Seafaring is a dangerous life…An obvious statement of fact but painfully true. When you are in your element you also stand on the edge of hell, as was revealed off the island of Iggön on the evening of the twenty-seventh of June.
Helgoland was the last episode of misfortune where I found an uncharted rock in the Sudhafen back in 2013. Since then there has been an unblemished, glorious accumulation of sea miles amongst Archipelagos from the south of Sweden, up into the waters of Lapland and then down the scary, rock-infested coast of Finland.
Always in the back of any sailor’s mind is the thought that this time may be the last, for who knows what lurks beneath the surface? Make no mistake, humility comes with experience, for armchair yacht masters are always lecturing on what should and should not be done from their bar stools. The reality is somewhat different, of course.
My good fortune finally ran out after two days of wonderful light-wind sailing from the island of Agön in the Enångersfjärden, southward to Iggön just north of Gävle. One moment of madness, a fatal lapse of concentration and that was that – taking the ground in the anchorage. I missed the transit marks to take me safely into the center of the anchorage for the first time in five years and… well, just that.
It is so difficult to rest on the anchor while your friend is wounded below the waterline, not knowing how much water she will take in during the night. Such beauty above and such hell below. I will always remember this fateful night as one of extreme beauty; a pristine full moon and a glorious sunset. Isn’t that the nature of things? The ecstasy and the agony. All of this at the end of thirty miles of pure sailing, a memorable dance with a tricky light breeze, harnassing her the best way I could – pulling out all of the tricks of my lifetime’s experience. All of this concluded with a disastrous lapse of concentration. Oh if only time could be reversed for ten mad seconds.
The following day I had to run the gauntlet in a powerful sou’ westerly, in an attempt to reach Gävle, where I knew there were facilities to examine the damage. This town lies in the awkward southwestern enclave of the notorious Gävle Bight, capable of some really rough stuff.
This was a good time to be reunited with Roger Lundqvist, an old friend who has helped me so many times. He knows all there is to know about this area, especially boatyards with technical facilities. He knows the right people, for such an affair. If I had to choose a location for impact then it would have to be here – truly fortuitous.
Roger and the local guys are all related to the local boat yard Fliskär, just outside of the town, and it was here that I took Free the following day. This is the perfect place in this part of Sweden to haul a boat out of the water without having to find a local crane driver and then the wood, plus carpenter to complete the task. Within an hour of arriving, the yard had my poor old sister out of the water and out onto steel supports.
The prognosis was as bad as I thought. The keel had taken a real wallop and cracked in several places. Ironically, it seems as if this incident has revealed further previous damage as the keel’s cement filling appears to be waterlogged, possibly the result of my intimate meeting with a reef of the coast of Ithaca in Western Greece back in 2007. Of course, it might have been even before I bought her in 2006 – who knows?
So what’s next?
What can I say?
Perhaps Roger and the guys can work a temporary miracle. Maybe Free can continue her voyage south, in the twilight of her life. Seafaring is unpredictable by nature and no sailor can tell when their last voyage will be. There are times when I feel so tired of this life and yet, the feel of a gentle reach and fair breeze with the sun sparkling in the wake, makes this better than anything else that the world can offer.