The Inner Stockholm Archipelago in July 2011

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Chart between Stockholm and Sandhamn

Stockholm toward Saltarö

Ghislaine's daughter Louise with husband Marcel had bought a house on Värmdö, a big island in the Stockholm Archipelago about 45 minutes by car from Stockholm. Though we had been there "by land" several times already, we had promised (them and ourselves!) to arrive by kayak from Stockholm in the summer.

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Putting the Kayak together

Right after breakfast, July 18th, we carried the kayak with all the paraphernalia down to the waters of Lake Mälare about 100 meter (300 feet) from our apartment in downtown. There we assembled the folding Nautiraid and loaded it with all our gear - a tent, inflatable mattresses, a double sleeping bag, a stove, food, nautical gear, kayaking gear, etc. I did notice that the sponsoon (two oblong, inflatable bags used for stabilization) on the right lacked the closure and thus could not be inflated. This had happened last year, but I had forgotten to take care of the problem. Well, it is a very stable kayak anyway. By 10 AM we were all set to go.

Quite a few people walked by with or without baby strollers or dogs, and many joggers ran by. I was surprised that nobody paid attention to us. There are lots of kayaks in Stockholm, but ours is probably the only one of its kind. Surely they must have been interested? The timidity of the Swedes? One nice man did stop, an immigrant.

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The Small Boats Locks at Gamla Stan

The wind was light and it was sunny, so it was quite a pleasure to paddle along Norr Mälarstrand, the main drag along Kungsholmen. We passed by the Town Hall (where the Nobel prizes are given), Gamla Stan (Old Town) and were soon at the locks. Our lake is actually quite large (the 9th in size in all of Europe), but there are islands everywhere and lots of nooks and crannies, so it is hard to grasp its size. Of the three locks, two are in Stockholm proper, and this are the smallest ones. We lined up with many powerboats (the many bridges here are too low for sailboats to enter) and did not have to wait too long.

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There is always much more activity on the other side of the locks, the salt water side. Big cruise ships line up and there is a maze of small boats running back and forth in the harbor, as well as many passengers boats heading out to the many islands in the archipelago. But today it was much calmer than the crazy scene of last year when we had entered in the other direction.

We enjoyed seeing many old boats, among others a visiting three master, moored along Old Town. We passed along Strandvägen and paddled along the idyllic Djurgårdskanalen.

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Bird island

After a couple of hours of paddling we started looking around for a lunch spot. This close to Stockholm there were homes almost everywhere along the beaches. However, south of Lidingö we found a small island with some old dilapidated buildings, mostly industrial. It all looked pretty much abandoned, so we snuck (=sneaked) into a small beach just beyond the buildings.

The wind picked up a bit as we continued Northward. Just East of Northern Lidingö there was a small, interesting island. We had thought about maybe going ashore, but when we got closer and saw all the birds nesting, we quickly continued and left them alone.

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Camp near Vaxholm

The wind picked up even more, so going East in straight headwind meant harder work at the paddles. We were now in the main channel into Stockholm. All the pleasure boats as well as all the small and medium size ships heading East or North from Stockholm pass through here. In addition, it is the only entry into the city for big ships. The busiest place is probably Karlsudd, where everyone except the big ships makes a sharp left turn around a jetty.

So did we and with the sharp turn the pressure of the wind eased. Being close to Vaxholm, the largest city in the Archipelago, there were vacation homes all round us. Where to camp? It was still early, but when we found a very small beach with high banks, we did not hesitate. There was only room for kayak sized boats and even barely so. Because of all the swells coming our way we tied it as well as we could and scrambled up the bank with all our gear.

We enjoyed a beautiful evening in our little camp area. We made dinner and watched all the boats going by. There were also several large cruise ships and all the large ferries. The kayak was fine despite all the wave action.

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Inside the tent

Later we pitched our tent and then realized how small the area really was. Not wanting to cut any trees or branches, we ended up with a very uncommon solution: We put one small tree inside the tent. Certainly the first time for us!

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Snack at entrance to Lindalssundet

The next morning was a bit calmer. We carefully broke camp without hurting any of the small plants inside the tent. The boat had weathered all the waves well. We paddled past all the vacation homes, the beautiful view of Vaxholm with the old fort covering all of a small island in the middle of the city, and a bit later came to Stegesund. This is another very busy place in the Archipelago. It is a very narrow channel and usually quite chaotic, since all the vacation boats as well as some commercial ships come through this way. However, it was fairly calm this morning. And I was glad for that.

After the narrow channel the waters open up and the boats start spreading out. We headed East for Lindalssundet. The actual crossing distance is 1.3 nautical miles, out of which half are right through the big shipping lane. After we had paddled for a while in this very ship-exposed waterway, we did see one such ship just turning the corner far away. Even though you know that you have enough time and that there is no risk, it is still unnerving to see these big monsters growing and growing as they are coming closer to you.

We pulled ashore on some nice rocks on the other side of the crossing and replenished lost energy with some bread and cheese. A passenger boat went by making large waves. They moved the kayak from where it was in the pictures to inside the little lagoon!

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End of kayaking at Lillsved

It had been almost calm in the morning, but the headwind picked up a little bit as we made our way through the long channel, Lindalssundet, heading due East. As we emerged on the other side, we followed the coastline and started looking for a good lunch spot a little bit later. In a little cove a nice beach appeared. Further back there was a big lawn and a very fashionable large house. It looked too good to be true, so we assumed that it was private and continued on, passed some high banks to another little beach. This one was smaller and surrounded by big trees. It was all empty and looked inviting, though a bit dark.

Lots of boats of different sized passed by. As we got closer to shore, I got out of the cockpit and sat down on the deck as I always do just before landing. Because of all the wave action, I did this maneuver earlier than normal, maybe 10 meters (30 feet) from shore.

And then things started happening, slowly but inexorably. I put my right leg into the water in preparation for landing. Naturally, the kayak tipped a little to the right. However, it didn't stop there, but kept tilting more and more. In a flash of mind I thought about the flat sponsoon, giving no flotation aid at all. I always step out on the right, it is kind of a habit of mine. Why didn't I do it on the left side today, on the good sponsoon side? A good kayaker can handle situations like this by doing a "low brace" (flapping the blade of the paddle forcefully on the water) to straighten up the kayak. So can I when I am prepared, but I had never had the opportunity to try it unprepared before. At any rate, the paddle was not in my hands! The boat kept heeling more and more, and then it FLIPPED all over! How could an "inflippable" kayak flip?

Fortunately, the water was not very cold. I quickly surveyed the situation. No dry bags floating around, they were all inside the overturned kayak. Where was Ghislaine? She had been in the cockpit with the spray skirt sealed. Her head popped up after a while. She said that I helped her out, but I have no such recollection. Instinct? When she had got her breathing under control, I asked her if she was fine and got a nodding reply. We swam ashore, towing the kayak behind.

I let Ghislaine walk ashore, a little shakier now than before. She had not been forewarned like I had, but had suddenly found herself upside down and fighting not to soak water into her lungs. At the same time, I was surprised how calm I had been from the beginning, as if I had experienced a flip like this many times. In fact, this was the first one despite twenty years of kayaking in sometimes pretty difficult situations. I reflipped the kayak and grabbed the few drybags that tried to float away. Not much water had entered and I quickly pumped it out and brought the kayak ashore.

Everything was dry in the bags. We quickly changed to dry clothes, hang the wet ones to dry and made lunch. Ghislaine noticed a small passenger boat pulling in to the area we thought was private. Evidently it was not and there must be a public road leading to it. Not really wanting to get back into the kayak so soon after our calamity, she then called her daughter, Louise, who has a vacation residence in Saltarö with her husband Marcel. They promptly agreed to come and pick us up.

We did kayak the short distance back to the "no longer private" beach. There was a cafe nearby, and there we sat down to wait for the rescuers!


Paddling distances in nautical miles
July 19, morning: Stockholm -> Lunch on small island south of Lidingö   5.5
"      , afternoon: Small island -> South of Vaxholm                    7.7
July 20, morning: South of Vaxholm -> snack at Lindalssundet            4.4
"      , snack -> lunch at Lillsved                                     3.2
Total: 20.8 nautical miles (37.9 km; 23.4 statute miles)


Rain af Sandeberg

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Marcel transporting Ghislaine on his flakmoped.