surface, watched by thousands on the first national live television broadcast. It is housed, almost intact, in a huge building maintained at a carefully controlled temperature and humidity, amidst ongoing research into preservation and restoration. Replica masts are positioned on the roof at the height they would have stood above the ship’s decks.
She is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, and this is an excellent museum, including exhibitions detailing life on board, and the role of women in this period of Swedish history. We learned that it was not uncommon for widows to take over their late husbands’ businesses, in which they had already been actively involved. Outside the museum is an attractive garden, showcasing contemporary plants that would have been common in medicine and kitchens. We spotted a small black/chestnut squirrel in one of the beds. Fika (a Swedish coffee and cake break) in the excellent café overlooking the harbour was an unexpected bonus.
There is only so much culture, civilisation and citizens we can take before being overwhelmed, so in the late afternoon we slipped out of our berth, as always more easily than we’d entered it, and out of Stockholm. The contrast between the islands of the Swedish archipelago and the Åland Islands is as marked as that of the Ålands to the Finnish archipelago: in Sweden, the islands are higher and more densely wooded, the trees are taller and the rocks much less prominent. The small cottages of Finnish islands, often partly hidden among the trees, become large, colourful houses, often decorated with ornate carved gables like a gingerbread house, or turrets and towers resembling a French chateau. Most have a private dock and mooring, furnished to sit, enjoy the sunshine and watch the world go by, in between sessions in the waterside sauna and dips in the sea from the swim ladder on the end of the pontoon.
Fortunately, there are still spots of perfect solitude to be found, and we’re becoming better at spotting them on the electronic charts. Just 14M out of town, we found ourselves in a quiet inlet. Once the local water- and jet-skiers had buzzed off for the day, complete peace descended, small fish were jumping all around us, we were thrilled to spot an osprey, and a beaver swam by the stern.
The last day of July marks the end of the Finnish holiday season, while in Sweden it extends a couple more weeks. Apparently the weather gods are aware of this, as it remained hot and sultry. The only problem with being so well sheltered was a complete lack of cooling breeze. Ah well, just need to dip around once an hour…if only the local fishermen would leave us in peace. At dusk, the beaver repeated his swim-past for our benefit.