Köping with shopping, a foodless banquet, and stone gates to the archipelago

“There’s some sort of fishy smell”, I say in the morning. “I thought that it might be coming from the harbour, but it’s stronger inside. Did you buy some fish yesterday?”

“Yes, I’ve smelt it too”, says the First Mate. “And no, I haven’t bought fish for a while. Hopefully it will disappear before our visitors come.”

We are in Nyköping, where we have arranged to meet my sister Joanne, and my brother-in-law Peter, in a couple of days’ time, and who are sailing with us for a week. We have been sailing with them on several occasions in Greece and New Zealand before, so they are not strangers to it.

We spend the day before they arrive cleaning and tidying the boat. The fishy smell stubbornly refuses to disappear, nor is it obvious where it comes from.

“I give up”, says the First Mate. “Let’s have a break and go and explore the town.”

“Good idea”, I agree.

We cycle into town and find a little café to have lunch.

Lunch in Nyköping.

“It says that Nyköping is a small town of about 32,000 people, and translates roughly as Newmarket”, reads the First Mate in the tourist information leaflet. “Ny means New, and köping is an old Swedish word for market place. It’s pronounced ‘sher-ping’ and is also the origin of several place names in Britain – Chipping Norton, Chipping Barnet, Chipping Campden, and so on. They are all market towns.”

“Interesting”, I say. “I didn’t know that before. I wonder if the word ‘shopping’ came from it too? People would go shopping in markets in the old days.”

It’s a possibility. Wikipedia tells me that ‘shopping’ derives from the Old French word eschoppe, which in turn comes from an Old Germanic word skupp for a lean-to shelter. The modern Swedish word köpa (pronounced sher-pa) means ‘to buy’, so I would be surprised if there is not a connection somehow. I resolve to follow it up when I get time.

We reach the Market Square, where there are a number of market stalls. As you would expect.

Market in Nyköping market square.

In one corner stands a church and the other, the town hall.

Nyköping town hall.

“I wonder what that is over there?”, says the First Mate, pointing to a red-painted structure on a rocky promontory. “It looks like it is a church, but I don’t think it is.”

Nyköping clock tower.

As we walk up the narrow path to it, little windows on the side open automatically, and bells begin to toll. I look at my watch – it’s just on one o’clock.

“It’s got to be the clock tower”, I say.

We eventually come to the castle beside the river that runs through the town. Entry is free. We climb the tower to the first floor and lose ourselves for an hour or so in Swedish history.

Nyköping castle.

The castle was originally built as a fortress in the late 1100s, and became the most powerful in Sweden for some time. The story goes that in the 14th century, the then king Birger and his brothers, Eric and Valdemar, had been feuding for years. Then the king hatched a cunning plan. More cunning than a cunning thing. He invited his two brothers to Nyköping Castle for Christmas dinner, pretending that it was time for making up. But halfway through the dinner, Birger had his two brothers seized and thrown into the dungeons. He then threw the key into the moat. Of course, without food and water, the two brothers soon died, and their bodies were found several years later. The whole event became known as the ‘Nyköping banquet’. Amazingly, in the 19th century, a local lad was fishing in the moat and brought up an old key, which may well have been the key of the dungeons.

Key found in Nyköping castle moat. For the dungeons?

“Mean thing to do to your brothers, wasn’t it?”, says the First Mate.

The castle was destroyed in the Swedish-Danish wars, but was rebuilt by our old friend Gustav Vasa whom we had met first in Kalmar. His son Charles turned it into a Renaissance palace, and to offset the costs of all this, built a laboratory for his alchemists to work on producing gold. History doesn’t record whether this was successful or not.

Gustav Vasa.

“It says that the restoration of the castle started in the early 20th century”, reads the First Mate from the little guide brochure. “What we see now is only about 100 years old.”

We make our way back to the boat.

“I think I have located the fish smell”, says the First Mate in the morning. “One of the herring fillet jars under the floor has leaked. We will have to clean it up before they arrive.”

Joanne & Peter arrive at lunch time. They have just completed a cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats in Britain, and have flown from Inverness to Stockholm. From there, they have caught the train down to Nyköping.

It’s great to see them. The First Mate prepares lunch, and includes some prawn salad to disguise the fishy smell. As we eat, we hear all about their impressive achievement. They were part of a group of twelve, and completed it in 23 days.

Hearing about the great cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

“Trust us to choose the time that Britain has a heat-wave to do it”, says Joanne. “But actually, it wasn’t too bad. When you are cycling, there is always a bit of a breeze to keep you cool. And anyway, the hottest part seemed to be in London. Western England and Scotland were cooler.”

We decide to set sail after lunch without delay. One of the islands, Broken, was recommended by our advisor Martin as very nice, so we aim for there. It’s only seven miles from Nyköping, and it’s a nice easy sail to get everyone used to it again.

We motor out of Nyköping along the narrow buoyed channel in the middle of the shallow estuary lined by reeds and forest.

Following the buoyed channel out of Nyköping.

Eventually we reach the Baltic Sea and turn north-eastwards. Cormorants packed onto an island watch us warily as we pass.

Cormorant island.

“This is beautiful”, says Joanne. “There’s something about Sweden I really like. So green, lots of water, the smell of pine trees and fish.”

The First Mate looks at me. I try to make my laugh sound like a cough.

We reach Broken a couple of hours later and enter the small bay to the south of the island. The island is owned by a sailing club, but they welcome visiting yachts. There appears to be no sign of life. We spot a small pontoon poking out from behind a promontory and motor towards it. Further around we are surprised to see that there are heaps of boats tied up and lots of people. The harbourmaster comes out in a RIB to greet us.

“Welcome to Broken”, he says with a friendly smile. “It’s deep enough on either side of the pontoon for you to tie up. You can either moor stern-to or bow-to. We have electricity on the island, but no fresh water. Toilets are over there, sauna and showers are over the hill. The showers are seawater. And before you ask, Broken is just a name, and doesn’t mean anything!”

The last sentence is spoken with some degree of world-weariness.

“Welcome to Broken. Bliss.”

We choose stern-to mooring, as we are all practised in that from our sailing experiences in Greece. In any case, we haven’t really sorted out a stern anchor yet for tying up bow-to.

We anchor stern-to on Broken island.

We walk along the boardwalk to the facilities. Club members are playing a game to build the highest tower from wooden blocks.

“We hope you enjoy it here”, they say. “We’ve built everything ourselves. This is just practice.”

Tower building.

“Did you see that they have an incinerating toilet here?”, says the First Mate, returning from the washing block. “You do your business, press a button, it disappears, there is a faint burning smell, and that’s it. All very high tech for a small island.”

“They have mains electricity but no fresh water, so I suppose it makes sense”, I say. “Something like Leibig’s Law of the Minimum, I suppose. I guess you just have to make sure you don’t press the button accidentally as you sit down.”

The incinerating toilet.

We cook dinner and sit in the cockpit watching the sun go down.

Sunset over Broken island.

“You know”, says Peter. “I’ve been wondering why nobody does any research on population control to solve the world’s problems. We were in Kenya a few years ago, and we were talking to two conservationists. They were telling us that the population of Kenya has increased from 8 million in the 1960s to more than 50 million nowadays. So many of Kenya’s problems are related to overpopulation, so why don’t they try and do something about it?”

“Of course, population growth is a problem”, I say. “And people are working on it. But the subject of population control is fraught with political and moral problems, mainly because it was associated in the past with controlling specific sectors of a population, usually the poor, non-white sectors. It is now considered to be a bit amoral if rich white people come along and tell people in developing countries that they shouldn’t have too many children.”

“But you could say it’s also immoral to work on things such as health care, water supply and more food production to keep them alive”, says Peter. “It’s just building up problems for the future. More people, more hunger, greater environmental damage.”

Too many people?

“One has to think about why people have so many children in developing countries“, says the First Mate. “It’s only then you might be able to do something about it. One of the reasons is it’s a kind of insurance policy for their old age. The more children you have, the more you will be looked after when you get old and can’t work anymore. We are lucky to have a social security system and pensions in the West. It would be very risky not to have any children when you get old in Kenya.”

“Having small families is only a recent thing in the West as well”, I say. “Fifty to 100 years ago in Europe, they also had big families. Lots of people died young.”

“I read somewhere that the best way to reduce birth rates is to educate women”, says Joanne.

“And empower them”, says the First Mate.

“You could also argue that as every Western baby born will have ten times the environmental impact of an African baby, then they are the ones that should controlled”, I say. “Or that because it is spending the wealth they will accumulate in the lifetime that causes the environmental damage, then their wealth should be distributed more evenly. You can see that it is fraught with moral issues.”

“An interesting discussion you had tonight”, says Spencer to me after everyone else has gone to bed. “He does have a point, you know. Population growth is the big problem. You know, some of my close cousins eat their young if they are getting to stressed with no food. That helps to keep our numbers down when necessary. Perhaps you humans should try it!”

“A bit drastic”, I say. “Anyway, I read somewhere that at this stage not much will stop the human population trajectory from peaking at 10-12 billion then declining. If we had wanted to slow it, we should have done it years ago.”

Spencer airs his views on population growth.

The next few days are a dreamy meander through the island idyll of the Stockholm Archipelago. The days are sunny and warm, the winds are gentle and mainly from the south and west, perfect for our voyage north. We use the main fairway for the longer hops but leave it often to find delightfully remote and sometimes secluded anchorages for the night. Evenings are spent cooking and chatting about family, friends, and the problems of the world.

Cooking, eating, drinking, talking …

We stop off at Stendörran, where there is an archipelago museum. There is an SXK buoy there, but we find it occupied, so we anchor in a little bay opposite the entrance to the museum. We unload the dinghy, and again, I get the job of rowing everyone across in two stages.

Archipelago Museum at Stendörran.

We learn that the fairway that we are following was actually described in the Navigato Danica, a handbook for sailors commissioned by the Danish king Valdemar II back in 1231. The narrow channel between Aspnäset and the island of Krampö where the museum is situated was named Stendörran as it looks like stone gates guarding the entrance to the Stockholm archipelago from the Baltic Sea. I try to imagine the skill of the sailors then trying to navigate the twists and turns of the narrow pass through the stone gates without charts or GPS.

Other displays tell us that the Baltic is fragile, with few species and simple ecosystems, all under threat from the myriad of human activities around its shores. Its narrow inlets and their sills restrict water flushing in and out of it, so that it takes nearly 30 years for all its water to be replaced. The biggest problems are eutrophication from excess nutrients in water, the spread of chemicals from industry and agriculture, and overuse of its resources. All these are intensified by the impact of climate change.

Under threat.

“At least they are aware of it”, I say to the First Mate as we leave. “And are trying to do something about it.”

We eventually arrive in Nynäshamn and tie up alongside to the outer pier serving as a breakwater to the harbour marina. It’s not the best of berths as there is an occasional swell from the wash of passing ferries, but we decide to stay. We plug into shore power, fill the water tanks, and restock with provisions after several days of self-sufficiency in the islands.

Nynäshamn is not particularly inspiring in its own right, serving mainly as a port for ferries to Gotland and Poland. Occasional cruise ships call in if they are too big to enter Stockholm proper.

In the morning, we walk up past the red church perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the harbour and find ourselves in the main square.

Nynäshamn church.

“At least there is a Co-op”, says the First Mate. “You wait here while I just buy a few things.”

I stand in the shade of a tree and read the newspaper on my phone. It takes me a minute or two to realise that I am actually in some sort of queue waiting expectantly for something to open. Then I notice that it is the Systembolaget, the government-owned outlet for alcohol. It’s only 10 o’clock in the morning, and already the queue is substantial. I look at my watch and pretend that I have a bus to catch and walk briskly to the nearby bus-stop. No one seems to notice. The door of the Systembolaget opens on the dot of 10, and there is a surge forward. Living in Nynäshamn must create a desire for alcohol early in the day, I think.

Waiting for the alcohol shop to open.

In the afternoon, we have a visit from Lisa and Rainer. Lisa is the First Mate’s niece, Rainer is her husband. They live in Germany, but are travelling through Sweden on their holidays. They have just attended a heavy-metal music festival north of Stockholm and are on their way home. On the off-chance that we might be in the area, they had contacted the First Mate and had arranged a time and place to meet. Lisa is a doctor and currently working in a hospice, while Rainer is a forester, responsible for managing large areas of forest in Hessen.

First Mate, Rainer & Lisa.

“We’re in the process of building our own house”, they tell us. “We looked around for existing houses that had everything that we wanted, but couldn’t find one that fitted the bill. So we decided to design and build our own. But I have to say that it is quite stressful. We thought that the architects would know what should go into a house and where, but they don’t seem to. They keep asking us where we want the smallest details.”

“The Ukrainian War has made everything so expensive now”, says Rainer as we walk back to their car to say goodbye. “I really hope that the Ukrainians win. Russian imperialism can’t be allowed to triumph in this day and age. War over borders is the politics of the last century. Trade should link all countries together. Any differences should be sorted out around a table.”

The Merkel doctrine. War in Western countries was supposed to be obsolete, not least because of the cost involved – not only in terms of destruction but also loss of trade and subsequent trust. We are currently seeing the flaws in that particular doctrine. The optimist in me wants to agree with him, but the pessimist in me feels that human nature is such that there will always be wars over land and other scarce resources.

A visit from friends, industrial architecture, and a new society

“Did you see that they have put the Union Jack out this morning?”, says the First Mate over breakfast. “It’s there because of us. Apparently every morning they fly the national flags of the boats which have stayed overnight. It’s a nice touch. Look, there’s a Lithuanian one over there. At first I thought it was a Colombian one. They look quite similar.”

In fact, I had noticed the Union Jack flying from the row of flagpoles on the pontoons on my way to the shower block. Seeing it in this part of the world is a rare thing now that the United Kingdom has cut itself off from the rest of Europe.

A rare sight in this part of the world.

We are in Arkösund, a small village on the edge of the Swedish archipelago. There isn’t a lot to it – just a harbour area, a hotel, a sailing club, a supermarket, a restaurant, and several craft stalls. It is mainly a holiday resort, but with the school holidays nearly over, it is fairly quiet. It is also used as a crew change location by visiting yachts.

The impressive Sailing Club building overlooking Arkösund harbour.

After nearly a week anchoring in the remote islands of the archipelago and relying on the solar panels and occasional running of the engine to supply power, we are happy to be able to recharge our batteries and electronic devices, and refill our tanks with water.

On top of that we are meeting friends Steve and Mitzi there. We had met them on La Gomera in the Canaries two years previously, and had discovered a common interest in walking. Since then, we had kept in touch with each other, and when we heard that they were planning to holiday this year in Norway with their camper-van and we were to be in Sweden sailing, we both decided to meet up for a few days.

They arrive in the early evening. Over dinner, we plan our route. One of the places that Martin, our Swedish neighbour in Borgholm, had recommended that we must visit was Harstena, an island around 17 NM to the south of Arkösund. We had actually passed it on the way up, but had not had time to visit it.

The island of Harstena.

We set off the next morning. It is a warm sunny day and the wind is from the north, directly behind us, but there is precious little of it. We use the genoa only, and sail along at the majestic rate of 2 knots. It’s lucky we have all day to get there. But it gives us a chance over a leisurely lunch to catch up with each other since we last met.

“Yes, we are still eco-warriors”, says Steve in response to my question. “But we are not so involved in the Extinction Rebellion now as we were then.”

They had both been involved in transporting provisions to the Extinction Rebellion protesters demonstrating against climate change inaction back in 2000. In fact, they had even been accosted by the police at one stage for aiding and abetting civil disturbances.

“It was preposterous”, says Mitzi. “All we were doing was taking food to the protesters. Nothing illegal about that.”

“So am I right in assuming that Priti Patel is not one of your favourite politicians then?”, I ask.

There is a prolonged coughing bout as Steve tries to dislodge a piece of cumin cheese from his throat.

“I take it that was a ‘no’, then?”, I say, as Mitzi thumps him on the back.

In the interests of communal boat harmony, I make a mental note not to mention the name of the British Home Secretary again.

We arrive at the main harbour in Harstena. Unfortunately, all the berths at the quay are full. The map shows that it is possible to anchor in an area just opposite the quay, but our anchor won’t set because of weed. After several attempts we give up, and decide to try Flisfjärden inlet further up the coast. Apparently it is good anchoring there, and it about one kilometre’s walk back to the Harstena village.

Full up at Harstena harbour.

We motor up. Suddenly, there is a loud bang and Ruby Tuesday comes to an abrupt stop. Immediately I know that we have hit a rock with the keel. I reverse quickly back into deeper water to assess the situation. We check in the bilge. Nothing seems amiss – there is no water coming in and the keel bolts are intact. Hopefully it was a glancing blow. I check the chart – there is no rock marked, but we have just touched the edge of the blue area on the chart, the ‘risky zone’. Shaken, we motor into the inlet. I make a mental note to check underneath at the next opportunity.

The Flisfjärden inlet is busy, but there is space. We find a spot to anchor far enough away from the other boats so that we won’t touch them if we swing around. The First Mate drops the anchor, and I reverse to set it. It seems to hold well. I set the anchor alarm just to be sure.

In the evening, we sit in the cockpit and sip our glasses of wine. The conversation turns to world events. High on the list is the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s amazing how things can have unintended consequences”, says Steve. “Look at the EU sanctions on Russian oil and gas. The shortage globally has pushed up the prices, so that even though countries are buying less gas from Putin, his revenues are the same or even more so that he can go on funding his war machine.”

“Yes”, I say. “I kind of expected that the demand for renewable energies would increase and that share prices of those would also increase. But that hasn’t really happened. The huge profits made by the oil companies have meant that they are paying high dividends to investors, which has meant that money is flowing in that direction rather than towards green investments.”

“An example of how the market can actually work against what is best for society”, says Mitzi. “But surely in the long-term, the world needs more renewable energy, so that investments in that will pay off?”

“One would hope so”, says Steve. “But we need to reduce society’s demand for oil and gas before that will happen. What the war in Ukraine has done has been to reduce supply. It needs to be accompanied by change in people’s attitudes to using fossil fuels. It’s only then it won’t be worth investing in. Society really needs to change fundamentally.”

“But what do you see it changing to?”, I ask. “We humans have tried all sorts of systems – monarchies, communism, fascism, democracy, neo-liberalism, populism – they have all shown to be deficient in certain aspects. What’s left to try? What sort of society do we want?”

“Well, for a start, it has to be more equal and fairer, consume less energy and resources, and allow everyone to develop to their potential and have a voice”, he says. “But I have to admit that I don’t really know what sort of system will give that. I’ll leave it to the philosophers to work that out.”

Solving the world’s problems.

The next morning, we untie the rubber dinghy and row ashore. As the dinghy is small, we need to do it in two batches. Steve tries to work out the best way to do it if the fox and the chicken can’t be together, nor the chicken and the bag of corn. In the end, I promise to eat no one on the way over, and get the job of the farmer doing the rowing. We manage to get everyone to the shore intact with no bite marks.

Getting everyone ashore.

The path through the woods is delightful, the sunshine filtering through the foliage and creating dappled patterns on the undergrowth.

A pleasant forest walk.

We eventually reach the small village and the harbour where we attempted to find a berth the day before. There is a small shop selling ice creams and smoked fish, and further down overlooking the harbour, a restaurant. And a set of toilets for those in need. A sign points the way to a bakery some distance away. We start walking in that direction.

The restaurant and harbour area at Harstena.

Hej, var försiktig. Taket är ömtåligt”, shouts a man in the garden of one of the houses, as I step off the road to take a photo.

“So sorry”, I reply. “I don’t speak Swedish.”

“I said ‘be careful. The roof there is fragile’”, he says, in flawless English.

Without realising it, I am standing on the turfed roof of some sort of underground storeroom. I step off gingerly, trying not to fall through.

Mind where you step!

We continue on through the village. Every house is painted in the same shade of red.

Red, red and more red.

“I read somewhere that the reason all the houses in Sweden are red is that they discovered in the 18th century that waste material from iron ore was very good as a wood preserver and didn’t fade in the sun”, says Steve. “Apparently it also allows the wood to breathe and release moisture easily. The only problem is that as it is a form of iron oxide, it only comes in red. They call it Falu Red.”

We pass a small museum showing what it was like in one of the traditional houses.

Traditional fisherman’s cottage, Harstena.

Eventually we reach the bakery and decide to have coffee and cakes.

Enjoying cakes at Harstena bakery.

“Wow”, says the First Mate. “Those cakes were good. I don’t really feel like any lunch now.”

We amble back to the boat. On the way, we come to a couple staring intently at something on the path.

“It’s a copper snake”, says the man. “I think they might be poisonous.”

I try to take a photo, but the snake slithers off into the grass.

“If you use your imagination, you can see it”, says the First Mate.

‘Copper’ snake, if you look hard enough.

The next day, we sail back to Arkösund. Miraculously, the wind is from the southeast, and we make good speed on a broad reach.

“We’ve really enjoyed it”, say Steve and Mitzi, as we say our goodbyes. “And we would do it again. But we have decided that sailing in a boat of our own is not for us. We’ll stick with our camper van.”

“Maybe we will see you next year in Estonia?”, says the First Mate.

Steve and Mitzi on their way to Norway.

The next day we sail for Oxelösund. The wind is a south-easterly directly behind us to start with, and we sail with the genoa only, but we eventually turn north east, haul out the mainsail, and have a nice beam reach almost all the way into Oxelösund.

We are greeted by giant cranes, silos and cargo ships unloading.

Approaching Oxelösund.

“It doesn’t look very inviting”, says the First Mate. “It’s all a bit industrial. Look, there’s our marina just on the left.”

“This just the dock area”, I say optimistically. “Docks always look like that. I am sure that the actual town will be better.”

It’s not really. After lunch, we take the toy train into the city centre to explore. It drops us at a vast concreted square dominated by an ICA supermarket. An abstract stainless steel sculpture takes pride of place in the centre. Around it lounge a number of people looking as if they are in some other dimension. At their feet and on the wooden seats are a pile of beer cans.

Oxelösund city centre.

“Can you tell us where the city centre is?”, the First Mate asks a passer-by.

She looks at us pityingly.

“This is it”, she replies.

“Look over there”, I say. “I can see a church spire. Perhaps that is more the city centre? It is in other cities, at least.”

We walk through the carpark behind the supermarket to the church positioned on a rocky outcrop. Even the church looks starkly functional, its open tower rising to an apex where the bells hang.

Oxelösund church.

At least I won’t have to worry about parallax with this photo, I think. No-one will notice the difference. Even the doors are solid copper. But somehow the church seems to capture the essence of the place. Oxelösund is a no-frills, strictly functional industrial city, whose only purpose is to make things. Even the God it worships doesn’t care much for frivolous architecture of the soaring neo-Gothic sort that we saw in Västervik. But I find myself grudgingly admiring the stark elemental beauty of the place.

Doors to Oxelösund church.

“I think we had better get back”, says the First Mate. “The toy train will be leaving soon. We don’t want to miss it.”

The toy train that takes us to and from the marina.

In the afternoon, we decide to motor to a pretty little anchorage on the north side of Hasselö-Bergö island not far from Oxelösund. There are two Swedish Cruising Club (SXK) buoys there which we are entitled to use by virtue of our membership of the UK-based Cruising Association. We moor with the ‘Heik’s Hook’, which snares the buoy perfectly, and sit back for the afternoon to enjoy the sun.

Tied up to the SKX buoy.

“This is beautiful”, says the First Mate, reaching for her Sudoku book. “It’s so quiet and peaceful, and we have it all to ourselves.”

Just us and nature.

I think back to the discussion that I had with Steve. The need for society to change and how to achieve it reminds me of a book I read over the winter “Radical Transformation: Oligarchy, Collapse, and the Crisis of Civilisation” by Kevin MacKay. His main argument is that centralised power, what he calls the ‘oligarchy’, is the root problem of dysfunction and collapse. This rich elite use their wealth and power to manipulate democracies to protect their own interests, which are often against the interests of ordinary people, or, for that matter, the planet. Societies with too much centralised power and high inequality are therefore more prone to collapse. But how do we achieve a ‘democratic, eco-socialist’ state, a sane, humane, sustainable world, as he says is the desirable end-point? Is the whole current system rotten to the core, needing a revolution to reorganise it? Or are there bits of it that are good that should be preserved such as  universal healthcare, schools, and libraries, and other bits that are bad and need replacing with something better?

“I think you need a good revolution”, says Spencer from the bimini. “It’s always worked in the past. The French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution, they all shook up society and brought about big changes. It’s high time you had another one. Very cathartic.”

“Hey, be careful what you say”, I respond. “You might get arrested for inciting social unrest. In any case, MacKay thinks it is unlikely there will be a violent revolution in western society as the current power structures are accepted as legitimate by much of population. They may complain about elements of it, or gripe about specific politicians, but overall they accept the basic structure of the system as it is. Therefore, no-one will be prepared to risk their lives to revolt.”

“Obviously written before the attempted coup on January 6th in Washington”, Spencer counters. “People involved in that were rioting to bring about change for the better, as they saw it.”

“True”, I say. “MacKay does say that people will rebel when they feel that their moral norms are being eroded. But I don’t think he remotely thought that this would go as far as trying to overturn the results of a legitimate election. And in the US of all places.”

“Well, you may not be as far off a full-blooded revolution as you think, particularly if the former President is re-elected”, he says. “But rather than trying to achieve a more progressive society, it seems to be moving in the opposite direction to a more repressive one.”

“It’s a distinct possibility”, I agree. “And it seems to be what a lot of people want.”

“I think that it’s time for a coffee”, says the First Mate, looking up from her Sudoku. “I can see that you are lost in thought again. By the way, have you told everyone that your sister and brother-in-law are joining us next week? The blog might be delayed.”

“No, I haven’t yet”, I respond. “Thanks for reminding me.”

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.

A medieval university town, a king’s chair, and a British submarine

We leave Seedorf the next morning and motor out to the mouth of the river.

“I think that fisherman there is trying to tell us something”, says the First Mate as we reach the sea.

She points to a man standing up in his small rowing boat, waving his hands animatedly.

“He’s saying that we have just run over his nets”, translates the First Mate. “I won’t repeat the rest.”

I look back and see that we have just sailed between two flags. I had noticed one of them as we came out, and had steered clear of it, but had missed the other. Luckily the flags don’t seem to be following us, so our keel must have missed the net suspended below them.

“Just be more careful the next time”, shouts the fisherman.

“Perhaps you should be more careful next time not to place your nets right across a narrow entrance with a sandbank on one side”, I think to myself. Instead, I wave apologetically.

We pass the peculiar structure looking like a floating house that we had spotted on the way in.

Structure for degaussing ships during Cold War?

“I found out what it was”, says the First Mate. “One of the men in the harbour said it was used in GDR days for demagnetising ships so that they wouldn’t set mines off. It was abandoned after Wiedervereinigung. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it sounds possible.”

Another relic of the Cold War, I think.

We have a nice gentle sail across the Greifswalder Bodden with the wind on our starboard quarter.

Sailing across the Greifswalder Bodden.

We eventually reach Greifswald Wieck, a small town on the edge of the Greifswalder Bodden. A lifting bridge spans the river Ryck that leads to Greifswald city, our destination. The bridge opens every hour to let boats through, and as luck would have it we have only ten minutes to wait. But even that isn’t easy – there is no waiting pontoon, and there is a stiff breeze with not much room to manoeuvre, particularly as a large expensive-looking motor boat decides to wait parallel to us.

It is brand new Hanse, and it turns out is being tested by a prospective buyer. The Hanse factory is in Greifswald.

“Did it perform well?”, shouts the First Mate from the bow.

“Perfectly”, comes the answer, in an American accent. “It’s the boat of my dreams.

The bridge eventually opens, and we pass through.

We pass through the Greifswalder Wieck lifting bridge, followed by the new Hanse.

We wind our way up the river Ryck through fields of barley, until we come to Greifswald.

Making our way up the River Ryck.

As we tie up, we spot Astarte, the boat belonging to Axel and Claudia, fellow sailors whom we had met originally in Dover in our first year of sailing, and had met again last year in the Danish archipelago. While we were in Seedorf, they had popped in and we had agreed to catch up in Greifswald. In the evening, we have drinks and snacks on their boat.

We catch up with Axel and Claudia again.

The conversation turns to the war in Ukraine. We all agree that it is terrible.

“I do feel sorry for the Russian people though”, says Axel. “They have no idea of what is going on because of the propaganda that they are fed. Their government has cut off all news outlets except the official ones, and people are being arrested if they speak out against the war.”

“True”, I say. “But how do you know what is propaganda and what is not? Many of the Russians, especially the older ones, don’t see their news as propaganda, they just believe it is true. They trust Putin, and think that if he says that a war is necessary, then it must be. And look at what we saw in Prora – propaganda sold as a wholesome healthy lifestyle. In the same way, how do you tell that what we are told in the west isn’t also propaganda?”

“The difference is that we have lots of sources of information”, he responds. “Different newspapers, radio, TV, the internet. People can read or listen to all these different viewpoints and make up their own minds, not what they are told to believe.”

“But it isn’t really like that, is it?”, I say. “Not in practice at least. Everyone has their favourite newspaper or social media feed because it reinforces their own worldview and they don’t have time to read other different points of view as they get about their daily business. So we all just end up in our own little echo chambers reading and listening to the things and people that fit in with our way of thinking. It’s only people with lots of time on their hands like us retirees that have the luxury of reading lots of different viewpoints. And even then, how many do? Unscrupulous politicians know this and bend the truth slightly and people will believe them if it is reported in their favourite newspaper.”

“I can see your point”, says Axel. “But at least we have the option of getting our information from different sources. In Russia, they don’t have that option.”

The next day we take the bikes and explore Greifswald. The city is another of the Hanseatic League cities, but manages to combine its wealthy trading past seamlessly with academia – it is also home to one of the oldest universities in the world, established in 1456. Like some of its sister Hansa cities, it became part of Sweden in the 1600s and remained so until 1815, when it became part of Prussia. Then in 1871, it was incorporated into Germany.

Restored Hanseatic merchant houses. Rathaus on right.
University of Greifswald library.

In GDR times, the medieval buildings were neglected, although much new housing was built in typical ‘no-frills’ communist style. Since the 1990s, there has been a massive effort to restore the city to its former medieval glory.

City centre housing from GDR times.

It is also now the home of boat-builders Hanse Yachts, although the hulls apparently are built in Poland where environmental regulations are not so strict.

Nice shiny new Hanses waiting to go.

“I’m getting a bit hungry”, says the First Mate. “Let’s get something to eat. Look, this stall is selling pea-and-ham soup. I wouldn’t mind some of that. You can have a fisch-brötchen.”

Just as we are waiting, a stork drops from the sky and pushes her way to the front of the queue. As they do.

A stork pushes her way to the front of the queue ….

“Unbelievable”, says the First Mate. “I have never seen anything like that before.”

“Perhaps she has just delivered a baby, and wants a quick snack to restore her strength”, I say. “At least she could have waited in the queue like everyone else.”

“I think that she is a regular”, the First Mate replies. “Look, the stall keeper is coming out and giving her some food.”

Sure enough, the stork is given her fill of herring to eat, then flies away as quickly as she appeared.

… and is fed by the stall owner.

“I was talking to one of our neighbours today”, says the First Mate over dinner that evening. “She was born and bred in Greifswald. She is a paediatrician and was saying that in GDR times, she had lots of work as the culture was for everyone to have their kids early. Now, after reunification, they are adapting to western customs and are having their families later, so there is less demand for paediatricians.”

“She was also saying that her father was a scientist”, she continues, “and that because of his position, he was permitted by the GDR government to travel abroad to attend conferences and the like. Most people weren’t allowed to, of course. Then her sister met a Greek chap and wanted to marry him, but her father knew that this would mean the end of his travel, as he wouldn’t be trusted any more, what with a member of the family from the West. So they had a long family discussion about it that went through the whole night and well into the next day. The upshot of it was that the father decided to give up his privileges so that his daughter could marry the man that she loved and be happy.”

“Very poignant”, I say. “It’s hard to imagine how restrictive it must have been for ordinary people. Imagine not being able to travel to other countries and to see the world.”

“True”, says the First Mate. “But only if you like travelling. Even in the West, many people are quite happy just to stay in their own country for their whole lives. It wouldn’t bother them at all.”

We leave the next morning for Sassnitz on the east coast of Rügen. At first the wind is almost non-existent, and we drift along, the sails flapping uselessly.

“I think we’ll have to get a spinnaker”, says the First Mate. “Those other boats over there are making much better progress with theirs.”

“It’s on the wish list”, I say. “Perhaps we can get one this winter.”

“We need a spinnaker!”, says the First Mate.

As we round the point of Thiessower Haken, the wind changes around to the north-west and picks up considerably. We have an exhilarating sail close-hauled up the coast of Rügen, past all the places that we had visited on the land – Göhren, Baabe, Sellin, Binz, Prora.

“I should have kept my mouth shut”, says the First Mate. “There’s a bit too much wind now”.

“Well, if you take the average it’s just the right amount”, I say. “Nothing to complain about.”

Unfortunately the wind is coming directly from the Sassnitz direction, and we have to tack to get there. That slows us down. But we make it, and tie up in one of the box berths.

Tacking to make it into Sassnitz.

“You made three mistakes”, the next door neighbour tells the First Mate somewhat condescendingly after we finish mooring. “Firstly, you kept your fenders down as you came in, secondly, you should have got the windward side secured first, and thirdly, you focused too much on the bow, whereas it’s more important to get the stern sorted out first.”

“Pompous old git”, says the First Mate later. “Who does he think he is?”

“Not only that, he wasn’t entirely correct anyway”, I say. “It is true as a rule we should have lifted the fenders on the way in to stop them being squeezed by the poles, but it’s a wide berth and there was plenty of room. Secondly, the wind was directly from behind, so neither side was windward. And thirdly, we do need to get the stern sorted first, but that’s my job, so let me do that while you look after the bow.”

The Pompous Old Git leaves the next morning.

“I’m really glad he has gone”, says the First Mate. “I am not very good at giving people the cold shoulder when they are right next door.”

In the afternoon, we take the bus from Sassnitz up to Königsstühl, the King’s Chair, where there is a visitor’s centre for the Jasmund National Park. As we get off, another tourist bus draws up behind us.

“Quick”, says the First Mate. “Let’s get in before them, or else we will be all day before we get our tickets.”

We make it before the tourists, and spend an enjoyable couple of hours going through the exhibition on the national park.

We learn all about the geology of Rügen from the multimedia exhibition.

A local legend has it that God was making the earth and had nearly finished it when he had completed Bornholm. He had a bit of building material left over, but was too tired to carry on, so he threw the remainder as far as he could into the sea. It ended up against the Pomeranian coast to become the island of Rügen, but he thought it looked too untidy so took some of his plaster and smeared it over to make the chalk cliffs we see today.

A nice little legend. The geological explanation is that the limestone was laid down during the Cretacious Period, about 70 million years ago, by small creatures whose shells contained calcium, which metamorphosed into the chalk we see today. During the glacial periods, this chalk was covered in debris brought by the advance of the ice sheets.

Either way, when the ice retreated 10,000 years ago, beech forests advanced from the south until most of Europe, including Rügen, was covered. Then, of course, came humans, who cleared much of the forest to grow crops and develop settlements. The Jasmund National Park, along with several other national parks throughout Europe, is a small intact remnant of that once-extensive beech forest.

Ancient beech forest.

”That was really interesting”, says the First Mate as we emerge. “I enjoyed that. Now let’s go and see the Königsstühl. Here’s the path, look.”

We follow the path to a viewing platform where we can see the chalk cliffs. They are impressive.

View of the chalk cliffs from the Königstühl.

“One of the stories to explain why it is called Königstühl is that the Swedish king Charles XII sat here in 1715 to direct a battle out in the Baltic between his ships and the Danish fleet”, the guide book tells me. “However, as the first reference to Königstühl was way back in 1586, this can’t have been the case. It is more likely that it came from an ancient practice of aspiring rulers of the local tribe being required to race to climb the cliffs from the beach to sit on a chair at the top, with the one getting there first becoming the king.”

“You men”, says the First Mate. “Always trying to prove yourselves! Anyway, did you know that we are amongst the last to walk on this particular viewing platform? They are building a replacement that will be totally suspended. It is supposed to help stop the erosion of the cliffs.”

Model of the new viewing platform.

We wait in silence holding our breaths, listening to the muted throb of the German pocket battleship’s engines overhead. There is a crump as it fires its depth charges, and moments later the violent impact as the shock wave reaches us, shaking the submarine and knocking a few of us to our knees.

“Check any damage”, I order. “And make sure the crew maintain complete silence.”

“Aye aye, sir”, comes the reply.

The dull orange glow of the radar screen illuminates the tense faces of the men in the control room staring intently at their equipment.

“Water leaking into the torpedo room, sir”, comes back the report. “But it should hold. No serious damage.”

Torpedo room.

The sound of the battleship’s engines fade slowly into the distance. The danger has passed for now.

“Right”, I say. “Time for the hunted to become the hunter. Turn on the machine that goes ‘ping’, Number One”.

The machine that goes ‘ping’ goes ping.

“Arm torpedoes”, I order.

“Aye aye, sir”, comes the acknowledgement.

“Vent the tanks, Number One.”

We rise to just below the surface.

“Up periscope”.

I peer through the lens. About half a mile in front of us is the battlecruiser that had tried to depth-charge us.


“Fire One”, I shout. “Fire Two.”

In rapid succession the hiss of the two torpedoes leaving the submarine is heard, followed by the force of the recoil sending tremors through the boat.

Entschuldigen Sie, bitte”, says a voice behind me. “Kann ich vorbeikommen? Can I get past?”

A woman is trying to squeeze past me.

Ja, naturlich”, I say, moving to one side. “Es tut mir leid.”

For a fleeting moment, I wonder why I am speaking German to a woman in a British submarine torpedoing a German pocket battlecruiser. Then I remember where I am – in the British submarine HMS Otus tied up in Sassnitz harbour. Otus was a Royal Navy Oberon-class submarine launched in 1962 and decommissioned in the early 1990s. A German businessman bought her and converted her into a museum and opened her to the public.

HMS Otus.

“I am not sure that I could have coped on a submarine”, I tell the First Mate later. “Too claustrophobic. To think that there were 68 men on it. Many of them were just sleeping on bunks in the corridor. No privacy at all. Only the captain had his own cabin.”

“What does the machine that goes ‘ping’ actually do?”, she asks.

“I have no idea”, I say. “I just put that bit in to make it sound like a submarine. All the movies have it.”

The machine that goes ‘ping’?

A steam train, a Nazi holiday resort, and a Prussian hunting lodge

We leave Stralsund the next morning in time for the 0820 opening of the Rügenbrücke, the bridge joining the island of Rügen to the mainland. We are one of the first through once it lifts. The wind is from the west and we have a pleasant broad reach down into the Greifswalder Bodden.

Passing through the Rügenbrücke.

The First Mate’s phone pings. It’s a text from Bruderherz, her brother.

“You are going a bit slow”, it says. “That other boat has just passed you.”

He is watching us on MarineTraffic. Modern technology.

“It’s a bigger boat”, replies the First Mate. “And he’s got more sail area out than us.”

“Sounds like an excuse to me”, says Bruderherz.

We eventually arrive in Lauterbach. We tie up in the town harbour, and go and have a coffee.

Lauterbach harbour.

“You know”, says the First Mate. “I think we should move from the harbour around to the marina. There isn’t any wifi here and I want to download some movies. Their brochure says they have good wifi.”

We untie the lines and reverse out of the berth. There is a strong crosswind, and we somehow manage to catch the flagpole in one of the stern poles and break it. The second in less than a year. We clearly haven’t got the hang of box berths yet. At least not in cross winds.

“You just need more practice”, says the First Mate. “Preferably without the flagpole attached. Anyway, at least we will have wifi tonight.”

(Did you notice the ‘you’ when a mistake has been made?)

We motor around to the marina. The wind is stronger now and we struggle to stay straight for entering the berth. I have to abort twice before finally managing to get in without damaging anything.

“I definitely need a beer after that”, I say, wiping the sweat from my brow.

Silence. Only a keyboard being tapped furiously.

“I don’t seem to be able to get any wifi here either”, says the First Mate shortly. “What’s wrong with this place?”

“Yes, it isn’t very strong”, agrees the lady in the marina office. “Most people come and sit outside the office to use it.”

The ensuing storm clouds weren’t in the forecast. The lady looks a little perplexed as the First Mate gives her a lesson in truthful advertising.

We rig up an internet link through our phones instead.

“Well, I’ve booked them”, says the First Mate that evening. “We can travel on the buses and trains free for a month now. All for €9 each. Not bad, eh?”

She’s talking about the tickets you can buy for €9 a month which entitle you to free travel for that month on local buses and trains in Germany.

“There’s a little steam train for tourists that leaves from here and goes over to Göhren on the east coast of Rügen”, she continues. “I have checked and the €9 ticket is valid for it. It’s called Rasender Roland, or ‘Raging Roland’. Let’s go on it tomorrow. We can take the bikes and cycle back.”

In the morning, we cycle round to the little railway station at Lauterbach Mole. Sure enough, Rasender Roland arrives a few minutes later, puffing his way pompously to the buffers at the end of the line. I wonder where the raging bit comes from. A cloud of hot steam and coal smoke engulfs us.

“Mmmmm” I say. “I love that smell. It reminds me of when I was a kid.”

“Me too”, says the First Mate.

Rasender Roland arrives at Lauterbach Mole.

The narrow-gauge line started in 1895 and was originally part of a larger network over the whole island of Rügen. Gradually it has been reduced so that nowadays the only stretch that still runs is from Lauterbach to Göhren.

Our bikes are loaded into the guard’s van at the rear, and we find a seat in one of the carriages. The guard passes through the carriage taking a cursory glance at passenger smartphones and crumpled bits of paper.

“Well, that wasn’t very thorough”, I say. “He didn’t even look at mine. I could have had any old thing on my screen. I am surprised they don’t have to scan each ticket, even if it is only to know how many people are using the scheme.”

“I think they just assume that everyone has one of the €9 tickets”, says the First Mate. “Germans love a bargain, and it is almost unbelievable that anyone wouldn’t have it.”

We puff our way through the Rügen countryside full of fields of ripening barley, stopping at each small village with the clanking of brakes and hissing of steam. We start to climb through a heavily forested area, the sunlight blocked out by the dense canopy of trees.

Rasender Roland puffing his way through Rügen countriside.

Eventually we reach the eastern coast of Rügen and a series of bathing resorts one after the other. The end of the line is at Göhren, the southernmost of these.

“Let’s get some lunch here, have a look around, then we can start cycling back”, says the First Mate.

The pier at Göhren.

Replenished, we follow the cycle route signs. They take us to Baabe, then turn inland to the Selliner See. We arrive at Möritzdorf, a small village at the southern end of the See where its brackish water drains into the Greifswalder Boddin. Here we find a small rowing boat that is used to ferry people and bicycles from one side of the outlet to the other.

“Come on, hurry”, says the First Mate. “It’s just reaching our side at the moment. We can catch it.”

We wait until the arriving passengers disembark, then pass the bikes over to the ferryman and clamber on ourselves. A small dog remains in the boat.

“That’s Jackson”, says the ferryman. “He’s the boss. You need to do as he tells you.”

The First Mate sits down.

“Move over”, says Jackson gruffly. “That’s my side.”

The First Mate moves over. It occurs to me that she is never that obedient with me. Perhaps I need to bark more.

We reach the other side, clamber out, and unload the bikes.

Zwei personen”, says the ferryman. “Zwei euros, bitte.”

Jackson makes sure of his place.

We pedal our way along a small lane through rolling farmland to the top of a steep hill, then down again. At the bottom is a small village called Seedorf. We decide to stop for a drink of coffee and an ice-cream.

“This is a lovely little place”, says the First Mate. “So peaceful and quiet. Even a small harbour. Why don’t we bring Ruby Tuesday around here and chill out for a few days?”

“Sounds like a good idea”, I say.

Seedorf marina.

We continue on, passing through lush green woods, and delightful picturesque villages. Old ladies tend their gardens, old men their cows and sheep. It’s as if time has stood still.

Cycling through the forests of .Rügen.

“Look there’s a Trabant”, says the First Mate. “Do you remember that time we went to East Germany after the Wall came down? We were driving along a motorway and passed a Trabant that was struggling up a hill. I’ll never forget it – it had the mum and dad in the front, and two children in the back, all quite large people. The dad was hunched over the wheel urging it on as he was too tall to sit straight!”

“I remember it well”, I say.

A Trabant ready to go.

The Trabant was another of the cars built in GDR times a bit like the IFA we had seen in Stralsund. It too had a two-stroke engine ranging from 500 cc up to 1100 cc, and was front-wheel drive. The body was made from a plastic derived from cotton waste. It was first manufactured in 1957 and remained pretty much the same until it was discontinued in the 1990s. Reliability was not one of its selling points.

“We used to say that it was a spark-plug with a roof”, says the First Mate.

“Do you know why they had heated rear windows?”, I ask, not to be outdone. “To keep the hands warm of the people pushing it to start it in winter.”

The old ones are the best ones.

The forest gives way to a coastal track before we arrive back in Lauterbach. A yacht is passing through the gap between Rügen and the small island of Vilm.

“We’ll be passing through there on the way to Seedorf in a couple of days”, I say.

The island of Vilm.

The next morning, we catch Rasender Roland  again, and get off at Binz. From there, we cycle north to Prora, where there are the remains of a vast sprawling complex built in Nazi times around the concept of Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy), or KdF.

Kraft durch Freude poster.

Stretching 4.5 km along a beautiful sandy beach, and designed to cater for 20,000 people at a time, the complex was supposed to be part of the Nazi plan to prepare the workers’ mindset for war through judicious use of ideological indoctrination and unconditional belief in the Führer. As it turned out, WW2 interrupted its construction and it was never used for that purpose. But this didn’t stop KdF being highly influential in other areas of national life.

The Prora complex as it was in Nazi times.

We spend a fascinating couple of hours browsing the exhibition in the Dokumentations Zentrum on the history of the complex and of Nazi Germany in general.

The Documentation Centre at Prora.

“I didn’t realise that the Nazis believed the island Rügen to be the spiritual home of the Germans”, says the First Mate. “The Germania that Tacitus wrote about.”

“It was all part of their propaganda”, I say. “They were really into ‘blut und boden’, the idea of a people being inextricably tied to the land, so they had to create a myth that the German people as a whole had an original homeland where they worshipped gods and goddesses in sacred groves and practised pagan rituals.”

“It is interesting how the whole KdF thing was all packaged up as ‘wholesome’ things – health, fitness, relaxation, community, patriotism and so on”, says the First Mate. “Boys were supposed to be strong and forceful, girls to be caring German mothers. I find it amazing how much people were influenced by it. I wonder if it could happen these days?”

It is happening these days, I think. We are all influenced by the media, politicians, our families, our peers, one way or another. We are told that leaving the EU would lead to sunlit uplands, the Americans are told that the election was stolen from the Republicans, the Russians are told that a war is necessary to ‘denazify’ a neighbouring country wanting to attack them. And a large number of people in the respective countries believe these things, despite all the evidence to the contrary, even to the point of taking pride in ignorance of the truth. Is there any such thing as truth anyway? You make your choice of a particular way of looking at the world, and you pick and choose the evidence that supports that narrative and ignore anything that doesn’t. We all do it. Are we really living in ‘post-truth’ times or has it always been like that?

“You are daydreaming again”, says the First Mate. ”Come on, let’s have some lunch. There’s supposed to be a café here somewhere.”

Prora complex: Modern renovation on left, original state on right.

The next day we sail around to Seedorf, the picturesque little village we had cycled through earlier. It is very shallow, and there is a small sandbank at the entrance which we somehow manage to graze. In the evening, we have some drinks and listen to the prolific birdsong around the small harbour. A cuckoo calls.

“Did you know that Störtebeker was a famous pirate?”, says the First Mate, noticing my beer bottle. “It was one of the stories we had when we were growing up. He lived a way back in the 14th century and preyed on rich Hanseatic merchant ships, and became very rich. His name means ‘empty a mug of beer in one gulp’. Quite an impressive feat given that mugs were four litres in those days.”

Störtebeker beer.

“In the end, he was betrayed, captured, taken to Hamburg and beheaded. The story goes that he made a deal with the mayor of Hamburg that he should spare as many of his men as he could walk past after he was beheaded. Apparently he managed to walk headless past eleven of his men before falling over, but the mayor wasn’t impressed and beheaded them anyway.”

“That was quite an achievement of Störtebeker’s”, I say. “But a bit dishonourable on the part of the mayor. Well, I’ve finished my beer, but not in one gulp though. And not four litres either.”

“Don’t apply for a job as a pirate then”, says the First Mate.

In the morning, we sit in the cockpit and have our breakfast, listening to the cuckoo.

“I think I would like to see the Jagdschloss today”, I say. “Since we have been here, I have been intrigued by that tower up there poking out of the forest. Fancy coming?”

“You won’t be happy until you have been up to see it”, says the First Mate. “Why don’t you cycle up there this morning? I think I might take the bus up to Bergen in the centre of the island and do some browsing. You can tell me all about it tonight.”

It is a pleasant cycle ride around a brackish lagoon and barley fields until the last bit, a steep hill where the road is cobblestones and potholes. I push the bike up that last bit to protect the wheels. At least that’s what I tell myself. In reality it is my knees.

The Jagdschloss.

The Jagdschloss is an old hunting lodge built by the local Prince Wilhelm Malte I of Putbus back in the mid-1800s. By all accounts he was pretty well connected, and all sorts of the Prussian nobility attended hunts at the castle and the banquets afterwards. Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia and Otto von Bismark were amongst the guests.

In 1865, the Prince’s main palace at Putbus had been badly damaged by a fire, despite desperate attempts by the villagers to save it. While it was being rebuilt, he and his family moved into the hunting lodge, and lived there for 17 years. It must have been tough for them. The Palace itself was eventually blown up by the GDR regime who saw it is a relic of decadent Prussian imperialism.

In 1944, ownership of the hunting lodge was taken over by the Nazis for the Prince of Putbus’s alleged involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler. Nowadays it is still owned by the state, but is used as a museum.

Two hunting dogs guard the entrance. Inside, the walls are adorned with antlers and other trophies, and photographs of hunting. Although most of the original furnishings disappeared during GDR times, a restoration in 2014 gives a flavour of aristocratic life in those times. Prussian aristocracy certainly knew how to live.

Hunting trophies.
The Knights’ Hall.

The stairs to the tower are cantilevered, entirely supported by its walls. I was getting used to climbing towers by this stage, and after the 90 m tower of St Mary’s church in Stralsund, this one is a doddle. Once again, though, the view was superb, from Sassnitz in the north of Rügen right down to Usedom. Below me lie the forests of Granitz.

Stairs to the top of the tower.
View out over the forests of Granitz towards Sassnitz.

“Well, Bergen wasn’t that interesting”, says the First Mate that evening. “How was the Jagdschloss?”

I tell her.

“What a shame the GDR people destroyed the palace!”, she exclaims when I get to that bit. “Vandals.”

It chimes with the current debate about whether monuments from a previous era should be destroyed if they don’t match current ideology. The Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001 because they weren’t the right religion. Statues of people benefiting from the slave trade have been pulled down. This Putbus palace was blown up because it didn’t fit with communist ideology. But destruction doesn’t seem to be the answer. We somehow need to find a way of preserving works of art and culture without offending living people’s sensitivities.

“Have you noticed that the water here tastes a bit strange?”, I say the next morning. “My Earl Grey this morning was almost undrinkable. Sort of an acidic taste.”

“Oh, no”, says the First Mate. “I put some vinegar in the kettle last night to descale it and forgot to mention it to you. I am so sorry.”

“Cuck-oo, Cuck-oo”, says the cuckoo.

Antique cars, an orca interaction, and a ship with a story

“Wassa time?”, says the First Mate, emerging bleary-eyed from the cabin. “Issh still dark.”

We are in the process of leaving Warnemünde to press on with our journey eastwards. The next major port of call is the city of Stralsund, another of the medieval Hanseatic cities. It is more than 60 NM away – while the winds are favourable in the morning, they are due to change in the afternoon, so we have decided to leave while it is still dark to make the most of them.

“Four-thirty”, I say. “I’m just going through our leaving checklist now. Most things are done, I just have to check the engine, roll the sides of the canopy up, and set the tablet and chartplotter going, then we can leave.”

We slip the lines and edge away from the pier, taking care not to catch the piles. All is quiet, the town is quietly sleeping, and there are no other boats yet moving at that time of the morning. We reach the red and green buoys at the entrance to the harbour, and turn eastwards. There is some swell as the wind has been blowing from the west for several days now, but luckily we are going with it. The sun begins to rise.

Sunrise as we leave Warnemünde.

“It’s gorgeous”, says the First Mate. “But I am still tired. I think I will try and get some more sleep until breakfast.”

I am left alone with my thoughts.

I think over my last conversation with Spencer, that power is the basis for all politics, whether it be communism, fascism, liberal democracy, whatever. According to this, ideological differences are just facades to disguise the underlying driver of power. To preserve peace between nations, a balance of power is needed.

But while it is difficult to argue with, does it explain everything? I can’t help thinking there is something in Fukuyama’s idea that it is part of the human psyche, the thymos, that craves recognition and fame, of wanting to be remembered by history for ‘being someone’.

At the end of the Cold War, the new thinking in Russia was that NATO and Europe were not a threat, that NATO was a defensive alliance not wanting to attack it at the earliest opportunity, and that Europe and the West were more interested in economic prosperity than territorial expansion. And within Europe the belief grew that strengthening trade links with Russia would create an interdependence that would make war not worthwhile and would guarantee everlasting peace.

But only a short time later where are we now? A war within the boundaries of Europe, tens of thousands of people on both sides killed, whole cities razed to the ground, horrific atrocities against civilians committed, a return to the Cold War. There was no need for this war on the basis of power and ideology: Ukraine was not a threat to Russia, it was not governed by Nazis. Instead, it seems driven by one man’s self-professed need to be remembered by history as another Peter the Great, in recapturing lands that ‘belonged’ to Russia in the distant past, and uniting all Russian speakers into a single domain once more. A return to a thymotic mindset that many had thought that the human species had outgrown.

I check the chart. We are passing the promontory of Dasser Ort over to our starboard. In GDR times, Dasser Ort was a naval port for the People’s Navy and was a restricted area. Nowadays it is part of a protected national park, and is a port of refuge only, with entry difficult anyway due to silting up. Here we need to alter our course to the east.

Passing Dasser Ort.

The wind is now directly behind us, and we furl the mainsail and run with the poled-out genoa only. Even so, our speed hardly changes – with the wind at more than 20 knots, we make about 7 knots. But it is rolly and not very comfortable.

Running with the poled-out genoa only.

“I wonder what bodden means?”, says the First Mate. There are quite a few of them marked on the chart. Kubitzer Bodden, Schaproder Bodden, Barther Bodden, Bodstedter Bodden, Saaler Bodden, Greifswalder Bodden. It must mean something.”

Ich habe keine Arnung”, I say. “You are the German.”

The entrance to Stralsund is through a buoyed channel just deep enough for our keel. We reach the first buoy and turn south. The waves are now on our beam, and due to the shallowing, are quite large, almost breaking. We wallow uncomfortably, trying to maintain the line between each red buoy and not drift off into the shallows on each side. The chart shows only 30 cm depth in some places.

Our route from Warnemünde to Stralsund.

Eventually we reach the relative shelter of Kubitzer Bodden, and with the wind more variable from the surrounding land, we motor the last leg into Stralsund. With the help of some friendly hands, we tie up at the City Marina at the entrance to the harbour. The majestic buildings of the old city rise up behind, providing a stunning backdrop.

City Marina with the old part of Stralsund in the background.

“I feel like a Hanseatic captain returning from his voyages in the wilds of the Baltic”, I say. “It must have been an amazing feeling coming home to a city like this.”

The First Mate has been chatting to one of the neighbours who helped us to tie up.

“You won’t believe it”, she says. “But our neighbour is from Hamm. He knows all the places where I grew up. Like us, he retired a few years ago and bought a boat to explore the Baltic. His wife still works, but she is coming tomorrow. It seems there is a special offer on at the moment – the government is offering a ticket for €9 a month that gives free travel on all buses and trains. They are trying to get people to use public transport more to wean them off Russian oil. I think I’ll get some for us. Tickets that is, not Russian oil.”

The next morning we explore the city. Stralsund is another Hanseatic city, formerly trading herring, grain and beer, and is similar in many respects to the others we had already seen. During the Middle Ages, it was part of the Duchy of Pomerania, then in the 17th century, along with Wismar, it became part of Sweden, and remained so until 1807 when it was captured by Napoleon. Then, in 1815 it became part of Prussia. Since 2002, it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We start in the Alter Markt, surrounded by the brick Gothic Rathaus or Town Hall on one side, and beautifully restored merchants’ houses on the other.

The Alter Markt with the Rathaus behind.
Merchants’ houses in the Alter Markt, Stralsund.

“Oooh, look”, says the First Mate excitedly. “There’s a wedding, and they have one of those old East German cars. How cool is that?”

Wedding in Stralsund Alter Markt.

It’s an old IFA car, built in the early 1950s with a three-cylinder two-stroke engine and front-wheel drive which could free-wheel to save fuel consumption. Much of the body was made from plastic due to the shortage of steel at the time. The bride is in white.

“And look over here”, I say. “There is a Morgan Plus 4, made in Britain. It was my favourite car when I was young, and I always wanted one but could never afford it. I had to make do with a MGB instead. Stralsund certainly seems to be the city of antique cars.”

A Morgan Plus Four in Stralsund.

“Well, it’s only two so far”, says the First Mate. “So I am not sure how you come to that conclusion.”

We reach the Kneipertor, one of the ancient gates to the city. It was here that General Wallenstein tried to enter and capture the city in the Thirty Years’ War in the early 1600s, but was beaten back. Then in 1790, Napoleon had a go, and this time managed to break through and conquer the city.

The Kneipertor, Stralsund.

We follow the city wall around and eventually reach the Neue Markt and St Mary’s Church.

“Why don’t you climb to the top while I have a look around the market?”, says the First Mate. “See if you can see me when you get there.”

“Do you want to leave your rucksack here?”, says the lady at the ticket desk as I pay. “You don’t have to, but it’s 90 m high and there are 366 stairs, so it might make it a bit easier for you.”

What is it about these church ladies that makes them think I am past it?

I start climbing the stone steps of the tower. There is only a flimsy handrail, and I start to wonder what would happen if I slipped. Would I roll all the way down, bumping from step to step, or would I end up in an ignominious heap on one of the steps? Pushing such thoughts to the back of my mind, I continue on. The ticket lady was right – there are a lot of them.

Some of the 366 steps to the top of St Mary’s Church, Stralsund.

I arrive breathless at the top. I kid myself that it is because of the view out over the city and not the 366 steps.

View north from the top of St Mary’s church tower, Stralsund.
Stralsund bridge over to Rügen from St Mary’s church tower.

On the way out, I square my shoulders, flex my arms, and smile at the ticket lady, hoping that she takes my sweaty red face for the healthy radiant glow of youth. I don’t think she is convinced.

I re-join the First Mate.

“How was it?”, she asks.

“Terrifying”, I say.

We wander on and reach the Heilgeistkloster, the Holy Spirit Hospital.

“It says that this is the oldest public municipal hospital, where the sick, old, wounded, and itinerants could come for shelter”, says the First Mate, consulting the guide book. “It was first mentioned in 1256 AD. The church bit was built in the early 1400s, and this bit was extended in 1643.”

“Itinerants, eh?”, I say. “That’s us. We can come here if we don’t feel well.”

Inside the Heilgeistkloster, Stralsund.

We eventually arrive back at the harbour area.

The orcas circle confidently. The largest breaks off from the pack and propels herself towards the rudder of the yacht overhead. At the last moment, she opens her mouth and takes a bite, her sharp teeth breaking off the base, leaving a jagged edge. Her pupils flap their tails in excitement as she re-joins the pack. A nod from the teacher, and another repeats the exercise, then another, and another, until they have all had a go. The rudder hangs uselessly in the water, the broken pieces lying on the seabed below.

The teacher takes the lead once again, swimming strongly towards the yacht amidships. At the last moment, she swerves to one side, her weighty body catching the hull a glancing blow, diverting it from its course. As before, the young orcas wait for her to re-join them before they too follow suit. One, more daring than the rest, aims head-on for the keel instead, rocking the boat violently. Dazed from the contact with the lump of cast-iron, he swims erratically away, not daring to look at the frown of the teacher. He’ll have a headache in the morning.

The lesson ends. The teacher signals to each of her charges that it’s time to go. She swims one last time to the back of the yacht and holds herself out of the water with her tail, her cold dark eyes locking with those of the terrified humans looking directly at her.

“We’ll be back”, she says. “They have so much to learn.”

I suddenly wake up. We are in the Ozeaneum, the huge ocean museum near the harbour not far from where we are tied up. In the last room of the tour, we are invited to recline on body-curving ‘sea-beds’ and look up to the ceiling where life-size models of the giants of the deep, blue whales and orcas, are suspended. The comfort, warmth, darkness and soothing audio-visual music had conspired to make me doze off momentarily and daydream of the many recent reports of orcas ‘interacting’ with yachts in the Bay of Biscay. Theories to explain this behaviour include playing, learning to hunt, or stress from shipping noise, but so far no one really knows.

An orca hangs menacingly in the Giants of the Ocean exhibition.

We had enjoyably spent the previous two hours following the orange trail around the exhibits learning about the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, and the world’s oceans in general. Realistic models of horseshoe crabs, puffins, penguins, and white-tailed eagles line the trail. Floor-to-ceiling aquaria display a plethora of fish of all sorts.

A white-tailed sea eagle with goose for dinner.
Aquarium in Ozeaneum, Stralsund.

In one, I spot a sturgeon, and decide to call it Nicola. It doesn’t seem very happy with that.


In another a cod and a turbot play hide-and-seek with one another. The cod isn’t very good at it.

Cod and turbot.

In a third, jellyfish float with a ghostly glow.


Outside again, we decide to have a fisch brötchen, a popular snack food throughout Germany, but particularly in this Baltic coast area. Both of us have become quite partial to them in the last few weeks. I order a matjes brötchen, a bread roll filled with herring fillet, raw onion slices, and a lettuce leaf, all topped with remoulade. The First Mate has a backfisch brötchen, a white fish of some kind deep-fried in batter and also wedged into a bread roll with the same toppings. I feel like a real German now.

Matjes fisch-brötchen.

“You know, the Ozeaneum was supposedly built to complement its historical surroundings”, says the First Mate. “But I think it must be the most obtrusive piece of architecture imaginable.”

The Ozeaneum museum trying to blend in with other Hanseatic buildings on the waterfront.
(Clue: it’s the white one).

“I agree”, I say in between bites. “But it’s very good inside. I found out all about boddens”.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full”, says the First Mate. “I must have missed that. What are they then?”

“Well, they are bodies of water that formed from depressions in the landscape caused by meltwater from the glaciers”, I say, trying to remember what I had read. “When the ice retreated, these depressions filled with both freshwater from the land and salt water from narrow inlets from the sea. Over time, sediment was deposited, so that they became very shallow with flat sandy sea beds. Most of them are no deeper than 5-6 m, usually less. Their coastlines are sandy and are still subject to erosion, and because their ecosystems are very distinctive, many of them are protected. Apparently they only exist in this area of the Baltic Sea east from Warnemünde and around Rügen. So now we know.”

“Well, there you go”, says the First Mate. “You learn something new every day.”

We finish our brötchen and wander along the quay until we come to an impressive looking sailing ship called the Gorch Fock.

The Gorch Fock training ship.

“Gorch Fock was a famous German writer”, says the First Mate. “His real name was Johann Kirnau, but he used Gorch Fock as a pen name. It must be named after him.”

She is right. The ship was built in 1933 as a training ship for the German Navy, but at the end of WW2 it was scuttled to prevent it falling into the hands of the Soviets, but they raised it anyway and took it as part of war reparations, where it eventually ended up with the Ukrainian Navy. In 2003, it was returned to Germany.

“It’s quite a story”, I say. “It’s sad to think that Russia and Ukraine were former allies, but that the larger has now invaded the latter and tens of thousands of people have been killed just because of Peter the Great pretensions. If the Gorch Fock could speak, I wonder what she would say?”

A leaky boat, a troubled painter, and a medieval clock

We leave Timmendorf at 0800. The wind is from the south-west, but it is only a few knots, and we move slowly. We follow the buoyed channel through the shallows to the north of Poel Island, and eventually emerge into deeper water.

Leaving Timmendorf.

The wind is now directly behind us, so we ‘goose-wing’ with the genoa poled out to one side and the mainsail rigged with a preventer to guard against an accidental gybe. We round the Trollegrund Spit, and with the wind now more on our starboard, we have a nice broad reach sail along the coast.

“This is my type of sailing”, says the First Mate, going down to make tea. “At least we don’t have to worry about things flying around everywhere.”

Goose-winging our way to Warnemünde.

My mind turns to the book I am reading at the moment, Can Democracy Work? A Short History of a Radical Idea from Ancient Athens to Our World, by James Miller. In it he describes the development of democracy, from its first airing in ancient Athens, then much later the French Revolution espousing freedom and equality, the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution, through to modern liberal democracy. For a long stretch of history, democracy was thought to be an inferior form of government, and a monarch and aristocratic hierarchy much better with every one knowing their place.

“All very interesting”, says Spencer, from the coaming behind me. “But the big drawback with democracy is that most people don’t have time to practice it directly – they are far too busy making a living, raising a family, developing careers, saving for their retirement, and so on. Therefore, they elect representatives to do their democracy for them.”

Arachnid pontifications.

“Well, well, well”, I say. “Nice to see you. How was the winter?”

“Great”, he responds. “It was nice and warm in the anchor locker, but I thought I needed to get out and stretch my legs now.”

He stretches each one in turn. It takes quite a while.

“Anyway, as I was saying”, he continues, “The danger is that these representatives become a new elite – they do what they want for the duration of their terms, make lots of money from themselves and their friends, control the media to influence the way people think about them, and get themselves re-elected. And so it goes on. Over time, these representatives get richer and more powerful, make laws for the small people but not themselves, and before you know it you have a new elite. Then the small people may get fed up and decide to have a revolution to make people more equal, and the whole cycle starts again. Democracy is an inherently unstable system that contains the seeds of its own destruction.”

“That all sounds a bit nihilistic”, I say. “Here was me thinking that the human race progresses, rather than going round and round in circles. I remember reading a book called The End of History and the Last Man, by Francis Fukuyama, in which he argues that modern liberal democracies are the pinnacle of human political organisation.”

“Complete cobblers!”, says Spencer. “I’ve read it too. He comes up with this idea that the human psyche is composed of three parts – basic animal desires for food and shelter, intellectual reason, and the desire to be recognised as a human being of some worth. He then manages to deduce somehow that only liberal democracies provide satisfaction of all three desires, particularly the third one. Once a society gets to be a liberal democracy, there is no driving force left for it to develop any further politically as all its citizens are free to develop to their potential and be someone of worth.”

“It sounds like there could be something in it”, I say.

“No, it is all about power”, he responds. “Trying to gain it, then trying to keep it. Nothing else explains the flow of human history. The political systems that you come up with are just expendible structures that you build for certain elements of your societies to maintain power. Look at what is happening in America at the moment with the storming of Capitol Hill, preventing peaceful transition of power, voter suppression, gerrymandering and so on. And the UK is not much better, with its prorogation of Parliament, Downing Street parties and the like. The elite don’t give a hoot about democracy as such, it’s all about maintaining their power.”

We are approaching Warnemünde, and I need to concentrate. We break off the conversation. The First Mate appears.

“Look at that weird ship”, she shouts, as we approach the entrance to the harbour. “It looks like it has a huge funnel on it. I wonder what that is for?”

A Hybrid Ferry crosses in front of us.

“Ah, I was reading about that last night in those brochures you got”, I say. “It’s a rotor sail. It works by rotating and creating lower pressure on the front side of it and higher pressure on the stern side, a bit like a sail. The difference in pressure helps to pull the ship along and reduce fuel consumption. It’s made by a company called NorsePower and has been fitted to some of the ferries between Germany and Denmark.”

“That’s very clever”, says the First Mate. “I wonder why more ships don’t have it?”

“It’s a help”, I say. “But the problem is that it really only works when the wind is blowing at right angles to the direction of travel. It works well here in the Baltic as many ferry journeys are north-south and the predominant wind direction is west-east. They claim it reduces fuel consumption by between 5 and 20%.”

“That’s worth having”, says the First Mate. “But why don’t they just put giant sails on the ferries and be done with it? They could have them computer-controlled to adjust them to the right angle.”

It’s a good question.

We furl our own sails and motor the last little bit into Warnemünde. We have decided to stay in the Alter Strom, the old harbour near the town centre, if there is space, rather than in the brand new spanking marina on the eastern bank. There is something attractive about being near a city centre and being able to watch life going by rather than in a parking lot for boats that most marinas seem to be. The only thing is that we have to tie up against piles where fenders don’t work properly, so we need to use our boards.

Tied up to the piles with our mooring boards.

As we arrive, out of the corner of my eye I spot a British flag on one of the boats already tied up. Later, we are invited for a cup of tea with the owners, Jim and Marjorie. It turns out they are also from Scotland, from Inverness, not all that far from us.

Jim & Marjorie and their boat.

“We saw your Scottish flag, and wondered if you were from there”, says Marjorie. “You don’t see many boats from the UK these days, let alone from Scotland.”

When they retired, they bought an old wooden motor boat, did her up, and now they are exploring the waterways of Europe. They have a relatively shallow draft, so are able to tackle most of the rivers and canals. They had overwintered their boat on Fehmarn, and were heading into the canal system at Rostock.

“The problem we have at the moment is that she dried out over the winter”, says Jim. “She was in a shed, but was near the corrugated iron wall, and when the sun shone, it would heat the air inside quite a bit. The wood has contracted, and even though we have been back in the water for about a month now, it still hasn’t expanded back again completely and is still leaking a lot.”

“And that’s not all”, says Marjorie. “The bilge pump is playing up too. The float switch gets stuck and sometimes won’t turn either on or off again. But if we give it a tap with a stick, it seems to free it up. In fact, if you will excuse me, it’s time to tap it again. I’ll be back in a minute.”

She disappears down below. We hear some tapping, and a pump motor starts somewhere. I look around for the lifejackets, and drink my tea a bit faster.

“Don’t worry”, says Jim. “She’ll be OK in a couple of weeks once the wood has expanded again. The boat, that is.”

I am not sure I want to stretch my tea out that long, but I have to say that I admire their sang froid. To be travelling around Europe in a leaky boat with a dodgy bilge pump is not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak.

As we leave, I notice a steady stream of water coming out of one of the outlets on the side of the boat. The pump is doing its job at the moment, I think.

In the morning, we explore Warnemünde. The town was originally a fishing village, but developed as the seaside resort town of Rostock in the 19th century, and nowadays is an important harbour for the cruise industry. Expensive shops and restaurants line the other side of the Alter Strom from where we are tied up, while floating fast-food cafes offer quick snacks of fischbrötchen, fisch and schipps, and filled rolls. A paddle steamer splashes past.

Shops on Alter Strom.
Floating restaurants.
Paddle steamer.

We eventually arrive at the lighthouse. Built in 1897, it is still in use, and for €2 even allows tourists to climb the narrow stone stairs 37 m to the platform near the top. The view from the top over the Baltic Sea to the north and the town to the south is superb.

View of the entrance to Warnemünde harbour from the lighthouse.

At its base is the so-called Teepott restaurant, rebuilt from an earlier building destroyed by fire in the 1960s in GDR days.

The Teepott restaurant.

“Why do you think they called it the Teepott?”, I ask. “It doesn’t look much like a teapot. I can’t see either a spout or a handle.”

“There is a passing resemblance to one of those tea cosies that you use to keep the teapot warm”, says the First Mate. “Perhaps that’s the reason. The curved roof is supposed to be a good example of East German architecture, by the way.”

West of the lighthouse and the Teepott stretches the long sandy beach and its ubiquitous strandkörbe that makes the town attractive as a resort.

View from the top of the lighthouse.

In another street, we come across the Edvard Munch house, a former fisherman’s cottage. Seeking peace and quiet, the Norwegian painter of The Scream had come to Warnemünde in 1907 to escape his demons, and had painted and sketched many scenes in the area. However, despite being well-liked by the inhabitants, he abruptly left without reason only 18 months later, never to return.

The house in Warnemünde where Edvard Munch lived for 18 months.

“We have to go and see Rostock while we are here”, says the First Mate over breakfast the next morning. “Apparently you can get the train down there for a day. It’s only about five minutes’ walk to the station from here.”

We catch the S-Bahn to Holbein Platz on the outskirts of Rostok and change to the Straßenbahn to reach the city centre. We get off at the Kröpeliner Tor, the westernmost gate of the old centre.

The Straßenbahn takes us to the city centre.

From there, we wander along the old city walls, passing the Kloster St Katharinen, a former Franciscan monastery. Now it is the Academy of Music and Theatre in Rostock.

Kloster St Katharine.

“It’s certainly very peaceful in here”, says the First Mate as we wait for a group of school pupils to take photos of each other against the buildings. “I think I wouldn’t have minded being a monk in those days.”

We eventually reach the Universitätsplatz in front of the imposing University main buildings.

Main University building, Rostock.

“Very impressive”, says the First Mate.

“What on earth do you think is going on here?”, I ask further on. “I am not sure my delicate constitution can cope with this.”

We are standing in front of a series of nude sculptures clustered around a fountain in the centre of the square.

Brunnen der Lebensfreude, Rostock.

“It says it is called Brunnen der Lebensfreude”, says the First Mate. “The Fountain of the Zest for Life. But apparently the locals call it Pornobrunnen. I am not sure why.”

“I think I can guess”, I say, as I try and work out which limb belongs to whom in a writhing couple. The two dogs expressing their love for each other ignore me.

We wander down Kröpelinerstrasse until we come to the Neuer Marktplatz in front of the Rathaus, the Town Hall. In the centre is the Möwenbrunnen, a sculpture of a seagull surrounded by Poseidon, Triton, Nereus, and Proteus, four Greek gods of the sea. A market is in progress, so we have a little browse.

The Rathaus in Neuer Marktplatz, with the Möwenbrunnen in front.

On the other side of the square are picturesque houses of wealthy Hanseatic merchants.

Hanseatic merchants’ houses in Neuer Marktplatz, Rostock.

Just off the Neuer Marktplatz is the Marienkirche, a massive structure in North German Gothic brick style.

The Marienkirche from Neuer Marktplatz.

“We’d better go and see this one”, says the First Mate. “There is supposed to be an astronomical clock in it. Apparently it still works. You’ll probably want to see that.”

“Did you know that senior citizens can have a 30% reduction?”, says the lady at the ticket desk.

I don’t know whether to be pleased to have the reduction, or to be annoyed at being identified as a senior citizen. I decide on the former. The latter is reality I suppose.

We find the astronomical clock at the rear of the church. Apparently it still has all its original clockwork and has not stopped working since it was built in 1472, being wound every day and greased regularly down through the ages.

The astronomical clock in Marienkirche, Rostock.

It’s a thing of beauty. I stand for a time in front of it, taking in its intricacies and the peculiar mix of religion and science in its construction. Not only does it give the time, but also the phases of the moon and the solar year. Apparently at noon each day the twelve apostles rotate around to obtain God’s blessing in turn – I glance at my watch, but unfortunately we have missed that.

It is fascinating to think that it was built around the beginning of the modern scientific revolution, just as people were starting to realise that the world wasn’t just a series of random occurrences caused by the whim of some capricious god or gods, but instead ran according to well-defined rules that could be used to predict the future. The dawn of the modern mind.

Detail of the astronomical clock.

“It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?”, says the lady at the ticket desk on the way out. “When it was built, Christopher Columbus hadn’t even discovered America. Where are you from?”

We tell her.

“Ah, my brother is over in Scotland at the moment”, she says. “He’s sailing as well. He’s trying to retrace some of the voyages of St Brendan the Navigator on the west coast of Scotland. Sort of a pilgrimage. Just last week he was on Eileach nan Naoimh.”

“The Island of the Saint”, I say. “Where Brendan set up a monastery. Reputed to be the mysterious Hinba, where Columba came from his monastery on Iona to contemplate. We’ve been there too.”

We had anchored in the small bay of Eileach nan Naoimh, the southernmost of the Garvellachs in the Inner Hebrides, a few years ago when we had been exploring the west coast. Although we had not gone ashore, we could see the small beehive huts and the other monastic buildings that the monks had constructed on the lonely, windswept island.

Monastic buildings on Eileach nan Naoimh, Inner Hebrides.

We chat for a few minutes on St Brendan, sailing, and how we come to be in Rostock.

“Amazing”, says the First Mate, as we leave. “Fancy coming across a connection with an island in Scotland while in a medieval church in Germany.”

That evening, we huddle inside Ruby Tuesday as a thunderstorm rages around us.

“Wow, that one was close”, says the First Mate. “It must have been just overhead. I just hope that we are not the tallest mast here.”

Sheltering from the thunderstorm.