So much can happen in a day at sea, especially when the East coast of Northern Sweden has recorded the highest summer temperatures for many years. Needless to say, this level of heat can only lead to one thing… a big storm, to clear the air.
After leaving the beautiful Kallviken fjord and saying farewell to my kind new friends Ulla and Bosse, who showed me around the local area, inviting me into their lovely little summer-house, I sailed once again with an aim to reach the island harbour of Gåsören, very close to the town of Skellefteå. Free’s progress was good until about five miles away; then the wind disappeared, leaving a boiling hot, mirror-like sea and a final motor approach to one of the smallest looking harbours I have ever seen!
Somehow I managed to squeeze in, much to the amazement of some local boats. Their surprise was compounded by the fact there was no ‘husband’ shouting orders, and that I was alone. This was the best piece of close manoeuvring I have ever done.
In the boiling heat of the evening I chatted with four other local folk who were there for the weekend, making some new friends with Kjell (pronounced ‘shell’) and Lota. Checking the weather together, we debated the wisdom of sailing the following day due to the building of a massive thunderstorm around the Skellefteå region. Kjell’s idea was to sail early to the small town of Furuögrund about fifteen nautical miles to the northwest; so we did, and being the faster boat Free soon fell behind until the time came to decide whether to follow them into Furuögrund, or use the valuable rising wind to my advantage and keep sailing.
Behind me a malevolent storm was building and yet Free was sailing full and bye at five and half knots, loving every minute. The waves were big, for sure, but my brave little sailer was equal to them as she so often is, and skipped over the top. All the time, as we progressed nearer and nearer to the sheltered anchorage of Stenskäret, the huge, monstrous black clouds were building, and the rumble of thunder and the forks of lightning took me back to the worst storm I had ever been in, off the Calabrian coast of Southern Italy back in 2008, when Free was actually hit by lightning.
Just five miles to go… would I make it?
Free reached six knots so I decided to shorten sail as she was definitely over-pressed and in danger of damaging her rigging. Out on deck, I had managed to tame and subdue the staysail when suddenly the monster struck, turning the sea and sky inky, black. The wind increased instantly and there was no way I could get the jib down. Before I knew it, Free was almost on her side and I was clinging on for my life. I had to let all the sheets go to get her up again, which she did, but not before the jib downhaul ran under the boat, which by now was under power. The downhaul wrapped itself around my propeller and had to be cut off. At least the engine would run now and I could face the wind; but the flapping jib remain stuck half way up the outer forestay, roaring like a demon, and in the driving rain I fought for our lives, before the stay either snapped with a possible dismasting, or cracked the bowsprit.
Worse was to come… Why was I only going two knots at high power? Answer: My tender had filled with water and capsized, now acting as a sea anchor and doing its best to sink us. Somehow I managed to get aft without one of the huge waves taking me to hell, and make the agonising decision to cut the tender free *. It was a heartbreaking moment to lose the little boat that I’d bought in Greece all those years ago, in which I had had so much fun. Quite simply, it had to be done so Free could face the huge waves.
After about forty minutes the storm finally moved over towards Finland and I was able to return to the deck and finally subdue the jib, which incredibly, had no visible damage, except for the snapped downhaul.
It was crucial to change course for a harbour because there was no doubt in my mind that the propeller would need to be freed of the remains of the downhaul and I may need diving equipment; so Free changed course arriving in Jävre Sandholmen a tiny little harbour (65˚07.4’N, 21˚31.9’E) near Piteå. The two other boats resting there for the weekend were more than a little surprised to see me arrive!
How strange is fate? Without this awful storm, I would never have met Pia and Bosse. Bosse arrived shortly after I had tied up and invited me to come to their summer-house overlooking the viken (a fjord). They convinced me to stay for a few days; no problem, for there was the need to investigate for possible storm damage and clear the remaining rope from the propeller.
Secondly, Pia asked me if she could tell a local newspaper about my voyage, and so the following day three lovely local journalists turned up and listened to my memoirs, filming an interview for the local television station. How lovely to be so respected. It is so often possible to feel nonexistent when living on the fringes of society and spending so much time out in the ‘big blue’.
The following morning, the children from one of the other boats decided to dive under my boat to free the rope from the propeller. They thought it was fun… I thought it was lovely and so typical of these friendly folk from the Swedish north. The special people met since arriving from Edinburgh back in May, have left me with experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Well, the wind is due to turn back to the south again after the latest thunderstorm passes over (which it just has as I write). So hopefully I shall sail the final miles to reach Luleå on the thirtieth of July. Is it possible to reach Törehamn and the top of the Gulf by the first of August?
*I informed the Swedish Coastguard about losing my tender, reporting its last known position, mainly because it could become a hazard to navigation. Someone may have been concerned that a possible drowning or shipwreck could have occurred. The Coastguard thanked me for the information and for the fact that I was able to cope with the storm without calling a may day. They informed me that they were very busy yesterday. I am not surprised.