The Shrimp Sandwich And The Swedish Mindset

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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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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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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Tom’s Top Ten Destinations in the Stockholm Archipelago, Ep. 196

It felt good to be back in the familiar waters of Sweden. As the days headed into mid-August, we had the advantage that family boaters had already sailed back to their home ports, along with most everyone else in that strange seasonal phenomenon where adults without school-aged children also assumed it was the end of summer, in a seemingly sympathetic gesture. But as much as we all enjoy outsmarting the crowds on vacation, it can also be alarming to travel completely alone. I find myself second-guessing decisions. Is there no one here because of some warning of danger that we missed? Is it too cold to enjoy the outdoors, in a country headed towards severely limited winter daylight? Will all of the fun sites exalted in the cruising guides still be open? In our favor, to fend off any loneliness, we had the joy of hosting three different groups onboard Sea Rose in these last remaining weeks before our haulout. In anticipation, Karen and I hurriedly scoped out several of the most interesting islands in the Stockholm archipelago before picking up our son Zack and his two college friends Andrew (whom you might remember from our travels in Croatia) and Evan for a week of island hopping. After dropping them off, we planned to welcome my niece Julia and her friend Mary from Ireland onboard, followed by our friend Patty (a regular crew member from our travels in Mallorca and Croatia) and her boyfriend Patrick.

The Stockholm Archipelago
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A Finnish Fini, Ep. 195

As we pushed away from the dock at Hanko, we were starting a new chapter. No longer would we be exploring deeper into the Baltic. Hanko would represent our turnaround point, as we headed back west to Sweden, and then made our way south to our winter haul out location in Kalmar. These are milestones that can be bittersweet. When we were younger and we’d go on a one week family vacation, the first few days would always be super exciting and I would marvel at how much we were doing each day and how much more we had left of our vacation time. Then, suddenly, it would be Wednesday and our vacation was half over. Yes, we’d have a few more days of fun, but it was hard to get your mind out of thinking about re-entry. I wanted to go back to the innocence of those first few days. That headspace takes a lot of work to reach, and can be as slippery as the devil to hold on to. But we had to remind ourselves; this was Finland and Sweden, the two countries that we had so cherished exploring at the beginning of the summer, and we still had over a month of sailing days to leverage. It’s ironic that the same mind that leads you into a troubled mental state is the same mind needed to pull you back out. Your friends, your therapist, maybe even a stranger can assist, but it starts and ends with you. 

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Big City Baltic Ramblings, Ep. 194

All I can say about the interior of Finland is that there are trees, a lot of them. On our train ride out of Hanko, after closing up Sea Rose for a few nights of healthy separation, all we could see out the window were rows and rows of tall, straight pine trees. The kind that, with such fine uniformity of height and spacing, makes one wonder if you are traveling through some kind of Nordic version of the Truman Show. It sure does explain why the Finns love their wood-fired saunas though.

Karen and I were setting out on a whirlwind big-city tour of the northern Baltic, which, setting aside Stockholm and the unruly neighbors to the east, consisted of Helsinki and Tallinn. While you might be vaguely familiar with the former, like some Americans, the later is the capital of Estonia. If we successfully set foot on these urban bastions of the Baltic, we could check off all of the destinations of the original Baltic Rally except St Petersburg, which would have to wait for a detente between nations, or a day when Putin discovers the simple joy of blowing bubbles and playing Wordle!

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Sauna Therapy, Ep. 192

For a fleeting moment, we thought we could keep pace with them. Heli and Kalle, our newfound friends from Finland, were creeping up behind us as we both sailed away from Sweden on our way to the Aland Islands in Finland. But Sea Rose, loaded up with cruising gear, was no match for their fancy X-Yachts racing boat, especially when they popped open their colorful spinnaker in the appropriate royal blue and white colors of the Finnish flag. Our plans to keep in touch as we both sailed towards Helsinki seemed to now be, like I would tell some of my team members during performance reviews, an overly aggressive stretch goal. We settled in for a full day crossing of the 26 nm gap at turtle speed, while Heli and Kalle played the part of the hare. It’s the journey, not the destination, I had to remind myself!

Heli and Kalle, onboard Xperium, gaining on us outside Fejan
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Swedes 1, Drama Queens nil, Ep. 191

North was the name of the game onboard Sea Rose, as we eagerly headed out from Kalmar to discover Sweden’s skargard (“sharr-gourd”). Loosely translated skargard means archipelago, but most Swedes would be a bit disappointed in this meek description. Breaking down this compound word, ‘skar’ refers to a rocky outcrop, and ‘gard’ has several meanings, the most enticing to me is garden. So we have ourselves a ‘rock garden’. The populated centers of Gothenburg on the west coast and Stockholm on the east coast are literally chock full of rock gardens. In the waters near Stockholm, a staggering 24,000 islands comprise the largest skargard in Sweden and these draw summer holiday-makers out to a reported 50,000 cottages. The density of islands is mind-boggling and caused Karen and I to feel at once both titillated and intimidated. Would we be able to safely navigate these congested waterways? Would shifting winds above and submerged rock pinnacles below find their mark on a track record that we had so far kept clean? A little warmup would help allay our concerns, and we found it this week as we wound in and out of the smaller archipelagos south of Stockholm.

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