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In 2006 I wrote a short article for the Flying Fish about what I considered was the best parts of Sweden (http://www.oceancruisingclub.org/index.php/publications/92-fftest2011/flying-fish-2006-1-with-pictures/1221-a-local-s-guide-to-cruising-in-sweden)
I have updated the text (http://www.dromresan.com/english/)
A local’s guide to sailing in Sweden
Sweden and the Baltic Sea may seem to be positioned in a cul-de-sac in the northeastern parts of Europe, but I can guarantee that, if you make the effort, you will find one of the world’s best cruising areas.
The downside may be a shorter season compared to the Med and occasionally unstable weather – though it’s basically the same as in UK, but with less rain! And often there is longer spells with Mediterranean temperatures of 25-30°C in July and August.
As a local, I have been sailing here for nearly 40 years and still find new places to discover every summer. I will try and provide a practical approach for sailors who are planning to take part in a Baltic Rally or to visit independently.
The secret skerries
In my job as a boating journalist I get to visit some of the best cruising areas of Sweden (and the world) and I still find new favourites along the coast every summer. Sweden has more than 7600 kilometres (4100 nautical miles) of coastline. The good thing is that it is littered with tens of thousands of islands. The archipelago outside Stockholm – the Skerries or Skärgård – alone has about 24,000 islands and islets! But anyhow easy navigation, if you have your wits with you (and a plotter) … No tides and inside the islands no waves and often lee from island, and if caught out there’s often a nearby protected bay or harbour.
There are five main archipelagos along the coast of Sweden. The West coast and Bohuslän have rocky islands with few trees but with immense beauty. On the south coast there’s a smaller archipelago outside the town of Karlskrona – shallow and rarely visited other than by the locals. On the east coast there are three archipelagos which are more or less connected, from Kråkelund in the southeast through Sankt Anna and Gryt to the Stockholm archipelago. Finally there is Höga Kusten in the north, (in)famous for its pungent fermented herring.
The Bohuslän archipelago
These red granite islands north of Göteborg with hardly any trees and with white-painted houses clinging onto the rock, are a personal favourite. The few but extremely picturesque villages – like Marstrand, Smögen, Hunnebostrand and Lysekil – are heavily visited during the summer holidays, particularly by visiting Norwegians and Germans. Many natural harbours can be found among the islands and the fishing industry is still of some importance.
More info: www.bohuslan.com
The Blekinge archipelago
A popular cruising area on the southeast coast is the attractive Karlskrona archipelago, which is rather shallow and until recently it was forbidden to foreigners because of the many military installations. This is the place where, in late October 1981, the Soviet submarine U-137 went aground while her Russian skipper was drunk. Swedish government released the submarine when the radar showed that some large Soviet destroyers were approaching from Kaliningrad to take her back, quite possibly by force…
More info: www.karlskrona.se/www.skargarden.net
The Gryt and St Anna archipelagos
Starting just outside Västervik, these islands stretch north to Arkösund, just north of the entrance to the Göta Kanal. With fewer boats than the Stockholm area, this is the place to have a cove totally for yourself. The main inshore route is well travelled, but not that many deviate and discover what is a few hundred metres away – do that and you may be well rewarded.
The Stockholm archipelago
This is the biggest archipelago of them all, with around 24, 000 islands and islets. Many Swedes find enough sailing here to last a lifetime. It is easy to find a secluded bay and if you have the time (and some guts) try and visit some of the outer skerries – this is where I return year after year.
More info: www.stockholmtown.com
The Höga Kusten archipelago
The name means ‘the high coast’. The area was compressed under three kilometres of ice during the last ice age and the resulting isostatic uplift is still in progress today, and rugged coastline with scattered small fishing villages are the main reason why the area has been chosen as a World Heritage Site. There are few boats, but its rugged coastline is very beautiful.
The small fishing villages such as Ulvön and Trysunda can be visited, and it is also the place where surströmming (fermented herring) is made – an acquired taste even for Swedes.
More info: www.hogakusten.com
The Göta Kanal and Trollhätte kanal
This shortcut across Sweden is an excellent way to return in the prevailing southwesterlies. The canal itself is 190 kilometres (103 nautical miles) long, but together with Lakes Vättern and Vänern and the Trollhätte Kanal totals 387 kilometres (209 miles) – and 64 locks – from coast to coast.
There is no commercial traffic, apart from some vintage passenger cruisers which have priority in the locks.
Passage normally takes a week, which gives enough time to do some sightseeing, though it can be done in three or four long days. The cost is about 6510 SEK for a boat of up to 10-12m and 8 270 SEK for a 12-15m, which includes all marina fees (even electricity). There is a 5% discount if you book and pay through the website.
There are 21 ‘guest harbours’ along the canal included in the price. I recommend that you should not miss the small town of Söderköping at the entrance of the canal, the old town in Linköping, or the marina in the moat of Vadstena Castle (not actually a part of the canal and marina not included in the price) in lake Vättern.
The second canal, Trollhätte kanal, from Lake Vänern to Göteborg, adds about 1000 SEK. Bigger and has commercial traffic; 82 km long, height difference is 44 m and the canal has only six big locks.
More info: www.gotakanal.se/en
The right of public access
Allemansrätten (which translates as ‘every man’s right’) is the general right to walk over private land, sail through private waters, and tie one’s boat up to an island – as long as it’s not at the end of someone’s garden! – for a couple of days. The recommendation for the latter is that it should be somewhat out of sight from the main building and, if feasible, to ask permission first.
You are also allowed to pick flowers and berries (lingonberries, cloudberries and blueberries are common on the islands) for your personal use. If the area is a national park or otherwise protected you may not camp or take away anything (from berries to stones).
More info: Naturvårdsverket
Sweden is part of the EU and clearance is not necessary when arriving from a Schengen country (ie Denmark, Germany, Finland or the Baltic states). The currency is kronor (SEK) and ören, though some shops also accept Euros. In January 2016 the exchange rate was about 9,7 SEK to one Euro/€1.00.
Fuel is costly – expect to pay about 15 SEK (€1.5) for a litre of diesel. Tax-free diesel can be ordered, but only for registered ships (more than 12m length and 4m beam), though some outlets may sell tax-free diesel ‘under the counter’…
To stay in a ”guest harbour” (local community/boat club owned marinas) are normally around 100–250 SEK (€10–25) per night for a 10 meter boat, though some popular marinas may be more expensive. But there is plenty of free anchorage almost everywhere.
Food and alcoholic drinks are somewhat more expensive than in the UK. The Economist’s Big Mac index (2015) gives Sweden the figure US$5.13 compared to UK’s $4.51 (Norway $5.65, Denmark $5.08 and EUs $4.05).
Alcohol stronger than cider and beer (3,5%) must be bought through government owned outlets called Systembolaget. There are additional distribution points in small shops on the bigger islands, but orders must be placed a day or two in advance.
My suggestion is that you stock up while passing through Germany, which has the cheapest booze and beer in the area. The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are also inexpensive. A pint of draft beer in the pub in Sweden costs 50–70 SEK (€4–£7).
Food is normally cheaper in the big supermarkets, but you can always find necessities in the island supermarkets. Sometimes a RIB speedboat carries a floating market, selling fresh bread, strawberries, milk and newspapers – everything at a price.
How to get here
The normal route by boat is through the Kiel Canal (Nord–Ostsee Canal) and the southern parts of Denmark. Leaving from northern England or Scotland it is also possible to take the more direct route straight into the Kattegatt via the Skagerack.
Flights: If connecting to or from a boat in Sweden there is fierce competition on the routes to and from UK. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is the national carrier, but Ryanair and other companies provide low-price alternatives.
When to come
Most Swedes (and for the west coast, also Norwegians) have their holidays from midsummer through the end of June and into July. The popular marinas can be full then, though there will always be space to anchor in the bays. Before midsummer in June but also in August after the school starts the archipelagoes will be virtually empty, except for weekends.
Weather, climate and daylight hours
During the summer there’s a prevailing southwesterly wind of around force 2–3 with periods of calm, and normally a sea breeze in the afternoon when the weather is fine. In July the frequency of gales is 2%. Due to the high latitudes it’s colder than, say, the Mediterranean, but once or twice each summer there’s a semi-stationary strong high pressure system which gives temperatures in the mid 30°s – Centigrade that is – for some weeks. Then everyone that can will head for the coast.
In general, low pressure systems from the Atlantic first hit the UK and then continue through Denmark before reaching the west coast of Sweden.
Average July temperatures are: Stockholm 17.2°C (63°F); Malmö 16.8°C (62.2°F); Kiruna 12.8°C (55°F). Daylight hours for the same cities in July are 18 hours, 17 hours and 24 hours respectively. During the summer it’s twilight through the night and it never goes dark, in the north it’s Midnight Sun. This causes some people to have difficulties sleeping, though a towel across the deck hatches and portlights may help.
Mostly the navigation is straightforward – there are many buoys and beacons to guide you around the coast. But as soon as you get outside the marked trails there is nothing but a myriad of islands, lurking shoals and fun-filled (at least as long as you know exactly where you are) navigation with the occasional challenge.
When in doubt, just go slowly. Every sailing Swede expects to hit a rock occasionally. Normally this is not considered a problem and is dealt with during the haul-out season. The good news is that there are no tides or currents (not counting the odd wind-induced current in narrow and shallow waters, which may reach a knot or two in strong winds).
The archipelagos can definitely be a test of your navigational skills, but it is most rewarding to find your way into a quiet bay where it’s only you and Mother Nature to share the space. Take your time to find some of these coves – it will be well worth it.
The paper charts for the skerries are normally on a scale of 1:25 000 or 1:50 000 and can be bought in booklets – Båtsportkort – at about 600 SEK for each part of the coast. They are published every second year. There are some excellent 1:10 000 charts of some of the hard-to-reach skerries from a small company called Hydrographica (also available digitally).
I also suggest the app Europe HD by Navionics that covers all of Sweden’s coast and lakes for less than €50. Or the simpler but free app Eniro på sjön with all and updated charts. For planning purposes you can use the free webb versions of these two apps; Eniro and Navionics.
Since spring 2015, it is not allowed to pump out black water from your toilet onboard. There are quite a few pump-out facilities or you can discharge when at sea or other open water and far from land >12M. All guest harbours have toilets and showers, and I would recommend using them as a first choice.
Leaving your boat in Sweden
If possible, I would recommend leaving your boat on the hard in Sweden for the winter and continuing next summer, to give the Baltic enough time. If you can be present when the local boat club has its ‘haul out day’, you can often store a boat for less than 3000 SEK (£250) from October until May outside the big cities. If you would like someone to take care of everything for you at a marina, it can get expensive – around 7000-15 000 SEK (€700–1500) for the winter is not unheard of for a 10 metre yacht!
Getting on with the Swedes
We are proud of our coast and will try to give the best possible advice on places to visit and things to do. Ask for special boltholes – ‘secret’ natural harbours – and you can find places that will be very exceptional. Almost all Swedes speak at least some English – they may appear to be shy at first but are normally keen to practice the language.
Most Swedes would not invite people they don’t know for sundowners in their cockpit. On the other hand, they’d probably come cheerfully if you invite them instead! If invited to a Swedish family home you can bring flowers or a bottle of wine. Take off shoes before entering the house or apartment (and often on boats as well).
Midsummer’s Eve is the grand celebration in Sweden, with rituals going back to the time before the Vikings. The place to celebrate – with friends, pickled herring and a few cartons of beer – is on a boat. The midsummer weekend gets very crowded everywhere along the coast.
Midsummer is also the start of the holidays. Sometimes offices close completely and people cannot be reached for weeks (mobile phones somewhat changed that).
Food and drink
The food Swedes traditionally eat for the big midsummer celebrations is sill (pickled herring) – not to be confused with surströmming (fermented herring) with boiled new potatoes. Sill is like sushi but marinated in vinegar and sugar. Even though it’s an acquired taste it has been appreciated by many foreign friends that have visited us in the past. I also recommend that you try filmjölk (close to yoghurt) and kaviar, a salty pink caviar paste in tubes, sold under the name ‘Kalles kaviar’.
Favourite drinks are Swedish beer (big brand lagers are mostly ”like making love in a canoe”, but try some of the local micro breweries) and schnapps, nubbe, which is aquavit. Tap water in most places is of the same quality that you normally buy bottled in continental Europe. The Swedish word for toasting is skål (pronounced ‘skoll’).
The local strawberries are a must, and you will find them sold everywhere just after midsummer. The low temperature in the spring and the long hours of sun makes them succulent and extremely flavourful. Almost everything you’d find in the supermarket at home, you will find in a Swedish supermarket – save Marmite and Oxo cubes!
Bonus: The BIG tour
Cross the North Sea from northern UK to the south coast of Norway, and have a stop in Sörlandet before crossing into Bohuslän and the barren and rugged islands all the way down past Göteborg. The Kattegatt and the sound between Sweden and Denmark have only man-made harbours, but some very picturesque small towns.
The next cruising area is the Blekinge archipelago with some true gems. Continue up the east coast of Sweden via the archipelagos of Santa Anna and Gryt to reach the renowned Stockholm archipelago.
Continuing further north, unless you make a quick deviation to Gotland, Estonia or Finland, you will find some wilderness only compared to the west coast of Canada and Alaska. Crossing at 65°N you can take the boat on a lorry from Luleå on the Gulf of Bothnia to Bodø in Norway (after which a diversion to Svalbard/Spitsbergen possible) and return to mainland Britain via Shetland and Orkney.
Or cross the Baltic to Saint Petersburg in Russia and then take the White Sea Canal and end up near Murmansk.
A few thousand nautical miles, and probably two summer’s worth of holiday!
Many thanks for this excellent review. I wonder if you would mind placing a copy of it in the Swedish section of the Forum too? Here is the link. http://forum.oceancruisingclub.org/norway-sweden-and-the-baltic-states