I had not anticipated tens of thousands of islands and islets stretching out 37 miles into the sparkling Baltic Sea, hiding 50,000 holiday cottages. But the greatest astonishment was the huge number of small sailboats busily plowing back and forth everywhere. Among them, I could see, were lots of wooden Folkboats with varnished hulls, many of them manned by a girl, a boy, and a dog.
I was told that the calm waters of the archipelago were subject to the Allemansrätt, or Everyman’s Right, a law that gives anyone the right to go ashore or anchor on any shoreline not obviously in the close vicinity of buildings.
It looked to me like a sailor’s paradise, but we had no time to go sailing; my wife June and I were there on journalistic business and we had to travel from Sweden’s biggest city, Stockholm, to the second-biggest, Gothenburg. It was not the usual kind of journey, however. We traveled clean across Sweden from one coast to the other by way of the Gotä Canal and the two large lakes, Vättern and Vänern.
We traveled aboard a wonderful little ship called the Wilhelm Tham, launched in 1912 and designed to squeeze into the narrow locks of the Gotä Canal. She was originally powered by steam, but later was fitted with a 600-hp diesel engine. She is still going to this day and runs on a regular schedule, carrying a maximum of 50 passengers in 25 cabins that are perhaps even cozier than the saloon of a small sailboat. She takes up to four days to complete a one-way run. It was a fascinating passage, a slow and stately procession through gorgeous pastoral landscapes and, on occasion, cruising above a village on an elevated aqueduct.
It was a visit we’ll never forget. And I often wonder what went on aboard those little Folkboats in the Stockholm Archipelago. Good job dogs can’t talk.
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill.
Tennyson, Break, Break, Break
Swaying gently in the farmer’s field, the baby ear of corn turned to the mother ear of corn and said:
“Momma, momma, where did I come from?”
“Hush dear,” said mom, “the stalk brought you.”