Sunday, 17 October 2010

An expedition to Stockholm

From the centre of Stockholm a twenty minute ride on a small electric train will take you to Saltsjobaden. It will also take you back over a century in time, to an affluent relaxed seaside resort, which has hardly changed since it was built in 1893. The resort is dominated by the Grand Hotel, the pet project of Swedish banker Knut Wallenberg, who also established the railway to ensure that his guests could get there easily.

Grand Hotel

In July 2005 Anne and I were lucky enough to be invited to a regatta organised by the Royal Swedish Yacht Club (KSSS) to celebrate its one hundred and seventyfifth anniversary. The marinas at Saltsjobaden and Sandhamn are operated by the KSSS, so they had been able to instruct the owners of all non-wooden boats to be elsewhere during the week of the regatta. As a result the bay in front of the Grand Hotel was a feast of lovely vintage racing yachts, bright mahogany commuter boats and classic sailing dinghies and rowing skiffs. Fine food and drink were served in marquees erected on the lawns in front of the hotel and on several floating bars, while groups of traditional musicians entertained the crowds. In the cloudless sky overhead Mr Maniac (think "Man in Yak") performed aerobatics, his plane sometimes hanging vertically from its propellor at what seemed to be just above the mast height of the larger yachts. Our friend Bosse assured us that we were quite safe, as the Russian plane had an engine of nine cylinders.

After a couple of days at Saltsjobaden the regatta moved by way of a passage race to the island of Sandhamn, the centre of traditional Swedish yachting in the Stockholm skerries. I enjoyed a pleasant sail with Bosse on board his Embla, although the tall slender rig and self-tacking jib meant that neither of us had too much to do.

A day or so later, still in beautiful weather, another friend, Petter, lent me a lovely little yacht for an afternoon. Although only five metres long Miss Julie performed like a proper thoroughbred, quick and responsive, but also sea-worthy. This was the start of my undoing, as on my return to shore I discovered that one of her sisters was for sale, at what seemed a very affordable price.

Tore Herlin, who lived from 1879 to 1967, is best known for designing the tall ships Gladan and Falken, both built just after the War. However he produced over 350 designs in his career and had a great interest in all aspects of sail training and education. Early in his life he narrowly escaped from a nasty accident in an unstable boat and this gave him a real concern with safety. In all his designs he took great care to produce boats which would forgive their owners and get them home unscathed. However he also believed in boat speed, as an ability to outrun any approaching bad weather could save your life in the skerries.

Miss Julie was a Polkbat, or boys boat, designed by Tore Herlin in 1938, the first boat having been named Juni. The original Juni had apparently ceased to exist, but large numbers of her design had been built, some clinker with oak planking and others in mahogany with the close seam planking which is the trade mark of the best Swedish craftsmen. This involves shaping each plank to fit its neighbours with no caulking whatever, an incredible feat considering the length of the planks involved.

Sonja Herlin on board Juni
The boat for sale had been commissioned in 1973 by Sonja Herlin, the designer's daughter, and also named Juni. She was built by a boat building school near Stockholm of close seam planking with laid teak decks.

There wasn't enough time on our July visit to inspect Juni, but the idea of bringing her home as my next project began to take root, encouraged by frequent emails from our friends in Stockholm. I was assured that one less wooden boat would not be missed in Sweden and that it shouldn't be too difficult to arrange transport. Another invitation followed, this time to sail with Bosse in the city regatta in September. This event takes place annually in front of the fantastic Town Hall, giving visitors to the city centre classic yacht racing before their eyes.

So we took the flight from Prestwick and enjoyed our friends' hospitality once again. The pre-regatta dinner took place on board the floating hotel, moored near to the Town Hall, that was formerly Barbara Hutton's yacht. After dinner we walked along the north bank of the lake leaving Anne and Bosse's wife Zelinda off at her little flat, then down to the pontoon where Embla was moored. We had a final dram in the cockpit, looking out across the still water to the lights of the city and enjoying the last of the clear, cold evening before turning in for the night.

Bosse at the helm

Ewan on board Embla
The regatta was good fun and as we came last we won a miniature water-colour, which Bosse promptly gave me (I suspect his poor performance was deliberate). The day after the regatta we visited the island of Dalaro, where Juni was inspected. Then a very amicable meeting with the seller took place and she was mine.

Back in Scotland the reality sank in. Juni was sitting on an ancient trailer in the drive of a house on a small Swedish island and her former owner wanted her away as soon as possible, so we had to work out a way of getting her from there, across a fair-sized country, over the North Sea and then to Argyll. With boat matters you can do a lot worse than enlisting Richard Pierce, and he readily agreed to come on my expedition.

In early October Richard and I set off for Newcastle, where we collected a flatbed trailer and boarded the DFDS ferry to Gothenburg in the late afternoon. The crossing was not unpleasant but hardly ocean cruising and we were surprised at the number of Northumbrians taking the trip for pleasure. Next morning found us in Kristiansund and by evening we were in Gothenburg.

This was my first experience of driving on the right, not helped by having the trailer attached, so our first night was spent just a few miles from Gothenburg. The next day we crossed the entire country on secondary roads, as we had decided to avoid the motorways as much as possible. Petter met us at Ikea, about twenty miles out from Stockholm, and then escorted us into town.

To help us on our way Bosse had moved Juni on her ancient trailer from Dalaro to a yacht club near the city centre, a journey which had taken several hours at a very slow pace. I think he had been relieved to achieve this without being arrested. He had also provided a good supply of wooden posts and nuts and bolts in order that we could construct a suitable cradle. We took stock of what we had and decided that Bosse had done very well. We then left my Volvo and the trailer at the yacht club and went into town. Petter had kindly given us the use of his artist's studio in the Gamla Stan and after passing a pleasant evening in the old city we bedded down there.

The next day we busied ourselves turning Bosse's raw materials into a cradle. Richard explained that we had to keep Juni's centre of gravity between the axles, so she had to travel home astern. We also had to ensure that the keel stayed firmly in one place. Once this had been ensured it was relatively simple to construct a cage to stop her from falling over. I laboured away at cutting timbers while Richard supplied the brains for the operation. For extra security we constructed a completely separate back-up consisting of a sturdy beam cramped across the deck and held down at each side by lorry straps. In retrospect I think this second system would have sufficed without the wooden cage, although later it was reassuring to see the cage in position in the rear view mirror. Our efforts over, we joined Petter for some drinks and a robust dinner in the Pelikan, a traditional artists pub not found on the tourist circuit.

Thinking about the problem

Work starting
Work done, Petter tidies up

In the Pelikan
A fraternal toast
I found driving across Sweden a complete delight. Perhaps because they drove on the left until 1967 the roads are covered with "keep right" signs and chevrons. In October the country roads were relatively deserted and the surfaces would put Scotland to shame. Our journey westwards was uneventful if slow, as the Volvo found the job heavy going. It took us two days to reach Kungalv, just outside Gothenburg, which left us with one day to unwind before taking the ferry. This gave us time to visit Marstrand, the renowned sailing centre.

On the ferry to Marstrand the captain discovered we were from Scotland and suggested that we look out for Scottish Bob, who she said we would know by the Saltire in his garden. Sure enough we soon saw him, driving along in his utility. We had a brief chat and found that he had arrived there about thirty years before. He had fallen for the place and had decided to make himself useful in as many ways as possible, keeping many of the basic services going and so on.

There wasn't much happening in October, but we could see that in Summer Marstrand must be Yachtie-Heaven. Apart from the excellent sailing ground the town hosts numerous interesting chandleries, galleries and shops. On that day there was only one sailor about, a retired engineer in a canoe yawl that he had designed and built. He told us that he knew only three people in Scotland and it happened that two of them were friends of ours too. We had a good walk round and resolved to return sometime in the sailing season.

Mr Wallender in his canoe

The sea journey back to Newcastle was uneventful, once we had located the correct exit for the ferry terminal in Gothenburg's multi-lane road system in thick fog, which reduced visibility to about fifty metres. By evening the following day we had driven to Glasgow and Juni was parked outside our flat in the west end. The following weekend we carefully brought our prize home on the Argyll roads, certainly the most hazardous part of the whole expedition.

Back in the west end at last

On arrival there was the first chance to make a thorough inspection. Juni has a number of split planks, which may have been caused when she was being handled on shore, and some broken frames adjoining the splits. Work has now commenced on the repair of these. The topsides have been stripped down and will be treated to numerous coats of Tonkinois before Juni ventures out again. Generally she seems in excellent condition and it will be interesting to find out how she will cope with our sea conditions.


  1. What a sweet boat. Why haven't I seen her at Toberonochy?

  2. Hi Adrian

    I'll be working on her this Spring, can't guarantee to get her finished in time though.


The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water