The fire ban was lifted towards the middle of August in most parts of Sweden so it seemed time to return to the water. Unfortunately Therese could not join me (as she had to return to work) so I would make the next leg paddling solo. I launched at Nynäshamn on the evening of 19 August and glided North on a calm sea. It was good to be back in the boat as I checked the map and looked for a possible campsite.
I passed two large dark holes in the side of an island and realised this was a submarine park. The familiar yellow signs told me that the spot I’d been aiming for was a military area and landing was prohibited. Pressing on I found a tiny beach on the West side of Muskö with just enough room for the kayak and the tent.
The next morning I woke early and was underway by 7.30. Passing the Northern tip of Ornö I headed for Rögrund where I’d been told there was a great cafe-restaurant. Half way there it started to rain and then just got heavier throughout the day. Arriving in Rögrund the cafe was shut and I realised that much of Sweden’s coastal activity had already wound down after the summer season. I used the shelter of the cafe verandah to make a brew and have some lunch before launching and heading North. A gentle tailwind kicked in and things felt good despite the rain. This didn’t last long though and as I was passing up the West side of Runmarö. the wind swung round to the North and increased to a Force 5, effectively bringing my progress to a halt.
With the wind increasing and my energy failing I looked around for a campsite. With Stockholm close by almost every flat piece of ground had a house on it and most of them rather grand at that. I found one with some people wandering about and asked if I could camp in a corner of their garden. Thankfully Tim from Germany with his wife and newborn baby were very friendly and let me camp behind a small boathouse in their rented grounds. After a 51 km day I slept pretty well.
The morning of Thursday 21st was pretty windy so I wound my way slowly North, sheltering behind islands and dodging the very expensive sailing yachts in the archipelago to reach the STF hostel on St. Kalholmen. I had only planned on a short day so stopped often and really enjoyed the light and the prettiness of the Stockholm archipelago.
There was no-one around when I arrived so I chose a bunk and made myself at home. The warden turned up at about 8.00 pm in a state, having been left standing at a remote jetty by the ferryman! She had stolen a rowing boat and rowed for 2 hours to reach St. Kalholmen and wasn’t in the best of moods.
I left the comfy hostel at 7.30 the next morning determined to put some distance in. It was calm and bright but as I rounded the island a 1m high wave came from no-where, just a message from Neptune to say “keep sharp”. I headed for the sheltered channel between Yxlan and Blidö and made good progress before encountering some big rolling waves and an increasing SE wind North of Kopmanholm. I passed the Tallinn ferry terminal and worked around the coast to stop in Gräddö, picking up supplies from the ICA store and water from the rather grotty Fiskehamn. I launched again at 4.00 pm and headed North, aiming for the Väddö canal with a freshening Easterly wind. A couple of Swedish warships started to follow me and a few black RIBs whizzed about so I guessed I might be entering a military exercise. I called on one the VHF and all was OK, I was just being used for training . They left me after an hour or so just as the wind picked up to a Force 6 from the SW, in the middle of a rather open bit of water. A car ashore flashed his lights at me, presumably to say he was watching and I worked rather hard to reach the shelter of the trees. I came ashore a few km further North and landed next to a shelter with a table and a bench clearly used by fishermen. There was space for the tent and no-one around so I made myself comfortable and was glad to get out of the rain after 67 km.
The next morning I entered the Väddö canal and it reminded me of the canals in France, lines of tall trees with deciduous woodland and tidy banks. I stoped in Älmsta for a break and to pick up water to find the small marina there was completely deserted. There was no slip so I just moored the kayak and sat on the deck making my own brew.
From the North end off the canal I pushed on to reach the small town of Öregrund, hoping for a cooked meal and some creature comforts. I paddled in past the harbour entrance and left the kayak on the rocks nearest the town after a 57 km day. I had a list of hotels working from the cheapest upwards and duly lugged my IKEA bags around town in search of a room. All seemed to be closed so I gave up and went for some food. The waitress listened to my story, made a few calls and found me the last room in town. This was clearly a “summer” town and the season was over.
From Öregrund I stayed offshore and saw the forboding buildings of Forsmark in the distance. This nuclear power station seemed to occupy a 4 km strip of small islands and was rather tricky to navigate round. The suggested passage seemed blocked and the only way was outside everything in a strong offshore wind. The outlet for the cooling water made for a great little tiderace to spice things up a bit. I plodded on and made a rocky landing at the Northerly point near Romsmaren. The freestanding Hilleberg Unna works really well on rock and with a few boulders on the guy lines it didn’t move at all during a windy and rainy night.
Next day I needed to paddle West towards Gävle with a fairly big open crossing or paddle a long way South and then North along the shore. After an hour of working slowly South into a South Westerly wind and I headed across the bay, aiming for the small island of Kniven. Stopping to eat a snack I was amazed to find a man walking towards me. He invited me ashore to see the island. Two brothers and a cousin staying in the family fishing hut for a week. The little huts and the harbour had been built by fishing families from Sandviken and passed down through generations.
Back into the wind I crossed to the mainland and found a sheltered lunch spot in the sun. The rock slabs had warmed and were at just the right single for a very relaxing half hour snooze. I continued along the North shore, passing outside Långsandsörama’s headland where there was a gathering of about 200 swans. At the tip of Biludden I stopped to rest and almost stumbled over a couple from Gävle sitting on the shore. They were regular visitors to this point and enjoyed the tranquility. We chatted and I built a pile of stones before heading off. They recommended Rullsands as a place to camp so I followed the shore and came to a rather upmarket camping site with showers, a shop and restaurant. Apart from having to lug my stuff quite a long way this was a good place to recharge batteries and take on water and chocolate as the shop only sold sweets.
The next morning it was pouring with rain so in the middle of a fairly careful striking of camp I met Amrit from Nepal who, together with his wife Inka run adventure trips to Nepal. Just as I launched the rain stopped and it was a flat calm day with reflections.
I set off directly across the bay, heading for the Eastern end of Limön before reaching he shore near Utvalnås. I was looking for a place to land when I saw a man on a balcony. I tried my Swedish but was delighted to find that Frank from Shoreditch with his Swedish wife and friends were staying in their flat beneath his mother in law’s house. In a memorable display of kindness I was offered apples, bananas, coffee and a shower and then Frank very Kindly drove me to the ICA store, about 15 minutes away. What a great guy! I set off from there a little later with plenty of food on board and a very contented feeling. The rain clouds built up over time so I headed to a rocky bay near Klubben to put on my jacket, meeting Per from Gävle with his Point 65 kayak doing much the same. We chatted for a while before heading off in opposite directions. The map showed a channel passing inside the island of Iggön but this didn’t exist and I spent a frustrating half hour in shallow water with random sharp boulders before giving up and blasting along the South side of Iggön instead. At the tip the sky darkened again and I went ashore on a very still day to photograph the very strange cloud formations and a rainbow.
Paddling NW after Iggön the sky suddenly darkened and a series of black concentric doughnuts formed. It suddenly looked a little mean so I put my foot down and sprinted for the rocky pile of Lillgrund. Just as I hit the shore thunder cracked and lightning shot down to hit the trees further up the island. I dragged my boat onto some rocks, tied it off with my Whetman towline and rushed ashore. I quickly put up the tent outer and sat inside as the storm raged for about 15 minutes or so. With a rather abrupt end I’d paddled 44 km that day.
I left Lillgrund at 8.30 the next morning and kept heading North, stopping for a very civilised lunch on a nice gentle beach on the South West end of Kalvharana with a table and a bench. I then made a 15 km open passage to land on Enskär before weaving between two shallow headlands to continue my passage North. I looked for a campsite near Korsholmsudden but it was all large sharp boulders with big breaking waves. The next headland on Fabodön was more promising so I landed in a small cleft in the cliffs with smooth rocky slabs to haul out the boat and make camp. With a great evening light and I’d covered 62 km that day. That night I talked with Therese and it became clear that I’d need to do 60 km plus each day to reach Harparanda in the time I had available. Just the thought of this seemed to take the pleasure out of the journey. Long open crossings are OK from time to time but missing out large parts of the coastline most of the time just to make a goal wasn’t really what I was paddling for. With the fire ban during mid-summer I was now paddling out of season and much of the activity had gone from the small harbours and villages along the coast.
I slept on this and awoke with the decision to call into Hudiksvall rather than continue North round Hornslandsudden. As I headed North the mist closed and visibility dropped to about 200m. I worked the compass in a manner reminiscent of walking on Dartmoor and found the delightful little secret harbour of Våtnäs for lunch. With its narrow North facing entrance there was room for quite a few boats and a bench and table for visitors to enjoy.
Afer lunch it was a compass exercise counting off forested headlands on a bearing to reach the point at Saltvik. Here I paused for a moment to reflect before heading West and on towards the town of Hudiksvall. Paddling into town I saw a sailing club on my right and landed on the sandy beach that they were using to launch Optimists. The sailing instructor was delightful and helped arrange for me to leave the boat with the harbour master. The harbour master was also fantastic, putting my wet kit in his office to dry.
I had decided to end my Blubandet attempt at Hudiksvall for a complex mix of reasons. Paddling day after day alone is much more rewarding if you meet people along the way and come across interesting places and wildlife. Paddling off-shore from point to point seemed to reduce the whole thing to an endurance exercise that might as well be in a gym. I’d seen rather a lot of my own boat’s bow and realised I’d much rather paddle more slowly, spend time in places that caught my interest and be able to talk with those I meet along the way. I had wanted to take photographs of the beauty that I came across on the islands, the flowers, the geology, the trees, yet in reality my time ashore so often felt like a race to get the tent pitched, to eat a meal and to get to bed so as to repeat the whole thing the next day. With the delay due to the fire ban my paddling North had slipped to be out of season and so much of wanted to see was closed!
I also realised that whilst paddling alone was OK, I actually preferred paddling in company. With 1670 km done I hope to enjoy the remaining coastline of Sweden with Therese next year, probably in two week chunks at a time with no real objective other than just enjoying being there.
My lasting impression is that Sweden is a beautiful and majestic country with a varied, long and fascinating coastline. I much preferred the kayaking where there were islands and rocky features to make the kayak feel like the right craft for the job. Many areas that I’ve seen so far are crying out for a return trip with more detailed exploration. I’ve been humbled by a great many random and totally unexpected acts of kindness from total strangers. For some parts of the coastline I felt that a small sailing boat would be the best way to travel and secretly envied the Yotties! Perhaps the greatest reason to continue next year is that this trip has been full of surprises. You never know what will lie around the next corner.