Phil Woollam and his family weave their way through the islands of Sweden’s east coast on their Cornish Shrimper
Whilst the archipelago between Västervik and Arkösund has become our go-to summer cruising ground for the past four summers, I can still remember vividly the first time we left the well-marked and wide fairways to seek a bow-to mooring spot for the night when sailing Sweden, writes Phil Woollam.
Weaving our way between a group of islands and barely submerged rocks, towards what appeared to be a small but well-sheltered bay on Aspholmen, looked pretty straightforward on the pilot guide.
In reality, it was something entirely different; as we approached the entrance to the bay, it looked like an almost impossible gap between two rocky headlands.
At the time, I recall hanging over the bow of our Cornish Shrimper 21, gripping the bowsprit as my wife, Catelijne nudged Categorical forward at 1 or 2 knots, waiting for me to yell ‘Rock!’.
Fortunately, there were no rocks that weren’t marked on the pilot guide, so we squeezed our way into flat, calm water, dropped a stern anchor and then I hopped off the bow and tied two long mooring lines to a couple of stout pine trees.
I don’t think there is any greater sense of relief and achievement than navigating your way, for the first time, into a tight but beautiful anchorage.
Nothing really prepares you for the absolute joy of sailing Sweden’s archipelagos; not the magazine articles, the YouTube clips or other sailors’ stories.
You absolutely have to experience it for yourself to get a true sense of what is one of the most beautiful and best-kept secrets of sailing in Europe.
It was after reading an article in Yachting Monthly about a family that towed their Cape Cutter 19 to the Stockholm Archipelago, that we started dreaming about sailing Sweden; it was a few years before dreams turned to reality and we started to plan our own trip.
Initially it was the sheer volume of rocks scattered through the archipelagos that were our main source of concern.
However, after a few days of navigating the fairways between Loftahammar and Västervik, dodging the rocks and finding suitable moorings, the rocks gave less cause for concern and became a source of fun that would test our navigation skills.
Sailing Sweden under sun
We had lots of preconceived ideas about the challenges, but these quickly disappeared as our confidence grew while we sailed in one of the most sparsely populated sailing areas in northern Europe.
The most surprising element was the weather!
After dire warnings of rain and unpredictable summers, we were greeted by long, sun-kissed days and consistent 10-18 knot winds, making sailing an absolute joy.
The practice of mooring bow-to against the rocks took a little getting used to but enabled us to avoid marina fees and wake up each morning in a new place.
The Shrimper’s lifting keel allowed us to get further off the fairway and enter shallower, quieter natural harbours.
Our choice of boat took two years of research and saving.
Catelijne and I had agreed it should be a trailer sailer and we wanted something traditional-looking. Categorical fitted the bill.
Once bought, we moved her to Holland and then drove from our home to Lübeck in Germany to catch the ferry to Malmö.
After reading through our English language pilot of the east coast of Sweden, we decided to tow our new boat to Loftahammar.
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An overnight ferry trip and 16 hours of driving later, we arrived at the marina, with Categorical still in her factory wrappings.
It took a somewhat embarrassing six hours to figure out how all the boat’s pieces fitted together, much to the entertainment of the local Swedes, but Categorical was finally rigged and ready.
The sails went up as soon as we cleared Loftahammar Marina, and we nudged gently and somewhat cautiously onto the fairway on our way south to Västervik.
Nervous about our first bow-to mooring on the rocks, we decided to drop anchor in the bay next to Stora Gundleholmen for a swim.
We didn’t get in though, put off by (harmless) pink jellyfish and then a snake.
Instead, we continued towards Västervik, stopping in Mjödö, where the next morning we braved the jellyfish and the somewhat chilly Baltic for a morning swim.
Nearly caught out
It was here that we decided to change our plans and head north.
Sailing the narrow fairway of Jungfrusund was unforgettable, with its red houses on Hamnholmen and little model boats in the windows, as we continued towards Trässö.
Finding it crowded, we sailed to Äspholmen.
Here, the shallow draught of the Shrimper really came into its own as we entered the 1.4m-deep bay, threw out a stern anchor and tied off to some pine trees growing between the rocks.
Dinner and a blissful night’s sleep followed.
Days of scorching hot weather and light airs followed and we took in Grytsholmen, Bokö and Huholmen at a leisurely pace.
We were alone here, spending the days swimming in the surprisingly warmish clear waters and walking on the islands, our only company being a pair of cranes and a couple of noisy mink that took a liking to our mooring lines.
The next morning, we faced a prevailing headwind and decided to avoid sailing the long, narrow fjord leading to Valdemarsvik.
Instead we sailed north to see what greeted us.
It turned out to be a squall that came out of nowhere, forcing us to take shelter in the marina at Fyrudden, where we stocked up on fresh supplies.
The Swedish couple on the neighbouring motorsailer recommended we visit Fångö, which is sheltered from all weather conditions but pretty busy.
Again, this is where the lifting keel came into its own as we didn’t have to raft up against the larger yachts, and instead tied up against the rocks in 0.8m.
Two days later we headed for Smaskarsflagen, where we spent five days bobbing around its natural moorings and anchorages before we got the urge to get back onto the fairway and sail further north.
Each day we became more confident, squeezing into tighter, natural harbours.
We were still learning the intricacies of Categorical and a change in the weather certainly shook us out of our complacency.
While sailing from Riso to Arkösund, the wind rose to 18 knots.
Perhaps unwisely, we decided not to put a reef in and we were soon flying along as the wind hit 22 knots.
The sky was turning very black and we managed to get a reef in and get to Arkösund marina.
A boat came out to guide us to a berth, just before the heavens opened up and emptied a whole summer’s worth of rain in two hours.
We certainly paid more attention to the conditions on our voyage back to Loftahammar, where thankfully it took less than six hours to make Categorical ready for the trip back to the Netherlands.
Since then, we have cruised Categorical around the same archipelago, the last time in 2020, when our daughter, Annabelle, then aged 7, made the comment that the boat was ‘getting a bit small’.
We have now upgraded to a Mystery 35, which is berthed in Lelystad in the Netherlands, with plans to sail her to the west coast of Sweden and Norway this summer.
Categorical made the trip back to England in the spring of 2021 and the circle was complete when she was sold, by Peter Thomas at Cornish Crabbers.
Tips for sailing Sweden
- Book your ferry well in advance, as it gets expensive and busy in the summer.
- Take a stern anchor and very long mooring lines to tie off on the rocks, trees or stakes hammered into the rocks that have been left by other sailors.
- Follow the fairways and you are pretty much guaranteed not to hit rocks!
- Use the natural harbours and get used to mooring with a stern anchor and bow towards the rocks; it costs less and gives you so much more freedom.
- Take a compressor marine fridge as it enables you to stay out of the marinas for longer.
- Give yourself plenty of time to explore the islands off the fairways. You will find some beautiful, secluded places to anchor or tie off. Buy the English version of the pilot guide Landsort-Skanör as it identifies 190 natural harbours.
- Be prepared for squalls and don’t wait too long to put a reef in – the calm seas and beautiful weather can make you complacent.
- Make sure you have some form of shade to cover your cockpit, either a boat cover, awning or bimini, as the sun can be scorching.
- Charts are essential to give you the confidence to leave the fairways. Don’t rely on the marina shops stocking charts, get them before you leave.
- Many marinas don’t stock simple engine parts. Volvo parts are common but not Yanmar, as we found out on our third trip when we shredded the alternator belt!
Useful publications for sailing Sweden
Landsort-Skanör by Lars Granath, Catharina Söderbergh, Jesper Sannel, Joakim Lannek (Nautiska Förlaget, around £46). English version available second-hand
The Baltic Sea and Approaches by Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation, fourth edition (Imray, £45).
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