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.
“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.
“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.
People throng across the bridge in front of the disused water tower to get to the market.
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.
We eventually end up at Kalmar Castle opposite the harbour.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.