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Sunday, July 29, 2007, in Saltsjöbaden, Sweden, near Stockholm

Hi everyone. As you can see, we’re back in Sweden, near Stockholm. Last week, we were sailing across the archipelago between Finland and Sweden, and we were trying to outrun a gale in the Baltic and the elusive engine alarm that we’d received.

We didn’t get another alarm for the rest of the day, or any day so far, so we’re hoping that we won’t be seeing it again, and that it’s just a quirk of the newfangled engine. I guess it’s time to talk about the “hull #2 problem.” It’s kind of like that old joke:

“Wow, that’s a beautiful diamond on your ring!”

“Yes, thank you. But it’s the Plotnick diamond. It comes with a curse.”

“A curse? What’s the curse?”

“Plotnick.”

So that’s the hull #2 problem. Yes, it’s a brand new design and it uses the latest technologies. And in general, that’s what you want. But using the new new thing means that you’re going to discover all of the little bugs in the software and the little tradeoffs that the designers made to add all the exciting extras. For example, it took some very creative engineering to equip our boat with davits to hold up the dinghy and a hydraulic passerelle (the gangplank we'll use to board the boat in the Mediterranean.) And lots of the onboard equipment is either new to Hallberg-Rassy, or just new, period. For example, the engine is computer-controlled. It sends data to our electronic navigation system. We can look at the tachometer on the chart plotter, or see the liters per hour of fuel consumption, and the engine knows exactly when to add more fuel or hold out. But you need a pretty special mechanic to work on it, even to change the oil. And this engine seems to have a little drinking problem, and insists that we’re low on coolant when we aren’t. Or, like last week’s “serious error”, maybe it had a little Sarah Bernhardt moment, and that’s the end of it.

And so we went back to Sweden. We anchored that night at the eastern edge of Sweden’s skargård, which is what they call the archipelago, knowing that it wouldn’t be hard to get to anywhere we needed to be in a day or so. The next day, we sailed most of the day inside the archipelago, dodging ferries and noticing the little huts near summer homes that were undoubtedly saunas.

The spot we chose to anchor next was at a restaurant that had a small entry in one of our cruising guides. We called in advance and they assured us that they had the space, and the depth, to handle us overnight. They were just off our archipelago course and very near to Vaxholm, where we’d been on our way up here. When we arrived, though, the winds were fairly strong, not the best situation for docking in a new place. Furthermore, the dock that they insisted would be fine for us looked a little small and didn’t have a power connection. Instead, we anchored just outside the restaurant, and decided to go ashore the next day for lunch, check it out, and possibly come into the dock for the next night.

It was a pleasant anchorage, close enough to the restaurant to pick up its wireless Internet connection. When we got up the next morning, we couldn’t think of a good reason to come into the dock. Instead, we took the dinghy ashore and had lunch in the restaurant, which was on a small island and contained a rustic sort of camp that looked as though it had been built by Gilligan. Then we took a field trip in our dinghy to nearby Vaxholm, stopped at the supermarket, the bakery, and the fish store, and restocked. We’d been eating every meal aboard, and the larder was getting a little empty.

The following day, it was finally time to return to Saltsjöbaden in the suburbs of Stockholm. It’s always so much easier to visit a place the second time. We had lots of reasons to dock stern-in, and we had no trouble doing that with the help of the friendly dockmaster, who came alongside in his dinghy and helped with our lines.

We were set now; there was laundry ashore, restaurants in walking distance, and Stockholm a half-hour train ride away. Furthermore, we bought Internet access from the formerly grand Grand Hotel looming over the boat, and Art set it up so that we could share it. I hadn’t had a proper drunken session of Internet in more than a month, and my first binge would be to update our obsolete web site.

We spent two days aboard, doing whatever hadn’t been done for the last month. For me, that was four loads of laundry and half a dozen pages of web site updates. For Art, he spent time on the phone and aboard with people from Lewmar, straightening out the counter on our windlass (the winch that hauls up the anchor), with Raymarine, replacing one of the two faulty wind instruments, covering the opening in the gooseneck that enabled water to gush into the main salon during our awful trip from Saint Petersburg, washing the boat of a month of dirt, and doing other routine maintenance, and maintaining our computer systems.

There was a reason we were in Stockholm at this particular time, beyond the fit with our season’s itinerary. Our cousins Carol and Jeff were leaving a Baltic cruise (on the kind of ship that toyed with our anxieties in the archipelago) in Stockholm, leaving us two days to spend time with them, and their traveling partners, honorary cousins Arlene and Ed.

We took the train to Stockholm to meet them and do some sightseeing together. Our first stop was the Vasa Museum, in our opinion the best attraction in Stockholm. We’d been there seven years earlier, but it had been improved, and we wouldn’t have minded seeing it again if it hadn’t.

The Vasa is a seventeenth-century battleship that sank on its maiden voyage, barely out of the harbor. King Gustavus Adolphus commissioned the Vasa in 1625 for Sweden’s ongoing war against Poland.

This war was a war of religion and family. The king’s cousin, the King of Poland, had been the heir to the Swedish throne, but this was the Reformation, and he was Catholic, and Sweden had chosen that the state church be Lutheran. So the Swedish king needed to build a warship that was formidable and effective. He participated actively, and unfortunately, in mapping out the specifications for the battleship.

The Vasa was a marvel of technology for its day. But the king insisted that there be two gun levels, a concept that was unprecedented at the time. The shipbuilder was Dutch, and well qualified, but he died about a year before the launch in 1628. The resulting ship, though, was unwieldy and ornate, and, most tragically, top-heavy. There were two levels of guns, and the heavier ones were on the higher level, upon the request of the King. He also wanted the ship to be so tall that it would tower over the other ships. There were carvings and sculptures, paying homage to the crown, all painted in bright colors, hardly the look of a warship, and all taking their toll on the seaworthiness of the vessel. So the Vasa had the hull #1 problem.

The sinking shouldn’t have been a big surprise. The test run, which involved men running to port and starboard thirty times on the decks at sea, was terminated after only three runs because the ship was listing dangerously. But nobody had the courage to tell the King that his ship was unsafe, and on the maiden voyage, carrying luminaries and their families, the ship sank almost immediately after it had left the dock. It had sailed about 1500 meters, or about a mile.

After the fiasco, there were some efforts to bring justice to the wrongdoers, but the shipbuilder was dead and the main culprit was the King. Who was going to tell him?

The most remarkable aspect of the story wasn’t so much the ship, or the sinking. It was the salvage. In the brackish water of Stockholm’s harbor, the shipworms that would normally destroy the wood don’t survive. The ship was brought to the surface as soon as the technology to do so was available, in 1959. New techniques for salvage and preservation were developed during this effort. It’s been restored impressively, and they’ve found many articles aboard (and skeletons) that provide an excellent picture of the technology of naval warfare of the day.

Swedes aren’t so put off from this disaster as to turn on the name, though. The famous hard bread, Wasa Bread, is named for this ship, and there’s a picture of the ship on the label. I've had Wasa Bread, though, and I’m not sure that the shipworms could eat through that, either.

The museum was built specifically to house the Vasa, with walking spaces at sea level and at gun levels. It’s a fine museum and a good destination for a day in Stockholm.

We all then took a walk around town, poking into shops until we needed to go our separate ways. It began to pour, but Art and I got safely tucked into a phone store to look into some accessories because Art’s holster clip broke that day. Alas, this is the land of Ericsson and Nokia, and Motorolas are few and far apart. Art and I then walked to the marine store for a last look at boat supplies in Stockholm, and then we went down the street to the Saluhall, an open food market that Bon Appétit magazine has apparently deemed one of the world’s ten best. We know that because there’s a sign in English telling us so on the main door. We’d been there on our one-day dash through Stockholm a month ago, but we hadn’t had enough of it.

It was just about six o’clock, and one of the kiosks was about to close up its early dinner special. Art ordered veal piccata, but I went with a local Swedish east coast favorite, kroppkakor. That’s potato dumplings that are stuffed with diced pork. Our meals were served with marinated cucumbers and lingonberry sauce. We dodged more rain and made our way back to the train and home.

We got up and went right back into town on Saturday. This time, the couples all split up by gender. The men took off for the Tall Ships 2007 display on the waterfront, and the women walked through the Old City for a final souvenir run. We met in Stortorget, the square next to the Nobel Museum, just before lunch. We found our lunch café on the way back to the train, and then we all rode back to the boat for a short visit.

They stayed for a little while, and then went back into town to pack for their flight the next morning, and we settled back into our boat activities. Last night I updated the web site, and this morning I realized that I had done it wrong, and almost none of the pictures were showing up. I was baffled for about an hour (and that sounds much nicer than what it was like to be here during that time), but I figured it out and fixed the problem.

The weather wasn’t all that great for leaving today, and we decided to take the train partway to Stockholm to a mall that we thought was small, but turned out to be pretty formidable, with two supermarkets, three electronics stores, and a food hall. The shopping up here is so good that we really don’t need anything serious, but that doesn’t stop us from looking around.

Tomorrow we’ll start to sail down the east coast. Even though we’ll be sailing in the same area we covered earlier in the season, well probably stop at a few places that are new for us. I’m just happy that we won’t have to be anywhere specific from here on out for the most part, and that the number of miles that we’ll have to cover in the next month or so won’t require lots of long days or overnight voyages. I’m also hoping that the great weather we’ve been having will hold out for a while.

That’s it for now. Hope everyone is doing okay. We miss you.

Love, Karen (and Art)