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Letter from Kalmar

Date: August 6th 2006


Mad Brits in Riga

We've come down to Kalmar (described in the guide books as 'bright and breezy') on our way to Denmark for the winter. After two years holed up in Sweden, we fancied a change. Kalmar is a major destination (which, if you've seen the alternative of Öland, you'll know what I mean) and the guest harbour (which is operated by the tourist authority, and has no permanent berths) is completely full of German yachts. I know the numerical superiority of Germans makes it kind of inevitable, but somehow it seems wrong, an invasion. Last year 36% of Kalmar visitors were German flagged yachts, nearly beating the Swedes (at 39%) out of their own harbour. British visitors totaled 1%.

The boats are restless, caused by a stiff north-easterly blowing straight into the harbour. There's a ritual to all boats coming in. They drive round the marina looking for a (sheltered) place to park, until they give up and end up in the (more restless) overspill outside, rafted three deep. Some of them are so big they almost can't turn round. When I learnt to sail, Kissen, at 36 feet long (actually she's being modest, as she's actually nearly 38 feet) was a large family boat. There are some yachts in this harbour over 50 feet and rather than being cruisers they are mostly brand new semi-racing machines pressed into service for the family holiday - and not all are Germans either. Clearly there is some money around. When you get to this size, finding a suitable berth starts to become a problem, and you almost have to arrange space ahead. Seeing a 50 footer tied up to the quay on a stern bouy is something else. This guy can actually step UP from the quay onto his boat - for all the rest of us, its three feet down!

While we're on the subject, its time to deplore the use of bow-thrusters to manoeuvre. I know they have their place, but I watched one Brit in Riga unable to execute a simple alongside manoeuvre without extensive use of the bow thruster - and in a flat calm! I think the use of these things should be banned in anything less than a Force 5 - at least until I get one!

The last time we stayed here, Pat broke her foot, so all she saw of the town was the inside of the A&E department. This time, we thought we'd take a couple of days to be tourists.

The towns two big attractions are the castle (Kalmar Slott) and the Kronan exhibition. The one problem with these, coming from the UK, is that we've got old castles and old boats coming out of our ears. In many cases we haven't even had to rebuild them, or get them back from under the sea. In the case of HMS Victory, Lord Nelsons flagship, we not only have the boat, it still has all Lord Nelsons furniture. This makes it a tough act to beat.

Its fair to say that the Vasa exhibition in Stockholm is truly astonishing. The Kronan, having been blown up before it sank, is somewhat less overwhelming. At least it didn't capsize due to poor stability (but it was designed by an Englishman after all). The museum here does have a lot of the bits, it just doesn't have the boat. (Or at least, not yet, if they have their way)

Incidentally, we were in Soderkoping the other day, where the Gota Canal crosses the E22 road. The bridge lifting regularly to let all these yotties through is obviously pissing off the highways authority. So the answer, you would think, is to put the road over the canal. Admittedly this is a bit of a tall order, as the canal needs about 20 meters of vertical clearance (for the masts), but a road tunnel wouldn't be unrealistic. This is too simple for the Swedes. The current proposal is the the canal goes over the road using a boat elevator....

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