It’s been a long time since Tom Cunliffe sailed south in June. Why go to Spain, he argues, when there’s solitude, astonishing scenery and around 20 hours of sunshine a day in the Swedish Baltic?


Don’t do dinner

We’d come for lunch. Here’s the thing about eating in Scandinavia: unless you are super-rich, dinner is to be avoided. A main dish can cost half as much again as the same thing at lunchtime. But it’s the wine where the joke really stops. I was charged £9 for a glass of the sort of stuff Australians use in sheep dips. This was accompanied by a tiny fillet of pike which would have been flattered to be labelled ‘undistinguished’.

By contrast, I have eaten many an excellent lunch at £30 for two in upmarket cafeterias with open-air terraces by the water. But have nothing to do with the beer. It will give you a headache, make you feel morose and leave you in the poor-house. Far better to drink on board and enjoy the food as the locals do.

Cockpit dinners can be sourced from local shops

Cockpit dinners can be sourced from local shops

Half a day north of Kalmar, we reached into paradise, heeling to a warm south-easterly breeze. The archipelago we were entering could now take us all the way to Russia in flat water. There are so many islands with anchorages yet to be discovered that the pilot books give up trying to describe them all.

You don’t even have to row ashore because the approved mooring technique is to drive up to a handy rock, sling the hook over the stern, then hop off the sharp end and secure the bow to a tree. The boat can now be hauled off as required. Hang your boarding ladder over the bow and step off. Take a stroll in primeval woodland or chum up with the ever-friendly locals.

Bread from the mermaid

If it’s solitude you want, you can find it on smaller islands in company with sea eagles. If you’re lucky, though, your solitude will be broken like ours at breakfast time with a gentle bump alongside and an Ingrid Bergman voice peddling homemade bread.

This mermaid in a RIB lived on the rocks with the grandmother who had taught her how to bake seagoing loaves. “It keeps,” she said, so I bought one. Three days later I met another enterprising young tradeswoman on the same game. This time I filled my locker and it fed us for a week.

We made it to our favourite island after a pilotage spectacular; working to windward into the outer archipelago, jinking past rocks on clearing bearings until we carried our way through a tiny dogleg into the perfect anchorage. Inside were a few small local boats and children playing on the rocks.

A local boat leaves Grönskar in the Stockholm Archipelago

A local boat leaves Grönskar in the Stockholm Archipelago

After a swim and a run ashore we laid out the cockpit table for dinner. By ten o’clock the kids had gone to their bunks and all was quiet. To seaward lay only the rockscape, the blue Baltic, the Finnish Gulf and the dark mystery of Russia. The half-lit night was flat calm as we set a match to the cockpit lamp and laid out herring, caviar, the girls’ wholesome bread, Polish vodka crisp from the freezer and hand-picked strawberries.

The sky was too bright for stars and as Venus followed the sun’s brief dip below the northern horizon a flock of geese tagged behind to see where they had gone. The air was so still we could hear the beat of their wings.




Dover to Kiel Canal – 350 miles

Kiel Canal – 50 miles

Kiel to Ystad – 150 miles

Ystad to Kalmar – 130 miles

Kalmar to Bottskar – 200 miles of islands, with many more to come going north and east all the way to Finland and Russia.


Buy heavy dry goods – spuds, rice etc – at home where you have a car.

Stock up in Germany: it’s cheaper than Britain, especially for beer, wines and spirits. Brunsbüttel has a convenient supermarket.

Fuel and water

Water is everywhere, but bring a hose. Fuel is not a problem nor more expensive than in Britain, but you don’t get the option to split some of the tax for ‘heating purposes’. If you have red diesel on board, make sure you keep the receipt and have it stamped ‘tax paid’ in case you’re boarded by zealous officials, particularly in Holland, as I was.

Constance in a sheltered anchorage

Constance in a sheltered anchorage


Admiralty charts will get you to and through the Kiel Canal. Once inside the Baltic you must use local charts. Paper charts are vital; without them it’s simply not possible to achieve an overview. They come in chart packs and are not too expensive. They can be bought in Ystad, Kalmar or, believe or not, all good bookshops. The same goes for local pilot books, which are useful for the plans alone even if you can’t read Swedish. The southern area edition comes with an English translation.

E-charts are available from Navionics (who cheekily charge extra for Denmark) and Garmin. Both also offer iPad Apps at a very low rate, but the Garmin one has no projected track feature, so is less useful.

I use paper charts for passage-making then switch to the iPad for pilotage and to find my position if I get lost among the islands and rocks.

  1. 1. Via the Keel Canal
  2. 2. Don’t do dinner
  3. 3. Page 3
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