Finding flow in the Gotland Runt

A 350-mile offshore isn’t everyone’s idea of relaxation, but Sweden’s Gotland Runt proved the perfect tonic for Nikki Henderson

3:45am. I don hat, base layers, foulies, boots, head torch and neck gaiter before stepping up on deck. There I am greeted by a fiery sunrise rising above the fierce vertical cliffs of western Gotland, and a very sleepy Scotsman still wearing a pair of shorts (turns out that, no matter how many years you’ve been sailing, you can still get your gear choice wrong sometimes!).

The boat leaned to the lee as we sailed dead downwind through glasslike waters in a new breeze. We were on the rhumb line to the mark off Visby, threading a gap between Karlsöarna and Lilla Karlsö. The previous watch had overtaken three yachts; our suspicions had been proven correct that the surprisingly enormous spinnaker was Spica’s secret weapon.

Very early sunrise and freshly brewed coffee for Nikki Henderson as she starts her watch

Freshly brewed coffee in hand, I beamed from ear to ear. This was the sailing I was addicted to.

In 2019 Andy Schell and Mia Karlsson of 59° North bought Spica, a Norlin 34, as a family boat for their now 16-month-old son Axel to grow up sailing in.
This 1970s balsa cored design was originally built with the Gotland Runt race specifically in mind. Despite plans for sleepy cruising around the Swedish archipelago, it was inevitable that this iconic race would soon lure in the ocean sailing couple.

Midsummer festival

The Gotland Runt is the largest annual offshore race in northern Europe. It takes place each year on the first week of July, just after the much celebrated midsummer festival in Sweden.

The sun sets at 2200 and rises at 0400, hence the early hours get dark enough to put the instruments on night mode and to grab a head torch, but the haunting effect of a pure darkness never fully sets in.

Night sailing, crewman Phil keeps an eye on sail trim

The race course is 350 miles long. In contrast to the traditional 600-mile offshore races it feels like more of a sprint than the long slog of a light wind Middle Sea Race or heavily tidal Fastnet.

The winds in the Baltic at this time of year are predominantly gentle, and we were lucky enough for our year to fit this trend with glorious weather, and conditions no heavier than a Force 5. Even if it had been a gale, I think the unusually short nature of the course would have made the bad weather easier to handle.

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