I had been away more than a year on the big boat and among the many things I had learnt was, a bigger boat doesn’t make you happier, but it cost more not only to build but also in upkeep. It is also more difficult to manoeuvre and find a place for in harbour. It shore has many advantages like speed and carrying capacity and prestige but they did not mean much for me, so weighing it al together as one has to do I understood that my values and my heart favoured the small one.
I lived in the attic of my mother’s house. Mother was glad to see me back. I told her I wanted to build a small ocean going boat and asked if I could do it in the back yard. It is always interesting to see you doing constructive work she said. The neighbours who had been a bit surprised that the good for nothing son next door had crossed the Atlantic in a converted steamboat was of the same opinion. It had been in the newspapers.
To get shelter from the weather I put up some tarpaulins between the apple trees. It did not take long before the city planner was there asking me if I had permission.
“I shall only build a small boat, then I take down the tarpaulins and go sailing” I answered.
“Have you been thinking about what would happen if everyone did like you?” He asked.
“What would happen if everyone was a town planner” I said.
That made him indignant. He forced me to take down the tarpaulins. In the evening when mother came home and heard about it she got mad.
“Sven” she said “Make the boat a bit smaller, clean out the cellar and build her there. Then in the spring we dig her out”
The cellar was not very big but neither was I or my needs. The biggest problem was that the house was very old and rested on a solid foundation of good Swedish granite stones, three feet thick. The cellar was four feet underground.
From the outside there was steps leading down to a small door. It was through that door the boat would have to be taken out. So one of the fundamental design requirements was how to draw an ocean going yacht small enough to go through that small non-flexible door.
Finally I had worked out that the bout would be 20’ long 5’8’’ beam. She had two unstayed masts with lugsails and a centreboard for shallow draft. It would be a could moulded construction, a technique I had learnt at Souters in Cowes. Her bottom would be cowered with latched lockers to keep provision secured in storm and its weight low. That would give me three feet headroom except for a small foot well. She would be unsinkable thanks to the first and last two feet of the boat being filled with foam. She would have one and a half inch foam insulation, which apart from adding buoyancy, also gives insulation.
On the 21 of June 1971, I started to build her. It was the lightest day of the whole year and is widely celebrated throughout Sweden.
I named the boat Bris which is Swedish for breeze also similar in German, French, Spanish and other languages, making it simple to explain. I had gotten tired of explaining the name of my previous boat.
As usual when building a boat everything takes much longer than estimated. Much of this was due to my limited economy. Autumn passed but before Christmas Alan was back. He had sold the steam launch in Florida. That gave a boast to my economy. I paid back the money I owed mother for the airplane ticket, Rio – Sweden and still had enough to continue into the spring. As the building progressed more and more visitors arrived. The boat grow and grow took up more and more space. Even the nicest were tempted to comment on how impossible it would be to get the boat out. Most of them also told me their version of a man who built a boat in his cellar and did not get it out.
In the beginning of October the big day finally arrived. The boats superstructure was unscrewed. The door and its frame were removed. One of the granite stones supporting the house sticking out a bit more than the others was chopped of. A man with an excavator working nearby was given a kilo coffee to remove the steps leading down to the cellar and digging a canal a bit out into the back yard. With the help of friends we succeeded in squeezing out the boat.
To my horror there was a leek around the centreboard. It was very late in the season but after all the work I did not want to experience another Swedish winter. This time I planned to sail by way of Cape Horn against wind and waves into the pacific. Not many believed in me, one practical man less than the others. He was an entrepreneur interested in sailing. One day he had knocked on the cellar door shown interest in my project, he had come back few times and given me help and advises; a nice person. One day he suggested a deal. He would give me a thousand dollars. All I had to do was to go sailing. He would with my permission take out a life insurance of twenty thousand dollars on me in his name. I accepted eagerly. What could I lose? We went to a doctor and got a health certificate, then to the insurance company and singed papers. That was all.
A windy day with a cold northerly day I left Sweden. Among the people who waved was my friend the entrepreneur. Now the second serious error showed up; Bris started to build up a tremendous sometimes up to sixty degrees to each side, due to the momentum of the heavy unsupported masts. A mast builder had made them for me. I had made some strength calculations and given him the weight and dimensions, twenty pounds each. He delivered some beautiful super strong masts; their only problem, they were to heavy; thirty ponds instead of twenty. Worried, I continued trough Germany to Holland where I met Jannike a modern independent girl full of curiosity. She already had a boyfriend but she had already told him plainly that jealousy was a bourgeois invention which she did not accept. She told me the same thing. I had to accept her as she was if I wanted to be together with her.
I had now realised that I had to do something about my problems. Some friendly people let me keep Bris in their barn so that I could work on her, but I was depressed and disappointed and instead of working on the boat spent more and more time with Jannike. One day when we walked around in a big bookstore I suddenly felt very dizzy. I began to sway. I put out a hand to steady myself but was to week I fainted and dropped to the floor. When I came to after a few moments there were a lot of people around me including Jannike and a nurse taking my pulse; timing it, I noted curiously, despite my weakness with a miniature sandglass. Jannike told me excitedly that an ambulance were on its way. I protested weekly but Jannike would not hear of it. Soon we were on your way to her room. The ambulance men carried me to her bed on a stretcher. Now Jannike took over and nursed me back to health. Soon I was strong enough to make love; her other boyfriend was forgotten.
Of course the situation was untenable I had to do something about the boat. By selling some unnecessary and heavy equipment like the anchor winch and some chain I got some money. I said goodbye to Jannike and hitch hiked back to Sweden, where I had to endure a lot of “I told you so”. A friend lent me a car I rented a trailer and drove to Holland to pick up my boat. The first thing I did was to knock on Jannikes door. No one opened but I know where the key was so I let myself in. It was a real bummer. I went everywhere I ask all her friends but no one had seen her for many days. Finally after tree days I just had to go back with my friend’s car the rented trailer and my boat.
I was very tired when I was back in Sweden. When I knocked on my mother’s door Jannike opened on her arm was my sisters baby daughter. Our ways had crossed each other.
I had spent the winter in Holland. It was now spring. Without shelter, to please the city planner, I removed the centreboard and its case. I put on a short fin keel. A caretaker friend whose house was being rebuilt let me have some old pine steps for the deadwood. I cast a 250 lb. lead keel of ancient organ pipes in a mold of plaster of paris. Proctor Mast gave me a second-hand 30’ aluminum mast very, very cheaply. I cut it down to 20’. The sails were recut and the boat rigged as a masthead sloop. I could not afford to do any more experiments.
Bris was relaunched. This time no water came in, not even enough to wet a postage stamp.
Jannike had given up her sociological studies in Holland and wanted to come sailing with me. We mowed aboard and. Jannike was excited and thought the whole thing was great fun. My grandfather had said.
“Outward bound, in the old days on the sailing ships, we always went north of Scotland west of Ireland. On that route with lots of sea roam we could take advantage of the shifting winds. Homeward bound with the predominately following westerly winds we went through the Channel”. My previous cruise through the North Sea, English Channel and across the Bay of Biscay with heavy traffic fog and sandbanks had given me second thoughts about that route. I decided to take the Northern route.
Finally a day in the beginning of June 1973 we were ready to sails to sail north. The weather was bad, grey rainy skies with strong winds, but the winds were southerly and we were eager to get going, I because the long delay, Jannike because it was to be her first sail. We warped the boat along the docks pilings to its head were I hoisted the sails. Jannike were holding on to a pile. I went back to the steering position and told Jannike to let go. At the same time an intense squall hit us. The boat shot off like a rocket. I was not in complete control after the many profound changes which had been done to the boat, but managed get us out through the narrow harbour entrance after first hitting a number of dock pilings. Our course lies downwind and in sleeting rain we tore along at hull speed. Jannike clung on to the boat for dear life. Neither of us had any lifelines and of course Bris had no guardrail. The wind continued with the same strength for hour after hour. In the afternoon we tied up in the well protected harbour Marstrand.
“Now what do you think of this rough sailing?” I asked Jannike.
“Rough?” She asked in surprise.
“Is it not always like this” She continued.
When she had told friends of her intention to go sailing with me in my small homemade boat, they for fear of loosing her had all warned her of the terrible storms at sea and having herself never put a foot on a she of course knew nothing. Her vivid imagination had done the rest. She was prepared for the worst.
Weather makes a difference. The next day it was an ideal sailing breeze with nice worm sunshine. We continued happily among the many islands which gave complete protection from sea swell and offered a large number of natural harbours and all went very well. One day we were at the Koster Islands ready for a thirty mile crossing to Norway. The same nice breeze was giving us a pleasant beam wind. After a while the so ever vivacious Jannike became quit. A bit later she started to look pale, then al of a sudden she began to vomit violently. I was surprised true there was a sea swell but the weather was fine. She was kind of knocked out. The only thing she could do was to lie in the bunk and moan. Except for Jannikes seasickness the crossing was uneventful and after a few hours she was her old self again, gay as ever.
I however was brooding. I knew that the passage north of Scotland west of Ireland down to Madeira would be a rough one. I know that the chances of running into extended periods of south westerly gales were great. I know that the Hebrides and the Irish west coast would be to leeward and that I would have to fight my way to windward for weeks after weeks in order not to be smashed to pieces by heavy breakers against them. I know that once committed there was no turning back and no way of sending out a call for help. I did not think she could. If she had been that seasick in today’s sea swell I shuddered to think of what those gales might do to her.
I tried to explain, and I told her as gentle as possible that she had to leave. I followed her to the bus station and told her that I would write when I came to Madeira.
Without Jannike the boat felt unfriendly and cold. I felt lonely and wondered if I had made the right decision, but Jannike was gone and I had to fight on like a man. I continued to the southwesternmost point in Norway. From there I set my course for the Shetland Islands.
Wanting to leave the coastal traffic and fishing boats behind me as soon as possible, I took advantage of an easterly gale.
After tacking out of the long narrow entrance to the fjord where I had spent the night, banging into the seas, I could soon turn round a headland, lay my course and ease the sheets.
I wanted plenty of speed so I carried a lot of sail. My biggest jib was boomed out and Bris surfaced down the waves. Sometimes she heeled over a bit too much and the jib touched the water. But as I had built a strong boat I carried on. Suddenly the jib dug deeper into the water, there was a bang and the jib boom exploded into three pieces, the middle one quickly floating away, the two other pieces hanging on to their fittings. This, only a few hours after leaving the mainland was not a good start; but I carried on. Not yet knowing her well and able to balance her, I hove to a bit after darkness this my first night out, to tired to continue. I had no selfsteering.
Next day brought good weather; in fact I was in a high pressure area with light winds. Bris has always been able to move quickly in such conditions. Now with the sea calmer and the boat not so overburdened I was able to get her to steer herself by jamming my heavy walking shoes upside down under the steering wheel.
After not too many days of good weather I could see Fair Isle, a little island between Orkney and Shetland Islands. Encouraged by having crossed the North Sea so quickly and having made such an excellent landfall and eager to continue, I felt I had already won half the battle and it would not take long to reach Madeira. Looking at the map it seemed to be all downhill from now on. There were still some of the fresh groceries left, so full of confidence I went straight out into the Atlantic without stopping anywhere to fill up with food.
The sky was becoming a bit grey as dusk fell and Fair Islelighthouse was sinking into the water. I entered the Atlantic leaving the North Sea behind. It was June 21 the longest day of the year. The big swell I met gave me a forewarning of things to come.
The next day it was drizzling and the wind was against me and getting stronger. Not wanting to have the Hebrides and their fishing fleets to close I chose a west northwest course to get more sea roam. The wind increased to gale force and I changed down to storm sails
Now followed three weeks of nearly continuous gales which took me up to 62* north, near Iceland. It turned bitter cold. But I just had to keep fighting the weather. I carried as much sails as I and the boat could stand. Waves were banging into the boat with mighty force. One of them was catapulting the boat to lee, knocking her down about 80*, throwing mugs, saucepans and other things from one side of the boat to the other. As I opened my hatch to see if the mast was still there I noticed that the log line was on the windward side coming up from under between the fin keel and the rudder. Bris must have been thrown at least 10’ backwards and sideways over the log line.
Another time on a dark night I was on deck to reef the already small trysail, standing close to the mast with the boat going downwind to get a dryer deck. No one at the helm of course. I was facing aft when I saw and heard the breaker of a big sea coming fast toward me. There was no time to run back to the tiller, so I did the only thing possible. I sat down on deck knotted my legs and arms around the mast, held on for dear life and hoped for the best. The breaker caught up with the boat and Bris, riding the breaker, started surfing down the face of a very steep wave. The speed and noise were tremendous. Each moment there was the danger of broaching to. Luck was with me and I arrived at the bottom of the wave in one piece, still holding on to the mast, hundreds of feet of white foam behind me. I completed the reef, turned the boat to windward again and went below to my bunk. Pain in my back made me realize how hard I had held onto the mast.
There were times when the rough conditions tempted me to take the easy way and turn around and run with the wind to stop the endless brutal banging into the waves caused by the necessary hard driving, but the easy way out seldom leads to success and I already had one failed start behind me.
I had also problems with food. Conveniently, a supermarket in Göteborg caught fire a few days before my departure and the company sold everything that had been close to the fire for half the price. I bought forty cans of Swedish meatballs. But after three weeks of in severe gale conditions and meatballs every day I began to have second thoughts about my favourite food.
Unbelievable to me at first, but finally after having been driven up to 62* north near Iceland, the gales started to have a northerly component in them and I could ease the sheets, pick up speed and enjoy the absence of banging. I was now also much better at balancing the boat so that she could steer herself on almost any course. Also that contributed to the speed.
As I came south, sweater after sweater came of, but it was not before I reached the latitude of northern Spain that I went on deck and had a proper wash.
Some more miles had to be run but eventually the high island of Madeira was sighted one morning. Darkness fell before I could make Funchal, but as I knew the easy harbour well I entered and dropped the two required anchors at the same spot I had occupied for years earlier in the converted steamboat. I noted that the time was four a clock in the morning. The passage had taken forty five days. I was slim and fit and the boat had stood well up to all the gales.
Though very tired I was too excited to sleep long. I was early up cleared customs, changed some money and quickly made for the market with all its beautiful tropical fruits. The reader needs no great imagination to realise how lovely they tasted after weeks of fire damaged Swedish meatballs.
Madeira was still as nice as I remembered. I had a good time, weeks went into months. Having shallow draft like my previous boat Bris anchored close to the town pier. From that viewpoint I had a close look at all the lovely girls strolling along. My thoughts went to Jannike she had written a few times asking to come along. I wrote her proposing we try it to the Canary Islandsa few days in usually fine weather.
At the post office I met Gabi and Jurg two young German backpackers who had been camping up in the mountain, following the lavadas a network of beautiful irrigation channels. We compared experiences and they came with me to the harbour to have a look at my boat. When they left Gabi said Jurg is leaving tomorrow, but I am staying on for some time I hope to see you again. I surely did not want to get mixed up with another mans girlfriend. Embarrassed I said nothing. After they left I thought it was strange that they did not leave together. Maybe they had been quarrelling I thought but also that seemed strange as they had been very nice to each other.
A few days later when I came back to my boat from the market I found Gabi waiting for me at the steps of the pier where I kept my inflatable dingy. She was curios about my boat and way of travel she said so we went aboard. When I queered her about her boy friend she told me that it was her brother but they were very good friends and spent much time together. Before I had mostly talked with him but now I found out that she was much into mathematics I fact she was doing her Ph. D. at Göttingen. It surprised me because very few girls are interested in mathematics and she was blond and beautiful and only nineteen years old. But mathematics is a subject for young people. Newton did his greatest work at 22 and Einstein at 25. We went along well with each other. We talked about the differences of Rieman and Lebegue integrals, about conformal mapping and its importance for two dimensional fluid flow, how Joukowski with a simple complex variable could transform a circle to look like an airfoil and about many more beautiful things which I now have now long since forgotten. We talked about various ways of travelling and that old people who had money was too tired to travel while she young and eager to see the world hardly had money to backpack.
She thought it was fantastic that I could travel all over the world in my little boat with just the help of the wind and my oar. She realised it was quite clean and healthy life.
We spent the whole day together. In the evening I walked her back to her hotel. Next morning when I woke up I saw that she was sitting at steps to the pier. Now she had her small rucksack with her. I rowed over to pick her up. Sven she said.
“It is stupid that I spend the little money I have at the Hotel. If you let me sleep in the boat we could use it to buy some food from the market and take cheap local buses for day trips and I could show you some beautiful places up the mountains. When your girl friend comes I go back to Germany to my research.”
I thought that as Jannike was a free modern girl and did think that jealousy was a bourgeois invention and had forced me to accept that she had a boy friend besides me when we met in Holland she would in her turn have to accept that Gabi moved aboard.
So I told Gabi that she was welcome aboard. Time passed even more quickly now with Gabi aboard and one night when we had our evening meal there was a knock on the hull and when I opened the hatch there was a fisherman there in his rowing boat and on the back seat there was Jannike very happy to see me. She climbed aboard with her rucksack. When she came into the boat and did see Gabi she was not so happy of course. But the girls were polite to each other and it was decided it was too late for Gabi to try to find a hotel. There was only one bunk aboard Bris and it was only three and a half feet wide; a tight fit. We decided that we would sort things out tomorrow.
Next morning Gabi said:
“OK when I moved aboard I promised to leave when Jannike came, but then I did not know what I now know. Now I have become attached to Sven and Bris and this free life in a small boat. Now I am dreaming of the big oceans and the far countries and all the exciting things Sven have been telling me about. I do not want to go back to the bourgeois society in Germany and continue my mathematical research. I want too come sailing with you.”
One man with two girl friends on a small boat like Bris was definitely too much, but sometimes fate arranges constellations beyond your control. When Gabi mowed aboard for a few days I did not know that it would change her dreams. Now I felt responsible for her.
I felt responsible for Jannike too. True she was a brave modern girl with no faith in traditional relationships, but I felt that this was a bit much even for her. On the other hand once out on the ocean wave maybe seasickness would force her to leave the boat anyway. After much deliberation we decided to give it a try. The girls went to the market and bought food. I dived into the water and cleaned the hull and started to make the boat ready for the sea after her long stay in port. When everything was stowed away we went to the customs and cleared for the Canary Islands.
Everything went well. To my surprise Jannike seemed to have found her sea legs. With two crews the boat could keep a better outlook and I did not have to worry when crossing shipping lanes. I had two hours watches alone followed of a four hours rest below with one of the girls while the other one kept watch in the steering hatch.
At sea the arrangement had worked fine. We reached port in fine form with every one happy, but there disaster struck. A letter was waiting for Gabi. Her conventional parents had let her out on a backpacking tour watched over by her older brother. When he had come back alone telling them she would follow in a week’s time they had started to worry. After all she was only nineteen and at that time doing her Ph. D. in mathematics the pride of the family. When her letter arrived telling them that she had given up her research and was on her way to Brazil in a boat built in a Swedish cellar they were shocked. They threatened with Interpol and other things if she did not come straight back home. It was a long letter and it did a deep impression on her. She cried and said that she had to leave.
Although she did not say so I realised that Jannike was pleased to not have to share me with another girl. As the passage from Madeira had gone so well it was a matter of course that she was signed on for good. As next stop we planned Rio de Janeiro a voyage much more difficult than the usual crossing from the Canary Islands to Barbados as it was much longer and also included passing the Doldrums and getting into the trade wind system of the southern hemisphere. We stored the boat with as much food we could afford; canned sardines now replacing Swedish meatballs as our staple food.
We left in the middle of October against advice by some people who told us that the hurricane season was not jet over. Cocky, with a smile in my moustache I told them that I had built the boat myself and that we were bound for Cap Horn and hurricanes did not worry me.
Slowly during three days we drifted out of the wind shadow behind the high Canaries. The northeast trades gradually picked us up, taking Bris west of Cape Verde Islands and southwards.
As the winds got stronger Jannike got seasick. With iron will she must have suppressed the nausea between Madeira and the Canaries for fear of being left put ashore and see me and Gabi sail happily away together. Now in the trade wind we could not return and she relaxed showing how she felt and she felt terrible. She vomited and did not eat she lay in her bunk mooning. There was nothing I could do. She got slimmer and slimmer. After two weeks I began to worry that she would die. After three weeks she fainted and collapsed on the floor. After that she was able to keep down a bit of what she ate. She could also start reading books.
About this time I started to find small animals on my body and in my hair, first one, then a few days later more and more until it was nearly a full time job to keep my head overpopulated by lice, which do multiply rapidly. As we did not have any insecticides each animal had to be killed by hand. I felt ashamed that the animals were only on me.
I kept asking Jannike if she had any lice, but she always said no. Finally she asked me to look in her hair as there was something itching. Needless to say I found an unbelievable amount of lice and their eggs; her scalp was almost black with little things moving around. Thousands were thrown into the Atlantic to drown, but we newer exterminated them.
We had now settled down to life at see. Land and civilisation seemed fare, fare away. We were content in our little independent world. We had a small transistor radio with shortwave band but did not bother to listen to the news and of course we had no way to communicate with the outside world. The boat was simple we did not even have electric light. Our life was very concrete and simple. After a week or two at sea, without modern life bombarding us with information we began to feel like the dregs of our culture had settled at the bottom of our brains. Life was concrete and present. The horizon of time was not longer than yesterday and tomorrow. Here in the trade wind, history seemed to have stopped. Columbus and the birds before him had experienced the same seas, the same wind and waves. Everything was present. Did something need to be done I did it right away and right away we were awarded by the result. Not like a worker in society were the division of labour is such that a worker never can see the results of his efforts as a whole and his payment gets into a bank account which is already ready to distribute the money as payments for thing bought a long time ago. We had gone back to natural state. If the wind increased in the middle of the night I was instantly wide awake, went on deck got in a reef, had a look around, went back to my bunk and the moment my head hit the pillow I was asleep again; like a dog. We felt our thinking was becoming clearer our senses more sensitive.
The equatorial doldrums were very hot, but we came through the three hundred mile stretch in good time, then Bris had to be hard on the wind as we met the southeast trades, not to miss the corner of Brazil and be carried up into the North Atlantic by the strong equatorial current. The boat was banging into the seas and one day of hard sailing we made thirty five miles backwards.
But soon we made very good progress, hundred ten to hundred twenty miles a day. We passed Bahia de Salvador and continued another thousand miles down to Rio de Janeiro with the trade winds blowing nicely. After four thousand miles and forty eight days, at the end of November, the sugar loaf, the famous landmark of Rio, came up nicely and we could be pleased with our navigation.
The Rio Yacht Club is just to the left after the entrance to Guanabara Bay. A few members remembered my schooner Duga from three years ago. Fresh water and fresh food is a blessing to the small boat sailor and we did not wait long to buy insecticides to kill our lice.
We did some socialising and sightseeing – Corcovado with the Christ statue – Copacabana and the other famous beaches. But after a few weeks having hauled out the boat and put on antifouling we loaded the boat with fruit and other cheap food for the last of our money.
Our original intention had been to continue to Buenos Aires but the crew from an Argentinean yacht told us about Mar del Plataand made a sketch on the back of our chart. I must admit that I never heard of it in fact my knowledge of the countries geography was so meagre that the only town I had heard about was Buenos Aires.
The weather was good and Jannike did not get seasick as she had bought some pills Dramamine. We made good southerly progress. One evening after having rounded Punta del Este in Uruguay, when we were on our way across the large estuary of Rio de la Plata getting close to Mar del Plata we saw a big black low cloud coming rolling towards us. It locked ominous. Soon we were struck by a heavy squall which knocked the boat flat. I had to walk out with the deck healing 50* to take down all sails. Later we found out that it was one of the dreaded Pamperos.
A few days of bad visibility followed as we were getting closer and closer. Finally we had only a few miles left according to my calculations. Yet we saw no sign of land. I shot the sun every hour with the same results. Suddenly Jannike said: I hear cars. I thought she had gone nuts; but listened. Sure enough; there was a loud unmistakably sound of traffic. Now this was confusing. Had we both gone nuts. But then suddenly the haze parted before us and in the gap appeared two giant skyscrapers with a four line traffic way in front of them. Below were beaches with thousands of people. A bit further south we saw the breakwater and know where to head.
We arrived the evening before New Years Eve, having spent Christmas at sea. Inside the breakwater a school of sea lions met us. Some kids in a powerboat told us the way to the Club Nautico.
We got showers and went to the different port authorities. The one guarding the customs office put a rifle in my stomach making sure to have his finger on the trigger. When I told him that we liked to clear customs he decided that I was not to be shot and let me in.
Of the few foreign yachts that came to Argentina, most went to Buenos Aires as we first had planned. In Mar del Plata it was at the time rare to sea a yacht from overseas and no one as small as Bris had ever entered the port. That we on top of that were heading for Cape Horn caused a bit of sensation.
TV, radio and newspapers talked about “Una Cascara De Nuez” – a nutshell often adding “Con Amore” referring to my crew and our unmarried status. This was 1974.
Before long nearly everyone in the city seemed to know us and there were many invitations from friendly people. One day when we came back two the boat two cases of corned beef waited at the dock containing forty eight cans. A fishing company donated canned fish. A friend in Sweden had sent me fifty dollars. We bought fruits and bread. The customs did not want to clear us, saying the boat was too small for Cape Horn. But next day there was a regatta which we went out to watch and failed to return from. When darkness fell Bris was a long way from the harbour heading south towards Cape Horn.
From Mar del Plata at latitude of thirty eight degrees south it did not take us long to reach the roaring forties with its many gales. Besides strong winds we also had to fight the northerly Falklandcurrent. Progress was slow. We had to drive the boat hard. One day when sailing with a beam wind a breaker hit Bris on her side and rolled her over three hundred sixty degrees.
It was Jannike who spoke first:
“Sven now we are in heaven” She said.
Confused I answered:
“What do you mean?”
“Sven” she said “do you not hear the angels plying”
As I collected myself and listened I heard in fact how the boat was filled with the most beautiful sacral Bach music. It did however not take me long to find the tape recorder who had hit the roof with the on button and who was the source of this astounding euphony.
“Back to earth Jannike” I said “there is much work to do. We have to act fast”
During the short time the boat had been upside down much water had poured in through four ventilators and three hatches. Jannike who did not always listen to her Captain had not closed the tool hatch. A jerry can with water had broken loose to smash one of the barometers. My books that I had taken such good care of for so many years had fallen right up to the overhead and dented the insulation with their back; giving me a souvenir of the blow. Now they were thrown all round the boat, wet with saltwater.
I was quickly on deck to see what damage had been done. To my relief nothing except the vang was broken, though the mainsheet had ripped out. The sails came down quickly. Two truck tires on a long rope were thrown out from the stern as a sea anchor, which.
The rest of the day we were busy getting the salt water out. It seemed to have penetrated everything. We changed the wet bedding. We dried our irreplaceable canned food so that rust would not damage them. By the time darkness fell we had done a fair job of it. The gale also started to blow itself out.
Next day I made seals for the hatches and ventilators. I kept stowing and lashing all gear much better. Finally the boat was as ship-shape I could make her under the conditions.
A week later it was time for another go. This time the wind hit us like a hammer. That did at first not worry me so much because “soon come soon gone” I thought, but when half an hour had gone and the wind incredible just kept on increasing I realised that I was in for something I never before had experienced. I had already gotten all the sails down. The two truck tires was again streamed on a long line from the boats stern acting as a sea anchor, and like before they held Bris rear end nicely to the wind. I had done all I could. I went below into my bunk and started to read: Physics for the enquiring mind: The methods, nature and philosophy of physical science. By Eric M. Rogers, a large heavy book of 778 pages.
After four hours we were pitch pooled, that is the boat was turned stern over bow. But now the problem was solved. The lashings held and the seals prevented much water from coming in. Bris remained relatively dry and shipshape.
Toward evening I was sitting in the doghouse looking out. Then I saw a big breaker nearly over my head. Here we go again was my thought, but somehow Bris did a snakey movement with her tail and managed ride out the assault. The storm kept blowing full strength through the night. As there was no moon it was pitch dark and we could only hear the roar of the breakers increasing as they came nearer, and feel the tremendous acceleration when they hit. By four o’clock in the mourning the storm had moderated to gale force.
The weather was heavy; but not in the way I had imagined. Apart from that the boat capsized and pitch-pooled now and then I did not complain. The storms were edifying. They complemented my theoretical knowledge. They gave me personal experiences. I got new ideas. I prudently drew a new boat and decided to make a new try. True it was a long way from present position, near Cape Horn to my mother’s cellar, and we were getting short of water, but there is always a solution.
On the pilot-chart, the one with weather statistics, I saw a little dot in the middle of the immense ocean. It was Tristan da Cuhna. The most isolated island in the world. I had heard that there was an active volcano their and that all the people had been evacuated. I did not know if there was anyone living there now or if there was water. It was a long shot, but we were in a bit of a fix and Tristan would give us a chance.
A decision was made. I changed our course. I eased our sheets and started making speed driven by the roaring west wind eastward. At long last after having navigating the stormy waters for two months I made a final series of shots of the sun with my sextant. I calculated them and told Jannike that tomorrow we would see the island. As we had been westbound around Cape-Horn I had no charts of this part of the world but in Bowditch. American Practical Navigator. H.O. Pub. No. 9 Appendix S Maritime positions. Islands of the South Atlantic I had found: Tristan da Cuhna; Tristan Settlement at
37* 03’ south and 12* 18’ west.
Apprehensive I was up at sunrise. A most beautiful sight met me. The weather was perfect. There was an infinite visibility. I was just in time to see how the rising sun projected the 6,700 feet high six mile long island on the still dark western sky. Or course was smack on.
The wind was light and we had about ninety miles left so we did not reach the island before sunset.
As darkness fell we saw some lights shining on the shore, our first sign of civilisation in fifty eight days. Now we know that the island was after all populated.
We had no charts therefore our approach during the night had to be very careful. At sunrise we were close enough to see a few houses gathered together into a little settlement and even some early rising people walking around. We tacked Bris closer to the shore and hove to near the thick kelp surrounding the island to get our bearings. After some time a dingy came out with three men. We asked if there was a harbour. They said: No, there is no harbour but a landing place with a breakwater. They said they used it for their longboats, but due to the rough conditions they could not be left in the water but had to be beached at once. They said breakers may come rolling in at any time.
No boat from the outside world had landed on the island they said. But on the other hand they had never seen such a small boat as ours.
“Are you shipwrecked?” they asked curiously.
“I am not shipwrecked” I answered. “I am a philosopher looking for the uttermost parts of the world and this is my girl friend” I said and pointed at Jannike.
“Then you certainly have come to right place” they said and laughed.
“Your boat is much smaller than even our longboats so we can easily land her” they said.
They said we were lucky to have chosen such good weather because the swell often caused breakers so big that it was impossible to use the landing place. The year before they had only been able to use it sixty eight days
They tied us to the kelp which they said was stronger than an anchor. Then they told us to take down the mast while they went back to arrange the lifting out. They said they would be back when the tide was right.
I lowered the mast and they were soon back. One of the local helmsmen came aboard Bris to take the tiller. The other in the dingy towed us. At the breakwater was an islander watching for a favourable moment between the swells, signalling to us to come in at the right moment. Later we learned that that job was the most prestigious of all as a mistake could mean the difference between life and death.
When we had rounded the breakwater we saw that there was plenty of people to watch the historical moment of a boat from the outside world to land on Tristan, the men at the landing place helping, the women up on the hill watching and knitting; all in good order.
Being so small Bris was easily lifted ashore and placed in a safe corner of the landing place.
Due to the heavy weather and change of destination the voyage had taken far longer than we ever had expected and we had gotten far less mileage out of our drinking water. Water had been rationed for some time. The first thing we did was to drink our fill of the excellent Tristan water. Then bit by bit we began to learn about our present habitat.
Tristan was discovered 1506 by Tristao da Cuhna. To prevent the French from using the islands as a base for a rescue operation to free Napoleon from his prison on St Helena 1700 miles to the north they were 1815 occupied by a British military garrison. After a few years they where withdrawn realising that the island was to far away and that the seas where so stormy and that no harbour could be built making it useless for a rescue attempt.
Despite the stormy seas its remoteness and inaccessibility the island was a delightful place of residence a blest island. Five men decided to stay. The only problem was lack women but it was solved by a passing ship whose Captain took pity on the men and brought five sound and healthy women from St Helena.
The cruel sea was a different matter; it demanded constantly its tribute in the form of men. But it also gave. Shipwrecked sailors married the islands widows giving fresh blood to new generations. And so life went on that small island fare out in the immense sea.
There are three islands in the group lying at the corners of a triangle about twenty five miles from each other. Tristan is the youngest one million years old. The two others Nightingale and Inaccessible are both 15 million years old.
When we arrived there were 292 inhabitants and a few expatriates from Britain and South Africa. They all lived close together in the settlement of Edinburgh. On all places of the whole island it was just right next to the settlement tremors had started in 1961 just thirteen years before. Some of the shipwrecked sailors were of Italian descent and guessed that a volcano was about to erupt. A radioed description of the subterranean rumblings was transmitted with a request for help. A few days the islander received the heartening answer not to worry as Tristan was not situated in an active volcanic area. By then red lava was flowing towards the settlement. As by a wonder it stopped a stones throw from the first houses the flow suddenly changed course seaward. God’s finger had stopped it the islanders assured me. By then they believed their senses more than the fare away scientists, sent out an SOS, launched their longboats and sailed to Nightingale.
From Nightingale they were taken to England. The contact with the outside world shocked them. On Tristan they had “the canteen” a small store opened one hour once a week where they could buy some staple food and a few other basic things like nails for the men and needles for the women. In England there seemed to be no end to the number of shops. Street after street were filled with shops. Not only that, salesmen were knocking on their doors coercing them into buying things they never heard of and they did not need. And as for payment they only had to sign on the dotted line and everything would be fine.
On Tristan there existed only a limited number of items. Everyone knew what George’s knife looked like. If an Alan was out walking and feeling hot he took of his jacket and left it on the path, putting a stone on it that the wind would not steel it. No one could steel Alan’s jacket.
On Tristan not only were things limited. There were only 293 persons if one died there were 292. As one Tristan man put it: “in England there were as many people as sand on the beach.” On Tristan you said hello to everyone you met. You know everyone and everyone knew you; an impossibility in England. The islanders were not prepared for this, or for the crimes and diseases in the anonymous society they now were part of.
After two years it was reported that the volcano was no longer active and the British government reluctantly let the islanders return.
If the islanders had met with abundance anonymity crime and diseases I encountered the opposite. I did not need to lock the boat. No one could get away with steeling my camera for example as there was only one camera on the island like it. Everyone greeted me and I soon learned to great everyone. When one evening on my way to an invitation I got confused as to which house I was invited to I reasoned that as everyone on the island know everyone else I could just knock on any door to get directions I did not realise that I was also familiar with everyone. So to my surprise when the door opened the man smiled and said “hello Sven what can I do for you.”
One might think that on a little isolated island like Tristan with no commercial entertainers life would be dull with nothing ever happening. The above invitation was not the only one. With an population of 292 people there was almost birthday every day. The fact was that more exciting things happened on Tristan than on any other place I visited. Besides social events like birthdays funerals and marriages there where special Tristan events like Ratting Day when the whole community would be divided into teams which tried to kill as many rats as possible. In the evening there was a dance and prices given to the team with the biggest number of tails and to the team with the longest tail.
Twice a year a South African research ship on its way Antarctica, weather permitting, came with supplies and very important news from the outside world. The mailbags were brought to the community hall and all the woman sat in a circle, coming forward when to get their letters when their names were read. Sometimes you could see a few men curiously looking in through the windows, but the never came inside.
There is also a pub of sorts it is split into two rooms with the bartender in the middle keeping men and women apart.
Men and women on Tristan are separated as they used to be centuries ago here.
On the birthdays the men sit in the living room talking, with the women in the kitchen talking and knitting with tremendous speed. There is much to talk about and much wool to knit.
I asked one man why they don’t mix more. He told me, “Men like to talk about men’s things and women about women’s things.” A simple enough explanation!
This does of course not sound to exciting to modern man but being part of it on the world’s most isolated island was a delight and joy.
One thing which would be exciting even to modern man was their longboats and their trips to Nightingale and Inaccessible. It is a combination of hard work, holidays and races in boats with names like British Flag (length 26’, beam 6’11’’, depth- not draft- 3’7’’ Brittania (30’ x 8’ x 4’2’’) British Trader (28’5’’ x 8’5’’ x 5’). These are big, open, double-enders built with 2’’ spaced stringers held in place by frames and covered in canvas which is waterproofed with paint. Originally, because of lack of wood and to make them light for launching from the beach on Tristan and to be able to haul them up on the landing rock on Nightingale, they were built from shipwrecks and mailbags.
The first trip to Nightingale starts in the spring with the “egg trip.” It’s the penguin eggs that the islanders collect. On a good trip they return with thousands of eggs. Later in the summer comes the “guano trips” when the fertile guano is collected for their potato fields. Last in the autumn is the “fat trip” when the Greater Shearwater, a large seabird that breeds only on the Tristan group, is caught. The fat is melted and bottled. The meat is salted down. During my visit six longboats returned with about 20,000 birds for the winter. Not a noticeable depletion as there is an estimated population of five million birds. No potato chips can ever be made as good as with this bird fat.
Obviously before making a thirty mile trip in open canvass boats in the roaring forties the weather has to be perfect. The islanders are very cautious because even if the wind strength and direction are fine swell from distant storms may arrive suddenly and cause very dangerous rollers that may make landing on Nightingale impossible and then it may be too late to return. They have no radio transmitters with them; and what would the use be there is no one for thousands of miles to help them.
There were times when to me conditions seemed ideal, but they went on with their business as if nothing happened.
If asked they would tell you “No today is not ‘a day’, to much swell on Nightingale,” or that the weather would change in the afternoon. They were always right. Sometimes they have to wait for weeks and may not even be able to make a trip. If too early the eggs are not laid or the birds not fat enough; if to late the eggs too old or the birds gone. It’s a real gamble, with domestic consequences for a whole season. It puts adventure into their lives.
But when one early morning it’s decided that today is “a day” there is great excitement. Everyone is working quickly, and emotions are strong. It’s like a big battle just before the attack. Five, six maybe seven longboats are launched. They get outside with oars. There they put up their masts and sails. When everyone is ready they take off for Nightingale in a big race.
Once on Nightingale they start their work immediately so as to be able to return quickly if the weather stays good. The saying: “never waste a fair wind” is nowhere more true than on Tristan.
Most of the cultivable land is near the settlement. But in one valley a bit further down the coast apples grow and on an other wild cattle are kept. When the day for slaughter comes, mailbags, an essential part of their “natural resources” are borrowed. The animals are killed, butchered and put into the mailbags to be transported back to the settlements in their longboats. The bloody bags are then washed and returned for the outgoing mail. No harm done.
The most important staple food was potatoes. They were grown not far from the settlement. As it was economically and practical impossibility to get new potatoes if a crop should fail three crops were planted with three weeks interval. Should strong winds blow away the tops of one crop another would be on its way before the season ended.
It is no overstatement to say that on rare occasion there was a wind of tremendous force sweeping around the island. 6,700’high and only six miles wide, situated on the edge of the roaring forties the island was in the path of storms. That caused the air near the mountain to be accelerated to even higher speeds. The results were hurricane force winds. Roofs and buildings were lashed. I remember one night when the island were hit by a storm that Bris was shaking and rocking like a car driving over a bumpy country road. During the whole night I had to go out at one or two hour intervals to lash her down and support her with more and more ropes and spars. When daylight came it looked as though Bris was caught in a giant spider web; and of course the tops of one crop of potatoes were gone, despite the stone walls raised to protect them.
I and Jannike lived in the boat ashore in a corner at the landing place and had a good view from our windows on all the interesting things that happened there. It was a mutual interest. The islanders had great respect for the sea. Many were descendents of shipwrecked sailors most of them had relatives who had been lost at sea. There flourished a number of stories of near disasters as well. The islanders were intrigued by my boat and seamanship. When sailing they found their whereabouts only by the simplest eyeball navigation. They did not even know how to use the compass. Therefore they got lost if the visibility got bad; and much can happen on thirty miles in the southern ocean. At one time a longboat had gotten completely lost. It was only by sheer luck they managed to sight Tristan island again after five days. The crew knew only to well that they were in waters dangerous for an open canvass boat if wind would come up and that there were thousands of miles to nearest land. They and the other islanders got the fright of their life. The incident was caused by one man who had forgotten his rifle on Nightingale. They had returned to pick it up. During that short time Tristan had disappeared in fog. Wise by experience they now never return for forgotten things.
As a friend of knowledge and independence I taught them the compass. It did not take me long to understand that academic learning was not the islanders strong point. I adapted my teaching to circumstances and quickly dropped terms like deviation, variation, magnetic bearing and true bearing. Instead we vent out on a field with a compass. I put up three posts representing Tristan, Inaccessible and Nightingale. I asked one man to stand next to the Tristan post with the compass in his hand. I told him to walk straight and steady towards the post representing Nightingale and at the same time observe the compass. After him I asked the other helmsmen to do the same thing. When after a while they had gotten the idea that a certain number on the compass rose always pointed at the post representing Nightingale I put a blanket over one mans head in such a way that he could see the compass but not the post and told him to use the compass to find the post. The lesson was successful.
I told the men that navigation was based on mathematics and that I had used much time to try to understand it. Many parents don’t understand mathematics; still they want their children to learn it. In that way navigation lead to that I became a teacher on Tristan. It was not formal in any way. A parent asked me to help his child after the lesson I was invited for a meal. Another parent wanted another lesson another day. Soon my mornings were filled with lessons and I and Jannike had a free lunch every day.
During the afternoon I walked around talked with the islanders and watched their constructive interesting work, often improvising in surprising ways. The evenings I spent at the pub, having a single glass of fruit drink at cost price, hearing more stories about the island life.
The handful of British expatriates running the island in colonial style did not like that I mixed with the natives getting my fads and fancies into their heads like teaching them navigation and telling them that they could get plenty of energy out of the 2000 feet high waterfall coming down the mountain behind the settlement. This was 1974 the year of the oil crises.
One day the long awaited research ship arrived with mail and supplies. The islanders worked hard in their small boats in the heavy swell to unload as quickly as possible. Should bad weather the ship would have to leave even if there were things still left aboard.
Besides outgoing mail Jannike was also aboard the ship when it left. Although she had been very brave more stormy waters waited for Bris and I worried that something might happen to her.
My plan was to sail back to Sweden to build an improved version of my boat. It was a long way and there were lots of things to see on the way. Also I was not in a hurry.
I decided to sail to St Helena 1700 miles to the north as the birds fly. I was asked to carry the outgoing mail. Although they had just gotten mail it gave the islanders opportunity to answer those several months quicker than they otherwise would have. In the old days before they had money on the island the postage was four potatoes commemorated by the famous potato stamp. So besides the mailbag I was given a bag of the excellent Tristan potatoes.
Every conceivable preparation was made as I expected a rough passage. On Monday the 15th of July in the middle of the dark southern winter Bris was put into the water with her mast stepped. Four strong men in a dingy took her in tow and rowed her out of the harbour. Outside the thick kelp the towing rope was cast of. It only took a few minutes to put up the sails. Bris immediately picked up good speed; and after a few hours the snow-covered top of the island started to sink into the water. In the short winter day darkness fell soon and the next day Bris and I were alone with our mailbag heading for Jamestown, St Helena.
* * *
I knew that the first thousand miles would be bad, but after that I would have good weather because St Helena is situated in the nice Southeast trades with no gales or hurricanes. To get out of the storm belt I was driving the boat harder than ever, reefing only when absolutely necessary. During the gales there was a lot of violent movement, but what I found worse was the continues high pitched shrieking in the rigging which vibrated the whole boat sometimes for maybe two or three days. Now and then during the nights with a moon I would get up and sit a few minutes in the doghouse watching with satisfaction how nicely the boat behaved in the savage sea.
But the biggest scare I got on the whole trip was during a moonless night. Missing Jannike I dreamt that she was back in my arms. At that moment I was rudely awakened from my sweet dream by a mighty jolt, and Bris was thrown upward then down on her beam. As there was no crashing noise on impact I realised instantly that this was the soft organic mass of a big whale I had hit; one of those big fellows that come up from the Antarctic in the cold season.
The Tristan islanders had warned me about them, giving me advice from their own experiences. As one old man told me: “When the whales trouble you, go into shallow water, they will not follow you there.” I was several hundred miles from the nearest land so it was not easy to follow his advice. For the first time I did not know what to do. In fact I was in a panic. I was afraid, running (crawling) back and forth in the boat trying to look out into the pitch dark night seeing nothing. But as minute after minute went by without the whale attacking, the beat of my heart slowly went back to normal. After some more time confirming that I had not sprung a leak, I went back to bed happy with my strong, light, triple laminated cold molded hull trying to recollect my sweet dream.
As one day went into another, progress was made. I was heading a bit east of St. Helena, to have her to leeward. The more north I got, the wormer the weather became, the more clothes I could take of until I was in the area of the Southeast trades, naked and happy.
Finally one evening just before sunset, I could barely see, as something grey on the horizon, the faint outline of St. Helenaslowly, slowly rising out of the water. I hove to for the night, waking up to look out once every hour in case a strange current might take me to close to the shore.
The next day I was up early, full of excitement. The island was still far away, but I could see her clearly, though grey. It was here Napoleon lived his last years in misery.
St. Helena is very steep and barren with few landing places and no protected harbour. But as she lies in the trade wind, it is no problem to stay in the lee of the island as I did for three months.
About three o’clock in the afternoon I passed the ruins of a fortified headland and was in the bay of Jamestown. As I was taking down the sails looking for a good place to anchor, two men came out in a rowboat and pulled me in to a mooring. I told them I had mail from Tristan, but they showed no surprised and told me that they had expected me last Monday as they had had received a telegram to that effect. I excused my lateness.
Later, customs, immigration and the harbour master came out. Customs and immigration were quickly completed. The harbour master asked if I was short of money; maybe he thought so because the size of the boat, probably the smallest that had ever anchored there. I confirmed his guess, and he said as I had brought the mail, he would not charge any harbour dues. The mail proved to be a lucky strike. They brought me a bag of potatoes when I left Tristan now when delivering them they freed me of harbour dues. I had gained in both ends.
The islands outstanding historical event was Napoleons imprisonment and death. By chance there was an English film team there making a documentary about him. It did not take long for them to employ me as a man Friday. I got paid two pounds a day plus free food. It was easy work and interesting people. It suited me fine.
Stamps from St. Helena are collector’s item. The postmaster took the opportunity to make a few first day cowers to commemorate “The smallest ocean going mail carrying vessel”. He asked me to autograph them. As payment I was given a bunch of them; some of them I later sold to get money.
Queen Victoria had given France Napoleons house and garden, those making it the smallest French colony. A Consul was there to represent the French interests. He told me that Martiniquewas a nice place so I decided that island would be my next stop.
After three months on St. Helena I put my boat ashore and antifouled her in preparation for Martinique 4,000 miles away up on the other side of the equator. Instead of rowing out with water and provision I put everything aboard while the boat was on land. When her bottom was done and Bris was put back into the water, some gusts came down the valley of Jamestown and we were of to a flying start. I was soon out in the steady trade wind which took me up to the equator and doldrums. Usually when one of the heavy rain squalls came, lasting ten to fifteen minutes I took the opportunity to take a shower. But one time the heavy rain did not stop. It kept raining with the same intensity for twenty four hours and another twenty four hours with less violence. On the third day it was drizzle, and finally the day after that gave me a clear day and a change of the wind. I was through the doldrums and in the north-east trade.
During the storm I had to do a lot of steering. Now I noticed that my rudder wire had chafed halfway trough. I had a spare one but as it was still some life in the present one and that it would be more comfortable to change it in port I chanced that it would last me to Martinique.
I made good progress but my steering wire was getting thinner and thinner. I passed Barbados well to windward. When after forty five days out I sighted Martinique it finally broke. I did not bother to replace it, as Bris is so well balanced I could steer by mowing my weight around, walking forward and/or to leeward would make her point higher, walking aft and/or to windward would make her fall off. Thus I steered Bris without a rudder the last miles right up through the crowded roadstead of Fort de France dropping my anchor close to the shore the night before Christmas Eve 1974.
I was back to modern civilisation. I could see other yachts and was able to send my letters by air mail. The main purposes of the visit were to study the French language, the French cruising boats and learn French seamanship. I read a French textbook for half an hour in the morning and evening. I kept my FM radio on the French stations I visited the French yachts and interviewed their crew.
After three and a half month I had made decent progress and as summer was coming I decided to head north, to the US and see what I could learn there. I got a visa from the American consulate and in the middle of April started to sail up through the islands to English Harbour where I spent Antigua Sailing week.
I wanted my bottom clean before going through the Sargasso Sea so being on historic ground, I did what Nelson used to do I careened Bris.
Sailing through the Sargasso Sea was slow and nice. I was reading good books and doing two or three knots. After crossing the Gulf Stream the water was cold and grey. My swimming came to sudden stop.
As I approached Newport I was thinking of the many people I had met during my voyage whose experience, opinions and friendship would influence me for the rest of my life. I knew that at the shores of the new land coming out of the water in houses on streets were also people whose existence and character I could not even guess. Still also these people would soon be my friends. I was excited.
In the evening after passing Castle Hill I tied up at the Goat Island Marina. I knew through the yachting grape wine that it was the finish of the single handed transatlantic race and that its owner Peter Dunning was a friend of all singlehanders. And true enough as soon as I had docked Bris I was sitting having a meal at its pub talking to people I had never seen before who are now my friends, telling them about myself and listening to their stories.
My new friends had phoned the customs, but it was late and no hurry. I could go ashore as long as I did not leave the marina. Next day George Monk the customs man arrived. I was a bit worried. I had only three dollars fifty cents; not much to get started in a new country. George Monk was a friendly man however. Being also the agriculture man he confiscated three oranges I had because they might infect the US citrus production. He said that it was his duty to inform me that my visa did not permit me to work in the US. Then he smiled and left.
Somehow Peter sensed that I had less money than his other customers. He became a bit of a father to me.
“Sven” he said “That boat will leave for three weeks. You can stay in that slip until he is back”
There was a boat which had to be delivered to Boston. It was a well paid job but I had to decline it as I felt it was to big responsibility for me. I guess he thought my sense of responsibility was bigger than necessary but respected it. He also had an old steel work boat at the end of the dock which needed a coat of paint. That job I thought I was qualified for.
I was standing at the far end of the dock painting the boat. It was lunchtime the sun was shining the weather was lovely. Everything was perfect, then came a surprise, I saw George Monk, the custom man coming walking towards me. At the end of the dock I was caught, my first thought was to jump in the water and swim to the other shore, but I realised I would not get far. Trying to keep calm as thousand thought rushed through my head, I kept painting.
When it is lunchtime, the sun is shining and the weather lovely I usually come here watching the seagulls enjoying a bit of piece. He said and sat down and started to eat his food. By focusing on my job I managed not to spill too much paint.
Cruising World one of the biggest yachting magazines was situated in Newport. Peter Dunning had told them about my voyages. One day an editor knocked on Bris and wanted me write an article about my adventures.
I told him, that I was a dyslectic problem child and that during all my years in school I had never written anything that was even getting close to be accepted, that I was useless on spelling grammar and punctuation. I told him that my strength was mathematics and engineering, not writing especially not English witch was not even my own language.
Don’t worry about that just write the story like if it was a letter to your mother. I am an editor and I take care of spelling grammar and punctuation.
I was not so easily convinced. Its no use I said. They even sent me to a special school for problem children. I have been there for six years and even they had to give up in the end.
He did not give up:
“Sven” he said. “Lets make a deal. You write me an article of fifteen hundred words, not more, I pay you hundred and fifty dollars regardless if its good or so bad that we have to through everything away”
Now hundred and fifty dollars was an awful lot of money to me. I had lived on a dollar a day since I had left Sweden. I told him I would try and do my best.
I got out my letter paper and a pen and started to string words together. Many things had happened and it did not take long before I had used my allotment of fifteen hundred words and by then I had not gotten further in my story than down to Madeira.
I walked up to the marina office borrowed Peters telephone and told him that I had a problem.
“You have to cut” he said
“I have been considering that, but everything is interesting so I don’t know what to cut” I said
That did not seem to worry him. In a friendly way he said:
“OK, wait a bit, I am coming down. I do a bit of cutting for you”
This cutting was something our teachers had not told us about. I was a bit curious. It did not take long before he was seated in Bris reading my writing. I was quite letting him concentrate.
“This is good stuff” said he after a while and kept reading. Finally he looked up and said: “I think you have future as a writer”
After all those years in school with teachers telling me that I was no good it was a bit of a surprise. I did not know what to think. So I kept quite. He continued: “Come to our office after lunch, then we will have an editorial meeting and we make your story into a series. Bring any pictures you have”
My luck continued at the meeting everybody was happy with what I showed them. It was decided to make it into a series of three articles. On the last one I Bris would be on the cover.
Walking back to the boat I was thinking that everything seemed to be going to easy, that there must be a catch somewhere. When I cashed my first check I began to realise that I was not dreaming. Later I got a letter from France biggest yachting magazine, Voiles & Voiliers. They wanted to buy the French rights. Cruising World was happy with what I delivered after three articles they wanted more. Soon I caught on and sold my writing to Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. I was lucky to have come to the right place at the right time. I thought that the bones of my teacher might be turning in his grave.
I became well known among the small group of yachting people in Newport and was invited to many parties. At one of those I met Dick Newick a yacht designer devoted to the multihull concept who had produced some outstanding boats. Among them was a forty feet proa which had came third in the 1968 single-handed transatlantic race crewed by Tom Follett, an outstanding achievement which had surprised the yachting world. Having built a proa myself I was very interested in the concept and had read their book Project Cheers with great interest. Before I had been introduced to Tom Follett at the marine and invited him to have a look at my boat. Apparently Bris must have made a good impression on him because he had told Dick what a good boat builder I was. Dick needed help building three small Val class trimarans for the 1976 single handed race. He resided on Martha’s Vineyard an island south of Boston. With harbours, beaches and scenic attractions it had become a summer resort for the rich.
He asked me to come and work for him. I said that it would be very interesting but that I did not have a work permit. He said that he did not think we had to worry about that. Excited and eager it did not take me many seconds to accept his offer and to sail over to the island. It was a summer resort for the rich with harbours, beaches and scenic attractions. Best known for its Chappaquiddick Bridge were Edward Kennedy had an accident and for being the place were the film Jaws was shot.
Dick being so well known I had expected to come to a big company. Therefore I was surprised to find out that he worked alone in a small room in his house and a shed in his backyard. The boats were built in a garage out in the middle of nowhere by two young men who soon became my friends. Their previous claim to fame was building a boat guaranteed to sink. The one used in the film Jaws.
If the conditions were primitive the concepts and technology were the more advanced. My learning curve took a steep climb upward. I was introduced to epoxy Kevlar and carbon fibre. I learnt how to make plugs, full scale models from which female moulds cold be made. They in their turn were used for the actual composite construction.
Dick soon became my teacher and supporter. He took me sailing in his trimaran; he introduced me to important people, he lent me tools and got me materials to improve my boat with.
I spent the summer, autumn and winter in my boat on the island. During the cold months I heated her with a toaster I had found in a thrift shop. It cost me one dollar. For another dollar got an old projector for slides. I liked it for it was very small and simple. It had no magazine. For each new slide you showed you had to insert a new one. It was two dollars well spent. I have always been a bit of a clown. Now when people had parties they often asked to bring along my pictures and do some talking about my voyages. In that fashion time passed quickly and by then I also had some what I thought good ideas for my next boat. I decided to sail back to my mother who I had not seen for many years and build it in Sweden.
In the middle I left Marthas Vineyard, sailed out between Nantucket and Cape Cod. The wind was light the, the sight was clear, and when night came I had cleared the last buoys and was in the open sea. But the wind increased to gale force. I was now on the shoal banks of St. George’s and the sea became very steep. During the night the boat capsized. That was not good for morale the first night out. People had warned me that the North Atlantic could be cruel at those latitudes in March when the winter not always had given way to spring. But I had much confidence in my boat so although I now was wet and cold I continued.
Somehow I was very reluctant to break off my voyage in Bris. The closer to Sweden I got the more excuses I did to avoid finish my voyage. First I stopped in the Azores a wonderful place then I spent some time on the English south coast and finally some weeks in Norway before slowly, slowly approaching Brännö our island.
I was glad to see mother. She told me that many newspapers had phoned and was interested in my story, so a few days later I sailed in to town to meet the press.
The year is 1976 and never before or after have sailing been so popular in Sweden. Every body just must have a sailing boat. There are radio programs TV-shows and floating boat shows. Into this euphoria I land. Some of the Swedish people who previously had condemned me as a misfit now changed their mind and thought I was a gifted sailor. I was happy with the change.
* * *
BORN ON THE WINDWARD SIDE
Had Anckarström seized power after killing King Gustav III of Sweden, I would not have been sailing the seven seas in small boats and you would not be reading these lines.
But, the coup failed. He was arrested and publicly flogged; his right hand was put on a block and chopped off. When the crowd got tired of seeing him suffer he was at last beheaded. Thereafter, his heart was carved out and his private parts were cut off. His estates were confiscated.
A surviving part of his family wisely and quietly left the capital to settle on a tiny island on the wild and far away North Sea coast.
It was Alice’s mother’s grandfather who killed our King. Now Alice did her best to raise me to be a man, together with her daughter and granddaughter -my mother.
The male side of our family was at sea, peacefully earning our living. As a boy, at the age of thirteen, grandfather had left Sweden on a square rigger and rounded the Horn; five years later he was back, now a man, with a bag of money in his hand. He went straight to navigation school and graduated with Captain’s papers, first in class. Soon he got a command and married.
My mother, his only child, often accompanied him on those voyages to interesting lands, far away. As a young woman on one of those trips she met my father, the ship’s first mate. In April 1939, when she was 22 years old, she gave birth to me.
A year later I was on a train heading inland. These were evil times. The seemingly invincible Nazi army was marching. On 9th April they had overrun Denmark and Norway. It seemed only to be a question of time before Sweden would be invaded. The authorities had advised children and women to evacuate the coastal area. We hid in the deep woods. I explored a new and interesting environment and learned to walk. There I celebrated my first birthday. But the grown ups, they were bored. They took walks’ they prepared food and tried nervously to follow news about the war. Father and grandfather meanwhile were seamen on a ship in the Far East
* * *
On the 10th of May the theatre of war moved to France. But we were still threatened. Sweden created a coastal defence zone. Not before mother had obtained passes were we allowed to return to our island.
Our days were quiet. Most fishermen used their oars. Blackout was proclaimed. Light could guide enemy bombers. During dark clear nights I enjoyed looking at the friendly stars.
The ship with my father on had left on January 15th; on September 21st a sister of mine was born.
The male side of our family was living under considerably more dramatic conditions. My Grandfather was Captain and my father First Mate on the M/S Ningpo, one of Sweden’s proudest cargo ships, now in Singapore. Father worried about his young family in war-torn Europe, but soon he had problems of his own. A drifting mine exploded against the ship’s side, blasting a great hole. Quick work by the crew saved the ship from sinking, but the rudder, propeller and engine were damaged.
The local shipyards would not touch a Swedish merchant ship while British warships were queuing up for repairs. Trying to save their ship, they jury-rigged her and, despite the typhoon season, somehow managed to get her towed the thousand miles across the South China Sea to Hong Kong.
Their arrival coincided with the attack on Pearl Harbour. Hong Kong came under fire. Bombs fell close to Ningpo. To save his ship, grandfather asked the authorities permission to tow her to a safer place.
Hong Kong’s harbourmaster was not obliging, on the contrary:”
We are going to sink the Ningpo.” He said. “We don’t want her to get into enemy hands.”
-“This is a Swedish ship. Sweden is a neutral country. She carries no contraband. You have no right to sink her. That would be against international law,” answered grandfather.
No quarter was given however. Rowing the lifeboat, the crew left the sinking ship. On the shore they had to fend for themselves while the Japanese forces advanced.
One day father’s ashes arrived home in a little box. I must have had a small father, I thought.
Despite the troubled times, or rather thanks to them, life on our island was peaceful. I liked being by myself. It was fun to comb the beaches for driftwood at that time, before plastic and oil littered the shore. I built forts among the rocks and rafts in our small cove.
When I could swim and make a few basic knots I was allowed to use our rowing boat. With it I explored the nearby skerrys and islets. When weather was good I rowed to the fishing village across the water and bought milk and bread.
I picked berries and collected mussels. I became an expert on mushrooms. I fished and caught shrimps. I learned to sharpen and handle my knife without cutting myself much. I realised that it was important to have powerful tools.
But most importantly, I craved to understand the world. Luckily, mother and grandmother were always close by to help me sort my thoughts out.
When I was seven years old a new and important phase in my life started. I was going to be educated. We were now going to spend the winters on the mainland because there was no school on our island.
For next to nothing, grandmother bought a house close to the naval base. The war had caused real-estate prices to hit rock bottom, especially the in the most threatened areas.
Unfortunately, it did not take long before it was revealed that I was a problem child. I for my part discovered that school was hell; that it meant sitting for hours at a time on a chair in a classroom and being told to learn things by heart. Because it was thought I could not read and write properly, I was classified as stupid. I resisted and declared that I wanted to be out playing.
In Sweden in the forties, if a child did not know his homework, the teacher would box his ears or whack him with her ruler. I was selected as a prime target. When my classmates saw that the teachers were beating me I was considered fair game.
Luckily, I could run fast and stand quite a lot of punishment. And at home my sister, mother and grandmother gave me all the love I needed, so it could have been worse.
My teacher soon sent me to a psychologist who had no trouble finding out that I had:
“…difficulties in taking in the teaching, was infantile, peculiar, strange, showed bad results. Was clownish. Quarrelled with his classmates. Fought. Had school fatigue. Was a nail-biter. Self-absorbed. Wanted to be outside playing…”
The diagnosis did not help me, but it convinced the teachers that their ruthlessness was justified, that it eventually might turn me into a good citizen.
It did not work. After four long years, the situation had become intolerable. But there is always a solution. Mother found out that on the other side of Sweden, north of Stockholm, there was a progressive boarding school.
Its name was Viggbyholmsskolan. Its purpose was to help children with problems. Its pupils should learn for life, have freedom and responsibility. It was with pedagogy, not with might, that the teachers should infuse their knowledge. Teachers and pupils were equals.
That children should be respected and treated as grown-ups appeared bizarre and controversial at the time.
For me, the new school was Paradise. I got along nicely with both teachers and children. The teachers were creative people who respected different thinking. The school was the first one in Sweden that understood and had special education for dyslexic children. I was in my element.
It was during this time I became interested in physics, chemistry and mathematics. It started when I got hold of some wires, batteries, bulbs, buzzers and a few switches. Soon with simple connections I could make noise and light.
My interest in electricity soon gave way to chemistry, which was like magic, but real. Fantastic vistas opened up. By mixing two liquids I got a third with completely different properties. I made tar out of wood. I made plastics out of milk. I made explosives out of charcoal, saltpetre and sulphur.
Chemistry became my passion. I began to collect test-tubes and chemicals. I learned complicated formulae and the atomic weights of the chemical elements.
My teachers soon saw that I had a special gift for chemistry. I was encouraged and given a key to the school’s lab. While my schoomates were out playing I read chemistry textbooks. During the summers, I worked in the laboratory of a paint factory.
Through chemistry I began to realise that mathematics was a tool that could give my mind great power. Soon, I was way ahead of my class in chemistry, mathematics and physics.
Unfortunately I was still a total failure in languages. Writing compositions was disastrous. My English teacher told me that even if he gave me the test one week in advance there was no way I would pass.
Finally, after six good years at that fine school, the truth had to be faced. I was incurable. Everyone, including myself, realised that I would never get a degree. School law stipulated familiarity with languages, even for engineers.
At seventeen, I had to start work. I got a job in a small mechanic’s workshop. It was situated in the basement of an old apartment building. The workforce consisted of me and my boss. We had a welding torch, a lathe, a drill press, a vice and a few hand tools.
Boss was one of those self- taught wizards who only had to put their hands on a broken piece of machinery to make it happy. Luckily, he was also an unhurried didact. He showed me how to improvise and get along with few tools.
When not working I spent my time on my new interests- girls and speed. I bought a motorcycle and joined a bike-gang.
One evening when I came home, a fast- talking extrovert seller of used cars was sitting there talking to mother. They had been to school together. He had gone bankrupt and his wife had left him. Now he was going to make a fresh start by selling a car to mother.
It goes without saying that to survive as a used car dealer you have to have charm and be a good talker and Olle had both to a high degree.
Since mother had become a widow there had been no other man in her life. She had dedicated her time to raising my sister and me. But now I was seventeen and almost grown up, seldom home, always out on my bike or doing something else. She often begged me to stay home in the evenings to keep her company, but I was too eager to be out chasing girls.
Not yet forty, mother still had a lot of life left in her. Soon she had fallen in love with Olle and he had moved in. I was old enough to understand love. I was happy that mother had found a man, but very unhappy that he was a seller of used cars.
Grandfather, who had barely survived the war, believed that a person should earn his money by hard honest work, not by tricking people.
Olle on the other hand was only too happy to make a good deal on a bad car. When he succeeded he came home laughing, using his favourite expression, ‘I told you the last idiot is not born yet”. He tried to sell cars to everyone. He had no morals. I was ashamed to live under the same roof as him.
About that time, grandfather died and a few months later, grandmother too. Mother, their only child, inherited their two houses
Grandfather had not believed in debt and had no loans. Olle had different views. He convinced mother that it was no use having a lot of money tied up in houses. He persuaded her that she should take out a big loan so that they could start a company and get rich. Of course, the company went bankrupt a few years later.
Olle was a man of big plans. He began to change our houses, the one on the mainland as well as the one on the island. He tore down walls, rebuilt the attic, he changed the plumbing and lightning. He installed a TV-set. He dredged the cove and built a new harbour on the island. He started many projects, he finished few.
Grandfather had been an upright, quiet- spoken, kind man, but highly intelligent and with an iron will. That had enabled him to run his ships with clockwork precision and survive the war in China under the Japanese occupation.
Olle was the opposite. Where before it had been order it was now chaos. I was seventeen, trying to become an adult and I needed security. Instead I became a stranger in my own home.
One cold evening in December when I felt more terrible then usual, without telling anyone I left on my bike for Stockholm. After three days I arrived with no money and very little gas in the tank.
My first priority was girls. I begged for quarters on the streets. After a few hours I had enough for the entrance fee to Nalen, a famous jazz club. It sure was nice to dance with the beautiful girls. But when the club closed I was out on the street with nowhere to sleep.
It was December and the Swedish winter was ice- cold. I walked the streets for about an hour before seeking shelter in the waiting room of the main railroad station, the only place open all night in the capital. It was big and warm. There were lots of busy people. I prepared for a quite night on a bench.
After a while, two plain-clothes men spotted me. They told me that they were not policemen but social workers looking for juvenile delinquents. They said that they had a place for homeless young people, that they would give me a bed and food and that they would drive me there, and that it was all free.
Not expecting that Stockholm had that kind of excellent service, I was sceptical, but accepted their generous offer. It was, after all, ice-cold outside.
They drove me to a rather run-down industrial building in a working-class area. At the top floor we entered a brightly lit big room where a group of youths was having an evening meal. I was seated among the boys and given food.
Once we were left alone I was bombarded with questions. I told them my story. No problem, they said, we will teach you how to get by here in the capital. I soon realised however that this was not the kind of education social workers wished anyone to learn.
Next day I had a job in the post office. Now before Christmas there was plenty of work.
A few weeks later I saw an ad for a job as a laboratory assistant in the department of paint chemistry at the Royal Institute of Technology.
I phoned and got an appointment. My end-of-term report showed that I had the highest marks in chemistry, physics and mathematics, but also that I had the worst ones in other subjects, including discipline.
Behaviour is important, so my future boss was at first sceptical. He also had fifty other applicants to choose from. What worked for me was that I was the only one experienced with that kind of job. I had had summer jobs in the laboratory of The International Paint Company and they had given me good references.
In my interview I was asked to explain an instrument called the“swinging beam”, a tool used to measure the hardness of paint. I had worked with it many times and knew its handling and theory well. I gave a clear account of it and the professor was pleased. I got the job- to the social workers’ surprise.
Professor Nylén became my boss. His doctorate dissertation about paint chemistry had been so good that the government had created a personal professorial chair just for him.
My envy blossomed. Imagine having your own lab, assistants, and librarian and being a well paid and respected citizen to boot!
I did not dream of winning the lottery. I did not dream of a date with Miss Sweden. I dreamt of a personal professorial chair with a laboratory and a librarian!.
The atmosphere at work was intellectual. There was no rush. My two most important tasks, besides assisting the research personnel, was to collect the mail in the morning and in the evening buy sandwiches and make coffee for the afternoon break.
I don’t drink coffee and had never drunk it then, but the procedure for making it was simple. In addition to learning much interesting chemistry I became an expert coffee maker.
As I came out of a cinema one late Sunday night In September I felt the darkness and the warm air. From a nearby park came the autumn smell of leaves and grass.
I slowly walked across Stockholm’s bridges and along its quaysseeing the city lights reflecting in the quiet waters below with the films images still burning in my head, suddenly I had an epiphany; I know that I was not going back to work next day.
I was happy in the lab, but realised that the natural sciences did not answer all the big questions.
On the one hand I was completely convinced of Newton’s clockwork universe theory, that if a supreme intelligence was armed with knowledge of his laws and the position and velocities of all particles, he could deduce every coming event. In other words, life was absolutely deterministic.
On the other hand, I was equally sure that I had a free will, that my values and feelings determined my actions. I knew that I was a conscious individual.
I also knew that the physical world influenced people’s feelings and morals. Alcohol for example, could temporarily make timid men violent, and a simple and popular method of making anxious and depressed people permanently tranquil consisted of knocking an ice-pick up into the brain through the eye socket and wiggling it a bit.
Evidently mind and body were one, and life without the body was impossible. The big question was: the embodiment of mind, or how to reconcile the personal subjective and the objective universal views of the world.
I had tried to make my friends interested in these profound questions but they were too interested in bikes and girls to care.
I too was interested in bikes and girls, but for me the fundamental questions were more important.
I felt alone. I searched for kindred spirits, preferably a girl with a heart that beat with the same rhythm as mine. I felt an urge to learn more about the world. I wanted to travel and met new people with different views.
The film had taken me far away. I know that in Paris there was a river called the Seine. One of the engineers at the paint lab had told me about it.
He had also told me about a group of people called clochards that lived on its banks. They were dressed in overcoats and slept under its bridges. Bread they found in garbage cans. Fruit and vegetables they found in a big market called Les Halles. During the days they were seated by the river. There they drunk vine and discussed the big questions. That the philosophers and the artist lived in Paris I knew from before.
Grandfather had left me a big overcoat so that was no problem. I had the equivalent of one dollar twenty five cents in my pocket. I was ready to take on French culture.
Next morning I rose early. I took the tram to the outskirts of the town. I began to walk south. Now and then I got a ride with a car. Towards evening I reached Helsingborg. I took the ferry across the Sound to Denmark. There went fifty cents. I wrapped myself up in my big overcoat and slept under some scaffolding.
The night was rather cold so I woke early and continued south. On my way towards the Jutland peninsula I got a ride with a salesman. He did not think I was normal when I told him I had slept outside in my overcoat under some scaffolding and was on my way to Paris to take on French culture.
Grown-ups are like that. They employ priests who teach us not to worry; like the lilies in the field and the birds in the sky and when they meet someone living like a bird in the sky they don’t think it’s normal.
I also told the salesman that my hobby was chemistry. He remembered a little from his school days and decided to test me. It did not take long before he realised that I know much more chemistry than he would ever learn. That convinced him that I was an upright person and he became very friendly.
I had no map so he wrote down the principal cities which I had to pass through to get to Paris. When we came to the ferry he paid for my ferry ticket over the Great Belt and during the crossing invited me for a meal.
On the other side, with my feet resting on continental Europe, I knew that I had passed the biggest hurdles. In my stomach I had a meal and in my pocket I still had seventy-five cents. I walked and got rides and, eagle-eyed, looked for food on the streets and in dustbins.
One treasure stands out. As I walked through No Mans Land from Belgium into France, I spotted a promising-looking paper bag- thrown out from a car window, I guessed. I investigated and found two buns. To my joy, they were filled with chocolate.
Later in France, I was picked up by a fast-driving salesman. Suddenly we saw police stopping cars in front of us. ‘They are looking for weapons’ he said.
I was not impressed. My delinquent friends back in Stockholm would have been happy to drive right through a roadblock- if they were armed.
But when we stopped, I saw sharpshooters flat on the ground behind bulwarks. Their rifles were equipped with telescopic sights. Other policemen were mounted on idling motorcycles ready to take up the chase. I changed my mind, and decided not to fool around with the French police.
Already I had seen a lot of signs with three letters on them, “OUI”. My driver had explained that an election was going on and that OUI meant YES. A man called de Gaulle wanted to be president. The political situation was tense. De Gaulle wanted to free Algiers. The French generals in Algiers did not like that. It was not good for la Gloire, the honour.
Now they planned to send their paratroops into Paris. But also de Gaulle was a general, maybe even the best general in the world. My driver told me that the week before, a demonstration had gone out of hand. People had fled into the Metro, got caught in the gates, and been mowed down by submachine-gun equipped riot police. One had better look out!
My next acquaintance was a Dutchman. He was a traveller like me, but more experienced. Work, he said, was plentiful at this time of year. Millions of grapes waited to be picked. No work permit was needed. Money, bread and board, plus eating as many grapes as you liked was the salary. It suited me fine. He gave me the address of an organisation: Jeunesse et Reconstruction at 137 Boulevard Saint-Michel.
He himself planned to make quite a bit of money that way. That he had done before. Then he was going to Africa to buy a horse. Also that he had done before. That something had been done before guaranteed that it could be done again. Such was the world. It was a fundamental principle; maybe the most fundamental one. The one every other was based upon.
To buy a horse! That was a new thought. A horse needed no fuel. I had seen plenty of cowboy films. You just let them loose after a day’s ride and they fed themselves on grass. Grass was growing everywhere.
Next day I was in Paris. There were three things on my list: The River Seine, with its bridges and banks where I could sleep, the Arc de Triomphe with the Unknown Soldier and the 300-meter high Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel tower was the most easy to find. On the clear day I arrived it was visible from the outskirts. Unfortunately it cost money to go to the top so I had to be satisfied with looking at it from below.
The river was right nearby, complete with bridges and clochards. There was also plenty of old bread in the garbage cans, especially outside the many small restaurants. I felt rather pleased with myself when I went to sleep late at night below one of the bridges.
Coldness woke me early the next day. After doing a bit of philosophy I rose, reluctantly, forced by shivering. Not many people were about. The ones who where all walked in the same direction. More people joined them. Some had hand carts. A destination for many might be a destination for me, I reasoned.
Finally we were all enclosed by a huge system of market halls. Everywhere there were enormous amounts of slaughtered animals. Fruit and vegetables abounded. The place was packed. People pushed and pressed. Arguing and bargaining was fast, loud and noisy. This had to be Les Halles, the place the engineer had spoken about.
I looked around. Sure enough, right there next to my feet, in the gutter I found a squashed tomato. I looked around, a bit embarrassed, then picked it up and ate it. Delicious! It was sweet and ripe. No one had reacted.
Encouraged, I searched on. At one place a box of peas had split. A group of housewives scrambled to get as much as possible of it into their bags. I began to understand the content and legality of the enterprise. Fascinated, I walked about, eating my fill, having a good time.
When a few hours had passed it was time to look for the address where I hoped to find work.
Boulevard Saint-Michel turned out to be a well- known street and Jeunesse et Reconstruction had work for me on a vineyard near Dijon. I got a stamped paper with the farmer’s address.
There was no hurry. The grapes needed a few more days to ripen and I was not yet done with Paris.
My next project was the Arc de Triomphe with the Unknown Soldier. The street leading to it, the Champs Elysse, was the broadest I had ever seen. I could have put ten good-sized Swedish parade streets side by side into it.
The inscription on the grave started with ici. I figured out that ici meant here. I felt rich and proud; I had begun to learn the language. Ici meant here. Oui meant yes. I knew that from before. Now I could make a sentence. “Oui ici.” Which meant: ”Yes here.”
Satisfied, I sat down on a bench to watch people. I did a bit of philosophy while I was eating a piece of bread. Maybe an hour passed. Suddenly, a man in a trench-coat appeared. He showed me a badge. “The secret police” flashed through my head. Suddenly I was surrounded by three men dressed in the same kind of trench-coats.
First they wanted to see my passport. Then they asked me about my money. I showed them my coins. They looked serious and thoughtful. Then came a lot of questions I could not understand.
Slowly I began to understand that they wanted to know what I was up to. From my limited vocabulary I chose the word “tourist.” Apparently it was an excellent decision. Their serious faces cracked up in big smiles and they began to laugh. They saluted me and wished me good luck in Paris with my seventy-five cents.
* * *
Done with Paris, I made my way south on narrow roads. At one time I was walking on a seemingly endless road lined with trees. Eagle-eyed, I found something resembling a chestnut beneath one of the many trees. I picked it up. To my surprise inside the green case I found a walnut. The first live one I had came across. Sweden is too cold for that kind of tree. Having discovered the first one, it was easy to find more and I realised that all the trees were walnut-trees.
How nice it would be if parks everywhere grew fruit trees. In spring there would be beautiful flowers and in the autumn beautiful fruits.
After travelling for two days I found my destination. It was a small village. It had a church with a bell that chimed every fifteen minutes, telling the time. It had an open square. It had a school and a few houses. There might have been a hundred inhabitants, not more.
A gate in a wall led to the enclosed farm house. The family consisted of the farmer himself, his wife, a son with his wife and another son. Cheese, bread and wine were put on the table. I ate the bread and cheese, but asked for water instead of wine.
Not drinking anything containing alcohol was part of my philosophy. It was mother who had given me that insight. Late one night, walking home with her, I had seen a man lying in the street.
“Mother” I said. “Shall we help him?”
“No Sven, watch out! He is drunk!”
“Never drink alcohol. If you do, you will end up drunk on the street”
She took the opportunity to warn me about smoking too. She said:
“If you never drink the first glass, if you never smoke the first cigarette, you can never become dependent on alcohol or nicotine. It is a fundamental principle.”
I am so grateful to my mother for enlightening me on this subject that I would like to pass it on. Never smoke your first cigarette; never drink your first glass. If everyone follows this simple advice more than ten million lives will be saved every year.
* * *
On the farm, the grapes were not yet ripe; in the meantime I would assist the farmer with other things.
I was shown my bed. It was among the hay, in the barn, above the goat and the pig. The toilet was a hole in the ground.
At six o’clock I was woken. Bread, cheese and coffee mixed with goat’s milk were served. Normally I do not drink coffee, but now with plenty of goat’s milk I liked it. It was served in bowls. I liked that too.
I also liked the goat. It was like a cow with horns and everything, but smaller. It did not take up much space either. You gave it grass and out came milk. I decided that one day – if conditions permitted – I would own a goat.
At seven o’clock I and the farmer went out to the nearby fields and started to work. Some was easy, some hard, like clearing fields of prickly thistles without gloves. I complained and said that it hurt. The farmer laughed.
“You have a woman’s hands” he said.
I surely did not want to be compared to women. I thought of the hands of my grandfather. He had told me that when, at the age of thirteen, he had rounded the Horn on a square-rigger in freezing weather, they had handled rigging wires with bare hands. He had told me how broken wire ends like meat hooks ripped up their skin. Grandfather would have been glad to have been picking thistles without gloves. I blushed and felt ashamed.
At nine o’clock the women gave us warm food for breakfast. After that, more work waited. At twelve it was lunch. That was the most important meal of the day. In its scope it was comparable to a Swedish Christmas dinner. This was La Bourgogne, the center of French cuisine. The lunch lasted two hours. Then there was more work. At five p.m. it was time for a snack. After that, we had to be quick to finish because at eight o’clock we were going to have the last meal of the day. We finished around ten p.m. Then, tired and full, I went to bed after having washed off the day’s dust at the farmyard tap. There were no inside washing facilities.
One night I had a nightmare. There was a terrible scream, someone was getting killed. Frightened, I woke up. But the screaming continued. I did not dream. Confused but wide awake I realised that I was far from home, among the hay, in a barn in France, above a pig and a goat and that someone below was fighting for his life. Terrified I quickly got my clothes on. In the dark I rushed down the wobbly ladder.
There, on the uneven dirt floor, I was dazzled by the naked light bulb. When my eyes had adapted I saw the family surrounding the pig. Its right hind leg was tied to a post. The farmer was holding one end of a long, one-inch iron pipe in his strong hands. The other end was rammed through the pig’s mouth, down his throat all the way to the stomach. Thanks to the long leverage, the farmer had perfect control over the fighting animal. Its main artery was split open. Blood rushed from his throat into a basin, which his wife held with one hand. The other she used to stir the blood, preventing it from coagulating. The pig was still screaming, but the screams got weaker and weaker as more and more blood collected in the basin.
When he was dead he was dragged out to the farmyard. There, some buckets of boiling water were poured over him. A butcher arrived and started to cut him up while I and the rest of the family had coffee and bread before starting the day’s work.
Two hours later, when I and the farmer returned for breakfast, his wife gave me a piece blood sausage. It had not been bought at a supermarket.
During the days I followed the farmer like a dog, helping him with whatever needed to be done. I understood more and more of what was going on. But one thing I could not figure out was why every day before lunch he went into the messy barn, lifting lids off scruffy barrels and putting old apples in them.
One day I asked. Without a word, -most of our conversation was by sign language, he quickly put his hand into a barrel and fished out rabbit. He held it dangling by its ears. “Lapin” he said, adding -let’s have him for dinner. He put Lapins head close to the wall and with a swift blow with the back of an axe broke its skull. Then he hung Lapin by his back legs and skinned him. After lunch the wife took over. For dinner we had rabbit stew.
Among the food on my plate I found a small ball. They laughed and said ‘that’s one of Lapins eyes’.
Finally the grapes were ripe, but that work was to boring so my plans to become a cowboy in Africa never materialised. I returned to Stockholm having learnt that not everything has to be done the Swedish way. This happened in the autumn of 1958 and OUI, de Gaulle was elected president.
In the spring of 1959 I turned twenty years old. It was time for my compulsory one year military service. I had often been to cinema enjoying war films from Hollywood. The soldiers seemed to have such a good time shooting, blowing up things, killing enemies, becoming heroes and being admired by beautiful girls. I looked forward to that interesting army life.
I was given a train ticket to the military camp. I arrived on time. I was examined by a doctor. He checked my height, weight and eyes. He listened to my heart and lungs. I was found fit. I was given shots against lockjaw and other diseases. I was ordered to collect my outfit.
At the store-room there was already a queue. I joined the line. More people filled up from behind. I was given one item after another. All nice things, except the boots. They looked big. I tried them on. They did not feel comfortable. I asked for a smaller pair. I was told that the army did not care if I was comfortable or not. I looked the man in the eyes and said:
“I will be a better soldier if I have the right boots.”
“OK” he said “Wait over there. I’ll deal with you when I am done with this lot.”
When he had served the others he was very friendly, and carefully selected a pair which fitted me perfectly.
Happy, I walked to the barracks. I found my room with the three other recruits who I was going to spend the coming year with. They had already changed into their military clothes.
I undressed to do likewise. I was naked when the Sergeant opened the door and shouted “formation”. My room-mates marched out to comply with his order.
“You too,” he said and pointed at me.
“I’m coming.” I said.
He got angry.
“When I order formation, I mean formation now” he said with a mean voice.
“I’ll come when I’ve got my uniform on.” I said.
“Get moving” he said. I grabbed my underpants and joined the others.
After he had given his speech and checked our names we were released.
Humiliated, clad only in my underpants, I went back to my room to dress while my mates looked on amused.
Later, we had drill. We were taught the importance of instant response to orders and the necessity of teamwork. We were marched around with our weapons, back and forth, left turn and right turn. Attention and stand at ease. Then we were ordered to clean and oil our weapons.
As I was sitting down complying with his last order, the sergeant came up to me and in a friendly voice, asked how I felt.
Maybe he is a nice guy after all, I said to myself naively, not realising that he was playing a dirty trick on me.
Before I had gotten a word out of my mouth he was over me roaring:
“Bastard! In the Army you stand to attention when you speak to an officer.”
I stood up and heard him out. True, I dressed sloppy, I walked sloppy, but I had arrived with the best of intentions.
That was just the beginning. Week after week, he continued to pick on me. I was too slow. I did not hold my head right. I did not have the right expression on my face.
He ordered me to do my tasks again and again, faster and faster. Instead, I smiled and did them slower. I had my pride. That infuriated him.
One day we had target practice. We were each given six bullets. My interest in survival had made me interested in weapons. For years I had been a member of a gun club. I had learned to control my breath, and how to slowly squeeze the trigger.
I got myself into a comfortable shooting position. I loaded my rifle. I aimed well. I squeezed the trigger slowly. My first shot was right in the bull’s eye. I did not get nervous. All my others shots were also perfect hits. My score was far better than the others.
When I reported, the sergeant did not believe me. He signalled to the man at the target to signal the results again. The signalling was done manually for each shot. It took a bit of time and the other boys in the squad were looking and laughing. He was making a fool of himself. When it became evident that I had told the truth he became furious.
The sergeant knew that I had weak knees. To punish me he ordered me to do knee-bending. After doing a few I told him that I did not think that more was good for my knees.
“We know how to treat that” he said, and marched me to the doctor.
The doctor was only too willing to help a fellow officer discipline an unwilling recruit. I was put in one of the regiment’s sick beds and told that I had to lay there until my knees were fit.
I could not stand to be in a sick-bed when there was nothing wrong with me. It was like being in school and sitting for hours at a time on a chair in a classroom.
I felt that I was being treated unjust. I was an idealist. I believed that you should not do wrong to other people; neither should you let other people do wrong to you. I decided to do something about it.
When night came, I waited until everyone was asleep. Then quietly I got up. Barefoot, dressed only in the army’s white nightshirt, I noiselessly opened the window and climbed out. I knew that there were sentries with dogs about. Sneaking and hiding, I reached my barracks without being noticed.
I had got into our room and started to change into my civilian clothes when one of the boys woke up.
“Is that you?” he whispers. The other ones continue to sleep.
“Yes, I am leaving. They have no right to do this to me. Go back to sleep.”
Quietly I went out into the night again. The compound was enclosed with barbed wire. Conveniently, I found a big tree growing nearby, just inside the fence. I climbed it, crawled out along a limb and dropped to the ground outside the fence.
With a wonderful sense of freedom I walked through the hated garrison town. Everything was quiet. It was a beautiful night in May. I continued south on the main road out of town for a few hours. Then I went into a wood. Under a dense spruce tree I made a bed of branches and covered myself with some more. It was cold, but I fell asleep. I was in good shape. The army had fed me well. During the first two weeks I had gained thirty pounds.
Because of the cold I needed no alarm clock. I woke up early. In the month of May the northern night is short and it was already light. I tried to get as much distance between myself and the regiment as possible before my desertion would be noticed.
Luckily I got a lift with an early car. I knew the police were looking for me and that I had to leave the country. I headed for the Continent.
Later in the day I met another hitch-hiker. He belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He held a rather unhopeful view of society. It was going down the drain, he said. Now he was leaving all evil things behind.
He and a friend had bought a lifeboat in Italy. They were going to convert her to a cruiser. That done, they were going to sail to an uninhabited island and start a new society. Their only problem was that neither of them knew how to handle tools or boats.
They were in fact looking for a third person to deal with the practical side. I told him that I was born on the windward side of an island, that handling tools came naturally to me. I also told him that I was a deserter.
He said that Jehovah’s Witnesses were absolutely against all wars, except, of course, the immense and imminent final battle against Satan at Armageddon. He said that God must have led me to him. I was signed on.
Hitch-hiking was slow. We made no progress. Car after car passed. My new friend analysed the situation. People were egoistic he concluded. That was another sign of these evil times. The end was near.
Suddenly there were policemen everywhere.
“Surrender! You are surrounded,” shouted their commander.
My capture was not dramatic. I gave up without fight, yielding to their superior force. Their action was well-planned. When my new friend had signed me on, I had made a collect call to mother to say good bye. Olle however had had other ideas. To prevent me from getting into further trouble, he had tipped-off the police.
I was handcuffed and put into a police car, leaving my friend to contemplate still another example of the world’s evilness.
I was driven to the regiment and interrogated.
– I told them that I was an idealist. That for me it was important to live my life according to my values. That I had planned to sail to an uninhabited island and start a utopian society.
– They told me how much I was costing society, how much trouble I made.
-I tried to educate them by telling them that if they had been friendly instead of harassing me they would have had no problems and that if everyone was friendly to each other there would be no wars, and then we would not need an army. But it was no use. They put me in a cell.
One day I was driven to the courthouse. There I was accused of deserting, of disrespect to officers and now also of refusing draft. I was sentenced to one month and fifteen days in prison. If that were not enough to make me regret my crime and change my now pacific views, they would put me back in jail for another three months, then six months and so on, until I changed my mind.
But even criminals have rights. They let me out and gave me three weeks to appeal.
I had other plans. In three weeks I would be far away. Sweden has summer only once a year. Prison living would be better around Christmas and there I wouldn’t have to suffer the festivities that disrupt normal life.
I took a ferry to Denmark, hitch-hiked to Hamburg in Germany. There I found work on a building site. When I was bored with that I worked my passage across the North Sea on a small cargo ship to England. There I stayed for three months holding a variety of more or less legal jobs. After that, I hitch- hiked to Austria and lived there until the middle of December when I decided that time had come for me to head back to Sweden and serve my sentence.
I went into a police station and told them that I was wanted.
“We can arrange so that you can do your term after Christmas.” I was told.
“I am an atheist and a misfit and I have chosen to serve my sentence during Christmas because I hate Holidays,” I said, with some satisfaction. I got a ticket to my destination.
First I took a train to Falkenberg, a small town where I changed to a bus. It let me out at a crossroads in the middle of a big field far from any civilisation. A signpost directed me along a small road, which lead up through a wood.
From the top of a hill where the landscape opened up, I saw the prison, my new home. It consisted of several buildings beautifully arranged near a lake.
When I got closer I saw that there were no fences and no bars. It was intended for conscientious objectors, drunken drivers, and rapists- in other words, for lesser criminals.
I was to share my cell with a rapist, a nice guy, but rather bitter, they told me.
He told me that he was trucker; that he had picked up a fifteen year-old girl; that he had made a square deal with her that she should pay the way girls without money pay. Naturally he wanted payment in advance. That was OK with her.
At the end of the drive he thought he could do with a bit more payment. As he took his time enjoying himself, for no reason at all the girl had started to scream so much that people had come running. It was because of her ungratefulness, he said, that all the trouble had started; trouble with the police, with his boss, with his wife and trouble with his three teenage daughters.
The next day I was lead to a workshop and told to work. Work was not included in my plans. I told them that if the judge had intended me to work he would have sentenced me to work.
I told them that I had been to the cinema and seen criminals sitting in their cells doing nothing and that was the way I intended to serve my sentence.
My refusal upset the wardens. I was accused of mutiny. When they realised that my decision stood firm they contacted the police.
They did not like to have troublemakers like me in their little quiet prison. I was treated as a dangerous person and transported to a high-security prison.
During the drive, the policemen told me how stupid I was, that I now would go to a prison where they knew how to deal with real, hard-core criminals.
Towards the evening of the short winter day we arrived at the new jail. It looked like a real prison. It had high walls topped with barbered wire. It had barred windows. There were heavy doors and plenty of guards.
I was put in solitary confinement and told to start sewing mailbags, which I of course ignored. The jailers told me that only days of work counted as punishment. If I did not work, they would keep me forever.
After about a week, a man with a white coat and a soft voice came into the cell. He said that I was going to be transferred to another part of the jail where there were prisoners undergoing examinations by forensic psychiatrists to determine if they were psychopaths.
My new mates had been accused of being murderers, pyromaniacs, swindlers and paedophiles.
This group, the dregs of society, now also included me.
When I arrived they were sitting at a long table eating, talking about the latest football game. It surprised me that they all looked normal. It was not like on film where the good guys looked good and the evil ones looked evil.
After thinking about it for a while, I realised that they all looked normal because before they had been caught, not many weeks ago, they had been respected citizens. Many of them in fact had been caught only a long time after they had committed their crime, and then, only by change. I began to speculate about how many respected citizens were in fact criminals.
Life in the new ward was actually an improvement. It was only between 9pm and 7am that we were locked in our cells. We spent a lot of time in the common room, talking. Because I was ‘green’ many older prisoners were eager to teach me new professions: how to rob banks, how to blow up safes, how to burgle. My new friends encouraged me and predicted an excellent criminal career for me, as I was well-organised and technical, curious and a good planner.
My best teacher was my neighbour, a special person even among these special people. On his cell door he had hung a sign:
DO NOT DISTURB
He was an aristocrat with strong political views; right- wing political views. He had decided to dedicate his life to finding knowledge. For that he needed a quiet and peaceful place. An opportunity arrived one day during a argument with an opponent..
My neighbour thought that nothing would be more logical than to stab a long sharp knife into the back of his adversary. His long membership of the Hitler Youth had given him good military training.
He did not try to hide his crime. The purpose of the action was twofold. One: to get rid of a communist. Two: to get free bed and board.
Society thought otherwise. They considered him insane- insane but highly intelligent; intelligent and dangerous.
I did not disturb my aloof neighbour, but after a week he decided to check me out. During one of our meals he placed himself next to me and opened a conversation. He searched my mind and found it to his liking. I became his protégé.
Being an aristocrat and politician it was natural for him to rule the ward. Mostly it was his demeanour that gave him power, but he also used small tricks to make other prisoners do menial jobs for him. For example, one prisoner made his bed every morning. He was paid a cigarette. I am sure that it would have been more convenient for him to make his bed himself, but that was not the point. The point was to show us who ruled.
He had many books in his cell. Now that we were friends he often invited me in to discuss the big questions.
One day he said, “Sven listen carefully: Never do what I have done because the solution to problems is not violence. It is in books that you will find the answers and they are written by the wisest men in the world. Any time you have a problem you should go to the library and find a book about it.
For example, he said, if you are going to France there are books about that.
If you are going to build a radio receiver there are books about that.
If you want to know about life after death, there are books about that too.”
He started to guide me in the world of knowledge.
“An excellent start of a good education is the history of philosophy,” he said, and lent me a book with many pages. It was “A History of Western Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell. After philosophy came psychology. He lent me “A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis” by Sigmund Freud. After that came books by Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Strindberg, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and many more.
Another day, he told me that it was important that I get an unabridged dictionary so that I could look up all the difficult words. He emphasized the importance of having full control over language, of understanding the exact meaning of every word.
He also told me that it was important to write:
“When you write, you purge your thoughts of inconsistencies. Most ideas are too complex for the brain to handle. The brain can only grasp one thing at a time, but reality is complex, made up of multiple layers of fundamental principles. A system or plan which is not one hundred percent consistent with reality is of no use. Write things down. It reveals the errors of your thoughts.”
“Not a day without a line” was his motto.
He made me conscious of the enormous power of education. As a misfit, I had lots of problems. One thing was for sure. If books could help me to solve problems, then I would read many books.
* * *
I passed my time getting pleasantly edified. One day, I was escorted to the office of the man with the white coat and soft voice.
He had received reports that I still refused work and the draft. He said:
“I can write a testimonial confirming that you are a psychopath. Then they will let you out and you won’t have to go back to the army either. That will make you a free man. Free, but realise, always an outsider.”
One frosty morning in February 1960, seven o’clock on the dot, I stood outside the prison gates- a free man. Free, but a confirmed psychopath. I wore my own clothes. I breathed fresh air. They had even given me thirty-five dollars to get a new start in life.
I took the tram to the public baths, went into the sauna and sweated out the smell of prison. Later, I walked up the main street. Beautiful girls passed. I smiled.
* * *
A SMALL CHEAP FUNCTIONAL HOME
My time in prison had not turned me into a hard core criminal but given me a passion for reading books. That did not make it easier to fit in to society. On the contrary, the reading took up most of that time which normal citizens use to pay for their living. I had to find my own way of living cheaply.
I decided to live simple in a small boat. A boat would give me a small reading place. It would also give me a home in which I could subsist while sailing around and getting to know many countries and cultures.
For thirty dollars I bought a nice, open, traditional, clinker-built rowing boat with sails and oars. It was 4.7 meters long, (15 feet 5 inches). It had a beam of 1.6 meters, (5 feet 4 inches). It cost me thirty dollars. I used my remaining twenty dollars to adapt her to a floating home.
I built a boxlike superstructure out of tongue and groove pine boards; I made it as wide as the boat and high enough to give me sitting headroom. At the aft end I built a door. To make its roof waterproof I nailed on a bit of canvas and painted it white. The rest of the boat I decked, except for a small non-draining cockpit. I did not give her a name.
To make her point high when riding out storms I cut down a small spruce tree without getting noticed. I roughly branched and barked it with my ax. Out of it I made a second mast. I placed it behind the cockpit in front of the aft deck. I rigged it with bits of fence wire I had found lying about. As the aft mast was taller than the foremast it upgraded my rowing boat to a schooner. At the forward end of the boat I added a bowsprit. The extra sails came from a lifeboat that had belonged to grandfather. I had used them as a child to build forts.
The mainsail was a bit too big so I cut it down to size. The jib fitted as it was.
That was all. These small undertakings promoted me from psychopath to the rank of Captain.
Although my boat now was very functional she would not win a beauty contest. In fact one girl who I had invited for a sail in my schooner changed her mind when she saw the mess.
“Your boat is too ugly.” she said and walked away, leaving me looking forlorn.
Soon afterwards a divorced mother who had an old fifty-foot fishing boat with a broken engine up the coast gave me a summer job looking after her fifteen year old boy Alan and her boat Kronan during the summer vacation. She provided money for food.
Alan and I loaded my boat with tools and camping gear and sailed north. The first day the wind was against us. We kept tacking back and forth between the islands and made some, but not much, progress. The next day the wind had turned to our advantage so the going was good and towards the evening we reached the fishing boat. She was a typical traditional west-coast double ender, very beamy. There was a lot of space in her hold which had been converted to a saloon.
She was moored in a natural harbour on a fairly large island with no land connection. The island was uninhabited except for one old man, Victor, and his cow, but they lived on the other side so we were on our own. There was about one mile of open water to the mainland. We reported our arrival to Victor, who had been looking after the boat during the winter.
During the summer there were a lot of tourists on the coast. We visited open-air dance floors, tent cinemas and yachting centres. We were where the action was! Occasionally we also worked on the boat, scraping and painting and without success trying to start the ancient, big, rusty, crude oil hot bulb engine.
Most of the money and time was used to achieve maximum pleasure. Food was not given priority. Little food and lots of activity kept us thin and fit. Our biggest quarrels were about washing up.
During a dark quiet night when we were drifting back to our island, Alan sleeping in the cabin, me dozing at the rudder, I heard a bang, and then the boat heeled over. We had been hit by a massive squall. The sails flapped, water rushed in over the gunwale. The boat took in a lot of water. In fact she was sinking. It was pitch dark and the night wind howled. Soon the boat was half filled with water and more kept coming in at an even faster rate. Despite this, Alan managed somehow to get out through the narrow cabin door, pass me in the cramped cockpit and find his way over the roof to the foredeck without upsetting the boat’s precarious balance. Instinctively I grabbed the bucket and began to bail like the proverbial frightened man.
When I had built my boxlike superstructure I had used the boards as they came from the lumberyard. Of course they did not fit the boat’s sheer. Thinking it was bourgeois to do fancy woodwork I omitted to fill the gap – after all the boat had sailed well enough without a superstructure. Now I realised that my thinking had not been so clever. Now with the boat almost awash a lot of water was rushing into the boat through that gap.
As hard as I was bailing I made no progress. I began to tire. Suddenly I heard Alan’s voice, “You are gaining on it”. It made me realise that it was now or never. I made one last Herculean effort and sure enough, slowly the boat began to rise. Exhausted and more in control, I let Alan finish the bailing.
The squall passed. The eastern sky began to brighten. The short Nordic summer night had come to an end. In the light of the dawn I could see that the forestay had broken. It must have been that which had caused the bang. Inside the cabin there was a mess. Once we had sorted things out there was a flat calm, so we got out the oars and began to row. When we reached our mother ship both of us were dead tired. We went straight to our bunks.
Next morning over breakfast when we talked about the previous night’s adventure, Alan admitted that when he had seen that more water was coming in than I was bailing out and that I was tiring, he had told me that I was gaining on the water just to encourage me. I guess that sometimes a lie is justified.
He also told me that he had planned to use the sprit, my biggest wooden spar, to help him float when swimming to the shore. That made me angry because I had planned to use it to mark the wreck so that I later could find and salvage my sunken floating home.
I spent the morning fixing the headstay and closing the gap between the hull and superstructure.
Time went by with our days so full that we did not notice how quickly the summer was wearing on, but the days were getting shorter and Alan’s vacation was coming to an end. In the beginning of August it was time to head south.
The day we planned to leave our island there was a strong westerly wind which would give us a nice beam reach, but before we could take advantage of it we had to tack out of the fjord and pass a headland.
We started our sail by beating back and forth between two islands. We were making very slow progress, hardly gaining anything at each tack. What was maybe even more discouraging was that an old fisherman (who was rowing his heavily loaded boat against the same wind) kept up with us for about an hour until we were finally able to pass the resisting headland and could ease our sheets.
Towards evening our route lead us through a channel with high mountains on both sides. Naturally the wind once more turned against us. Finally we came to its end. It was only a narrow gap between two islands with a fishing village occupying both shores.
Our tacking duel against the elements had attracted a group of people who stood watching our lack of proper progress. Finally in a do-or-die effort to break out, we set more sail. To prevent the boat from heeling too much, I being the heaviest one hiked out by hanging in the shrouds. With the help of some lucky wind shifts; at last we were able to sail out into more open waters where the wind’s strength forced us to reduce sail.
Before they disappeared into the distance I could see some indignant people shaking their heads at the odd unseaworthy boat and its obviously foolhardy crew. Some had well-meaningly shouted that we would never make it.
About an hour later we could see a coast guard boat coming up from behind. They draw up alongside and told us that they had been alerted by worried people up the coast. They talked to us in a very indulgent manner, obviously under the impression that they were dealing with people who did not know their own best interests.
They told us that more bad weather was coming up and that it was not wise to try to reach our planned destination, which was at least another seven miles further south. They offered to tow us to their base at a nearby fishing village. It was getting dark and we were getting tired after a long day, and those last seven miles might take a very long time, so we gladly accepted their offer.
In those days, before people got their entertainment from TV, coast guard leaving to rescue boats in strong winds was an exciting event for the locals and the boat’s return often worth waiting for. So when it came back with its catch a large part of the island’s male population was already assembled.
Again the grown-ups were shaking their heads at the sorrowful sight of my vessel. I could hear one old man telling the others.
“Let us praise the Lord, who on this tempestuous night has shown such mercy” then I saw them lower their heads in a silent prayer.
To the teenagers on the other hand, we seafarers who had braved the storm were already heroes. They invited us into a cave they had constructed among a huge pile of fish cases.
They asked if we were hungry. We had been hungry the whole summer! Having not eaten anything since early morning, we did not turn down their offer. One of the boys went aboard a trawler and got fish. Others went home and raided their mother’s larders. I fetched my single burner kerosene stove and the frying pan. We ate our fill and more.
Next day the weather was excellent. We continued towards Marstrand, the yachting centre of the Swedish west coast. As we crossed another fjord the wind died down. Our sails flapped and it got very hot. Towards evening a dark cloud came up. It got bigger and bigger, darker and darker. Our spirits rose.
“Wind at last”, we said light-heartedly to each other. Then suddenly we were hit by a thunder squall whose strength surprised us.
I scrambled to lower the mainsail, but the lacing had got stuck up on the uneven surface of my home-made mast. With Alan’s help I managed to climb the fortunately not very high spar and get the sail down without upsetting the boat.
The squall passed as soon as it had arrived without causing us any mishap. The air was now clear with a nice fresh wind. Close to us a sailboat had lost its mast. A passing motorboat gave it a tow.
When we reached port I felt proud that my small cheap functional floating home had, without damage, ridden out a squall severe enough to dismast a bigger more conventional boat.
Bad weather with contrary winds kept us in Marstrand for a long time. It soon became evident that my pride in my stout little craft was not shared by other yachtsmen, summer visitors and local fishermen. That judgement went for its skipper as well. I had long hair before it had become fashionable sandals without socks, and on cold rainy days I wore my grandfather’s long overcoat which showed some of the action it had been through when I had used it as a home in France. Also as the cabin of my boat was too small for two I slept in my plastic bag on its roof.
The days passed and we were running out of time. One day, when the weather seemed to give us a chance, we made a frantic try but did not get far. Rain and contrary winds stopped our progress, so when some teenagers we had become friendly with passed our boat with their daysailer and offered to put my mate, who had gotten wet and cold, ashore on the mainland where he could take a bus back to his mother, we gladly accepted. I kept at it for a few more hours experimenting with different sail combinations.
Towards evening I sailed back into Marstrand. As usual a group of idlers gathered to stare at the misfit and his foul boat and ask questions. When one of them asked:
“What happened to your friend?” I thought he was too nosy, so I answered curtly with a straight face,
“He fell overboard and sank”. He must have thought I was serious because a few minutes later two uniformed police officers appeared and asked:
“What happened to your friend?”
I told them that he had been wet and cold and had jumped aboard a passing boat which was going to put him ashore so that he could take a bus home as he had to be back in school soon. The policemen must have trusted the respectable-looking citizen who had informed them so swiftly about the tragedy more than me, the Captain, because to the crowd’s approval I was escorted to the police station for interrogation.
They soon found out that I was a psychopath recently realised from a high security prison. That strengthened them in their suspicion that I had pushed my friend overboard. Finally after much urging they agreed to phone Alan’s mother. Luckily he had arrived home.
She told them that he had been wet and cold and had jumped aboard a passing boat which was going to put him ashore so that he could take a bus home as he had to be back in school soon.
They kept questioning her some more but finally they reluctantly had to give up and admit that I was telling the truth and her son was alive. They grudgingly let me go, but warned me not to give them any more trouble.
More days of contrary winds followed, but my boat was well protected in the snug harbour and in those days there were no harbour dues. During the windy days I took long walks among the rocks, picking blueberries and raspberries; a favourite pastime of mine. I lay on my bunk and read. I got along well with some of the jeunesse doré who invited me to parties where we discussed the big questions. Time passed.
One day, a journalist and a photographer happened to be on the island. People must have told them about me because they came for an interview. I demanded a two dollar fee which upset them. After they had handed over the cash the interview started.
Next day I read about myself in the newspaper. I was described as a deplorable and indolent person; too deviant to take care of myself. I should therefore be placed behind bars.
My floating home fared no better. It was described as a highly dangerous pile of wood, a wreck held together only by nails, strings and faith. Did the article lower my social standing? Not much, I think.
By this time I was almost resigned to the fact that the summer was gone and that the weather was going to stay hopeless, when one morning I woke up to find that the sun had returned. Looking at the flags I saw that there was a gentle wind blowing from the north west. It would give me a nice beam reach. I had a hurried breakfast. Then I quickly hoisted my sails, cast off, waved goodbye to an imaginary crowd and sailed south. In the afternoon I tied up at our dock below my mother’s house.
Mother gave me a bilge pump. I found a piece of plywood with which I could cover the cockpit in heavy weather. I fixed a few other small things. I obtained a chart and finally, well prepared and well fed, I was ready for the grand departure.
One day when I woke up the sky was crystal clear. There was hardly a breath of wind. The morning promised a perfect day. I hoisted all my four sails and as we slowly drifted away from the windward shore my sister took some photos with the sea like a mirror reflecting the boat. And slowly the playground of my youth retreated. I had my small, cheap, functional, floating home. I felt free.
Out of the lee of the land a puff of wind gave me steerage and allowed me to lay my course. Soon I made good progress. At noon some high clouds had come up and the wind started to increase ever so little. The sky was getting a bit hazy. In the evening I dropped anchor in a protected bay. By then a few small drips of rain had started to fall and the breeze was no longer gentle. I had made good about fifteen miles to the south. I did not go ashore, being content in my cosy cabin.
The next morning was grey with drizzly rain. The wind was much stronger but still fair. I got into my oilskins. I closed the door to the cabin. I covered the non-draining cockpit with my piece of plywood. It was blowing offshore so the sea was smooth. I hoisted my sails. I got up my anchor and continued south, hugging the coast.
I was now south of Göteborg where the big river empties itself into the sea. Here there was not any longer, deep water, islands and rocks, as further North. Instead I was now sailing along a coastline where about a million big stones lay on a sandy bottom. They were a danger to shipping but not to my small boat, which had a strong traditional long shallow keel and did not sail fast. I sailed very close to the shore, a thing I enjoy. The summer was to all practical purposes past. Only much further out did I see some shipping.
I kept going the whole day. At dusk, only a peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway separated me from the town of Varberg. I anchored at its tip were a hook of land encircled a pond of quiet water, making it a perfect natural harbour for my small boat. Like the day before I had made about fifteen miles.
Also that night I was content with my cabin. I lit the oil lamp. I had a meal and read a book for a while. Before going to bed I went out into the cockpit and watched the grey, windy, desolate landscape. Only in the far distance did I see the town with its light indicating that I was not alone in this world. After a while I went below and got into my dry snug sleeping bag. I put out my oil lamp and slept well.
Next day the sky was clearer but still blowing a fresh wind. I sailed around the peninsula to Varberg and tied up on the lee-side of the pier which was also a breakwater. Not long after, the wind turned sharply to the south and started blowing very hard but now the weather was clear.
This was at end of August 1962. I was twenty-three years old, but strangely this was the first time in my whole life I had been alone for more than one day. Had I been bored? Certainly not! On the contrary, I had had a sense of wellbeing and fulfilment. I began to realise that the sea was a kind of wilderness which I liked and that the idea of a floating home was definitely a good one for me.
Gales were keeping me and an English yacht weather-bound. Its crew consisted of three people, two men and one woman. They were professional military people, gunners stationed in Kiel, Germany, part of the allied occupation force. The yacht had been seized by the English as spoil of war and now belonged to the gunner’s yacht club. They told me with some pride that Göring had been sailing on it. They had a more open minds than my compatriots about my floating home, though as one of them said, “It is not my cup of tea.” – A curious expression they had to explain.
While waiting for better weather we spent much time together. The woman showed us the twist dance which was new and had became popular. We went rock climbing. Their tiller had broken so we fixed that.
When planning their trip, they had stocked the boat with plenty of tinned army rations. Each of them, without telling the others, had loaded the boat with far more tins than they ever were going to need. Every locker of the big boat was filled with the ubiquitous green army tins. Now they realised that during their careers they had already eaten so many army rations that they were fed up with them. They could not return the boat with the tins because the next crew would find out that they had used army rations on their non-military sailing vacation, a thing they were not really supposed to do. I volunteered to relieve them of their burden. Thus my economy took a giant leap foreword.
I also met a woman. She was a weaver artist about ten years older than me. Besides love and food she contributed a pair of shoes her previous lover had left behind. That a woman as old as thirty could enjoy sex so much shocked me.
The public library provided me with a reading room and lent me books. The blueberries and raspberries were gone but the blackberries had ripened.
A near gale was blowing the day I left Varberg. I should really have waited it out but I felt ready for new vistas. I prepared my boat for heavy weather by covering the cockpit with my piece of plywood. I pushed off, and after a few tacks I had left the breakwater behind.
It was an onshore beam wind. The coast to my lee, not far off, consisted almost entirely of nice, deserted beaches which stretched south mile after mile. The stones which had been so plentiful further north were gone. Some waves broke heavily in the shallow water, hitting the boat and me hard. One of them nearly swept me away so I tied a rope around my waist.
I had planned to sail to Falkenberg, about fifteen miles down the coast, but when I was outside its breakwaters there was still a lot of day left which I did not want to waste. The problem was, I was on an open coast with a strong onshore wind whose force might increase, and once committed, the next port on my small scale chart, Halmstad, was another twenty-five miles away.
But I was exhilarated by the boat’s speed, the screaming wind and the breaking waves, so with mixed feelings, and against my better judgement, I continued. Towards evening I approached Halmstad. I rounded a headland and with a following wind ran up the river Nissan right into the centre of the town where I tied up my boat to the quay. I had made forty miles that day, a record.
After only a few days I continued across a big bay to the next port, Torekov. The distance was about twenty miles but the weather turned against me during the day, so it was not before about two in the morning that I approached the port. It was very dark and I had no idea of its layout. I discovered two leading lights which I followed towards what I thought was the harbour, but run aground on a rock instead. The rudder fell off, but luckily I had tied it to the boat with a piece of string. When I jumped into the water to lift off the boat I saw the real port and another pair of leading lights at ninety degrees to starboard.
I tried unsuccessfully to get the rudder back on its gudgeons but could not see what I was doing and the waves rocked everything too much to let me align boat and rudder. Cold and disheartened I climbed back on the boat, trying to think of another solution.
At home we had a model of a square-rigger and I remembered that I had asked my grandfather how they could steer such a big ship with such a disproportionately small rudder.
“We used the sails. The rudder was only for adjustments” is what he said, and told me about centre of lateral resistance and centre of effort.
In the dark, that rainy night, I now, to my surprise and for the first time, succeed in steering a boat with only her sails. By sheeting in the sail on the mainmast behind the cockpit I could make the boat head into the wind. By sheeting in the jib I could make her fall of. In this manner I sailed her the remaining distance into the harbour, the rudder happily trailing behind, attached by its string.
Torekov was much smaller than Halmstad and Varberg, only a fishing village which in the summer expanded to become a holiday camp. Now with most of its summer residents gone it was quiet. It did not take long before a new boat in the small harbour got noticed, especially one as distinctive as mine. I was hailed by two locals, Emil and his friend, an artist with the sobriquet Målaren. (Målare is Swedish for painter.) Målaren could not live on his art. He therefore helped Emil who, as a complement to his fishing and other activities was the summer resident’s Man Friday. They repaired houses, took care of boats et cetera.
Målaren, an idealist himself, recognised me as a soul brother. He and Emil took me under their wings. Emil had a boathouse in the harbour. It was the hangout for the locals. It was of course off limits for the summer residents, but I was invited. I helped them with small jobs. In return I got fish and food and was lent books and in the boathouse my ears sucked up the local lore.
One evening, Emil told me that it looked like it was going to be good weather the next day. I got up early and raised my sails. There was no wind so I rowed out of the harbour. Suddenly there was fog, lots of fog. Everything disappeared. I had a small pocket compass, but it was not much good because the needle frequently got stuck.
With no wind and not knowing in which direction I should head, there was not much to do, and after a few hours I got bored. To occupy myself I started to fish. To my great surprise, as soon as I had put the hook in the water there was a fish on it. I hauled in the line, unhooked the fish and put it back in the water and sure enough within a moment I had another fish on the hook. The sea must have been filled with them.
After a few minutes I had more than enough. Although I had my kerosene stove I thought I would experiment with eating them raw like the Japanese. Knowing about eating raw fish might come in handy in a survival situation, I reasoned. As it turned out it was not bad. That proved that a stove was a luxury, not a necessity.
Hour after hour passed; the fog was persistent. I had no clue as to where I was. Finally towards the evening the fog lifted. To my surprise I was right outside the breakwaters of Torekov. There was still no wind so I put out the oars and rowed back to my place, tied up and folded my sails.
Next morning when Emil and Målaren saw my boat in the same place they pulled my leg about my navigation.
A few days later with a northwest wind I left for real. In the fresh following wind I made really good progress. In the sound between Sweden and Denmark there is often a current whose direction depends on the weather. I guess that on that particular day a depression over the Baltic Sea must have sucked me and the surrounding waters south because towards evening I reached Copenhagen, about fifty miles distant.
In the harbour I got into an argument with the Danes. They forbade me to sail. It was a rule they said. They made me lower my sails and get out the oars. This was stupid because I was less manoeuvrable under power than under sail.
The Danes are friendly people though, and soon a sight seeing boat picked me up and gave me a tow right into Nyhavn, the colourful old sailor’s quarter. There I spent my night among the hard-drinking Swedish tourists. Next day after having got my bearings I rowed across the water to the quieter surroundings of the Christianshavns canal where I tied up opposite the Royal Greenland Trading Company, among an odd assortment of boats.
For a young man bent on discussing and reading about the big questions, Copenhagen in the autumn of 1962 was a heaven. She welcomed me with open arms. Soon I had an efficient basic structure for my day.
I woke up late. I had my breakfast. I walked to Stroget, Copenhagen’s long, world famous pedestrianised street. I followed it all the way to Nyhavn. There between all the bars and noise was an obscure door with a small notice: “Sjöfartens bibliotek”. It was the library which supplied the Danish merchant navy with books, but it also had a reading room. It was never visited by anyone except me so I had it all to myself. The librarian, who sat in another room, must personally have been very interested in all kinds of strange boats, like me, because I found books like:
The Junks and Sampans of the Yang-tzee-kiang by C.R.G. Worcester,
Canoes of Oceania by Haddon and Hornell, the Amateur Yacht Research Society’s publications and more of the same kind. Shelf after shelf was filled with rare nautical books. It was a treasure-trove.
After four p.m. when they closed I had some “yesterday’s bread” and very old cheese. My budget was tight. Alan’s mother sent me two dollars a week. I still had most of the tinned army rations given to me in Varberg. I paid no harbour dues so lodging was free. There was still plenty of wear left on the shoes given to me by the woman in Varberg so transport was also free. My meal did not cost much, the old bread I got from a friendly baker; the cheese was leftovers smelling so strongly that they had to be kept outside the delicatessen shop where I found them. With my meal I drank water.
That done, I walked to the big public library. There I read for general knowledge. They had not only books but also lots of magazines. They closed at eight p.m., but the reading room with its reference library was open to ten p.m. There I read the classics.
After the libraries finally closed their doors on me I went to a nearby café, the Pilegaarden, to discuss the big questions with students and bohemians. They closed at one a.m. From there a group of us went to the Montmartre jazz club.
That late they charged twenty cents in entry fees. I stayed to three or four in the morning, and then I walked back to my floating home. On my way home I bought a pint of milk in a milk shop. In Denmark they open extremely early. Before turning in I had a bite to eat.
Sadly, this satisfying routine was interrupted by boring weekends. All was not lost however because Copenhagen had a lot of interesting museums with free admittance. As a last resort there was sightseeing.
Occasionally there were also world events which stirred the emotions. During the Cuba missile crises the students took to the streets demonstrating against American imperialism. After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion Castro had became a hero; before, America had been seen as the land of freedom.
In Copenhagen I realised that I was on the right track, that my ideal reading place was a boat. If I only could make her seaworthy it could take me to the ends of the world. Then it could give me both theoretical and practical knowledge of the whole world, but such a boat demanded a unique design.
To effect it, I realised that I had to go back to the fundamental principles, to start all over again.
Furthermore, I realised that before starting the construction I must learn much, much more. To get access to knowledge I had to learn more languages. Besides the Scandinavian languages I needed to read books in German, English and French. I also needed more mathematics, especially calculus so that I could understand the meaning of those snakelike symbols called integral signs that crawled across the pages of technical writing.
One of my student friends gave me his set of mathematical books. Every day I spent part of the day reading them and doing the exercises. In the evening at Café Pilegaarden we met and he explained what I did not understand.
September had passed, so had October and November. Now it was December. It was getting colder and colder and damper and damper in my floating home.
Sometimes at night before getting into my sleeping bag I started the kerosene pressure stove to drive out a bit of the dampness and heat my tiny cabin. One time the flame on my kerosene light went very low. I turned up the wick. It went low again. Strange, I thought. I had just filled it. As I was trying to find a solution to the mystery, by chance I pushed open the door with my foot to get some fresh air, and the flame of the lamp went up. The reason for the low flame, I now understood, had been a lack of oxygen. My floating home had not much ventilation.
I thought it was a good thing that the internal combustion of me, a human being, used oxygen more efficiently than a kerosene lamp, but it taught me to be more careful.
Life is full of surprises. One day I found a letter at the Post Office. It was from my mother. She wrote that she had won a court case versus the Swedish Government and had gotten money for me my sister and herself. Money the Japanese Government had given to relatives of the crew of Ningpo for their sufferings during the war. The Swedish Government had not recognised my father as a seaman as he was an officer and had refused to pay mother.
That money gave me a chance. My wise neighbour in the prison, the assassin had told me that although you had to have a formal education to be a student at a university everyone had the right to go there and listen to the lectures, provided that the professor gave his permission. You could listen, but you could not get an examination. I was looking for knowledge not for a qualification, so I decided to give up my present floating home, and go back to live in the attic of my mother’s house and listen to lectures in mathematics in preparation of the design of my ideal floating home.
* * *
When mother and Olle’s company went bankrupt Olle collapsed, but mother took charge and sorted things out. She made a deal with the creditors, found work for herself in an office and for Olle as a teacher.
With mother running our home again things were better. I was given a room in the attic and to avoid Olle, rose when he had gone to work and came home when he had gone to bed.
For a few years, as an outsider without the right to take a degree, I followed the lectures in mathematics at the university. I became deeply engaged in the wonderful mysteries of the axiomatics of the real number system, Rieman and Lebesgue integrals, conformal mapping and much more.
Despite my lack of degree, my mathematical knowledge did impress. People began to talk about my talent. One day to my surprise I got a letter offering me a teaching position in a school attached to a child psychiatric clinic.
The background was as follows. Some of the patients feared going to school. They were intelligent but shy; they blushed and had pains in their stomachs; they were bullied by their schoolmates.
A developing child is not static, and sometimes, when the situation became too painful, a child would in desperation fight back with a savage force they did not know they possessed and beat their oppressors.
This is what we love to see. The problem was that this success often turned the oppressed into an oppressor- the previously timid child became the terror of the school.
Dr Agrell at the Hisingens Child Psychiatric Clinic, who had sent me the letter, had had the excellent idea to try to treat shy children before they got into the aggressive phase. They were to be placed in a new school at the clinic.
There, in small groups, they were to be given love and understanding by caring teachers. This would give them self confidence, thereby curing their blushing and stomach pains.
Dr Agrell thought that I had the right personality to become a good teacher for those children. I gladly accepted the offer.
My position as a teacher at the clinic school was of course way beyond my formal qualifications, as was my status and pay. I only had to work a few hours a day. I thus had a lot of spare time.
My fellow workers, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, were all women, but they seemed to like the idea of having an adventurous young man among them.
With plenty of money coming in and free summers I started doing practical experiments with small boats.
* * *
I bought an eighteen foot traditional double-ender for two hundred dollars. After fitting her out I launched her in early summer.
One day a friend and I decided to sail to Denmark, a passage of about forty miles. The sun was out, the wind was fresh and everything looked nice.
We had cleared the coast when suddenly we were hit by a gust. The boat heeled over and water flowed in over the coaming.
The mainsheet had jammed at the lower block, which slides on a horse to leeward. When I dived down to undo the sheet more water poured in.
My friend, a pleasant but maladroit student of philosophy who had never sailed before, panicked, and instead of leaning out to windward came down in the lee intending to help me. This of course made the boat heel over even more.
Within minutes the boat was sinking and I had to shout to him to jump clear to avoid getting dragged down.
We were about a mile offshore. There were no other boats about. We began to swim towards land. After about half an hour we began to tire and get cold. The shore did not seem to have come any closer.
Suddenly I heard a hoot. Looking behind me I saw one of those big excursion ferries that steam back and fourth between Denmark and Sweden loaded with tourists consuming tax free alcohol. It was bearing down on us.
As an idealist I had always condemned the practice. Now, glad to see the big ship which stopped close to us, I forgave them their immoral business.
The rail high above was lined with passengers watching the drama. I could see that two crewmembers were letting a rope ladder down.
When we had swum up to the heaving ship’s sheer topsides I could see that my friend, not used to any physical activities, was shocked and exhausted.
Still, at the rope ladder he insisted that I should climb first. I told him in no uncertain terms that this was no time for courtesies.
The rescue was of course a big event aboard, hundreds of more or less drunk people thronged on the deck. When we were helped over the rail they applauded. It was very embarrassing.
We were led to a cabin and given dry clothes, warm drinks and food.
Back in Göteborg the crew asked if we would like to speak to waiting newsmen. Given the choice, we declined. An ambulance drove us home. Next day our rescue was big news in media.
* * *
After that embarrassment I started to look for new solutions concerning a small cheap functional boat.
To help me in that quest I had became a member of the AYRS, the Amateur Yacht Research Society. They occupied themselves with the development of new types of boats and gear, such as multihulls, hydrofoils and self-steering- just the thing for me.
Through their publications I got interested in multihulls. They do not have ballast, therefore they cannot sink. Without the heavy ballast, multihulls are light and consequently very fast. In addition to these advantages, their lack of heel makes them comfortable. With decks between the hulls they are spacious too.
Multihulls come in many configurations: single outriggers, catamarans, trimarans and proas.
Proas are different. I fell in love with them. They have only one outrigger, and it is always to windward. The boat is not symmetrical about its length axis, but about it’s athwart axis. It has neither stem nor stern, but a windward and a leeward side.
Instead of tacking as an ordinary sailboat they work to windward in a unique way. They “shunt” or change ends- stem becomes stern and vice versa at each tack.
I was convinced that the proa was the boat of the future. During the spring of 1966 I started to build a ten foot proa in my mother’s basement. I gave her a deck on each end and a superstructure in the middle.
The outrigger was a crude box-shaped plywood construction filled with Styrofoam. The crossarms were lashed pieces of wood, the sail a polyethylene sheet. The workmanship was makeshift- nothing to be proud of.
The boat was very experimental, just an idea to try. She had no ballast so I knew she could not sink.
I had read multihull pioneer Arthur Piver’s books Transatlantic trimaran and Transpacific trimaran as well as his articles in the AYRS publications.
There he had given cocksure assurances that a multihull could not capsize. That gave me complete confidence in my new boat.
With the help of a bicycle, I carried her to a small harbour at the mouth of the river and assembled her. I loaded her with books, a transistor radio, a camera, some food, a girl, and not least, my passport.
That done, we paddled her out into the river, raised the sail and continued out into the fjord.
Everything was going well, but when we neared some islands a gust from the wrong side capsized her.
Just like the year before I was in difficulties swimming with a friend in the approaches to Göteborg harbour. Unlike the previous year, the boat did not sink. It was a Saturday afternoon and there was quite a lot of traffic.
After a while a powerboat came alongside and helped us to right the boat. It was early in the summer and the water had not yet become warm. My friend was getting cold so they took her aboard.
I was cold too, but on the other hand I did not like to give up my boat so I waved goodbye to them. After sorting out the mess and wringing out most of the water in my clothes I started to paddle to the nearest land downwind.
The paddling produced some heat and towards the evening I was able to pull the boat up on land in a small boat harbour. By now I was more tired than wet.
Once on land I had a final go at getting the saltwater out of her. That done, I took a bus home, carrying as many of my wet things with me as I could.
After a good night’s sleep I was back the next morning. When I had cleaned her and straightened things out, I relaunched her and set out.
This time I was prepared for sudden wind shifts. When I had plenty of space I shunted her like a proa. In narrow waters I tacked her the normal way like a single outrigger. Without any problems I arrived at our island.
She worked OK, but the air had gone out of the project, the girl had left me and my passport was reduced to pulp.
On thirteen of May 1967 – it was a Saturday- when reading in the newspaper about the tension leading up to the Arab-Israel six day war, I happened to see an ad for a fourteen foot clinker built open sailboat. The price was one hundred and sixty-five dollars. A long summer vacation waited. She was sound, and surprisingly, the sails were made of the new strong rot-resistant material Dacron, not the more common cotton. I bought her.
From quarter- inch plywood I made a deck fore and aft and in the middle a one-foot high superstructure.
I made six windows out of Plexiglas, two on each side, one facing forward and one aft. They were three inches by five inches in size. Though not big, they let in a lot of light and with the eye close gave a good view. Their small size also gave some privacy.
I did not build a cockpit, thus increasing her seaworthiness and giving a lot of useful space below. To keep me aboard I surrounded the aft deck with a painted steel pipe.
I shortened the mast and stepped it on the superstructure. It eliminated any risk of leaks and would be safer if a stay broke.
I caulked her seams. I oiled her on the inside and painted the outside. I got a kerosene lamp for lightning and a small single-burner kerosene stove. I put on the antifouling and launched her. To my satisfaction she did not leak.
Finally I patched up her sails and sailed out to mother on our island.
* * *
During a couple of days I tried her out. In a cove I found a twelve-foot long wooden board, just what I needed. I was going to tie it across the boat, to use it as a hiking board.
I screwed on cleats and extended the tiller with a stick. Now I could control my boat from the hiking board.
After a few more odd jobs I sailed north, up through our many coastal islands. There during a few weeks I tested her more thoroughly.
It takes a while to make a new boat into a home. One day when I had made a nice salad I discovered that I did not have a fork to eat it with. My eyes fell on an orange crate which had floated ashore. With my knife I converted some of it into chopsticks. It was not difficult to learn to eat with them and they served me well for many a year.
When I was convinced that the boat behaved well in all kinds of weather I returned home.
Next, I decided sail to the Danish island of Laeso about twenty-five miles distant.
In 1967 that was still a test of manhood among sailors who owned offshore cruisers. I plotted the course. I measured the distance and estimated that the sail would take me about ten hours.
I left Brännö six o’clock one morning. A rather too strong northerly wind was blowing, but it came from a good direction, giving me a close reach. Being eager to get going, I left.
It soon became apparent that there was about as much wind as I could handle, but I made good speed and had the satisfaction of seeing the land receding astern. Finally, for the first time as Captain of my own ship, I had an unbroken horizon all around me.
I was sitting on my hiking board three feet to windward of my boat. I was dry in good oilskins. The boat’s only hatch had a high coaming. I felt confident that it would not let in any water.
Sometimes waves broke all over the boat and obscured her from view. At other times she lifted over the breakers like a duck, not taking any water on her deck.
Hour after hour passed. Finally the ten allotted hours were gone and I still did not see any sign of land. After fifteen hours, and with the sun setting, I realised that something was very wrong.
I began to worry that a current had carried me to the north and that I not only had missed Laeso but also the Danish peninsula and that I was now on my way across the North Sea, heading for England.
I had not eaten since five in the morning and after hiking out on my board all day without a break I was tired, but kept sailing for another hour.
The water between Sweden and Denmark is very shallow. I had a fifteen-pound CQR-anchor, thirty feet of chain and a hundred feet of rope. I decided to try to anchor in the middle of nowhere.
When I let out the chain and the anchor hit the bottom, it dug in right away. The boat headed into the wind. I took down the flapping sails.
Prior to getting below I relaxed and watched the sun set. With fast flying low clouds, breaking waves and a howling wind it was wild scenery.
During the day I had so focused on dodging the breakers that I had not noticed the boat’s violent movements. Now I felt seasickness knocking on my door, but it never got a grip on me because there were too many other things on my mind, especially hunger. I devoured nearly a whole loaf of bread and drank some water.
Then I got into my sleeping bag. With outstretched arms like a crucified sailor, I wedged myself in the narrow hull. Sleep came quickly.
I woke early next morning. The sea was empty except for a trawler far away. The wind had moderated and the sky cleared. I ate more bread and got under way.
The wind kept decreasing. My boat was Bermuda-rigged, but I still had an old cotton square sprit-sail from the boat that had sunk, which fitted her nicely. I now set it, using my boathook as a sprit. Its area was twice that of the Bermudan mainsail. In the light wind the boat went much faster, but what was more interesting (and contrary to current dogma) she also pointed markedly higher.
A few hours later, to my joy, I saw a lightship. I sailed closer, trying to identify her.
There was now very little wind left. At noon I was close enough to read Aalborg Bugt painted in big letters on her hull.
Despite scrutinising my chart I could not find any reference to her and to my shame I must admit that I had never heard about Aalborg Bugt.
I sailed up to her. The crew, who were on deck in the fine weather, was surprised to see my small boat.
When I gave them my chart and asked them to mark my position on it, they laughed.
I was way outside my chart. I had passed Laeso far to the south and was now a long way west of it.
They told me that I was not far from the mouth of the Limfjord; a hundred mile long sound which cuts across the Jutland peninsula. They told me that it had many beautiful bays and islands and that it was an interesting place. I decided to make it my next goal. They gave me my compass course and distance and waved goodbye.
The weather kept getting nicer and nicer. The sea was now almost flat, with just the lightest of breezez sweeping across it. There was not a sound, and after the lightship had dipped under the horizon I had the now- flat sea all to myself.
By three o’ clock in the afternoon the last of the wind had left and the boat stopped. It got very hot so I took a swim.
After I had dried, I went below, had a bite to eat and listened to the radio. Then I sat in the hatch and watched all this wonderful emptiness I had to myself. I felt rich and at home and at one with the sea.
Here was plenty of emptiness for everyone. I thought it was strange that only I was out here enjoying it.
After a few hours an ever-so-light breeze came up and I continued on the course given to me by the lightship crew. About seven o’ clock I could see land as a faint line on the horizon.
About midnight, I anchored in shallow water near a beach. Next day I passed Hals, at the entrance to the Limfjord.
There I had to head into the wind and start beating between the banks of the narrow, almost river-like sound. I was trying to reach Aalborg town.
Before I had gotten that far, it became dark and the wind died, but as there was no tide I just sailed in among the reeds and dropped my anchor.
The reeds hid my boat, only her short mast was sticking up. I lit my kerosene lamp, ate, read and felt snug in my little magic boat.
Next morning, sunbeams split by the reeds woke me up and I continued to Aalborg. After passing a bridge I saw a lot of masts on the left shore and there was the yacht club.
A small crowd gathered, watching me tie up the boat. I had now lashed my hiking-board lengthwise on top of the superstructure to be able to come alongside. When I explained its use, and that I had been sitting out on it for sixteen hours in heavy weather, one of the crowd commented that it would have been more comfortable to sit on if I had rounded the hard edges.
I smiled behind my moustache, because it made me remember that today most people demand that the joy adventure must be free from hardship.
I was very well received. They hoisted the Swedish flag to honour my proud little ship. They took me sailing in local races in the evenings, and they showed me charts and gave me local advice.
One day when I was walking in town I met an old friend from the bike-gang days. He was riding his big Harley Davidson.
“Where is your bike?” he said.
“I have given up bikes” I said “It is too dangerous.”
I proudly told him that I now was a yachtsman and Captain of my own ship and that I had sailed to Denmark across the Kattegat and that it was cheaper and safer than biking.
I jumped up on his Harley and we drove to the yacht club, where I showed him my yacht and told him about my crossing. I did not convert him however.
After a few days in Aalborg I started my return trip. The predominantly westerly winds gave me an easy, pleasant sail downwind. I spent the night in Hals.
From there I sailed north along the coast towards Fredrikshavn. Navigation was easier now that I had seen charts of the area and had an idea of how the land lay.
The day was sunny with a light offshore breeze. I sailed close to the sandy beaches in flat shallow water. Seagulls were circling up above, laughing.
I reached Fredrikshavn in the afternoon. The next day had the same good weather and excellent visibility.
I was now in an ideal position to reach Laeso. In addition, there was a caisson lighthouse to guide me.
Confident, and with a following wind, I set my course. This time I did everything right. In the afternoon I tied up in the well-protected Osterby harbour.
I was now back in waters covered by my chart. I plotted my return course to the characteristic Vinga lighthouse, a good landmark and a symbol of Göteborg. I have grown up with it on the horizon.
During the night I heard the wind increasing. In the morning, together with some fishermen, I tried to estimate the state of the sea further out.
It is difficult to judge from a protected harbour looking out from a lee shore just how a boat will behave in the open sea, yet much is at stake, as once committed it is hard to return against a strong headwind.
It was only after much brooding and some apprehension that I decided to sail. But once the decision was made I acted quickly and was soon on my way. Having cleared the harbour and gotten away from the protecting land I began to get uneasy about the strong wind, but I liked the swift progress. I was on a broad reach and the boat behaved very well.
The wind kept increasing, the boat’s speed kept increasing, and so did my uneasiness.
After a few hours the Swedish coast became visible, but I could not see the familiar lighthouse.
It was only after I had gotten much nearer land that I realised that my image of the lighthouse had been that of a landlubber. It looked very different from the sea and I had in fact seen it for a long time without realising it.
In the joy of finding my position, I became philosophical and said to myself: “This is a good lesson, I must look at the landmarks of the big problems not only with the eyes of the landlubber, but from many different angles. That will help me to find my philosophical position. That done, I can solve them.”
Happy as I was with my newly gained philosophy, my situation was quickly becoming precarious. I was fast getting too close and too much to the northern side of Vinga Island. The water was shallowing and the already big waves were beginning to break. My boat was now surfing down their faces.
For fear of broaching I did not dare to gibe, but kept my course until I could get shelter behind the island.
That added about ten hard windward miles to Brännö. Later on, mother phoned the lighthouse. They had registered winds of thirty-five knots- force eight.
The sail to Denmark was that summer’s main event. One day in the autumn when the water was higher than usual, I grabbed the boat’s mast and heeled her over. With her draft thus reduced I floated her into our small cove and righted her up against a vertical rock. After covering her with a tarpaulin I felt she was safe for the winter.
* * *
The summer’s cruise’s had been joyful and edifying; but back in town I found a letter with a note saying that I had been fired. A teacher with the proper qualifications had applied for and got my job.
The following reference was enclosed.
Sven Yrvind, born 22 April 1939, has during the time from 11 March to 11 June and during the fall semester 1966 and spring semester 1967, worked as a non-permanent teacher of natural sciences at the Clinic School at Hisingens Child Psychiatric Clinic Göteborg.
He has also each week taken part in conferences concerning patients and treatment.
The pupils of the Clinic School consists of children and adolescents with psychiatric problems of different kinds, especially school-anxiousness and other kinds of timidness, reserve and worry. Also, children with concentration problems and aggression in their diagnosis have been taught.
The pupils have willingly gone to Yrvinds lessons and made good progress. By his calm and considerate conduct he instils confidence and peace.
In his work with aggressive and disciplinary- problem children Yrvind has shown remarkable patience. He does not let himself be provoked. Even in difficult situations he takes up a positive and friendly attitude.
Yrvind cooperates well in the clinic’s psychiatric work, and is interested and ambitious. He seems to have natural gifts for further studies in psychiatric child and adolescent care, especially as pedagogue.
I recommend Sven Yrvind for further studies and work in psychiatric child and adolescent care.
Göteborg 15 June 1967
Inga-Greta Agrell Registered Doctor
I was sad to lose my job, but happy to get such a good testimony, because it showed that not all psychiatrists considered me mentally ill. It contrasted nicely with the following ones given to me by the Stockholm social workers’ psychiatrist at the Child Custody Board, the military psychiatrist at Santa Maria Mental Hospital and the psychiatrist of the Department of Forensic Psychiatry at Härlanda Prison:
Yrvind is extremely gifted and would have the requirements for getting an advanced education, if he had endurance. He is however grievously afflicted with neuroses and he has outspoken subjective problems and difficulties giving normal expression of feelings of discomfort and opposition.
Social Medical Officer at Stockholm Child Custody Board.
Yrvind behaves similarly to my examination of 15 May 1959. However his lack of psychic balance and his labile affect is now more evident. He shows an extremely unusual mix of maturity and the utmost puerility. He is chameleonic and strange. I do not hesitate to give the diagnosisc psychopathia gravis ( cyclothym, infantile ).
Holger Garsten, Medical Superintendent
S: ta Maria Mental Hospital Hälsinborg
Yrvind was sentenced on the 10 of June 1959 by Halmstads Municipal Court to 1 month 15 days imprisonment for insubordination, desertion and misconduct. He reported at the open prison of Mässhult in the middle of December to serve his sentence. There he declared that he did not want to work as he had not committed any crime. Instead he wanted to continue to study philosophy and get a deeper understanding of life and prepare for a settled life. As a consequence of his refusal to work he was transferred to Härlanda Prison and was on the 29 of December admitted to the department of forensic psychiatry because he needed treatment. It had become apparent that he was unable to serve his sentence in the ordinary manner.*
Yrvind is a mentally extremely immature, pubescent deviant with excessively bad ability to adapt to reality. He lives exclusively in his daydreams.
His self-study in philosophy seems to have given very meagre results with respect to both knowledge and the desired moulding of character. His plan is to eventually get high school competence and then to become a teacher, not at an ordinary school but at a university.
Today he is released after having served his sentence, but I have wished to communicate these observations as it seems completely out of the question that he ever is going to adapt even tolerably to military demands and I have the impression that his psychic abnormality is so pronounced that a zero classification is indicated.
Göteborg. The Department of Forensic Psychiatry, Härlanda Prison
3 February 1960
Lars-Ingemar Lundström, Chief Medical Officer.
[FOOTNOTE *In 1959 an internee had legal rights to refuse work in Swedish prisons. A law making work obligatory came onto effect only much later, on the First of January 1965. By then I had been released a long time.]
* * *
The loss of my pleasant, lucrative teaching job was a dissapointment. On the other hand, the summer’s cruise had confirmed that a small boat was an excellent reading place and a good platform in my quest to learn alternative ways of living from people in other cultures.
Furthermore, as a misfit living in a hostile enviroment, I needed to migrate to a safe, tranquil habitat, where I would be protected from society’s arbitary rules and regulations so that I could live a true life according to my own unorthodox morals and values, and in acccordance with Nature’s functional, uncorrupted laws.
I realised that the sea was a more truthful touchstone of honest life than human society. I began to plan for a more extensive cruise.
I now knew that to sail to France, even to the Mediterranean, would be quite possible in my little boat, because once I had reached Kiel in Germany by way of the Danish islands there was a network of canals and rivers leading all the way to Marseille. But first, somehow I must endure another Swedish winter.
I was back to living cheaply. I made a bit of money here and there. Sometimes I photographed children and sold the pictures to their mothers. Sometimes I gave private lessons in mathematics. With limited success, I tried to get money from social security.
Now and then I worked on my boat. I made a yuloh from a drawing in a yachting magazine, but did not get it to work to my satisfaction. I decided that I had to be content with a paddle and when I reached the continental waterways, try to get tows with the many barges transporting cargo all across Europe.
To get a strong point of attachment for a towing rope, I took an eight foot long flat iron bar, bent it into a U-shape and bolted it to the stem and keel planks, low down.
To protect the hull when coming alongside I got four used, small scooter tires and painted them white to be able to use them as fenders.
After that, as my boat already was in good shape, there was not much more to do than to get her a certificate of registry to satisfy foreign bureaucrats- a thing I found to my surprise that I could not do without first giving her a name.
On our banknotes we don’t write IN GOD WE TRUST. We write HINC ROBUR ET SECURITAS. That is Latin for: “From this, strength and safety.”
To propagate small boat strength and safety, I baptised her HIC ROBUR ET SECURITAS, a derivate meaning “Here is strength and safety.” I was pretty pleased with my wit as I filled out the application form.
A few days later a very indignant elderly gentleman from the Swedish Cruising Club phoned.
“We have received an application for a certificate of registry for a boat with the name of HIC ROBUR ET SECURITAS. We do not approve of the name. It is an affront and insult to the Swedish Nation and it is against the spirit of the Swedish Cruising Club.”
I heard him out. When he had calmed down he continued:
“HIC ROBUR ET SECURITAS is a complicated name. You will have many problems with it. Sometimes you have to shout the name to a passing ship. Many times you have to write the name down on official papers. There are so many good names, why not choose one of them?”
For weeks I had tried doing just that; finding a good name for my boat.
I asked him to tell me one.
To my great surprise, without hesitating a second, he reeled off a long string, starting with Anna, Beata and Cecilia.
“OK, stop” I said “let’s name her Anna.”
He must have been a true gentleman; a staunch believer in a boat owner’s right to choose a name for his craft. He hesitated.
“It is not the intention of the Swedish Cruising Club to name its member’s boats,” he said.
I realised that to enter foreign ports I needed a name for my boat so I told him to write Anna down. Besides, it reminded me of Hanna, a sweet girl I had been much in love with.
After receiving the registration papers I painted ANNA with big bold letters on both sides of her superstructure to make the name visible from far away- now quite happy that it was short and that the letters were easy to draw with the help of a ruler.
Finally, on the 8th of May, the day of departure, I was standing on the dock with a heap of luggage wondering how to stow it all. But few things are as miraculous as a small boat’s ability to swallow baggage and after a bit of puzzling I had found a place for everything. That Anna had no cockpit gave me much needed space under her aft deck.
At one o’clock I hoisted my sails and was off. There was a twenty- five knot north wind blowing. It was no problem, because now it was more heavily loaded, the boat had more stability than the previous summer and my course gave me a broad reach, so we sailed quite dry.
The fierce north wind was cold however, so after a while I stopped at a small island and put on an army surplus sheep-skin jacket inside my oilskin.
I kept sailing the rest of the day. At six o’clock I moored in a sheltered little cove. It was only 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the cabin. The cold contrasted with the long days, giving light from three- thirty in the morning until nearly nine in the evening.
Next day, with the same strong, cold, northerly wind, I continued southwards. I had one reef in the main and my sheepskin jacket still inside my oilskin. I reached Varberg at three o’clock in the afternoon.
That was good timing because I had no more than gotten inside the jetty before the wind swung around and started blowing strongly from the south.
I was weatherbound for a few days, the same thing as had happened on my first cruise. This early in the season there were no other boats about. Still, I was content. Varberg with its big library was the same nice friendly town.
Soon, the weather turned better and I sailed on to Halmstad, which I reached in the evening.
Next day there was a twenty-five knot southerly wind and driving rain. The next port, Torekov, was fifteen miles across the Bay of Laholm. I was confident that I could reach its well-protected harbour before dark, despite the headwind. I was eager to meet my old friends Emil and Målaren.
I started out with confidence. But it was not as easy as I had expected. For hours I kept beating against the dark windblown waves. Rain and spray was hitting my face. Far away I could see a blue ridge of mountains which did not seem to come any closer.
I tacked out to sea. I came about, headed inshore once again, back and forth across the bay the whole day.
I was close to the shore when I heard a sudden crack, the boom hit the deck and the mainsail started to flog. The boat started drifting towards the rocks.
It was the clew, which had pulled out of the main. Luckily, in my pocket I had a four-foot long, quarter- inch diameter string, made of polyester. It was my first piece of man-made fibre. A kind salesman at the Göteborg Boat Show had explained its wonderful properties to me. When I had told him that I planned to make a long voyage, he had said “Take it, it may come in handy one day”.
Now I took the clew side of the sail twisted it, made a bight, put the string into it and tied a double sheet bend. With the help of the other end of the string, I attached the sail to the end of the boom.
In a moment I was back in business and with a bit of margin to the breakers, I tacked and headed out to sea.
Each time I approached the shore I was disappointed to see how little progress I had made. The wind and current thwarted me. It was getting late. It was getting dark. I was getting tired.
Finally, I came in under the lee of the Bjäre peninsula. Its high cliffs sheltered me from the waves. Unfortunately, they also sheltered me from the wind.
I was getting concerned. The coast was wild and uninhabited. There were no lighthouses or anything else to guide me. I kept tacking out to sea until the waves became big, then I headed back towards the shore as far as I dared, until the smell of land and the sound of the breakers told me that I was close.
Finally, on one of the tacks out to sea I could see the lights of what must be Torekov. The rain was letting up. The stars were beginning to break through the clouds. The visibility was getting better and best of all, the wind was freeing, enabling me to ease the sheets, to lay a better course and gain speed. At long last I could see Torekov’s leading lights which guided me into her safe harbour.
It was now two o’clock in the morning. I could see a faint light on the eastern horizon. Dawn was not far off.
I tied up and went below to sleep, but although very tired, the smarting pain in my face and on my hands kept me awake a long time before I finally dozed off.
After having slept my fill, I went to see Emil. I updated him on the events of the past six years. He fed me, took me fishing, and not least, he gave me a lot of advice as to the best way through the maze of Danish islands to Kiel.
After a few days in Torekov, on a day with light winds I put up my big spritsail. I aimed for Kullens Lighthouse across the bay. The wind increased as the day progressed. After two and a half hours I had the lighthouse abeam.
I continued towards Helsingborg where I spent a night.
The next day, I sailed over to Copenhagen. Like 1962, they forbid me to sail in the harbour, so I started to paddle. Again the Danes were friendly and soon a boat gave me a tow.
I made my way into the Christianshavns Kanal where I tied up to the same Baltic trader as last time. The same owner was still working on her.
I took up my old habits; going to the same interesting libraries, meeting many of the same friends.
One day I met a French girl, Martine. She was on her way to North Cape and the midnight sun. I told her that it was still very cold up in northern Norway. I succeeded in persuading her to come sailing with me until it got warmer.
When we left port the sunshine was splendid, but the wind light, and as we were about to pass the approach to Kastrup, Copenhagen’s international airport, it died completely.
For hours we were becalmed under the stream of airplanes coming in for landing. Their ear-splitting noise made me angry that I had been so stupid, that I had not gotten any proper means of applying my strong, idle muscles to propel the boat to a quieter place.
Eventually the wind returned and we began our cruise through the many beautiful Danish islands.
Martine smoked and drank coffee. I tried to teach her how to live a clean life, but without success. Every evening as soon as we had furled the sails we just had to find a place where she could indulge in her vices, even if it meant walking for hours.
In towns of any importance we also tried to find Le Monde. This was May ‘68 and in France there was a revolution going on. De Gaulle disappeared. Victory was in the air. But what we did not know was that de Gaulle had not given up. On the contrary, he had secretly gone to Germany to discuss military intervention with General Massu.
When he returned, he surrounded Paris with troops and tanks. Then he addressed the nation on TV saying: “The country is threatened with a communist dictatorship.”
A million people made a counter-revolutionary demonstration down Champs Elysse. The riot-police retook the Sorbonne. The revolution was dead, and so was something inside Martine. She cried. She was disgusted. She called her compatriots “mouton”, sheep.
The revolution and a better world had seemed so close.
As we sailed towards Germany, I and Anna and the beautiful islands did our best to console her.
One day we had difficult weather. Calms with nice sunshine were followed by rain squalls and wind coming from every direction.
“What did the weather report say?” asked Martine.
I told her they had said the weather was going to be variable.
“It sure is” she said laughing. It was nice to see her happy again.
We entered Germany at the small harbour of Schleinemunde at the mouth of a long fjord. Immigration and customs were very relaxed but at our suggestion they reluctantly stamped our passports, legally entering us into Germany.
The next morning we continued towards Kiel. There had hardly been a breath of wind, but as the day warmed up the wind increased.
We were running under the big sprit sail and made excellent progress the whole day.
When we approached Kiel, the wind had gotten so strong that I told Martine, who was steering, that it was time to reduce sails, but she was having a great time at the rudder. The speed excited her.
“No let’s hang on” she said.
I also felt the fun, but as the Captain I had the responsibility.
“Martine” I said “if the mast falls down? Will you fix it?”
My attempt to transfer the responsibility made her thoughtful. Before she had time to answer there was a crash, everything went overboard: mast, sprit, boom, mainsail, jib, halyards, sheets, stays, shrouds, the lot. The water became a mess of floating things.
A second had separated joy from confusion. The boat now lay broadside to the waves, drifting downwind, the sails acting as sea-anchors.
The tangle was attached to the boat by wires and ropes. I pulled in the mast and took off the sprit and mainsail. The eye screw which had held the windward shroud had sheered off. I jury-rigged a new shroud, raised the mast and set the jib.
That was enough. In the strong wind Anna shot off downwind with what seemed nearly the same speed as before. I don’t think the incident had taken more than half an hour.
Soon we were tied up in Holtenau, a suburb of Kiel, at the beginning of the 61-mile long canal linking the Baltic to the North Sea.
It was now the beginning of June and time for Martine to leave for Norway. I tried to convince her to continue with me, instead of hitch-hiking to North Cape and the midnight sun, but unfortunately she had a will of her own. So we said goodbye and I had to be content with the good time she had given me.
* * *
One is not allowed to sail in the Kiel Canal, so I hung around trying to find a tow.
A record heatwave had settled over Kiel. I was in Anna’s small cabin fixing things when I heard a voice from the dock.
It was a customs officer. With him was a big German shepherd dog. He demanded to come aboard and search my boat. To say that he was big would be polite. He was fat.
Anna had a small hatch and it did not take long before he was sweating profusely.
“Ein Boot fur kleine Leute” (a boat for small people) he said. His loyalty to the state was heroic, but I knew he would not stay long.
Being an idealist with a pure conscience, I am always surprised when someone picks on me.
While he was looking over my boat it dawned on me that one day a man had flattered me by saying that he admired my boat and my courage and that he would like to do something similar. He had invited me for a meal.
During our talk the ever-present problem of finances had come up. He told me that he knew of an easy way of making money. I was interested.
He said that he had a small package he needed to have delivered across the border to Denmark. If I could sail it up to Copenhagen, both of us could make a lot of money. No one would suspect my little boat.
Evidently someone had, because now I was woken from my reverie by the customs officer asking:
“Do you have opium aboard?”
“I have neither opium nor hashish or any other Rauchgift (smoking poison). I am a health freak, like the blessed Chancellor of the Reich, Adolf Hitler.” I answered.
Now he seemed to understand why I sailed a small boat.
Anna’s cramped cabin and the one hundred degree temperature persuaded him not to linger.
* * *
Many interesting yachts stopped at Holtenau before transiting the canal. One of them was Neptun from Stockholm.
She was an old, beamy, wooden, double-ended, ketch; a traditional workboat, typical of the Swedish west coast. She was 48 feet long and on her way to the Mediterranean.
Aboard were the two owners and two paying guests. This was “le Grand Depart” for all of us. We therefore had much in common and soon became friends. This lead to them offering to give Anna a tow.
The canal was a milestone on our quest for freedom. As we passed through Kiel we could see thousands of office windows, imprisoning people with their typewriters.
“Sven” said the skipper “Pity those poor people wasting irreplaceable days of their life.”
Pulled by Neptun, Anna made good progress. In the evening we reached Rendsburg, about halfway, where we stopped for the night. Next day we continued to Brunsbuttelkoog at the western end of the canal.
There, on the other side of a set of locks was the river Elbe, with fifteen-foot tides and a current of four knots.
In Sweden we do not have tides, so this new phenomenon was very intimidating. In procession, the crew of the two boats marched to the top of the dike and in awe viewed the miracle of low water and the extensive mud flats caused by the dot-like moon, far away in the firmament.
Six hours later we were back to see how high tide had changed the landscape into a long lake whose muddy waters had now risen high and slapped the top of the dikes.
We could hardly believe our eyes. We spent a lot of time discussing how to deal with those ever-changing tides.
We were weather-bound for several days. Everyone was very friendly towards my little boat.
With a twinkle in his eye the harbour master said “I saw Anna coming in towed by Neptun. I assume she is her tender, and we don’t charge tenders”
Anna was moored next to the coast-guard boat. The coast-guards gave me a twenty five-foot long piece of Dacron rope. I made a nice splice in it. Now I had a very strong towing rope. After repairing my mast I was ready for the Elbe.
Every day I checked with the coast-guards as to when would be a good time to leave. Finally one morning they gave me a time in the afternoon when the weather and tide would be right. My friends on Neptun stayed on, waiting for even better conditions.
I sailed Anna into the lock, tied her up to the wall and went to the keeper to pay my dues. I was back just in time to see Anna being pulled under by the rising water.
I was getting my first basic lesson in lock handling. Luckily I was able to undo my new, dear, super-strong rope.
When the lock opened I was faced with a twenty knot headwind. There was no room to tack. Angry shouts from the loudspeaker commanded a powerboat to tow me out.
Out of the lock, with more room to manoeuvre, I short-tacked her out through the arm which connected the lock and the river. The crew of Neptun watched and waved. One of them was filming.
Once out in the main stream, the boat was picked up by the four-knot current and following wind, giving me a good speed down the river.
Luckily, before the river opens up to the sometimes angry North Sea there is another little-known and much smaller canal at Ottendorf, a few miles downriver from Brunsbuttelkoog. This canal connects with the river Weser at Bremerhafen. That was the canal for me.
With no experience of sailing in tidal waters, I was worried about being swept past its entrance, because there would be no way I could sail back against the wind and current.
The arm dredged in the mud to the lock was well marked by withies. It was easy to find it and I just made it.
Relieved, I tied up outside a small barge which was waiting to enter the lock, a thing that could be done only at low water, because it had to be done through a tunnel under the dike which protects the countryside from flooding.
To get through the tunnel I had to take down Anna’s mast. The bargeman watched me as I undid one of the three stays and tied mast, sprit, boom and hiking-board in a neat package to the superstructure.
He told me that he was going to Bremerhafen. Naturally, I asked him if he would give me a tow, which he willingly promised. I was back to my old trade of hitch-hiking.
* * *
This was the first of many tows I got behind barges through Germany and Holland. In those lazier days, before trucks monopolised inland transport, there were many friendly skippers and hardly any small boats asking for tows. Things went easily.
Many people were surprised when they realised that I had come all the way from Sweden in my little boat. Their surprise turned to disbelief when I told them that I had at times been so far from shore that I had had an unbroken horizon around me.
One beautiful woman embarrassed her husband when she told me that she did not feel safe if her waterway did not have one wall on each side of their big, rugged boat.
People’s tastes are different. After the novelty of being towed on rivers and canals had worn off I began to feel fenced in. I was glad when I reached the North Sea at Vlissingen in Holland.
From there it was a day’s sail to Ostende, which I reached one evening after a foggy day with light winds.
The next day there was a westerly gale. That was followed by more, and for weeks I was weather-bound.
But that was OK. Ostende was a crossroads, a meeting- place for many travellers. There was a ferry to England, there were beaches and there was a yacht harbour. There were hitch-hikers, cyclists, and people living in cars and of course, all kinds of yachtsmen.
We discussed the never-ending gales, money and the ongoing Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Some of us made a bit of money by street painting. My artistic gifts are not great, and I therefore made abstract paintings – triangles which crossed each other in colourful patterns. It earned me a bit of money for food.
Finally, the westerly gales were replaced by nice easterly winds.
Before leaving, I made a last visit to the post office and found a letter from a friend. It had been forwarded from Kiel to Bremerhafen, from Bremerhafen to Oldenburg, from Oldenburg to Groningen, from Groningen to Amsterdam and finally from Amsterdam to Ostende. To my surprise and happiness it contained thirty dollars.
With my sails drawing nicely, I passed Dunkerque and Calais, then crossed the Channel in dense fog. Three days later, tired after a worrying passage, I arrived at Newhaven on the English south coast instead of Marseille having had enough of inland waterways.
After a good sleep I went to the customs, who were not too happy to see me. They calmed down a bit when they realised that I could not have smuggled in many Arabs in my small boat.
Their next problem was that they did not think that my newly-acquired thirty dollars was sufficient for a yachtsman to live on.
After arguing with them for two hours they got soft and stamped my passport.
One of them even invited me to his home for a meal, and to teach his wasteful wife how to keep a tighter budget.
Next day, with my thirty dollars still in my pocket and a full stomach, I sailed on to Cowes on the Isle of Wight. This was England’s centre of yachting and they received me kindly.
I had no dingy, but Souter’s yard let me stay on their pontoon. That gave me a chance to study their cold moulding technique, which they had pioneered together with the famous designer Illingworth. It was a form of wood construction, done by glueing thin veneers diagonally across each other on a mould. Several layers gave a light strong monocoque hull.
I had now finally replaced my paddle with an oar and after about a week I sculled, helped by the tide, up the river Medina to Folly Inn where I made many friends including Allan, the harbour master and Murray, the publican and his wife.
I did not keep my eyes in my pocket, nor were my ears filled with wax.
Cowes was a very interesting place for a young man interested in yacht design. Murray’s uncle was Uffa Fox, the dean of English yacht designers. Allan showed me many interesting yachts and there was a library, very well-stocked with yachting books.
I organised my days to be as efficient as possible. The library visits of course took much of my time. I searched it systematically with the help of the card index.
Many of the books were stored away. After a few days with me nagging the staff to get this or that book out, they let me into the stack and placed me on a chair.
It was a veritable treasure cave. The room was filled with books. The walls had shelves up to the roof with books. The floor was covered with piles of books. I forgot time completely.
After a few hours, the staff came in asking if I was alright. I was alright until they closed for the day.
Next day I was back and asked to be let into the stack again. This continued for a few days. Finally they said I must stop. I guess they thought that my passion for books was not normal.
Another of my daily pleasures was to go to Souter’s yard and follow the progress of the world-class ocean racers they were building
Foraging was also a delight that took up my time. To my joy, when wandering about I had found a disused railway track overgrown with blackberries.
It was September and they were ripe. For hours I walked along the track, filling my stomach and thinking about the big problems. Strangely, no one else was about to take advantage of that abundance.
* * *
The voyage, so far, had gone well, my appetite was whetted. But I was no longer satisfied with coastal cruising. On the other hand, I did not think it prudent to continue out into the Atlantic with Anna.
With feelings of guilt and sadness I decided to replace her.
One day, when the tide was high, Allan and Murray helped me to put Anna ashore and cover her. Allan said he would try to find her a buyer during the winter.
I went back to Sweden, intent on coming back, next summer, with a proper ocean-going yacht.
* * *
A BIG BOAT
Back in Sweden I was met by grey cold weather. My sail to England in Anna had taught me much about sailing. I had experienced tidal waters and met many accomplished yachtsmen who had showed me their boats and given me useful advice.
Everyone had agreed on one thing. Anna was too small. I must get a bigger boat. A bigger boat, they said, was more seaworthy, faster and comfortable. Interestingly, I had also noted: the bigger boat a person had, the more respect he was met with. By selling most of my cameras I raised 500 dollars and was ready for boat-hunting. I hoped to find an old wreck with nice lines and, like Captain Slocum, rebuild her into a world-girdler.
One day I was sitting in Alan’s car, chatting with him about the future. This was the same Alan who I had spent the summer of 1962 with. Now, in 1968, he was twenty-one, had a car and driving licence, but was already bored with Sweden and was trying to figure out a way to get to the US and become rich.
I suggested: “Why don’t you help me rebuild an old wreck into an ocean-going boat, then we can sail there.”
He found the idea excellent. No time like the present, we reasoned, so with the help of his car we started to search the yacht harbours.
It was a grey Sunday in November and most of the boats were out of the water. My friend drove fast among the laid-up boats. Coming around a corner he braked and stopped for two small girls playing between the boats.
Their father was covering one of the boats. He was angry that we had driven so fast. I went out to talk to him. I apologised and admitted that yes, young girls were very valuable. He was a friendly man, only he did not want to see his daughters run over by rowdies.
I complimented him on his boat and he started to smile.
“It is a nice old boat” he said. “My plan is to convert her into a motor yacht and sail to Kiel in Germany where one can buy liquor tax-free. Not that I am a heavy drinker, but I am against the idea that our government taxes everything.”
I told him that during the summer I had sailed to Kiel in a fourteen-foot boat, that Kiel was a pleasant place and that I was now looking for a bigger boat.
“In fact, this boat is for sale.” He said.
It was a cold and grey November day. It had been raining. Now there was ice in the bilges, winter was coming in, and it was a long way to Kiel and tax-free liquor.
“You can have her for 300 dollars” he said.
He must have interpreted my silent consideration as hesitation, because he continued eagerly:
“I have a lot of equipment at home, like lead for ballast, ropes, a toilet, a fire-extinguisher and much more, which will be included.”
“It’s a deal.” I said, and got out 300 dollars from my pocket.
He was surprised and began to hesitate.
“This is going a bit too fast” he said.
But the bilges were covered with ice, the November day was grey, my money was real and the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys his boat and the day he sells it. Johnny, as his name was, took my 300 dollars and the boat was mine. I shouted to Alan to park the car because we now had a boat.
Together with Johnny, we finished covering her and then followed him and his two small girls to his home to get all the extras.
We quickly became friends. While his wife made tea and sandwiches he told us about the boat and its long and interesting history.
The 40’ steam boat hull as we found her. She was built in 1885.
She was forty-foot long, had a beam of ten feet and a draft of three. She was built of riveted iron in Germany in 1885 as a steam launch. Around 1934 she was bought to Sweden by one Axel Svensson from Gränna. She was baptised Bris and carried passengers between Gränna and the island of Visingsö on Lake Vättern.
During the Second World War there was a fuel shortage and she was laid up on a moring on Lake Munksjön. During a storm she broke adrift and sank.
Editor Stenvret, of the newspaper Smålands Allehanda, salvaged her and converted her into a pleasure-boat.
During an excursion to the islands of Ombo, north of Karlsborg, fire broke out. Bris was completely burnt out and sank. After that, she was bought and salvaged by some people from Karlsborg.
The years passed and not much happened to the badly-damaged ship. In 1962 she was sold to some people in Hjo and then to some people in Tibro.
Finally, Johnny found her as a wreck in a meadow, with a tree growing through a big hole in her plating.
He transported her overland to Fiskebäck in Göteborg were he worked on her until the end of the summer before realising that such a big boat was beyond his capacity.
Johnny told us about the plans and the dreams he had had. He showed us the drawing of how he had hoped to convert her to a family power-boat driven by a diesel engine.
When evening came, we followed him up to the attic and down to the basement. He had things for the boat everywhere. Now he was going to move to the countryside and never have a boat again. He was going to make a clean sweep. We and his wife were happy that he got rid of all the junk.
Once we had left, I told Alan about the feasibility of converting her to an ocean-going yacht, the chances of success, and the nature of the obstacles in our way and the immense advantages of stepping ashore in the US from our own yacht as a start to a new life of wealth.
I explained that a steamboat from the 1880’s was really a sailboat with a steam engine instead of mast and sails. Because the steam engines of those days did not develop much power, hulls had to be easily driven. Therefore, we would not need to have tall masts and a lot of sail, and without a tall rig we would not need a deep ballast keel.
Our next step was to visualise our ideas in a drawing. After much discussion and deliberation we draw her as a staysail schooner with a twenty-six foot foremast and a thirty-two foot mainmast. To prevent leeway we opted for a dagger-board.
Our plans for converting Bris to a staysail schooner.
We would each have a small cabin with five-foot headroom under the deck, mine on the starboard side of the dagger-board trunk and Alan’s on the port side.
The hull had not much depth, so to get headroom we designed two small coachroofs, like Captain Slocum had done on Spray. The aft one would become the saloon, the forward one a workshop. The ten feet of deck between them was intended for stowing a hard dingy at sea. In port, we hoped that beautiful girls might sunbathe there.
Those were the plans. We had quite a few tools and still had two hundred dollars left. Johnny lent us an oxy-acetylene welding and cutting set. For sixty dollars we bought an electric welder and rods. A friend lent us an angle-grinder. Elbow grease we would supply ourselves.
With the oxy-acetylene and cold chisels we got rid of the old engine mounts and the concrete which filled the bilges.
The deck is welded on.
When our boat neighbours in the yacht harbour saw that once again work was being done on the old wreck, they asked us about our plans. We told them innocently that during the winter we would convert her to a staysail schooner, then when spring came we would sail her to the US and make our fortunes.
This was of course rather cheeky, as at that time only a handful of Swedish yachts had crossed the Atlantic and only then after years of preparation. A rumour began to spread amongst the boat owners that two youngsters had some crazy plans to sail the old steamboat around the world.
That winter was very cold, but we doggedly kept on working every single day, from early in the morning into late at night. In February, we were ready to start with the deck and superstructures. On scrap yards we found nice angle bars for the deck beams, which we wrought into the desired curvature. Steel plates we were able to get at a good price by purchasing all at one time. After two weeks we had finished the deck and coachroofs.
Despite the cold weather, by the end of February the deck and superstructures were done and we could get some heat in the boat and lock her up.
Full of optimism, we closed-off the propeller aperture with a steel plate and cut a big hole in the plating for the dagger board, further indicating our eccentricity!
The more the work advanced, the more advice we got. Among our advisors was “South Sea Charlie” who had been to sea before and explained how we should navigate if two hurricanes simultaneously approached us from different directions.
Then there was “Oily-Oscar”, who advised us to get a rudder stock of solid steel at least four inches in diameter. We definitely did not want to loose our rudder, he said.
“Percy the Perfectionist” was a serious man, who told us that the half-inch glass in our windows would not be strong enough, and who maintained that as the boat had spent more than fifty years in fresh water it would now rust too fast for us to keep up with. He said that it would be cheaper, safer and more comfortable to keep her on land- as he had done with his boat for the past five years.
In February, though the deck and coachroofs were in place, we still had a lot of work left before our planned launch in May.
But as time passed and people saw progress and realised that we were serious, we also got a lot of help. We were lent a circular saw, a jig-saw, a router and other power tools. We were also given an echo sounder, a two-burner primus cooker and a steering-wheel.
Jan Bergman, the son of the famous film director, gave us an expensive Sestral compass inscribed with Proudhon’s words “Property is theft”. He proudly announced that he had stolen it from a police patrol boat. Here I would like to thank him and all the other contributors.
We managed financially by selling everything we had, taking odd-jobs now and then, but mainly by recycling waste material and by keeping the boat simple.
The 23rd of May, our launching date, passed to our embarrassment with the boat unfinished and still on land. But we worked on. We imported aluminium mast extrusions from Germany. We made fittings for the masts. We borrowed a lathe and turned the sheaves for the halyards. A trucker gave us a drum of half-inch elevator wire for the rigging. In three days, I spliced all the shrouds and stays.
Finally, at the end of July, we launched her, after eight months of work. We gave her the name Duga, Swedish for “good enough”. The ballast was stowed and secured, the mast raised and suddenly one Saturday afternoon she was ready for sea trials.
Finally, at the end of July 1969, Duga is launched.
We had no idea of how she would behave, so a friend towed us to a place with plenty of sea-room where we could do no harm –we had no engine. Our sail inventory consisted of only three sails: a main of 180 sq ft, a main staysail of 190 sq ft and a jib of 150 sq ft, a total of 520 sq ft. The wind was light so we proudly hoisted our entire sail wardrobe.
Duga’s first sail was in light wind with friends.
Girlfriends and nearby boat owners had come along for the big event. To everyone’s surprise she made good speed in the very light wind. She was well-balanced and came about easily. Towards the evening we spotted a renowned offshore cruiser. To our satisfaction, we draw ahead of her.
Our first trial lasted a Saturday afternoon. The next one was over a weekend, with stronger winds. Satisfied with her performance, we obtained a few small-scale charts taking us as far as England, where we knew we could get cheaper charts.
Finally, Alan sold his beloved car for five hundred dollars. We were ready.
At noon on the eigth of August 1969, we left Göteborg, heading for Kiel in Germany.
The wind was fresh from the west and we could just lay our course. We made good speed. After a few hours the wind speed rose and veered, letting us ease our sheets and pull up the dagger board. Our already quick speed become even faster.
In the evening, the wind increased to gale force and we downed the mainsail, continuing under staysail and jib. The boat behaved very well. In fact, she smoked along as if she was on rails. We passed Anholt and the Big Belt. By early morning, most of the gale had blown itself out. Still, we had a good wind for most of the day, but it was dying.
At six in the afternoon there was hardly a ripple on the surface but by then we had reached Holtenau in Kiel. We had sailed two hundred and forty miles in thirty hours, at an average speed of eight knots. The summer before, I had spent six weeks in 14-foot Anna covering the same distance. Yes, a big boat was certainly faster.
There was not much left of the gale when we arrived in Kiel.
Just like the year before, I found a Swedish yacht from Stockholm with a diesel engine. She was the Columbella, and like us she was on her way across the Atlantic. She gave us a tow through the canal.
In Brunsbuttelkoog, we had a good weather report and started down the Elbe with everything in our favour: tide, current and wind.
Soon we were past Cuxhaven and the lightships: Elbe One, Two and Three. But then we had rain and the wind turned against us and rose. We had to start tacking.
A few days later we sighted England, off Great Yarmouth. Now the wind was light again and the tide against us, so we were losing ground. The water was not very deep so we threw one of our homemade anchors in the water. It dug in immediately and the boat started making waves through the water as if being towed by a giant fish.
Next morning we were up early, half an hour before the tide turned. It was now dense fog. Bound for Cowes on the Isle of Wight, we navigated with the help of compass and log past the Thames estuary, past Dover and down the Channel.
During four days we saw nothing. We had to do our best to find our position with the help of diaphone, siren, reed, gun, explosive, bell, gong and whistle. Not an easy task for two Swedish navigators new to tidal sailing, as beside sandbanks and currents, we were in the world’s most busy waters. When we finally arrived exhausted in Cowes we were relived. It had not been safe, especially without an engine.
We were welcomed by the people at Folly Inn and by the harbour master, who found us a free mooring. He had sold Anna, which gave us a bit of money.
There were still many things to do on the boat, but now and then I took the dingy down the river to Souter’s boatyard to learn a bit more about cold-moulded boat construction.
We were in a hurry to get to warmer latitudes before winter set in, so in October we said goodbye and started tacking down-Channel. It was a bleak drizzly day with strong contrary winds. During the night the wind increased to gale force. At dawn we were out in the Atlantic and could, to our amazement, see waves as big as houses which had built up during the night. To us, new to offshore sailing, it was very impressive and to our relief our stout boat handled the waves with ease, so we felt quite safe.
We followed the recommendations in Ocean Passages for the World and continued westward well past Ushant before turning south towards Madeira, our first destination.
We had another gale before the Bay of Biscay was done with us, but as before, our ship behaved very well.
Duga riding out a gale in the Bay of Biscay.
Finally, the sun came out and for the first time in my life I tried to find my position with the help of a heavenly body.
The boat was rolling and, new to the game, I had trouble shooting the sun, but that was nothing compared to the calculations.
We had bought a copy of Reeds Nautical Almanac because it was cheap and because (as it said on the cover) it contained all the information needed for astro-navigation. And it was true. In 1969, it was a mine of information. Besides lists of lights, tide-tables and much more, it included an ephemeris -a nautical almanac- and sight reduction tables.
The problem was that to get all that information into one book, the publisher had compressed it heavily. To unpack the information in the almanac, I needed to do a lot of interpolation, while the sight-reduction tables used the old versine functions, which are not inspection tables, so I had to calculate the sun’s height and azimuth separately.
Finally, after eight hours of intense concentration I had our position, at the price of a headache, but with a sense of relief.
We were one hundred miles east of the Azores. I plotted a course for Madeira and with all our sails drawing, we sailed straight for it.
After two days we sighted the island but the wind died. There we lay becalmed for three days off the north coast, rolling in the reflecting swell with our sails maddeningly flapping.
Alan, being of a more impatient character than me, swore at my idea of not having an engine. Finally, after 1900 miles on the log and 18 days at sea, we arrived in Funchal.
The last few miles we were towed by the pilots, who had seen us lying becalmed in the lee of the island. When we arrived, there were five other yachts at anchor in the well-protected harbour.
Most of our time was spent socialising with the other yachties to get advice from these more experienced sailors. We took walks on the beautiful island were we could see bananas and oranges and other tropical fruits growing. We enjoyed ourselves and benefitted from the results of our boatbuilding endeavours during the past long winter, but after a week, we followed the other yachts to Las Palmas on Grand Canary.
We stayed quite a long time in Las Palmas. Yachts came and went. There were usually about ten boats at the same time anchored-up on the roadstead.
We had to live on a small budget, but Grand Canary exported bananas and tomatoes, which had to be shipped before they were ripe. Ripe ones were given away, so a lot of our calories came from ripe tomatoes and bananas. Occasionally, a charter tourist would give us their excess meal tickets at the end of their stay.
One day, a huge 75-foot Camper and Nicholson ketch flying the Norwegian flag anchored up next to us. Not long after that, its young Captain and owner rowed across to us.
He told us that he had borrowed money and bought the boat in Italy. Now he was going to get rich chartering in the Caribbean. The boat was a bit run down, but with the help of paint he was now going to make her look great.
He asked us to help him scrape and sand the two masts, plus give each of them seven coats of varnish.
Although we now had no more than ten dollars between us and Alan just had to spend some of them on his Mechanico brand cigarettes each day, we laughed and were cheeky. We said we did not like to start work before ten o’clock in the mornings. We wanted free meals, and of course money. The skipper was in a hurry and quite desperate so he accepted our conditions. We started right away.
While we worked high up in the masts we noted with amazement that the spreaders were painted on the visible underside but not on the more exposed topside. Later, when we remarked about this to the owner, he said: “What do you expect of Italians? They knew the rich owner would never climb the mast to inspect their work, so why bother?”
After a week or so we began to feel at home on the big ketch. Consequently in the evenings when we rowed back to our 40-foot schooner we found her rather cramped. A year before, coming from 14-foot Anna, Duga had seemed huge, but now in a few days I had adapted to thinking that a 75-foot ketch was reasonable.
This gave me food for thought. Naturally, I would never be able to pay people and give them free meals for painting my masts. And as for having paying guest on my boat- it was out of the question. My boat was my home, not a hotel where I was the servant. I concluded that it was better to adapt to a small boat than to a big one.
For some time Alan and I had been disagreeing about our itinerary. When we planned the voyage I had proposed that we sail to the US, which was where Alan wanted to go. Now, after speaking with many yachtsmen, I had changed my mind and wanted to sail to Rio de Janeiro, but Alan was as keen as ever to sail to the US and get rich.
One day, a small Swedish cargo-boat anchored up on the roadstead. Its owners were on their way to the Caribbean to make a fortune. It soon became evident that the two owners did not get along however. Once things had calmed down, she was left with one owner. His problem was that he did not know how to navigate. His difficulty was solved by employing Alan as captain. Together, they would go and make a bit of money in the Caribbean. I would sail Duga to Rio, where Alan would join me later.
Soon after Alan left, I met Tuulikke, a Finnish girl. We fell in love and she decided to come sailing with me to Rio. Tuulikke is Finnish for “little wind” so I did not hesitate.
After Alan left Tuulikke “the little wind” sailed with me to Rio
Our Swedish antifouling was no match for the tropical goose barnacles, so the crossing took 63 days. But the trade wind was nice and Tuulikke was nice and I had plenty of interesting books aboard. So in all, it was a very pleasant voyage.
In Duga’s saloon.
One day, Alan turned up at the Rio yacht club. His first command had been successful and he had money in his pocket. It did not take long before he also had a girlfriend.
Now we were four on the boat, and although I got along well with my girl, and Alan with his, it was evident that the two girls were not compatible. Soon the days of bliss were gone and Alan suggested that we could get a lot of money for Duga in Florida.
We decided that Alan and his new girlfriend should sail Duga to Florida and sell her, then we would split the money.
During the crossing, besides other things I had occupied myself with drawing a new and smaller boat. Alan then bought me an airplane ticket back to Sweden, where I hoped to build her. I said goodbye to Duga and thanked her for what she had taught me.