8,888 islands, a lost dog, and some very old rocks

Off to our starboard, shimmering in the early morning sun, lies the fabled island of Blå Jungfrun, the Blue Maiden. Swedish folklore has it that all the witches gather there on Maundy Tuesday. As a reminder, children dress up on that day as witches and go from door-to-door trick-or-treating. We would have liked to have visited it, but weather conditions need to be settled to anchor and get ashore.

The fabled island of Blå Jungfrun, the Blue Maiden.

We are on our way to Västervik, having left Oskarshamn that morning with a stiff breeze from the south, following the same route that we had come in until we had reached the island of Furö. We had then continued north-east up Kalmarsund.

On our way to Västervik.

The wind drops to a gentle breeze and we coast along on a sea of silver. I lie on the foredeck in the warm sunshine and amuse myself by imagining cloud shapes. Memories of carefree childhood summers relive themselves. Lying on the beach looking upwards, the sand hollowed into a lumpy bed.

“Look, there’s a lion!”, we would shout excitedly.

“No, it looks more like an elephant”, would come the response. “See, there’s his trunk.”

“No I don’t mean that one. This one over there. It’s definitely a lion. And look at that porpoise!

Days of innocence difficult to recapture. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. But it is still fun trying to recognise patterns in the world around us. Humans are good at that.

Flying porpoise.

The wind changes direction and comes more from the southeast. We adjust the sails and continue northwards. Eventually we reach the buoy marking the entry to the route through the rocks and skerries to Västervik. I turn the boat into the wind while we furl the sails. There is a lot of twisting and turning on the route and our sail changes are not slick enough for delicate manoeuvres such as this yet. A boat behind us that has been following us for some way does the same.

The First Mate takes over the helm. We pass between two low-lying islands with red and green lights on their extremities, and follow the course marked on the charts. Rocks just breaking the surface glide pass mere metres away on each side, waiting for careless sailors to make an error and founder on their jagged points. Someone has done a lot of work over the years in identifying the way through the obstacle course.

Entering the archipelago.

In front of us, we see the conspicuous tower of Späro, one of the marks to guide us through. Eventually we reach the narrow cut between Späro and Grönö islands, perhaps 20 metres or so wide, enough for two boats to pass, but not by much. No room for error.

Entering the narrow gap between Späro and Grönö islands.

A beautiful wooden boat coming the other way under sail passes us with metres to spare, the skipper nonchalantly making fine adjustments to his sail trim to pass around us without danger. I can only admire his comfortable familiarity with the boat and skill in reading the wind behaviour so well through this unpredictable terrain.

Through the gap, we enter a wide basin full of yachts and turn to port to make the final approach into Västervik.

“Help”, shouts the First Mate. “There’s a huge ferry bearing down on us.” What shall I do?”

“Just follow the green buoys and keep as close to them as you can to let him pass”, I say. “It’ll be fine.”

The ferry passes leaving behind a small wake which gently rocks Ruby Tuesday from side to side. Not as bad as some we have had.

A ferry passes us.

We reach the Västerviks Slottsholmen marina, where we are met by a small RIB with a studenty-looking employee with his long hair tied back into a ponytail.

“You can tie up anywhere over there”, he says with a grin, pointing to one corner of the marina with stern buoys. “Someone will be around later to collect the fee.”

His ponytail flicks from side to side.

Västervik translates as West Bay, and is a small industrial town. Nevertheless, there has been a concerted effort to enhance the harbour area and restore the town’s attractive buildings to their former glory. We unload the bikes and cycle past the castle ruins to cross over the small swinging bridge that opens to allow boats into the upper reaches of the fjord. We pass the quaint art-deco Warmbadhus that has been recently restored and is used as a well-being centre.

The Warmbadhus in Västervik.

Across the water we see the old town area dominated by the St Gertrude church.


“Help!”, says the First Mate, as we sit in a nearby chair for a break. “I told you we shouldn’t have had such hot showers this morning!”

Shrunken dwarves.

We reach the town centre with its market square and town hall.

Market square and town hall, Västervik.

On a small mound to the east sits the impressive neo-Gothic St Peter’s Church, constructed of red brick and sandstone.

St Peter’s Church, Västervik.

We stay in Västervik for a couple of days to repair the splash hood frame which had somehow detached itself as we had arrived. I decide to use bolts rather than the original screws to repair it, but it does involve removing some of the lining inside.

Jobs done, we leave Västervik the next morning, full tanks of water, all batteries fully charged, and plenty of food. We plan to explore several islands in the Östergötland archipelago for the next week where there will be no marinas and therefore no shore power. We will need to be as self-sufficient as possible – the only source of energy will be our two solar panels and when we run the engine.

The First Mate has picked up a brochure in the Tourist Office.

“The Östergötland archipelago consists of 8,888 islands, and is actually made up of three smaller archipelagos for administrative purposes: the Arkösund archipelago in the north, the Sankt Anna’s archipelago in the centre, and the Gryt archipelago in the south”, she reads. “The whole area is the product of the Ice Ages, when sheets of ice 1.5 km thick covered the land and ground and smoothed the rock underneath. As it retreated 10,000 years ago, it left behind the debris of these powerful forces, a landscape of shallow depressions and gentle hillocks. The sea-level rose due to the melting ice and filled the depressions leaving the hillocks to form the thousands of islands we see today. With the weight of the ice sheets gone, the land is also rebounding at a rate of 2-3 mm per year, with new skerries appearing in the east and islands in the west fusing with the mainland.”

“It’s amazing that there are exactly 8,888 islands”, I say. “Do you think they drew the boundaries on purpose just so they got a number that was easy to remember? When we were kids the height of Mount Cook in New Zealand was 12,349 feet, and I could never understand why they just didn’t go up there and lop four feet off it to make it nice and easy to remember. And then, in 1991, the ice did actually break off a piece of the top. Unfortunately, it was too much, and the height is now 12,218 feet, even more unmemorable.”

“A case of being careful what you wish for”, says the First Mate.

Mount Cook: easy to remember?

I wake up early and watch the dappled sunlight play on the cabin roof for a few moments before getting up and making myself a cup of tea. The First Mate slumbers on, so I sit in the cockpit and absorb the early morning buzz of activity of the natural world around me. The sea is as smooth as a mirror, there is not a puff of wind. Black-headed gulls bob on the water around us, their movements creating small ripples that spread out and gradually disappear. A heron stands patiently next to the guano-stained rocks at the end of the little island in the middle of the bay, a watchful eye on any unwary fish venturing too close. On the sliver of rock joining these rocks to the island, a number of cormorants face the wind to dry their wings. Two amorous dragonflies alight on our guard wires and continue their lovemaking seemingly unaware they are being observed. On the small spit to our left, a flock of grazing geese begin to honk, their calls strangely melodic. In the Scots Pines above them, pigeons coo in accompaniment.


We are anchored in Smagö, one of the 8,888 islands in the archipelago. We had sailed from Västervik up one of the long fiords with the wind behind us and on the genoa alone, passing many small islands and skerries before entering the narrow gap between the islands of Hultö and Björkö and negotiating our way around the rock-strewn entrance into the bay on the western side of Smagö. There we had dropped the anchor and chilled out for the rest of the day.

An idyllic scene, I think to myself, one that has remained unchanged since the dawn of time. And yet, it hasn’t – this landscape is relatively young, and didn’t even exist 10,000 years ago. And before the ice sheet, another landscape may have existed, with different vegetation and creatures populating it.

Timeless idyll?

A fly smashes into the sprayhood behind me. Temporarily stunned, it falls to the deck before recovering and flying off. One of the cormorants takes to the air, its wingtips beating the water furiously to gain height. A fish splashes briefly in the water just behind the boat, but I am too slow in turning and miss it. A frenzied flapping of wings draws my attention to the other shore. It is a group of herons, perhaps 20 in number, some in the trees, some wheeling overhead. The single heron near the guano rocks has disappeared, seemingly having joined them. What are they doing?, I wonder. Normally herons are solitary individuals wading alone in the reeds along the waterline. A local community meeting?

Just us, nature, and the sunset.

“It’s nice here isn’t it?”, says a familiar voice. It’s Spencer, come out to mend the broken strands of his web. I had to confess that I myself was responsible for breaking some of them inadvertently grabbing the bimini frame for support the night before.

Spencer mends his web.

“The problem is that you humans as a species have forgotten how to appreciate nature. Back in prehistoric times when there were only a few of you, you realised that you were part of Mother Nature and that you depended on her for your survival. She fed you, clothed you, provided shelter for you. In return, you had reverence for her, your honoured the animals you killed for food and clothing, you respected the forests that provided the fruits you ate and the material for your clothing and warmth. Everything was in harmony.

“This is turning into quite a lecture”, I say.

“Yes, I suppose it is”, he replied, “But it doesn’t do any harm to remind you. The problems all started when your intelligence got the better of you, and you started to cultivate some of the plants you ate. You developed the feeling that you were in control of nature, not dependent on it. Then came your cities and many of you cut yourselves off from nature all together. Now you have the attitude that nature is just a resource for you to exploit and make money so that you can spend it on more things that exploit it to earn even more money. It’s an endless cycle. But you can’t keep it up – the Earth has its limits.”

“Yes, I agree with all that”, I say. “But now there are too many of us, and it’s difficult to go back to those primitive times. We are where we are. We have to find solutions that are relevant to what there is now, not thousands of years ago.”

There are sounds of stirring down below and the First Mate’s head appears in the companionway.

“Who were you talking to?”, she asks.

“Just Spencer”, I say. “But he’s just going now. Aren’t you Spencer?”

In the afternoon, we pack up and sail for another island, that of Kolmosö. It has been recommended to us as a nice quiet, well-sheltered anchorage.

We drop anchor, untie the rubber dinghy, and row ashore. There is a picnic table, a barbecue, a pile of firewood, and a small toilet hut amongst the trees.

Venturing ashore.

“Look, there’s a sign”, says the First Mate. “I think there is a walking path here. This must be one of the stops on it. Let’s explore it.”

We follow the orange marks painted on the trees and rocks. Eventually we join a small gravel road. Two other people are walking along it.

“Yes, I am originally from Glasgow”, says the man, in response to my query on his accent. “And my wife is from France. We did live in France, but we live in Sweden now. We are here for the weekend to do some walking. You can walk with us if you like. My name is Fraser and this is Agnes.”

Fraser and Agnes and the First Mate.

“I have French residency status”, Fraser tells us. “So Brexit doesn’t bother me at all. There’s no way I will go back to the UK to live. I am absolutely fed up with the politicians there. I haven’t got time for any of them, no matter what party they belong to. They are all as bad as each other. I hardly follow what is going on there anymore.”

We cross a bridge to the neighbouring island and find ourselves at a tiny harbour with a small jetty and a crane. No one is around, and the few fishing huts are locked.

Empty harbour.

“There is nothing we can do as individuals”, he continues. “I have found that the only way that I can stay sane is to keep my head down, mind my own business, and do the things that I enjoy doing. Following politics is a mugs’ game.”

Further on, we pass close to more summer cottages, and are joined by a small pug who greets us as long-lost friends.

“There’s a good dog”, says Agnes, giving it a good scratch around the ears. “Now go home to your owners.”

The dog doesn’t want to leave. It follows us, and an hour later it is still with us.

“I don’t know how we’ll get it back home”, says the First Mate. “I don’t want to walk all the way back to that cottage again.”

As we reach the bridge again, a man appears.

“Thank you so much for looking after my dog”, he says. “She’s only six months old and loves being with people, but follows them and then gets lost.”

“He deserves to lose it”, says Fraser after he has gone. “If he knows it’s a problem he should keep it on a lead.”

We reach the point where we originally met Fraser and Agnes, and go our different ways.

“I just want to pop in here before we go back to the boat”, says the First Mate, as we reach the toilet hut where we had landed the dinghy. “Just wait here.”

While I wait, I sit on the rocks where we beached the dinghy, and notice the swirling patterns in the gneiss and granite. What story could they tell if they could talk?, I wonder. Later I read that the original rocks were part of Baltica, a continent formed around two billion years ago by the collision of three smaller land masses in what is now the South Pacific. Eventually, carried by convection currents in the Earth’s molten core like bubbles in boiling water, it moved northwards, first towards the North American plate, Laurentia, then towards Northern Europe coming to rest against the Caledonian and Siberian plates where it is now.

Ancient rock patterns.

What a journey! I think of the almost incomprehensible time periods involved. The whole of human history is less than one twenty-thousandth of the life of these rocks. How many seas and oceans had lapped against them, yet hardly changed them? How many other creatures had walked across them, and how many had sat down and considered their age, just as I was doing. Not many of the latter, apart from humans, no doubt. Yet the rocks too have their own dynamics – what will they be and where will they be in another two billion years’ time? At the bottom of a lake or sea, covered in sediment perhaps? Or part of another continent even? Humans in their present form will be unlikely to be around. But will we have disappeared completely or will we have evolved into some other form of life with properties beyond intelligence and consciousness? Or will we have escaped to the stars, leaving behind the Earth as a scarred wreck, mined of anything useful and polluted beyond recovery?

“Ok, I’m ready”, calls the First Mate. “Let’s get the dinghy back in the water. I’ll row.”

She looks at me closer. “You’re looking a bit depressed. Is anything wrong?”

“I think Spencer has that effect on me”, I say.

A baroque castle, a Crown Princess’s birthday, and a sleepless night

We leave Karlskrona at 0630 heading for Kalmar, a distance of 60 NM. With the wind from the south-west, we motor southwards for a short time until we are able to turn south-east and the sails fill.

We have a good sail along the southern Swedish coast until we reach the point at Utlängan, before turning north into Kalmarsund, the body of water between the mainland and the island of Öland. The wind drops to a faint breeze. With it now behind us, we pole out the genoa to try and catch every little puff.

Poled-out genoa.

“This isn’t very fast”, says the First Mate. “Do you think we will get to Kalmar before dark?”

Almost in response, the wind picks up and we surge ahead for a while. Then calm again a short time later. It is a pattern we are to have for most of the day. There’s nothing we can do but take what comes.

We arrive in Kalmar in the evening, a trip of 13 hours. The harbour is nearly full, but we manage to find one space with a stern buoy mooring. It’s the first time we have tried tying up this way, but with the special hook that the Heiks recommended to us at the start of the trip, it works a treat.

Tied up with a stern buoy in Kalmar.

“You’ll never guess who I have just seen coming in”, says the First Mate the next morning.

“I have no idea”, I say. “The King and Queen of Sweden?”

“Close, but no”, she responds. “Axel and Claudia. They must be on their way back from the north.”

She’s right. They tie Astarte up in a spare berth next to us. In the evening, they come over for drinks.

“We’re only staying one night”, they tell us. “Since we saw you last in Greifswald, we had some problems with our exhaust elbow which started blowing fumes into the boat. We managed to fix it ourselves after we found a replacement part¸ then we sailed for Bornholm, and then as far up as Oskarshamn. Now we have to be home again for family events after we lay Astarte up for the winter.”

It’s nice to see them again, and we have long discussions on the exhaust elbows and  other boaty matters, and our respective mothers. They leave early the next morning.

We decide to explore the town. The town centre is only a short walk from the marina, and there is a market on. The streets are packed with people.

Market in Kalmar.

People throng across the bridge in front of the disused water tower to get to the market.

The Old Water Tower, Kalmar.

There is a wedding on at the main church. Judging from the car they arrived in, it seems the bride and groom are expecting to have a large family. Or perhaps they brought all their guests with them.

Kalmar wedding.

We eventually end up at Kalmar Castle opposite the harbour.

Kalmar Castle.

There are guided tours in Swedish and English. As luck would have it, the last English tour of the day starts in ten minutes.

We start in the Queen’s Bedroom, which has a giant map of Scandinavia hanging on one wall.

“The original castle was built in 1180 right here where we are standing”, the guide tells us. “The idea was to protect the area around from pirates and armed gangs. The city of Kalmar grew up around it. For the first few hundred years, it was basically a fortress, strategically placed near the border between Denmark and Sweden.”

He pauses for effect, looking at the puzzled faces around him.

“I know what you are thinking”, he continues. “That the border between Denmark and Sweden is nowhere near Kalmar. That’s true these days of course, but you have to remember that in those days, Denmark possessed most of what is southern Sweden today.”

He gestures at the giant map behind him.

Scandanavia in the 12th century.

“The most important political event that happened during that time right here in this castle was the signing of the Kalmar Union between Denmark, Norway and Sweden, which also incorporated most of Finland also. In 1397, this Union between the three countries was signed. The idea behind it was that the countries would remain autonomous, but would have foreign policy decided by a single monarch. The whole idea behind the Union was to counteract the power of the Hanseatic League in Germany.”

“And did it work?”, asks an Indian lady standing at the front, appointing herself the unofficial spokesperson of our group.

“That was the problem”, answers the guide. “It did up to a point, but the interests of the three countries didn’t really align – Sweden, for example, already traded with the Hanseatic League, but Denmark didn’t; Sweden and Norway ended up paying extra taxes to fund Denmark’s wars; the powerful aristocracies in each country were opposed to the Union because it diluted their power; and the area was just too large to try and keep together.”

“What happened in the end?”, says the Indian lady.

“Well, there were various rebellions in Sweden, which led to Denmark invading it to try and restore control”, he answers. “The King of Denmark executed all the rebel leaders, but this backfired in the long run as the son of one of them enlisted the help of the City of Lübeck, who together chased the Danes out of Sweden in 1523. That’s when the Kalmar Union was finally dissolved.”

We move through to the Checkered Hall, so called because of the intricate scenes and patterns made from wooden inlays of different hues.

Detail of inlaid woodwork in the Checkered Room.

“That was at the time of the Renaissance in Europe”, our guide continues. “So the victorious king Gustav Vasa I and his sons refurbished and transformed the castle from a fortress into a palace fit for a renaissance king.”

Next is the dining room, resplendent with a meal ready and waiting for us.

The Dining Room in Kalmar Castle.

“Don’t try eating any of the food”, says the guide. “You’ll be sick – it’s just plastic. But you can see the kitchens on the bottom floor after the tour finishes.”

Castle kitchens.

We move to the Great Hall.

“This is where the king received foreign dignitaries and where all the great parties and dances were held”, we are told.

The King’s Throne in the Great Hall.

“Unfortunately, the whole castle fell into disrepair after the Treaty of Roskilde was signed In 1658, in which Denmark was soundly beaten and had to give up all its possessions in what is now southern Sweden”, he continues. “That resulted in the present-day borders. Not being on the border between the two countries any more, Kalmar lost its influence, and the castle was used as a prison, storage location, and even a distillery. It’s only in recent years that it is being refurbished again.”

“Well, that was fascinating”, says the First Mate as we leave. “I didn’t realise that Denmark and Sweden were fighting each other so much in those days.”

We leave Kalmar early the next morning to catch the wind from the north-west before it is forecast to drop around lunchtime. Too late! For an hour we have a good sail, but then the wind disappears again. We drift along in the current for an hour, then it starts again. Then back to the merest puff.

Making our way in fits and starts to the island of Borgholm.

“I thought that you said we had to start early to get the good wind all the way”, says the First Mate. “I could have had another couple of hours’ sleep.”

“Blame the Swedish weather forecasters, not me”, I say.

We eventually make it to the harbour at Borgholm, the main town on the island of Öland. We find an empty berth and nudge ourselves into it. We are getting the measure of these stern buoy moorings now.

Stern buoy mooring.

A cheerful neighbour helps us tie up the bow.

“Have you come all the way from Britain?”, he says incredulously, noticing our flag. “That’s amazing. I would love to do that some time! What are you planning to do here?”

We tell him that we are working our way northwards and plan on exploring some of the archipelago next.

“Why don’t you both come over tonight for a drink?”, he says, “You can tell us about your trip, and I can tell you all the best places to go in the archipelago.”

We accept the invitation with pleasure.

After lunch we explore the town of Borgholm. Most of the activity seems to be centred on the Square in the centre, with the church at one end, and the Town Hall at the other.

The Square in Borgholm.

“Let’s go for a walk up to the castle”, says the First Mate. “It’s not that far.”

The castle is an imposing ruin dominating the town skyline to the south. The original castle may have been built by King Canute in 12th century.as a defensive fortress against eastern Baltic invaders, and had played a prominent role in the battles between the Swedes and Danish during the Kalmar Union, switching ownership from time to time. When that union was dissolved in 1523, it was refurbished by the victorious Gustav I and his sons as a renaissance baroque palace, just like Kalmar castle itself. Then in 1806, it was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt. Today it is used for concerts and houses a museum.

We walk along a pleasant little woodland path on the edge of town until we come to the promontory on which the castle is built. A sign points the way up a set of steps to the top. We arrive breathless in the heat.

Borgholm Castle.

“Shall we go in?”, I ask.

“I think that I could do with a break from castles for a bit”, says the First Mate. “Let’s just walk around it, and then on to Sollidens Slott. I would quite like to see the garden there.”

Borgholm Castle ruins from the south.

Sollidens Slott is the summer residence of the Swedish Royal family, built in 1906 in Italian style by the then Queen Victoria. The actual residence isn’t open to the public, but the gardens are.

It’s a hot day. We reach the coffee shop and decide to have a cold drink to quench our thirst. A few minutes’ walk from there is the Sollidens Slott ticket office, a converted gate house.

“Bad news”, I say, reading the sign on the gate. “They close in half-an-hour. It’s hardly worth paying 100 kronor each for only a short time. They have a small exhibition here in the ticket office. Let’s have a look at that instead.”

The Swedish Royal Family is purely ceremonial, one of the posters tells us, and has no political or executive powers. Bills are even passed without royal assent. Since 1980, inheritance of the royal crown is by absolute primogeniture – the title is passed down to the oldest child regardless of gender, which is unusual compared to most countries. The current king will be succeeded by his eldest daughter, Victoria, even though she has a younger brother. All in all, a fairly modern monarchy, it seems.

Family tree of Swedish Royal Family.

“It is actually Victoria’s birthday tomorrow”, one of the staff tells us. “There will be a procession starting from here, then through the town. We call it a ‘flag-flying’ day. You should see it.”

In the evening, we meet with Martin & Mia for drinks and to talk about places to visit and routes through the archipelago. They live near Oxelösund on the mainland.

“The first thing you need is up-to-date maps at the highest scale available”, Martin tells us. “They recommend that you need at least 1:50,000 for exploring the archipelago. What navigational software do you use?”

“We have OpenCPN”, I tell him. “It uses the official Sjöfartsverket charts for Sweden. I just downloaded them a few weeks ago, so they should be pretty up-to-date.”

“They will be fine”, he says. “Now, the next thing to understand is that there is a main route through the archipelago that we nickname the ‘E2’ after the main motorway on land. It’s sort of a water motorway running from top to bottom. It’s well charted, well buoyed, easy to follow, and used by a lot of people.”

“A bit like the M1 in Britain”, I say.

“Exactly”, says Martin. “But like a motorway, the most interesting bits are when you leave it and find nice quiet anchorages, uninhabited islands, and beautiful bays. I’ll show you some of them.”

Martin explains the archipelago to us.

We spend the next hour or so talking about where we should go and what we should see. I make copious notes to enter on our charts later.

It gets late, and with the sun gone, there is a chill in the air.

“It’s time we should be going”, says the First Mate. “Have you got all the information you need?”

“Ah, I almost forgot the most important one”, Martin exclaims. “Harstena. It’s beautiful. I have been going there for the last 20 years and never tire of it. That one is non-negotiable. You absolutely have to go there.”

“We’ll do our best”, I promise.

“You must come and visit us when you get up to our area”, says Mia. “Here’s our address.”

The next day, Anja and Klaus arrive from Kalmar. They are a German couple living in Switzerland whom we first met in Karlskrona.

“We’ve heard that it’s the Crown Princess’s birthday procession this afternoon”, they say. “It’s at four o’clock. Why don’t you come with us to see it?”

“We were planning to go too”, we say. “Give us ten minutes to get ready.”

We walk into the town. Already the crowds are starting to line the streets. We find a spot at the entrance to the harbour with a good view. A woman comes and gives us a paper Swedish flag each to wave. I practise with mine, but it rips. I roll it up and put it inside my jacket so the police won’t notice. It wouldn’t do to get arrested for disrespect for the flag.

The crowd waits for the ‘birthday girl’ to arrive.

Four o’clock arrives. No sign of the Crown Princess.

“Perhaps the horses are playing up”, says someone standing next to us. “They are pretty highly bred, you know.”

At around five o’clock the Crown Princess’s carriage drawn by horses arrives. She smiles and waves at everyone. I take a photo, but she looks away just at that moment. Perhaps she saw my ripped flag. Then she is gone.

Crown Princess Victoria and husband Daniel.

We all go and have an ice-cream. I go for my favourite, pistachio. It’s not every day you see a real Crown Princess in the flesh after all.

We sail for Oskarshamn the next morning. The wind is a strong north-westerly, so we sail close-hauled most of the way. Even so, we are not able to make it there directly, but need to sail north of the city, then tack back. We eventually arrive in the early evening and tie up at the Bradholmen Marina near the city centre.

Tied up in Bradholmen marina, Oskarshamn.

“I hardly slept at all last night”, says the First Mate in the morning. “That music went on until two in the morning, and I was too annoyed to try and sleep after that.”

There had been a concert of some sort at the restaurant on the other side of the marina. I hadn’t heard a thing, as I had put my earplugs in. They are so that I don’t hear the lapping of water against the hull, but they also work a treat against unwelcome music. I feel refreshed as only a deep sleep can make one feel.

“You should use your earplugs”, I say smugly.

We explore the city. Oskarshamn is a ship building city, although this has declined since the 1970s, and nowadays it is famous for the manufacture of Scania trucks and candles.

Oskarshamn town centre.
Priest runs over his lines in Oskarshamn Church.

“You’ll never guess what”, the First Mate fulminates, as we return to the boat. “I heard that there is going to be another concert tonight. I talked to the marina manager and asked for our money back so we can move to the other marina on the other side, but he refused.”

“Was that before or after you applied the double arm-lock?”, I ask.

“That’s a good idea”, she says. “I never thought of using the double arm-lock. The half-Nelson I used didn’t work at all.”

Ten minutes later she returns.

“Well that worked”, she says. “I’ve got our money back. We can leave now and go over to the Ernemar Marina on the other side and get a good night’s sleep.”

I make a mental note to brush up on my double arm-lock defence.

A rough night, a naval museum, and a luxury yacht

The First Mate wakes me in the night.

“The strong winds have started”, she says. “Do you think the anchor will hold?”

“I am sure it will”, I answer sleepily. “In any case, I have the anchor alarm on. It’ll tell us whether we are dragging or not.”

The anchor alarm is a natty little app on the phone that links to the AIS and emits a shrill beeping sound if the boat strays outside a prescribed radius of where the anchor was dropped.

We lie awake, not daring to sleep. Or able to, for that matter.

“There’s a lot of rubbing and screeching”, she says, after a few minutes. “Do you think there is a problem?”

“It’s just the anchor chain and the bridle rope moving up and down”, I say. “It’s to be expected.”

Nevertheless, I get up and walk forward with the torch to the bow to check everything. It’s wet, wild and windy, to be sure, and there is quite a swell, pushed by the wind. I had rigged a rope bridle to take the strain off the anchor windless – a hook holds one of the anchor chain links with a rope attached to it and to the forward cleats. The chain between the roller and the hook hangs free, the strain being taken up by the rope. Everything seems alright.

On the way back to bed, I check the windspeed: 25 knots. That’s quite strong. The anchor alarm shows that we are swinging in an arc but haven’t dragged the anchor.

“No problems”, I say. “There’s a lot of bouncing and swinging. But everything seems to be holding.”

The anchor alam display showing our arc (but no drifting!).

We are anchored in the main bay of Tärnö, a tiny island in the Blekinge archipelago, with a Force 6 wind buffeting us. We had arrived a couple of days before, and had decided to anchor rather than competing for the few berths at the pier.

Anchored off the island of Tärnö the day before the strong winds.

I had rigged the solar panels to help offset the power consumption of the fridge. These were two cheap-and-cheerful flexible 75 W solar panels I had brought from the UK, and hadn’t had time yet to try them. The idea was that we could put them anywhere on the boat to optimise their angle to the sun. If they worked well, we would consider more permanent panels and use these a backups.

Solar panels temporarily installed.

In the afternoon we had inflated the rubber dinghy and dusted off the small engine, and had motored over to the landing stage. There we had tied up and had walked up to the lighthouse, and back along the eastern side of the island. We had had beautiful views out over the Hanöbukten and had seen Hanö shimmering in the distance.

Tärnö lighthouse overlooking the Hanöbukten (Bay of Hanö).

“Can you imagine the dragon getting from here to there in two wingbeats?”, I had asked the First Mate. “It’s quite a way.”

“Perhaps he just gained height with the flaps, then glided the rest of the way”, she had said.

On the way back to the mothership, the First Mate had taken over to gain some practice in boat handling.

“I still find it difficult to remember to push the tiller to the right if I want the boat to turn to the left”, she had said. “It just seems so counter-intuitive.”

“Mind that rock!”, I had said. “You need to go to the right of it, so push the tiller to the left. Right?”

The First Mate carefully avoids the rocks.

We weigh anchor the next morning after the strong winds and motor out of the little bay around the red buoys until we are clear of the island. The plan is to head for the Hyperion buoy marking the entrance to the rock-studded route through the islands to the south of Karlskrona. However, the wind direction is more easterly than predicted by the forecast, so we find ourselves heading almost directly into it. There’s nothing to do except take a large tack southwards for about five miles to get a better wind angle. We must be doing something right, as other boats coming from beyond Tärnö seem to have the same idea, and we join a stream of three or four boats heading in the same direction.

Our track from Tärnö to Karlskrona.

I look at the AIS.

“You’ll never guess who is following us”, I say to the First Mate. “It’s Luc and Marion, the Dutch folk that we met first in Simritshamn. I think they are coming from Karlshamn. They are about four miles behind us. It looks like they are also heading for Karlskrona.”

We enter the buoyed channel north of the island of Hasslö where a swinging bridge bars our way. It opens on the hour every hour for ten minutes. We have about forty minutes to kill until the next opening.

“I’ll make a cup of tea”, says the First Mate. “You can drive around in circles like the others. Be careful you don’t hit anyone.”

Several other boats gather, waiting for the same opening slot. Luc comes up behind us. He doesn’t seem to have seen us, so we call out to him. His face lights up.

“Well, well, well” he says. “I hadn’t seen you.”

All eyes are on the red light at the side of the bridge. Eventually it goes amber, and there is a surge of boats towards the narrow gap, jostling for position. A few minutes later, the light goes green and we’re off. Despite arriving in the waiting area almost first, we end up almost last through the bridge. We are obviously not skilled at this.

They’re off! The scramble to get through the Hasslö swinging bridge.

We have a fast sail up the channel until we reach the Godnatt fortification marking the entrance to Karlskrona naval base. There we furl the sails and motor the last little bit into the town marina.

The Godnatt fortification guarding the entrance to Karlskrona naval base.

Shortly after we tie up, Luc joins us for a coffee.

“The naval museum here is outstanding”, he tells us. “Well worth a visit. They also do an excellent buffet lunch in the restaurant there.”

“Come on”, says the First Mate after he leaves. “Let’s get the bikes out and explore the city. I have a map from the harbour office when we checked in.”

The centre is laid out in a grid pattern culminating in the vast central square with the Town Hall and two imposing looking churches.

The Central Square in Karlskrona.

It’s hot, so we decide to stop and have an ice-cream. Apparently this particular shop is world-renowned for the size of its ice-creams.

Rapidly disappearing ice-cream.

We come across the clock tower that was built to impress on foreigners in the 17th century that Sweden was a major power and as good culturally as anyone.

The Admiralty clock tower, Karlskrona.

We follow the city wall around until we come to the Björkholmen area of the city where the early shipyard workers built their houses. Later artists and writers came to live there. The houses are cute and brightly coloured.

Björkholmen houses, Karlskrona.

From there, we cross the bridges to reach the islands of Saltö and Dragsö.

Residential area on the island of Saltö, Karlskrona.

In the morning, we are just making a cup of tea when there is a knock on the side of the boat. It’s a cheery-looking man in shorts and a pink-coloured T-shirt.

“Are you the harbourmaster?”, I say, poking my head out of the cabin.

“No, we are from Dundee in Scotland, and we saw that you are flying a Scottish flag”, he says. “We wondered if you are also from Scotland, by any chance? I’m Colin, and this is Joan.”

The other half of the ‘we’ comes along the pontoon to join her husband.

“We’ve been here for a few days”, they tell us, “but we are leaving the boat here for a couple of weeks and flying back to the UK for our daughter’s wedding. When we return, we’ll carry on sailing northwards from here.”

Colin and Joan from Dundee.

We invite them to join us for tea and biscuits. The talk turns to methods of tying up in box berths and rear buoys.

“Why don’t you go and get the hooky thing we bought to catch the buoys?”, says the First Mate. “It’s in the storage room.”

I go downstairs and clamber over the vegetables, bikes, tools and other paraphernalia that have accumulated in the storeroom. I dislodge an object which tips onto the floor, and step into something squishy. It’s the contents of the pan containing the leftovers from yesterday’s dinner.

“Hurry up”, calls the First Mate from the deck. “We haven’t got all day.”

“Coming”, I call, removing a mushroom from between my toes. “I am having trouble finding it.”

Quickly, I scoop up the food, flush it down the toilet, wipe the floor, and wash and dry the pan.

“Here it is”, I say triumphantly, emerging back on deck clutching the hooky thing. “I finally found it. Right at the back.”

Our hooky thing for snaring mooring buoys.

Later on, we decide to take Luc’s advice and have the buffet lunch at the Naval Museum restaurant.

“That’s your third helping”, I say to the First Mate, as she returns to the table with her plate full. “Anyone would think you are hungry.”

The First Mate comes back with more.

“I read somewhere that a lot of Swedes do this”, she responds. “Because eating out is so expensive, many eat their main meal during the day by having a buffet somewhere where they can eat as much as they want, then have only a light meal or even nothing in the evening. I don’t know if it is true, but it sort of makes sense, what with the prices here.”

“It reminds me of that time in Kenya, just after we had met”, I say. “Do you remember that?”

“Of course”, she says. “Don’t remind me. How could I ever forget?”

When we had both worked in Central Africa, where many things were not available due to trade restrictions in place, we had decided to chill out for a few days over Christmas in Mombasa, so had booked a flight and hotel. On Christmas Day, the hotel had put on a buffet dinner on the lawn. Mesmerised by the sight of so much beautiful food on offer after months of nothing but the basics, we had loaded our plates as much as we could and staggered back to the table. It wasn’t long before we had both looked at each other at the same time and had had to make a run for our room. The food was too much and too rich for stomachs that had been accustomed to boiled maize meal for many months.

Lunch over, we enter the museum and start with the introductory video.

We learn that the Swedes and the Danes had been slugging it out for years, but the problem the Swedes had was that their navy was based in Stockholm, the capital, which was iced in for longer than the Danes, whose navy was based in Copenhagen further south. Consequently they could be ready and waiting for when the Swedes could finally move. King Karl XI of Sweden decided that a more southerly port was needed, so in 1680 the island of Trossö in Karlskrona was selected for the purpose. The city was marked out in a square pattern and grew rapidly as the Navy expanded, even becoming a model for other European countries of how to do it. In any case, it worked as Sweden grew to be a major European power with territory in northern Germany, Finland, Estonia and Latvia.

The Swedes and the Danes battling it out.

Next is the submarine hall, where an early submarine and a nuclear submarine from the 1960s are on display.

“This one is much bigger than the one that you went through in Sassnitz”, says the First Mate.

“But no less claustrophobic “, I say.

Torpedo tubes of a Swedish nuclear submarine.

“Come and look at this”, says the First Mate. “That’s clever. They have built an underwater viewing room down to the sea floor in the harbour. Apparently there is a real wreck that you can see.”

We peer through the glass windows. I can’t see anything at all – there is too much sediment in the water.

“Look, here’s the wreck”, calls the First Mate from one of the windows.

Sure enough two timbers emerge from the gloom. They could be almost anything. I try hard to imagine that there is a whole shipwreck behind them, but it’s not easy.

“Well, it’s was a great idea at least”, she says. “It’s just a pity that the water is so cloudy.”

Remains of a wreck in Karlskrona harbour … possibly.

We arrive at a section on war in general in the far end of the museum. Up until this stage, although it has not been really explicit, it is fairly clear that the enemy that the Swedish Navy is defending the country against is its larger neighbour Russia. Here, however, it is explicit – the world is divided into two camps, the American side and the Russian side. There is no doubting which camp Sweden sees itself in, despite its deliberate policy of neutrality. And with some justification – in 1981 a nuclear-armed Russian submarine carrying out clandestine activities went aground near one of the islands just south of Karlskrona, leading to an international incident. And now Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine has shown just what can happen to neutral countries if large unpredictable neighbours have different ideas. No wonder Sweden has applied to join NATO.

Russian submarine S-363 aground near Karlskrona in 1981 (By Marinmuseum – digitaltmuseum.se, CC BY 4.0).

As I digest the exhibits, I am reminded of the book i had read last year by Ian Morris, War: What is it Good For? In it, he puts forward the argument that war has actually been beneficial to the human race, as it has been the driver of the development of large political structures such as countries and nations that have in turn suppressed internal violence and made it safer for the vast majority of people to live and become prosperous. He gives as evidence that during prehistoric times, individuals had a relatively high chance (20%) of dying violently, as shown by unearthed skeletons, compared to in modern times. The emergence of global superpowers, such as Britain in the 1800s and the United States in the 20th century is a continuation of this process with a rules-based world order, which has ensured peace and prosperity for millions.

It’s an interesting way of looking at world history, but it is a tricky argument to agree with if you are one of the victims on the receiving end of colonialism or war, as the people of Ukraine are at the moment. This was, of course, all before the days of Trump, Johnson and Putin, so it is anyone’s guess where we go from here. Will China be the next global policeman with the West in disarray and decline? Or will it be a free-for-all with survival of the strongest?

In the evening, we wander along to the other end of the harbour and watch the giant charter yacht Sea Cloud Spirit leave to return to Gdansk. It was built in 2021 to cater for the rich and famous, and is so big that it needs a tug to tow it away from the dock.

From the rear deck, a well-dressed couple looks down condescendingly at us.

“Look at those commoners down there”, I imagine him saying to her. “I bet they have never done as exciting as us sailing around the Baltic.”

As we walk back, I put on my sailor’s cap and ask the First Mate loudly in a Devonshire accent if she has spliced the main-braces yet, to make them think I am an old seadog. She looks at me incredulously. The rich couple don’t seem to notice.

The Sea Cloud Spirit.

We arrive back at Ruby Tuesday.

“Have you seen the pan with the leftovers from yesterday?”, asks the First Mate. “I put it in the storage room to keep it out of the way.”

“I am sure it will be there somewhere”, I say, avoiding her gaze. “I know – why don’t we go out for something to eat tonight?”

Midsummer revelry, a Russian cargo ship, and an English graveyard

The forecast for the morning is for a south-westerly, which is good for us. We leave Sassnitz early, heading for the island of Bornholm, some 60 NM away. Soon we are passing the Königstühl cliffs to our port side. They look more impressive seeing them in their entirety from the sea.

Chalk cliffs of Königstühl from the sea.

The wind is favourable for most of the way, and we make good speed.

In the afternoon, we arrive at Rønne, the main town in Bornholm, and motor slowly into the small marina. It is packed, and there doesn’t seem to be much space for us. There are a couple of empty berths, but they both have red boards showing, indicating they belong to someone who is returning soon.

“I’ll call the harbourmaster”, says the First Mate. “Let’s see what he can suggest.”

“What size is your boat?”, says the harbourmaster. The First Mate tells him.

“I am afraid there is no room left for a boat that size”, he says. “Your best bet is to go up to Hasle, the next harbour a few miles up the coast. There will definitely be space there.”

He pronounces it ‘hassle’.

“I hope it doesn’t turn out to be what it sounds like”, I say.

We unfurl the sails again and head northwards on a nice beam reach. Sure enough, there is plenty of space, and we tie up alongside in one of the inner basins where it is nicely sheltered.

“I like this place already”, says the First Mate. “Alongside berthing is just so much easier than those box berths.”

Tied up in Hasle harbour.

Bornholm is strategically placed within the Baltic Sea, and actually belongs to Denmark, despite its proximity to other countries. Lübeck ruled it in Hanseatic times, it became part of Sweden in the 1600s, was occupied by Germany during WW2, and then by Russia for a short time after the war, but was eventually returned to Denmark.

Bornholm island.

I decide to have a day fixing my folding bike. The bottom bracket is still clacking noisily, and the pedals sometimes lock up. So something is clearly wrong. I had bought a new set of folding pedals from the UK, and a new bottom bracket sealed bearing unit had arrived by mail order while we were in Greifswald. So time to fit them.

I carefully remove the pedals and dismantle the bottom bracket, and am amazed to see that it is not a sealed bearing unit as I had thought, but just two ball-bearing races badly rusted. Clearly water had found its way in and corroded them. Out they come and in goes the new unit, tighten up the locknuts on both sides, then on with the new pedals.

Fixing the bike.

As I work, I am reminded of the book I had re-read over the winter, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. I had read it first while at high school, and had enjoyed it, although had not fully understood it. In it, he distinguishes between the Classical and Romantic ways of looking at the world. The Romantic approach focuses on enjoying an experience for what it is, the Classical approach is to focus on the inner workings of that experience. Some people just like the experience of riding a motorcycle, others like the challenge of understanding and solving a problem the motorcycle might have, and getting it to perform its best. Romanticists tend to see the appearance of an object, Classicists its function. He concludes that to achieve an inner peace of mind we need a balance of both perspectives. In fact, not having this balance is the source of much of the frustrations in modern life.

“Which am I?”, I ask myself, as I screw in the new pedals. “A Classicist or a Romantic?”

I do enjoy the experiences of sailing and cycling without thinking about everything that is happening to make those experiences, so that must make me a Pirsig Romanticist. But I also enjoy analysing a problem with the boat, bike or whatever, breaking down a problem into its component parts and finding a solution. So that must make me a Pirsig Classicist. Or am I both? That then would mean that I should have achieved inner peace of mind. But I feel that I am far from that.

“You are taking a long time to get that bike finished”, calls the First Mate from the boat. “Daydreaming again?”

“Just thinking about the meaning of life”, I respond. “Nearly finished.”

“What’s fixing a bike got to do with the meaning of life?”, she asks.

“You’d be surprised”, I say.

I test the bike by riding it around the harbour. It goes perfectly, and there is no clacking or pedals locking up. Classical satisfaction!

In the evening, there is a party to celebrate the Danish midsummer. Everyone in the town and the harbour is invited. And anyone else who wants to come.

Dating from ancient times, Danish midsummer celebrations are a fusion of pagan ceremonies and Christian rituals. It is actually called the Feast of St John after John the Baptist, who was supposed to have been born six months to the day before Jesus, so it is held on St John’s Eve, June 23rd. In reality, the Christians appropriated it from earlier pagan celebrations of fertility and light, with fires being lit to ward off evil spirits to ensure a good harvest. Harking back to those times, a straw witch was introduced on top of the bonfire just in the 1920s. The story goes that when she is burnt, she takes any evil with her and flies off to the Witches’ Festival in Bloksbjerg in Germany.

“The Danes really don’t like the Germans, do they?”, says the First Mate. “Don’t you remember last year all the battles between the two countries over territory that we learnt about?’

“Don’t take it personally”, I say. “It’s just a pagan ritual.”

We arrive fairly early, but already it is heaving. We buy some drinks and wander over to the group of people on the mound next to the bonfire.

The witch waiting to be burnt on top of the bonfire.

“Look, the witch is smiling”, says the First Mate. “Surprising, given that she is going to be burnt to death shortly.”

“She’s probably looking forward to the Witches’ Festival”, I say. “And all that evil she will take with her.”

A local dignitary gives a speech. Mercifully it is short. The band from the local school marches up, led by their teacher carrying the school standard.

The band arrives.

“Oooom-pah, ooom-pah, ooom-pah-pah”, goes the band. The majorette accidentally drops her baton. She picks it up smoothly and continues twirling it. She must drop it often.

The band stops, and a group of young children advance towards the bonfire carrying firebrands. The witch looks more frightened now, but perhaps it is my imagination. They light the base of the bonfire.

The bonfire is lit.

At first it seems there is nothing, but then the flames catch hold. There is a crackle and a roar and in a few minutes the whole bonfire is ablaze. The witch lets out a shriek as a firework concealed within her goes off. Then the flames die down. The witch has disappeared. Evil has flown off to Germany and the harvest will be good.

The witch starts to burn.

The next day, we cycle down to Rønne, the main town of the island, to explore and do some shopping. The cycle path is through a forest and follows the coast. The pine cones crackle in the heat and fall to the ground. From time to time we have glimpses of the sea through the trees.

Cycling to Rønne.

We have an ice cream, then explore the narrow streets of the old town, with their cute houses and hollyhocks.

Street in Rønne.

The church is imposing, overlooking the harbour.

Church in Rønne

Unfortunately, the small theatre is closed for July.

Rønne theatre.

On the way back, we see two old American cars parked near the cycle track.

Cars of yesteryear.

“A Ford Fairlane and a Ford Galaxy from the 1960s”, I say. “I remember these when I was growing up. Look at the size of them. You could almost have a game of tennis on the bonnet.”

The owner and his better half appear out of nowhere.

“We imported them from California”, he tells us. “We had been looking for years for this type, then we spotted them for sale there. They were in a pretty bad state, but we decided to bring them back here and do them up. We reconditioned the engines and replaced most of the bodywork. It cost a lot, but it was worth it. I’ll start one up for you.”

He climbs into the Fairlane. 400 cubic inches of American V8 engine burst into life with a throaty roar and settle down to a gentle burble.

“I just love driving them around the roads on the island with the top down”, he says.

We sail the next morning for Simrishamn in Sweden. To get there, we need to cross a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS), virtual lanes in each direction for the large ships to follow to avoid colliding with each other. Smaller boats, like us, are required to cross these lanes at right angles to minimise the time spent in them. I decide to sail outside but parallel with the lanes first of all to make use of the easterly wind as long as possible, then cross at the buoy marking a turn in the TSS.

Buoy marking the turning point of the TSS.

As we arrive at the buoy, I check our Automatic Identification System (AIS) and see that a Dutch freighter in the east-going lane is coming up fast on our port quarter at 12 knots. We could probably make it in front of her, but there is no point in taking risks. I heave to by turning into the wind. We come to a standstill, and we watch the freighter as she reaches the buoy and turns eastwards. Once she is clear, we turn and fill the sails again, and start our crossing.

The AIS shows five large ships in the far lane travelling westwards, and that the Closest Point of Approach to one of them is 200 m. That’s not a lot. I feel a bit like a rabbit on a busy motorway – no sooner have I dealt with one, there are four others to contend with.

Running the gauntlet (we are the red boat, cargo ships are green).

We pass in front of the first two comfortably. I notice that the next one is a Russian cargo ship.

“The AIS says they are heading for Iskenderun in Turkey.”, I say to the First Mate. “I didn’t think anyone was still trading with them. I wonder what they are carrying? Missiles?”

“I am surprised that their ships are still allowed to sail through here”, says the First Mate. “I would have thought that the Swedes had prohibited them.”

“I think that this bit is an international sea lane”, I say. “So I suppose they are allowed to. Shall I sail in front of them and force them to stop and declare what their cargo is?”

“Don’t you dare”, she says. “You know what the Russians are like. They don’t care much for international rules. In any case, I’ve read that it takes about five miles for a boat that size to come to a stop. We’d be matchwood.”

The Russian ship bears down on us. It looks touch and go. I trim the sails to get as much speed as possible. Slowly we cross in front of them and they pass a few hundred metres behind us. Through the binoculars I can see a Russian sailor leaning over the rails looking at us.

The Russian cargo ship passes safely behind us.

We arrive in Simrishamn in the mid afternoon. We are helped to tie up by Luc, a cheerful Dutchman. He tells us they are travelling as far as Karlskrona then have to be back to Copenhagen for their daughter’s wedding.

“You have to go to Hanö”, he tells us. “It’s a little island north from here. It’s really beautiful. We’ve been several times before.”

We walk into Simrishamn to have a brief explore. It is a pleasant enough town, but we decide to stay only one night and set off the next morning to Hanö.

St Nicolai’s Church, Simritshamn.

The sail over is boisterous, to say the least. Shortly after leaving Simrishamn, the wind picks up to more than 20 knots, and there is quite a swell. We reef twice, but still we heel alarmingly.

“You didn’t tell me it was going to be this strong”, shouts the First Mate, as the water flows past one of the side windows. “You know I hate heeling.”

“I didn’t know”, I shout back. “It wasn’t forecast to be this rough.”

Water rushing past the side window.

We eventually arrive in Hanö and manage to find a spare berth alongside the outer harbour wall. The harbour is delightful, surrounded by picturesque Danish-style houses, a small restaurant, and a kiosk. The harbour-mistress comes and collects the berthing fee in person.

Tied up in Hanö harbour.

“She really takes care of everything here”, says the First Mate, returning from the washing block. “It’s all so spick and span, even down to small pots of flowers in the toilets and showers. A woman’s touch, and such a contrast with marinas where everything is automated.”

“Ah, men have a lot to answer for”, I say.

In the morning, we walk up the path from the harbour to the lighthouse. The view out over the bay of Hanöbukten is superb.

The lighthouse on Hanö.

“We have to see the Drakmärket”, I say, perusing the map. “The legend is that there once was a dragon that used to fly every night between Hanö where we are and the neighbouring island of Tärnö”, I read on a board near the fence around the lighthouse. “Even though it is 20 km, he was able to do it in two wingbeats. Then when they constructed the lighthouse here and switched it on the first time, it blinded the dragon and he fell to earth and his claws left a huge scratch on the rock.”

“It all sounds a bit far-fetched to me”, says the First Mate. “But I suppose we had better go and see it.”

We follow a path with blue markers around behind the lighthouse and find a peculiar wave-shaped mark carved in the rock.

“It doesn’t look natural”, I say. “Someone must have carved it.”

The Dragon’s Mark, Hanö.

From there, we drop down from the lighthouse to the northern-most point of the island. On the way, we pass the so-called English graveyard, where twelve English sailors were buried during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. The Royal Navy had used the island as a base at that time, although apparently the sailors had died of disease rather than combat. The Navy still comes periodically to hold a service for them, and a few years ago had erected a large wooden cross.

The English graveyard, Hanö.

We reach Bönsäcken, a shingle spit that stretches in a curve westwards. The islanders seem to have loved their legends, as the one for this was that there was an ogress who lived on the island who began to feel lonely, so she started to build a bridge to cross over to the mainland. She would work flat out during the daytime collecting stones and depositing them on the spit, but each night the sea would come and wash them away again.

“Don’t you remember a similar story from the Dornoch Firth in Scotland that time we explored there in our little boat?”, I say. “There it was the water-kelpies trying to build a bridge out of sand. A never-ending task.”

The Bönsäcken shingle spit.

We follow the white track around the coast of the island. Following the white markers becomes a bit of a game. From each one, we have to look for the next one. At one point, I see a line of white posts stretching off into the distance. Some of them seem to move.

“Which glasses are you wearing today?”, asks the First Mate. “Those are seagulls, not painted posts. Come on!”

Spot the real white marker!

Much of the island is granite from Mesozoic times.

Granite outcrop, Hanö.

I somehow manage to trip on one of the rocks and graze my legs and arms and sprain my thumb. Luckily we have a small first-aid kit and some plasters. The First Mate practises her nursing skills.

Feeling sorry for myself.

Eventually the landscape gives way to dense woodland.

At one point, we spot some deer through the trees.

Fleeting glimpse of deer.

“Sssshhh”, says the First Mate. “Keep quiet or else you will frighten them.”

“Pardon?”, I say, as I clamber over a log, breaking one of the branches with a loud snap.

The deer run off into the undergrowth.

“Clumsy clown”, complains the First Mate.