Sailing in Stockholm’s archipelago (2015)

The long wait is finally over, our daughter Kathrine has given birth to a 3.6 kg son – during the full moon from 12th to 13th January – and we have been enthusiastically admiring the newcomer as he struggles to get a grip on his surroundings! A new phase of life as grandparents beckons us and I hope that we’ll be able to play a constructive role. Sadly, the world which he has entered is increasingly threatening; from the rumblings about spies and larger defence budgets to the scary science of the meteorologists charting the progress of climate changes in the Arctic and the Antarctic, from the racism of “alt right” fanatics to the blundering of politicians selling the supposed delights of “anti-global, illiberal democracies.” It is difficult to be optimistic, but I guess every generation has been faced with struggles in one form or another and there are plenty of grounds to believe that enlightened policies for development and environmental management will prevail.

In “escapist mode”, in the summer of 2015 after completing some repairs on our house, we travelled northwards for a brief maritime adventure. The archipelago east of Stockholm is one of the most beautiful regions on the planet. It is paradise for island lovers; there are an estimated 24,000 islands and islets altogether, including bits of rock. Access is relatively straightforward as the efficient Swedes have a variety of ferries and cruisers reaching most of the main settlements. In addition, during the summer season it seems as if every inhabitant of Stockholm is sailing through the archipelago, as hundreds of yachts, dinghies and speedboats zoom in all directions.

Finnhamn is towards the central northern region of the archipelago. It is a popular destination, with some summer cottages and a youth hostel as well as a shop and a restaurant. Apart from boating and walking there isn’t a great deal for visitors to do. We wandered at a leisurely pace around the tiny island, stopping a couple of times to admire the views.

The archipelago has a lot to offer for those who like to gaze at tranquil landscapes. I’m not sure that it is so attractive in the long, dark northern winters, but in the summer the endlessly changing views of green woodlands, grey rocks and blue seas are fascinating. Standing on the deck of an island ferry I don’t care how long the journey is!

We walked around the sparsely populated island of Gällnö for a couple of hours on a sunny afternoon and then stopped for afternoon tea (coffee) in a tiny village: three or four houses, a farm and a café. Some very young kids were playing jazz music. We listened, immersed in the gently swinging vibe of island life. Later we went to the jetty to catch a return boat, but the skies had darkened. A huge storm blew up. We had to run from a little hut onto the boat and then sat back watching the sudden wind and rain lashing the deck, the bows and the windows.

The Baltic has been a turbulent region over the centuries. Expansion of kingdoms and spheres of influence by the Danes and the Russians seem to have been particularly disruptive. The Swedes have dealt with the risks by establishing strong sea defences, best seen on the islands around Vaxholm where there are numerous forts, castles and gun batteries. The huge walls and cannons of a 19th Century fortress dominate the town of Vaxholm itself.

Across a narrow sound from the fortress, the quays of Vaxholm buzz with life in the short Swedish summer. The island is only 45 minutes from central Stockholm by bus and there’s a bridge, so it is rapidly becoming urbanised. But there are some enjoyable coastal footpaths from which the dense maritime traffic can be observed; including yachts and speedboats zooming around the archipelago and the large ferries and cruise ships bound for Helsinki, Tallin and the other ports of Finland and the Baltic states. Standing by the quay at sunset I’m reminded of some song lines by one of my favourite Swedish singers, Lisa Ekdal:

Vi är många som talar om havet, men få som har havet i sin blick[1]

From the boat sailing to Finnhamn

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Still waters on a summer day

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Contemplation

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Coastal cottages

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Vaxholm fortress

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Moonrise from the quay in Vaxholm

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[1] The lines are from a beautiful song called Bortom det blå (Beyond the blue) on an album of the same name released in 1997. An approximate translation of a tricky verse is: ”There are many who talk about the sea/ but few have the sea in their sight” (in the sense of understanding).

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