Some Scandi talking
Sailing Today|December 2020
Sam Fortescue escapes lockdown to explore Scandinavia with his family.

Joining dozens of other boats that poured out of the narrow mouth of Germany’s River Schlei, I was prickled with a sense of excitement and trepidation. Very few others turned north like us, towards Danish waters just 12 miles distant. In these Corona times, most turned south and east towards Kiel, safely in the German Baltic. And yet, we’d done our homework. Sweden to the north was open to all-comers, and the Danes were adamant: ‘Danish waters are not closed’, read an email from someone at the Danish Maritime Authority. Transit and even anchorage were permitted, although we could not go ashore without ‘permission from the authorities’.

That bravado began to evaporate somewhat as we observed two large patrol vessels converging on our position. With a confidence I didn’t feel after so long in lockdown, I assured my wife Alex that they were just on a training exercise. Naturally enough, the coastguard and a German naval vessel took no interest in us whatsoever, and plied their way on up the Flensburger Fjord. We slipped over the ‘border’ and anchored quietly off Sønderborg, a lively little town that straddles the bridge between Jutland and Als. It was a windless, bright evening, and, with the children in bed, the first waves of relaxation began to steal over us. Hard to believe that just two weeks earlier, the boat was still unreachable across state lines, in her winter cradle, and in dire need of a coat of antifouling.

I allowed myself the satisfaction of surveying the charts for the next few days of sailing. Depending on conditions, and the impatience of the smallest crew members, I hoped to make a couple of modest 20 mile passages up through the Little Belt, which dodges between the bulk of Jutland to the west and the endless low, sandy islands that make up much of Denmark. We would aim first for the 20 mile deep fjord at Haderslev, then the large town of Middelfart and finally the island of Samsø, before striking out into the more open waters of the notorious Kattegat.

Breaking through the blockade

It worked out beautifully, with a decent southeasterly breeze accompanying us most of the way. Summer Song’s freshly painted hull slipped through the water a good knot faster than usual, while the wind-driven tide gave us another knot. Far from our usual average of 5 knots, we made better than 7 knots, with some cracking reaches and beats. The wind was warm, and the rain was too, so it was no hardship helming in bare feet, shorts and a sailing jacket, feeling at times as if the boat were surfing through the narrow sounds between the islands. The water here is shallow and greenish, but there is majesty to the way 200-year-old trees dip their branches in the water, and the landscape simply stops abruptly at the water’s edge, with barely a beach to say for itself.

Now, Denmark has always proven a very welcoming place, especially for sailors with small children. But with the proviso that we should seek permission to come ashore, we were unsure how things would pan out. In some spots we got a warm welcome. The wildflower island of Samsø, for instance, was pleased to see us as the only visiting yacht, and we rode out a gale there. Not so the neighbouring island of Tunø, where the harbourmaster warned us that he would have to call the police unless we moored in the southernmost corner of the marina, where he couldn’t see us from his office window. Mid-Kattegat, the gin island of Anholt also welcomed us, so we paused to gather our forces for the final hop to Gothenburg. It was an opportunity for the children to see a sandy beach, but we were one of only five yachts in a marina that would normally be stuffed to the gunwales in June.

Rather a lot of traffic

Having grown up sailing in the English Channel, I was rather dismissive of the prospect of big ship traffic in the Kattegat. There wasn’t even a formal traffic separation scheme in the section we planned to cross, just a purple dotted line on the chart. Come 3am, though, and that attitude was looking rash. A constant stream of navigation lights passed back and forth in front of us, and the chartplotter fairly glowed with AIS targets. A hasty recalculation soon had us alter course to cross the traffic at right angles, but not without our squeaking 500 metres ahead of a large Russian tanker. This was Baltic lesson number one.

The traffic persisted until we had passed the fairway buoy off the mouth of the Göta älv River at dawn and crept in among the skerries. A brisk northerly wind was replacing the oily calm of the night, and knowing that there were still a few hours until the children awoke, we ducked into our first rock anchorage and anchored English-style, but uncomfortably close to the rocks.

It took a day to recover from the all-nighter, but we were rewarded almost straight away for our pains. Consulting our indispensable copy of the Swedish Cruising Association (SKK)’s Three Weeks in Bohuslän, as this stretch of coast is called, we identified a deep, sheltered inlet on the south coast of a nearby island. Though the water was flat through the inner mark, progress was slow against 20 knots of wind, and involved some real rock-hopping. The absence of tides and excellent navigation marks (often resembling the Moominhouse from Tove Jansson’s books) made it exciting rather than hair-raising.

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