Time to slow it all down…
After a few days in Norrsundet it was time to run the gauntlet. The often tricky and rarely uneventful Gävle Bight lived up to its name with a stiff nor ‘westerly breeze blowing offshore, propelling Free at an average of five and a half knots southeast towards Björn Island. With a reefed main and just a jib sail out, the waves mercilessly assaulted Free’s starboard quarter making steering quite awkward. Sometimes in these situations, the autopilot cannot handle the waves, a serious problem for a single-hander, making manual helming the order of the day.
However, as usual, this game little boat excelled herself, allowing me the time to shorten and trim sails thus achieving the maximum results for a safe, if wild crossing of the aforementioned stretch of Bothnian Sea.
Björn Island, that sentinel guarding the southward end of the Gävle Bight, is no stranger to me, having waited on a Svenska Kryssarklubben buoy for a break in rough weather two years ago during my first voyage north from Amsterdam. It is a forbidding little wind lashed, rocky island, with a vital lighthouse, a boon to all mariners. I couldn’t resist a thrilling shiver as I rounded it once again like a rather scary, good friend!
As the day’s breeze finally ebbed away, I found myself entering the eerily silent Ängskärsund bay where I dropped my new Fortress anchor, which held immediately with great relish! On one side of the bay lies the Ängskärsklubb boat club, but I wanted this evening to be a silent affair, part of my alchemical rejuvenation. It is still work in progress, but I can feel the trembling of what I call ‘that island feeling’, the eternity that lies among the thousands of Scandinavian islands; or the ‘Skärgård effect’, the fusion of the elements where modern life just seems to become irrelevant as time melts away.
The healing process is underway, for sure; I am in my natural element where the wind sings and the honesty of it all is plain to see. There is no deceit among the islands, the sea won’t abide it.
At this point I should apologise for rambling on like some crazy latter-day mystic; if there was a better way to describe this life, I’d use it. Somehow all unnecessary parts are stripped away to a place where one just cannot hide. I wish I could feel this on land, how wonderful that would be… how complete. Alas, I cannot. I have a lot to learn and that’s a fact.
The low pressure over Scandinavia continues to cast a shadow over the Swedish summer. If I’m completely honest, I find it remarkably exhilarating, with chances to sail close reefed in powerful winds that test one’s seamanship to the absolute limit. There are very few boats game enough to venture out, especially in the present wild northerly winds; however if you have the nerve, good miles can be sailed. At present I am rarely using the engine except to leave and arrive in harbour.
The question is, what next?
As you know, my aim was to reach the Åland Islands, but in these conditions that may be unwise, as one is exposed to a huge fetch (the distance winds can effect the size of waves) which for northerly winds is the length of the whole Gulf of Bothnia. A landfall in an unfamiliar, rock-strewn sailing ground would I believe, be foolhardy at present. Having shared the company of a very hospitable German sailor these past two evenings at anchor, I am warming to the idea of postponing my original plan and heading down to the inner lakes behind Stockholm, which he informs me are unusual and relatively quiet this time of year as the locals have left for the outer islands for their holidays. It has been a while since I have been ‘inshore’ on rivers and small lakes and it may be a viable alternative until there is a marked change in the weather.
Åland isn’t going away… It will still be there, come mid August or even next year. As they say:
It isn’t the destination that is important but the the journey itself.