The plan was simple, at least on paper: Meet up with a Sargo 31 Aft Door cruiser in Finland, cruise her to Sweden, cut across Sweden on the famed Göta Canal, then run down the coast of Denmark to Brunsbüttel, Germany, and ship the boat to the United States. With his family in tow, Brian Krantz arrived according to plan in Finland to pick up one of Sargo’s very first 31 Aft Door cruiser models. Krantz had ordered the model as a stock boat for his dealership, Inside Passage Yacht Sales, back in Anacortes, Washington, and he planned to turn this leg of the delivery into a fun family cruise. What he didn’t plan on was that he, his wife Christina, and their three kids, Elizabeth (15), Jaden (15) and Serenity (10), would experience the adventure of a lifetime.
They took possession of the boat in Turku, a city on the southwest coast of Finland, gateway to the Turku Archipelago. Often referred to simply as “the archipelago,” this area is a cruiser’s dream—more than 3,000 square miles of pristine salt water with between 25,000 and 50,000 boulder-strewn islands of all sizes (including a boatload of submerged and semi-submerged rocks), flanked by Sweden to the west, the Baltic Sea to the south and the Gulf of Bothnia to the north.
“We live on Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands, and we are not what you might call ‘city folks,’” Krantz said. “So our plan was to cruise and anchor out in less-populated places.”
Even though many of the islands in the archipelago are sprinkled with summer homes and family cabins, there are numerous deserted coves with shorelines highlighted by small sand beaches, as well as rocks of all colors, topped with hearty scrub vegetation. While quite beautiful, these stretches of coastline are not without their navigational challenges.
“For the entire distance from Turku to Sweden, it is not unusual to find yourself suddenly running between two large rocks the size of school buses,” Krantz said. Not only are the tops of these unmarked rocks just beneath the surface in 20 feet of water, but in many cases, Krantz noted, you may only have 20 or 25 feet of clearance on either side of your boat.
“A state-of-the-art plotter, like the Garmin 7600 on our boat, is a must in these waters, along with the knowledge of how to use it correctly,” Krantz said. “Many people fail to monitor their chart plotters carefully underway, or fail to drill down to the proper scale, but in these waters, it’s mandatory. That said, the rocks are charted very well.”
Leaving the Turku Archipelago, the Krantz family pulled into Mariehamn, a popular cruise-ship destination in the Alland Islands just to the west of the archipelago. The Baltic Sea had kicked up its heels and it was way too gnarly for them to continue the crossing to Sweden. But the storm blew itself out overnight and they were on their way the following morning.
“My goal on this trip was to introduce the kids to everyday people, not city dwellers,” Krantz said. “So we drove right by Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, and stopped to visit with the relatives of Carl Skarne, the North American distributor for Sargo Boats. A couple of meals, a few excursions exploring the island they lived on and, before we knew it, our families bonded tightly. They are amazingly generous people.”
From there, they proceeded south to the entrance of the Göta Canal, where they spent the night awaiting the next opening. Late July was turning into August, and though they’d been warned that this was the high season for boat-based tourism, it didn’t turn out to be much of an issue. “It certainly wasn’t overcrowded,” Krantz said. “Even if you couldn’t find a slip with electricity, there was always someplace to tie up for the night in the canal.”
Cruising across Sweden on the 120-mile-long Göta Canal, which was constructed in the early 19th century, requires cruisers to transit 58 locks—a nonstarter for some families, but not the Krantz crew. They bought a ticket to cover the lock fees, which cost $800 for the 31-foot boat and included moorage, electricity, laundry and showers as well. Krantz said, “You are typically limited to stay no more than five nights at any mooring area, but that would still allow you to spend six months transiting the canal. There’s often a small restaurant at the mooring areas, usually very inexpensive, and markets where you can restock groceries.”
Their plan was to visit the marinas by day and overnight along the banks of the canal. But a record heat wave forced them to stop at marinas more frequently to tap the electricity and keep a vent fan circulating the relatively cooler night air through the boat. One of their warmer but most memorable experiences was ascending the Berg Locks, a ladder of seven locks one after the other, where temperatures at the bottom of the locks soared.
Krantz described the places they tied up overnight, especially after clearing the last lock of the day and the heat moderated, as “magical” and “wonderful for families to get off the boat and explore.” This particularly applied to the two large lakes in the center of the country, the long and narrow Vättern to the east and the wider Vänern to the west.
When the wind blows hard, both lakes are known to be quite rough and hazardous. But in calmer weather, they are ideal for cruising families.
“You can spend weeks exploring the nooks and crannies of these great lakes,” Krantz said. “We carried three folding bikes aboard, so typically we let the kids ride and explore, and then my wife and I would tour around a bit. Interestingly, we did not see one other American family on our voyage. But we met families from all over Europe, and the kids were amazing about interacting with others and sharing and learning new words.”
Lake Vättern’s depths run in the multiple hundreds of feet, and the water is clear and cool—perfect for swimming away some of the record daytime heat they experienced. Charter boats were nowhere to be seen. Instead, there were a number of passenger ferries, older ships perfectly sized for the canals and locks, with small overnight cabins on which non-boaters book passage.
On Lake Vättern, the Krantz family had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stop in Jönköping at the south end of the lake and visit with relatives that they’d only known by correspondence. Krantz laughs as recalls wondering if they should rent a car for the visit before realizing his Swedish relatives lived right on the water.
PHOTOS | Have a closer look at the Krantz family's Scandinavian adventures on the Sargo 31 in the gallery below:
“On the way to meet our relatives, we stopped at an island called Visingsö, the home to four Swedish kings who resided there in the 12th and 13th centuries,” Krantz said. “The remains of their ancestral home, Näs Castle, as well as the ruins of Visingsboro where the powerful Brahe family lived, are considered somewhat mystical ruins [and are] of great interest to the Swedish people.”
“After waving goodbye to our relatives, we headed back to the Göta Canal and entered Lake Vänern, the larger of the two interior lakes,” Krantz said. “The canal officially ends when you finish transiting this lake, but the ticket we purchased also gave us access to the Trollhätte Canal, which would take us all the way to Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden. In Trollhätte itself, there are three back-to-back locks, each one dropping you about 30 feet, and it is must-do experience in a must-see fjord environment.”
But first, they had to transit Lake Vänern. Krantz described the lake as comparatively shallow, with loads of islands and rock outcroppings and skinny-water anchorages. “We had a rough crossing to get to the southwest end of the lake, with three-foot-high wind chop, which the Sargo 31 handles really well at 17 to 18 knots. I did run behind some islands and outcroppings to make better time, but there were also some prominent headlands with shoals that meant being in open water during the blow at times.”
With another archipelago of small islands just offshore to safely navigate and the waters crowded with commercial shipping traffic, the crossing from Gothenburg to Denmark started out stressfully. Eventually they made their way to Kiel, Germany and took the Kiel Canal to Brunsbüttel on the Elba River, where the Sargo 31 was picked up and eventually loaded on a ship bound for Tacoma, Washington.
“This was a great trip for our kids to see the different countries—Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany—and the people who lived there, to get a sense of their styles of living,” Krantz said. “Christina and I were excited for [our children] to have this experience, and we know they came away with improved boating skills and newfound confidence about interacting with people of all kinds.”
Their next adventure? Have a Sargo delivered to the East Coast and run the boat through the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to Chicago. As you might expect, the Krantz family will again be stopping in historic places and small towns, expanding their world one port at a time.