Midsummer Madness Up North
For the next 2 weeks we were going to cruise remote parts, so we wanted to go into Sundsvall for a final top up of provisions. In reality it probably wasn’t needed, as Mags never goes anywhere under catered. Some champagne sailing – blue skies and a cracking wind and we were able to tack into the large harbour. It wasn’t exactly appealing with its large factories – very industrial. It was a real contrast to the tiny villages we have been in for the last week. Sundsvall is a rich city which made its money through timber processing. But a fire in 1888 raised the wooden city to the ground and so it was rebuilt in stone – which is very unusual up here. Apparently, it is the most northern stone city in the world. Though I always remain sceptical about these sort of facts. The city is very grand with opulent buildings and wide boulevards – designed as fire breaks. The dragon became a symbol of the city to keep it safe from fire. The 21st century reincarnation of the dragon is hundreds of painted fibreglass dragons around the city, with each local company painting one – it is a fun eclectic mix of colour that adds to the great vibe this city has.
It was due to be a quick stop but I had hurt my back so it seemed prudent to stay another day. I am not sure whether it was the extra day or the visit to a Aladdin’s cave of a chandlery that was restorative but it did the trick. After filling up with fuel we were off. It was a frustrating sail – when we want to sail east – that is where the wind came from. When we turned north east – so did the wind…. Hadn’t the wind seen the forecast that it was supposed to be south east! We had some long tacks but never really in the right direction. Behind us the sky was getting darker and really claggy looking. Time to admit defeat and turn the engine on and motor into the wind. The low grey clouds of rain were getting closer faster than the anchorage. As we arrived the heavens opened – proper 2 blobs of rain – it rained so hard that it bounced on the water. Then the thunder rumbled around. It is amazing how quickly you can put the boat to bed when it is raining. We dripped our way down the companion way stairs and closed the hatch firmly. It was definitely a hot water bottle and fluffy sock night.
It really was an early start 0545 and bleary eyed I went to clear the window of the mist and realised it was outside – the world had turned greyish white with visibility of less than 50m. As it was a simple entrance, we set off with all the electronic gadgets on that allow us to see other boats in such conditions. After a couple of hours bizarrely you could see blue sky above but the visibility came and went – we saw a strange fogbow as a result of the sun on the fog. Just as we were passing the highest lighthouse in Sweden, the mist parted enough to catch a glimpse and realise it was the highest due to the fact it was built on a cliff!
The mist lifted later and the beauty of the coast line was finally visible – yes we were definitely in the high coast – as this area is known. Don’t think high as in the mountains of Scotland – high round here is 250m!
In this part of the Baltic, during the last ice age there was 3km of ice pressing down on the land – which meant it sank 800m, it has since sprung back 500m. As well as boathouses being stranded from the water – it has a strange impact on the beaches. Rounding a headland, we started to see beaches of very large pebbles stretched up as far as the eye could see up the hill – those at the top had last felt the sea pounding on them several thousand years ago – and now were covered in green from the lichen.
We had picked Ulvöhamn (see banner picture) as the place to celebrate Midsummer – as it was sheltered from the strong NWs expected the next day. With all the stern buoys taken, and not keen to use the stern anchor with the boat 90o to the strong wind we went alongside as there was plenty of room. Midsummer is the biggest festival in Baltic countries – well would you with the dark winter months. Usually you can expect lots of Swedish drinking songs and drunk Swedes. Unfortunately we had a couple of small motorboats opposite us with a disproportionate number of young guys on board to the size of their boats. So until the wee hours of the morning we were in the centre of a nightclub with a bass drum from the music shaking our boat. Midsummer Eve is the one night that normal rules of behaviour are forgotten and rules are relaxed. So we would just have to wear ear plugs to sleep. This rule relaxation includes being permitted to fly your ensign all night – normally you should strike the colours at 9pm – living on the wild side!
The only answer for our sanity was to escape to a cake shop and explore the little village. Back onboard we retreated down below and binge watched TV in an attempt to drown out the noise.
Later that evening there was a knock on the hull and there was the hotel staff and a grumpy Swedish lady who said “you should be at 90 degrees to the pontoon on your stern anchor because that’s what we do here“ as we were moving the floating pontoon near the stern of her small motorboat. All she had to do was move her boat 50cm further along and it wouldn’t have been an issue for her. When I pointed out that if we moved our boat would be a like a sail to the wind the next day and then we really would move the pontoon and it would be dangerous, all she needed to do was move their boat 50cm… her reply “ why should we move when we were here first”. Clearly the park at 90 degree to the pontoon rule was the only rule not suspended on midsummer! The lovely hotel staff ( they were the harbour staff as well) – understood exactly what I meant – and for the next 2 days kept apologising profusely and checking we were ok. I am not sure if the fact that one of the staff also wore comfortable shoes helped our cause! Since then we have had free electricity and free cups of tea…. Ulvön having redeemed itself, we decided to stay an extra night.
We are self confessed Scandi fans….and yes we know we do wax lyrically (bore friends rigid) about the joys of life here and in Finland. However there is one thing that we draw the line at and this Island is famous for it….fermented Baltic Herring, Surströmming. Back in the day, as salt was expensive only enough was used to prevent the herring from rotting ( a matter of opinion). Fermentation takes 6 months and it is described locally as have a strong characteristic smell. Apparently a Japanese study (and they are lovers of fish) described a newly opened tin as the most putrid food smells in the world.
Out came the bikes and our plan was to cycle to the other side of the island. After seeking shelter from one downpour, we decided that we didn’t need to see the other side of the island and hightailed it back to the boat before the next rain cloud. But we did cycle through colourful wild flower meadows in the centre of the island.
We took a look round the harbour’s Fisherman’s Chapel built in 1622 – painted with the most extraordinary scenes inside.