For the sailor, it’s a fabulous cruising ground that can be visited again and again. It forms the central section of a larger archipelago of over 100,000 islands – the world’s largest. It makes a pleasant change from the extreme heat of the Med or the Caribbean with summer temperatures only reaching the mid-to-high 20s Celsius and the weather is temperate. As for winds, during the summertime cruising system they are pretty much light but consistent, and although there’s a 25 per cent chance of winds reaching Force 5 the water stays invitingly flat and you’re never far from a lee. Tides are all but non-existent due to the Baltic’s narrow entrance. What flow there is runs outward and is brackish, due to meltwater run-off further north. At greater depths, salt water flows in from the North Sea.
The most popular section of this fabulous cruising ground contains 30,000 islands, islets, wherries and rocks – from Grisslehamn in the north to Landsort in the south – each with its own character. Rugged nature blends with wooded islands, rocky cliffs and sandy beaches. You can explore uninhabited islets as well as islands with new communities and ancient villages, where large houses and small cottages stand side by side.
One of Sweden’s literary heroes, August Strindberg, himself a regular visitor, described the archipelago thus: ‘These islands, holms, skerries lying so softly on the water it was impossible to say whether they were part of the earth or part of the heavens.’
Amen to that. But my takeaway is that this place if full of gorgeous gasthamns (guest harbors or marinas) and naturhamns (anchorages). You’re never more than a few hours sail away from another gorgeous, unspoiled spot, and you can go as wild or as domesticated as you need. If your wife and children really need wi-fi, showers and laundry wherever they go, you can have that, hopping from gasthamn to gasthamn. But if you want to get away from it all, swinging on the hook, cooking on the boat and enjoying the most basic of facilities, you can do that too. Everywhere you go you’ll find friendly, helpul Swedes (and plenty of Finns, too), who speak good English and love to socialize. You’ll also find constant connectivity and good cellular coverage wherever you are.
But enough of that stuff, what about the practicalities? Here’s what you’ll need:
A BOAT. Obvious, I know, but I had the benefit of buying a boat already in place. But there are plenty of Swedish charter companies accessible through a Google search. Nautilus Yachting and SailMarine were names that cropped up again and again.
CHARTS: The best charts are “Båtsportkort”, you buy them in booklets covering different regions of Sweden. There are three for the archipelago alone, Stockholm (north, south and central). They are not cheap (about $60 each) but they are absolutely essential. You also MUST have Navionics charts for the area, because there is plenty of low water through which you’ll need to navigate. And the finally, you MUST have Lars Hassler’s guidebook Arholma to Landsort. The English language version is out of print and I found it impossible to find after numerous searches. But the Swedish version is also super helpful in all the key details of photos, gastplats (guest slips) and how to moor. There are also numerous other guides to be found at Swedish chandleries, of which more below:
In Stockholm there are a couple of good stores called Erlandsons Brygga (www.erlandsonsbrygga.se), they both have physical stores and online ordering. You’ll also find several smaller chandleries called “Sea Sea” around the archipelago (www.seasea.se)
Almost every marina will have wi-fi, but your best bet is to take an unlocked cellphone with you and use a local SIM card from a provider like Comviq for super cheap calling and data. For about 200 kroner ($25) I got ten GB of data which was enough to publish my weekly newspaper for over a month. The service was always reliable and almost always fast. And if you do run out of data or calling time, you can simply top up by visiting one of the ubiquitous Pressbyrån or 7-11 stores.
CREDIT CARD WITH CHIP AND PIN:
Getting one of these can be a bit problematic. American banks love to tout their ‘chip and signature’ cards’ but they are a bit behind the times in this regard. Some easy research allowed me to find a true chip and pin card via Barclays, but in most supermarkets and restaurants I also had to show my ID. The only exception was when fueling up my car, when I was able to enter the chip and away I went. If you don’t have a chip and pin card you’ll be find whenever you make a transaction involving a human, but for automated interactions with machines, you’ll need a proper pin card.
Sweden may be a traditional society, but they are on the cutting edge of mobile technology, which means means they offer a myriad of apps to make your life easier. You can book your bus or train ticket from the airport via an app (flyggbus or the Arlanda Express, respectively), and getting around Stockholm and its nearby islands is easy to, via the superb SL app. Simply enter where you want to go, and it will give you options based on your location, fare prices and time. You choose your ticket, pay for it using your credit card and you are away. You insert your card details just once and it automatically charges you and delivers the ticket to your smartphone screen. This makes getting around a cinch.
Sweden has a reputation for being expensive but apart from alcohol, fuel and eating out, we found it very similar to California. The popular ICA and COOP stores are great for grocery shopping and once you’re on the boat, the views are free. The marinas seem to be pegged at around $40/night or less, no matter where you are. For the compact and super convenient Wasahamnen in central Stockholm, for instance, the price is 350kr – an absolute bargain at $40.
For please and thank you, Swedes love to use the word ‘Tak’. It means thank you but they tend to use it both ends of the transaction.
For hello, it’s hey or hey hey, and for goodbye, it’s heydoor. Try to learn some word before you go, just out of politeness, but expect almost all Swedes to speak excellent English. You should also familiar yourself with the following boating terms:
Gasthamn – guest harbor or marina
Naturhamn – nature harbor or anchorage
Bastu – sauna, of which you can expect to see many, mainly in the gasthamns.
The archipelago foundation has sites in English and Swedish, but the Swedish one is a little more comprehensive. You can find both here:
The Swedish Cruising Association (SKK) is a useful thing to join. Their website is partially in English but if you take an overseas membership, which will likely cost between $100-$200, you get a whole wealth of literature, lists of SKK harbors, local discounts etc. I found it money very well spent. Go to http://www.sxk.se/welcome-swedish-cruising-association for details.
And finally: here’s an excellent article which contains almost everything you need to know, courtesy of Yachting Monthly.
Happy Sailing and Fair Winds!