Experiences in kayak
in Scandinavia

In kayak among Seals in the Stockholm archipelago. August 2005.

We set out on this trip with the aim of seal spotting. What we didn't realise, however, was that this provided the seals with an equally fascinating experience - people-spotting.

Bosse from the canoe club and I met at Fridhem Canoe Club, loaded the kayaks onto the car and drove out to the east point of Blidö island. While we were putting the boats in the water a father and daughter in a two-man kayak drifted in. They looked radiantly calm and harmonious after a fortnight in the Söderarm archipelago. However, as the girl pointed out, only two sunny days wasn't much to write home about.


We slid away over the bay Kudoxafjärden and continued on past the picturesque islands of Rödlöga and the sculptural Norrpada archipelago. From Skrakfjärden bay we could see the long unbroken strip of the horizon. We stopped for the night on the island Norrskäret, on the northern edge of the Röder island group.


 Right in the middle of Skrakfjärden bay en route for the horizon

After a breakfast of porridge we set off, passing the Inner and Outer Tridingen islands and landing at Norrgrund to stretch our legs. This is an area where seals are protected and which had in fact opened that very day. It had been closed to visitors since 1st February. Norrgrund proved to be a beautiful island with a brilliant display of flowers and splendid rock formations sculpted in the ice-age.  We couldn't resist walking barefoot to explore them.


Norrgrund

A glance through the telescope showed us a large number of seals basking on rocks in the water just a couple of kilometres away. It was fantastic!

 

We continued on our way out to Rödberget where we crept quietly ashore to look at a group of seals lying on a nearby rock in the water. Although we were 300 metres away and had just very carefully raised our heads in order to see them, they took fright and disappeared into the water. They had probably picked up our scent.

They looked like a group of dolphins as they swam off. Then suddenly they did an about turn and swam straight towards us. They didn't stop until they were directly in front of us and then they stared at us with curiosity.

Eating 7 kilos of fish every day and then lying and singing on the rocks no doubt becomes just as tedious in the long run as does leading a humdrum existence as a human being. I felt that we achieved a kind of mutual contact that felt very positive.

The aim of this kayak trip was to search for seals. What we hadn't realised was that the seals experienced just as much interest in this kind of activity - except they were involved in people spotting.

After a while most of the seals returned to their rock and we paddled slowly away. And then something that hardly ever happens out here in these unsheltered waters occurred - there was complete calm.

Seal heads popped up all around us. Sometimes there was a good deal of puffing and panting behind the kayak but when we turned around the seals disappeared with a splash. But more often they dived forwards exposing their spotted bodies or they sank silently downwards into the water with their noses pointing straight up into the air.

I wouldn't be one to refuse the offer of a sea-bear safari to Tierra del Fuego or a trip spotting sea-lions in Alaska, but if it is possible to experience something similar during a day paddling in the Stockholm archipelago one wonders why there aren't more people out here.

A curious baby seal came nearer and nearer until finally it was nosing our kayaks. It almost got close enough to sniff at Bosse's elbow as he sat quite still in the kayak.

 

Of course it's easier to pay 400 crowns and travel out here on one of Cinderella's seal-spotting trips but you don't get many seal kisses in that kind of boat


When a young seal sniffed at the kayak an older one made a splash with its flipper from a safe distance as if to say -" Now then, that's enough."

Coming from the group on the rock we could hear the extraordinary seal song that sounds like the whining wind mingled with the howling of the wolf, and grunts and bellows.

When four sea-eagles landed on a rock behind the seals the scene was quite perfect.

 

In the tale of Sinue, who was a skull opener in ancient Egypt, he said "Let time stand still" at very special moments in his life.  This was definitely such a moment in my life. It was made even more special by the fact that it was a weekday and that we had taken the day off work. How much value do we place on all those weekdays that just disappear without leaving any lasting memory? Just being out here transformed a plain lunch into a Nobel banquet.

After a considerable time spent watching our new friends we made our way to the easternmost outpost of the archipelago called Svenska Stenarna "the Swedish Stones" and enjoyed a seal-lunch - of pickled herrings. However, we of course included potatoes and lager.

 


 The view from the top of the navigation mark at Svenska Stenarna was impressive

We spent the night at Kläppen on Röder and talked seals and other experiences while darkness fell and a thunderstorm blew up on the other side of the stretch of water called Udd-djupet.

 Sunrise over Norrskäret in the Röder archipelago.

On the way back to Bromskär skerry there was a head wind and the water was choppy. The hours passed monotonously yet provided time for meditation. We finally arrived back tired, happy and contented.

 

Yours

Matte Westerberg

A few words about seals

For many years the Grey Seal was regarded as a national resource but when fishing increased during the 1800s opinion changed and people thought of the seal as a pest. There was a bounty on each seal killed right up to 1974 which was when the seal was declared a protected species. The area near Svenska Stenarna where seals are protected used to be completely off-limits but now it is only closed off between 1/2 and 15/8 which is the most vulnerable time of year for the seals. This means we have the opportunity to see these fantastic animals. Of course you have to be cautious when travelling through this area so as to disturb them as little as possible.

The Grey Seal is the largest seal in the Baltic. The females can weigh up 200 kilos and the males up to 300 kilos.

We are indeed privileged to live at a time when we these most friendly and peace-loving animals are safe from hunters.