When I started planning in November 2003, it soon appeared there would have no shortage of volunteer crew for a Baltic cruise: “Put us down for St.Petersburg” was the frequent response.
I considered the option of leaving the boat in the Baltic over the Winter but, just in case I changed my mind, detailed planning was based on a 3-month trip. All the pilot books seemed to say the same thing: the Baltic season is short – consider June, July and August as comfortable. So I started filling in the likely passages and matching them with possible crew-change ports, courtesy of Ryanair and EasyJet. Rather like compiling a crossword from scratch.
It soon became apparent that, if we voyaged clockwise, we wouldn’t get much further than Stockholm. My primary objective was the archipelago, but I wanted to linger and enjoy it rather than pass through at speed, especially as 11 weeks was all the time I could really afford. I guess that with another two we might have managed the whole circuit but I didn’t want to commit myself to meeting crew in some distant location that might have been impossible to reach on a given day, so I scaled back the original plan and set Stockholm as the ultimate objective.
Ryanair have flights from Stansted to Hamburg, Malmo & Stockholm: except, of course, that their airports are nowhere near the advertised destinations. This actually worked to our advantage as all three turned out to be within reasonable range of a convenient harbour although one lesson we learned the hard way was not to get into the first taxi that comes along: it’s invariably driven by someone who doesn’t know the area, can’t find the marina and overcharges for the privilege. Cheap methods of transport do exist, but it’s a question of being patient.
Three of us sailed Moonshine from Woolverstone, leaving Harwich at 11.00hrs on Wednesday 2nd June stopping at Den Helder en route and then a fast 36 hour passage took us all the way to Rendsburg, half way up the Kiel Canal. We arrived in Kiel at 18.00hrs on Sunday 6th and were given a warm welcome. The British Kiel Yacht Club had sounded a suitable venue for a rendezvous, and so it transpired. With Ryanair to Hamburg actually arriving at Lubeck, it was not difficult for our first crew change. The new crew arrived the following day, and 5 of us enjoyed a good sail in Kiel Fjord before despatching the first two back the same route.
Tuesday dawned fine and we headed for Sweden’s South coast, identifying Gislovs Lage as a suitable destination. It took us 4 days via Denmark’s Southern islands, calling at Rodbyhavn, Gedser and Stubbekobing. Roughly 50nm per hop.
Gislov’s Lage is relatively close to Malmo Sturrup airfield served by Ryanair, and my wife and next crew – a married couple – joined us whilst the other crew returned home. This is a useful marina, but not much else, and so we set off coast hopping to Ystad and then over to the Danish islands of Bornholm and Christianso. The latter is particularly interesting and a “must see” for anyone in the vicinity. Weather wasn’t very kind at this point, with mainly following winds of F6/7.
From there we headed due North to the unique Swedish outpost of Utklippan which has a well-sheltered basin inside a tiny island. The lighthouse keeper runs an outdoor hot-tub which is fun, if you like that sort of thing. Then into Kalmar Sound and various villages, all with yacht harbours, and ending at Kalmar, a stunningly attractive town and port with a dominating Castle on the outskirts.
Another crew-change here, though I had arranged a free week for myself in case I needed to return home. As I didn’t need to, I was lucky enough to recruit an out-of-work Swedish fellow to help me take the boat further North to Oskarshamn. He was an absolute delight, and was terrific at introducing me to the joys of archipelago navigation. With him on board we started to find the first of the glorious island anchorages that are the feature of this coast.
Ulf left me at Nykoping, a well-laid out new marina known for its Olympic canoe course and pleasant little town. It also happens to be less than 5km from Stockholm Skavska, another Ryanair destination and where my next crew were due.
The next 5 weeks were spent exploring the Archipelago, venturing right into the City of Stockholm and visiting the island of Gotland, famous as the home of Maxi Yachts. The sailing couldn’t have been better: anchorages were a delight and local villages were all well equipped for yachtsmen – plenty of water etc. I was pleased we have the shallow draught version as this gave us a little more scope. We didn’t encounter many yachts over 40ft. Almost all were crewed by couples, Germans, Finns and Danes, with very few British boats to be seen.
Our return journey followed much the same track as we’d made on our way out, with the exception of going North of the Danish islands from Gislovs Lage to Kiel. My crew for the trip from Kiel consisted of two experienced sailors, but from there, the weather started to worsen so we had a wet passage down the Canal to Cuxhaven and then some day and a half delay before setting off for Den Helder. This passage proved to be the most brutal of the lot – with winds of F5/6 on the nose once we’d got out of the Elbe. We pushed on, however, and were mightily relieved to make port some 24 hours later, thanks mainly to Volvo. Leaving Den Helder, too, took us two attempts but we eventually escaped and ended up motoring up the Orwell in a flat calm, having set off in F5/6.
“Moonshine” behaved impeccably throughout, though I did have to change the bilge pump (again) in Ystad. We covered just over 2,500nm using a spinnaker frequently on the passages and a small borrowed cruising chute once we were in the Baltic. We had no difficulty towing our 11ft inflatable whilst we were off the Swedish coast and enjoyed being able to stow the outboard in the aft starboard locker. I did take two extra gas bottles (4 in all) and was glad of that. We were able to get replacements in Ystad, Kalmar and Stockholm. It would have been useful to have had one large round fender and a sausage shaped one for the transom for protection from the stern anchor chain. Harbour masters usually sorted out adaptors for the electrics, but an extension of 10 metres would have been handy in some cases. Conversely, we never used our hose reel extension as water supplies seemed more accessible.
By the way, chartering isn’t promoted widely, probably because the season is so short, but yachts are available from the BKYC and could be a good option.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Baltic – no tide planning is a bonus – and I would thoroughly recommend it.