One Step Back, Two Steps Forward, Ep. 202

Like a kid struggling through their vegetables so they can have their cake, it’s hard to be forced to take a needless diversion. That’s what the extended loop under the bottom of Sweden felt like as we set out south for the summer, with our ultimate goal of the great northern latitudes of Norway. But vegetables get a bad rap.

Southern Sweden (Skåne)

This region, referred to as Skåne, is bordered by the Baltic Sea to the East and South, the Øresund to the West, and the Kattegat Strait to the Northwest. The region’s robust agricultural history would have been a traditional pull for our curiosity had it not been a route cursed with contrary winds. A year earlier, when we had sailed north from Germany past Bornholm, we had savored the frothy western breezes as we set our sights on our first landfall in Sweden. Now, we had to prepare for a waiting game, or a long slog with diesel fumes, as we fought against the headwinds. As luck would have it, a light northerly breeze blowing offshore left us with flat water and a full day of sun to navigate to the island of Hanö.

The island of Hanö
The cramped harbor of Hanö

Here, all the vacationing sailors that had been curiously missing from the Kalmar guest harbor had found this little gem, cramming their boats in to every open nook and cranny. Sometimes you get lucky, like when you spot a car’s reversing lights in the front row of the grocery store parking lot. We snagged an alongside berth just as another boat got underway. Other boaters relied on just pointing their bows into the dock at such an angle that left their stern pointing out at 45 degree angle – an odd approach to fit alongside an open dock space half their size. We were getting smarter now; leaving at daybreak gifts you with a better chance of finding a boat departing at your destination, and the option to keep going with plenty of daylight if your first choice is full.

For a variety of reasons, the commercial fish stocks in the Baltic Sea are extremely low. The absence of fishing boats plying these waters is palpable. However, it doesn’t stop restaurants from serving plenty of fish and from customers lapping it up like it was candy. For one reason, most of the fish is fried, with fish and chips a frequent menu option that I thought we had left behind in England. I longed for a delicately grilled (and more healthy) fillet, the kind that ends up on your fork with the most gentle of tugs. We grabbed an open-air table for lunch at the local ‘Fisky Business’, and despite the logical side of my brain saying ‘Don’t do it’, I sheepishly asked the cheerful young waitress for the fish and chips special. And for the next hour, I tried to use a chilled glass of white wine to de-escalate the brouhaha ensuing between the left and right sides of my brain.

Hanö, standing offshore with a prominent peak in the center of the island, was chosen to be the home of the brightest lighthouse in the Baltic Sea. Nowadays, lighthouses are as anachronistic as all of our tech gear will be in another generation. Yet we as visitors are drawn to these tall, nostalgic landmarks like salmon to their spawning grounds. Here, as in seemingly every outdoor vacation area in Scandinavia, well marked hiking trails and historical plaques framed each vista. You’d be foolish to skip these athletic endeavours, especially with a stash of deep-fried demons in your belly.

Hiking the trails around Hanö
Sun setting in the west over the mainland
Hanö’s lighthouse

Our departure from Hanö brought us fair weather that filled our Code 0 with joyous gifts of wind, just enough to accelerate us along but not enough to lead to anxious nail biting. These mild conditions provide plenty of opportunity to catch up on boat launching tasks that didn’t make the top of the list, like whipping the lines for our new asymmetrical spinnaker.

Line whipping under a gentle sail
The seemingly deep water around Höllviken
And the reality of a long detour, prior to the construction of the canal

Under the bottom of Sweden, the coast heads almost directly west, with an optional canal at the southwest tip of Höllviken. From the height of a satellite, you’d think this canal was an unworthy government expense, but upon closer inspection on a marine chart, its purpose is apparent. With shallows extending out 15 nm from shore, the Fasterbo Canal is critical to local navigation. We pushed to get to the canal in time for their next opening, only to find out that due to a schedule change, the next opening wasn’t for another three hours. Darn! Armed with this new knowledge, we could have slept in! The canal provides a small waiting area to tie to – really no more than a couple big ship concrete pilings – and soon we were 2-3 boats deep, waiting and chatting with new friends from Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Poland and swapping intel on the best places to visit. It’s fair to say that sailors, like many other adventurers, are quick and eager to jump into these information-swapping sessions knowing that time is of the essence before we each head in our own direction, likely never to see each other again.

A busy raft-up waiting for the Fasterbo Canal to open
Transiting the Fasterbo Canal

With the canal to our stern, we could finally point Sea Rose north and make passage through the Øresund and a step forward to the northern latitudes. Like the shallows off of Höllviken, designated shipping lanes in the Øresund guide freighters through the deeper sections of water on their way to and from the Baltic Sea–a pinch point much like the Gibraltor Strait is to the Mediterranean. But outside these shipping lanes, a host of shallow surprises await the careless or absentminded captain. To the west is the urban cacophony of Copenhagen, to the east is the modern city of Malmö, and further north, at an even more skinny opening are the dueling towns in name and geography – Helsingør on the Danish side, and Helsingborg on the Swedish side. Forty-two years ago, with my few travel belongings slung over my back, a young Tommy, bleary-eyed from an overnight train ride, rode the ferry across these same waters to Helsingborg so he could add Sweden to his list on a whirlwind European tour after high school graduation. You can truly never know the unusual twists and turns your life’s journey will take you on. I looked in earnest for a dreamy young kid, alone at the rail of today’s ferry, whom I might inspire with an enthusiastic wave across the water. But if one existed, gun metal gray skies and pelting rain put a damper on our collective enthusiasm.

The Øresund and its perimeter of big cities
Rain and gray skies as we sail under the Øresund Bridge
Kronborg Castle on the shores of Helsingør

With several more hours of daylight and a healthy current flushing us out of the Øresund and into open water, the hull of Sea Rose experienced true saltwater for the first time since we had entered the Kiel Canal a year ago. Even though the Baltic and other similarly enclosed bodies of water are big enough to expose you to dangerously high winds and seas, there is something about having land all around you that brings a measure of psychological comfort. But as soon as the water opens to the ocean, as it did now for us, it was like walking off the little league field to find our spot on the Major League Baseball roster.

The rain had put a damper on our plans to stop at one of the big cities in the Øresund, and a freshening breeze from the more traditional western quarter, building to 20 knots, gave us a beam reach sail into the open water. Our next option for an overnight stop was the attractively named harbor of Mölle, but we were flying through the water at such great speeds that we were soon passing it to leeward. I’m pretty sure I heard Sea Rose scream out for joy over the howling wind, “Let’s keep this train rolling!” Onward we pushed for two more hours to the little island of Hallands Väderö where an anchorage big enough for only one boat to swing was nestled into the southern shore with sharp pointy rocks on all quarters ready to puncture a hole in us should our anchor gear fail.

At the cost of a half-opened eye all night, we left at 430am the next morning, just before sunrise. Our destination was 75nm north to the start of Sweden’s western skärgård, where we intended to spend several weeks as we slowed down and began exploring what is the west coast equivalent to Stockholm’s 10,000+ island archipelago. Local Swedes are quite opinionated about how the comparisons stop there. To them, the Stockholm archipelago is full of monochromatic, featureless woods. If you want a real skärgård experience, with craggy rocks, tall vistas, and quaint old fishing villages, they say, you need to come to the west coast.

Sunrise departure from Hallands Väderö

And off we went, at breakneck speeds. Yesterday’s westerlies that chased away the rain had strengthened overnight. We started with one reef in the mainsail on a vigorous beam reach as we settled into a two hour watch schedule. It didn’t take long for big rollers to start to form offshore from us, passing under our hull and swinging us from port to starboard like a very low cadence metronome. It was getting wild and wooly. Karen came up on watch with good timing for taking a second reef as the winds increased to 22 knots. It was time for some shut-eye for me after a sleepless night and an early departure. As I stepped down the companionway into the cabin, a big swell struck the windward side of the hull, swinging me around 180 degrees, followed by a roll of the hull in the opposite direction, which sent me pivoting like an amateur ballerina to the other side. Finally, the boat rolled rapidly again, which launched me into a locker on the leeward side of the cabin with my head taking the brunt of the force. I blacked out for a split second, while I was trying to tell my brain, “Don’t succumb to this, stay awake!” Now, I’m sure my doctor friends will tell me, “If you are going to be knocked unconscious, there is nothing you can do about it.” But the fear of such an event scared the heck out of me. How long would I be unconscious for? How long would it take to get someone out this far to rescue me? Conscious thought to avoid the unconscious plot.

I immediately scrambled up to the companionway again and yelled to Karen that I had hit my head. And, as head injuries go, blood makes its entry onto the scene right away. With towel and later an Ace bandage around my head stemming the flow, and with me laying down in the cockpit, we pushed on in otherwise glorious sailing conditions. Karen is about as good of a stand-in doctor as there can be, checking in with me regularly to make sure I could form coherent sentences. In this day and age, we all know about the deadly risk of a concussion.

Driving while impaired

I took the helm for a brief spell, as we accelerated off the peaks of swells to hit 10.4 knots and later 11.2 knots. In her infinite wisdom, Karen yanked the wheel away from me. Although in retrospect I think she just didn’t want me to have all of the fun!

At the outlying island of Kungsö, just inside the southern archipelago of Gothenburg, we dropped anchor in a pleasingly half moon-shaped sandy anchorage with plenty of wind protection and swing room. Just what the doctor ordered. On the medical advice of our good friend Don, Karen ordered me to lay down as she grabbed the staple gun out of our med kit. “Really, a staple to my scalp? Is that a good idea?” I voiced out loud, hiding even greater fear inside. The laceration was already numb from Lidocaine, but on Karen’s first attempt she went easy on me and pressed too lightly, leaving a dangling half-closed staple. Oh what fun! After that misfire was removed, she pressed with more gusto and the second staple made its mark, viola! I was patched up and ready to explore our first island in the much ballyhooed west coast skärgård!

Dr. Karen at work on the wounded
Kungsö and the beginning of the skärgård

2 Replies to “One Step Back, Two Steps Forward, Ep. 202”

  1. Holy Cow! Way to totally downplay the potential for injury when we joined you for a week of sailing. “It’s good to hold on to both handrails when going down the stairs when there are swells. Tom fell a few weeks ago…” Even so, looking forward to another shared adventure on the Sea Rose …. but in warm waters.

    One question: did you have Karen wait until you’d set up the camera before having her dress your wound, or did you just happen to have the camera positioned for that Karen-the-EMT shot?

    1. Good to hear our cautionary advice didn’t force you to run for the gangplank! And, yes, being content creators, it was hard not to take advantage of a unique filming angle…watch out next time you are onboard!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.