A tale of two canals: Göta and Trollhätte

Snaking their way across Sweden via a series of lakes, rivers and mad-made ditches are the impressive waterways: the Göta Canal and the Trollhätte Canal. These two historical constructions connect Stockholm to Göteborg; the fresh water of the Baltic Sea to the salty North Sea. For the modern boater, the journey presents an opportunity to experience the canals as they were over 100 years ago, enjoy modern facilities along the way, and appreciate the landscape of Sweden’s farmlands and forests.

Image from GotaKanal.se

From the early 1800s to the early 20th century, the two canals allowed boat traffic to reach Lake Vänern, the largest lake in the European Union. Originally, one of the main objectives of the canal system was for Swedish merchant and warships to have free passage through the country instead of passing Öresund in Denmark where duties were imposed. For the modern boater, these duties no longer exist, however, be prepared to pay a hefty fee to cross Sweden through the canals. The distance through the canals and lakes from Mem in the east to Göteborg in the west is around 220nm. The alternative is to sail around the south of Sweden which adds a further 200nm to the trip. Distance is not an issue for us and we did consider going around the bottom, but while in the archipelago with days of strong southwest winds signaling the imminent end to summer, we decided to follow our original plan – to follow the canal systems of Sweden.

Watching a boat pass through the lock is a treat for the tourists!

The entire trip from Mem to Göteborg offers stunning scenery and a chance to meet locals along the way. For a boat the size of Blue Heeler the trip is doable, but larger boats would possibly be challenged. The minimum height on the Göta Canal is 22m, which is 3.5m higher than Blue Heeler. The depth is around 2.8m, and the width of the canal caters for boats less than 7m wide.

On a side note, it’s said the canal is also known as the ‘divorce ditch’ due to the anxieties of navigating through the network of locks, narrow canals and passing through or under bridges. But after weeks in the Erie Canal and the Inland Waterways of the USA in 2015, and navigating through the Mast Up Route in the Netherlands this year, this trip was just another day of living the dream – haha!

Below is some history and further information on our trip along the Göta and Trollhatte Canals of Sweden.

Göta Canal

The Göta Canal is around 200 years old. In 1809, Baltzar von Platen and Scottish canal builder Thomas Telford (famous architect and engineer of the Caledonian Canal, which is the ‘sister’ canal to the Göta Canal) presented their idea of a water route through Sweden. Soon after the newly crowned King Carl XIII set out the rules for the construction of the canal in the royal charter that created the Göta Canal Company. Although expected to take around ten years to construct, this blew out to 22 years and cost six times the original estimate. Overall the cost at the time was equal to SEK15.3 billion in 2016.

Image from GotaKanal.se

The first lock was completed at Forsvik in 1813, but the entire canal system didn’t open up until 1832. The Göta Canal is 190km long (of which 90km was dug out by hand), has 58 locks, around 50 bridges, crosses five lakes, and reaches almost 92m above sea level. This canal offers passage for vessels no bigger than 30m long, 7m wide, 2.8m deep, and no higher than 22m. Our vessel is around 18.5m high with a draught of 2m.

Unlike the Erie Canal in New York State, the railway didn’t immediately overtake the canal, but by the late 1800s the canal was fairly redundant. By the mid 20th century roads and trucks impacted the importance of the canal even further. After a couple of decades of little use, it wasn’t until the 1960s when tourism brought the canal back to life.

Friendly lock staff

For a yacht on the Göta Canal there is plenty to consider. First of all it’s important to make sure your vessel meets with HxWxD specs. Secondly is the cost to transit the canal. At SEK8770 (almost 840 Euros) it’s expensive. This high season price allows pleasure boats to stay at any of the 21 marinas for five nights at each, but that would be fairly unrealistic to do so. After August 16 is the low season or the ‘booking season’. The price is slightly reduced (SEK6100 – 580 Euros) but you no longer have the option to pass through at a leisurely pace – you must join a convoy with other vessels and follow an itinerary to get you through the system within five days. We had contemplated doing this, but for the extra cost we decided to get through in the high season and take advantage of stopping at towns along the way. But we just made it, arriving at the final town on the Göta Canal at Sjotorp on August 15 – one day before the booking season commenced – so we didn’t have to wait for a convoy to exit the final lock.

The gasthamns (guest harbours) along the way have good facilities for pleasure boats – toilets, showers, laundry, pump-out, electricity and water all included in the fee, but wifi was non-existent except for Berg. Eateries for those who want to buy dinner are close by, as are ice-cream shops for those who have a liking for waffle cones filled with delicious mjikglass (softserve icecream) sprinkled with lakrits (licorice)! Söderköping and Motala had the best grocery stores, but Berg also had a small grocery store too. We didn’t always stop at other places so I can’t comment on the facilities elsewhere. Berg was virtually empty when we stayed so the summer boating community evaporates quickly when the kids return to school.

Passersby stopping for a chat

Along the way we meet many Swedes who stopped to say “Välkommen” and inquired about our voyages around the world. A few of them are sailors themselves, while others have no idea of life aboard. Often passersby would stop and point at our Aussie Red Ensign trying to figure out which country it represented. More familiar is the blue Aussie flag so the usual guess is New Zealand or England. They are usually amazed and a little impressed when we tell them we’ve brought our Hallberg Rassy all the way from good old Melbourne to its homeland of Sweden!

With 58 locks to navigate, the days were busy, but we made sure to stop for a day or two to enjoy the sights along the way. The heatwave over Europe hadn’t quite disappeared so some days were long and hot.

Flight of seven locks at Berg

One particular day we went up 19 locks including the flight of seven locks at Berg; the final seven locks for the day. By this time we were joined by another two small yachts. Blue Heeler was the larger vessel of three so had to be at the front of the lock. The turbulence at this lock was so fierce – even with two wraps on the ring at the top of the lock, the line began to slip when the turbulence took hold of the bow and pushed it towards the opposite side of the lock. I held on as tightly as possible, taking in slack when possible. Afterwards I had a quiet word to the lockmaster to perhaps tone down the turbulence for the subsequent locks. He did, but I also put on three wraps to be sure the boat didn’t get away from me! The final day of the canal passage is also 19 locks over 10nm – this time going down, and with less turbulence was quite okay.

The passage takes boaters through gorgeous countryside, much of it very dry this unusually hot summer. In fact it’s been so dry and hot here that there is a ban in most of Sweden regarding using BBQs or lighting any fires.

Narrow parts of the canal are carefully navigated, so we paid particular attention to the depth and height, as overhanging trees may cause problems too. Lock and bridge openings were generally timely, although a few have set opening times. All this information is available from http://www.GotaKanal.se.

Our trip on the canal took eight days plus an additional couple of nights at Sjötorp gasthamn to clean off the mud and muck that manages to get aboard. This time of year the canal wasn’t busy at all as the summer crowds have already returned to work and school. We didn’t feel rushed and managed to spend extra days relaxing at Söderköping and Berg and also catch up with Swedish friends Karl and Elisabet for a tasty pizza at Motala. A day off to cycle from Motala to the historic town and castle at Vadstena was worth the trip.

The Göta Canal is a holiday in itself and after our busy summer season in the Baltic, we probably didn’t give it the full attention it deserved.

We still have many miles ahead of us until we reach our winter home so it’s important for us to keep moving.


Lake Vänern

Lake Vänern is the largest lake in Sweden and the largest in the European Union. From Sjötorp to Vänersberg to the beginning of the Trollhätte Canal is 66nm. In the middle of the lake is an archipelago where we stopped for a couple of days to let a strong southwest wind blow over. Exploring the lake over summer would also be a good option for those with plenty of time.

Trollhätte Canal

Portside southbound wall is fine, while the starboard wall is in bad condition – Trollhatte Locks

The first lock system on the Trollhätte Canal was opened in 1800; earlier than the Göta Canal. At Trollhättan are the remains of the original locks constructed from 1795; a second set of locks from the mid 1800s, and the current locks opened in 1916. The canal is 82km long – 10km is manmade while the rest of the canal follows the Göta Älv River. The difference in sea level from Lake Vänern to the North Sea is 44m and there are six locks to navigate through. The first at Brinkebergskulles sluss drops around 6m; the Trollhättan group of four locks drops 32m, and the final Lilla Edet lock drops 6m.

This canal is commercial therefore larger than the Göta Canal allowing larger vessels up to 87m long, 12.6m wide and 4.7m draught. Freighters carrying 4000 tons regularly passing through the canals, although on our trip we saw only one ship.

Looking north at the Dalbo Bridge – the first bridge heading south

The Trollhätte Canal is separate from the Göta Canal, but the transit cost of SEK1000 can be added to your Göta Canal fee at the time of booking. Otherwise payment can be made at lock number 3 at Trollhättan. The lowest vertical clearance along the route is 27m so we had no trouble with our mast height. All the bridges open (either lift, bascule or swing bridges) and a few are closed during peak hours so it pays to time the trip to coincide with the openings.

Of all the bridges we passed through, the final bridge was the one that concerned us the most.

The Göta Älv bridge, the last bridge to navigate under, is currently being revamped and as a busy conduit to the city, bridge openings are few and far between. In fact, they really don’t want to open unless they really have to. With a vertical clearance of 18.3m we would have preferred the bridge to open for us as our mast/antenna height is also around 18.3m. I called the bridge operator on VHF9 and asked if he would open it, but he said there was actually around 19m of clearance and we should be fine. Easy for him to say; he’s not the one that has to watch as the antenna snaps off the mast, or worse!

Wayne is certainly not faint-hearted so he slowed the boat down and headed directly at the 18.3m centre of the bridge, while I watched and waited. Under we went. Once under with no sounds of snapping rigging or crack of a broken VHF antenna, we breathed out as our lofty mast and antenna cleared with a metre to spare. Phew!

Blue Heeler in the foreground; Lilla Bommen “the Lipstick” building and the “Viking” Windjammer

Soon after we turned to port and headed around the bowsprit of the four masted windjammer ‘Viking’ and into the Göteborg Gasthamn. Viking is another of the four-masted barques that brought wheat from Australia to Europe in the early 20th century.

So, this is the end of our canal adventure across Sweden.

After a couple of days in Göteborg to replenish our supplies we are now headed north to reach Norway. On the way we will attend the Open Yard at the Hallberg Rassy yard at Ellös – Blue Heeler’s birthplace.

Until then.


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Stylish Stockholm

Stockholm is the most populated city in all of the Nordic countries, with almost two million people. Spread over fourteen islands, and a myriad of connecting bridges, Stockholm is often referred to the ‘Venice of the North’, but this is also applicable to many other watery Northern European cities we’ve visited such as Amsterdam, Dordrecht, Stralsund and Lübeck. Whatever the label, Stockholm is certainly stylish.

Vaxholm fortress

Heading into Stockholm after a few weeks living on anchor, was a treat. From our anchorage at Vaxholm, we sailed by the Vaxholm Fortress  as we admired impressive homes built on granite high above the water. We would select the homes we would live in, should we ever to move to Sweden! The channels are wide allowing fast ferries, cruise ships, power boats and schooners with full sails to share our view.

Wayne chatting to another yachtie

I’d prebooked our berth at the Wasahamnen marina, so after midday we proceeded directly to the berth where we squeezed between two similar sized yachts. The cost to berth for a 12m vessel was SEK400 (38€) per day, but for boats larger than 12m the price jumped up to a whopping SEK700 (68€) per day – good job our boat is 12m ;). Included was electricity, WiFi, water, and free use of washing machine (I did about five loads after a month on anchor so that was good value). Still, the ability to live in the heart of Stockholm at the island of Djurgården for around 38€ per day is pretty cool. No chance of similar accommodation for that price. One of the perks that come with living on a boat I guess.

Wasahamnen is located on the west coast of Djurgården – once the Royal hunting grounds, but now a lovely outdoor area with cycle tracks, impressive old homes, a Royal abode, the Skansen living history park, and the Nordic Museum. It’s also home to a number of tourist places such as the Gröna Lund amusement park, the Vikingaliv centre with an interactive session on vikings for the kids, the famous Vasa Museum displaying the 400 year old man-o-war, and of course, the ABBA Museum.

But the surprising thing about Stockholm was the heat. With a heatwave cooking most of Europe, Sweden was no exception. Humid days over 30degC had us feeling like we were back in Thailand! At the marina, with onlookers walking by, the air was still and sticky and the evenings showed no relief with warm nights over 20degC. From the nearby Gröna Lund screams could be heard clearly as customers spun, dipped and dropped over thrilling rides and fast moving roller coasters. It was perfect conditions to be back out in the skärgård!

The Dramatic Theatre[/caption]

With the bikes reassembled, each day we would head out and see the sights, and make sure to stay out of the heat in the afternoons. Cycling along Strandvägen passing the impressive Dramatic Theatre then across into the Kungsträdgården, water fountains had a queue of people filling their water bottles, while ice cream vendors were kept busy all day. In the cooler evenings I’d take a stroll along the foreshore to watch the sinking sun and return before dark.

A cycle to the old town – Gamla Stan – takes around 20 minutes from the marina, plus there are busses and a direct ferry for those without bikes. Gamla Stan is impressive but not intended for bike traffic. Parking the bikes outside a pub, we then walked the maze of alleys and roads stopping to enjoy an ice cream. One of the ‘must-do’ touristy things is to view the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace. The sun beat down on the hoards of tourists and then the band rolled in ahead of the Royal guards. The whole affair lasted around half an hour. Wayne felt for the poor guys standing in the heat all day as it reminded him of parades in the RAAF in the heat of an Australian summer. We’ve noticed that not many people wear hats here so there were many sunburned faces and necks.

The Vasa Museum is the number one tourist attraction and is next door to the Wasahamnen. The man-o-war ‘Vasa’ sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 as it was poorly designed and top heavy. After 333 years under the sea and after numerous attempts, she was eventually raised in 1961. Unlike the Mary Rose at Portsmouth, the Vasa is 98% original and remarkably intact (although a team of archeologists and maritime historians had a hell of a time piecing it back together). Vasa is adorned with hundreds of splendid sculptures – the carpenters who spent hours chiseling and carving these impressive nymphs and pirates must have been slightly irritated to see months of fine work disappear into the depths. Nonetheless, the Vasa timbers are preserved with polyethylene glycol so this fine example from 17th century Sweden should last a couple of hundred more years.

And of course I had to go to the ABBA museum and relive my youth! The museum showcases the history of the band, displays their gold records, costumes, and lives after the band broke up. There’s also the opportunity to sing along with the band on stage or record your voice on a track. I was happy just to look around and hum to myself as Wayne didn’t join me (another closet ABBA fan!).

As far as provisioning goes, there’s a good ICA Supermarket in the pretty suburb of Österhalm, around 2kms north of the marina. I’m not sure of nearby chandleries, but for a certain part I needed I rode about 12kms west to Hjertmans Bromma. This store has a good selection of boat stuff.

So after five nights at Stockholm, which wasn’t nearly enough, I have to say that Stockholm is one of the most stylish cities I’ve visited. I know dear old Melbourne keeps winning the ‘Most Liveable City’ award, but we’ve been to many cities where that label could easily be applied. Stockholm is one of those cities.

Back out in the southern islands of the Stockholm Skärgård, we considered sailing south around the bottom of Sweden around to Norway, rather than pass east to west through Sweden along the Göta Canal. But with a few days of strong southerlies on their way, the decision was made to head west.

From the small town of Mem is the entrance to the 58 locks of the Göta Canal. This 210nm trip passes through the heart of Sweden and will take around two weeks to pass along the Göta Canal, across Lake Vättern then along the Trollhätten Canal to Göteborg.

Until then…

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Stockholms Skärgård

Image from Wikipedia

From Åland to the northern islands of the Stockholm archipelago or skärgård is less than 30nm – a day sail. It also means winding the clock back one hour, so now sunset is around 9.30pm.

Arriving mid July allowed us a few weeks to enjoy the myriad of anchorages, intricate passages, nature reserves, granite islands and pine forests before we have to make our way south. The Hamnguide for this region has many anchorages and harbours conveniently numbered with good images and aerial shots. It’s a useful reference despite the Swedish text (the camera option in Google Translate helped decipher this), but when we head over to the west coast of Sweden we will buy the App version.

The geology and climate of this region reminds me of our 2015 trip through Georgian Bay in the Great Lakes within Canada, although there are more inhabited islands here I think. Small cabins and holiday homes are often obscured by trees and don’t detract from the beauty of the area. With countless islands and anchorages to choose from, each morning we would study our Hamnguide to find a good anchorage for the night. But really, you can anchor just about anywhere and sometimes we would do just that, dodging rocks as we go. In Sweden, as it was in Finland, there is legislation for the Right of Public Access (Allemansrätt) for a boater this means we can anchor anywhere, swim or go ashore, provided that we are considerate and respect the privacy of others.

Our first stop was the island of Arholma in the north where I was happy to walk around and take photos. After this pretty anchorage, each day we sailed to a new destination such as Torparo or Norrpada – mostly peacefully floating along with just enough wind to keep us moving along at a slow pace.

Further to the east is the group of islands of Stora Nassa which includes a spectacular nature reserve and bird sanctuary. Access to many of the islets is restricted during the summer months due to nesting birds. From our anchorage though it was okay to walk over the islets near to us for some gorgeous views.

The small anchorage of Krokholmsviken (#132 in the Hamnguide) is sheltered from all winds and a great place to swim. We anchored right in the middle of the bay and the others tied up to the banks. There are so many great places where we anchored so I won’t list them all. But the best thing for us is that hardly anyone anchors here, preferring to tie-up their bows to the rocks and throw out a stern anchor. The yellow algae seen further north seems to have disappeared further south through the islands making swimming more enjoyable.

On the outer skerries there are few channel markers (would be impossible/impractical to mark every channel), so it’s really important to study the chart and plan a route before we head off. A degree or two off course could spell disaster as there are huge rocks lurking under the water, out of view.

As you’ll have read in the news, a heatwave is over the entire region, including UK and Europe. Humid days over 30degC had us jumping in the cool water everyday in water that is usually around 23degC. The teak deck heats up in the hot sun and when we lay down the water steams off our skins.

The most impressive thing I’ve noticed in the Baltic Sea is how clean it is. No rubbish or food scraps are thrown overboard. Nothing. Not even a twig appears out of place. Helping keep the environment clean are Sugtömningsstation (we call them ‘poo-suckers’) – special pontoons equipped for pumping out holding tanks. There are rules up here or holding tanks and rubbish, and everyone seems happy enough to follow the rules as much as they can. As usual I sort out my rubbish and recyclables and try to get most stuff off the boat before we head out, but we always end up with stuff to drop off at the next convenient place. Reducing waste is a big thing for me! More information can be found on the Archipelago Foundation website.

Ribs on the Cobb BBQ…mmmm

This hot summer there are plenty of yachts and power boats throughout the islands, but not enough to be a problem. And there’s nothing quite like this in Australia. Summer holidays in Australia are usually spent in hot cars crawling along busy roads with millions of others on holidays until the caravan park is reached, then a swim in the nearest river or beach. Surrounding boats are generally considerate and keep the noise down for all to enjoy the environment. Sitting in the cockpit at the end of a ‘busy’ day I hear a guitarist strumming a simple tune; a child’s whimper seeking attention from a caring parent; a father playfully throws his teenage boy off the back of the power boat to the cheers and laughter of those onshore; while from Blue Heeler the smell of marinated ribs cooking on the Cobb wafts over the anchorage as Wayne and I share a beer and watch the world. Doesn’t get much better than this!

So already we have spent two weeks in these islands, and one month since leaving Helsinki. Through Dockspot I booked a berth at the Wasahamnen in Stockholm for a few nights to see the sights, but also do the mundane tasks of washing and provisioning. I figured it would be busy this time of year but as it turned out, there were plenty of berths available, as Dockspot only have a small percentage of bookable berths.

But before we left the skärgård we had to try this crazy ‘stern-anchor-tying-the-bow-to-the-rock’ caper. So we made our way to a little anchorage of Kalvholmen (#57) hoping that no one would be there to adjudicate our first attempt. The anchorage was small but had a lovely steep granite wall on the northern bank, and fortunately for us, the approach was deep and there were no other boats tied up. So in we went.

First Wayne slowly poked the boat’s nose in, me on the bow making sure it was deep enough. It’s a little unnerving anchoring this way as we’ve spent the past ten years trying to avoid rocks, and here we are literally driving up to a rock wall! Once we’d established the depth was deep enough, Wayne reversed the boat, from the stern I threw the Max anchor and 5m of heavy chain over the transom and let the rode flow through the fairlead. I gave the lazy end to Wayne to brake the boat as needed, then I went to the bow and prepared my lines. Closer, closer, then… jump! Standing on the granite I grabbed the pulpit and stopped the boat from going any further while Wayne tightened the stern line. I then tied the bow lines up to nearby trees. Sorted!

Such a hot afternoon, we jumped and dived from the rock like a couple of teenagers! What a great spot! Plus our plan of arriving before lunch seemed to work as most people are on the move by then. A few power boats came into the anchorage for the afternoon. As luck would have it, a 35’ Targa power boat promptly dropped his anchor on our stern anchor immediately snagging our rode. He then began pulling it up! Ugh, there’s always one!

This summer is reportedly the hottest July EVER in Sweden, with temperatures over 30degC for many days. On the islands the heat is not severe as on land. Sweden is also suffering from many wildfires as the conditions are dry and hot. The day we headed into Stockholm was thundery and raining and the slightly cooler temperature was actually a nice break from the heat of the previous few days.

But Stockholm surprised us both.

Until then.

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The Finnish line: Archipelago Sea to Åland

europe routeFrom the exquisite city of Helsinki, we navigated west following the southern islands of Finland’s Archipelago Sea – the largest archipelago in the Baltic with around 50,000 islets and islands and 10,000kms of marked channels. Our destination: Åland, located at the southern end of the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland.

Finland archipelago2

In Finland and Åland, people (including boaters) have a right to roam known as ‘Every man’s right’ where people have the right to move freely across the waters and through nature, and to temporarily stay overnight. The essence is ‘do not disturb and do not destroy’, which is aligned with our attitude which is to ‘take only memories and leave only footprints’. Of course it makes sense not to disturb private homes and invade others privacy, so respect and good judgement is the key. Many of the islands have saunas close to the water so it’s not unusual to see a naked person going in for a dip at the waters edge.

The outside temperature in early July was a chilly 11degC, heavy mist and drizzle, but the weather was sure to improve over the coming weeks. Much like summer in Australia between December to February, July and August are the busiest months in this region as school is closed for the period allowing families to enjoy endless summer daylight hours on land and on the water.

20180715 Archipelago sea Finland 002

Useful paper charts and magazine to support our e-charts – must haves!

Our first stop after leaving Helsinki was an anchorage to the south of the Porkkala peninsula, followed by a peaceful anchorage at Falkholmen. For this region we used Navionics e-charts on an iPad as we didn’t have a SD card e-chart to use in our chart plotter as we didn’t expect to reach Finland. In Helsinki we’d purchased a useful magazine (Satamaopas) which had lat/longs and descriptions of many of the harbours in the region, plus Tom in Helsinki gave us some useful paper charts for the islands and they were really handy – thanks for the charts and information Tom! Once we get beyond Åland we can use our chart plotter again.

Still chilly and drizzly, we made our way through the clearly marked channels to reach an anchorage at the island of Älgö within the Ekenäs Skärgårds National Park – a lovely spot for dropping a stern anchor and securing bow to rocks (the Baltic way), or like us, still a bit suss on poking our bow that close to rocks, dropped the anchor with plenty of swing room and good holding.

Ashore at the Rödjan Nature Information Hut is where the Älgö Nature Trail begins. It’s a short loop along the granite rocks to a lookout then to Lake Storträsket before returning. A pamphlet downloaded before the walk provided information on the interesting geology of the area, particularly the impact of massive ice sheets over thousands of years and the changes since the melt. Also here is a small jetty for a few boats to tie up bow-in for 10€ per night plus a sauna for €20 per sauna. No charge for anchoring.

tick repellant

Good old Bushmans!

Although were used to all sorts of dangerous critters, one thing to be aware of in this region are ticks. The risk of the tick-borne encephalitis virus is real and we weren’t vaccinated, so we made sure to spray our feet with Aussie Bushman’s 40% DEET beforehand, checking in between our toes upon return. Wasps and bees are out in force at this time of year too but they haven’t been bothersome. The temperature peaked at a cool 15degC during the day with the wind keeping the temperature down. Afterwards on nearby rocks we warmed ourselves in the sun.

From Älgö a 25nm sail to a natural harbour on the north coast of Hanko – the most southern tip of Finland. The unrestricted safe harbour anchorage is clearly marked on charts and safe from strong westerly winds. Smaller craft were tied to docks around the bay but we were the only yacht at anchor. Sitting in the cockpit, a scent of summer jasmine wafts over the harbour from nearby gardens, while a couple of Whooper Swans, the Finnish National bird, swim by uninterested in our appearance in their bay.

The main dock has large recycling and rubbish bins so we dropped off the small amount of rubbish we’d collected over the week before walking 30 minutes into town. Hanko is a popular tourist place with no identified anchorages close to the town centre. There are a couple of marinas that would be very busy during peak summer. Berths are upwards of 35€ per night for a boat Blue Heeler’s size so the anchorage suited our budget. Hanko is a popular sailing area and the summer sailing season was well underway with many small yachts flying brightly coloured spinnakers as they race through the channels.

Hanko also has a few shops and a big K Supermarket so I grabbed some fresh bread and veggies before heading back to the boat. Finland has a government run outlet for alcohol, similar to Sweden, but a name that Aussies can resonate with, aptly named ‘Alko’. The prices are steep so replenishing our stocks in Latvia made good sense.

Next leg of our journey was from Hanko to an anchorage at Norstö – 22nm. The wind was right on the nose so we motorsailed; at times the sails flapped but we hoped they may give us just a little boost. Along the way we ran the watermaker which works so well in the almost fresh water.

20180715 Archipelago sea Finland 050

Smoking salmon on the Cobb

With no wind forecast for a few days, from Norstö we had no choice but to motorsail 28nm to Jurmo, a popular place for boaters. The marina and breakwater can berth up to 40 vessels with rates around 22€ per night. Our ‘Baltic Sea and Approaches’ guide suggested a suitable place to drop the pick just west of the lead line. Anchoring in 4m the anchor rattled along the pebbly bottom before it hooked in soundly. We were the only boat on anchor while the marina was bursting at the seams with boats. Anchoring is far more appealing to us – the breeze blows over the boat, we can play our music, fire up the Cobb bbq to smoke a fresh piece of salmon or bake some marinated chicken, and we don’t have boats rubbing up next to us.

Jurmo is almost treeless with broad expanses of rocky outcrops and shrubs concealing reptiles and nests of a variety of seabirds such as Terns and Barnacle Geese. There’s a small village to the north of the island. A fifteen minute walk east of the harbour is the ‘Munkringar’, or monk rings, Bronze Age rings of stone.

Jurmo has a small grocery store and nearby a fish smoker belches out bitter smoke across the harbour. Huge recycling bins are available for the many visitors to the island, and an ablution block for boaters and campers.  The depths in the harbour are between 1.5m to 3m and smaller yachts have no problem manoeuvring the narrow channels. Campers from nearby tents still kayaking and swimming after 10.30pm as the sun was still above the horizon. No one seems to go to bed until midnight around here, including us, and the mornings are the time for sleeping in.

Next day we sailed a short 10nm from Jurmo to Ütö then again the next day to Kökar. It was on this day we retired our white/blue Finnish courtesy flag and hoisted the blue/yellow/red flag of Åland. The Åland group of islands is an autonomous territory of Finland and it’s appropriate to fly its flag alone.

As we approached Kökar, many yachts steamed by us hoping to snatch the last available berth at the dock, although three other boats anchored near us. The small harbour has 25 stern moorings, but I reckon almost double this amount managed to squeeze in – vessels literally on top of one another, masts leaning as they crammed in together. Many boats up here have no bow anchors or dinghies so anchoring is generally not an option, unless they drag their stern anchor to the bow. The few that do have anchors still prefer to pay for a berth so they can make use of the facilities: water, electricity, showers, laundry, etc. Their boats probably aren’t decked out as self-sufficient as Blue Heeler. Besides, these holiday-makers have worked and saved all year to pay for the few weeks they have off over summer so they have no need to scrimp, on the other hand, we live simply and only frequent marinas as the need arises.

20180715 Archipelago sea Finland 021At the Kökar gasthamn, a smooth massive slab of granite is easily mistaken for a boat ramp. Laying reptile-like on the warm slab were a few bikini clad young women with fake tans and a few pale guys catching some vitamin D as the temperature inched up to 18degC. Campers, motorhomes and yachts fill up the surrounding area, keeping the small grocery shop busy supplying smoked fish, recently baked bread, ice creams and freshly baked cinnamon buns, plus various other supplies.

There are plenty of walking trails around Kökar and near to the harbour is a track to see the Otterböte Seal Hunting Station – apparently one of the most well known bronze age sites in Scandinavia. The track over the boulders was clearly marked with white paint and I was careful not to get too close to the bushes in case of returning with ticks.

BANNER FinlandMariehamn, the main town of Åland, is located on a peninsula at the southern tip of Åland and a 20nm sail from Fliso where we stayed the previous night. Our guide and charts indicated that anchoring was possible on both the east and west sides of Mariehamn, so we chose the east side anchoring in 4.5m. A high pressure system moved over Finland and the ambient temperature increased, as did the water temperature. I jumped in for a swim and the water has increased to 22.5degC, while the ambient temperature was around 24degC. A begoggled Wayne jumped in and inspected the hull (it’s been over a year since he last checked it at St Maarten in the Caribbean!). No surprise in the fresher water of the Baltic Sea, the hull was clean with no barnacles or excessive growth. Perfect!

mariehamn anchorage

Blue Heeler on anchor at Mariehamn

Near to us on the eastern shore of Mariehamn is the largest marina in Scandinavia, which can berth up to 350 boats. It offers a free pump out facility and diesel for 1.65€ per litre and charges around 34€ per night for a boat our size. Though the harbour is spacious and depths adequate for many boats to anchor, oddly we remained the only ones at anchor. We double checked our guides and found nothing to suggest we couldn’t anchor, so we cranked up the music, fired up the Cobb and went for a swim!

I asked marina staff if we could leave our dinghy at the marina while we went ashore – no problem. So that’s what we did, making our way into town to stock up on fresh supplies and see some of the sights. It’s a pretty town and didn’t appear to be overwhelmed with tourists. It’s a nice stroll along the Esplanade to reach the west side of the peninsula. Here is a maritime museum and one of the remaining Flying P Line ships used in grain transportation from Australia, the Pommern. This is the third P boat we’ve seen, including the Peking in New York and the Passat in Travemunde, Germany. Unfortunately the Pommern is closed for renovations so we could only view it from outside. (Wayne recommends the book The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby – an account of his time spent on the Moshulu’s last voyage in the Australian grain trade).

deerWith hot weather and calm seas, a yellow algae forms in the Baltic. We’ve noticed patches of algae since leaving Germany and the warmer weather has increased its spread. Apparently the toxic one to look out for is the greenish cyanobacteria, which is essentially caused by pollution. At the moment it’s just small bits of yellow algae, and doesn’t look very inviting to swim. But with the outside temperature hitting 30degC as a heatwave builds over the Baltic, we still jumped in to stay cool.

So, after originally thinking we wouldn’t reach Finland this year, our time is over and I’m glad we came to experience the island life and learn more about the region and it’s strong maritime history.


And now that we’ve crossed the ‘Finnish line’ our next destination is the famous Stockholms skärgård – the second largest archipelago in the Baltic with over 30,000 islets and islands. We’ll explore a few of them, avoid running into any of them, plus spend some time in Stockholm before we head west.

Until then…



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Friends in High Places: Helsinki, Finland

One of the pleasures of this extraordinary sailing life is the opportunity to meet other like-minded people and learn about other countries and cultures. Even better is the chance to visit them in their home country. Finland is at the highest latitude (60degrees) reached by Blue Heeler, and we were really lucky to meet again with lovely people we hadn’t seen in almost four years. But first, let me tell you a little about our visit to Helsinki.

Sailing from Estonia to Finland the south west wind settled between 18-22kn. The first 10nm sail from Tallinn was brisk, at which point we steered on a heading towards Helsinki, a further 33nm north. The Gulf of Finland, somewhat colder up here at below 8degC, was choppy from the recent blow but after crossing the busy shipping lane the seas eased. By this time Blue Heeler’s sails were winged out as the wind was a little further up its bum than expected.

Arriving at the entrance of one of many narrow channel entrances heading into the Port of Helsinki, we made sure to stay well out of the way of the frequent and fast-moving ferries departing for or arriving from from Tallinn, Riga, Stockholm, St Petersburg and Travemunde in Germany.

The Imray pilot ‘Baltic Sea and Approaches’ gave us a few suggestions of where to berth Blue Heeler in Helsinki but we also searched the internet for availability and rates. Typically, central to city locations charge a premium for the privilege of being where the action is. The Helsinki Sailing Club (HSK) on Lauttasaari island is only 5kms from the centre, so we elected to stay there and enjoy off-season rates a little cheaper than in town. The ability to cycle widens our choices too. The facilities at HSK are very good – hot showers, sauna, washing machine, WiFi, three very good chandleries and supermarkets close by – and thanks to Tommy who was helpful in arranging for our gas bottle refill. Kids are on summer holidays now and each day at the HSK the kids go dinghy sailing so the change rooms can be overrun with bags, clothes and smelly kids runners!

The fact that we’d reached Finland by midsummer still surprises us, as we weren’t sure we’d have the time to make it this far up at this early time of year. Taking the anti-clockwise route from Götland to Latvia and Estonia was a good plan, and the fine weather over the past couple of months certainly helped our progress. We floated the idea that if we sailed Blue Heeler into Russia (ie: leaving the EU) this would reset our boat’s 18 month EU entry permit – St Petersburg is only 160nm from Helsinki. But without visas, which can only be obtained from our home country, there was no way we could have taken our own vessel into Russia. Looks like Norway remains as our destination to re-set our sailing permit. (Note: we could have joined a ‘visa-free’ 72 hour stopover ferry trip into St Petersburg just to visit, but after visits to Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga and all the other places over the past couple of months we are quite satisfied with our list of notable historical cities visited).

The bike ride into Helsinki is 15 minutes from Lauttasaari over the Lauttasaaren bridge through the Ruoholahti district and into the town centre. Passing through Esplanade Park, towards the prominent Uspensky Cathedral you’ll reach the touristy area known as Market Square.  Vendors under canopies of bright orange tents offer locally made souvenirs, deep fried white-bait, freshly cooked salmon, strawberries, blueberries, and reindeer skins. At the side sits an old busker  playing a lively waltz on his well-used accordion, one ear expects to hear the chink of spare change in his metal cup. Many tourists from many cruise ships stagger around the stalls like zombies, sampling the local food and stocking up on trinkets to give to loved ones back home.

Helsinki is a beautiful city, with a blend of old wooden buildings amongst modern constructions. The bicycle network is extensive and makes getting around by bike simple. The waterfront has a number of marinas and large docks for ferries, and at this time of year the gardens are budding and fragrant. Most impressive and prominent landmarks include the white Lutheran Cathedral at Senate Square, Circle House, the red brick of the Uspenski Cathedral, the Finnish National Theatre, the tall granite clocktower at Helsinki Railway Station, and on the waterfront the modern Skywheel. Helsinki must be magical in wintertime.

From the market place, we took a 15 minute ferry across to the old fortress island of Suomenlinna. It’s not as if we needed to see ‘yet another fort’ but since it’s one of the top tourist things to see in Helsinki, and we had loads of time, it made sense to go visit and learn a little more about the history of Finland. Suomenlinna played an important and strategic role in the formation of Finland. I had expected to find rundown stone ramparts, bastions and canons (of which there was plenty), but I hadn’t expected to see buildings less than 200 years old currently occupied. Some are residential, some offices and artisan studios, plus there’s an old Russian Orthodox garrison church which was converted into a Lutheran place of worship in 1920, not long after Finland gained independence from Russia in 1918. In a nutshell… construction of the fortress commenced in 1748 when Finland was ruled by the Kingdom of Sweden. Forty years later during the Russo-Swedish War the fortress was used as a naval base. Twenty years later in 1808 Finland succumbed to the might of the Russian Empire and the fortress remained a Russian naval base until 1918. Canons still point to Sweden in the west. But after the Finnish Civil War in 1918 the fortress was annexed by Finland and named Suomenlinna. In 1973 the Finnish garrison left the island and the Ministry of Education and Culture took over the responsibility of the fortress. In 1991 Suomenlinna joined UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list of military architecture.

So, getting back to my original story: Back in 2012 at the start of the Sail Indonesia Rally in Darwin we first met the crews from two Finnish boats: ‘Kastehelmi’ and ‘Ever After’. The last time we were together was in Durban, South Africa in late 2014. So now after almost four years and many miles, we were delighted to have the chance to drop in! As luck would have it, we only caught up with Tom and Salme from ‘Ever After’ as ‘Kastehelmi’ is still sailing around the Med.

Our friends kindly picked us up and drove back to Porvoo only one hour from Helsinki. Together we walked around town, along with their friend Thomas, who we last saw in Chagos in mid 2014.

May 2014: Chagos yachties enjoying BBQ

Along the river banks are the famous red-ochre wooden warehouses and up on the hill overlooking the town is the Porvoo Cathedral. We stopped for a delicious lunch, followed by an evening of drinks, freshly smoked salmon, tasty canapés and great company. By the time the sun went down (or came up?) it was time for bed, although that was very late (or very early!). Thank you Tom and Salme for a lovely weekend!

So with Trump and Putin on the cards to meet in Helsinki next week, it was time to head west to the Archipelago Sea, located south of the Gulf of Bothnia, north of the Gulf of Finland and east of the Sea of Åland. It is said to be the largest archipelago in the world, with thousands of granite islands.

Until then…

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments