Firmly on terra firma

Monday 27 – Wednesday 29 August

It must be the Late Summer Bank Holiday in the UK – it’s raining and windy, even here in Eastern Denmark. Mate suffered a couple of days’ jet lag, whilst gradually orientating herself to our new temporary home for the next couple of weeks, glad to have made it before the visitors began to arrive. The usual domestic details were attended to, in between lots of R&R.

Wednesday was a Wedding Anniversary – our third aboard, celebrated quietly with a disappointingly unremarkable lunch out on a grey and damp day.

Copenhagen or bust

Saturday 25 – Sunday 26 August

Exactly 24 hours later, still waiting for the wind, we set off again for what we hoped would be our last leg into Copenhagen. Swallows were beginning to gather along yacht lines around the harbour, in preparation for their winter migration to warmer climes – we know how they feel. Bornholm, the most Southerly of all the Danish islands, was clearly visible on the horizon only 20M away. We’ve now sailed past it twice, both times disappointingly not destined to step ashore. Maybe next time…

By 0800 the wind was beginning to fill in, bringing with it a slight swell and the threat of imminent rain. We set the main and staysails close-hauled, and fought our way through a couple of nasty squalls. The first time we were prepared, having taken in the first reef on the mainsail; the wind indicator recorded 90 knots, but must have been imagining it. Later we were caught unawares amidst sustained gusts of 30 knots, with both foresails set in an attempt to maximise progress during spells of lighter winds. In trying to run downwind, Mate foolishly released both sets of foresail sheets, whereupon they instantly became a flailing mess of spaghetti, whilst the lazy backstay wrapped itself around the wind generator that stands proud of the stern arch.

Meanwhile, I merely wallowed lazily, in no immediate danger. By the time my crew had sorted all this out, as any fellow sailor will realise here, the squall had passed and some sense of normality could return to the deck. However, in case we should allow ourselves to become lulled into a false and foolish sense of complacency, at 1730 another heavy squall recorded winds increasing from four to twenty-four knots in four seconds. This one was seen approaching, and sensible precautions had been taken. The wind and rain were now accompanied by a huge crack of thunder as forked lightning struck the sea not 200 metres away.

All this drama was rounded off by the wind veering 180˚ into the NW, pushing up short sharp waves that cause us to stall, so we reverted to motor-sailing. Through the evening, showers were interspersed with periods of heavy rain. Overnight Mate had a difficult watch, fumbling a couple of tacks in the vicinity of the local and busy shipping lane into Trelleborg on the Southern Swedish coast; Skipper suffered very little rest.

Early on Sunday morning, glad to be in daylight once again, we closed the first circle of our Baltic cruise when we crossed the line we had sailed from Skanör back to Germany in early May. Avoiding the large wind farm at the Southern end of the Øresund, the narrow, shallow channel that divides Denmark and Sweden, we skirted the edge of the shipping channels up this very busy waterway, until the marine equivalent of a zebra crossing opened up and we could cross safely to tie up on the ‘service pontoon’ of Dragør harbour, just South of Copenhagen. After just 103M in 27 hours, Mate’s closing comment in the log reads “horrible passage – really hard work. So glad to be here safe”… and we’re doing this for fun!

Slow progress

Wednesday 22 – Friday 24 August

Still with a long distance in front of us to reach Copenhagen, it was decided to make the most of the tail end of a strong wind that blew through during the day, and lines were slipped at 2200 on Wednesday evening, by which time it had already been dark for an hour. Having familiarised himself thoroughly with the challenging navigation of the channel immediately South of Kalmar, Skipper took the helm to motor into a headwind for the first hour, giving Mate a chance to acclimatise to the short, choppy sea.

The wind remained light overnight, and it was very dark after the moon and Venus both set around 0200 on Thursday morning. Mate took the first watch and made a couple of sail changes and tacks, as the sky began to lighten around 0330. Skipper took over the watch at 0600, resetting the staysail and noting “slow progress”. Thursday became pleasant and sunny, but at noon we’d sailed 51M, but were still only 26M from Kalmar. The wind backed towards the East, but remained stubbornly light.

During the evening there were several large windshifts, but Mate enjoyed a soft sunset and the moon rising at 2030. Skipper decided to run the engine to charge the batteries when he commenced his evening watch, but the wind dropped almost to nothing and the engine became our primary motivation. At 0300 the decision was made to change course for Simrishamn and rest until the wind filled in again. By 0630 we were tied up alongside, and caught up on some much-needed sleep.

Social lunch

Tuesday 21 August

A day of indecision about which plan of several alternatives would be our best option, interspersed with some wonderful social time: Mate got chatting on the quayside with a British couple who are ‘motorhoming’ around Europe, and who lived for nearly 40 years five minutes around the corner from my crew’s former land dwelling in SW London – it really is a small world.

After a trolley dash around the very local supermarket, an impromptu al fresco tapas lunch was enjoyed in my sunny, if waspy, cockpit with our lovely French friends. Later, they went off to explore Kalmar Castle, where a treaty, known as the Kalmar Union, was signed in 1397 uniting the Nordic countries into Scandinavia.

Into Kalmar

Monday 20 August

Another early start saw the anchor weighed at 0715, and another day beginning, still in heavy rain. We began with full main and genoa, but soon changed down to the staysail, with a lively SSW F4-5 keeping Mate busy on the helm. Skipper coached her through some tricky navigation as we approached the high bridge just North of Kalmar, and after a challenging day of 47M, we were glad to tie up tucked right at the top of Kalmar harbour. Our Alu-Club friends on Saltimbanque joined us at the end of an impressive passage, arriving 90 minutes earlier than expected.

Perfect sailing

Sunday 19 August

After a Sunday morning lie-in, we set off into a Westerly F4-5, achieving a much more exhilarating 7 knots reaching with full main and staysail. This is Mate’s favourite sailing scenario, assuming the sun is shining as well, as I flick up my petticoats and fly, without heeling as hard as under the genoa. There were a few changes of foresail during the day, and as the sails were stowed ready for anchoring, the heavens opened and the day ended somewhat damply. Just South of a nuclear power station, and out of sight of it, we’d found a beautiful spot for our last night in the Swedish archipelago, at Fläskö. Once again, large numbers of small jellyfish discouraged any fleeting thoughts of swimming…

A slow step closer

Saturday 18 August

Suitably refreshed, we set off as the sun rose, towards Västervik. The/another seal popped up to watch us go. The day began well, Mate enjoying 6+ knots under full mainsail and genoa, until 0800 when the wind dropped, so the staysail was added. It continued to back, so to maintain a reasonable speed we came further off our desired course, and put in a couple of tacks. As the wind backed further, but increased slightly, further sail changes were made, until by late afternoon we were down to first reef in the mainsail, and staysail.

After what the log records as “a long, tedious day’s tacking”, in which we averaged only 4 knots over nearly 15 hours, we’d covered 59 Miles, and headed into our chosen anchorage of Kyrkogårdsskär, in the company of swans and more jellyfish. A German-flagged yacht had beaten us to the prime spot, so we tucked further in with the advantage of our variable draft, and enjoyed a comfortable night’s rest.

L’Escale in Nykoping

Wednesday 15 – Friday 17 August

The following day saw their departure, and whilst Mate organised another laundry turnaround, Skipper carried out a routine service of my anchor windlass, which has been well used this season.

On Thursday my regular crew gave themselves a well-earned day off, to explore this ancient and attractive town by bicycle, before stocking up at the local supermarket. Like in Finland, alcohol above normal beer strength can only be bought at state monopoly retail outlets; in Sweden they’re known as a ‘systembolaget’, similar to an off-licence in the UK. They were delighted to find their favourite wine once again, in boat-friendly boxes…so the panniers were even more heavily loaded than usual. They also treated themselves to a delicious Swedish lunch alongside local businesspeople and a few late tourists.

We slipped out of our berth and around the corner into the town harbour to take on some diesel, before motoring to a nearby anchorage for a peaceful night on Långskär. It proved to be such a peaceful and well sheltered spot, we stayed a second night, briefly spotting a seal nearby amongst hundreds of tiny jellyfish, and sitting out an intense thunderstorm, followed by a curiously yellow and grey storm-clouded sunset.

They came back for more

Sunday 12 – Tuesday 14 August

After a quick scramble to refill the depleted fridge, our next visitors came onboard after lunch, and we were soon away to follow the Easternmost route out of Stockholm and South towards Saltsjöbaden and the Baggensstäket. These friends have considerable sailing experience, albeit mostly in dinghies, and spent a weekend with us in the Western Solent some three years ago, when our current lifestyle was still but a twinkle in our eyes.

Enjoying the beautiful scenery in spite of the light, intermittent drizzle as we motored steadily down the gorge, beneath high level power lines at 32m, and a stone arch bridge at the narrowest part of the gorge, only 30m above our heads, we then found ourselves in a very narrow and shallow stretch of water, on a blind bend. Inevitably, as we reached the mid-point of this channel, a yacht rounded the bend coming towards us – towing another on a long line. Her skipper seemed unimpressed that we had not employed our VHF radio to make ourselves aware of his presence, and neither were we prepared (or able) to move across any further to ‘our’ side, as our top spreaders were already brushing the overhanging tree branches. We escaped unscathed, and were no sooner clear when a large passenger ferry came steaming past us into the passage – what could have ensued had we been five minutes later in there doesn’t bear thinking about.

South of Saltsjöbaden, we found ourselves once again in more familiar ‘skärgård’ (Swedish archipelago) territory, and found a gorgeous anchorage tucked well into a long inlet just South of Ägnö, 15M from the city. It was a popular spot, with a small secret bay just beyond the main cluster of boats, and Mate couldn’t resist attempting to tuck in there for a little privacy. However, it soon became clear why no-one else had picked it: surrounded as it was by rocky woodland, the sea bed was very weedy and there was no room at all to swing at anchor if the wind should change. Making the most of our lifting centreboard, we nudged instead deep into the edge of the main area, only then realising we had been attempting to hide from two new yachts eligible for the Alu Club, both red-trimmed Ovni, both flying the red duster – three red aluminium boats in the same place at the same time…spooky. One of their skippers commented that it was something of a British invasion, as a Swedish-flagged charter vessel was also crewed by Brits on holiday.

We enjoyed a peaceful evening, with supper in the saloon for the first time in months. It didn’t seem to dampen enthusiasm for a beetroot and goats’ cheese tart with toasted hazelnuts, courgettes and new potatoes, followed by now practised raspberry frangipane tartlets.

Monday morning dawned drier and brighter, and we set off close hauled under full main and genoa, for a respectable passage of 37M Southwest, including some respectable top speeds between weaving through yet more of these delightful islands. Here they are much more sparsely populated, and with far less ostentatious dwellings than near Stockholm, but all the more attractive with rocky outcrops and dense woodland, low lying in the sparkling sea.

As these guests have sailing experience, we had agreed in advance that we would sail the next couple of legs towards our next main destination, Copenhagen, delivering them to a town with a train back to Stockholm for their flights home, at the end of our time together. Their second night with us was again at anchor, just out of sight of a busy port and ferry terminal, tucked into a peaceful bay on the island of Bedarön, just East of Nynäshamn. Due to another slight malfunction in the galley department, the planned menu didn’t quite work out, but nonetheless a repeat of the Rendang curry and mango/passionfruit/coconut mousse seemed to be well received.

On Tuesday morning we made another early start for a passage of the same length as yesterday, into Nyköping (pronounced like knee-sherping, so nicknamed ‘no shopping’), where it turned out the anticipated trains were not running, but a bus service was available. The sailing to this port took two and a half days; the return bus ride one and a half hours… Our guests were able to enjoy a little more of the local scenery, and experience some particularly intense pilotage through rock-strewn lagoons of very shallow water, before the final long motor up a channel in a spreading lake bordered by reeds, reminiscent of the English Norfolk Broads. This last stretch was enhanced by our first sighting this season of a pair of cranes (feathered – like huge herons), and possibly our last of a sea eagle.

Nyköping harbour hosts the national rowing centre, with a training lake laid out in buoyed lanes just like the Olympic site at Dorney, near Windsor. Our arrival increased the number of British yachts to three, of a total of only about a dozen in the pleasant marina, as it was the end of the season and the harbour office was already opening on ‘Winter Hours’. The facilities are clean, well-maintained and include a free sauna and spacious laundry room, and the young lady behind the desk was charming and friendly.
On their last night with us, our generous guests kindly treated us to a tasty supper (maybe they’d had enough of the random chaos of l’Escale’s galley?) in a nearby hostelry – the only one still open this late in the year!

A swift turnaround

Saturday 11 August

As per our last visit, on Saturday morning we moved berths, unfortunately getting stuck in the silt before we finally wriggled ourselves alongside into a borrowed space. Then it was all hands on deck to tackle laundry, watering and cleaning the boat, ready for a crew change.