Huvudskar. I was first told about this place by Bjorn Millang whom I met with his wife Ann at the Bistro Solsidan in Dalaro. He described the place – which is a group of half a dozen small, windswept islands at the eastern edge of the southern archipelago as a ‘magical place, very special indeed’. And that’s certainly the way it turned out for us – us being myself and my latest guest on the boat, Franz of the Sailing in the Mediterranean podcast. Franz is a veteran sailor, patient, kind and very knowledgable, and perhaps my biggest sailing influence given that I decided to buy a boat in Europe precisely because of my experience on Franz’s Bristol Channel Cutter in Turkey and Greece last year.
Franz arrived in Stockholm on Saturday July 2nd and after half a day provisioning and locating a reasonably priced sleeping bag at the local sporting goods store, XXL, we left Vasahamnen on Sunday afternoon. We followed the same route I had taken with Richard, turning to starboard down Skurusundet and then negotiating the back door of Baggenstaket before hoisting sails as we entered Baggensfjarden. After a long sail (20nm with plenty of tough beating upwind) we spent Sunday night in Kyrkviken on Orno, a place I had visited with Richard but decided to revisit because I loved it so much. Come Sunday and with light winds out of the north in the forecast we had planned an easy downwind sail to the neighboring island of Uto and to overnight in the Gruvbryggan gasthamn on the north east side of the island. But as we rounded the southern tip of Orno we decided to take a a quick detour to Dyviken at the north west tip of the island because our pilot guide told us this was a very promising anchorage. We guide was right, it offers almost 360 degrees of shelter and there were plenty of boats already tucked away into one sweet spot or another. We then decided to use the calm of the bay to practice reefing. Since buying the boat from Andy I hadn’t needed to reef but figured now was as good a time as any to familiarize myself with the system. Thirty minutes later we headed out of the bay, with two reef points in, just for fun and found the conditions had changed dramatically. The wind had clocked round almost 180 degrees and we were greeted with 15-20 knot winds on our nose, forcing us to beat up and out of the harbor. It was uncomfortable and tough going. The only bright spot was at least we had two reefs in! Instead of another upwind slog we changed our destination for the night to Huvudsar, about 10nm due east and a comfortable beam reach.
As you sail due east the islands tend to become smaller and starker. There is less vegetation and far more granite as the rich forest of fir trees to the west gives way to hardy clusters of low-growing small bushes, lichen and mosses, clinging tenaciously to the rocks.
The heart of Huvudskar is a small and sheltered bay with a simple jetty and two SKK(Swedish Cruising Club) buoys we could have tied onto. There is also is a small area of bows-to rocks at the southern side where four or five Swedish boats were already clustered. After we had dropped the stern anchor they helped us pull in and showed us how to hammer in the bergskills – the pitons topped with rings to tie off to which are made specially for bows-to anchoring that I had bought on a whim in Sandhamn.
Franz and I then explored the island, and the word rugged, desolate and windswept really come to mind. There are perhaps 12 structures on the island – a mix of houses and huts in classic Swedish red, mostly uninhabited except for a few precious weeks in the short but glorious Swedish summer. The island’s water supply comes from a single well topped by a solitary green pump which is shared by whomever is staying on the island.
We met a group of three families from Stockholm – three wives with perhaps seven children between them, (no husbands), eating a simple alfresco meal of pasta with cheese sauce from plastic plates, who told us they come every year to ‘detox’ with no electricity, no internet and no running water. Just firewood stoves, oil lamps and each other’s company in a beautiful setting. We chatted with them for perhaps ten minutes and came away inspired by these wonderful people spending summer in a traditional way.
We slept well enough, but at 7am sharp (in every way) I experienced yet another rite of passage for the cruising sailor. I woke to the scary sound of my boat bumping on the bottom. The wind had shifted overnight,, the anchor had dragged and we were now being pushed onto the granite of the island. Bleary-eyed and not a little alarmed, Franz fired up the jenny while I pulled out the bergskills and we quickly reversed into the bay and headed west to our next port of call. As we headed out we saw two of our neighbors had moved onto the mooring buoys sometimes during the night. Experience clearly counts…
All things considered Huvudskar was well worth a visit, impressive and windswept and more than a little daunting. But if I visit again I’ll opt for the SKK buoy, if only to ensure a peaceful morning and a cup of coffee before getting underway.