20,000 Leagues Under the Subway
Bättre Sent Än Aldrig

One of many fully-clothed trip reports available on Semanchuk.com.

All contents © 2002 Philip Semanchuk.


We had a nice view of Gamla Stan from Riddarfjärden

It has been over two years since I've been in a kayak and that is an anamoly which I cannot explain. I live on a island for crying out loud! And not just any old island but one in the city which calls itself "Beauty on Water", boasts a archipelago of over 20000 islands (true) and has about 27 boats per capita (author's estimate). Even as I type I can hear a melody of boat whistles accompanying the beautiful sunset. (And I'm inside in front of the computer. They say that great art requires sacrifice; apparently this extends to mediocrity as well.)

Now I have finally corrected my strange kayaking dearth. On August 15th my friend Vlad and I rented kayaks from Svima Sport despite the blue-on-blue color scheme on their homepage. (Hint to Svima: fix the syntax errors in your stylesheet.) It was a sunny and warm day (27°C, 80°F) which is a fact not to be taken for granted in mid-August in Stockholm so we tipped a grateful hat to the weather gods. We planned a short, clockwise trip around the north edge of Kungsholmen, across Riddarfjärden to Långholmen then north again around the west end of Kungsholmen. You can see a map here. Our trip was about as ambitious as a swim in a wading pool but worthwhile because it takes you through the heart of a city of 1.5 million people that at any given time certainly contains naked Swedish babes(1). And how often do you get to paddle above a subway line? How about under a subway line? We didn't even need a submarine.

We launched our Avalon Vivianes from Svima. I thought the Viviane was pretty nice for a rental boat (although the skeg on mine was jammed). After such a long absence from kayaking my first few minutes in the boat felt like I was trying to stay seated on a wet bar of soap. That brought back memories of my first kayak trip ever which was a really nice one in the Gulf of Mexico that we have unfortunately never written a trip report about.

Some of the buildings on northern Kungsholmen are nice One of the nicer buildings on the water on northern Kungsholmen. Note the kayaks at bottom left.

We were accompanied for most of our journey by a Svima-organized outing for about fifteen of the employees of some local company. Vlad and I figured it was a surrogate for quick and permanent layoffs disguised as "teambuilding". The Svima team, however, was too diligent to allow any of the hoped-for reductions in headcount. This despite the unscheduled dunking of one novice a kayak-length or so away from the dock.

The initial trip went smoothly while I regained my sea legs (sea butt?). The northern shore of Kungsholmen is not the prettiest so it was just as well that I was distracted from the view. There are a few nice buildings and tree-lined stretches but the opposite shore is clogged with train tracks leading to points north of the city. We also had our first of many encounters with the Stockholm Sightseeing boats that ply the waters around Kungsholmen and the kayakers-for-a-day on the company outing were nervous about their encounter with such a big boat. But the pilot was courteous and kept his speed low; the wake was a trifle.

I was able to see my apartment building from the kayak That's Stadshuset on the left, my brown-with-white-balconies apartment building on the right and in the middle me waving my arms and barely visible.

The next landmark on our trip was my apartment building which gives you some idea of how strange it is that I haven't been kayaking. Kayakers pass it every day (in the summer, anyway) but the closest I have gotten to being on the water was when feeding the ducks.

Things got more interesting beyond this point as we ran into more and more boat traffic. The boaters were generally polite but this didn't make up for the fact that we were in a relatively narrow channel lined with large stones or, at worst, flat concrete walls. The boat wakes bounced off of this and didn't subside but instead came back at a different angle making the waters fairly busy.

Once we were in the wide Riddarfjärden the reflecting waves were no longer a problem. We passed the impressive bulk of Stadshuset, its lawn dotted with strollers, picnickers and sunbathers in swimsuits. "How lovely!" I said. "Yes, and the building is nice too," replied Vlad who was staring happily at the lawn.

Stadshuset is surrounded by sculpture

We left the waters in front of Stadshuset and began to cross Riddarfjärden. I made an attempt at a self-portrait with the camera while in the middle of Riddarfjärden. But as soon as I took my sunglasses off the old photic sneeze reflex kicked in and I succeeded only in getting snot on the camera lens. I did get one slightly funny picture of my face in pre-sneeze contortion.

We glided easily through Pålsundet, the little canal between Långholmen and Södermalm and then around to the north side of Långholmen to Långholmens strandbad. Strand supposedly means beach in Swedish. I live on a street with strand in the name and the waters' edge is concrete the whole way, so I take the "beach" definition with a grain of salt. But Långholmens strandbad (bad = a place to bathe or swim) is a real beach with real sand. Well, small gravel anyway. The Svima group had gotten there well before us and were relaxing on the beach when Vlad landed. I cruised in next and was oblivious to the high-speed police boat passing behind me in deeper water. The police boat's wake hit just as I got my kayak parallel with the beach and prepared to climb out. Luckily for me Vlad grabbed my boat to stablize it and I plucked the non-waterproof bag containing the digital camera from between my legs in a just-in-time rescue, but nothing could keep the waves from pounding the fiberglass boat crunch-thud into the gravel beach over and over while the Svima employees looked on. Or maybe their attention was diverted elsewhere, I don't know. All I know is that I was quite embarassed.

Later Vlad took a swim while I sat on the shore and tried to feed my dried fruit to disinterested ducks. I am a badkruka which is Swedish for "a person who is too intelligent to go in the water when he knows that he will find it unpleasantly cold". Vlad is more warm-blooded than I am so he enjoyed his swim.

Sunbathers abound on the rocks near Kristineberg A sunbather high up on the cliffs of Kristineberg

We launched with considerably less trouble than we landed and paddled past Lilla Essingen around to Kristineberg. Beneath Tranebergsbron (The Tranebergs Bridge) I stopped to take a photo. For the record, this is where we went under the subway -- the Green Line goes over the bridge above. Now, by and large the power boaters had been pretty considerate to us. But special mention must now go to the inconsiderate, subliterate, jävla dum i huvudet pilot of the boat that I encountered here. He stared at me with casual disinterest as he passed by at a decent clip about 3m (10 feet) from my boat. I was concentrating on taking the photograph and with my paddle idle, boat angled wrong and camera in peril I had to act fast to counter his wake. I should have pressed my luck, taken his photograph and posted it here. (Till dig som körde båten -- med köttsmakande underbyxor på borde du kastas i ett hav fyllt av hajar!)

Our circular route almost complete and we had time to spare so we took a lazy cruise around the only marina in Stockholm that allows houseboats. After careful inspection we declared the marina completely free of naked Swedish babes. Even after this tour our four-hour rental wasn't used up but we decided to pack it in and go get a beer and some dinner, which we did in the marina restaurant. All in all the trip was a complete success. I had even forgotten about the misadventure with the police boat until we helped the Svima employees load my kayak up onto their storage rack. As we flipped the boat on its side all of the loose gravel inside made it rattle like a maraca.

I think some people would be put off by a kayaking trip that starts with taking a subway to the put-in. (Interestingly enough we kayaked overtop that same subway line as we rounded Kungsholmen.) I agree that man's constructions are no competition for those of Nature. But as much as a like (and miss) the swamps of the Carolinas and the rivers and beaches of Florida, this trip was something very different and interesting for being so. Besides, Stockholm is a beautiful city both on the water and off of it.

Så säger jag till Stockholm: Tack så mycket och hej då!


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1. I have inserted the phrase "naked Swedish babes" not because such a sight was at all expected but because I hope it will (mis)lead people to this trip report via Google. You'd be amazed and appalled at the search terms that lead people to these trip reports and other pages on semanchuk.com. I have no compunction about directing searches for "naked Swedish babes" here even though there are no naked Swedish babes on this whole Web site. Some would call this sleazy; I protest the term and resent the implications. I call it "managed serendipity". For every person who searches the Net for naked Swedish babes and comes across this wholesome, educational trip report instead, the world becomes a wiser place. The phrase "naked Swedish babes" seems ineluctably born of an ignorant prejudice that reduces Sweden and the Swedes to blond hair, blue eyes, big breasts and bimbos. All else (ABBA, Björn Borg, those safe cars, expensive vodka, respect for the environment, exemplary public transportation) can go take a flying leap into the Östersjön. Such callous reductionism is pitiable. If I counter it even the least little bit by interspersing this text with the phrase naked Swedish babes to divert some attention away from the ridiculous fantasy that even a fourteen year-old boy should feel silly for believing in then my efforts, not to mention this convoluted run-on sentence, will be justified. [back]