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John and Aafke spent two years cruising the Baltic on board their Xc45. After this they wrote up their story and submitted it to Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes to be considered for their Camrose Award which is presented every year to a member who has written the best log of their cruising journey. They won 2nd prize for their wonderful account of their journey.
In September 2013, we sailed Perseverance, our Xc45, from the Solent to the X-Yachts factory at Haderslev in Denmark to lay her up for the winter, ready for a summer cruise in the Baltic the next year, and perhaps another the year after. We had cruised Perseverance down to La Rochelle in South Brittany, and up to the West Coast of Scotland from her mooring on the Beaulieu River in previous years. Now we planned to explore Denmark and the East Coast of Sweden in 2014, followed by North Denmark and the West Coast of Sweden in 2015.
We returned by car at the beginning of June 2014 and spent the next three days getting everything ready, bending on the sails, (including a nice new bright red code-zero,) stowing the provisions, filling tanks and checking everything we could think of. As is normally the case, various bits of kit decided not to work after a long winter ashore, but the people at XYachts were very helpful and soon had the boat up and running.
The crew for this cruise was myself and my wife Aafke, who have sailed together for more than 40 years, and our dog Blackberry, a black Standard Poodle, who has sailed on Perseverance since she was a puppy.
Now, I must explain a few things about Blackberry, and perhaps the more faint-hearted of you should look away now: Blackberry was brought up on Perseverance from a very early age, and since we wanted to take her on longer cruises, we trained her to do what every dog has to do, on the foredeck. Some kitchen roll, antibacterial spray and a bucket of sea-water takes care of it, and it means we don’t have to find a piece of grass or a tree on dry land every time.
When we arrive at an anchorage or a port, we make a point of putting on a kettle or breaking open a beer rather than desperately getting the dinghy ready to rush ashore at the earliest opportunity just for the dog. As a result, Blackberry has no expectation of an immediate run ashore and is happy to relax and wait. If we have an early start the next morning, we simply up anchor and go and she has often gone for 3 or 4 days without stepping on dry land. Of course, she does get ashore for a decent walk whenever convenient and so doesn’t miss out.
We had 3 sets of guests joining us at various points for about a week at a time. Our plan was to sail to Copenhagen inside the islands via the Smalandsfarvandet, breaking the journey into day-sails of between 30 and 50 miles. We would then spend a couple of weeks with 2 sets of guests exploring around Copenhagen before heading east again and working our way up to the Stockholm Archipelago in longer hops of between 40 and 76 miles, still day-sailing. It helps that in June and July the days are very long, especially up towards Stockholm where it never really gets dark. Coming into a strange harbour or anchorage at 22:00 or 23:00 is no problem!
We left Haderslev on Saturday morning 7th June in bright sunshine and a light southerly breeze, heading east for the islands south of Fyn. We anchored off the tiny island of Lyo and after a walk ashore, decided to stay the night and spent a pleasant evening watching the sun set with a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the start of our cruise.
We left Lyo the next morning and headed east again, passing under the bridge at Svendborg and turning north to the harbour of Lundeborg, some 30 miles on our way. Most of these Danish harbours used to be full of fishing boats, but today they are mainly for yachts, and we soon discovered that Perseverance at 45 ft LOA with 14ft beam and 7ft 3in draft was a bit large for comfort, so we got into the habit of leaving the box berths alone and mooring up on the old fishing quays, where our brand new fender- plank earned its keep. The next morning, we left with a light northerly and soon had the new code-zero un-furled and pulling us along nicely to the small island of Femo in the Smalandsfarvandet, some 31 miles up the coast. The sailing here is in very sheltered waters, with a flat sea, generally light breezes and virtually no tidal stream, although there are some currents where the channel narrows and it is shallow in places.
The next day we set off for Klintholm, some 40 miles away which involved passing under two bridges, which our charts assured us had plenty of clearance for our 22m air-draft, although it looked a tight squeeze from the deck. As we emerged from the Gronsund south of the island of Mon, we were in open water for the first time, with nothing to the east of us until Lithuania.
We took the chance to run the water-maker for a couple of hours to top up the tanks, then headed into Klintholm and tied up on the quay next to the harbour office. Aafke woke the next morning feeling very unwell, so with help from the friendly harbour-master and his assistant, who booked an appointment with the nearest Doctor, we all got on the bus ( Blackberry included ) and set off for Stege 10 miles away. Armed with antibiotics from the Doc, we enjoyed a good lunch and returned to Klintholm. We then sailed north past the famous White Cliffs of Mons Klint and on to Rodvig, where we tied up on the old fishing quay with the few remaining fishing boats. Rodvig is a charming little harbour,with a few shops, supermarket, smokery and a railway station with direct trains to and from Copenhagen. It also boasts a Marine Motor Museum which is well worth a visit, and a fine hotel.
Our first guests from England, Nick and Angela, joined us here and we were soon sampling the delights of the local smokery, washed down with a fine Danish Akvavit.
The next few days were spent exploring Skanor, a small port in Sweden, and Dragor which is a lovely town about 10 miles south of Copenhagen. Dragor is very picturesque, with narrow cobbled streets lined with yellow ochre rendered houses, geraniums and tall hollyhocks. Skanor is a holiday town near the beach with rust-red timber houses, up market shops and well-heeled Swedish families enjoying the long summer days. Both are enchanting, but quite different although just a few miles apart. We sailed back to Dragor and put Nick and Angela on the bus to Copenhagen airport to return home.
We were joined by another old friend, Joanna, then we headed back to Skanor where we hired bicycles and explored the countryside and ate more delicious smoked fish. It is common in Denmark and Sweden to find local smokeries that have small restaurants attached as well as a shop selling their produce, and very good it is too.
The weather turned rather nasty for a few days, so we stayed put before returning to Dragor, saying goodbye to Joanna and setting sail through the Falsterbo canal to skirt around the southern coast of Sweden up to Simrishamn. Up to this point, we had sailed only about 30 miles a day, but now with another 400 miles to go to the Stockholm archipelago, we felt we should put in some longer legs in case we were held up by any bad weather.
We had a wonderful sail to Simrishamn in warm sunshine, a distance of 72 miles, but arrived in a thunderstorm with heavy rain. The harbour has a new marina with a very narrow approach, and as so often is the case, very limited berths for boats over 40 ft. The single deep-draft pontoon, clearly marked for craft over 12 metres, was largely filled with smaller boats, so we rafted up to a rather neglected Swan 46. We found the town a bit dull, but perhaps it was really the weather.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, so we quickly got under way for the charming little island of Hano 32 miles to the north. Hano has a population in winter of only 15 people, but in summer as many as 30,000 visit by ferry or yacht. The island was used as a base for ships of the Royal Navy between 1810 and 1812 and on the north side is a cemetery containing the graves of 15 sailors, said to be from HMS Victory.
There is a tiny fishing harbour on the west side with a small shop and one restaurant, where we enjoyed an excellent dinner on our first night. The harbour is very tight and soon fills up, with yachts rafted up 4 deep against the old quay. The next morning, after exploring the island, we had lunch of fresh herring filets fried in flour and butter, served on rye bread by two local women
with nothing more than a trestle table and a small gas stove in the open air, accompanied by traditional folk songs sung by a local girl with an accordion. We left early the next day bound for Karlskroner 32 miles to the north, in light drizzle, no wind and poor visability of less than a mile. Karlskroner is a large naval port, home of the Swedish Navy, with a bustling town, spacious modern marina and an excellent Maritime Museum, which unfortunately was closed on the Sunday we were there. The weather was rather dull, so we were keen to press on to Kalmar 65 miles up the coast tucked in behind the long thin island of Oland. The forecast on Ch 81 gave us W3 increasing to W7 by mid-day, but knowing we would be under the lee of the land with the wind on the beam, we took in one reef in the main and set off.
It turned out to be one of the best sails of the cruise, with 25 knots on the beam, completely flat water and 8 knots on the clock for hour after hour. The sun shone too! We reached Kalmar by 16:00 and moored up in the excellent yacht harbour near the centre of town with plenty of berths for bigger yachts. Kalmar boasts a fine castle, a vibrant town centre, plenty of shops and restaurants and one of the best chandlers in Sweden. There are good boat-yards and all the services a yachtsman could want. We spent the next day exploring the town and stocking up our provisions.
We were sad to leave Kalmar and decided we would return on our way back to Denmark in a month’s time. Our next destination was Vastervik some 76 miles up the coast where the vast archipelago of islands begins and runs all the way up to Stockholm and beyond. We set off early in bright sunshine and made our way under the impressive road bridge that links Oland to the mainland. The light NW wind steadily increased, and soon we were bowling along at over 7 knots in a smooth sea – something that we were getting used to and rather liked. To think of the endless waves on passages to Brittany or running up the Irish Sea to Scotland the previous year! Of course, the lack of tide helps too. We soon came up to the mysterious island called Bla Jungfrun (which means “Blue virgin”), situated in the middle of Kalmar Strait opposite Oskarshamn.
The island is about one kilometre across, with its smooth red granite profile rising out of the sea like a giant limpet. It plays an important role in Swedish folklore where it is viewed as an evil and magical place. It is now a national park and is uninhabited.
Just as we passed, it began to rain heavily and it went on for two hours. Blackberry sheltered by the hatch under the spray hood as we began to wonder if we had upset the evil spirits. Four hours later, we threaded our way inland between the islands to Vastervik, a lovely old town with a large marina and plenty of space for larger yachts. We enjoyed an excellent dinner at the Old Salt Warehouse a short walk up the hill from the harbour.
The next day we explored the town and I went for a haircut fron a lady I assumed was Swedish but turned out to be Iranian and who spoke even less English than I spoke Swedish!Not much was said between us, but the haircut turned out OK.
We set out the next morning soon after 06:00 for Arkosund, just under 60 miles to the north and had a pleasant sail skirting around the numerous rocks and small islands where the Gota Canal joins the sea. This was our first real taste of the very intricate navigation necessary in this part of the world and we learnt the trick of cutting some insulating tape into the shape of an arrow which is moved along the chart to keep track of where you are.
We have two chart plotters, one in the cockpit and one at the chart table, both running off separate systems, and we use the very detailed German Delius Klasing paper chart portfolios on which we carefully plot our position at all times. If the GPS were to fail, it would be impossible to know where you are because everywhere looks the same!
We arrived at Arkosund at 16:00 and anchored under Horsh Island, a beautiful spot surrounded by smooth rocks and pine trees, with the occasional summer-house hidden away amongst the trees. We left the next morning and followed a tortuous but well-marked channel between the rocks to Sacholmen Island where we anchored for lunch, then on to Fifang to anchor for the night, a distance of about 40 miles.
This inner passage runs for over 120 miles all the way up to Stockholm and beyond, and is a very popular route, with hundreds of yachts using it each summer. At times, when the channel narrows, it becomes quite crowded, but luckily there are literally thousands of places to anchor for the night. It is so sheltered that most of the time, you can simply anchor where you like. Once again, the lack of tide is a joy. We left Fifang and sailed 25 miles to Ranohamn, a delightful spot, then on the next day to Orno Dyviken just 8 miles further, and finally to Dalaro, where we moored bows- to for the first time in their little marina. We were now in the heart of the Stockholm archipelago and could enjoy pottering from island to island under blue skies and warm sunshine.
The weather was the best the Swedes could remember for many years, and the temperature rose to close on 30 degrees, with the water reaching a pleasant 24 degrees. We now had 10 days before we were due to join the Royal Yacht Squadron’s Baltic Rally, so we simply pottered from one beautiful anchorage to another, usually only a few hours sailing apart. We had the local Swedish pilot book with us which gave details of hundreds of “natural harbours”, so we made the most of it, visiting seven of them before arriving at Saltsjobaden, which is just outside Stockholm and is the headquarters of the KSSS, Sweden’s premier yacht club. Clive Forestier- Walker, who chairs the Squadron’s Cruising Committee, had put together the itinerary for the RYS Stockholm archipelago cruise and had taken much trouble to research every detail and organise all the functions. Clive and his wife Christian sailed their Oyster 45 “Casalamy” up to Stockholm for a race the previous year, and as usual, the organisation was first class and everything ran smoothly.
We had decided back in the UK that it would be best if we could find someone to look after Blackberry for the eight days of the RYS rally, so we could attend the various functions and events without having to worry about her. Through the RYS we got in contact with Wivica Mabon, who is on the committee of the KSSS, and asked if she could help us find a dog- sitter for the week. She kindly suggested her parents, who live in a splendid house nearby on a private island with their own dogs, so when we arrived at Saltsjobaden, Wivica took us across the fiord in her speedboat and we said goodby to Blackberry.
The first event was a visit to the Vasa museum followed by a splendid dinner at the famous Erik’s Gondolen Restaurant in Stockholm. The next day we enjoyed a welcome BBQ at the KSSS club-house in Saltsjobaden on a warm sunny summer evening and after that, the fleet of eight yachts explored the archipelago together for a few days, with lots of impromptu parties on each- others boats. Our guests, Sara and Bruce from the UK joined us on Perseverance, and we set off together all over the area from Uto in the south to Huvudskar in the north and Natharo and Sandhamn in between. The RYS had had organised a number of dinners at various harbours, and by the end we were ready for the more simple fare we had become used to in Sweden.
While in the Stockholm archipelago, we tried mooring Perseverance Swedish style, using a stern anchor and nudging the bows right up to the rocks, before tying the bow line to a tree, (or more commonly, to a convenient ring-bolt.) Some friends in England had given us a bow-ladder when they sold their boat and this turned out to be essential for getting the crew onto the rocks (and back on board,) with our rather high topsides. At the stern, we had a Fob-Light aluminium anchor with a weighted rope attached to a reel of mooring tape, which worked very well. Some boats have steel anchors with chain which require elaborate stern fittings to avoid damage to the hull.
The RYS cruise came to an end, and after lots of goodbyes to friends, we returned to Saltsjobaden to pick up Blackberry from her private island, (it’s a dog’s life.) She had clearly had a wonderful time and was probably spoilt rotten during her stay.
We now had to start planning our return trip, so after changing the engine oil and filter, (the engine had had many hour’s use in the light winds and settled weather we had enjoyed,) we looked at the charts and decided to make for Nykoping via Nynashamn which would make it easy for Bruce and Sara to take a train back to Stockholm airport for their flight home. We set off at noon and arrived at Nynashamn around 17:30, a distance of 35 miles. The next morning, we left for Nykoping taking the inner passage between the islands and anchoring for lunch and a swim to cool off on the way. After about 40 miles, we reached our destination which is several miles inland up a well-marked channel.
Our attempt to enter the marina at Nykoping failed as we went aground 10 metres from the berths, so we reversed out and made for the old fishing quay instead. Not for the first time, we decided that 45ft and 7ft 3 draft are a bit big for the Baltic. That evening, our guests treated us to a splendid dinner of fresh halibut, and the next morning, we said goodbye to Bruce and Sara, who jumped into a taxi for the train station, and feeling a bit lonely, we set off south heading for Vastervik 70 miles away.
It turned out warm and sunny, with no wind, so after 50 miles motoring amongst the rocks, we decided to drop anchor for the night in a charming bay by the island of Stora Alo. The next day we left early and covered another 60 miles in glorious sunshine and no wind, anchoring for lunch off the island of Kroko just outside Vastervik, and continuing south to a small island called Stora Tvaggesholmen.
The anchorage here was shown in detail in the local harbour guide, so we headed in carefully studying the paper chart and our two chart-plotters. Fortunately we were only doing about 2 knots, because the next moment there was a terrifying bang and the boat stopped dead. We had just hit a very solid rock, which did not appear on any of our charts. Now, it is well known that if you cruise in the Baltic for any length of time,you will hit a rock sooner or later. Just pray it is your keel and not the hull that takes the impact, and that you are moving slowly, as we were. We quickly reversed and dropped anchor in deeper water as if nothing had happened, but we were both in shock for an hour or two.
Luckily, there seemed to be no serious damage, and we were glad to be on a solidly-built Scandinavian yacht which I’m told is designed to hit rocks at up to 6kts, although we felt about 2kts was quite fast enough!
The next day we set off at 07:45 bound for Kalmar 45 miles to the south. The weather was warm and humid, with a hint of rain and no wind in the morning. By mid-day, the sky was very dark and next came a huge thunderstorm with torrential rain and lightning all around –always a bit of a worry on a boat out at sea.