“You know, I think I wouldn’t mind living in Stockholm”, says the First Mate, as we sit in the cockpit that evening sipping our wine. “It’s a beautiful city, and so much to do. And the Archipelago just on your doorstep to explore. Magic.”
“Of course, we are seeing it at its best”, I say. “The weather has been warm and sunny the whole time we’ve been here. I would imagine it would be quite bleak here in the winter with snow and ice everywhere.”
“Look”, she says. “There’s a balloon coming over the marina. I wonder where it has come from?”
The brightly-coloured balloon passes right over Ruby Tuesday. There is a burst of flame overhead as the balloonists try to gain more height. They disappear over the trees.
Night begins to fall. It is noticeable now that the days are becoming shorter. We watch the sun go down behind the Stockholm skyline in a blaze of red, yellow and orange.
“That is spectacular”, I say, finishing my wine. “It’s almost as if the city was on fire.”
“I reckon we get just as good sunsets in Scotland”, the First Mate replies. “But I agree. It was spectacular.”
We cast off the next morning and motor around to the entrance of the Hammarbyleden that will take us through to Lake Mälaren. The route was constructed in the 1920s by blasting through rock to join the Sältsjön, the main fairway into Stockholm, with the Årstasjön, a bay of Lake Mälaren. For a sailboat it is the only way through Stockholm into Lake Mälaren.
We have already phoned the bridge operator to tell him we are coming for the 1130 opening, but we are a few minutes late, and it is touch-and-go whether we will make it, even at near-full throttle. I call him on the VHF to tell him that we are in sight of it.
“How long do you think that you will be?”, he asks.
“About three minutes”, I respond.
“OK, I will keep it open for you, but if you are not here in three minutes, I will have to close it”, he says. “There ‘s already a large queue of traffic building up.”
I increase the throttle to its maximum, and we surge a full 0.1 knots ahead. We round the Viking Lines terminal, and there is the bridge, the Danviksbron, waiting open for us. I look at my watch. It is already four minutes. Half expecting the bridge to start lowering on top of us, we keep going, and we are through. The bridge immediately starts to close behind us.
We wave a cheery thanks in the direction of the bridge hoping that the cameras will pick us up. Most bridges do not have bridge operators on the bridge, but are operated remotely from a central location somewhere. The operators can see what is going on around the bridge through strategically placed video cameras. Not as personal, but it seems to work well.
We cruise slowly along the canal, following the red and green buoys. Soon we come to the Hammarbyslussen set of locks and have to wait for five minutes until they open. Another sailing boat is already waiting in front of us. Bells ring and the lights go green. We both motor into the lock.
The locks were built to maintain the level of the water in Lake Mälaren around a metre higher than that of the Baltic. The lake and the sea used to be level, but the land has risen due to isostatic rebound, the release of weight from the ice sheets, taking the lake with it.
The water level rises, the bells ring again, more lights go green, and we motor out of the lock.
We reach the penultimate bridge, the Liljeholmsbron.
“It looks like the boat in front of us is going to sail under it”, says the First Mate.
“He’ll have to be careful”, I say. “It’s not very high. He doesn’t look to be much lower than us. I thought we had to wait until it lifts.”
In fact, the bridge has a clearance of 15 m when it is closed. There is no way that we can get under it with our 18 m air draft, but the skipper of the other boat obviously knows what he is doing, and sails through safely.
“I really didn’t think that he was three metres less than us”, I say. “Perspective is deceiving from down here. But he must have been close.”
We circle a couple of loops in the waiting area to kill time. Ten minutes later, the bridge lifts and we sail through. The other boat has disappeared. We now have only one remaining bridge to go under, the Gröndalsbron, but with a height of 25 m, it poses no problem.
We are now in Late Malären proper. The wind is from the south, and there is enough of it, so we raise the sails, turn off the engine, and sail peacefully westwards. The sun is shining, the water is like a mirror, and the tree-covered islands seem greener than we have seen them before.
“This is my type of sailing”, says the First Mate, stretching out luxuriously on the sunny side of the cockpit. “Can you pass me my drink please, waiter?”
We reach Slagsta Marina in the late afternoon, and tie up to the outer pontoon as we have been instructed by Maria, the harbourmaster.
“It’s no problem for you to stay here while you make up your mind about winter storage”, she says. “Have a look around the marina and the surrounding area. Then let us know what you decide.”
We have identified three possibilities for winter storage of Ruby Tuesday, one of which is Slagsta. The other two, which we have seen already, are further south, in Oxëlosund and Nyköping. All three have pros and cons. Once we have a feel for Stagsta, we will decide.
“It’s very pretty here, but it looks a bit out in the sticks”, says the First Mate, looking around. “All I can see are trees and islands. Leaving and returning to the boat might be a problem.”
“Let’s explore tomorrow”, I say.
Overnight the weather changes. A high pressure zone has arrived over Norway, bringing a chill wind down from the north. There is a definite autumnal feel to the air. Our mooring spot is more exposed to the north than the south, and the long fetch across the lake brings a continual lapping of the waves against the hull. We turn the boat around so that she faces more into the wind, but it doesn’t make much difference.
“This constant lapping is driving me crazy”, says the First Mate. “It goes on the whole day and keeps me awake at night.”
“Me too”, I say. “Try wearing your earplugs. That’s what I do. It doesn’t stop it entirely, but it helps.”
The next morning, we unload the bikes, and explore the area. We find that we are close to a motorway, there is a Lidl nearby, another supermarket and a large Bauhaus DIY store a little bit further away, and a Biltema car accessories shop with lots of reasonably-priced boaty bits too. There is also a well-stocked chandlery in the next town. It seems ideal.
“It certainly isn’t out in the sticks like I thought at first”, says the First Mate. “I had no idea all this was here. I think we should leave her here over the winter. The other two places are quite a way back where we have come from.”
“Yes, what I like about it is that it is very close to Stockholm”, I say. “That should make it easy for travelling to and from home. And it is reasonably priced compared to some.”
“And we shouldn’t have any trouble getting bits and pieces for the boat and provisioning when the time comes”, says the First Mate. “They will also let us have power to the boat to keep the batteries charged and engine warm if we decide to do that. Some of the others wouldn’t.”
In the morning, we inform Maria.
“That’s great”, she says. “I’ll book you a lift-out date. You should also cover your boat to stop the snow lying on it. It can add quite a lot of weight to the supports and boats have been known to fall over if there is too much snow. A tarpaulin will allow the snow to slide off so that it doesn’t accumulate. It also should stop ice forming around the window seals and damaging them. You can buy good but reasonably-priced tarpaulins from Biltema. Go for the heaviest one you can get. And don’t forget to drain the water system completely and put glycol in the cooling system and toilet. You don’t want any burst pipes. It can get down to –20°C here. Some people also put pots of desiccant in their boats to dehumidify them and stop mould growing.”
Keeping a boat in Sweden over the winter is a whole new ballgame for us. I am glad that we didn’t decide to go any further north at this stage.
We spend the next couple of days buying bits and pieces to prepare her for winter – tarpaulins, oil and fuel filters, glycol for the cooling system, desiccant. As we are keeping the mast on this year, we need two tarpaulins draped over the boom and whisker pole to cover forward and aft.
“Now that we have our winter storage sorted out, why don’t we go for a cycle ride today?”, says the First Mate over breakfast the next morning. “I am curious to know what that island over there is like. We could take the bikes, catch the ferry across, and have a day exploring it.”
“Sounds good”, I say. “I’ll just check the tyres to see if they are pumped up enough. My rear one feels a bit flat.”
We cycle down to the ferry landing. There are two alternating ferries that run every 20 minutes or so, so we don’t have long to wait. Our ferry is called Vivi. Cyclists are instructed to board first, then the vehicles. There are quite a few of the latter, and Vivi is soon full. The remainder have to wait for Vivi’s counterpart, Pluto.
It takes around five minutes to reach the other side, the island of Ekerö.
“Apparently the main town is called Ekerö Centrum”, says the First Mate, consulting her map. “It’s about 4 km away. It’s not too far to cycle. I don’t think that there is much to see here.”
“OK, lead the way”, I say. “I’ll follow you.”
We follow the bike path at the side of the road through a forested area, then open fields, newly harvested. Eventually we reach the small town of Ekerö Centrum. In the small square surrounded by shops are several brightly coloured booths, each manned by the respective local candidates for the upcoming national elections on September 11.
We sit and have an ice-cream and watch the goings on.
“It seems as all the parties like to call themselves democrats, at least”, says the First Mate. “Look, there are the Social Democrats, the Sweden Democrats, and the Christian Democrats. I wonder how they tell the difference?”
“The Social Democrats are the ruling party”, I say, consulting Mr Google. “And the Sweden Democrats are pretty right-wing. But there are quite a lot of others too. The Moderates are sort of centre right, there are the Greens, the Centre Party, the Christian Democrats, the Liberals, and the Left Party. The Left Party used to be the Communist Party. There are also a lot of regional and local parties, and smaller parties like the Alternative for Sweden, which are far-right, a bit like the Alternative fur Deutschland party in Germany. They even have a Donald Duck Party.”
“I hope they have a better voting system than the First Past the Post system in the UK”, says the First Mate. “It must be almost impossible to gain an overall majority with all those parties.”
“It’s a proportional representation system”, I say. “Governments are usually formed from coalitions. So even small parties have a chance of running government offices depending on the coalition deals they make. It seems to work quite well.”
I read later that there is concern that the right-wing Sweden Democrats party is gaining in popularity, despite its origins in the neo-nazism of the 1980s. They have since rebranded themselves by expelling all neo-nazis from the party and banning any overtly racist views. The Swedes as a nation have for a long time prided themselves on being welcoming to people seeking asylum from repressive governments worldwide, and have one of the highest immigration rates in Europe. However, since the huge influx of asylum-seekers into the country in 2015, there has been growing unease that the traditional Swedish way of life is being eroded. The Sweden Democrats have tapped into this feeling and have exploited the correlation between immigration and crime rates, striking a chord with lots of voters. So much so that they have grown from being a relatively minor party and may become the second largest party following these elections.
“Wow”, says the First Mate. “It will be interesting to see what the results of the election will be. We’ll still be here when it happens. It will be a bit worrying if former neo-nazis gain any power. After the German experience everyone thought that it would never happen again, and yet here we are. And it seems to be happening throughout the world, not just here.”
We cycle back the way we came. As luck would have it, we reach the ferry landing just as one of the ferries is docking.
It’s Vivi. Am I just imagining that she has a smile on her face to see familiar faces again?
We board and Vivi sets off. As we arrive at the other side, I have a feeling of déjà vu.
“I am sure we have been here before”, I say.
“Of course we have”, says the First Mate, looking at me worriedly. “This is where we left from this morning. Are you losing it?”
“No, I mean that we have been here before today”, I say. “Perhaps it was on the cycle ride we did with Joanne and Peter in 2017?”
That evening, I go through the photos of that trip on my computer. Sure enough, there is one of us on the ferry approaching the landing with the high-rise apartment blocks of Fittja in the background. It’s the same ferry.
“Amazing”, says the First Mate. “I would never have recognised it. But now that you have mentioned it …”
“You get quite a different perspective arriving by land compared to by water”, I say. “That’s my excuse for not recognising it anyway! What’s yours?”