Sailing Sweden

Sailing Sweden

WORDS & PHOTOS: Alanna Hale

He had me allemansrätten.

As in, the freedom to roam, which is Sweden's constitutional right to respectfully explore certain public or privately owned land. Sometimes called the right of public access to the wilderness, it meant to me, more vividly and quite explicitly: Let's rent a 34-foot sailboat with pals from Sweden, Ireland and Spain. Let's explore more than 20,000 islands, based on the day's whim. Let's relish in 10 pm sunsets after long sunny days, feet hanging over the edge of the boat. Let's devour all the fresh seafood we can find, and marvel at tiny hobbit houses and brilliantly restrained Scandinavian architecture. Yes, let's. Immediately.

We flew into Stockholm and spent a jet-lagged evening walking around the city – I vaguely remember bridges and cobblestones and tall, attractive people floating past. The following day, after tiny shrimp and a good bottle of white wine for breakfast, we made our way to the Svinninge Marina and boarded Tilly, our chariot for the week. Over celebratory gin and tonics and steaks grilled on our little boat barbecue we patted each other's backs and plotted course. We were off.

Island exploration in the Stockholm Archipelago means going from harbor to harbor, hopping on different rocky, mostly-forested islands, and seeing what awaits. Some islands have entire towns with shops, paved streets and restaurants, while others are just a dock and a tiny wooden building with an accompanying ladder emerging from the sea. It was all so extraordinary and novel, yet there was something delightfully familiar: there’s a distinct whisper of the New England coastline suggested by the low and smooth granite islands, pine trees dotting their landscape. Our resident Mainer felt right at home. I was simply filled with glee.

We quickly learned the tiny, omnipresent buildings were saunas–or bastu–and that nearly every island had one. Bastu-hunting for the best ones became our priority. There’s little else like jumping into the Baltic Sea after chopping your own wood and roasting in a tiny shack perched on a rock. And the water feels different, too: the ocean has relatively low salinity, while the density of rocks around the islands keeps the water reasonably calm. Though more like a lake than an ocean, let’s not be mistaken about one thing. It’s still fucking cold.

It took less than three days and suddenly we were all more comfortable on the boat than on land – our sea legs sprouted quickly and on shore we swayed as though drunk. We cooked at least half of our meals on the boat and our international crew meant we ate well and with variety. We certainly still had a lot to learn considering abrupt weather changes, the wind direction, mooring in a natural harbor, and neatly recoiling those damn sails (damn you, sails!), but we fell into our life-at-sea roles with ease and aplomb. In fact, we’re currently planning the next sailing course already. Can't come soon enough.