We like a bit of canal travel, and since seeing the Gota canal on a TV travel program years ago with Timothy West and Prunella Scales, we have wanted to make the journey across Sweden from coast to coast on our own boat. We started off this season by travelling all the way from Mem on the east coast to Goteborg on the West coast. A total distance of 210 nautical miles through the heart of Sweden, negotiating 64 locks and numerous rail and road bridges on the way.
This route is often referred to collectively as the “Gota Canal”, but in fact the Gota Canal itself only takes you about half way across the country to the point where you enter the enormous Lake Vanern, after which you enter the Trollhatte ship canal and finally the Gota Alv river, which takes you out into the port of Goteborg.
Our winter storage location was only about 30 miles from Mem where the Gota canal starts. So as soon as the boat was ready we set off for the canal entrance, stopping overnight at the port of Arkosund on the way.
Our passage was early season, so had to be pre-booked with the canal authority. Like many tourist-related things in Sweden, the Gota canal doesn’t fully open for business until mid-June. Therefore, despite the unseasonably hot weather, we had several days when we hardly saw another boat.
Boats travelling in early or late season are allocated a lock keeper who follows you each day by car and operates the various locks and bridges along their section of the canal.
We are no strangers to locks, having made the North-South French Canal trip from Channel Coast to Med, and also the Dutch Standing Mast Route. However, I have to say that some of these old locks on the Gota are quite challenging for 2 people. If we did it again we would take a 3rd crew member to help with the line handling. But we managed OK, and are still talking to each other! (The Canal is often referred to as the “Divorce Ditch” in Sweden…….) We did have an unsolicited offer of “help” from a rather elderly local at one lock, and despite Jane’s best efforts to politely rebuff him, he decided to start pulling on our lines thinking he was somehow helping. It wasn’t until I got rather forthright in declining his assistance that he stopped – apparently the concept of women skippers has eluded him!
We said goodbye to our personal lock keeper in Sjotorp where the Gota Canal meets lake Vanern. The lake is the largest in the EU, (about 80 miles by 43 miles), even having it’s own shipping forecast sea area! It demands respect, as it’s easily big enough to develop a nasty sea-state in the wrong conditions. We chose to break up our journey across Vanern by stopping at Spikens Harbour in the Ekens Archipelago area at about the midway point. It’s quite beautiful, and reminiscent of the Stockholm area.
From Vanern we entered the Trollhatte Canal. This is an altogether more serious waterway with commercial shipping and huge modern locks. The canal itself gives way to the Gota Alv river after the staircase of locks below Trollhattan. From here it’s a full day’s motoring to Goteborg.
Despite it’s commercial traffic, the Gota Alv is a clean river and retains much wildlife habitat. We stopped overnight at a small marina just off the river. We were very excited to see an otter early in the morning as we set off on the last day.
And so after 8 days we arrived in Goteborg, our masthead passing by what felt like centimetres under the city centre bridge, having crossed Sweden from East to West Coast. We are now looking forward to sailing on the open sea again!
A few notes for anyone contemplating doing this trip with their own boat:
Max allowable boat dimensions:
LOA 30M, Beam 7M, Draft 2.82M, Air Draft 22M.
Booking in advance via the Gota Canal Website is easy, and their office responds promptly to email in English. You can only turn up on-spec during their “high season” at other times the canal is closed or available only on certain dates by pre-booking. Exact season dates for the following year are published on the website around November. The fee for the total transit seems high, (around £500 for what we did). But this includes a generous number of marina nights en-route, and if early or late season a dedicated lock/ bridge keeper each day on the Gota Canal. The locks on the Gota are quite primitive, and when locking-up the water just pours in via paddles in the top gate. This creates an enormous amount of turbulence. The Gota Canal Website contains some good advice about how to set the boat up to cope with this when you are short-handed. By contrast, the locks on the Trollhatte, although huge, are modern and create little turbulence. Once you depart Trollhattan there are few safe places to stop before Goteborg, so this part of the trip requires some forward planning.