One Trick Pony, Ep. 208

One thing is for sure about Norway. It is a long, narrow country. It borders Russia – plus Sweden and Finland – at it’s northerly tip, called Nordkapp. Down at it’s southern terminus, some 1000 miles away, it’s adjacent to the tip of Denmark. That’s similar to the distance from Boston to Miami, or London to Gibraltar. It’s not unlike the profile of a lot of Norwegian people – tall and lanky. As we had plodded along on our way north last summer, taking some nibbles out of the coastline each week, it was easy to lose sight of this fact. Now, we just had a week in order to get down south within striking distance to shoot across to the Shetland Islands and still stay on schedule with our planned itinerary for the summer. There were a lot of miles in front of us, as we pulled away from the Lofoten peninsula.

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Hurry Up and Wait, Ep. 207

Our new best friend in Norway, Terje, had that distinctive ‘I regret to inform you…’ look on his face. He had stopped by our boat at the guest pontoon in Ballstad to inform us he did not have the proper parts to inspect and re-certify our life=raft. Terje works for Ballstad Slip, the big shipyard operation that dominates this small fishing harbor on the south coast of the Lofoten peninsula. He runs the life=raft and safety inspection business, which, if it had to rely on pleasure boats like us for revenue, would have never opened their doors. But thankfully there are many more fishing boats here than sailboats, and they all have stringent requirements for life-rafts, safety flares, fire extinguishers and the like. We were super happy to find Terje, as our life-raft, requiring inflation and re-certification every three years, had hit its due date. We carefully planned our arrival at Ballstad so that we could leave the life-raft with him for the day, and then continue our progress southwest out to the dramatic tip of the Lofoten and onward down the mainland coast of Norway. We had just three weeks to make it down the long Norwegian coastline to Kristiansund before crossing over to the Shetlands.

Re-certifying a life-raft was not an optional activity for us. The upcoming ARC+ Rally required it, and even more, we required it for our own safety and comfort. Re-certifying can cost half the value of the life-raft, and with ours at 18 years old, Terje kindly warned me that even if he had the two missing parts he needed, it might be much more than the customary cost. We resolved to buy a new one, and leave ours with a local marine safety school for their student programs. The only problem was that only one of our kind of life-raft, made by Viking, existed in Norway and it was in Oslo. Terje told us he ‘hoped’ it would arrive in a week, despite the long land route it would take from the country’s capital. There we had it. We had a week to kill in the Lofoten.

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Weather Woes, Ep. 204

It was a gamble booking a flight to northern Norway in May.

When we bought our tickets last September to fly home from Tromsø, we had to pick a return date – any date – to avoid the expense of two one-way fares. In Greece, May made sense. In A Coruña, Spain, it might mean some rain showers. No big deal. Even in Kalmar, Sweden last year, May seemed very doable. But as we now await the departure of our flight to Tromsø, anxiety is setting in. Two to four inches of snow and wind gusts of 30 knots are forecasted. The temperature will swing from a low on Tuesday of 17°F to a high on Wednesday of 64°F. Spring skiing anyone??!

Tromsø Weather Forecast

It’s not like a fresh helping of anxiety was being ordered off the menu. This season’s sailing itinerary was going to be our most ambitious yet. Simply on the basis of latitude only, we will be sailing from 70°North, above the Arctic Circle, to well into the tropics at 12°North. For our North American kin, that is equivalent to a starting point halfway up the Greenland Peninsula to the northern boundary of Costa Rica. In addition, we will be crossing the Atlantic. It is with heavy hearts that we will leave Europe and the Med behind, after seven seasons of sailing. The carrot, though, will be a juicy one. The lovable, sun-kissed embrace of the Caribbean!

The Sea Rose Itinerary for 2024 – from Norway to Grenada
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The Shrimp Sandwich And The Swedish Mindset, Ep. 203

Gothenburg (pronounced ‘YOAT-a-bore-ee’) is to the west coast of Sweden what Stockholm is to the east. It has all of the big city hub-bub you would expect – tall buildings in the city center surrounded by sprawling residential neighborhoods, a thriving economy, and with its location on the North Sea, a bustling waterfront for both big ships and small craft. Just offshore is the renowned Gothenburg archipelago with a dizzying array of tiny rocky islands – some sparsely populated with holiday homes, others in their natural unpopulated state. With the wealth in the area, pleasure boating and racing is very popular in the summer months. As we pulled into the GKSS marina in mid-July, we began to regret not making a reservation ahead of time as we circled the docks looking for a small green flag hidden low to the water indicating that the space was available. We were here a few days early before meeting up with my nephew Peter and is girlfriend Bianca, both newly graduated from college. Despite their better judgement they had left a wedding in sunny Santorini to join us for a sail around the Swedish archipelago in what was forecasted to be a week of high winds and rain. But first, we had a not-insignificant list of projects to do and purchases to make in an attempt to leverage one of our last calls at a large city for a while.

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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.

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Back to School, Ep. 201

Each summer, it feels a bit like returning to grade school. I guess you could call it summer school. There is the excitement, coupled with a bit of unease, about the new classroom. We are headed north into Norway this summer, far beyond the comfort and warm waters of the Med where we started this whole affair. So far, we have yet to retrace our steps. Even when we headed back out of the Med in 2021, we made a point of visiting new harbors, going around the opposite sides of islands we had been to before, and rounding peninsulas like the Peloponnese instead of running the shortcut through the Corinth Canal of Greece again. No two classrooms are exactly the same, and that can be invigorating and it can be a nail-biter.

There is often a new bus to ride. We were ferried across the Atlantic by SAS to the city of Copenhagen onboard an Airbus A321, with 3×3 seating. Oh, how I miss those grand ol’ widebody 747’s with enough space inside to make you think you were sitting in an auditorium. But I get it. Widebody versus narrowbody means a lot more fuel versus a little bit less than a lot of fuel. Which means a little bit lower fare prices if by chance you beat the post-Covid ‘I’m-not-going-to-postpone-my-European-vacation-one-more-time’ surge. When we landed, Karen and I were trying to work through the unique cerebral fog that is jet-lag, this time from a 12 hour time difference after attending a family member’s wedding in Hawaii. You have to be careful on the first day. If you show too much vulnerability, the school yard bully will make you his mark.

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Fear Management, In Theory, Ep. 200

I used to be afraid to admit that I was afraid. Maybe it was a gender thing. Boys aren’t supposed to show fear. Or maybe it was a peer pressure thing. Siting around the campfire listening to ghost stories is not the time to show your sensitive side. Or maybe it was a parent thing. Letting a child see your fear only amplifies their fright. But then I heard someone talk about fear management. Alas, there was finally a sign that maybe it was OK to have these feelings. Maybe even not just OK but beneficial.

I know that some people think our choice of adventure sailing is too risky. That is, the people other than the people that think we are on a summer-long vacation of sunbathing and cocktail sipping. It is somewhat true. Not the vacation part, mind you, but the risky part. We live on a 25,000 pound floating platform that is one hole away from succumbing to the forces of gravity trying everyday to pull it under. Unlike the seafarers of yesteryear, Karen and I do know how to swim, but gravity would be more than happy to take us too if we were to go overboard. And while 25,000 pounds sounds big, it’s mere roadkill to the massive freighters whose paths we cross. We also navigate around rocky outcroppings sharp enough to break apart our boat faster than a wrecking ball. And those are the rocks we can see. For the ones lurking underneath the surface, we have to trust our electronics, the often decade-old work of survey crews, and the limited utility of polarized sunglasses.

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Modern Prophets, Ep. 199

I could not stop checking the newsfeed every hour. Like so many, I was captivated by the announcement of a submersible exploring the depths of the Titanic, lost with five crew onboard. But why was I hooked on their story? People die everyday, every hour, plenty in a gruesome manner. Why should I care about five more people, these five people in particular. Of course there was the uncertainty of the crew at the inky depth of 3800 meters below they surface of the Atlantic, desperately trying to hold on to the slippery bonds of life. I didn’t want to get caught up in the livestream theatrics of it all. ‘The Truman Show’ was showmanship worthy of my attention and praise. But here were real live human beings, with ten fingers and ten toes, just like their mommas had hoped for. The graduating senior who drank too much at prom and drove a car full of buddies into oncoming traffic is tragic, no doubt. So much potential lost, so many questions to answer. Yet here, knowing that there could be a submersible crew at the bottom of the ocean struggling for their life, while my own struggle was simply running out of bread for the day’s sandwich, felt deeply troubling. And then to learn that they apparently were banging on the hull every thirty minutes in a crude underwater cry for help. 

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Hauling Out After a Helluva Season, Ep. 198

The time had come to wrap up the season. Karen and I took one more day on the water, on a beautiful blue sky day without a stitch of wind, to bring Sea Rose down from Borgholm to Kalmar. Earlier in the summer we had secured a spot at Baltic Kalmar Marina for the winter. To my surprise, it wasn’t easy to find a place to haul out. A few boater friends recommended the north coast of Germany, another couple of days south from Kalmar, and probably easier to fly in and out of, but every yard was either booked up or couldn’t take our size of boat. We had also looked at several well regarded yards in Denmark, to no avail. It’s always a juggling match midway through summer to find a place. We have to guess how far we will go in the remaining months, what yard has a good combination of technical skills and a friendly nature, and where the best travel connections can be found. When we found Baltic Kalmar in July, it was a huge relief. We could plan on that destination and set our pacing and range of adventure accordingly. The one challenge we had was the winter weather. This would be the first time we hauled out in a freezing climate with Sea Rose. We had plenty of experience with this on our old boat, Thalia, in the Northeast U.S. But here in Sweden, we would need to figure out how to winterize this boat and source the materials needed. The marina encouraged us to store the boat inside – in what everyone in the area refers to just as a ‘hall’. In a heated space, we wouldn’t need to winterize the boat. But at twice the price, it was a budget buster. So, instead, our baby Sea Rose would sit outside, but at least we had a nice, heavy-duty cover for her, and from every indication the winters in Kalmar were fairly mild, at least compared to our experience in the Northeast U.S. 

The Kalmar Guesthamn, a traffic jam of boats when we first visited in early July, looked like Times Square the morning after New Years Eve – a few of us boaters showing signs of weariness from too much fun earlier in the summer, and a few stalwart boaters that didn’t get the memo that summer was over. We were pleased to see that our newfound buddy boat Pinocchio pulled into Kalmar as well. After finding, like we did, that so many other yards were full, Pinocchio’s captain decided to haul out at Baltic Kalmar marina too. It’s good to have a buddy when you are staring down a to-do list that will take a full week to grind through before you can head home. Some might even call such a relationship ‘priceless’!

Our sticky note to do list in Kalmar
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Tom’s Top Six Destinations South of Stockholm, Ep. 197

Expanding on my “Tom’s Top Ten List” from our last blog, today I’m telling you about our Top Six destinations on the route south of the Stockholm Archipelago, in a no less spectacular sail to our winter haul-out location at Kalmar. We took this route with our friends Patty and Patrick, dropping them off in Vastervik, and Karen and I made our way alone the rest of the way. The Stockholm Archipelago gets a lot of attention, partly because it is close to where so many Swedes live on the eastern side of the country. But I think you’ll agree after reading this Top Six list that there are many more hidden gems south of Stockholm. So, let’s dive in!

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