Summer break was approaching and I had applied to a website, called Crewbay, which is similar to JDate, but instead of searching for a date, it searches for crews on sailing boats.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive an immediate response to participate as a crew member to sail a vessel down the coast of Sweden, cross the Baltic Sea to Germany and eventually to traverse the North Sea to England. I had 4 days to organize myself before the departure date, including completing a work assignment, my daughter’s wedding and finalizing my personal marital affairs in court.
Following my departure from Israel, I arrived in Stockholm and met the owner of the boat, Barry, a very hospitable Englishman. We made our way by train to a cove in an outer suburb, where the boat was moored. We trundled my overweight luggage down to the shoreline and paddled by dinghy to board Lori, a 100-year-old wooden sailing boat, built from oak planks, with a crafted mahogany interior and a caulked teakwood deck.
She had a tall cedar mast and a lengthened boom, which allowed for a large mainsail, and in front, there was a furled foresail. Below deck, there was a forward cabin, toilet, saloon, a small kitchen galley and two rear births. The rigging and old wooden pulleys were assisted by manual winches; the boat was a classic beauty and promised an exciting adventure.
The coastline of Sweden is a series of archipelagos – over 20,000 islands and rocky islets separated by navigable channels or treacherous passageways concealing submerged rocks. Generally, the partially inhabited islands are covered in a primeval forest of dense woodland in deep shades of green, with lichen and moss spreading over the verdant undergrowth, between large boulders of granite.
The sea water has a relatively low salt content – brackish – but not recommended for brushing teeth. Nevertheless, it provides the opportunity to view a large variety of aquatic birds - including colonies of cormorants and guillemots, flocks of swans and seagulls.
The summer is brief and the evenings are illuminated by an extended twilight, which settles across the sky like a wash of violet-pink.
Over the next two days, our crew assembled. Barry from Essex, Liam from Berlin, Patrick from Montreal and myself from Jerusalem. We had not previously met and this allowed for the development of interesting social dynamics within a relatively confined space.
We set out on a Friday afternoon in moderate winds that progressively increased in strength. The full sails heeled over the boat under the pressure of the wind, as our speed increased and the bow crashed through the waves churning foam and spray, while a stream of water ran along the deck. A feeling of exhilaration enveloped us as we practiced pushing the boat to its limit, before easing off on the mainsail to regain composure. In the late evening light, we dropped anchor in a protected cove and celebrated a Friday night dinner, before paddling across to explore the island and climbing to a viewpoint to witness the beauty of the surrounding islands In the morning, we were confronted with the problem of a defective windlass, causing the heavy chain anchor to become entangled when we tried to raise it. We resolved to switch the chain for rope and raise it by hand – which seemed the predominant procedure among the Swedes.
After 3 days of sailing southwards, we pulled into the harbor of Namsham, where we met a friendly couple who advised us to purchase a book of the coastline to assist as a reference directory for entrance to anchorages and marinas on the islands, and warnings of various types of hazards.
Barry and I took a train into central Stockholm. I purchased the book and then waited outside a bank while Barry went inside to withdraw money. Inside the bank, halfway through the transaction, Barry witnessed two gunman enter, dressed in ski masks, ordering all the customers down on the floor, amidst shouting and screaming.
The robbery was aborted after the alarm was raised.
However, the experience left him in a state of shock.
Barry’s passport was stuck inside the bank and as a result of the lengthy investigation, we barely had time to go to the government store that supplies alcohol.
After returning to the boat, strong weather conditions persisted. We sailed past Landsort, which marked the southern tip of the Stockholm Archipelago, and is identified by a prominent historic lighthouse. It was built in the 17th century when lighthouses were introduced to assist maritime trade in the surrounding treacherous waters.
As a result of the extended daylight we were able to sail long challenging days into the evening and drop anchor around 10 p.m. in clear daylight. Further south, the islands became less frequent and more exposed – some were isolated bare rocks and others had forested vegetation. The trees appeared as mature bonsai sculptures with distorted trunks and twisted limbs, pointing towards the sky.
Along the next stretch of coast there were no protective island anchorages. Harbors had been created to provide shelter from the exposed sea. Good sailing conditions prevailed and we were feeling relaxed. Our world had been reduced to the four of us in our little sailing cosmos and we were making good headway in our meditative euphoria.
In the morning, ominous clouds were moving in, and we were out in the channel facing strong headwinds that shifted to our side. The boat responded as the sails accommodated the strength of the wind, and firm control of the helm steered the boat as she plowed through waves, slapping into the troughs, spuming spray and foam and streaming water along the deck. We reached an impressive speed of seven knots. Liam worked the mainsail and I held the tiller. When the boat heeled over, in danger of capsizing, he would release the sail and the boat would regain its composure.
When the boat leans at 45 degrees it takes considerable skill cooking in the galley. The stove is released on a swivel that allows it to take on a level position to compensate for the angle of the boat’s unleveled surface. The pots and pans are secured on the stove with screwed holders, but it requires caution, as the effects of strong gusts can cause unexpected movements. I can testify that preparing shakshuka, while standing at 45 degrees is quite a challenge. I took charge of supplies and cooking as I was trying to keep a kosher kitchen and the guys claimed they had never eaten so well away from home.
The excessive movement of the boat eventually disabled our refrigerator. Because of its proximity to the engine it became a hotbox and we had to discard our food to whatever fish are found in the Baltic. Along the southern tip of the Swedish coastline we took shelter each evening in small harbors – colorful small villages once fishing towns, now consisting of holiday homes.
Clear skies and strong winds assisted our passage across the open Baltic Sea as the land disappeared. We had to traverse commercial shipping lanes – a small sailing vessel confronting these massive ships proved challenging, especially when we found ourselves on a potential collision course. We acquiesced irrespective of who had right of way.
Eventually, the coastline appeared before us and with strengthening winds we navigated towards a lighthouse which marked the entranceway into a small marina harbor.
It was nearly 11 p.m. and the evening light had faded.
The entrance was marked by lighted buoys, and had been dredged to create a channel between precariously shallow mudflats. We lowered the sails and motored into the darkness. Suddenly the lighted buoys were extinguished.
We were forced to navigate in the dark, relying solely on our navigation screen, and two people placed on the bow who attempted to identify the markers without the boat running over them in the black abyss. The suspense lasted over an hour, and then we found ourselves in a small fishing harbor. Two drunken revelers invited us to tie up parallel to a fishing boat, as waves chopped around us. There was an eerie quality to the dimly lit harbor which reminded me of a nighttime scene from a spy movie. On board, around midnight, we celebrated our success, devouring a block of cheese and consuming a bottle of red wine.
The next stage of our journey was down the Baltic coast of Germany. The challenging conditions eventually took their toll on Lori. Two days later, as we were raising the mainsail, it collapsed under the strain – a near fatal accident was averted as the boom crashed on Liam’s head and he doubled over – a miracle he survived almost unscathed. Eventually we managed to bring the boat under control and motor into a marina at Kiel Harbor for repairs, ironically where the boat had been commissioned and built.
At this point the crew parted company after almost 3 weeks under sail – each going our own separate ways, while Barry was going to overlay in Kiel for a few days, make repairs to Lori and somehow raise finances for the next part of his voyage to get the boat to England, sailing in a self-reliant lifestyle and discovering the beauty and challenge of the fickle and uncanny sea.Graeme Stone is a licensed Tour Guide in Israel email@example.com