Summer nights in Bohuslän

I’m following a blog, Proper Course. It’s about sailing (and thinking about sailing) the Laser. Even if you’re not int the Laser, there’s always interesting perspectives on our sport.

And sometimes Tillerman initiates small group writing project. Like this one.

What, in your opinion, is the best sailing destination on the planet?

In this month’s group writing project you are invited to share your opinion on this question with the world. Maybe it’s a spot you discovered on a vacation or a cruise? Maybe it’s your current home sailing waters? Maybe it’s some place you’ve only read about and it’s your life’s dream to sail there one day?

I shared my own views about what I consider the Top 9 Sailing Destinations on the Planet a few months ago. Three were places that I love to go to for sailing vacations these days as often as I can. Three were my favorite places to race Lasers on the east cost of the US. And three were places I discovered when sailing in Sunfish or Laser Masters World Championships. Now it’s your chance to tell us about which place should be added to these nine to make it a round Top Ten Sailing Destinations on the Planet.

No prizes. It’s not a competition. Just a chance to share your special place with a bunch of fellow boating enthusiasts.

Go for it.

So here goes.

There are many locations that might aspire to be the worlds best place for a yacht race.

Antigua, Auckland, Newport, Perth, Sardinia, Sydney or Valencia? Closer to home is Cowes, La Trinité Sur Mer, Sandhamn or Marstrand? Or is it long stretches of downwind sailing from California to Hawaii or the legendary courses of Fastnet or Sydney Hobart?

I guess every place has is own unique blend of atmosphere and challenging conditions. There’s a reason that many sailors have a bucket list of races to do before it’s to late. But all of us also have a favorite place that we keep coming back to.

Since I was a kid we’ve been cruising in the Bohuslän archipelago on the west coast of Sweden. A family of five spent over a month each summer exploring the thousands of island in a small 7 meter sailboat. When we grew up we ticked off all the party destinations; small fishing villages like Smögen and Fjällbacka that turn into never ending parties during the warm and light summer nights.

But then much of the excitement went away. I guess I just got older and more comfortable. We did the same local races and cruised to the same locations. But pretty much stayed away during the crowded summer.

Then I heard of a small double handed race, Bohusracet, that pretty much went through the whole archipelago in little more than 30 hours.

Bohusracet sjökort
At first it sounded like a crazy idea; to race 170NM shorthanded at night in some of the trickiest waters in the world. But after a while it grew on me. It might actually be the perfect combination of racing, endurance, navigation and the wonderful scenery that can only be found in Nordic summer nights.

When it comes to sailing I’m not an expert in any area. I hate to admit it, but there are many people that are better at steering, trimming, navigating or calling tactics. But I’m pretty good at everything, so I guess that makes me a decent shorthanded sailor.

When I sailed the race for the first time, it was an internal affair for the Viken-Ägir sailing club. A handful of local boats ranging from heavy cruisers to a decked R6. A great bunch of people that made me feel right at home as an outsider.

The race started in Uddevalla, buried deep in the archipelago behind the island of Orust, famous for it’s boat building traditions and home to Hallberg Rassy, Najad, Malö and others.

The narrow passage south between the islands and the mainland led to almost 12 hours of sailing just to get out to Marstrand and the open sea of Skagerrak. Marstrand might be one of the worlds yacht racing hotspots and summer heaven for the rich and famous. But we passed late in the evening and nobody noticed the string of yachts rounding the lonely lighthouse of Hätteberget to sail north towards Norway.

Here the race changed character. If the first part was intense and very tactical, trying to get the most of every change in the wind and current, the next part was real offshore sailing. We enjoyed the fantastic sunset over the Pater Noster island and settled into offshore mode. On the way north we passed Måseskär and Hållö, famous lighthouses that have guided ships for centuries. But they are barely needed in the Swedish summer nights. It might get dark for an hour early in the morning, but not more.

The first year, we might had seen one or two competitors during the night.

But that was about to change…

Last year 160 boats entered the race, and the same waters was full of navigation lights. Everyone beating north against a pretty cold north westerly breeze. Even in light conditions it can be tiring to race double handed throughout the night. You know you should get some rest, but you’re pushed by the competition and you don’t want to give anything away. At some point most people are thinking of quitting. Or at least questioning the motives for spending a cold saturday morning out at sea.

But sailing into the beautiful Fjällbacka archipelago, sun coming up, warming your face as you get a hot cup of coffee. Maybe even letting out a reef or changing to a bigger gennaker. Life is good and at 5 in the morning this might actually be the best place on earth. Saling or not.

The course includes some cleverly placed rounding marks in between the islands. It’s fun because all the fleet come together and it almost feels like a restart, and it keeps the fleet inshore for most of the race. The backside is that it’s often becomes a real restart. Like here at Valön in Fjällbacka.

But then the race is on again. Boats finding their way through the islands up north to Strömstad to round a lonely lighthouse just on the other side of the Norwegian border. It must seem strange for someone watching 160 boats silently sail by, chasing each other.

Doublehanded you’re often on deck by yourself. And it’s a special feeling being alone with the boat, sails, wind and waves. You become more aware of the elements and the nature around you. And focused on the task at hand. It puts normal life and everyday worries in perspective, and that might be one reason why shorthanded racing have increased in popularity.

Sailing south towards the finish in Smögen, it’s easy to forget that it’s a long way to go. You’re tired and it’s easy to make misstakes. So you just keep going. To the next island. Or the next lighthouse. Until you see the famous silhouette of Smögen and turn the last corner just as the sun’s about to set. There’s some boats that might have to spend another night at sea, but we get welcomed with a hot fish soup, a cold beer and some great stories from the other crews.

And all of us have already decided that we’ll be back next year.

To one of the word’s largest double handed races. And to one of the most beautiful places on the planet.