Holed up at Orust, Sweden

Hall full or half empty?

“If you’re wondering whether your glass is half full or half empty you are missing the point;

You have a glass and it is refillable”

*      *     *     *


Around four weeks ago Wayne almost lost a thumb while poking around the engine; resulting in a trip to casualty in Norway. A few days later our mainsail blew out with a long non-repairable rip. The following day Blue Heeler collided with a cable ferry at Marstrand causing substantial damage to our starboard side.

While every care is taken to avoid disaster, life certainly throws up good and bad situations. Shit happens as they say…

As far as the boat incident, this is how it went down:  Our brilliant summer season had ended with a successful trip up to Norway. Blue Heeler was motoring south along the channel through Marstrand hoping to reach Göteborg that afternoon, with only another 250nm or so to reach Flensburg in Germany, where we plan to stay over winter. A stationery ferry was to starboard so we continued heading south on the starboard side of the channel. But from behind the stationery ferry, another cable ferry had entered the waterway becoming visible to us all too late. Attempting to pull up, Blue Heeler snagged the underwater cable, the engine stopped and we collided against the pointy corner of the ferry’s ramp. It all happened so quickly. For the passengers aboard the ferry this was an exciting event; whipping out their iPhones quicker than the ‘Waco Kid’ (photos of the incident likely to be on Instagram by the time we’d even realised what had happened). Wayne managed to start the engine and the boat freed from the cable. Blue Heeler limped to the nearest dock where we assessed the damage. In my mind I pleaded “Please don’t sink, please don’t sink!!”.

Our initial assessment of the damage – a bloody big hole in the starboard hull; a starboard bulkhead split in half; the forward cabin cupboard and locker pushed out-of-place and some broken woodwork. There was no sign of water coming in, but to be certain the boat needed lifting to check for damage. As it was a Saturday, we had to wait until a work day to arrange a lift. The automatic bilge never switched on so that was a positive sign. Wayne taped the hole up with strong Gorilla tape to keep the following day’s rain out.

This was not the way we expected Blue Heeler’s pilgrimage to Sweden to happen! What a bizarre and disastrous coincidence it happened 30nm south of where Blue Heeler was built back in 1997. To get things moving, on the Sunday after the incident I dropped an email to Hallberg Rassy in the hope someone was having a Sunday morning coffee and reading work emails. Luckily it was CEO Magnus Rassy who replied with a few names of local boat-yards that could do the work. Fantastic!

With a break in the weather and the bloody big hole taped up with super-sticky Gorilla tape to keep the water out, we motored 30nm through the islets of the Skagerrak to the north of Orust.

Safely berthed at Vindö Marin that same day a surveyor came out to inspect the hull. We could see where the cable had scored the rudder. Blue Heeler returned to the water for a few days rest.

This time of year is extremely busy for boat-yards as boats this far north are lifted ashore to spend winter inside sheds. The yard-hands are busy removing masts and spend each day hauling boats ashore. Blue Heeler had to wait its turn so we stayed on board, gathered our belongings and prepared to leave our home. In the meantime, Storm Knud caused a raucous outside with winds gusting 50kn+ for about 24 hours, raising the water level more than a metre making it almost impossible to get off for a couple of days.

Blue Heeler was eventually lifted and placed in a large shed for the repair work to begin. With a clearer view of the propeller, we could see where the cable had scored one of the propeller blades.

And for the first time in almost eight years we are homeless! So, where do we go?

Our small cosy cabin and room for the bikes.

Like a couple of refugees, we packed our essentials – backpacks filled with warm clothes, toothbrushes, food, bedding, our bikes, and relocated to a simple one room cabin at a nearby camping ground.

Although the campground has officially closed for winter, the management has welcomed us to stay until the boat is repaired, or until the water pipes freeze up – whichever comes first! There are two bunk beds so we’ve each got a bottom bunk. The nearest town is 10kms away and there is nothing in the immediate vicinity, but the bus system is very good. The cabin has a small fridge, a two-burner stove, a tiny table with four chairs and a gorgeous view out the window. Most importantly is has a heater to keep the cabin cosy. The shower/toilet is not so convenient, about 100m walk away – a cold 5am totter to the dunny seems like reasonable penance for wrecking our boat…

So while we are very disappointed that we’ve injured our beloved Blue Heeler, it’s in capable hands, we have a warm place to stay, Wayne’s thumb is on the mend (sporting a Jolly Roger), and we have a spare mainsail to replace the tatty one.

Our glass is filling up again.

Fingers crossed we will be heading south soon aboard our dear little Blue Heeler.


Until then here’s a picture of happier times just days before in Fredrikstad, Norway.

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Why are we here?

I was going to write all about our exit from the EU into Norway and the rules of temporary importation into the EU. I was going to share our experiences in Oslo, the Oslo Fjord, and our pleasant trip amongst the delightfully scenic islets and skerries of the Skagerrak. I thought about sharing a serendipitous occasion catching up with seasoned sailors, Björn and Annika who we first met in Tasmania in 2010.

But instead I’m sitting inside the saloon of Blue Heeler while Storm Knud thrashes outside. After a great week up in Norway, now we are berthed at the northern end of Orust, an island on the west coast of Sweden and the wind is still blowing hard outside after a night of 45-60kn.

So, why are we here?

A week ago, as we were sailing Blue Heeler south after a glorious summer season, our plans changed dramatically. With only a few hundred miles remaining of our sailing season we were enjoying the last vestiges of summer and anticipating the arrival of winter.

At Marstrand, about 15nm north of Göteborg, Blue Heeler had an incident with a ferry. I won’t go into more detail here about the event, suffice to say, no one was hurt.

But our sturdy and trusty Blue Heeler was sufficiently damaged. Fortunately it remains afloat albeit with a nasty hole in the hull. A break in the weather just before Storm Ali and Storm Knud appeared, allowed us to patch the hole with Gorilla tape and motor to the north of Orust to have the damage assessed for repair. So swiftly and unexpectedly do plans change.

While it is a massive disappointment this happened, we are so fortunate the damage was minimal and no one was hurt.

We are hopeful it won’t be long until our floating home, Blue Heeler, will be repaired and sailing again soon.

Until then..

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Hallberg-Rassy – Ellös, Sweden

Each year Hallberg-Rassy hosts an Open Yard for sailors and dreamers at Ellös on the island of Orust on the west coast of Sweden. Now in its 25th year, it’s the largest sailboat show in Scandinavia offering the chance to meet boat builders and equipment suppliers. Also on show are pre-owned boats of Hallberg-Rassy, Najad, Malö plus other premium brands too. It’s always been our goal to visit the birthplace of Blue Heeler!

Blue Heeler was built at the Ellös yard of Hallberg-Rassy in 1996 – Production number 100. Only 209 HR-39s were built between 1991 and 2003.

We left Blue Heeler berthed at Mollösund and our friend Karl drove us to Ellös to inspect the new models, walk through the workshops and visit the origin of our floating home.

Wayne and Karl checking out the gadgets on the new model 57

On display at the event was the new 57 foot Hallberg-Rassy. On board we chatted to CEO Magnus Rassy, the son of founder Christoph Rassy. The 57 is a beautiful yacht with a spacious interior, exquisite detail and finish with European Oak. Although well out of our price range, it was a pleasure to look over the new 57 and imagine us at the helm sailing it around the world. We also stepped aboard the same model currently under construction so we could see details usually unseen and hidden behind finished woodwork. I also had the opportunity to meet Christoph Rassy, the original founder of Hallberg Rassy, who was very pleased we had sailed all the way from Australia and said Blue Heeler was most welcome to berth at the Hallberg Rassy docks.

There were a number of used Hallberg-Rassy, Najad and Malö for sale at the Open Yard. One HR39 almost identical to ours was for sale (its production number is 47).

HR39 #100 constructed here

The visit allowed Wayne the chance to speak with Volvo dealers, other exhibitors, carpenters and boat-builders, plus visit the Spare Parts section where almost any part for a Hallberg-Rassy yacht can be sourced.

We’ve owned Blue Heeler ten years this month and we’ve kept the boat maintained as best as we can, but it helps having a well-made and sturdy vessel.

All being well, Blue Heeler should look after us for at least another ten years!

The HR39 is no longer produced but here is a link to find out more about this model.

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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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