We (Craig, Barbara, Chip & Kit) left Oskarshamn on a beautiful, sunny day and headed north through the Swedish archipelago. There are islands everywhere, with every sort of boat nosed up to a rock, spilling its Swedish sunbathers and barbecuers onto the shores. The outer islands are just low mounds of rock; the inner islands have rock outcroppings, but at least a few trees and sometimes substantial forests. Many islands have a summer home or two or many. The passages between the islands are sometimes quite narrow, with just enough room for pleasure boats to squeeze by each other.
Just after passing through one such narrow passageway, we entered the Västervik harbor, carefully picking our way along a tortuous buoy-lined path, and finally arriving at the gästhamn (guest harbor). Despite the presence of a line of buoys 20 meters away from the outer dock, we saw that many larger boats were in fact side-tied to the outer dock and not using the buoys at all. On crowded days the harbormaster certainly wouldn't like that, because you can fit 3 or 4 buoy-tied boats in the space taken by one side-tied boat. But here, evidently, you were allowed to side-tie for, it turns out, a higher fee. So we did.
(I must diverge for a moment and say, for the benefit of cruisers from back home, that guest moorage fees in Sweden have been very reasonable - on the order of $25 or $30 a night, INCLUDING electricity, water, showers, washers and dryers, and in the case of Västervik, use of the swimming pool. Oops! Craig just told me that today is the first day of "high season" and the price of a night's side-tie moorage here went up from 250 krona ($29.65) to 304 krona ($36.05))
It turned out that the dock we chose was so new that it didn't yet have electricity or water. But they were working on it. When we first tied up, there was a worker cleaning up scraps of wire from the dock, and other workers closer to shore were wrestling electrical cables through heavy yellow tubes. They said "maybe tomorrow" we'd have electricity. With all credit to those hard-working guys, we did indeed have electricity the next day. No water, but now we have plenty of that coming out of the sky.
We came to the gästhamn in Västervik despite a dire warning from Martin Edge in his acerbic 2014 Baltic guide (165 Rocks and other stuff to tie your boat to in eastern Sweden and Finland):
"The rip-off 'Promarina' marina in the town centre is to be avoided, as are all the new marinas owned by that company as they try to build an empire and establish a monopoly in a lot of Swedish harbours. It's double the price and about a tenth as well sheltered."
Well, it turns out that the Promarina operation was so hated that it was boycotted by many boaters, and ultimately failed financially. The marina was recently purchased by a group of investors, including, notably, Björn Ulvaeus of the musical group ABBA. They have already invested substantially in the marina's infrastructure, including the dock we're on, and they have ambitious plans to substantially increase the number of moorage spaces, and a new building across the way will contain additional boater facilities (and a number of luxury apartments). There are plans to build a grand hotel on the site as well. It will remain to be seen how much moorage prices will be affected by all this.
We first learned about the ABBA connection when we asked a local fellow, passing by, to take a picture of the four of us. He happily did so and then continued down the dock on his walk. A few minutes later he made a U-turn and came back to make sure that we knew that the building on the far side of the harbor was being built by Björn, who, by the way, was this fellow's classmate in school. After that, we were told of the ABBA connection by numerous other local residents and fellow boat owners. They're obviously all very proud of their local hero/star. We were invited to a poolside cocktail party in the evening, where "the owners" were showing up to thank their local customers. We did talk to one of the owners, but sad to report, Björn was not there.
Above: That's Björn's new building.
Below: His name is plastered all over the construction fences.
The center of Västervik is a good walk from here. I walked over there the first day with Kit and Chip, while they checked out the bus and train transportation to Stockholm, as they would be leaving us the next day. They had good success, finding a bus that would take them to Stockholm in 3 ½ hours. We walked from the train station past a gorgeous brick church (St. Petri Kyrka) with soaring steeples and interesting wind vanes or decorative filigree on top of each spire. From there, to the grocery store and past some very interesting store fronts, restaurants and harbor facilities.
Above: Västervik Harbor
Below: St. Petri Kyrka
That evening we had a truly delightful dinner in the restaurant that is a part of this marina complex. They were offering a dinner special: paella and a glass of wine for 180 krona (about $21). (That is extremely cheap for dinner out in Sweden). We were served by a Swedish young man, Axel, who is still in high school. He was an absolute charmer, excellent English speaker, saying he was interested in physics and music, among other things. A future renaissance man, perhaps. At the end of the evening he brought his guitar over and sang us a Swedish folk song. (See photo at the top of this page).
Above: heading to the train station
We said good-bye to Chip and Kit the next day, walking over to the train/bus station to see them off. We'd had a very nice visit, seeing wonderful things together and sharing boat duties. The boat, although 44 feet long, is a small space, and it's a real credit to our guests when we can all get along together so well. We wish them a good rest of their trip (they are headed to Oslo before returning home).
Craig spent the rest of that day fighting the cell phone wars. We had bought a "hot spot" device in England, but it turns out that topping up the megabytes in Sweden is next to impossible, despite representations to the contrary when we bought the little device. "Three" (the mobile phone company) will not allow you to top up the device online unless you have a British credit card with a British billing address. (Which we obviously don't.) Hmmmph!!! Further efforts to address this problem will take place in Stockholm.
We are the only American boat. We have not seen another American-flagged boat since our arrival in Europe in May. People will wander by and stare at the boat, and if we are around, they want to know "Did you sail it all the way here?" Certainly the number of times we've been asked that is approaching, or maybe even more than 100 different times. We've been able to get our standard answer shorter and shorter, because retelling the story gets pretty boring to us.
A number of the visitors to the boat have been American expats. Here in Västervik, a man came down from his top-floor apartment onshore to welcome us and talk to some fellow Americans. In Kalmar we had a visit from an American who had been in Sweden 25 years, never had a job here, just invested and sailed his boat around. We also had a visit here in Västervik from a RN/EMT who, when on duty, was required to be no more than 90 seconds from the aid car. (He thought our boat qualified). He had grown up in Southern California, but has been happily in Sweden with his Swedish wife and four boys for many years. He had some great island destination advice for us, and encouraged us to call him if we ever had any difficulties.
We also get plenty of visitors who are Swedish, Danish or Finnish, German or Dutch. Those seem to be the predominant nationalities that are cruising here. We've seen perhaps 2 or 3 cruising boats from the UK on this trip, but they are almost as rare as Americans. Last night we met a Finnish couple and invited them aboard for conversation and drinks. They were able to offer some very helpful advice about marinas in Stockholm as well as cruising destinations between here and there. We talked about languages, cultures, politics and many other things.
Today it's been raining, although the sun is trying to shine through. It's a day for boat projects before we head out into the islands tomorrow, and spend a few days on anchor or nosed up to a convenient rock. We hope that your summer is as much fun as ours has been so far!
Best wishes to all.
Click here to see more Västervik pictures.
Above: This is the "job shack" for Björn's building project by the yacht harbor. Individual modules seem to snap together like Lego blocks. Chip's comment was, why aren't we using a system like this to provide temporary shelter for homeless or disaster situations?