From Sandra Sandqvist
During the weird COVID summer, med and Christian Harding needed a good adventure. “Stuck” in Sweden what perfect time to take the opportunity to sail along the 850 nm easterly coastline, and distance often referred to as the Blue Band. To our knowledge this coast had never been sailed in an F18 before. Christian my sailing bud since 20 years, newcomer to the class but avid sailor, spending some 250 days annually on the water in everything from devine Skerry Crusiers to J70’s, was not late to pick up on my crazy idea. Once he started spreading the word on the dock I realised there was no turning back. Inspired by my friends over at the US / Canadian West coast and R2AK and with a background in N17 it has been a lingering dream to do an adventure like this. Said and done, with almost no preparations and with a borrowed boat we trailered down to Smygehuk – the most southern tip of Sweden and embarked on our big journey.
First challenge was the infamous Hanöbukten, a 100 NM long bay straight line and some 140 if you’d followed the coast. High on our adventure we set straight out into the bay. Having done my fair share of capsizes during the N17 campaign it was not without being a bit nervous as we lost sight of land at 2 pm not to see it again until 8 pm in sunset, going downwind in the 16 kts of breeze and with huge waves. However having conquered 115 NM the first day it felt like this journey would be a fast one. We had some light winds up the straight between Öland and the mainland and a good 10 hrs starboard upwind leg, dubble trapezing in 2.5m waves and 20-24 kts of breeze crossing from the Northern tip of Öland to Gryt.
Once we reached our home waters of the Stockholm Archipelago – the home of the Archipelago Raid, the wind turned South and we started to get benefit from the expected predominante Southwesterly winds. Two capsizes on a reachy, windy day in the Northern Archipelago definitely humbled us, we had one plb each that we would use if anyone of us would loose the boat at some point, and the VHF, but that was about it for our safety equipment. Humbled but still hungry we were able to cross Gävlebukten – also some 80 NM across open waters in perfect breeze and hours flew as swift and graceful as the winward hull was flying over the waves in the perfect afternoon sunshine and the southerly breeze kept us company all the way up the northern coastline of Sweden.
Passing Umeå the wind died on us one evening some 20 miles out, paddling through the dusk in a glassy water with thunderstorms passing on each side of us had our friends worry enough to send SAR, luckily for us, as they showed up at 10pm they brought the wind and we were able to sail away unsupported the last 4 NM to the harbour (and escaping both thunderstorms). Waking up the last day (would it be the last day?), we had some 100 NM straight across the Bay of Bothina where I grew up.
A forecast a bit on our limit, promising some 26 knots of gusts in the afternoon we decided to leave early for once. Up here – only 0.5 dg lat from the Polar Circle there was a definite shift of seasons and the pleasant water and air temperatures of the South were nowhere close to this. Reaching in some 16kts of boatspeed in a constant ice-water spray we did not speak for two hours in silent determination, but the wind was on our side, the sun came out and the angle opened up to a perfect downwind reach in 16-18kts, which sent us the last miles to our destination. Incredibly happy, we arrived Haparanda 14 days after we started our journey.
Having had perfect weather – sunshine and only one rainstorm, extremely rare for this time of year, we were able to sail every single day and the windier days we still managed to hide out under land and make some 30 miles. With minimum breakage of us and our equipment – only one windward dagger as we got chased by a rain storm in the High Coast, we were so impressed and super grateful to have this borrowed C2 as our weapon for 1.000 miles in the washing machine.
But what would stick with us the most is the amazing people who followed our journey on Social Media and in real life. Wherever we went new and old friends showed up on beaches and in harbours – long after sundown and offered us freshly made beds, showers, food and amazing stories to be told under starry skies – warm and dry at night. To be able to share this amazing adventure with all of our friends along the way is perfect proof that sailing is very alive up here in the North! As we were sitting next to each other – my old pal and I, riding infinite waves under kite to an open horizon – there was never a dull moment, only an incredible feeling of gratitude. Sailing is awesome and there is something really special to set out in one direction and keep going, day after day to new shores. Hope everyone gets to experience this at least once!