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Sunday, August 12, 2007, in Malmö, Sweden

Hi everyone. We’re finally on the west coast of Sweden, not all that many sailing days away from the place that we’ll store the boat for the winter. Last week, we were in Kalmar, on the east coast, so this week we’ve looped around the bottom of Sweden.

Our departure from Kalmar was timed, as usual, for early morning, before the wind comes up. We didn’t expect to sail at all on the short trip between Kalmar and the island of Öland, but our early departure gave us several hours to dally in the calm sea. We tacked back and forth, making a one-hour motor into a very pleasant two-hour sail. There was another one of those pesky engine error messages, so we jotted down the error code, and set up a service call from Volvo in our next harbor after Öland. It wouldn’t have been possible to get service in pastoral Öland, and we didn’t think that the situation required immediate attention. Our destination was at the bottom of that island, the town of Grönhögan.

According to archaeological evidence, the island was settled about 8000 BC. Stone Age settlers came from the mainland across an ice bridge. Excavations of settlements have yielded burial grounds, ringforts, and stone ships. Later, the island was used by Swedish royals as a game preserve.

There isn’t much to learn about Grönhögan, from my guidebook, or from the Internet. We arrived mid-day, docked with ease, and set off to find the lone restaurant I was able to dig up on the Internet. It didn’t disappoint us. Öland is filled with old windmills, and this restaurant resided inside one of them. We ate lunch at plastic tables on grass that was under constant grooming by a waitress and a power mower. The buffet on offer contained as many dishes as there were patrons in the restaurant, each dish served on a hot table in pots that could have been in anyone’s home kitchen. There were meatballs, a fish casserole, Indian rice, a vegetable casserole, couscous, ham, and more. Customers could forego the buffet in favor of the local dish kroppkakör, which I’d eaten in Stockholm. They’re dumplings of mashed potatoes, with minced pork in the center. About half of the customers there opted for that local dish.

Most of the historic sites on the island weren’t within walking distance, and by the time we’d finished lunch, it was already after two. We decided to spend a quiet day aboard, in anticipation of our sail to Karlskrona the next day, and the arrival of our company later in the week.

There was plenty of time to use for our trip to Karlskrona in the morning. Getting there late in the day wouldn’t be a problem. We’d already been there earlier in the season, so there was no rush to see the sights. Furthermore, we needed to spend two full days there, for boat maintenance and to stock the pantry. And last, we’d made a reservation with the marina, so we knew that there would be space for us, whenever we arrived.

The winds weren’t promising, but after a few hours we were able to sail, ambling downwind along the east coast of Sweden. By afternoon, we were rounding a corner of land, and we could sail on a beam reach for the rest of the trip with the wind at a ninety-degree angle to our boat. For you non-sailors, thats a comfortable and pleasant point of sail, with a good speed in the right direction, no heeling over, and the feel of the breeze, but not too much breeze. Then we turned upwind again, and were on a beat for about as long as I like, which is to say only a few minutes, heeled over, noisy, and making about nine knots of progress through the channel into the harbor.

The harbormaster met us and placed us in the same spot alongside the quay that we’d occupied on our previous visit. A 75-foot sailboat with a Swiss flag was already there. Wed been following them around for a month, seeing them first in Helsinki, then in Saltsjöbaden, and now in Karlskrona. They always left before we did. After we docked and put the boat back together, we took a short walk to get re-acquainted with the town.

When we turned on the television that night for our usual dose of subtitled situation comedies, all we saw was snow. Art held onto a theory for much too long that there was no television in Karlskrona, and I believed, also for too long, that I’d broken something when I’d put the digital box away (for the first time) before we’d started sailing. At least there were some electronics shops in town. Art finally narrowed the problem to either a cable in the main salon or the antenna on top of the mast. We really hoped that it was the cable. I still wondered if I’d broken it, and Art probably still wondered whether Karlskrona, a fairly large city and the home of the Swedish Navy, simply didn’t have television. But we were wise enough not to share those theories with each other.

The Volvo mechanic stopped by and stayed until mid-morning. He’d looked at the likely source of our error message, but couldn’t do much with the problem until he received a part that was coming the next day. But now we had a mission in town, to get to the bottom of the television problem. It took lots of testing, but the problem was the antenna at the top of the mast, and that wouldn’t be fixed until we returned to the boatyard in a month. For the interim, we got a portable antenna that we could leave inside with the rest of the television equipment. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.

Having missions and errands enabled us to walk around the town, which we always enjoyed, and the weather, which had been rainy and awful in the morning, became hot and sunny for the rest of the day.

The antenna worked. On the plus side, that meant that we wouldn’t be without television for a month until we got back to Hallberg-Rassy and our warranty list. On the minus side, that meant that we could continue to waste our time watching reruns of “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” It also told us that the problem was in our antenna atop the mast. That wasn’t a small task to fix, even under warranty, and hinted that the equipment might not be problem-free when the warranty was over. It will never be easy to fix this antenna, and we’re not always in places that have as much boat support as we can get here. This gave us more reason to keep a spare antenna around.

So our investment in television, which we really weren’t sure we should get in the first place, has grown. First, we got the television itself. That was okay; once in a while, it would be nice to watch a DVD. Then we bought the digital box. That would give us a few more free channels, and it meant that we wouldn’t lose broadcast television when digital took over, which in some places, was only months away. Then we got three months of paid service, which gave us a few more channels. Now we’ve bought a spare antenna in case the one at the mast fails. Yikes.

Our friends Dave and Patti joined us by mid-day on the next day. We went across the street to the hotel buffet for lunch, and later we took a walk around the town. First we visited the main square, dominated by two churches and a large town hall, all modeled after the finest city squares elsewhere in Europe at the time Karlskrona was founded. Then we walked toward the maritime museum. Though we didn’t have the time – and maybe not the inclination, either – to visit the collection, we did visit the shed where we’d met a man who was making traditional clinker-built wooden boats. The man was there again, and apparently was happy to continue the discussion we’d begun months before. After we left him, we had a coffee in the museum’s cafeteria, visited the supermarket and walked back to the boat.

Our early morning departure was not met with the rain that had been forecast, but it was foggy, and the fog got worse as the day progressed. We were able to sail virtually the whole way to Simrishamn, assisted by radar. For a first day at sea, our guests couldn’t see Sweden. They couldn’t see anything more than about ten feet from the boat.

We couldn’t fit into the main guest harbor, but we were directed to the commercial fishing harbor and docked easily. Surprisingly, it was still very foggy inside the harbor. There isn’t much to Simrishamn. Its most important function is to house the ferry that takes vacationers to Denmark’s Bornholm Island. After docking at about six or seven o’clock, there wasn’t really time to wander into town. We ate dinner aboard, and Patti and Dave ventured out for a short walk, which probably showed them about all the place had on its main street. At least the fog had lifted a little bit by then. It was actually lighter outside at nine PM than it had been at six.

The morning’s weather was promising, and we left early, sailing immediately. Though rain had been predicted, it never found us, though there were some rumblings in the distance in the afternoon. We sailed for hours, but then began to motor about halfway across the southern tip of Sweden. Less than an hour into our motor, the engine failed again. Now that it had been torn apart and put back together, it failed in a different way. A worse way. This time, there was no “serious error” message. We couldn’t get an error code. The computer went off, so we couldn’t see the engine hours or any other data on the chart plotter display. And because the failure was in the computer that manages the basic engine functions, Art couldn’t turn off the engine. So there we were, with the engine on, idling in neutral, and unwilling to go into gear or turn off.

There wasn’t any wind at all. The sea looked like glass. People say that powerboats need two engines, for backup, but that a sailboat’s backup is the sails. That’s true, in the safety sense. But in most conditions, the reason you’re motoring is because the wind won’t let you sail. So when our engine fails, sailing isn’t an attractive option.

Art went into the engine room and turned off the engine with a switch that’s specifically for this purpose. One of the philosophies of Volvo engine design (and maybe other places, too) is apparently that the computer always defers to the captain. The computer might say, “There’s a big problem here,” then go into neutral and idle. But if the captain just powers back up again, as we’ve done each time, the computer simply shrugs its little electronic shoulders and defers. There’s an obvious downside to this philosophy, but so far it’s been in our favor. Thus Art was able to start the engine, motor along, and we made it to Malmö with no more error messages and no more problems.

So the engine problem wasn’t fixed yet. We continued on, through a canal that avoids the southwest corner of Sweden that faces Denmark, and under the 1995 Öresund bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden. Finally, we found our port in Malmo, and tied up in a guest space under a series of low-rise apartment buildings on one side and the shadow of the large Turning Torso apartments on the other.

This building, opened in 2005, was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and is 623 feet/190 meters (54 floors). It’s the tallest building in Sweden, and has been the tallest building in Scandinavia, and the second tallest apartment in Europe. Not in Berlin, or London, or Milan. In Malmö. The highest apartment building, by the way, is in Moscow. The building is based on a sculpture called Twisting Torso; its nine five-story cubes that turn as they rise. The top cube is at a ninety-degree turn from the bottom cube. It does kind of look like a torso.

We’d had two relentless travel days, and it was seven PM, but still fairly light outside. Happily, there was a restaurant only steps away from us, and we toasted our voyage with Carlsberg beer from Copenhagen, which we could nearly see in the distance.

Our plan is to stay here for a day or two, as we’re well on our way back, so we don’t need to rush. I’ll tell you more about Malmö next week.

We miss you all.

Love, Art and Karen