Wednesday, 10 September 2014

St Anna archipelago

I finally started paddling on a Saturday in wonderful summer weather. I had been very nervous about the wind but there wasn't any. I had even gotten up at 6 am and was paddling before eight. The packing process can definitely be optimised but this was the start of a trip so no rush. The first 13 km I was paddling out of the fjord from Valdemarsvik. Even I couldn't get lost here. Then I started navigating across the various islands of the archipelago. I must say that my brandnew boat compass helped tremendously - a good investment. Not a single time did I have to check my GPS for my position.

Another relief was my injured knee. Although it was a bit complicated to get in and out of the cockpit with it it didn't cause any problems once I was in the boat. But quickly it became apparent that my arms and shoulders were not used to paddling - they hurt. On an outdoor forum I had received waypoints for possible campsites in the archipelago and I checked one out now. Immediately I encountered a foreseeable problem: I had to beach on rocks! The rocks were very smooth so no problem for my foldable kayak.  But the submerged part was so slippery from algae that I had great problems getting out of the boat. But the campsite was great: flat spots under pine trees on soft duff with views over the sea in all directions. I also found an easier beaching spot. But it was only 4 pm with almost four hours of daylight left....

Still I decided to take it easy. I didn't need another injury in top of my knee... So I re-parked my kayak and set up camp. And because I had some time to kill I even mended my pants that were very torn from hiking. I don't think they will survive this trip. Over dinner life was good. The only annoying thing were the many noisy motor boats shooting around. I could not wait till it got dark and they would have to stop. Luckily it gets dark now - these motor boats must be a real nuisance around midsummer when the sun doesn't set. Next morning I realised that motor boaters aren't early risers either - at 8 am I was all alone on the water.

Unfortunately this changed around noon when one boat passed me so close that I had to fight against
the waves it created. Very few boaters had the courtesy to slow down for a  humble kayaker like me. But other than that it was another beautiful day. As I consider this a learning expedition I ventured out a bit further today where I had to do traverses of more than 1 km between islands with no mainland in sight. Still no problem because there was only a light breeze and the archipelago is relatively sheltered.

In the evening motor boats became really unnerving as I was paddling in a main shipping canal. Again I was tired and exhausted way before sunset and tried my camping luck on a small island. Again I discovered an established campsite with fire rings and even a clothes line. I had to paddle around the whole island to find a suitable beaching area for because I wanted to avoid the slippery rocks. I was rewarded with a wonderful sunset and an almost full moon.

Next day I would already leave the archipelago but as rain and stronger wind was forecasted this seemed like a good idea. I got up early again and made good progress until I reached the fjord that would lead to the beginning of the Götakanal. The rain started when I got to the ferry crossing at Stegeborg. As the ferry was in the move I took my time to put in my rain gear. I had bought a Southwester hat for this trip and it immediately turned out to be a great investment. It was absolutely peaceful and quiet paddling up the fjord. This was a Monday and it rained so hardly anyone was out. I only saw one fishing boat.

Lock at Mem
I made such good progress that I reached the lock at Mem already at three pm. And now everything seemed to go wrong. First I paddled into a little stream instead of the canal wondering where the first lock was. I should have had my canal maps out but of course I didn't. I have to say to my defence that this route was marked with red and green bouys so it wasn't completely idiotic to turn the wrong way. When I finally reached the lock I couldn't find any place where to get out. If all locks were like this I was screwed. But after paddling around the whole area I found a better place - and later even a picture perfect boat slip!

 only accessible with service card
I had been here last year on my bike trip and remembered taking a shower here at the guest harbour's facilities. Now the whole place was deserted and everything locked. Not quite everything though: One smart person had put a plastic knife into the lock of one key operated toilet and that gave me a warm and dry shelter during the heavy afternoon rain. I even found one electric outlet to recharge my phone - at the pump out station for boat toilets!

Eventually the sun came out again and I asked a responsible looking person if I could camp here at the lock. Yes, I could. Then I made an even better discovery. The little stream I had coincidentally paddled into led all the way to Söderköping saving me three portages around locks. These were bright prospects for tomorrow.

Bottom line: My short visit to St Anna archipelago was a great success and I highly recommend this area. I myself will definitely come back one day and discover the Eastern Swedish archipelagos in much more detail. Logistically I had found a perfect solution: I had started in Valdemarsvik which can be reached with hourly buses from Norrköping which in turn is on the main train line between Malmö and Stockholm. The best thing about Valdemarsvik though was the conveniently located Grännäs campground which is less than one km from the bus station along a nice bike path. Even at night with all my luggage getting there hadn't been a problem. There is a decent size ICA supermarket in town which can be reached easily in less than 15 minutes on foot via the same bike path. The tent camping area at the campground is right next to the dog beach where you can assemble and launch your boat. The campground is relatively small and quiet for Swedish standards but of course there are all facilities. In off season I was only charged 150 SEK which is cheap for Sweden. I am sure there are other good ways to access St Anna but this way has worked out great for me.

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