Sailing Sweden’s West Coast Archipelago

After a week of summer holidays, Felix and I are covered in cuts and bruises, sunburned, aching and exhausted, but alive. We’ve been working full-time for awhile now, with the office grind and computer-screen-overload causing an itch for adventure and the outdoors.

When our friends, Isak and Edvin told us they planned to go sailing in early August, we jumped at the chance to join them with our (significantly smaller and less well-kitted-out but still nice) sailboat.

It took us a few days to fix the mast and get the boat back to sailing condition after a winter of hibernation, but on Tuesday morning we finally left for a few nights on the water.

It wasn’t until after departure that we realised we’d left our life jackets ashore, but we figured it would be fine. We can swim, can’t we? We looked at each other confidently.

There wasn’t much wind on Tuesday, but the sun peeked out from behind the clouds every hour or so, and it didn’t rain: all the ingredients to a perfect Swedish summer day. A lot of motoring was done, but one of the things we actually remembered to do was to fill the petrol tank, so that was fine.

The waters of the west coast archipelago are filled with mackerel, and a line thrown out the back of the boat while sailing often results in effortless-dinner-catching, so we gave it a go.

A small, fake, silver fish is attached to a hook, giving the illusion of food to nearby mackerel. If speeds are right, they are able to ‘catch’ the fish, which causes a white plastic thingy to bob to the surface, alerting sailors to their fresh catch.

The first time we caught one, it looked a little bit too small, so we ended up throwing it back.

The second one was a nice size, but made a miraculous escape, thanks to its slippery, slimy fish-skin. We didn’t catch any more after that, but Edvin had cooked a sausage and tomato pasta with which he greeted us upon arrival to their chosen natural harbour.

We drank some beers, played some cards, and went to bed, with excited dreams of more sailing, fishing and eating in our sleepy heads.

The next morning went exactly to plan. It went so smoothly we were almost spooked.

Apart from the rain, that is. And the fact that our motor’s propeller decided to cut out completely mid-manoeuvre and refuse to start again for the rest of the day.

Cold, sodden and with spirits hovering around half mast, we sat in our boat and rang our respective dads for mechanical advice while our friends tugged us along by a rope.

Bigger, stronger, and better equipped, I am eternally grateful to Isak’s grandpa’s boat.

Eventually, we decided that the “most fun” route to our destination would be to venture into open ocean (around rather than through the archipelago) in order to catch some wind in our sails, and thereby avoid being towed the entire distance between Bokanäset and Mollösund.

My main motivation for this was the promise of fishing, but soon became abundantly clear that the boat was travelling much too fast in our newfound gale-force winds to allow mackerel even the slightest chance of catching up with the bait.

Sulkily, I retired to the cabin for a solemn nap while I waited for Captain Felix to guide us through the ocean to Mollösund.

As good fortune would have it, I was distracted from my melancholy before too long as my boudoir flipped sideways and threw me into the wall.

I adjusted my perception of “up” and settled back under the covers. Sideways? I challenged the boat. Is that the best you’ve got?

The boat took issue with my cockiness and started to smash up and down on the waves, sending shockwaves through my spine and skull and making rather ominous creaking noises throughout the hull.

As the smashing became more violent, visions began to flood my head.

Water: streaming through broken windows to drown me in my bed.

Me: desperately banging my fists against the hatch, trying in vain to escape a watery tomb.

Felix: drifting past the window, unable to float to the surface against his enormous rubber rain gear and heavy shoes.

I decided to leave the complete discomfort and terror of the cabin, to scramble sideways into the rain and chaos that was outside.

As I crawled, trying not to panic-attack visibly, I ducked to avoid flying crockery and foodstuffs being thrown by the force of the sideways smashing.

Outside wasn’t much better, though it did have Felix in it, who also seemed to be doing his best to hold it together as he tried to avoid tightly spaced, almost submerged rocks with no functioning motor to guide him through, back into the archipelago, with its calm waters and sheltered channels.

I did as I was told, through terrified outbursts of scream-crying, to read the GPS and give rock-avoiding advice, while Felix’s hands hemorrhaged blood over the ropes, seats and sails.

After what might have been fifteen minutes or two hours, and a moment of sheer terror as Isak and Edvin seemed to plunge straight for the rocks, we were back inside but the winds were still too high.

Isak and Edvin managed to rope us back onto their stern as our mast wobbled back and forth, threatening to give way entirely.

Felix lunged over the side of the boat to reattach wire ropes as the boat was jerked loudly and gutwrenchingly to safety.

As we rounded Käringön, a rich-people maritime island with a guest harbour and a coast guard, we decided to stop there for the night and lick our wounds.

It took awhile for the adrenalin to wear off, and a more calm inspection of Felix’s hands revealed as many large, torn open blisters as he has fingers.

Dinner, drinks, games and an unlimited stream of dramatic retelling of our ordeal made everyone much more cheerful, and our zeal for sailing inside the archipelago was reignited.

The coast guard, some more dad-phonecalls and a helpful German engineer moored next door helped us diagnose and repair our motor, and we were back in business.

Felix invested in a pair of gloves, covered his wounds with bandaids, and took a deep breath.

We were blessed with sun, wind (but not too much of it) and mackerel, and settled back into life as not-about-to-drown people.

This morning we awoke with light hearts and happy thoughts into a sunny, breezy day, perfect for sailing back home to Ulvesund.

We parted ways with our dear friends and began the homestretch.

No more open ocean for us, for the time being, but what an eventful week it’s been.

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Lily Ray
Lily Ray

Journalist, photographer, traveller and knitter. Mother to a small but demanding infant, Lily's life is messy but generally lovely. She has a lot of thoughts. Here is where she puts them.

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