Leaving Sandhamn after an early start our North-bound progress was painfully slow. We had the wind in our faces and there was a noticeable current against us too. It was a relief to pull in to Kristianopel for a break. This pretty little town had been fought over by Denmark and Sweden and was full of history. A sailing boat hanging in the church reminded us of the links to the sea. In the afternoon we paddled on past many seals to land at Ekenäs and by chance found a camping shelter with a toilet and a perfect place to pitch the tent. The next day saw us heading for Kalmar along a shore dotted with houses and holiday homes. We approached Kalmar and then found the canal through the town running in front of the imposing castle.
As we ate ice creams and picked up some food in Kalmar, Sweden were about to play a match in the World Cup. Almost everyone was dressed in yellow and blue and a steady stream of people were heading to the main square to watch the match on a huge screen. We paddled on, under the bridge to Gotland and into another strong headwind and South going stream. Initially we kept to the West shore but then struck out for the point at Revsudden. Here we landed and enjoyed a break in a small shelter built for bird watchers and evening romantics. Watching the yachts and the shipping from this vantage point was mesmerising and we ended up camping just beside the shelter and enjoyed a purple pink sunset.
The next day we needed water so paddled into the harbour about 2 km further on. Here we stopped and realised we were tired and a little low on enthusiasm. We took a rest day to recover and went back to Kalmar on the bus! On our return the kind man who looks after the harbour insisted that we used his cabin and offered us a sauna, a bottle of wine and showed us his old motorbikes. Refreshed and feeling much happier we continued North, working our way between islands looking for shelter from the wind. We passed another big power station and landed on the island of Runnö, camping right beside the jetty. This island seemed to have many houses and some interesting trees and plants. The friendly residents were mostly from Stockholm and enjoying holiday time in their “summer houses”. They were happy to fill our water containers and seemed pleased we had been to their island.
It was on Runnö that we first noticed brown leaves on the birch trees as the extended drought was having an impact.
We continued North, taking a bearing from the top of Runnö, passing a light house as a way point to miss out Oskarshamn. We landed for lunch on great little rocky island, swam a little and sunbathed, before continuing on to enter Misterhults archipelago. Camping on Strupö felt good as we were back in a world of diverse rocky wooded islands and very few people. We awoke to persistent rain, unusual so far, and struck cap in waterproofs and paddling gear. The rain remined with us all day, together with the wind, still from the North or North East and about 6-8 m/s (about a Beaufort Force 4). We chose to weave between islands looking for shelter as we clawed our way North. Many islands were designated bird reserves with yellow signs saying landing was forbidden until 10 July. We wound our way into Vestervik via a small, almost invisible, canal and a sheltered string of islands to have the good chance to meet Jonas Berggren on a SUP. Jonas is a racing paddler and invited us to use the showers and stay over in the Vestervik Kanotklubb. This club had a huge storage shed full of cold moulded wooden K1 kayaks and upstairs in the trophy room there were medals and records from the Berlin Olympics. Sadly, Jonas felt that the young of today were more interested in virtual world and the club has only a few active paddlers.
Leaving Vestervik we felt we were entering home waters as we passed behind elegant sailing yachts leaving their moorings. With the wind still from North we took an inside route looking for shelter. It was hot so we stopped and swam and worked our way to the headland outside Loftahammar, and on to stay in a friend’s cabin on Torrö.
From here we’d hoped for some easier paddling but the wind increased and we had three rough open crossings of about 5 km each to make it into Gryt. Approaching Gryt we passed an island with hundreds of cormorants on trees that were mostly dead. A pair of sea eagles were flying lazily amongst the cormorants picking up easy meals. We landed in Gryt next to Ostkustkajak and were made very welcome by Christian and his team there.
We pitched our tent in the rather smart campsite and enjoyed lovely hot showers. We awoke realising that we both needed to rest and recuperate. Our niggling coughs had become chest infections and we were both just a little weary. A few days rest were called for and we began to question the conflicting elements of such a journey, putting in the miles to reach the goal versus stopping to swim, to observe and just to enjoy the beauty of the places we were passing. A short break at this point was much needed.