This past spring I fulfilled an old dream, I bought myself a kayak. After seeing the Melker Ulvön from Melker Kayaks of Sweden, there was really no turning back. Such a beauty with it’s inlay of bamboo contrasting to it’s white and turquoise lines. It has a record of being used in multi week expeditions in tough sea environments, is said to be fast yet manoeuvrable and fun to paddle and a kayak I could “grow with” as paddler. And after seeing it at a fair, what can I say but “love at first sight”.
Starting at Gräsö
End of June this year I made a four day solo trip in the archipelago east of Gräsö, north of Öregrund in Sweden. I arrived at Aspskäret on the south east tip of Gräsö after having lunch in Öregrund. This is a great spot to start a kayak trip, there is great access to the water with good landing spots right by the road and a large parking area for cars.
The LV modell (low volume) of Ulvön has packing volumes of 115L/65L/18L. Going solo and not having anybody to share tent, stove, etc with made it a challenge to get everything to fit. That had probably more to do with my inexperience, not holding back on some extra stuff and food, some camera equipment, etc than the packing volume of the kayak. I managed to fit everything in after leaving some extra clothings in the car.
I hadn’t left Aspskäret before spotting the first white-tailed eagle over the closest islands, great start of the trip!
The weather forecast promised no or very low wind for a couple of days with some heavier north east winds coming in in four to five days. So my plan was to head north in the outer parts of the archipelago on the east side of Gräsö for one to two days depending on how the weather evolved to turn back through the inner parts when heading back south.
I headed out on more or less dead calm waters with no wind at all in the late afternoon. Even when I came out of the inner parts when passing Bjurskäret there were no waves at all. I found no trouble navigating among the islands, making short hops between the islets. The Gräsö archipelago is shallow and hard to navigate with deep going boats, so there is not much traffic here. It also contains many bird protection areas that are prohibited to enter during most of summer so be aware and respect these areas when navigating!
Made a last longer passage out to Tålingen from the south west in the warm evening sun, a magical feeling! Rounded its north tip and found a nice camping site with an open horizon to the east.
First campsite at Tålingen
Since I got out rather late in the afternoon I only paddled about two hours the first day and covered 11,5 km before going ashore to set up camp for the night.
Our Hilleberg Allak tent works great for kayaking being self supporting and having a two person tent for myself gives luxurious space.
Food is the highlight of any trip like this so preparing for some nice meals with something extra to look forward to is something I like to plan for. Dinner the first day consisted of a clam linguine pasta with fresh cream, tomatoes and parsley. Of course served with something nice to drink while looking out over the calm sea and sunset.
After some nice bacon and eggs for breakfast and an espresso after tearing down the camp site it was time to head out again. The wind had picked up just a little, coming in from the north east. To avoid to large jumps between the islands and avoiding bird protection areas I headed north west into the archipelago. Speed was not my main concern, just enjoying the beautiful environment, clear water, the bare islands, some tight passages and the rich bird life.
Ulvön comes with a rudder but I hardly used it during this trip other than in some really tight passages. I learned much about keeping my heading using the skeg in different wind directions. Ulvön has no trouble keeping its heading with only the skeg when used correctly and it is still highly manoeuvrable.
After cruising a couple of hours I stopped for some tortellini for lunch on a small islet called Vitbådarna.
Tight passages, skuas (labb) and hundreds of tufted ducks (vigg)
Continued north after lunch and passed some really nice tight passages between Norr-Gärdet, Gjusbådan and Kullaskäret east of Gällfjärden. Don’t miss this part out if you are in the area! There are plenty of skuas (labb) by Gräsö, I think I spotted two or three pairs a day. A bit further north, by Glasgrundsslangran a group with hundreds of tufted ducks took to the wings when I rounded an islet. Impressive sight indeed. Continued north to Stor-Utteridet where I found a great place to stay for the night with good protection from the north eastern winds.
Surprised on how empty the archipelago was. During the whole two first days I spotted ONE boat in the distance, other than that I noticed no human activity what so ever. The feeling of solitude was complete, more or less having the whole Gräsö archipelago for myself!
Making camp rather early gave a total distance about 17 km for day 2. Prepared a nice dinner on some dried Chorizo together with bulgur, chive and shredded carrots, all seasoned with basil and Tabasco. This time I used fresh vegetables but this dish is easy to prepare beforehand using dried chive and carrots if weight or durability is an issue on the trip. A recipe I picked up from the great outdoor cooking book “Fjällmat” by Eric Tornblad.
The weather forecast indicated that the wind from north east would pick up further during the day. My plan was to come as fas as possible so the fourth days stretch would be as short as possible since winds were suppose to increase to 12-15 m/s day four. Third days weather was more overcast than earlier with winds of about 7 m/s. A good oatmeal breakfast makes a great start of the day and after a nice espresso (actually two) I set out to the north to come up to the most northern part of the archipelago. Ulvön has no trouble handling the higher waves and the head/side wind each time I came out of the lee from behind islands as I paddle north. With Örskär clearly in view in the north west I turned south after passing just south of Skåpkubben. A great great feeling to have the wind in my back and knowing it will stay there the rest of the day!
I passed a wonderful section between Utterbådan and Nålsbådan with shallow waters with small islets and rocks scattered out everywhere. I find some really nice tight passages, even a hidden passage through reed opening up into new bays. There are plenty of young herons trying out there wings in the hidden bays in the area.
Lunch break at Stor-Blekbådan
After an early lunch at Stor-Blekbådan (a tomato and avocado salad topped with some fried smoked ham, this from another great outdoor cooking book called “På en låga” by Karin Sundqvist) I make my first longer passage against south east with the strong wind from the side from the north east. Ulvön feels stable and I have no trouble rolling with the waves and keeping my bearing with only the skeg. After passing south of Norr-Gället i drop the skeg almost fully and the Ulvön willingly turns south in the tail wind.
During the day I’ve only heard one boat and every cabin I’ve passed has been empty. I haven’t seen a living soul on my way south, even though I’m paddling further in in the archipelago. It’s getting late in the afternoon and after a short stop it’s time to start thinking about night plans. The wind is picking up further and I know it’s going to be even stronger in the morning. I decide to push forward and make the last two longer passages before stopping for the day. The last passage is fully open for the north east winds with waves rolling over the kayak now and then. It feels really good when I raise the skeg and the Ulvön nicely turns up a little towards the wind behind Grän-Älgebådan and I know that I now have no exposed passages left and no matter what weather day four will come up with I will have no trouble getting back to the car. I find a nice camping spot on the south west part of Rävsten where I can prepare a nice meal, take a bath and enjoy the sunset. For dinner I prepare another dish from “På en låga”; cumin spiced brown rice together with some onions, chick pease and the last of the Chorizo. I even see a couple of kayakers from the nearby kayak center (Gräsö Kanotcentral) passing by in the evening.
Day 3 turned out to be a long paddling day with about 31 km logged. More than day one and two combined!
Despite the high wind during the night I’ve had a great sleep in my protected camp site. After some oatmeal and an espresso I head east well protected from the northern winds by islands. My plan is to make a short tour through the archipelago south east of Gräsö. The islands lie close together here so there a no waves on the lee side. The head wind is really strong the last bit up to Ytterdagsskäret where I make a short stop to take a look at the open Baltic sea on the other side of some protective cliffs. The wind is really strong and waves are breaking all over the ocean. I’m thankful that I made that last push the day before, I would not been able to manage that last stretch in these waves. I head back the same way I came and arrive at my point of origin safely after some tail wind surfing. Day four totald 8,5 km.
I’m super pleased with my first kayak trip! I paddled a total of 67,5 km over the four days, passing truly beautiful areas. Swam each day, saw more sea eagles than humans, enjoyed really nice camp sites, had great weather and prepared some great food.
Below are some addition images from the trip, all taken with my Fujifilm XT-2, either with the XF 23mm f/1.4 R or the XF 56mm f/1.2 R. All images in the above text are images shot with Iphone 6s.