UTKLIPPEN AND GRÖHÖGEN
Friday-Sunday, May 11-13, 2018
Leaving the small island of Christiansø behind we set sail for an even smaller island, Utklippen, changing courtesy flags from Denmark to Sweden.
Arriving in fog,
this rocky outcrop of an island (actually two tiny ones) features a lighthouse and a convenient stop on our way north as we head to Stockholm. Although it seems quite large based on the map below, trust me–it isn’t.
Surprisingly, a webcam lets you check out mooring space. Probably necessary as the friendly harbor master–who motored over from the bigger rock of an island to collect our nightly fee–told us up to 100 boats (!) stop here during high season.
Looking around we realized how lucky we were to share the quays with only a few small power boats (JUANONA sits on the right-hand side of the square opening with the other boats behind us).
Our one-night layover provided a morning coffee conversation with Inger and Leif from Sweden.
They tour the coast with a small motorboat Leif has retro-fitted as a camper. I gathered he could travel for weeks without feeling a need to stay in a marina or use any land services. Inger, not so much and I understand why; yet, the simplicity and ease of such a small craft with a shallow draft does leave us envious at times.
Radar and AIS (Automatic Identification System) allowed us to continue to Gröhögen 30 miles to the northeast. There, we berthed at the little town quay where two German sailboats and MAXIMUS, a luxurious power boat, had stopped.
We had an easy night and an early morning sail another 25 miles to Kalmar, famous for the 17th-century ship KRONAN and the medieval castle overlooking our approach from the south.
Sunday-Wednesday, May 13-16, 2018
A lovely wind meant we could sail the entire way north. Noticing one of the German sailboats heading in the same direction a friendly competition began, possibly unbeknownst to the Germans. Tracking their speed and course on AIS kept us entertained as well as on our toes. Unbelievably, we actually hand-steered as opposed to using our third crew member, the auto-pilot. A nice reminder of why we enjoy being on the water.
Entering the large port of Kalmar
we spotted another opportunity to easily moor alongside versus Med mooring (tieing stern to one of those blue buoys below with bow tied to the land, which we later did when more boats came in).
Monday we got our bearings and provisioned and on Tuesday headed for the Kalmar Länsmuseum, the city’s country museum, located on the entrance to the harbor.
The local government does have a plan to build a new site for the KRONAN. Similar to others we’ve toured, this museum would function both as a showcase and a research facility for marine archaeology. A replica of the actual ship appears to be part of the plan.
For now a former granary hosts this tragic tale of the KRONAN, Sweden’s largest ship at the time.
King Charles XI (1655-1697) built the flagship KRONAN. To avoid the error of its predecessor, the VASA,* the KRONAN followed the English design suited for rougher seas: less top-heavy and a rounder, deeper hull.
Yet, it still wasn’t enough to prevent this Man-of-War from a similar fate. On June 1, 1676 the KRONAN sailed to fight the Danes over control of the Baltic Sea. As it turned a gust of wind caught its sails, capsized it, gunpowder ignited and BOOM! This regal ship exploded and sunk with 120 guns (canons) and over 800 crew aboard. In addition to the structural flaws, reasons for this tragedy were “…lack of coordination, poorly trained manpower and discord among the officers…”.
* Vasa sank August 10, 1628 due to design flaws (top-heavy, not enough ballast) and a king’s pride (King Gustav II overloaded it with too many cannons).
Unlike the exhibits of English King Henry VIII’s MARY ROSE (part of the hull survived) or the above-mentioned VASA (almost the entire ship survived) practically all of the KRONAN’s timbers were obliterated in the explosion. However, the richness of artifacts (like the MARY ROSE’s) tells the story of life aboard a warship during the 17th century.
Anders Franzén, the same man who located the VASA, found the KRONAN. Since 1980 divers have been salvaging relics, some still being found as recently as 2016.
Entering on the ground floor we passed by some of the 44 canons raised from the deep. Signage explained the makings of one of these guns, the decorations (generally exalting the guy in power), and various sizes. In short, the museum provided a lesson in gunnery.
Surprisingly, 60 of KRONAN’s original 120 guns had previously been retrieved from their resting place 88 feet below the surface. In 1686/87 the Swedes used a primitive diving bell (replica below). All I know is I sure as heck would not have volunteered for that task.
We walked through rooms filled with glass cases each holding treasures from the deep, such as the largest stash of gold coins found in Sweden…
and the country’s largest maritime silver find;
examples of how an officer’s personal belongings with his pewter differ from a boatswain’s wooden accessories;
the surprising amount of feminine fashion accessories adorning this all-male society (“as common aboard as guns and cannons”);
a bestselling book, CLEOPATRA (1663 by Caspar von Lohenstein) and the musical solace of a violin, the oldest found in Sweden; food items, from disgusting looking potted cheese to colonial luxuries of spices, tobacco and fruit;
and, something I’d never heard about: gilding pills: pills coated with gold flakes (from gold leaves kept between thin wooden sheets) by being swirled around a bowl, suppose to help with syphyllis, TB, and hypochondria (odd combo … Personally, I’d rather wear gold than imbibe it).
Admiral Lorentz Cruetz captained the KRONAN.
Being one of Sweden’s wealthiest men of his time he earned his rank through title and funds versus naval experience. His personality is on display via a letter received by his daughters (his wife had died) dated May 27, 1676 when he writes of surviving a recent skirmish with 37 Danish and Dutch ships,”If I hadn’t succeeded, a large number of our ships had come into enemy hands but I saved them from this so that we didn’t lose one single ship during the whole battle.” History just can’t stop itself from regurgitating these types of ‘heroes’…
Some information on KRONAN’s construction,
some skeletons found with its brass buttons…
and some large-scale, cartoonish dioramas (examples below) complete the KRONAN’s tale **
**The watery one is of two of the survivors, both of whom gave interviews to the Swedish Naval Headquarters in Kalmar. One of them, an infantry captain, on July 9th reported that a command from another ship to alter course caused the KRONAN’s Admiral to order the master gunner Gyllenspak to make sure “for the love of Jesus, that all gun ports are closed and cannons secured, so that when we turn we do not suffer the accident that befell VASA.”
Thinking our tour focused solely on this maritime tragedy we experienced some disorientation when wandering into connecting rooms completely unrelated to the KRONAN: An archaeological dig of the Sandby Borg in Öland, an early settlement from the Scandinavian Migration period (400-550 C.E.)…
A peek of Swedish lifestyle including a room from the 1980s…
A photographic panorama of recent immigrants…
and, the life of local Kalamite Jenny Nyström (1854-1946), one of Sweden’s famous painters and illustrators.
The latter exhibit joined the cafeteria, which had been touted as excellent but which I found to be a bit like eating an elderly aunty’s leftovers. Although, they did brew some strong coffee (sitting on one of those burners for several hours was most likely the reason for the strength).
Released into the outdoors we walked along part of the original city wall and found ourselves in the main square in front of the Kalmar Cathedral, designed mid-1600s and completed in 1703.
Checking out the guest book we noticed not all felt welcomed in this religious sanctity.
By wandering through towns and cities we stumble upon gems, and Kalmar surprised us with its fountains like this mermaid…
and its parks,
which set us up for the other not-to-be-missed site: Kalmar Slot, the castle beautifully restored to its renaissance magnificence.
The Kalmar Slott dominates the southern coastline of Kalmar and is located next to the Gamla Stan or old town and the Kalmar Konstmuseum (art museum), a modern black cube. We briefly checked this out for what we might see and decided to keep on walking.
Kalmar Slott originated as a single defense tower during the late 12th-century. Being close to Danish lands (today’s southern Sweden was held by Denmark until the mid-1600s) this site provided the perfect spot to protect Sweden’s southern border. During the next several centuries the country’s royalty built a magnificent castle complete with two walls ringing the complex, a moat, and a drawbridge.
The castle’s medieval history encompasses one of the most important Scandinavian events: the Kalmar Union. In 1397 one of Denmark’s most popular monarchs, Queen Margrete I (1353-1412), united Denmark, Sweden and Norway with the signing of this agreement. Scandinavia now became a much stronger force, one that could counteract the power of the German-led Hanseatic League.
I had first heard of this female monarch last year. This princess (daughter of Denmark’s King Vlademar IV) had married Norway’s King Haakon VI (1339-1380). They had a son, prince Olaf, who became king of Norway and Denmark at age ten when his father died. Margaret served as regent only to lose her son when he died in 1387. With no living heirs she appointed her great-nephew, Boguslaw of Pomerania (1381/82-1459) whose name was subsequently changed to Erik. He inherited the title King of Norway in 1389 and seven years later, was elected King of Denmark and Sweden. However, the driving force of Scandinavian power came from Margaret’s political ambition and diplomatic skill.
So popular was Margaret that after her death Erik tried to get some of that charisma to rub off on him. Staging an elaborate, three-day event, he had her body moved from a monastery in Zealand (her desired burial spot) to the Cathedral in Roskilde, Denmark where other royals laid.† However, a royal corpse didn’t help with his rule. In 1439 all three countries–Denmark, Norway and Sweden–kicked him off the throne. Erik fled to the island of Gotland and for ten years led a group of pirates robbing merchants’ vessels trading in the Baltic. Eventually he returned to his original homeland of Pommern and died.
†For some recent gossip concerning Denmark’s Queen Margrete II and royal tombs, click here.
The Kalmar Union lasted until 1523 when the nobles rebelled against the Danish king Christian IV* (1577-1648) and Gustav Vasa (1496-1560) became Sweden’s King Gustav I.
Gustav Vasa’s rule added some family spice to the castle, which we saw in one of the exhibit rooms. He had three sons and five daughters. His second daughter, Cecilia (1540-1627) seemed quite the modern lady. She celebrated her big sister’s wedding by being caught in bed with the groom’s brother. Her father managed to marry her off (the reason d’être of all princesses in those days) but to someone below her in rank. After her husband’s death in 1575 she switched to Catholicism, which didn’t appear to affect her behavior since four years later she gave birth to a daughter out of wedlock. Toss in her predilection for financial troubles and we learned she died destitute in Brussels at age 87.
*This dude lost vision in one eye from shrapnel during a sea battle 1644. An enterprising fellow, he had them made into earrings for his mistress. He also only posed in profile with his good eye facing you.
Gustav I’s first-born Eric XIV (1533-1577) pursued Queen Elizabeth I against his father’s wishes. He obviously didn’t succeed in his wooing of the English royal and returned to Sweden to take over the rule upon his father’s death. But, he didn’t have much luck there, either. Most likely inheriting some of his dad’s vicious temper and mental instability, Eric became insane, resulting in his being dethroned and imprisoned in 1568. His ignoble end came when he died supposedly eating pea soup seasoned with arsenic.
Gustav I’s second son, John III (1537-1592), took over with his Polish Catholic wife, Princess Katarina Jagellonica. His interest in architecture led to some of the more splendid rooms in the castle: the Chequered Hall with beautifully crafted wood inlays decorating all of the walls (to ensure nothing disturbed the symmetry no door knobs were used, meaning they had to clap for a servant to open them… not great for a room filled with wood and no easy fire escape);
and the Golden Hall’s elaborate ceiling, which is actually a hanging piece of art, most of it the original 1576 work.
With over 20 rooms to wander, some of them impressively huge, we spent several hours admiring these royal chambers…
Queen’s Bedroom with the castle’s only surviving original piece of furniture–a four-poster bed captured from the Danes (to prevent ghosts from appearing, the superstitious cut the noses off the carved figures)
Grey Hall complete with a April 4, 1586 Easter dinner as described in a German Visitor’s diary, one of the spectators invited to watch the royals eat (the stuffed peacock and swan were for decoration, not eating)…
King’s Chambers, first Eric XIV’s (who may have painted the figure of Hercules in the medallion) and then his brother John II who added the hunting scene (the door into this bedroom had an extra sturdy lock and an escape route, which makes sense considering the family’s history)…
the Church, now a popular wedding venue, with its gender-segregated pews identified by the signs in Swedish (on the left for the less-literate female sex) and in Latin (on the right for the more ‘intelligent’ male species).
When King John III died in 1592 his son Sigismund inherited the throne. Yet, Sigismund, a devout Roman Catholic, lived across the Baltic serving as King Sigismund III of Poland-Lithuania, the kingdom he inherited from his mother. His protestant uncle Charles (1550-1611), Duke of Södermanland, became regent in his nephew’s absence. When Sigismund returned to claim the Swedish throne a brief civil war (1597-98) broke out, which Sigismund lost and Charles won. Two years later the uncle was elected as King of Sweden, thus, becoming Charles IX.
Historians attribute the fight between Sigismund and Charles as one of the sparks that enflamed Europe in one of its bloodiest wars, the Thirty Years War (1618-48). But, that’s another story, one I will spare you :)
Back to the castle… A few rooms served as a women’s prison until the mid-1800s. Here photos depicted some of the ways they kept the gentler-sex in line, such as the stones (57 lbs) worn by a woman accused of adultery. She was paraded through town then kicked out at the city gates to be banished forever. No word on what happened to the man…
After touring the castle’s royal rooms we quickly walked around a special traveling exhibit featuring the inventions of Leonardo DaVinci. For anyone who’s read or is reading Walter Isaacson’s bio of DaVinci, the working models and displays would immerse you in this genius’ mind.
Kalmer Castle is well-worth a visit, not only as an example of Nordic Renaissance architecture but also for its contribution to Sweden’s history. But, what I love about our travels is connecting the dots between the various sites we’ve been fortunate enough to visit. Now, to remember it all!
By now we were maxed out on historical remnants and ready to leave this port for destinations further north as we continue to explore Sweden’s eastern waters. But, not before I mention meeting an English cruiser, Nicholas Hill, who’s been sailing these waters for 20 years. And, with whom we’ve been playing tag in various harbors these past few weeks as we cruise our way further north.