A Voyage up the Gulf of Bothnia

Nicholas Hill

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Part 1

I left the UK early in April, driving 900 miles from home to the Marina Neuhof near Stralsund in eastern Germany, where the boat had been ashore for the winter. The car was loaded to the brim with all that I would need for the next six months. After three days of preparation, I was ready to leave, and headed first for Kroeslin and then Sassnitz, on the eastern shores of the island of Rugen. Sassnitz was a useful jumping off point for the island of Bornholm. It has a very long mole, and for a brief overnight stop it is easiest to tie alongside the wall. Sassnitz is never a peaceful harbour, since there are always fishing boats and, in the summer, tripper boats. It is also uncomfortable in easterly winds, and during the night, a light easterly started to blow up, sending a swell into the harbour. It was sufficiently uncomfortable that I got up before 6 am to make my way north.

Sassnitz to Rønne on Bornholm is a fair distance, well over 50 miles. The easterly wind had strengthened, however, and I decided to reef the mainsail - a wise decision. The wind was on the beam and due east, and very cold. On the other hand, the auto helm steered beautifully, despite the lumpy seas, and the speed over the ground was between 6 and 7 knots. As a result, I reached Rønne late in the afternoon.



The yacht harbour is not especially impressive, and most of the moorings are box moorings, which I abhor. I eventually found a rather rickety set of staging which I could tie up to.

The town itself is not unattractive, and worth spending half a day walking round. There is a supermarket nearby which is well-stocked. After a day in Rønne, it was time to head off again, and I went round to the island of Christiansø. The wind was on the nose for a large part of the voyage, and I am ashamed to say that I motor sailed. Christiansø is very scenic and is normally packed out with yachts, but not for the first time on this voyage, and not for the last time, I was the only boat there, which gave me plenty of choice as to where to tie up.


I left Christiansø early the next morning, heading north for the small island of Utklippan. This is hardly an island, but more a collection of large rocks. A harbour was built inside for fishing boats, but now of course fishing has almost entirely disappeared. Utklippan is very strategically placed for heading either to Karlskrona or Kalmar. Utklippan has two entrances, one on the east, and one on the west. The sensible thing is to approach from the lee side - in this case, the east. It is something of a slalom to get in, and judging by the sand heaped over the mooring rings, I was the first visitor of the year.

It doesn't take long to explore Utklippan. I walked round with my camera before retiring the boat. Most harbours have electricity, and at this time of year, the first thing I do is to plug in an oil filled radiator to keep warm. There was electricity in one corner of the harbour, but not where I had tied up. Instead, I resorted to the Webasto heater, which was adequate for the night. The wind the next morning was quite light, and I headed out of the western entrance with Kalmar as my destination. The weather was typically Baltic, with a sun shining down from an almost cloudless blue sky.



The second picture is taken from the Utklippan webcam which can be found at this site.

Kalmar lies opposite the island of Öland. The outer harbour is somewhat industrial, and the yacht harbour lies further inside. Most of the moorings are with stern buoy, but there is some wooden staging where you can tie alongside.

Given that I was intent on getting as far north as quickly as possible, I normally pressed on every day, but it was worth spending an extra day in Kalmar exploring both the town and the castle. The castle is very impressive and picturesque, but perhaps a little too manicured. The old town is still marked by city walls, and there is a cathedral in the market square. Another good reason for stopping in Kalmar was the excellent chandlery. More importantly, it had chart books for the Swedish coast north of Stockholm. I had the Navionics charts which I was running on a laptop. This made route planning very easy, but a paper chart was always a useful backup.

Kalmar is somewhat exposed to the east, and a breeze began to get up in the night. I was grateful to cast off in the morning as it had been a slightly uncomfortable night, and began to head out. The clouds were building over the island of Öland, and to my surprise, the heavens opened. Not only did the heavens opened, but the wind built up to about Force 5 from the East. I hadn't yet hoisted the main, but fortunately the wind was free enough to be able to sail on the jib alone, making about 5 knots. I spent most of the journey north cowering under the spray hood as further showers came through.

I was heading for the harbour at Byxelkrok, which is at the top of Öland. There are a couple of jetties, and a long curved breakwater. I tied up and went to look for the harbour master, but there was literally no one around. I eventually found someone who was laying a wooden floor, who phoned the harbour master, who didn't bother to come out.

The next day I headed north again, ending up at a tiny spot which was really nothing more than a couple of jetties. This was Idö, one of many old pilot stations which can be found up and down the coast. There isn't much room, but at this time of year they were empty, and as far as I was concerned, very useful. Idö is a small island, and the only buildings were some summer homes and a restaurant. From Idö, the next stop was Fyrudden, which does not have much room for visitors, although again I had no problem.



From there, I went to another small island with an old pilot station, Havringe. The island is rather more exposed, and the tiny harbour might well be uncomfortable in a southerly blow:


Going further up, I stopped at Huvudskar, which is a collection of rocks and islands with a pool or lagoon in the centre. This is quite well sheltered, but there is no official harbour, and you would have to anchor. However, there are two mooring buoys belonging to the Swedish Cruising Club, and I tied up one of these for the night. From there, it was a brisk sail on a bright day to Sandhamn, which is on the edge of the Stockholm Archipelago. Sandhamn sees itself as the Cowes of Sweden, being crowded with racers in the height of the season. Being May 1st, the harbour was now officially open, and I was charged harbour fees for the first time ever in Sweden. Being low season, however, these were not that extravagant.

The Stockholm archipelago is massive and rock studded. There is no 'outside passage', but the various routes through the islands are very clearly marked on the charts (even the electronic ones), and well marked with buoys. There are, however, no leading lines as there are in Finland.

It is about 50 miles through the archipelago, and I ended up at Gräddö. However, the harbours north of Stockholm didn't open until May 15th. They took this seriously here: planks had been nailed across the doors of the loos. Another problem was that Wi-Fi was not yet available, and the weather seemed to be turning nasty. I needed weather information before going any further. I solved the problem by taking a bus into Norrtälje and buying a mobile Internet USB stick, which turned out to be an excellent investment. It is a pay-as-you-go system for around £25 a month, and you can buy top-up vouchers in any supermarket, which makes it even more convenient. A word about taking buses: the driver does not take any money, and you need a ticket before you can get on. This might present problems if there are no shops about, but you could buy them in supermarkets. North of Stockholm you are into the Gulf of Bothnia proper, and this is terra incognito even to many of the locals.

My next stop was Oregrund, a small town which seemed to survive on tourism, and from there to Gävle (which, to my English ear, is pronounced 'Yeff-luh'). I discovered a local hazard for this time of year: you have to steer due west to get in to the harbours along this stretch of coast, and in the evening, the sun is low on the horizon, completely blinding you. The entry into Gävle from the east is distinctly awkward, and trying to find the channel markers with the sun in your eyes is not easy. There is a yacht club a few kilometres from the city, but I pressed on to the bridge which stops yachts going any further. There is no room for any visiting boats, and I tied up against some distinctly awkward quayside. I went into town in the morning, and it is quite attractive, with a good shopping centre.

Late morning I headed out, was intending to go to a small island called Storjungfrun. This is, apparently, open to the south east, and whilst underway, I used my new Internet connection to download a Grib file. This was forecasting moderate to strong southeasterlies, and so I decided to divert. The only guide I had to the section of coast was the one made by the Cattels for the Baltic Section of the Crusing Association a few years ago and available on the CA website. This mentioned a small harbour called Axmar, and said that although there was plenty of water in the harbour, the approach might be more awkward. I thought I would give it a try.

The approach was certainly awkward with a narrow channel twisting and winding. The sun was again in my eyes, and I nearly went between the wrong set of rocks. I got there in the end to see the wooden staging with some rather tired looking stern buoys in front of them. There was a gap between the end of the line of buoys and a jetty. I thought I would be clever and go in past the edge of the line of buoys, turn round and tie up against the jetty. You can see this in the photograph. When I reached the point where there is a big red cross marked on the photograph, there was an almighty bang and the boat stopped. There was a submerged rock which was not marked. Worse still, I had obviously ridden up onto the rock, and was stuck. I tried going hard reverse but couldn't move. Some locals saw me, and an old bod came round in a small boat, tied a line to my bow, pulled me off and took me round the side to tie up against some wooden staging. I was very grateful to him, but rather fed up with having impaled myself in this way.

I had to stay in Axmar for a couple of days whilst it poured with rain, and then made my escape to the old fishing village of Hölick. My stay there was probably the low point of the voyage. I aimed for some wooden staging on which to tie up but was told that it was private and I would have to use the booms in the centre of the harbour. I tied on rather precariously at the end of the jetty. Hölick was distinctly lacking in facilities. There was no water. There was no electricity. There were no ablutions. There were some toilets in a wooden hut in the woods, which were earth closets.


The weather deteriorated. In fact, it blew close on a gale with pouring rain, and the harbour was not that comfortable. I had been using the Webasto heating, but found both my domestic batteries had gone flat. In fact, they were dead and it would be another two weeks before I could find a place which would have new ones.

The weather forecast looked dreadful, but there seemed to be a brief window where the wind dropped down to 12 to 15 knots. I was desperate to escape, and so headed off early the next morning. As I came round the headland at the bottom of the island, I met the strong swell from the north. The wind was still blowing hard. I left the mainsail in its cover and rolled out the jib. The promised weather window did not materialise, leaving me to beat up into the swell in 20 to 25 knots. It was not a pleasant experience. Eventually I drew level with the entrance to Mellanfjärden, and could ease off a little.

The channel markers are not yet been put back into the water after the winter, but the approach was straightforward enough. The mooring is using stern buoys to a wooden staging by a restaurant. Being single-handed, using a stern buoy can be problematical. It is easier for me to run a line from the bow back through the genoa fair lead and the winch. I hook the line on and reverse towards the staging keeping a little bit of tension on the line to the buoy. Prospero has an open transom and it is very easy to get on and off the stern.


After Mellanfjärden, it was an easy run up to Sundsvall. Of all the Swedish towns that I visited, I found Sundsvall by far the most attractive. I arrived on May 15th, the day the harbour opened for the summer season. For the second time in Sweden, I was charged a mooring fee. On the other hand, I discovered that the mooring fee included the use of the clubhouse, which came complete with cooker, microwave, television, and, best of all, a washing machine and dryer for which there was no charge. After a month at sea, this was very welcome!

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