Ex Skargard Finn

The Stockholm Archipelago (Skärgård) consists of 30,000 small Islands off the East coast of Sweden. On the 31 Aug, 12 personnel from 5 Regt AAC and 2 instructors boarded a plane in Dublin to undertake an 8 day Sea Kayaking expedition.

Following an early start in Aldergrove, 3 bus journeys, a flight, a night in a hotel, and then a taxi boat we were united with our steeds for the week. Approximately 16 feet long, our boats were loaded with kit, food and water before we left our bearded Viking fixer on the Island on Runmarö and headed south. The Stockholm Archipelago has a reputation for being a sheltered, warm and pleasant place to take your family on a canoe camping adventure. If however, you go in the autumn, expect high winds, plenty of rain and exposed crossings with fairly high sea states for novices in heavily laden kayaks. The locals thought we were nuts; which was fitting as we later changed the route due to adverse weather conditions. Even so, we still had a 1 km open crossing in sea state 3 to reach our first campsite. Wild camping is legal on virtually all of the Islands so we paddled for a few hours before looking for somewhere to call home for the night. Eventually, cold and soaking wet we settled for a deer track five metres from the water’s edge. Tents were assembled, food cooked and most were in bed by 8 wondering why they volunteered for the expedition.

The morning after was wetter and windier than the night before and we only managed an hour and a half of paddling before the instructors told us to get off the water as it was getting too risky to continue. Thankfully, an  old summer house was available for shelter and much needed lunch. A few hours later, the clouds moved aside and the winds dropped enough to start our journey again. This time paddling far into the unpopulated mass of tiny Islands, taking turns at navigating and leading with the sunshine breaking through and smiles starting to appear. After a more productive afternoon we arrived at a suitable campsite – an Island approximately  100m long and 50m wide with a small wood in the middle. It was infinitely better than the first night and tow lines went up all over our rocky home for the night to dry kit.

Food and water were our main concerns on this trip (along with capsizing) and was planned by ‘paddle buddies’ (pairs who shared tents and looked after each other on the water). Though we had plenty of food, there are no natural sources of fresh water in the Archipelago so we were carrying all of our drinking water whilst cooking and washing with sea water. We had marked the locations of settlements which in the tourist season are populated and have wells often over 100m deep to access fresh water. We managed to fill up on day 2 but our first big water stop was on day 4 when we turned up to the small island of Bullerön. This was also our first real campsite, complete with ‘longdrop’ ablutions, a public sauna and fire pit. The public sauna has a supply of logs which you cut yourself to stoke the small burner which in turn heats rocks onto which water is poured. In no time the small wood cabin was red hot and full of Swedish yachters and 5 Regt personnel, alternating between the hot room and the much cooler sea to get the full experience. Between us and the boats moored on the Island for the night we managed to drink the well dry, thankfully with our water supplies almost back to full.

On day 6 the weather turned again, rain hammered kayak and paddler for 2 hours before we searched for shelter in the village of Sandhamn, often called the St Tropez of Sweden. Here our small plastic boats were dwarfed by expensive yachts and speedboats. Being outside of the tourist season most of the cafés and shops were closed, however we eventually stumbled on one  which was happy to accept 14 very cold and wet soldiers who needed to sit out a storm. Complete with spraydecks and sodden ‘Cags’ we shuffled into a room which was half art gallery, half café. It was owned by an ex professional Swedish female volleyball player who provided us with hot chocolate, cake and smoked salmon tails until we were warm and only slightly damp. Leaving was difficult but we had to cross to more sheltered water as the winds were due to pick up again. We set up camp in a nature reserve before getting back into our kayaks for an evening lesson on towing a casualty. In order to qualify for a K2F or S3N a syllabus has to be followed, and our instructors were keen to equip us with the necessary skills to complete the trip safely. This camp became known as ‘Wolverine Island’ after one came into the tents whilst we were asleep and stole some dried pasta, flapjack and one of Lt Mike Askey’s boots (which was subsequently recovered). Previous campsites had been named mosquito, ant and spider for obvious reasons.

After a last night complete with an inappropriately large campfire and bottle of Pol Roger we paddled back to Runmarö early in the morning. A swift de-kit and a 2 hour journey by boat and bus later we were back in Stockholm at Maude’s Hotel. Those with enough energy had a hot shower before taking in the sights of Stockholm. Others curled up in bed for a few hours before making their way to the ‘Hairy Pig Deli’ in the ‘oldtown’ for our end of expedition meal and a few beers to celebrate our challenging but successful 100 Km kayak in the Baltic sea. There are 12 members of 5 Regt AAC and 2 instructors who now truly know the meaning of ‘it’s Baltic’.

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