Baltic Sea Scandinavia Voyages

Gota Canal – The blue Band of Schweden


What does the fashion-conscious skipper wear for painting? Two glasses by Armani, a Stetson as a hat … A job I don’t like to do: Paint protective coating against fouling (in technical jargon antifouling). The stuff penetrates all skin pores and is poisonous. My protective measures are particularly high this year, I feel like a Martian. Two people enter the halls while painting, glimpse across and then look at me again with a broad grin. Later I also wear a breathing mask.

Bornholm Ferry

A day out of a sailing picture book: fair wind, low waves, and blue sky. The temperatures are not quite right yet, but we sail from one harbor entrance to the other. On the way, we pass a busy shipping line and are occasionally overtaken by a fast ferry. We also see a special cargo ship carrying a submarine on deck. In Rönne, the capital of the island, we can choose a free berth, hardly more than a dozen guest boats can be seen here.

Hammerhus and round church at Bornholm

Certainly, the largest number of visitors will arrive via the ferry port of the island capital Rönne. The harbor is big, but the atmosphere is rather small-town. The town center is dominated by half-timbered houses and cobblestones. Rönne looks back over a thousand years of history. It began as a fishermen’s settlement in the Middle Ages, survived the crisis of the powerful Hanseatic League in the 16th century until it regained importance in the 18th century after the invention of ceramic and watchmaking. Even today, the finest sand of Bornholm still trickles in many hourglasses all over the world. I find the history of the name interesting. The Germanic people of Burgundy in today’s France is said to have had the island firmly under control about two hundred years before Christ and to have given it its name: Bornholm derived from Burgundarholm with the meaning “Island of the Burgundians”. Mighty castles and fortified round churches testify that the locals were exposed to many attacks. Swedes, pirates and later Hanseatics came across the Baltic Sea.

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The journey to the pea-islands is a happy coincidence. While studying the maps of the fastest way to Kalmar we discover a tiny group of islands northeast of Bornholm. The course via these islands shortens the way to Sweden by 13 miles. Erhtholme (pea islands) is a name for a whole group of small and large archipelagos. In general, the islands are named after the largest Christiansö, which is connected to Frederiksö by a small pedestrian bridge. Going ashore, one enters an old fortress which is under monument protection. It smells proverbially of history. Christiansö is also special because the present life is lived in the old fortress walls. The harbor master says, approximately 80 people live on the island in winter, mainly fishing, some are craftsmen, some artists. A school teacher instructs up to seventh grade at the island school. Upon request of the inhabitants, a dentist recently settled here. The island is supplied with electricity by a small power station. Rainwater collected in cisterns is used to supply drinking water. The harbormaster looks up at the blue cloudless sky and says ‘I hope it will rain again soon, otherwise the mailboat will have to supply us with water’. The islands are state property under the Ministry of Defense and therefore do not belong to any administrative or municipal district. The apartments are rented by the aforementioned ministry. Changes in the outer area may not be made, new buildings are not permitted.

Life on the islands takes its toll. The supply is carried out via Bornholm by a mail boat and is therefore particularly dependent on wind and weather during the winter months.

Although only 13 miles away from Bornholm, the island is far away. This was also what Denmark’s government thought in 1725 when it used the fortress as a deportation site for prisoners. Escape from the island was considered impossible. Lifelong prisoners were called iron prisoners because they had to provide their forced labor in chains. Their work consisted of blasting granite for fortifications. In 1782 the last iron died after 40 years in chains.

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Sandvig, Öland

The landmark can already be seen from a distance, a black and white eight-story windmill, the largest in Europe. The harbor is lined with the usual colorful houses. In the north a red painted fish shop, which also serves as a marina office, in the east above the harbor a green painted house with terrace, the café of the village. The houses of the inhabitants are connected to the south. A new development area expands the village considerably. An information booklet writes about the building boom on Öland. In Sandvik, we can convince ourselves of it on a small tour. The first impression: the place is idyllic and above all quiet. Those who combine tranquility with relaxation and don’t shy away of a dip in the 17 degrees “warm” water, as our Swedish neighbors do, can spend some nice days here. It’s also nice in terms of the weather, as Öland is Sweden’s sunniest province, according to the Swedish weather service.
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And sometimes everyone’s wrong. Welcome to Västervik, Sweden

After the first Swedish victory in the Football World Championship a newspaper titled freely translated, “with this strategy, we will win against England.” On the evening of the match, we heard collective “ooch” and “nej” screams of horror out of the city pubs around the marina. 2:2 is unfortunately not a win.
The German and Swedish weather services were also subject to a tremendous fallacy. The Swedish weather experts are actually outstanding in their marksmanship, however, instead of a predicted sail-friendly wind, only a weak breeze blew. And so we were mistaken to head far north.

A nice archipelago tour took us to Västervik. According to the tourist information, Västervik is the city with the most hours of sunshine in Sweden – a statement with which obviously all places adorn themselves – and the most Mediterranean harbor of Sweden.

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Söderköping, Göta Canal

“To the Göta Canal?” Ted asked with a grin, “you know, they call it the Divorce Canal?” The bad reputation among sailing couples is well-known, but I remember hearing the marriage registrar ask us at the time: “Do you want to honor and love each other in good times and bad, including a cruise on the Göta Canal?

Among the countless Swedish waterways, the Göta Canal has an exceptional position. Together with the Trollhätte Canal, Sweden’s Blue Belt makes it possible to travel by boat from Göteborg to Stockholm. The Göta Canal stretches between Sjötorp on the Vänern and Mem on the Baltic Sea. It’s total length is 190 km, of which 87 km is the dug part. Water level is regulated by a total of 58 locks. In Lake Viken, the canal reaches its highest point at 91.8m. The Göta Canal was built between 1810 and 1832. 58000 soldiers laid the water connections between the lakes. At that time, the canal was used to avoid the Öresund duty, payable to the Danes, albeit abolished a few years after its completion. Today, the Göta Canal is the most elaborate technical structure for recreational boating in Europe, perhaps even worldwide.

With JUNO, DIANA and WILHELM THAM, three nostalgic ships operate on the canal. Depending on the cabin, the trip costs between 880 and 1800 euros for three days and four nights per person.

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Going upstream

The first bigger lake approaching from the east is the Roxen. 15 locks are waiting to be passed, the first eight are located close to Söderköping. Four boats of our size each fit into one lock, two Swedish and two German yachts share a basin. Fortunately today it is calm, warm and sunny, so even the very slow progress is fun.

And this is how locking works: Outside the lock is a small jetty, which I pass very close. Beate hops down ashore with the long bowline. Its end is led over a pulley to a winch in the tail. I steer the ship carefully into the lock, in this case always close to the left wall. With the wind blowing from portside, makes it easier to cast off later, but also because the propeller that pulls the boat to the left at reverse. Once in position, I stop the Yacht and the stern moors almost by itself. Beate attaches the front line to a lock ring, then steps to the stern and I hand her the stern line. The gate gets closed, a moment later the water shoots in. The bowline must immediately be kept firm. Without a winch, this would be almost impossible. As a rule, the log shows three knots of speed when the water floods the basin.

The most famous lock staircase of the Göta Canal is in – nomen est omen – Berg. You have to go through seven locks, one could say, and you are in the middle between Vättern and Roxen. There is also a beautiful marina, where we head for immediately. Today, the locks do open not on land only, although big dark clouds open their gates too and enjoy us with hours of continuous rain and strong wind. Yesterday midsummer, today autumn.

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Lidköping Vänern

At first glance, Lidköping doesn’t seem like an idyll. High chimneys, grey tanks of an oil depot, determine the skyline. Fortunately, there is not much to see of it in the marina, big and dense trees give the harbor a nice sight. Those of you with a sensitive nose should be careful, with easterly winds it stinks from a sewage plant. The wind is very pleasant to us, at night it shifts to Southwest. The city center is just 3 km away, where there is nothing more to be noticed of the oil industry and strange smells.

Along the way to the center, we visit one of Sweden’s most famous companies, Rörstrand, a 280-year-old porcelain manufactory. The company museum leads through the eventful history of the company, shows various tableware designs, starting from simple plates and cups, the very overloaded motifs of the 19th century, up to current trends. Right next to the museum, the visitor can do something for the Swedish economy, both in the restaurant and in sales.

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The one and only, Läckö

Overnight the wind turned north. Picture-book weather, but also a very fresh wind, awaits the early sailor on Friday 14 July. Swedish sailboats and motorboats leave the harbor in convoys. A sailor is still too sleepy or the low sun blinds him, at least he passes at the wrong side of a buoy and is stuck. He sets the headsail, the ship heels and soon he is free again.

After leaving the winding buoy course, we run east under full sails. Run? No flying, the perfect sailing wind blows.

In Vänersborg a road bridge and a railway bridge span the waterway. We would pass under the road bridge with a mast height of 17.5 meters, says the bridge keeper on the radio. At the bridge waiting, the traffic lights show red, boats in front of us have simply gone through. I call him again, and he says we should continue, the railway bridge is still 5 minutes open. Everywhere you learn to stop at red, but not here. Best not to think about it any further. A nice trip ends in Vänersborg, the entrance to the Trollhätte Canal to Gothenburg.

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In the tourist information, we are told the waterfalls can be seen every day at 3 p.m. during the summer months, only on Tuesdays and Fridays the weirs are opened at 10 p.m. during the night. Illuminated, some magic is added.

Every second 300,000 liters of water gush through the gates. A spectacle lasts about 8 minutes. The weirs are opened about 100 times a year, the water level of the Vänern will be reduced by only 1 mm. Several hundred people stand on a bridge over the river and watch the spectacle when the Swedish company Vattenfall, which operates the power generation plant, opens three gates after a short announcement.

What good is the best plan if it is wrecked in just a few minutes? I thought it was smart to enter the lock at half past seven in the morning, pass it stress-free and without elbow mentality. The customs here are harsher than in the Göta Canal, impudence and strong engines are now an advantage. However, the lockkeeper explains that two large barges would pass first, and passage would not be expected until around noon at the earliest. Laila and Christian are just clearing their breakfast table, we consult and decide to stay another day in Trollhättan. Around 11 o’clock a considerable traffic jam has formed at the waiting jetty in the direction to Gothenburg. Even those who had told us an hour earlier they had time, hurried towards the lock and fought for the best positions. Christian shakes the head goes to the fridge and pours a round of beer. Well, it’s only 11 a.m. and certainly no beer time, but in light of this stress just watching, we enjoy the beer. In the evening we pass the lock with 2 other boats.

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Relieved, we master the lock in Lila Edet, enough smuggled for the next several years. The Götakanal and Trollhättan are passed through. 58 locks of the Göta Canal and 6 locks in Trollhättan are astern. The tour was not always effortless, sometimes quite strenuous. After seven hours of motoring, salty sea air blows around our noses again. The city marina of Göteborg Lilla Bommen is packed, ferries running back and forth as well as constantly arriving and departing boats cause urban unrest in the harbor. Yesterday in quiet nature, today hectic and noisy.

A statue of Neptune stands in a fountain in Gothenburg. He is strong and muscular, holding a fish in one hand and a ship in the other. I immediately notice his face. It has amazingly feminine features for the strong male body. The artist lets Neptune look diagonally down to his left side. I position myself in his line of vision and look at him. Somehow the man seems to be far away with his thoughts. Of course, I think it has always been the custom of seafarers to give Neptune a sip from a bottle of liquor at the end or beginning of a journey. This much alcohol over a long time, I would have a transfigured look.
Beate, on the other hand, sees a specific part of the unclad Neptune, which in her opinion is clearly too short for this strong man. I tell her, Neptune rules solely all the world’s water, he has no female Neptune, maybe some mermaids, but they are more fish than humans. She doesn’t really accept the objection.

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Kungsbacka Vindö

Carefully we enter the small bay. Maybe a dozen mainly small boats are anchored at rocks, in the middle of the bay only three yachts. Carefully we circle the chosen anchorage in order to be sure to have enough space and deep water, should the anchor not hold and slip. Later I realize no-one else has done this but us, well, a little prudence can’t do any harm to unfamiliar visitors.

Ramnö and Vindö are the names of the two islands the ship is anchored between. Both are uninhabited nature reserves. At night there are only four boats left, nobody plays music or speaks loudly, you can literally hear the algae grow. Only the shrieking noise of passing motorboats in the distance disturbs a little. Presumably, they are recreational fishermen looking for their fishing gear. Fish must be abundant here, not only that we managed a good catch today, on the mirror-smooth water we can observe fish from the ship, who jump in dozens out of the water to hunt insects.

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