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Sunday, May 10, 2009, still at the Martinsson boatyard, in Henån, Sweden

Hi all. We’ve arrived at the boat and have spent our first week aboard. The weather’s been rotten for sailing, so we’ll just sit and wait until it gets better. Normally, we don’t move in the first week, and we’ve been keeping ourselves occupied getting ourselves prepared for our season. So we haven’t done any traveling yet. For this note, I figured I’d just start at the beginning of our trip and tell you about our week, beginning with our arrival last Friday.

We’d spent nearly as much time in airport gate areas as we did airborne on our impossibly-routed return to Gothenburg. The four maxed-out duffel bags were there to greet us, surprising only one of us.

There’s a tacit agreement in our marriage: Art’s coldly rational, and I’m, well, somewhat excitable. But the exception to this is in the area of checked luggage. Yes, we’ve had a normal number of temporarily lost bags in our history of travel. From this experience, Art has deduced that all bags will always be missing, and I’ve concluded that they’ll all arrive fine, either on our flight or following us within hours. Maybe Art loses his senses because there are sometimes expensive or irreplaceable items checked: the boat papers, or new electronics, or his favorite disposable razor. This time, we made a bet. I speculated that all of our bags would arrive just fine. Art’s best guess was that we’d see zero of the four bags we checked. I won, in a walk.

There is one guarantee each time we bring over our luggage, and we were not disappointed, that the bags would be opened and inspected by security. There’s always a cheery photocopy inside at least one of them. “Your bags have been checked by “name your favorite federal agency here.” I don’t blame them. You’d expect that people traveling to Europe would bring a bag of clothes, or at least a pair of shoes. Those normal things aren’t in our 200-pounds or so (100 kilos) of duffel. We bring a dozen containers of powdered diet iced tea. DVDs we’ve burned from movies shown on TV. Pieces of favorite sailing line. Marine electronics that have been repaired over the winter. Stainless-steel screws. A bag of rags (apparently in Sweden you can’t get rags that meet Art’s quality standards.) So if we get inspected for carrying all these things, we certainly shouldn’t be surprised. And imagine how many rags, screws and powdered tea you have to carry to achieve the flight’s weight limit of 200 pounds.

We arrived into twilight at about 10 PM on a Friday night, and piled our many bags into a rental car generously upgraded for us by Avis. We checked into a hotel on the highway by Gothenburg. It would have been impossible to drive an hour to the boat and get set up for the night. Neither of us could fathom dragging these bags in the dark, lugging them aboard, and making up a bed as a prerequisite to sleep.

The Spar Gårda is our go-to hotel for airport travel in Gothenburg. They have easy Internet reservations, and they’ve always offered wireless access in the rooms, even when few travelers lugged around laptop computers. On this trip, we were lugging three of them.

Sweden isn����������t by any means a very foreign sort of country. Everybody under 90, which is to say anyone you might actually meet or talk to, speaks English, and most speak it flawlessly. I once noticed a word on a menu (my Swedish is somewhat limited to those words that help me eat what I like), and it clearly was about a cooking preparation. I didn’t know what the word meant, so I asked the waitress. She said that it meant “sautéed”. I told her that I thought some other word meant “sautéed.” Her answer was “It does. They’re synonyms.” I was struck. Not so much by the fact that Swedish has two words for “sauté”. (Imagine how many words there must be for herring.) No, what I noticed was this young waitress. I’m not sure that a typical waitress in the US would know what a synonym was. And here I was, getting a grammar lesson in a second language.

Here’s the other thing about how it feels to be in Sweden. The place looks like an IKEA catalog. The wood is blond. The lines of the furniture are simple and the colors are cheery. There are runners on all of the tables, and tiny dishes with tea lights are ubiquitous. IKEA isn’t IKEA because of some great design concept that struck a worldwide chord. IKEA is what Sweden looks like. I had this same realization when I figured out that Woody Allen wasn’t making movies out of an overactive imagination. He was simply filming his diary.

Our friends Vickie and Roland had sailed from Ellös (the Hallberg-Rassy boatyard) to Gothenburg (where we were staying) last weekend, so we visited with them at a downtown bakery for most of the morning, and then drove to our boat to get ourselves onboard. The yard had put Second Wind in the water, put up the rigging, and turned on the refrigerator, among the many winter and spring tasks they’d done for us. We unpacked most of our bags, and drove to the nearby supermarket to buy whatever we needed only to get us through dinner and breakfast before we’d make a big shopping trip the next day.

We spent Sunday at the mall, like everyone else, and filled a supermarket cart with our first batch of consumables. Something I noticed only this year: Sweden must not have a whole lot of personal injury lawyers. Nothing I buy in the supermarket seems to have a seal. Unscrew the cap on the cream, and there’s just cream inside the container. No plastic tab to rip away. Open the jar of Satay sauce, and underneath the lid you’ll find Satay sauce. It’s actually a little bit creepy. I wondered who’s already opened this cream since it left the factory. For better or for worse, the paranoia of American food producers gives me a sense of safety. On the other hand, Sweden’s autos had permanently lit headlights years before America’s did. And the bus seats have shoulder-harness seat belts.

Art methodically worked on his pre-season list, and I tried to make our empty boat into a home for the summer. There weren’t too many problems so far. One of the lines had been rigged improperly. The water heater was working only intermittently. We forgot, as we do every season, where everything is stored. It never takes very long to get back in the rhythm of our cruising life, but it’s a little clumsy at first.

We had to move the boat from its position on the outside of the dock to an inside berth, where we’d point into the increasing wind instead of being rammed alongside the floating dock. Art had hoped to move the boat early on Monday, when the winds were still fairly light. The staff at the boatyard, understandably, had a lot to do, considering that it was the beginning of the sailing season. Hundreds of tons of vessel needed to come out of storage and be slid gently into the sea without the merest ripple. At least, that’s what I hoped that they’d done with our boat. But every hour we waited for the go-ahead to move inside, the wind picked up a few more knots. By the time they were finally ready for us to move, there was a lot of noise and some shrewd maneuvering. Luckily, we had two guys from the yard with us, one on board and one on the dock, and the move was deft instead of dicey.

We’d left ourselves a week to get ready, and we knew we’d probably only need two-thirds of that. But the weather didn’t look good for as far as the forecast went. And the constant wind and chill weren’t encouraging. But I’ve already spent two seasons in conditions somewhat like this, and I’ve learned at the very least that better days arrive soon. And this year’s itinerary isn’t all that ambitious, meaning that we could put off sailing long days or even short days, and we’d never be rushed. Rushed…is not in our sailing vocabulary. In the sailing dictionary, “rushed” and “safe” are antonyms.

The days alternated between rainy and cold and sunny and cold. But we could stay tucked inside the boat, heater at full blast. The yard workers are in their busiest season, launching and readying boats. They arrive at five or six in the morning, and work straight until dark, six or seven days a week. And dark, in this midnight sun place in May, doesn’t happen for a long time.

We had dinner with Vickie and Roland on their boat. Vickie’s a fabulous cook, and it’s always a pleasure to leave a long day in my own galley to eat a meal I didn’t plan and didn’t cook. Our next-door neighbor at the boatyard is an American who lives in Switzerland (and who drove here on his motorcycle), so we invited him for dinner with us. Among other preparations, this invitation meant I needed to make a trip to the shop for some wine.

I couldn’t help but remember growing up in Pennsylvania in the days of “blue laws” that kept shops closed on Sundays and alcohol out of the hands of all but the most devoted fans. This is what buying wine has been like in state-run shops in Sweden. I found, when we were in this area in 2000, that the farther north we traveled, the harder it was to buy booze (and the more you needed it just to stay warm.) In Norway, you’d go to a counter with a form that looked like you were placing your bets at some sleazy track. Sweden wasn’t much different. They only took cash, like a drug deal. The clerk would look at you with contempt and go back to the stacks, emerging with a bottle and, as I recall, a brown bag to hide your secret vice from the civilized world. I always felt as though I should have dressed a little better before I went into the store.

Times have changed. Wine is still usuriously taxed in Scandinavia and the selection is relatively sparse. But the shop in Henån has been redesigned, and now you can actually select a bottle from a shelf and be trusted to pay for it before you slurp it down. You still can’t use a credit card. Nonetheless, we’ll wait until Germany before we buy wine that we don’t yet need. But at least we had a bottle or two to serve. And in the end, our guest arrived with a bottle in hand.

The sun has peeked out occasionally this week, and the air has been tolerable. But the winds were persistent, and the rain squelched all desire to make an early getaway. Besides, we have all summer to dawdle on a relatively short itinerary. And the forecast beyond the weekend is for fine winds that will push us to Denmark. So we’ll wait.

That’s it for now. I’m sure that we’ll have gotten somewhere by next Sunday. I hope so, anyway.

Hope you’re all doing fine. We miss you. Please write to us.

Happy Mother’s Day, Momma.

Love, Karen (and Art)