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The Gota Canal

Date: Saturday 9th August to Tuesday 19th August

Distance : 150 miles (the entire canal). Also 99 meters upwards

Weather : Generally hot, but with two days of gales.

This was the week that we had to start the journey back across Sweden to Denmark.

On Sunday, Richard arrived, hot of the Ryanair from Stanstead. He'd brought with him some carefully crafted 'fender blankets' - sheets that go alongside the boat, between the boat and the fenders, to stop dirt from the locks rubbing off onto the boat. He'd also brought emergency supplies of  'Essential Skin Smoothing Cream' (Dont ask...)

We left Nykoping and dropped down to Arko. Having blown Notherlies all week (we were going South) the wind spitefully went South east... However once we got out into the archpelago we had a nice sail for all but the last half a mile. Richard amused himself working out how close he could go to lumps of rock..

We decided to tie up in Nodanskog, a small pool to the north of Arkosund. More of a camping siteNordanskog than a marina, it is a pretty spot, and quite sheltered. I then did something I've not done in 30 years of sailing - I walked off the pontoon into the drink! Actually, I fell down the hole in a boom (Swedish 'pontoons' are not all covered in planks for walking on). Only my feet got wet as I saved myself by hanging onto the boat but I ended up with a spectactular bruise, and a round of applause from the crew.

Monday morning and we set off for Mem, the start of the Gota Canal proper, which is about 20 miles inland. As you travel in, the ratio of water to land gets less, and the cliffs get higher. The boats and people also get fewer.

We arrrived at Mem about 2pm, fixed the magic fender sheets, and travelled the 3 locks up to Soderkoping. We'd picked the last week of full operation on the Gota - after this week you have to travel in Convoys, but we could come and go as you please. The people running the Gota - mostly The Picnic Tablestudents - are immensely friendly and helpful, and the whole thing runs like a well oiled machine - for instance they radio on to the next lock to tell them you are coming, so the lock is often ready. We had no waiting of any significance.

At Soderkoping, we climbed the cliff alongside the canal to look down on the boat. Perched on the top of this 300 foot cliff are picnic tables - with a sheer drop alongside - something you wouldn't see in the UK.

The next day, in company with a large Swiss ketch, we set off to climb 13 locks to lake Boren.Richard's dessert After a few changes of plan, and a one hurried lock where the lock keeper was worried about delaying the trains, we ended up at Berg, where a flight of 7 locks take you upwards in one sweep. This takes about an hour, and so last locking is usually early. We found the canal closed, and full of kids jumping off the lock sides into the lock.  An unexpectedledy good meal in the local Restuarant rounded off the day.

Wednesday saw more locking upwards (there are 158 locks in all). At one stage Pat took it upon herself to add a 'hers' scratch on one side of the boat to match the 'his' one on the other side when she came in a bit fast to a landing stage, but we arrived safely at Borensburg. The lock here is manual, and the lockeeper amused himself by making two girls off the The locks at Bergboat in front heave the gates open. We had another good meal at the restored Gota Hotel, albeit under umbrellas in the rain. They have a 'fun' waterfall here. Every 15 minutes it starts up and sprays a jet of water across the canal - if you are passing, you just get wet!

Up early on the Thursday and the 6 mile trot across lake Boren to the next major flight of locks at Borenshult. By this time it was blowing 25-30 knots and locking up in a gale added some more spice. We arrived at Motala, on the shore of Lake Vattern in a half a gale. We didn't fancy the waves crashing over the outer booms, so decided to try and squeeze into a small boom (much too small for the boat) as all the safe mooring slots were gone. Richards fender sheets did a sterling job stopping the boat getting scratched by the booms until we discovered they were starting to melt. He'd lived up to his usual reputation by glueing them together with 'No-nails' - which turns out to be water soluable!

We waited for the wind to moderate a bit, and on Friday trucked down the 5 miles to the castle atThe castle moat at Vadstena Vadstena on the Friday. We tied up in the moat and got a personal tour of the castle (it wasn't supposed to be personal - we were the only ones that rolled up!). We learnt all about the dodgy physicatric history of the Swedish royal family, but Richard spent the day repairing the fender sheets...

Still blowing on the Friday we beat our way across Lake Vattern to arrive in Karlsborg and eventually Forsvik. By this time the canal was starting to look properly like Sweden, with tranquil lakes lined with trees as far as the eye can see. Forsvik lock shows signs of being hacked out of the rock when the canal was originally built, as the lock sides are uneven. Actually, we found Forsvik was a particularly nice spot.

Locking downWe finally reached lake Viken on Saturday, which is the summit of the canal. By this time wildlife, chiefly birds, were abundant. We had an interesting discussion with the lockeeper in Tattorp, who told us the latest Ipswich Town football scores (an avid follower, even of the Conference league...) and tied up in Toreboda,which was something of a disapointment. Here, the local kids amuse themsleves by climbing on the underside of the road bridge before it lifts (every half hour) to see how high they could hang on before dropping into the canal.

Sunday, and the great trip down through 19 locks to Lake Vattern and the end of the canal. Locking down is a lot easier than locking up - and quicker. We arrived at the end of the canal in the early afternoon, and dropped down to Mariestad in order to let richard go home.

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