Sometimes one can be delightfully surprised, even this tough old sailor!
Most sailors avoid coming to Gävle (pronounced yeyvla) due to its awkward location on the Swedish coast. There’s good sense in this, to be fair, after all if one regards voyages trigonometrically (remember that? Do students learn that anymore?) it makes sense to sail the hypotenuse side of the triangle, normally the longest side, rather than the adjacent followed by the opposite; thus following the coast west and then north. Are you with me so far? If not, go back to school! In other words, they take a short cut.
As one approaches Gävle from the east, there is nothing encouraging at all, with huge factory structures dominating the skyline for miles. Smoke billows up and one has second thoughts about the wisdom of the adjacent leg of this passage. Maybe I should have avoided it after all and taken the hypotenuse leg instead? Certainly, after ten miles out from Björn Island I was beginning to have my doubts; no problem with the navigation though, just steer for the chimneys.
I couldn’t resist taking a Svenska Kryssarklubben buoy on the south side of the island, spending an uncannily still night without a breath of wind or a ripple, on the glass-like sea. No sooner had I whispered my thanks to old Njörd, than a plague of tiny bugs invaded Free; there were millions of them and the wheelhouse was inundated. The noise was awful and my poor old resident spider’s web was destroyed by their weight. Down my throat, in my ears, until I finally lit up one of my smoke coils to drive them from the saloon and up into the roof of the wheelhouse where they buzzed and spiralled in a diabolic dance. Like me, the spider ran for its life and surfaced the next day in another corner!
The following morning was warm, muggy and grey, with the chimneys of Gävle on the western horizon, and the wheelhouse covered with the deposits of the dead creatures. The promised southerly breeze was minute but as there was some west in it, enabled Free to sail on a close reach (the wind coming from forward of amidships but not quite close-hauled), enabling a speed of around three knots under full sail. My goodness this was going to be a long day for the twenty-three mile passage. That night I anchored in a bay on the island of Kullerharen five miles to the northeast of Gävle to avoid arriving late and wasting my money for the first night.
On approaching the harbour, I decided to ignore the awful ‘Baltic Pilot’ book (foolishly bought in London four years ago and so frequently incorrect)) and see how far into the town I could reach, passing the awful looking ‘bells and whistles’ type marina at Fliskär, full of the usual white yachts with rattling halyards. Eventually I reached the low bridge under a mile from the centre and to my delight there was a tiny guest harbour! And it was free too! What a wonderful start to the day as the sun beamed down from a clear blue sky.
So it just goes to show that sometimes it pays to explore and not rely on what ‘everybody else’ tells you. How many sailors, I wonder, end up in that featureless marina, miles from the town when with a little perseverance they could have found my oasis?
Gävle itself is a large place, famous for its coffee factory and a county town for the province of Gävleborg; it is a very important administrative centre in north central Sweden. I was delighted to be awoken by the smell of coffee wafting down the river! It wasn’t long before ‘baby’ was pressed into service, resplendent with the outboard engine and oars attached.
Off we went up into the centre of the city to find some shops for food and to soak up its atmosphere. It is certainly a lot bigger than Hudiksvall and Söderhamn, and the river with its low bridges, adds a certain elegant charm to it.
On the way back to Free, I noticed ‘Wayne’s Coffee’ café next to the bridge with an outside patio, so it wasn’t long before I plunked my lazy bottom down on a sofa in the shade and sampled some delicious cheesecake! ‘Why not?’ I told myself; it certainly tasted all the better for having been at anchor for so long!
How strange that even good-natured sounds put me on edge. Jarring noises, sudden shouts and crowds remind me that I have become inwardly still for many weeks now and some readapting is necessary before leaving Sweden again this October. I question the wisdom of being so monastic in my latter years. Am I building up trouble for myself, when readjusting to the modern world again? What future do I have? Will I be strong enough?
So many questions and hopefully fate will be kind to this old Viking when she finally swallows the anchor.
I would like to stay here for some time, but alas, I need to escape from this corner of the Gävle Bight before a northerly wind pattern sets in. A friend’s visit at the end of August means steady progress is needed up the Jungfrukusten until Söderhamn. The weather can change so quickly in the Gulf of Bothnia as I experienced last year, and once those northerlies start blowing, picking up those big waves, a wonderful sailing summer could deteriorate into a nightmare against the clock.
Good seamanship is all about planning for the worst case scenario. Never, ever abuse the sea’s hospitality…
You do that at your peril.