We set sail from Nynäshamn the next morning, still following Valdemar’s Way. The wind is from the southeast, and after we round the top end of Bedarön island, we have a close reach which gives us a good speed before we need to turn northwards again. Just as we do, the wind drops, and with it now almost directly behind us, we sail with the genoa only. Progress is sedate, to say the least, but it allows us to relax and enjoy the scenery.
We aim for a small island called Store Senholmen where there is a blue SXK buoy marked that we can tie up to. We eventually reach the small bay where the buoy is supposed to be, but there is no sign of it. We decide to anchor there anyway as it is sheltered from the southeast wind. Then, believe it or not, just as we drop the anchor the wind changes around to the north. Our spot suddenly becomes exposed.
“Why don’t we go around to the south side of the island?”, says the First Mate. “It might be more sheltered on that side”.
We motor around and find another small bay. A few expensive-looking houses line the shore. We drop the anchor into about 5 metres of water, and reverse Ruby Tuesday to make sure that it is set. The anchor bites into the seabed. We are safe for the evening.
From our anchorage, we see a fortress of some kind perched in a rocky promontory overlooking the main archipelago fairway.
“That must have a great view”, says Joanne. “I wonder what it is? It looks like some kind of castle.”
Our Archipelago Guide tells us that it is the Dalarö Skans fortress originally built in 1623 to guard the southern approaches to Stockholm against any invaders coming along the fairway. It was rebuilt in 1656 and was further strengthened in 1698. Despite all this, it was never used in anger and was bypassed by the Russian forces during their pillages of 1719. The last commander of the fortress is supposed to have been buried on a neighbouring island.
“Perhaps that island with all the dead trees on it is where he was buried?”, says Peter.
“I wonder why the Russians pillaged Sweden at that time?”, says the First Mate. “They seem to have a habit for doing that sort of thing.”
“I have no idea”, I answer. “I’ll look it up when I get a moment.”
We cook dinner, and sit in the cockpit watching the sun go down over Dalarö Skans. The conversation turns to politics.
“British politics seems to be in a bit of a state these days”, says Peter. “We used to admire Britain, but the government now seems to be the laughing stock of the world.”
“Yes, and the annoying thing is that the majority of people don’t want them”, I say. “The present government was elected with only 44% of the popular vote. More people didn’t want them than did. And yet they still end up with an 80-seat majority. Not to mention the current election for the next Prime Minister. It’s only the 160,000 or so paid-up members of the Tory party who are able to vote for the last two candidates, and yet their policies can have a major impact on us all. It doesn’t seem very democratic, does it? Some people call it an elected dictatorship.”
“But what other system could you have?”, asks Joanne.
“Perhaps what we need is more participatory democracy”, I say, only slightly tongue-in-cheek. “Surely in this information age we are in, we can come up with more imaginative ways of governing ourselves? I used to wonder if it would be possible to involve people more by having it so that when people turn their computers on in the morning up comes a list of issues that need to be voted on. Then while their coffee is on the go, people could just go through them and vote how they want on each one. The results would all then be collated by a central computer and votes counted. Everyone would be involved in making decisions and we could do away with all this party politics where MPs are ‘whipped’ to vote the way their leader wants rather than according to their consciences. All we would need is some sort of impartial body that would determine what sort of issues should be voted on each day.”
“It would never work”, says Peter. “People just wouldn’t have the time to get to know all the background to each issue. I know I wouldn’t. I am quite prepared to vote someone in for a set period of time to do all the legwork in making decisions and then judge them for it at the end. If they have done a good job, I’ll vote for them again. If not, then I won’t.”
“Perhaps people need to make more time to spend on such things if they want to live in a democracy, though”, says the First Mate. “After all, it affects their lives, so surely they would want to have a direct say in what is decided?”
“If they don’t have time, people needn’t vote for everything every day”, I continue, warming to the theme. “They could just vote for the things that they know something about and directly affect them. But at least they would have the choice. No one would be forced to vote, but if they didn’t then they couldn’t complain if the decision is not what they would have wanted.”
A motor boat approaches us at top speed. We brace ourselves to be rocked by the massive wake it leaves behind, but the driver slows down before he reaches us and cruises past us slowly. As soon as he is past us, he resumes his original speed again.
“At least he was considerate to us”, says the First Mate. “Most of them couldn’t care less and zoom past us, leaving us to rock violently from side to side. Things can fall and break.”
“But it would be almost impossible to take into account the many different values that millions of people have”, says Peter, continuing the previous conversation.
“I am not so sure”, I say. “We did an exercise at my last place of work. It started off by getting everyone to write down what they thought the values of the organisation should be. All the answers were then grouped by facilitators into broad themes. These then went back to everyone for comment and modification if necessary. After a few iterations of this, they came up with something that everyone was happy with, despite all their diverse backgrounds and points of view. In the end there were about six or seven values. I would imagine that it might be similar for a country.”
“I agree”, says Joanne. “Most people, regardless of their cultural background, all want similar things – security, respect, fairness, prosperity, that sort of thing.”
“And all that could be done by a computer easily”, I say. “I am sure that there is software around already which can extract meaning from free text and categorise it into broad themes. In fact, taking it to its logical conclusion, we could let computers run the country completely. Would it really be such a bad thing? They could be programmed to achieve the greatest happiness for all. That, after all, was the basis of Utilitarianism in the 18th century.”
“The big challenge would be translating those broad values into actual policies, though”, says Peter. “That’s where people differ in their views of how to do it.”
“I know that there will be things to resolve”, I agree. “But we do need to think out of the box to address the problems of the current system.”
We anchor the next night in a beautiful little bay called Lerviken on the island of Skärpo, just off the main fairway. We are the only ones in it, but in the neighbouring inlet, there is another yacht anchored. It looks deserted.
“There seems to be someone on it”, says Peter, looking through the binoculars. “I can see a leg at least. A very pretty one too.”
“You men!”, says Joanne.
“Perhaps there’s been a murder, and they have cut up the body”, I say. “Or do you think they are filming the next episode of The Killing? There will probably be cameras or a film crew if you look hard enough.”
“I think that was Danish”, says the First Mate. “But they could be filming an episode in Sweden, I suppose. I wonder if we will see Sofie Gråbøl? Maybe we should go and anchor over there so that we can be in the background.”
The mystery is solved when the body that is attached to the leg sits up. It’s a woman in her 30s. We hastily hide the binoculars and pretend that we are polishing the boat. There’s no sign of Sofie Gråbøl or the camera crew.
In the evening after the others have gone to bed, I look up my trusty History of Europe book to find out more about Swedish history in the 17th and 18th centuries. It tells me that after the 30 Years’ War ended and the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648, Sweden became a European great power, controlling territory all around the Baltic. Several other countries in the region weren’t particularly happy about this, so they formed an alliance, led by Russia under Peter the Great, which led to the Great Northern War from 1700-1723. Things didn’t go too well for the Swedes and they lost their Baltic provinces, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. In the ensuing peace negotiations, Sweden wanted its Baltic provinces back, but Peter the Great lost patience with all the arguing and decided to teach the Swedes a lesson. He had galleys made that could be rowed as well as sailed, and which could therefore negotiate the narrow rocky passages between the archipelago islands. The Swedish Navy wasn’t equipped for this type of warfare and had to leave the islands to their fate. Not restricted to the fairway any more, the Russians just bypassed the fortresses at Dalarö and Vaxholm and laid waste to the islands, burning towns and villages to the ground. Only churches were left intact. The islanders fled to mainland Sweden, with 20,000 people made homeless. It was only when the Russians tried to attack Stockholm that the Swedes managed to chase them off. Nevertheless, Swedish power was weakened, and Russia became the new dominant Baltic power. The Swedes decided they had had enough of all-powerful kings that waged disastrous wars, and moved to a parliamentary system to usher in the so-called ‘Age of Liberty’.
“It’s interesting how events of 300 years ago still have ripples nowadays”, says Spencer reading from behind my shoulder. “The Swedes now have had a respectable tradition of democracy and good governance, whereas the Russians have stuck with their autocratic system, which has essentially remained to this day apart from a brief dalliance with democracy in the 1990s. It must have a huge effect on the way they view the world. You are seeing the outcome of that mindset in Ukraine now. Now if you don’t mind, I would like to go to sleep and dream. Spiders do that, you know.”
“Ah yes”, I say. “I read that article in the paper this morning too. Scientists have discovered that spiders have rapid eye movements and limb twitching while they are sleeping, just like humans do. Well, happy dreams!”
I don’t sleep too well that night. For some reason, images of sticky webs, tasty flies, and buzzing wasps keep running through my mind.
“You were doing lots of twitching last night”, says the First Mate in the morning. “What on earth were you dreaming about?”
“You don’t want to know”, I say.
There is a splash. Peter and Joanne have decided to have a swim off the back of the boat before breakfast.
“It’s l-l-lovely”, says Joanne, as she bounces in and out in the space of a few seconds. “But a bit cold.”
This prompts me to try and have a look at the keel after our disagreement with the rock back in Harstena. I put on my wetsuit and grab the mask and snorkel, and climb in gingerly. I swim under the boat, but the water is cloudy and I can’t see very much. Nevertheless, it looks OK, except for a possible mark on the bottom of the keel where the antifouling has disappeared. Probably the point of impact, I think.
We weigh anchor and re-join Valdemar’s Way heading west along the north coast of Vindö, making for Vaxholm. This time the wind is from the east, but again there isn’t much of it. We drift along at two to three knots, feeling elated when a stray puff of wind takes us to four knots for a few minutes before disappearing again. We don’t mind, as we have now settled into a languid mood where time hardly matters. We lunch on the boat, taking turns to eat our buttered sandwiches at the helm while keeping a watchful eye on other boats, islands and nasty rocks.
We take the fork that leads us north of Västerholmen to avoid the large cruise ships, through the narrow gap between Store Delh and Lille Delh, and re-join the main fairway again south of Värholma. As we get closer to Stockholm, the boat traffic increases exponentially, and soon we are surrounded by motorboats, ferries and other yachts on all sides, their wash making us pitch and rock wildly from side to side.
“They should have a speed limit in here”, says the First Mate, as a particularly fast motor launch roars past us. “There’s just no thought for slower boats like ourselves.”
Once through the narrow gap between Hästholmen and Resarö, we spy Vaxholm Castle, and beyond that, Vaxholm itself.
Vaxholm castle was built at around the same time as the one we had seen earlier in Dalarö, and was one of three that King Gustav Vasa had built to protect Stockholm. It was rebuilt in the mid-1800s, but due to advances in military technology, was obsolete by the time it was finished. Today it is a museum and conference centre.
The First Mate has phoned ahead to reserve an alongside berth at the marina to make it easy to unload the suitcases. It is the weekend, and the marina is a froth of activity as everyone in Stockholm, his wife and dog jostle for places. Ferries steam past, their wash rolling under the piles of the outer pier and making Ruby Tuesday buck wildly like a bronco.
The town is a charming eclectic mix of old wooden houses and newer modern ones. It is an island, but is connected to the mainland by a number of bridges.
It is also the kicking off point for ferries to various archipelago islands, notably neighbouring Rindö.
It’s time to say farewell to Joanne and Peter. They are heading for the airport to catch a flight to Dublin, the next stage of their journey. It has been great to see them, and catch up with news about family and friends. But all good things come to an end.
“It feels a bit flat without them, doesn’t it?”, says the First Mate, as we wave goodbye. “It was nice having them around.”