There is something special about the idea of saving the best until last, a form of delayed gratification, if you will.
Time was against me after a late July start in my aim to reach the top of the Gulf of Bothnia; so I passed the beautiful Höga Kusten (High Coast) without a chance to explore it, as Free slowly progressed northwards under that boiling sun, during Scandinavia’s hottest summer on record.
Since crossing back from Finland, the weather has been utterly random, with the wind changing every few minutes, or so it seems. One just sets the sails for a while only to be damned by the wretched wind either dropping, or changing direction; we’re not even mentioning the sheets of rain and thunderstorms. All of these have presented Free with a challenging passage south from Umeå.
However, despite the barometer staying low and the depressions coming and going, we have been blessed by some heavenly days of warm, calm weather and some delightful sailing stretches, punctuated only by the necessary motoring to make crucial miles south.
From Holmsund Patholmsviken, near Umeå I sailed to the tiny harbour of Järnäshamn in a vile, rough sea with nasty, vicious steep waves that took my breath away. They were oily black in colour, a depressing, soul-destroying sight out there on your own. Having sheltered in Järnäshamn’s tiny little harbour for a few days, Free then sailed to Husum, the site of the largest pulp mill in Sweden, with probably the friendliest Harbour master I have ever met (who drove me five kilometres to the nearest supermarket, waited, and then drove me back again).
Leaving Husum under sail, it was south into the High Coast and my favourite place thus far, Trysunda Island.
In high summer, I would never have visited the island because it is very popular due to its unique beauty, a genuine precious pearl in these waters; however, circumstances found me conveniently placed to stop for a few days.
My doubts were assuaged by the meeting of Jan and Per Berglin, two brothers whose mother was born on the island and were superb guides, showing me some truly sublime parts on foot. Snacking on delicious blueberries and beachcombing as well as a visit to the old seaman’s church filled one of my days and they very kindly paid for me to spend a further one; how kind they were, consolidating yet another memorable moment in my Scandinavian saga!
While on Trysunda I also met a well-known and very brave female sailor, Milo Dahlmann who has sailed with a friend to Antarctica from Chile. She has also crossed both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans single-handed. Someone informed her about my voyages and she asked me if she could write a feature on my life for a Swedish yachting journal.
Me? This is a famous Swedish sailor writing about me? At this point I have to admit to being totally humbled by a truly amazing lady with courage almost off the Richter scale. I am embarrassed that she would want to write about this rather ordinary old sailor after all of her achievements.
Being a great believer in local knowledge, I decided to take her advice and follow to the delightful little Viken of Mjältön, ten miles further south and we joined the crews of two other boats in the little bay on a glorious late summer’s evening, cooking our combined remaining food on an open fire. As I sat there, no words were necessary, for the reflection of a life so fortunately lived.
A very stiff northerly breeze the following day saw us sail ten further miles to the quaint little fishing village of Bönhamn, another highly visited summer attraction now totally empty, playing host to our two boats. Even though the wind was blowing off the islands to the north, by the time we had covered five miles, the sea had become black and ugly, presenting Free with her usual steering challenge as the waves rushed under her keel (my belief is that her rudder is too small for a large following sea, possibly her only design fault). Reefing the main sail was necessary to slow her down with just the staysail set forward. By the time we reached Bönhamn, my pulse rate was highly invigorated; but my, oh my, what a thrilling little sail!
It is time to say hej då to Milo as she and her friend have a different schedule to me. They are heading south towards Stockholm, her home port, and have two weeks of holiday. Our boats are very different so needs must be too. Milo’s is a modern, steel ocean sailer whereas Free is a Jane of all trades, a tough old lady, but still a little vulnerable in these Baltic conditions.
Her old skipper is tired now and feeling the effects of constant adverse weather and spartan living. Sometimes, I dream of a few hours in my favourite café lost in a good book, without having to worry whether my anchor is going to drag, or my concentration finally give out as the rock with my name on it finally catches up and seeks retribution. The constant strain of close navigation can take its toll and the thought of Borka is now on my mind.
Weather permitting, as always, Sundsvall awaits, followed by a series of other small anchorages and harbours before returning to the friendly haven of Borka Brygga boat club.
However, it’s never over until the fat lady sings, as they say, and there’s a way to go yet.