Our contributors reveal their favourite summer cruising grounds, from West Sweden and North Brittany to the Isles of Scilly
Sweden’s West Coast
Offshore adventure sailor Andy Schell would rather spend a summer here than anywhere else. Here’s why…
The first time Mia and I sailed into Sweden, we couldn’t figure out how to tie up to the dock. We’d been at sea for five days, back in 2012, then sailing Arcturus, our first boat, a 1966 classic-plastic Allied Seabreeze yawl double-handed from Inverness. After a sun-drenched North Sea crossing in perfect westerly winds, Mia announced that she could see Sweden, and on a dying breeze we ghosted into Marstrand.
I took three or four passes in the narrow channel between the mainland and Marstrand island before realising how the boats were moored to the floating pontoons, with pickup lines instead of buoys, either bow- or stern-to.
Once secured to the pier, we took a little while longer to figure out that there was no marina office – the do-it-yourself nature of sailing in Sweden required instead a walk to the ticket kiosk where we paid our daily mooring fee (about $40) and got a sticker to attach on the bow pulpit and a code for the showers and laundry. Since then Marstrand, which is nestled in the middle of Sweden’s spectacular west coast archipelago, has become our sailing home in Sweden.
While the Stockholm archipelago in the Baltic offers splendid cruising in its own right (we spent three summers exploring the region on Arcturus), the west coast is more accessible to foreign yachts doing only one season up north and tends to be easier to find both anchorages and harbours that can accommodate larger yachts. Marstrand and the surrounding archipelago is at the centre of it all.
When to go
Swedes live for their summers, and most of the country is on holiday for the entire month of July. This makes for crowded harbours and anchorages on both coasts so Mia and I always sail in August if we can; the days are still remarkably long, the weather is usually settled and warm, the water is still nice (a balmy 15°C), the holidaymakers have mostly gone home and the marine facilities, cafes, bars and restaurants are still in operation as their season winds down.
As on the Baltic side, there are no tides on the west coast, so you’ll get to enjoy anchoring as only you can in Sweden. It’s easier than it looks – just nose the bow in towards the cliffs to check for underwater hazards where it looks deep on the chart.
If clear, take another lap around, drop your stern anchor in deep water, pay out some scope until your bow person can hop ashore, then tie two bow lines around trees or to one of the myriad iron rings that line the shore, left over from sailing ship days as far back as the 1800s.
The best English-language cruising guide for the region even highlights the coastline where it’s easiest to do this manoeuvre, but the more adventurous will want to look for their own spots off the charts, of which there are literally thousands.
The sailing here is infinitely interesting. The further towards the open sea you wander, the more stark the scenery, with scattered conifer forests giving way to bare rock outcroppings. Sailing the inside passages is what makes the archipelago.
With good charts, minimal tidal streams, flat, protected water and excellent aids to navigation, you can short-tack your way up the narrowest of channels, holding course until the bow is practically overhanging the rocks before tacking and accelerating away. Most of the islands are steep-to, but don’t get too greedy, as the bottom in these parts is exceptionally hard and a grounding at speed would spell disaster.
Besides Marstrand, the quaint fishing village of Smögen, a bit to the north, is a favourite spot of ours, and for you boat nerds out there a visit to the island of Orust, where all the major Swedish boatbuilders are based, is well worth it.
The small town of Henån has a lovely guest harbour and access by bus to all the yards. In fact, consider leaving your boat in Sweden if she’s in need of a winter refit – we did just that with Isbjörn ahead of our voyage to Spitsbergen last year, leaving her in the extremely capable hands of the Vindö Marin yard, where she spent six months inside a heated shed getting outfitted for Arctic sailing. The labour rates are surprisingly reasonable and the work is world-class.
Take it slowly
In our experience it’s impossible to do both coasts of Sweden in a single summer. You’ll miss out on the slow pace of archipelago cruising that takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve crossed an ocean to get there.
I’ve always felt that places like Scotland and Norway inspire from a distance, with the rugged mountains visible from miles offshore. But in Sweden, especially on the treeless, rocky islands of the west coast, the beauty is on a more granular scale.
The archipelago’s true character only reveals itself once you are among its rocks and skerries, short-tacking down its narrow channels, swimming with the locals off the diving boards set into the cliffs in Smögen. So slow down and enjoy it.
Leave your boat or change crew: Marstrand, only an hour’s bus ride to Gothenburg. Stromstad, close to the Norwegian border. Orust, with all its boatyards is by far the best place to leave a boat for the winter.
Don’t miss: The many free-to-use saunas scattered on the cliffs in the more remote outer archipelago.
Don’t forget: A bucket grill for when you are moored bow-to the rocks. A kedge-sized stern anchor with webbing roll for easy deployment. Warm clothing for upwind sailing!
Best adventure: Exploring the islands by foot. Sweden’s allemansrätt gives you the freedom to roam.